Being a child of the Eighties – 1982, to be precise; a fine vintage – I remember with great fondness the days when Going To The Movies felt like an event. Outside of the fact that there was only one cinema – the Odeon in Whangarei, in my case – there was also the strange custom that we all observed at the conclusion of the second act: the on-screen image would suddenly fade-down, the cinema lights would fade-up, and the word INTERMISSION would appear in giant block letters.
It was a prompt for smokers to step into the cool evening and drain a quick tab near the entrance; for the weak-bladdered to visit the little boy’s room; and for the slightly-chubby to pester their Fathers into a supplementary visit to the snack counter.
Perhaps it’s just Jase-being-Jase-with-his-Misplaced-Romantic-Nostalgia – and trust me: I’ve got sacks more where that came from – but I kinda miss those days. For a start, I always need to go wee-wee halfway through a movie; but more than that, I also have a very poor memory – and thus need to discuss plot holes with my movie-going partner before I lose track of Who He Is and Where She’s Going. Intermission used to solve those problems nicely; now-days, I have to be content with swollen nephrons and half-understood plot lines.
Believe it or not – the Brew Hui project is more than halfway-done. We’re already on to the second round of brew days, and thus Shit is starting to Get Real; since these are the beers that I’ll be entering in the National Homebrew Competition at the end of October. If I’ve got any chance at producing something drinkable – let alone medal-worthy – then I really need to work-through the plot holes in my efforts thus far.
So: let’s all stand up, stretch our legs, and step-out for a widdle and a fresh tube of Tangy Fruits – since it’s time for some much-needed reflection ahead of The Final Push. We’ve only got ten minutes, people: so let’s knock this out in bullet-point form.
Stuff I Learnt When Creating My Homebrew Kit From Scratch
- No, really; don’t. Unless you are: a) an engineer; or b) married to, the De Facto partner of, or in a Civil Union with, an engineer; or c) a sick sadomasochist.
- In all seriousness – don’t make your own kit from scratch if you can possibly avoid it. You’ll just spend the first three months of your homebrewing career – the bits where you’re super-excited, and least-lethargic – faffing around trying to get your kit to work, instead of learning how to brew. This can be soul-destroying (trust me).
- Try to buy parts that are ready-made (e.g. a complete mash tun, with false-bottom and valve already welded in). You will have to spend more money initially, but the saved heartache is – I’m quite certain – entirely worth it. Not following this advice is probably my biggest regret so far.
Stuff I Learnt When Creating Pale Ale, v1.0
Brew days can be disastrous – but that doesn’t mean the beer will be.
- You may recall my field notes from the first clusterf**k – which finished with a pretty bottom-of-the-barrel Jase, hobbling out to the deck in melancholy-mode after a Murphy’s Law-type brew day. But you know what? The beer turned out to be fricking delicious. And that’s not just me saying that; even Mr Pale Ale himself – Luke Nicholas – said so (he may have added the words “…for a first effort”, but let’s not quibble over semantics).
There are few more satisfying feelings on this Earth than sharing a beer – which you made – with someone you love.
- …And I’m not talking about Luke. We get on famously; but saying that I love him would be weird.
- I’m talking about the amazing feeling you get from giving an uncle, brother-in-law or best mate a pint of something that you created from scratch – and then hearing them say all-kinds of lovely things about it. It’s a truly righteous experience.
Stuff I Learnt When Creating Best Bitter, v1.0
Sometimes, life is just a big bowl of spew-covered f**k-knuckles. And there’s nothing you can do about it.
- The disastrous Best Bitter Debacle – in which a stunted mash resulted in a near-sugarless wort – was without doubt the low-point of the project (thus far, I hasten to add). I’ll admit it: I was very close to quitting the whole thing right then-and-there, and then changing my name to Quitty McQuitquit.
- But in the fullness of time, the Best Bitter Debacle taught me a few really key lessons – because as in life, sometimes the hardest pill to swallow is the one we need the most.
As soon as you know you can’t win, fold the hand.
- Tossing the 19L bucket of Best Bitter Bollocks – about a week into fermentation – was the best thing I’ve done so far in the project. As soon as that insipid stuff was curling down the drain, I started to feel better; and when the bucket was empty, I felt like my optimism about the project had returned.
- My advice: wear your disasters, and then put as much distance between you and them as soon as possible. If you don’t, they’ll just drag you down with them.
When you’re learning to homebrew, you might want to consider erring on the side of Imperial.
- This has become my mantra since the Best Bitter Debacle – I would much rather a) start with more grain than I really need, and/or b) add less water to the sparge than I should, than end up with the Best Bitter Debacle all over again.
- At this stage – i.e. while I’m still finding my brewer’s legs – I’m simply not prepared to sacrifice a day on something that I may have to tip down the drain because of rubbish mash ‘efficiency’. If that means the beer is higher in terms of ABV than I’m aiming for, then so be it; I’ll just have the one.
Stuff I Learnt When Creating Stout, v1.0
Of the beers that I’ve brewed so far, Stout was the most forgiving – and fun.
- Since my conversion to the Dark Side in recent years, I’ve come to the realisation that dark beers are almost universally nummy – even those mass-produced in East Tamaki.
- The reason for this has become abundantly clear to me since brewing Stout, v1.0: it’s all down to those delightfully-toasty, open-fire-roasty, toffeed-chocolate specialty malts. Simply-put, they take the ordinary and turn it into the extraordinary. If I had to choose one of the three Brew Hui beers to brew in perpetuity, it would unquestionably be the Stout. Hands-down.
Brewing isn’t finished once the beer is in the fermenter.
- The only (relatively minor) quibble I have with Stout v1.0 is that you can taste a wee bit of alcohol in the back of the palate – which, as I understand it, has to do with the fact that the beer was sitting on a rather large ‘cake’ of yeast during the last week or so of fermentation (the size of the cake being the result of me clearly over-pitching the yeast).
- Next time, I’ll pay more attention to the life and health of the yeast – and not take the fermentation process for granted.
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So there it is – a few reflections on the project so far. There’s plenty more where that came from – I still have f**k-all clue how to sparge, and the less said about my ability to calculate water volumes the better – but the house lights are fading, and it really is time I was getting back to my seat…
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