When my best mate told me he was planning to start brewing his own beer, I was naturally sceptical. Home brewing sounded a bit too “The Good Life” for me. Despite my adolescent yearnings for a young Penelope Keith (a boy never forgets his first love), I said to him that it was the sort of thing that only appeals to the blokes who wear hand-knitted jumpers and browse through antique fairs. Not to mention the quality of the end product would probably be so poor you would be reluctant to even throw it on a burning person.
“Nothing of the kind!” says he, before embarking upon a lengthy tale about a visit to his uncle’s and an extended “sampling” session of homemade concoctions. I was not convinced though, not until several weeks later when I was invited to “sample” his first batch. Much to my surprise, it wasn’t bad at all, and to cut a long story short – I’ve been brewing my own ever since.
Whilst my initial prejudice might have had a kernel of truth in it, two factors have made home brewing a far more attractive proposition over the past twenty years. The first is that modern manufacturing techniques have made the quality of the initial ingredients improve massively. The process of home brewing is most often built around a “kit” – a can of syrupy extract that is combined with brewing sugars and water in a fermentation tank. There are dozens of different kits on the market, which allow to make almost any kind of beer, and countless recipes to be found online.
The global leaders in the home brewing market, along with soulless TV soap operas and sunblock, are the Australians. Their company Coopers is the biggest beer brand down under (most Aussies have never heard of Foster’s), as well as the biggest manufacturer of home brewing equipment and ingredients in the world. Legend has it that the massive cost of transporting heavy liquids over vast distances to the Australian interior led to home brewing being commercially developed as a cheaper alternative.
Which brings me to the second game changer – cost. Until the chancellor’s cheerless 1p per pint reduction promise in the last budget, beer excise duty in the UK had been on an escalator, rising 2% above inflation every year since 2008. Over all, the excise rate on beer rose 42% during this time, and is currently 54.3p per pint, which means that on a standard 5 gallon home brew you can save £22 in tax before any other considerations – making each sip the taste equivalent of personally kicking George Osborne in the shins. The cost will depend on the type of beer you make, but it should only vary between £15 and £20 per brew, which is about 38p to 50p per pint. Start up costs are minimal too – Glen Brew (736 Dumbarton Road) will sell you all the Coopers equipment and all the ingredients you need for your first brew for a total of £60.
There are some downsides though. If Guinness is your thing then hard luck, because the stout mixtures are still quite ropey. Good lagers can be tricky too as they require low brewing temperatures. On the other hand if you like IPA, wheat beers and ales, the choice is vast, the quality excellent and the production – simplicity itself.