I remember home brewing from when I was a young lad, one of my “uncles” (he was a friend of the family, so became a bonus uncle) used to knock up his own beer in the shed. There seemed to be just two measurements of quality: firstly how quickly it got you pissed and secondly how quickly your eyesight returned. I consider myself fortunate that I wasn’t old enough to ever try it; it may well have put me off beer for life.
My uncle was typical of many men, he had small children and a mortgage meaning his beer money was limited; home brewing was a cheap and simple way to achieve the “desired end point”; this was the same person I recall attempting to open a Party Seven keg one New Year’s Eve with a screwdriver and a hammer, so if he was happily drinking this, his home brew possibly wasn’t that far off the mark.
Of course since the mid 1970’s things have moved on somewhat. Instead of brewing from a kit, today’s home brewers are just as likely to use proper recipes with crushed malt, other adjuncts and hops; in essence a scaled down version of what happens in a proper brewery. This is serious stuff, although the desired end point still remains the same.
I am not a brewer; I tried once 25 years ago and ended up with vinegary liquid. The closest I got was at Burton Bridge Brewery for their first ever brew of Draught Burton Ale, I also had a hand in brewing Dual Diamond at the Burton Old Cottage in 2015 and I helped John Mills at Tower Brewery too, but generally my brewing experience has been limited to lugging sacks of malt, weighing out hops, and digging out the steaming mash tun. So again, I am not a brewer, but I know a few people who certainly are and recently I got to know even more brewers at the Marston’s Home Brew Club who meet once a month at Marston’s Brewery in Burton upon Trent.
In 2016 Marston’s built, not a micro, but a nanobrewery called DE14 which proudly sits in their Visitors’ Centre, the name taken from the Burton upon Trent postcode. In recent months beers developed at DE14 such as Flight Suit and End Point have found their way into pubs and shops.
Marston’s Home Brew Club began to meet in late 2016, the idea being to bring the local home brewing community together; a theme is given for each meeting and the members brew a beer in keeping with this; these are then shared. I found myself sat with people who had a vast array of brewing experience, at one end there was me and at the other a chap called Pat McGinty, who in his day job is none other than Marston’s Head Brewer.
“We want to celebrate our roots, our place in the spiritual home of brewing; Burton-on-Trent,” explains Pat, who is of course a Burton lad. “Having built DE14, the 600 pint nanobrewery to experiment and trial new beers, the next most natural step was to build a local community of beer lovers.”
The first beer of the night was rather special and I’ll say nothing more about it apart from it’s a new idea from Marston’s and that we were the few members of the public to try it; it was bloody lovely too!
The beers bought to the table by the club members ranged from a Double IPA at a whopping 8%, a Brown Ale, a Barley Wine, two NEIPA’s and a Weizen that was brewed by a relatively new member of the club Kurt Brown: “Along with the more traditional Saaz and Hersbrucker, I used Cascade American hops in the boil. It was recreated from a recipe in the Brewdog DIY Dog book, which contains recipes for their beers.”
“I started brewing with extract in April 2017, moving to all grain in October 2017,” Kurt reveals. “I’ve only attended two meetings so far, it was great to be able to bring beers that I had made to be tasted by more experienced brewers and a professional brewer.”
Kurt’s kit consists of a converted picnic cooler for the mash tun, a 30 litre stock pot with a propane gas burner and a plastic fermenter. The difference between good and great beer is in the detail, like controlling fermentation temperatures: “I use a Brewers Pad which is a heated mat and a heat-belt around the fermenter.”
Home brew is not a cheap hobby as Kurt attests: “A hoppy IPA with an extensive dry hop can be roughly £60 for twenty litres.” This works out at just under £2 a pint, although if the results are anything like what was drunk tonight then these are beers that would happily grace any pub; a couple of the IPA’s would be lapped up at £5 for 2/3 pint in a hipster bar.
Richard Hill has been coming since the start: “I have learnt so much from the other brewers. I was a complete beginner when I joined, having only done one all grain brew and a couple of kits with varying success. With the feedback I have been able to improve my brewing. To be honest most of the technical stuff goes over my head but I’m slowly learning.”
“It’s always good to meet up fellow home brewers,” says Malc Newton. “I find it useful to get fresh ideas, for example I found out about tilt hydrometers here and also the use of smoked malts.”
“Another great thing about the club is being able to chat to Marston’s staff, especially Patrick,” says Richard. “They are always willing to pass on their knowledge, and you get to try some excellent beers!”
The last word goes to Pat: “Creating the Home Brewers Club means that we can share knowledge from both sides and tap into all kinds of brewing talent, sometimes drawing inspiration from fresh ideas and creativity. It is always an absolute pleasure and we’ve all been motivated by the meetings.”
So if you are local to Burton upon Trent and are an experienced home brewer, or you fancy trying it for the first time, the Home Brew Club meet once a month and they will make you very welcome.