Homebrew isn’t as horrid as it used to be and it can cost you less than 50p a pint but would you make your own beer?
- A starter 40-pint kit that includes liquid malt extract with yeast costs from £12
- The basic ingredients required for making your own beer from scratch – rather than relying on a kit – are hops, grain, water and yeast
- An all-grain brewing equipment will cost around £200
The closure of pubs, combined with stressed household finances, has caused demand for homebrew kits to soar. And I am among those who have taken to brewing their own beer while in lockdown.
The result is a home bar well stocked with a mix of India pale ale, stout and cider – plus a few adventurous tipples that include mead and nettle beer. All for less than 50p a pint.
Of course, home brewing is not always plain sailing. While the quality can be superior to anything available from a pub or supermarket – a result of fresh aromas and fruity hop kicks – brewing disasters can happen. The result is drinks occasionally infused with hints of soil and mould. But ‘brewing your own’ is always fun.
Homebrew: The basic ingredients required for making your own beer from scratch – rather than relying on a kit – are hops, grain, water and yeast
You can start with a basic 40-pint kit that includes liquid malt extract with yeast from £12 that can be picked up in stores such as Wilko.
You heat the malt extract in a pan and then mix in sugar and water. The brew is then poured into a £10 plastic fermentation bucket with an airlock.
Once cooled to about 20ºC, you add the yeast and leave everything to ferment for about a fortnight. While left alone, the yeast busily gobbles up any sugar it can find – and turns it into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
It is then time to bottle. You might have spare screw top bottles lying around or old beer bottles. It might be worth investing £10 in a beer bottle capper plus £5 on a pack of 100 crown caps. Add extra sugar just before bottling to ensure that when you drink the contents there is a reassuring fizz that will provide a foaming head to the beer.
Leave for two more weeks for final fermentation.
Rob Neale is owner of online brewery store Malt Miller. He says: ‘Those with memories of old-fashioned budget kits that would give off a faintly recognisable homebrew tang will be pleasantly surprised by how much better today’s kits are. Companies such as Mango Jacks sell £20 kits that provide a great introduction to this fantastic hobby.’
The basic ingredients required for making your own beer from scratch – rather than relying on a kit – are hops, grain, water and yeast. But it is the process of putting them all together, known as all-grain brewing, that is the hard part.
Books such as Craft Beer For The People by Richard Taylor and Home Brew Beer by Greg Hughes offer guidance as well as recipes – as do websites including Brewer’s Friend and BeerSmith.
A good starting point is to brew a favourite beer – a ‘clone’ – so as to replicate the taste of a top ale, such as Timothy Taylor’s Landlord or Brewdog Punk IPA.
You start with a ‘mash’ – the term used for stirring germinating barley seed (known as malt) into hot water. For this you need a large preserving pan. Once this has been done, you move on to the ‘sparge’ – rinsing out the mash by adding hot water and separating off the grain.
The process requires a bucket with a special rotating arm added to enable water to freely flow through this ‘wort’ liquid. You will then need to boil the wort for at least an hour, during which time hops can be added.
Once cooled, the wort is put into a fermenting bin and the yeast added – just like with a basic kit. You should leave it alone to ferment into beer for a couple of weeks before bottling the ale for storage.
You can spend from £20 for all the ingredients but the biggest investment will be the all-grain brewing equipment, which will cost around £200.
If you invest in something fancy, such as a £700 all-in-one Grainfather, you not only get all the required equipment but also can be connected to a phone app that guides you through the process.
Homebrew online traders such as Malt Miller, Brew UK and The Homebrew Shop, sell all the ingredients needed – as well as extras such as sterilisation additives so no germs get into a brew, and a hydrometer to find out the alcohol-strength.
Nettle beer’s not for fainthearts
Rather than going down the traditional homebrew route, you can also turn to Mother Nature and forage for ingredients.
Fruit, vegetables and even garden weeds can make a brew. To whet your appetite, consider looking at foraging recipe books, such as Booze by John Wright and Food For Free by Richard Mabey.
At this time of year, stinging nettles are everywhere. You can pick a kilogram of nettle tops and throw them into a preserving pan with water and cream of tartar. Upon boiling, straining and adding sugar and lemon, the liquid is cooled and yeast is added.
For free: At this time of year, stinging nettles are everywhere
The concoction is put into a five-litre glass demijohn with an airlock that can be purchased for about £10. You then sit back for a few weeks and wait in the hope the yeast will turn it into a glorious beer.
Peapod burgundy was the tipple of choice for Tom and Barbara Good in 1970s TV sitcom The Good Life, but you might try something a little less potent to begin with – perhaps rhubarb wine.
There is a huge range of recipes to explore online – all part of the adventure. They involve chopping up rhubarb, adding ginger and lemon – then pouring on boiling water and leaving covered in a bucket.
You then decant the liquid into a demijohn. Fermentation comes from the natural yeast in the air. Patience is required. Wait a year for Mother Nature to run her course before it can be drunk.