Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Brewing beer for a day with 'Learn To Brew UK' (Update - Beer complete)

I've become something of an obsessive (nerd?) over beer in the last six months or so. Not that a craft beer or a real ale is something that's particularly new to me, just that I've discovered there's so much more to 'a beer' than the local supermarket or pub may be offering. My palate has latched on to specific tastes, and the aromas of a beer are tantalising my thirsty taste buds. Discovering a fine new ale or learning of a brewery's rich history or new found glory has become akin to my other love – music, and there are mirrored patterns emerging in what has become a new passion in my life. So much so I decided I must have a go at putting together a brew from home myself. 
I've tinkered with a bit of home-made wine, and had a couple of beer kits bought for me at the obligatory milestones of certain birthdays. Now I long for the knowledge of making my own beer from scratch and seeing the process through into a lovely chilled bottle in my fridge. Just prior to Christmas I discovered Steve and Andy who provide a service that was exactly what I was looking for – a day's brewing course in my home town of Leeds. They invited me along to The Inkwell Arts Centre in Chapel Allerton and here's how we got on...

One of the first things you'll notice at Learn To Brew's sessions is how they keep the tutorial relaxed and lighthearted throughout the day. Steve and Andy are highly experienced when it comes to making beer and guide you through the whole process with great care and not to mention a wry sense of humour. Steve works by day as a nurse, Andy in the media industry, and they have some rather big ambitions regarding brewing for the near future which are a little hush hush right now but watch this (their) space. At the brewing session, we weren't lost to a world of jargon (though I do now know about sparging, and what post boil hopping is all about!). Yet should you be twitching eagerly with questions of a chemistry nature or otherwise, they are only too happy to go into details. At the same time, the lesson provided isn't a dumbed-down experience that will leave you lacking in the knowledge required to be able to go off and get cracking on your first brew at home. Like the necessary formula for a tasty beer, they have struck a perfect balance, in the delivery of both the practical elements and the verbal interaction.

As the nature of the brewing process demands, there are specific time frames to adhere to of course. After our initial guidance into the malts to be mixed with water (Maris Otter for the main, and some additional Crystal), meant leaving to mash for ninety minutes at the near start of the brewing method, which gave us a rest period from the practical element early on. Enjoyably filled and adequately so with a question and answer session plus the addition of a self produced short video which shows (again lighthearted) how we'll be spending the rest of the day and the brewing structure to be carried out. Similarly, the boiling time of the liquid (wort) with the addition of some bittering hops (Challenger) passed by with the help of a spot of lunch and some all important sampling of beer - some shop bought and some made here at previous sessions. Here was a snapshot of just how good your own beer can taste. I kid you not when I say the previously brewed beer from another session was far superior in its taste than any of the supermarket bought bottles that we opened in this experiment. I genuinely thought I'd be tasting something that was merely ok at best, perhaps a little merky and tasting like or of homebrew! I couldn't have been more wrong. It was a clean, crisp and beautifully clear beer, a snowy-white good head with the hops shining through in the aroma and taste. I remarked and somewhat understated that if I could make a beer like that, I'd be more than a little happy. Here's hoping!

'Lunch' time

Nearing the end of the boil, we added more hops (Amarillo) – this time to provide the aroma as well as taste, discussed and added the clearing agent of Irish Moss, and popped outside to assist bringing the wort down to a cooler temperature before adding some yeast. Andy and Steve provided clear, precise commentary of all these aspects between them, and various stages that I haven't gone into detail about here like temperature and gravity readings were explained fully. Steve was also putting his own brew on at the same time throughout the day, a slightly darker alternative to the Pale Ale we were brewing. 

Bringing the day to a close with our beer in the fermenters to be taken away by our tutors to do its thing. In a couple of weeks time, these brews will be ready for bottling and we can go collect or have delivered twenty bottles of our very own brewed beverage (Ours we named 'Clowning Glory' due in part to a children's party taking place next door in the same building).

Learn To Brew UK are two very approachable and knowledgeable fellas with bags of enthusiasm and a good knack of communication. If you're thinking about brewing from home, or have had the idea implanted from reading this post, I can't recommend Steve and Andy enough if you live in the Leeds area of the UK. The session pieces together everything you may have read or partly knew about brewing, and before your eyes you have created your very own first beer. You'll leave the session with so much more knowledge and a clearer understanding of what brewing beer entails. Not to mention the little extra delight of knowing your beer will be bottled and ready to continue its conditioning when you have it delivered in a couple of weeks.

Words - Pete Jackson

***************** 2 weeks later ****************

Just over two weeks after the brew day, I called in at Steve's to collect the goods. (They will however deliver it to your door if you prefer).

We named our beer 'Clowning Glory' as I mentioned above. The initial fermentation process had reached its end and our lovely beer was bottled and tagged with the beers name, strength and a note on the fact it is still conditioning inside the bottle, so when ready, pour carefully as there will be a little sediment at the bottom of the bottles. Now we need to let it carry on conditioning and my twenty bottles reside in my garage. I will (WILL!) resist temptation and there they will sit for three to four weeks before I eagerly crack one open to sample. More on that when the time comes...

************** 6 weeks after brewing *************

And here it is....

'Clowning Glory'
Pale Ale 3.7%

Our beer is featured on Beer O'clock's podcast, episode 99 - Home brew Special. Click Here

'Clowning Glory' was brewed in a partnership on the day with another keen beer enthusiast Gareth Pettman, who was also brewing for the first time. We are both delighted with the way this beer has turned out, a first time effort for both of us that has produced a beautiful, hoppy pale ale. Here's Gareth's thoughts on the end result of 'Clowning Glory'..

"Having only opened one of my allocation since our brew, I decided to try and leave a period of time between bottles to see how it developed. Over the course of a fortnight, carbonation has increased slightly and this helps push enhance the earthy, citrus characteristics of the Amarillo hops.

What's been created is a dangerously sessionable beer that I could easily rattle through six of on a summer's day. Hopefully my stocks will last long enough to be drunk during sunnier weather. 

I had a great time on the brewday, and being able to make a beer like this on a regular basis is something that I'll be hoping to do this year."

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