Farmdrop’s Cillian Davis shares his top tips for all aspiring home brewers.
We heard it often during the lockdown: “I made this delightful banana bread with a super nutty crunch” … “my sourdough starter is really starting to take on a tang of its own”. But if you really want to outdo your friends, you want to know about the trials and tribulations of brewing a pina colada flavoured beer in 30C heat.
I’ve been brewing for about two years now, but the free time during lockdown gave me the impetus to improve my skills and brew more often. Pubs were closed, I could only leave the house once a day – I needed a hobby, which demanded I could stay at home, or stay alert rather. To the surprise of many, I already had a hobby – and even better, one that required me to stay home all along. Like a lot of people, I love beer and I know what I love (and most of it is on the Farmdrop website- shout out to Anspach and Hobday). Alas, in a world of uncertainty – what better way to deal with lockdown than by making beer myself?
Choose flavours you already like
Beer primarily tends to be flavoured with one of three things: malts (think chocolatey porters and stouts), hops (think fruity IPAs) and yeasts (think spicy saisons). Before you start brewing, you have to know what you like and thus what kind of beer you want to make. Look at a beer you like, check if you can find the malt, hops, and yeast the brewery uses – and work from there. Then, you can think about brewing!
The process of brewing takes place in three parts:
- Mashing: Getting the sugar and colour out of the grain – to make wort (your sugary unfermented beer).
- Boiling: Allows you to boil hops for bittering purposes and drives off volatile chemicals.
- Fermenting: Add yeast and turn that wort into beer in around 2 weeks.
My Quarantine IPA
I like hops, IPAs and rubbish puns, so my first beer this lockdown was my very own QuarantiNEIPA. It was the natural choice: we were under a quarantine and New England IPA is 2020’s hot beer: fruity, not very bitter and extremely quaffable in spite of the high ABV.
I started with a base of light maris otter, oats and wheat for that hazy colour and NEIPA mouthfeel. But this beer ain’t about malt, it’s all about hops – and I went for some American classics here: Amarillo, Cascade, Mosaic and Simcoe – all of which were late additions as well as dry hops, so that the emphasis was on aroma. These hops brought loads of citrus and grapefruit – the kind of flavours the NEIPA has become so famous for. The hopped wort was fermented using a yeast, cultivated in the home of NEIPA: Vermont. When paired with these hops, a juice bomb was created after two weeks fermentation and two week bottle-conditioning. Yes, I make a mess and my cohabiters (i.e. my parents) haven’t been best pleased about this and the yeast smell, but I’m just doing what I love (and they’ve been made aware of this fact).
Start with kit brewing
Start Simple: All-Grain brewing is really the endpoint for most home-brewers. I started with kit brewing, which allowed me to really try and understand the flavours I wanted to brew. Made out of pale malt, the kit provides the neutral background, whereby you can really get to know the flavour profiles of different ingredients. Experiment with dry-hopping for different aromas, change the yeast for a more estery beer, ferment at lower temperatures for a cleaner brew: the choice is yours.
And for those of us, who are partial to a nice pint of scrumpy – Turbo Cider is possibly the drink for you. So-called, because of the quickness of the fermentation compared to a traditional cider – all you need for this is apple juice, yeast, and perhaps even some further flavouring (I used elderflower from the garden (very Farmdrop, I know). You can really experiment by adding fresh fruit and tea, Turbo Cider is just another way for you to learn about fermentation – and you end up with a decent cider by the end.
What do you need for starting out in homebrew?
- Beer Kit
- Starter Kit
- Bottles, Capper and Crown Caps (you can reuse bottles and mini kegs (hint, hint).
We all like beer (well some of us don’t, but if you’ve read this far – you must do) and we all have in our heads our favourite type of beer. For some, it may be a crisp, fruity IPA; for others, a spicy little Belgian number. Homebrewing gives you the opportunity to create whatever you want. I’ve used the lockdown, to really explore what a beer can be. You can add anything – even chillies as I did in a Mango chilli IPA called “Hey Hop Stuff” (Yes I know I’m a genius). Building on such creativity, I have also made labels for the bottles and they make great post-lockdown presents and really give your mates the idea that you have a second-to-none knowledge of hop profiles.
The three most important things to remember in home brewing:
- Create Something you will drink: if you like a certain tipple – look up a clone recipe and work from there, learn your hops, learn your styles, learn your kit.
- Read, Read, Read: the internet is a weird place at the best of times, but read about your ingredients, their flavours (also, ask as many questions at your homebrew shop as you can. I use WaterintoBeer in Brockley – and Tim is the biggest legend going).
- Clean, Clean, Clean: it’s pure tedium, but the fact of the matter is that it is essential for a decent brew.
However, if all this seems like a bit too much – just stick to drinking rather than brewing – and there’s no better place to start than Farmdrop’s recent collaboration with 40 Ft Brewery “Drop”, which comes in a beautiful little mini keg, to recreate the beauty of a draft pint at home (and if you do decide to brew, keep the dream alive by re-using the keg for homebrew!).