Regular readers (you’re my favourite ones) might remember that I started this year with a resolution to try as many new things as possible. I love picking up new skills & knowledge, especially when it has to do with eating & drinking, so when Johnny from Hubris Id asked if I’d like to join their recent course, Brewing 101, my answer was an immediate yes.
I’ll be completely honest, I’m definitely not a beer expert. Until a few years ago, I wasn’t even really a beer drinker, but hanging out at some of Bath’s most awesome bars & pubs (shout out to Hunter & Sons and Chapter One) and trying their craft beers has introduced me to loads of interesting stuff. There’s so much variety that I’m not sure it really makes sense to declare you don’t like beer. Chances are pretty good there’s something out there for you – for example, I’ve discovered I really like sour beers, which I had no idea even existed. You get craft beers in thirds too, or even sixths – so you don’t have to down a whole pint either.
I’m still just an enthusiastic amateur though, so I was excited to learn more. Hubris Id is a nanobrewery based in Bath (in Johnny’s kitchen, to be precise), producing small batches of interesting, creative beers. Johnny’s been in the business for more than ten years and also works with plenty of other breweries as a consultant, so he really knows his stuff – but when it comes to brewing his own, he takes a low-tech, homemade approach. Brewing 101 is all about sharing his best tips and tricks for home brewing on a serious budget, using a combination of simple homemade equipment and stuff you can buy easily online, so it’s perfect for anyone who’s keen to get stuck in without too much investment.
|Johnny in action, demonstrating brewing in a bag|
The course takes place at Stowford Manor Farm, a beautiful spot in the middle of rich green countryside. Inside the old barn, the atmosphere was decidedly rustic – but then that rather suits Johnny’s approach. A couple of old trestle tables were arrayed with the tools of his trade, looking like a cross between mad scientist’s laboratory and wizard’s workshop – a gleaming mass of copper piping, tumblers full of hops and a big steel cauldron of barley, inscrutable technical gadgets side by side with the lowest of low tech – a turkey baster, a plastic garden spray bottle, several camping mats. We started by making the mash with water and a cloth bag full of barley, leaving it to simmer at a constant temperature of 65° (insulated with a double thickness of camping mats). In the meantime, Johnny explained the rest of the technique and the seasoned beer drinkers around me asked intelligent questions, while I took lots of notes and tried to keep up. Although it all sounds very technical – and it is, Johnny’s spreadsheet for keeping track of all the science involved is a marvel to behold – it’s also an incredibly creative process too. As Johnny says, “Beer is a living thing. It’ll do what it wants – you just have to try and guide it.”
|Adding the barley to make the mash|
Next, it was time to sparge (new favourite word) the grain – essentially, to rinse the grains in order to ‘wash’ the sugar off, using hot water at precisely 80°. After the sparging comes the boil, when the different hops are added at regular intervals, and then the beer is chilled – a huge copper coil goes into the pot and you run cold water through it – before being transferred into a plastic fermenting bucket with the yeast. At this point, you have to leave it to ferment for a few weeks before bottling (with a pinch of sugar to make it fizzy), so we skipped ahead and practiced our bottling skills with ordinary cold water.
|Bottling by hand|
Brewing is a whole lot like cooking in many ways, particularly that there are periods of excitement and the need to do stuff interspersed with lulls, so it set the perfect relaxed tempo for the day – each time we had to let the beer do its own thing, we retired to comfy sofas, tried more of Hubris Id’s beers, and asked more questions. Then there would be something more to do, and then we’d drink more beer. Around midday we stopped for a delicious picnic lunch and more chatting. Throughout, Johnny was full of interesting advice, stories and insights, and none of us managed to ask a question he didn’t have a detailed answer for.
All in all, I had a great day – although I’m not really planning to set up my own nanobrewery any time soon, the process was fascinating and even as a total beginner I was able to follow along. For those who are a little more serious about the whole thing, this one is definitely not to be missed. The Brewing 101 course lasts a whole day, costs £100 and includes lunch, a great handout to take home, and all the facts you can eat. And if you can’t make one of the courses, Johnny’s writing a book, too – so watch this space…