So, can you tell us how it all started for you?
I remember the kit wines my parents used to knock out in the early 80’s. The stuff from Boots, in tins. Demi Johns and bubbling airlocks. I’d always been interested in alcohol. As a kid, when we used to go away on holiday, I’d be peering at the bar, pestering my parents about the glass bottles on the shelves, the Chartreuse, the Janneau, the Pussers Rum. When I went to University in Edinburgh, I got into whiskey and started collecting bottles from old, and mothballed distilleries. I used some of the money from that to start brewing Extract kits. It was a disaster! I put the idea away, until about 5 years ago, when I first heard about the Australian BIAB methods. Seemed pretty straightforward, so I thought I would give it a go. Since then I’ve become a little bit obsessed with the “hobby”, as so many people do…
What was your first brew and how did it turn out?
My first brew was a Simcoe and Munich SMaSH. I was really pleased with it, If I hadn’t have been, I guess I would have walked away there and then. More importantly, My friends appreciated it too, which gave me confidence. As it turns out, it was beginners luck… I thought I was a master brewer after one homebrew. It’s the equivalent of sinking a basketball from 40 feet on your first try, and then thinking every shot is going to be like that.
Were there any mishaps / funny moments along the way leading to now?
Mishap after mishap after mishap. I seem to flood the kitchen every single time I brew. Its usually the same thing. Tap open. Fortunately its rarely wort. I seem to up my game when the stakes get higher. One of my first brews, the fermentation stuck at 1020, but I bottled anyway, hoping things would fix itself in time. This was not a good idea. I could see myself going from hero to zero in the eyes of my loved ones when I served that bad boy up.
Are there any pieces of equipment that you are looking to buy soon, or are converting for the future?
I have had a small pump knocking about for a while so I have decided to make a “quick carb” device. I saw someone else do it on the UK homebrewing Facebook group, and it looks so simple. I’ve heard really good reports of it. I’ve also got a water filter that I bought and used without a great deal of success, so why not use it as a Randall? That could be fun.
Bottle or Keg?
Keg, but have a counter pressure bottle filler. I like kegging, it offers you significant advantages. The beer stays fresh, you can have a nice clear beer, and once properly carbed, you can transfer it to bottles for the fridge or your friends. I know some homebrewers who feel I’m not doing it right, that it goes against the very heart of homebrewing, strips out the character of the beer and the hobby etc. But I feel like Dylan when he went electric. Not everyone’s cup of chai latte, but who cares…
What is your go to recipe or signature brew?
The Blagger – a dark Lager, made with California Common yeast
100 g Chocolate Malt
4500 g Weyermann Premiere Pilsner Malt
250 g Weyermann Melanoidin Malt
150 g Weyermann Carafa Special Type 3
30 g Centennial
100 g Hallertauer Mittlefruh
I use a step mash and a 60 minute boil, and ferment at 18 with a 3 day diacetyl rest. I then cold crash, and fine with gelatine before kegging. It’s the perfect recipe and process for a fiddler like me.
What is your schedule for a typical brew day?
I have 2 small kids, 3 and 5, so my brew day is actually a brew night. I start heating the water at 7.30 in the evening, while I’m having my tea. Then while I mash in, I start the cleaning, and sanitising of the fermentation equipment. The yeast has already been taken care of, and I like to put my ingredients, adjuncts, gypsum etc into little egg cups or ramekins. Mostly this is to put on a show for any casual spectators that might happen by, like I’m some kind of TV Chef, or something. The only downside with brewnights, is they are late nights, and its tempting to leave any mess till the morning. I tried that once, and regretted it. Clean what you can right away. It’s the only way, even if it means crawling into bed at 2 in the morning.
What do you love about home brewing and the industry in general?
This is the halcyon age for home brewing. There has never been more possibilities, a greater supply and variety of ingredients and equipment, never been more written about the hobby, more people pushing the limits of what is possible, and more open source sharing. Take DIY Dog as an example. It’s innovative, it’s bold, and it’s mildly anarchic. I love it.
Are you attending any festivals / competitions in the coming months?
Craft Beer Rising, 22-24 February. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in craft beer, although I suggest not going on an empty stomach. Many strong and diverse brews, and you don’t want the room spinning before you’ve had the chance to get all the way round.
What are your plans for the future and where do you think the industry is headed?
I’m happy with my lot. I have friends who run micropubs, they are always asking me whether I want to take it to another level. Quite frankly, the idea of registering with HMRC, then completing all the paperwork, and courses etc, is enough to put me right off. Don’t get me wrong, I’d quit my day job in a heartbeat if I thought I could feed my family from it, but for now its just my hobby and spiritual retreat. As for the future? Maybe a Grainfather in every home? More likely we will see the craft beer industry bubble burst, and an inevitable “correction” in the market, but the genie is out of the bottle, and homebrewers will probably find a new way to barter their beer .
Are there any breweries that you admire for what they are producing?
So, so many. In fact I’d be hard pressed to find some aspect of the industry that I don’t have admiration for. Right now, London is a beating heart of craft brewing, and some of my favorites are Bexley, Gypsy Hill, Anspach and Hobday, but special mention to UBrew, who have been bringing the classes to the masses, and giving the public the chance to cut their teeth on some pretty decent kit.
Finally, what is the name of your “one day” brewery?
My brewery would be called “The Mighty Cray”, after Footscray Rugby Club, in New Eltham, London. It’s basically a drinking club with a rugby problem, and we regularly head off around the Capital for brewery tours. These guys know a lot about beer, so If I can keep them happy, I can keep anyone happy…