Mental Health Awareness Week

Hi, my name is Kat Sewell and I have/had mental health problems? Not sure you can say body dysmorphia ever goes away but I’m definitely a lot better than I was 15 years ago. I mean, I can still spend hours pointlessly staring at myself in the mirror for no reason other than to beat myself up about very minute details nobody else gives a shit about. However, the difference these days is that I know it is pointless and I can walk away after a few minutes and not let it take over. There are far more important things to worry about and as my old flatmate Gillie used to say: “Nobody’s looking at you!”

I suffered in silence for many years about my body dysmorphia. I didn’t even know I had body dysmorphia for most of that time. I started around 7 years old being a “picky child” and not eating anything. Back in the late 80’s/early 90’s not a lot was known about childhood eating disorders so this was just seen as being difficult and misbehaving. Being punished for this behaviour led to me being very secretive and ultimately led to bulimia. I suffered in silence with eating disorders on and off for many years, I’d say from the age of 7ish all the way to 20, it would usually flare up when something big happened like moving schools. The fact I was so secretive about it made it a lot worse to deal with. I finally had some kind of epiphany that I should probably speak to someone and got help in my late teens. This was the best decision I have ever made in my whole life. I don’t care who it is, if you are depressed or have other shit going on speak to someone, anyone. A professional, a stranger, a loved one, a friend or an acquaintance.  Anybody will do. I’m pretty sure if I’d spoken to someone sooner none of the crap I put myself through would have happened.

One positive from my experience was that as part of my recovery I learned to cook. Cooking from scratch allowed me to improve my relationship with food whilst reassuring me as to what was actually in what I was eating. As a result I now cook every day and as the years have gone on I have gotten deeper and deeper into a rabbit hole. I now make jams, chutneys, vinegars and oils with food I grow, find in local parks or in the clearance aisle. I bake, often adapting and making up my own recipes to suit my dairy intolerance. I also marry my love of beer and cooking often, finding new ways to combine the two. The knowledge about food and flavour combinations I have picked up along the way has definitely helped with my homebrewing and nurtured the experimental side within me. I have recently made some loquat and rosewater jam which, if I don’t scoff it all first, I’m likely to put into a saison (inspired by the Anspach & Hobday Maramalade Saison). I’ve added thyme and lemon verbena to a wit, dried Iranian limes to a gose and plan to add dashi to a stout. It doesn’t always work but the curiosity and enjoyment I gain from it are more than worth it. I genuinely feel at my most relaxed when I’m cooking.

Honestly, I probably wouldn’t be me without my mental health problems and, it’s a cliché, but I am stronger for it. It doesn’t have to have a stigma and it is totally normal. It’s more prevalent than you think. If you ever need to talk, I’m always here.

 

 

 

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IWCB Day – an ode to the women of Peckham

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Three female brewers (me, Jane and co-owner Helen) from the Water Into Beer homebrew club decided we’d take part in International Womens Collaboration Brew Day. The theme this year is Exotic Unite. Seeing as we live in Peckham we decided to source inspiration from Rye Lane.

Rye Lane is awash with exotic ingredients, we are a bit spoilt for choice really. Spices, fruits, vegetables, nuts, things I have no idea what to do with all tumble from boxes in many Caribbean and African shops. Jane discovered Ugli fruit, they are a bit of a combo of a Tangerine and grapefruit, slightly smaller than a grapefruit but paler and a bit sharper than a tangerine. They also have a floral end note which we think would go very nicely in a beer.

What style to brew though?  Well, erm we live in Peckham RYE, so we decide to do a Rye beer of course to celebrate Peckham in all of its loveliness and the women living within it.  Peckham is definitely not ugli.

As part of this I decided to do some research about some of the prominent and important women who have had an impact on the area. It was really interesting to delve into this and learn so much about where I live. I highlight a few below, if you know of others please let me know I’d love to hear about them.

Una Marson

Una Marson moved to Queen’s Road from Jamaica in 1932 where she was the Secretary for the League of Coloured Peoples (a great organisation founded by Harold Moody, read up on it if you can). She was the first black female broadcaster at the BBC. She joined as a programme assistant in 1939 working on the Calling West Indies programme and eventually having her own radio show, Caribbean Voices.  As well as a journalist, Una was a poet, publisher, playwright and activist for racial and sexual equality.  In 1928 she was the first Jamaican woman ever to have launched her own magazine. Back in Jamaica she encouraged women to join the work force and make their voices heard.  In London she highlighted the feminist and racist issues that were confronting the Jamaican community. She also worked hard to encourage Jamaican women within the community to seek the beauty within themselves and fight against the light skinned, straight-haired ideal perpetuated by the movie industry.

In 1935 she was the only black delegate at the International Alliance of Women for Equal Suffrage conference and she eventually became appointed as private secretary to Haile Selassie where she used her role to highlight the atrocities Ethiopian women faced during Italian occupation. Not only did Marson have to contend with the prejudice faced from being a woman, but she was also black.  Marson was fearless and dedicated to fighting against the issues facing the Caribbean community in London.  A blue plaque commemorating her sits in Brunswick Square where she lived for a time and a blue plaque lies on Queen’s Road where Harold Moody founded the League of Coloured Peoples.

Elsie Bowerman

All round badass Elsie Bowerman was a barrister, suffragette and Titanic survivor.  She was a member of the Emmeline Pankhurst led group, the Women’s Social and Political Union; she served in WWI in a Scottish women’s hospital unit in Romania and became the first female barrister to practice at the Old Bailey. Her links to Peckham are through her voluntary work for the United Girls’ School Mission.  She had volunteered since her schooldays and eventually was made treasurer in 1931 and then Chairman until her death in 1973. Elsie saved the Mission from closure during a crises period and thanks to her it re-emerged as the Peckham Settlement. The Peckham Settlement provided a place where nurseries, children’s clubs and an old people’s daycentre could operate. They also organised meals on wheels and supervised accommodation and for a time it acted as a local church.  They organised day trips for disadvantaged children and pioneered a savings scheme which led to the passing of the first national unemployment insurance Act in 1911.  The Peckham Settlement still lives on today where it is now providing grants to community projects such as Age UK Lewisham & Southwark, Pioneer African Caribbean Over 50s Group and South London Cares.

Eileen Conn

A modern day heroine is Eileen Conn, Founder of Peckham Vision.  Eileen is a pioneer for the local community. She has been lobbying the council for this community and its businesses since the 70’s.  She started a resident’s group after a planning issue occurred on her street, this spiralled into her being recruited as chair for the Peckham Society and then starting Peckham Action Group. She has lobbied for better, long-term community buildings and public spaces for Peckham and recently formed part of the Peckham Levels Steering Group collaborating between the community, corporations and the council to get Peckham Levels underway and to transform the empty space into something useful and worthwhile for all. It was also Eileen who was responsible for the beautiful avenue of Birch Trees that were been planted on Nutbrook Road 40 years ago, if you haven’t taken a walk down that road to see them I recommend you do. In 2009 she was awarded the MBE for services to the community.

Girl Tribe Gang

There’s also Girl Tribe Gang.  GTG are the UK ‘s leading collective for women who have quit the 9-5 and are working for themselves giving them a space to come together, collaborate, coach and help each other. The Peckham branch meet at John the Unicorn. The leader of the Peckham Branch is Sarah Howat, she has also volunteered for the Smart Works Charity which helps women back into work by providing clothing for interviews and practice and coaching sessions. GTG offers an invaluable space for women starting out alone in the business world.

The connection to the Jamaican roots of the Ugli fruit and the fact that she was so fearless in the face of prejudice has helped us decide to name the beer Una after Una Marson.

Scouting for spices

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I had a week off last week so I planned to brew a Saison as I don’t actually have any homebrewed Saison in the house right now that isn’t currently swimming in Brett.

I wanted to spice it up but didn’t know what with so I went on a little scouting mission. I managed to get some cubeb pepper. I’ve heard about cubeb pepper being used in gin (One of my favourites, Opihr, contains it) and have always wanted to use it in a beer. It hasn’t got the typical pepper burn but instead has a floral pungency to it, almost lavender like. I carried on my search for ingredients to pair with it.

I ended up in trusty Persepolis in Peckham. I love Persepolis, every time I go in there I find something else I can brew with.  I picked up dried orange blossom and sour orange peel as well as a load of other stuff I intend to brew with that will remain a secret for now.

I made a tea with the cubebs, orange blossom and sour orange peel and added some coriander seeds. I think it works so time to crush some spices and brew some Saison.

Recipe

3000g Pilsner
2000g Wheat
40g Styrian Goldings at 60 minutes
20g Crushed Coriander Seeds at 5 minutes
20g lightly crushed Cubeb Peppers at 5 minutes
10g Orange Blossom at 5 minutes
10g Sour Orange peel at 5 minutes

I have used Belle Saison again as I was so impressed with it last time. I intend to add orange blossom honey after the krausen has fallen again and possibly add more sour orange peel in secondary. Quite excited about this one.

The Mysterious Magical Megablend

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Back in November, I attended the first UK version of Brew Con World Series. As part of the day, attendees were invited to donate samples of yeast and bacteria for Brewlab to grow into a Megablend. A variety of samples were collected from bottle dregs, to kombucha to spontaneous yeast.  Brewlab were incredibly generous in plating and growing up the Megablend, eventually posting it out to anyone interested in brewing with it. My sample arrived and was very active, I couldn’t undo the container so had to slowly allow it to gas off. I transferred it to a flask and stepped it up.

Brewlab did provide some reports and photos of what is in the Megablend but I’m not going to lie, I didn’t fully understand them. I know there’s definitely some Saccharomyces and definitely some Brett in there after the warning about allowing it to fully ferment out or risk bottle bombs was added in the report, but what exactly I have no idea. I smelt the Megablend after I stepped it up and it smells very acetic, which figures as I took it out of it’s container and exposed it to oxygen.  Hopefully this won’t be the dominating aspect.

So what to do with it?  Without knowing what is in it and how it will act it’s pretty tough to gauge what to do. I’d like to do something mad with it but, alas, I shall play it safe. Due to lack of funky FVs I started with a Saison base. I will move the Saison into a secondary FV once I  get one delivered and put the Megablend in. Maybe once I’ve learnt a little about how it acts and tastes I can use it again in something a bit more interesting.

Recipe

3000g Pilsner
1500g Wheat
500g Acidulated (this was a mistake on the day, should have been a bag of wheat but I’ll style it out)
40g Styrian Goldings at 60 minutes
20g Coriander seeds at 10 minutes

I used Belle Saison yeast for this. Strangely haven’t used French Saison yeast before and I’m impressed. It ripped down to 1.010 in 3 days without any of the usual stalling issues you get with the Belgian strains.

My brewday was a bit different as I had the company of Emma Inch from Ferment Radio along to watch and have a chat. She’s meeting brewers using the Megablend for a feature. Usually I’d be a bit nervous about this as I’d have anxiety about a fellow brewer watching me and silently judging me but I think I am now at the stage in my brewing life where I feel confident in what I am doing. It was a fun day, we had great little chat about a variety of things including brewing disasters. I hope to do more collaborations or have friends over to brew this year as I grow in confidence, it can be terribly boring watching a mash and drinking beer by yourself.

A new glass demijohn turned up so I’ve transferred the Saison and added the Megablend. I also added some honey as a little experiment. I learnt a tip about making quads recently where you add the candi syrup in after the krausen has just fallen instead of in the boil.  The reasoning is that yeast are lazy buggers who will munch away on the candi syrup first and forget about the rest if given the chance, leaving behind a lot of residual sweetness. Whereas if you make them eat the others sugars first and then give them the easy stuff you’ll end up with a drier beer. We’ll see.

It’s been 2 days and there’s been signs of a Saccharomyces fermentation which is just starting to subside. I’ll be keeping a beady eye on this for possible pellicles!

 

It’s all Grandad’s Fault

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.

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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.

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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).

The Pretend Prince

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I had a day off this week so got my friend Si over to brew a clone of one of his favourite beers, Jester King’s Le Petit Prince.

Thankfully Jester King have put the basic recipe up on their website so I didn’t have to think too much about it.  I drank a bottle a few weeks before and grew the dregs up for a starter.

Recipe

25% Wheat
75% Pilsner
11 IBUs Goldings at 60 mins
3 IBUs Fuggles at 10 mins

I mashed in low at 63oC. OG should be between 1.021-1.024 , I forgot to do a gravity reading but I’m confident we got within that range.  Beersmith predicted 1.023 and that’s usually accurate to what I end up with.  After 2 days the fermentation has started, very exciting about producing my first low ABV mixed ferm beer.

Updates

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I added 3kg of apricots (1kg puree, 2kg whole) to All the Bretts last week. They sank to the bottle but a week later started to rise like a lava lamp.  It now has a pretty gnarly pellicle.

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I entered my first homebrew competition recently which also happened to be the first Brew Con in the UK. I came 2nd in my category with Saisons in the Abyss which I was over the moon about. Big thanks to Simon and everyone else that was involved in organising the event, I had a great time and will be back next year, if any of my beers are ready, that is!

I’ve made a small experimental batch of mead with Greek thyme honey and bruxellensis. No idea how that is going to turn out, just going to leave it for a loooooong time and wait.

JK at Marble has been lovely and sent me some pedio from a 3 Fonteinen bottle to play with. Not decided what to do with it yet.  It’s so gunky and weird, I did taste it and I won’t be tasting pedio again!

Spontanpeckham is still fermenting away. I am going to do a batch this year and next year and blend them.

I’ve done a lot of scouting in my local area for fruits I can forage and now have some plans for later next year which include a crab apple beer (I was lucky to taste The Kernel’s from the tank recently and it’s divine). It’s pretty amazing the produce you can find on your doorstep in London.

Funky Rye

 

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Anspach and Hobday kindly gave me a sample of their Funky yeast strain. This is a strain their brewer, Dylan, has built up using various bottle dregs. I’m not sure what is in there but I’ve had a few of their beers fermented with it and they are always outstanding. I’ve been building up a starter for a while, it smells incredible.  Lots of citrus and pineapple.

I decided to use it in a dark rye beer as they have only used it in pale beers so far. I used the same grain bill as for the Old Fashioned inspired rye beer I made except I added acidulated malt. I also dialed down the IBUs to just 13.

Grain bill

2kg pale malt
600g Rye malt
160g Carared
140g Acid malt
110g melanoidin malt
110g Caramalt
100g Roasted Rye
100g Rice hulls

I mashed at 68 degrees and mashed out at 72. Chilled to 23 degrees and pitched the yeast. Will update with various pellicle porn pics I’m sure.

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