I’ve not brewed anything recently and don’t have plans to brew anything until March so I thought I’d write a bit about how I got into homebrewing and, well, beer in general.
I started homebrewing about 6 years ago. It’s all my Grandad’s fault. My Grandad was a massive influence on me. He was a very keen gardener and champion flower and veg grower. He won so many awards that when he finally retired everyone breathed a sigh of relief that they would actually stand a chance of winning for once. I have very fond memories of being on his allotment harvesting runner beans, traipsing in between the massive sweetcorn plants and watching my dad rotavate a plot next door from atop a Atlantic Giant pumpkin my Grandad was growing for a competition. My Grandad also made his own wine. He’d make wine out of anything, mainly stuff he grew like parsnips, carrots and damsons. He used to have the demi-johns behind his sofa where your conversations with him would be interrupted by the bloop of the bubbles in the airlocks. Sadly one winter he broke his hip when he slipped on some ice in his greenhouse. My grandparents had to move to a smaller apartment that had no stairs and he suddenly had nowhere to put his wine making equipment so he offered it to me.
At this time I wasn’t a massive drinker, especially of wine. So I can’t quite remember if it was my Dad that mentioned it but someone said “why don’t you brew those Belgian beers you like?” and thus the homebrewing of beer began.
But let’s rewind a bit and get into how my love of Belgian beers happened. I never used to drink at all, there are a few reasons for this. One being I had many experiences growing up of various family members being generally unpleasant when drunk to put it politely and, well I had no desire to be that way. The second reason is that I had an eating disorder for a huge chunk of my young life and empty calories from booze were definitely not on my agenda. I actually started drinking when I was 23. I was oddly egged on by my former boss who was a strict teetotal Christian. We were in Mint Leaf just off Haymarket and he insisted I had a cocktail. I had tried the odd mouthful of things before that and I knew I liked amaretto (all the women on my dad’s side of the family love amaretto, it’s the law) so I went for a Godfather which was 1 part amaretto, 1 part scotch and it was bloody lovely. Still at this point I didn’t drink beer, I had tried mouthfuls of lager but I hated it and I still to this day I do not like lager. At the time lager was pretty much all you could get on a night out in central London so I stuck to whiskey or my new found love, gin. I could stretch to a Guinness but would usually only suffer half a pint.
It all changed when I went on a booze cruise with my parents. I’m not sure if there was a change in the law or something but we had to go to Belgium to get cigarettes for people instead of picking everything up in France. We were in a little Belgian café when my dad suggested I try some of his Duvel. BAM, mind blown. I hotfooted it to the hypermarket and bought a lot of Belgian beer to take home. This also coincided with me living with my landlady in Ladywell who knew the owner at the time of De Hems, which was also conveniently close to my workplace. I used to visit De Hems a lot and drink Duvel and Vedett. I used to study for a Geoscience degree through the OU and would reward myself with a Duvel every time I’d complete an assignment. To this day Duvel still has a special place in my heart. This then snowballed a few years later into me researching into more Belgian styles and discovering saisons which were very hard to come by. It’s at this point my Dad, I think, suggested I brew my own versions and so I did.
My first brew was one of those Woodford Wherry kits which I grew very bored of incredibly quickly. I wanted the freedom to put together my own recipe from scratch. I’m an avid baker and have always tweaked recipes to make them my own and wanted to do the same with the beer I brewed (I should at this point give a shout out to my Nan who is a brilliant baker and makes my Dad a cake every week). I’ve not really brewed the usual stuff people brew at first, I think I’ve only ever brewed one IPA and one Black IPA, I’ve never really been a hophead. After a lot of reading and research I mainly settled on brewing saisons and they are still my favourite style to brew to this day. I have gotten into mixed ferm brewing the last few years and have a lot of plans this year to brew saisons and mixed ferm beers with the produce I have grown or foraged for in my local area just like my Grandad did with his wine. Locally I have found figs, pears, crab apples, bullaces, rosehips, hawthorns, acorns, cherries, chestnuts, walnuts and blackberries. I am growing plums, rhubarb, raspberries, fennel, strawberries and various herbs in my garden.
My Grandad passed away a few years ago now but I still think about him whenever I pick up his trusty old fermenting bucket. Although I don’t use it to ferment in (and I’m pretty sure my Grandad didn’t either) it has many uses. It’s the bucket I put my malt basket in once the mash is finished and it’s the bucket that collects any drips I make when I’m bottling.
So cheers Grandad, you’ve influenced me to start a hobby that has grown a bit out of control but has bought me so much joy and cheers Dad for introducing me to Duvel (even though you mainly only drink Stella or Fosters top).