With the UK government set to impose a minimum price on all alcohol sold in England, it might be time to consider taking up a new hobby – brewing your own. Although plenty of people start off in homebrew to save money, it quickly becomes all about producing the best brew (and showing it off to your friends). There’s nothing wrong with kit wines and beers. You could choose to have a good red and a good white as the backbone of your supply, and just tinker with small volumes of home wines; or you could scale up the ones that work well for you and keep them for several years. Above all, have fun with it.
Why make your own wine?
Making your own wines and beers has always been a money saver, and it’s why a lot of people first start to brew at home. But ask an experienced home brewer why they brew, and they probably won’t put cost at the top of their list.
That’s because once you get the basic skills of brewing under your belt, brewing the perfect tipple is two parts art to one of science. Home brewers are forever experimenting with new recipes and techniques, and just itching to share the results with their friends and families. Taking a bottle with you when you go to a party or barbeque becomes second nature – it’s no wonder home brewers get lots of invitations!
Note: You don’t need to buy a lot of equipment to start home brewing! If you just want to try making a simple brew, you can make our elderflower champagne recipe with nothing more than a clean saucepan and some empty lemonade bottles – all the rest of it is food ingredients.
When you make a more serious start, though, you’ll need to buy some simple equipment such as demijohns (one-gallon jars, usually glass), airlocks and sterilising powder. You’ll also need some basic ingredients such as brewing yeast and citric acid, and perhaps a beer or wine making kit. These kits contain all the ingredients you need to make your chosen beer or wine, already blended so that all you have to do is add water and mix it up.
The largest single cost in setting up is buying glassware – demijohns and bottles. You can keep this cost down by using Freecycle or Freegle to get hold of old equipment, or by reusing old wine bottles. Commercial beer bottles should NOT be reused because they are made of thinner glass than the bottles sold for homebrew, which are much less likely to explode if you misjudge things. If the cost of the bottles puts you off, consider using one- or two-litre plastic lemonade bottles and releasing the pressure if they look alarmingly bulgy (as described in the elderflower champagne recipe).
The homebrew market in the UK offers a terrific range of products, but most of it is rarely sold on the high street. Some high street stores stock basic equipment and a small range of kits and ingredients, but it’s usually fairly uninspiring stuff. If you really want to see what’s on offer you have to go to a specialist retailer, or visit an online supplier like Home Brew Online. HBO has an impressive range of products, a lively help and advice forum, and most importantly has a cap on its delivery charges of £5.95 with free delivery on orders over £65.
Kit wines vs. brewing from scratch: which make the best drinks?
Home brewers who start off with basic ingredients tend to be a bit dismissive about kit brews. Using a kit, they say, is ‘cheating’ because you don’t blend the ingredients yourself. It is, the argument goes, just like using a cake mix. There are also those who will tell you that kit drinks are of lower quality than drinks brewed from scratch, but this is not altogether fair. While it’s true that there are some very dodgy kits, especially at the lower end of the market, there are also high-quality kits that produce very respectable drinks. The sheer range of them is impressive too, including really distinctive drinks like California Connoisseur pinot noir, Magnum elderflower cider and Brewferm Abbey dark beer.
In truth, the trade-off between kit drinks and brewing from scratch is less about quality and more about convenience. If you’re the sort of person who wants a good result with as little fuss as possible, then kit brewing will suit you down to the ground. On the other hand, if you like to make up recipes and don’t mind going to a bit of trouble, then brewing from scratch is likely to be for you.
In practice though, there’s nothing wrong with doing a little of both. Brewing five gallons of good red wine a couple of times a year keeps the shelves nicely full, and stops you having to give away the special brews that you’re so proud of every time you go to a barbecue. Cheers!