Forget the matted beards, the plastic buckets and the foul-tasting beers.
There’s now a growing movement of streetwise twenty-something’s creating high-quality beer in their homes. Some harbour ambitions to go pro, some are already professionals piloting new recipes whilst others are simply brewing to entertain themselves and their friends.
Home-brewing has long been a cool hobby stateside, and whilst British brewers say they’re still struggling to shake-off the ‘socks and sandals’ stereotype that CAMRA conventions conjure up, there are signs that the tide is changing.
With high-street shops like Wilkinson now selling budget brew kits and outlets such as Hop and Grape specialising in equipment for budding brewers, it’s now easier to get into home-brewing than ever before.
But why not just stick to your local? Well, it’s fun for a start, it can save you some serious money in the long-run and if you persist and stick on the right side of the law, you can even turn your hobby into a decent earner.
Phil Lowry earns his living at London’s Brew Wharf but still finds the time to home-brew. “The people who are engaged with it are 25-35’s,” he says. “These are people in bands. These are people who drive race cars, who shoot guns at weekends. They are not grumpy old men hiding in their sheds.”
Phil represents a new generation of professional craft-brewers like Pete Brissenden at Camden Town Brewery and Kernel Brewery’sEvinO'Riordan who take their beer very seriously. Away from their day jobs, they’re tweeting about beer, drinking it in abundance and experimenting with new recipes from home.
Phil travels regularly with his job. He talks fondly of the maximised flavours in Italian cooking and admits to picking up techniques from his trips to Germany. But it was America’s burgeoning craft-brewing scene that inspired Phil most of all.
After days spent concocting beers in San Francisco’s 21st Amendment Brewery and a number of guest appearances on the Brewing Network radio station, Phil decided that upon his return home he would set-up a competition for British home-brewers.
Mark Charlwood is a 25-year-old beer-blogging, I.T. worker. He started subjecting his unfortunate friends to his first batches of home-brew after he was bought a cheap starter kit as a Christmas present. “They were pretty terrible to be honest, but it kind of gave me the bug,” he says. “I don’t think anybody was particularly willing to tell me that because it was still beer and I was giving it to them for free.”
Barely a year later, Mark found himself brewing 800 litres (that’s more than 1,400 pints) of his Black Spot Bitter recipe just round the corner from Borough Market at Phil Lowry’s Brew Wharf. It was his prize for taking the top spot at Phil’s home-brew competition.
“You do feel like a mad experimental scientist creating a monster”
Mark’s award-winning beer was made using the brewing process known as all-grain. Where as a brew kit is essentially beer in a tin that gets boiled down and fermented, the all-grain brewer makes the unfermented beer (known as wort) entirely from scratch by crushing malted grain and running water through it. It’s a difficult process that can take anywhere from six hours to six months, depending on how long the beer is left to mature, but it gives the brewer far more control over their product.
Now, Mark is a member of the London Amateur Brewers and part of a network of craft-brewers who get together to make beer in each other’s homes and embark on pub crawls across the capital.
Ollie Dent, 25, from South Wales is currently making the transition from amateur to professional, labelling his home-brewed beers under the name of Redstone Brewery. Despite this, he says he still has a hard time convincing his friends to try his beer. “People come over to my house and I tell them what I’m doing but if I pull out a bottle, there’s almost a look of panic on their face,” he says. “Most people’s first experience of home-brew was probably when they were very young and it was their Granddad’s dodgy brown stuff in a bucket somewhere.”
For Ollie, home-brewing is a labour of love that pays off with each finished beer. “You do feel like a mad experimental scientist creating a monster,” he laughs.
After taking on a job in the kitchen of his local pub, Ollie found he had all the equipment he needed to make good beer right at his fingertips. It wasn’t long before he was producing beer by the barrel that his boss was more than happy to buy.
Having converted the regulars at his pub, Ollie is now brewing a beer for a less likely client. “We’re lucky enough to have a Beefeater who lives in our village. He’s been looking for someone to brew a Yeoman’s ale for the bar in the Tower of London,” he says. “It’d just be nice if I could do my hobby everyday. It’s everyone’s dream really.”
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