Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

That day we went all crafty with our beers…

“Naw, naw… I’ll drive,” says I. “Drinking during the day on Saturdays is a thing of the past for me.”

I don’t know what I was thinking about. I suppose I wasn’t thinking at all. What a fool!

The Saturday in question was a Homebrew Academy event at the Walled City Brewery in Derry, organised in honour of my brother Paul’s  reaching the big 4-0 milestone. We’d be talking about beer, learning about beer, brewing beer and then drinking beer. For someone who long  ago fell in luurve with the whole concept of craft beer, I’m not sure where the I’ll-drive-no-bother idea came from. I suppose, as my  grandfather used to say, I was only codding myself.

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Thus, deluded as I was, I picked up some of the lads that morning and we all headed to the big smoke, veritably hopping at the prospect of
all things crafty.

The day began at the Walled City Brewery with coffee and a presentation by master brewers James and Thomas on the history, processes and joy of making brews at home. They explained that as well  as “an epic lunch” there would also be time for sampling a whole range of beers – nine altogether.

“We’ll be drinking lots of beer,” James supplied. Needless-to-say, it wasn’t long before this craft beer fan has his head in his hands wondering how in under Good God he could have been so stupid as to volunteer to drive.

As luck would have it, one of the other eager participants at the brewfest, an affable neighbour of mine called Jason suggested that, as he was working later in the evening, he would be honoured to drive my old banger home.

“There’s no point both of us staying off the beer,” Jason qualified. I nearly took his hand off. Thus, newly invigorated by the promise of future tasting and enhanced craic, I flung myself into the beer (metaphorically speaking).

Guided by James and Thomas, we went through the whole process, from the key ingredients to the combination of science and art (aptly  summed up by James as ‘alchemy’) to the fact that making great beer at home is perfectly possible.

On the day, we were guided through the simple process of making beer with a kit, the necessaries for which can be purchased online for a
mere £50. Thereafter that initial outlay of cash, it was conveyed that a homebrewer can fashion future pints of beer for a little as 23p. Or, if you wanted to make really great beer with tonnes of hoppy overtones, that cost might rise to about a £1 a pint. Still, in either case, this was music to my ears (and belly) because, as anyone who drinks craft beer knows, they’re not the cheapest things you could be purchasing.

After the “epic lunch” of pulled pork burgers on brioche buns with a burnt onion and potato soup (epic probably being an understatement),  the tasting began. And what an experience. With the total of nine beers, eight of the brews from the Walled City Bewery plus an extra IPA John had brewed at home, James took us through the tasting with all the verve of a man in love with his craft.

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From a clean-tasting lager called Kick, through a pale ale called Boom, into an IPA called Stitch and way on towards a stout called a Derry Milk, the tasting proved an exceptional celebration of craft beer. There were also sours thrown in for good measure, a cherry flavoured sour beer in particular had my tastebuds jumping all over the place.

In short, the whole day was amazing.

Some hours later we fell out of the place (not literally), into the bright afternoon sunshine, each of us clutching a gallon of the juvenile beer we’d helped brew and with strict instructions on what to do with it, upon our returns home. The big plastic flagon was to be installed in a cool spare room (ideally at 18˚C), in complete darkness and we weren’t to annoy it – or sample – for one week.

At that juncture, when the yeast had finally stopped its magical converting of the sugars into alcohol, we would decant the brew into dark bottles with a teaspoon of sugar (which gives a homebrew its head) and these would be capped and returned to the darkness of the spare room for two further weeks.

Thereupon, we would have a very decent homebrew or that’s the thinking anyway. The alternative? well, during our time at the brewery we were also introduced to what was described by James as, ‘bad beer.”

As well as the nine beers during the tasting, there was also a rogue beer which, whether it was some errant yeast or other bacteria which  entered the mix at some point during the brewing process, it turned the beer bad.

Although, as James explained, this bad beer can be consumed, it isn’t a pleasant experience and this was confirmed when we all took a small  sip. It was – literally – nail varnish remover. The chemical melange is apparently one and the same.

Fast-forward to today (Thursday) and my young beer has been decanted into bottles with the fervent hope that it won’t turn to the darkside.

During the day at the brewery, James reiterated that if (God forbid) the beer doesn’t work as planned, it becomes a heartbreaking process  pouring it down the sink. After all the effort and nurturing, I can relate to this; many of my recipes have failed over the years and have gone the way of the bin.

On the upside though (always look on the brightside of life, as Monty Python might say), if the beer does fail, at least Herself has a gallon of nail varnish remover to contend with. That’s a lifetime supply right there!

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