Home brewing. . . treat or threat?
Beer, mead and wine-making has been around for thousands of years. Although the only proof of people brewing beer similar to the current format was when a Sumerian stone tablet, dated from about 1800BC, was found with The Hymn to Ninkasi. This poem or song, an ode to the goddess Ninkasi, contains the basic recipe for brewing beer with grain and different vessels.
It is believed, however, that brewing has been around for much, much longer. The ancient Chinese brewed an alcoholic drink made from fermented rice, water, honey and fruit about 5,000 years earlier! The amazing thing is that, when you look at ‘all grain brewing’, the basics are still there as in ancient times.
Things took a dip in the 1980s though when Boots started selling beer-making kits. You just added warm water to a bag, which could be hung from a nail in your bedroom door, and then drink as much beer as you could (due to shelf life) just four days later. . . Not good.
Things have advanced enormously over the past few years. Not only with extract brewing (a concentrated liquid malt to which you just add water and yeast), but especially with all grain brewing (using grain, hops, water and yeast).
The quality and variety of ingredients is tremendous these days, hence the huge increase in small craft breweries recently. In fact, most of these breweries started out with a basic home beer-making kit making no more than a couple of gallons of beer at a time. And the possibilities of brewing a variety of beers are endless. Tricky? Complicated? Messy? Not necessarily. Starting small is key. Although I do suggest you allow a good half an hour to tidy and clean the kitchen afterwards. . . But you can produce some great tasting beers, at home, on a small budget to share with family and friends. It’s a fun hobby and you can enjoy the results as well!
Now, some in the drinks industry are highly critical of home brewers, seeing them as a threat to pubs, retailers and breweries. But does brewing beer at home mean you stop visiting pubs? Or stop buying other beers? Of course not. Some of my best customers are home brewers who like to try different styles of beer and then, perhaps, try to brew something similar. Most people don’t go
to the pub just to drink beer or wine; they go for the social aspect, meet friends and have a good time. People crave variety, delicious flavours and good company. Offer this and people will visit your establishment or drink your beers.
And if you enjoy a beer, at whatever strength, brewing it yourself is not only a great hobby, it is really rewarding and fun to do. To watch your fermentation swirling away in a glass demijohn creating all these magical bubbles. . . No wonder the Sumerians believed it was a spiritual process. And with a delicious drink at the end of it all, it certainly is a treat.
René van den Oort is owner of Beautiful Beers
1b St John’s Street
Bury St Edmunds