Back in the bad old days, home brew – making beer at home – was seen as an eccentric’s hobby. All that mess with hops and malt didn’t just seem like a lot of trouble, but rather elitist too.
Then the recession came along and changed all that. Home brewed beer costs as little as 37p a pint, and a new generation of home brewers are discovering that there’s nothing second rate about it. Making home brew isn’t rocket science, and there are three ways to tackle it depending on how much control you want over the taste, and how much trouble you’re prepared to go to. The only question is, how beardy do you want to get?
Home brew kits are the easiest way to make beer, and the most popular. The quality of kits has improved beyond all recognition in the last couple of decades. Everything comes premixed for you in a can, except for a little sachet of yeast (which comes in the lid) and some sugar to jack up the alcohol content. All you have to do is mix the sugar and the contents of the can into some hot water, sprinkle on the yeast, and you’re away.
Kits are a doddle to brew, relatively foolproof, and you get five gallons of decent beer for no more than a couple of hours work. Granted, it can be a bit difficult to know where to start: but there’s such a wide range of quality kits around now that there’s something for every palate.
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Extract brewers skip the messiest part of the homebrew process by buying ready-made malt extract. All the other ingredients, such as hops and yeast, you add themself. This means you can create your own custom brews, and have more control over how they will turn out. Extract brewing is a bit more trouble than kit brewing, to be sure, but you can still set an extract brew going in an evening. Better yet, real disasters are still rare.
If you really get into the art of brewing, you can go the whole nine yards and make your own mash. This involves soaking malted grains in hot water for an hour or two, which releases fermentable sugar. Not only do you choose which grains to use, but you also have to control the pH and temperature to get things right. The scope for errors is much greater, but an experienced brewer can produce beers that put commercial breweries to shame.
Full-on ‘from scratch’ brewing isn’t for everyone, as there’s a lot to learn and you need to buy (or make) some additional kit. There are, however, no shortage of specialist suppliers and brewing courses to help you master the art of brewing.