It was in the wake of the euphoria of winning five cartons of Australia’s favourite craft beer on Australia Day 2014 that Brad and I decided to take our homebrewing to the next level.
After four very mediocre beers, two half decent beers and one crime against humanity it was time to procure some more pieces of equipment and take this shit more seriously.
Given there was nowhere in either of our tiny inner suburban apartments to place a fermenting fridge, and neither of us have the money to shell out on bigger pots and gas burners etc., we would have to settle for renting out a bit of room under my brother’s house to place a recently donated fridge and try small boils with specialty grains.
Our new brew day process would involve boiling and cooling the wort at home before transporting our precious cargo to my brother’s place to be lovingly tucked away in our newly converted* fermentation fridge.
We also made the decision to stop relying on dubious internet advice and purchase a couple of books. We picked up Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew by home brewing demigods Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer and The Complete Joy of Homebrewing Third Edition by Charlie Papazian. Both books provided a wealth of great information (albeit mostly aimed at the brand new brewer) and more importantly, a mass of proven recipes for all levels of experience. In particular - due to our being constrained to extract brews for the time being - it was very helpful that the books gave the recipes in both extract and all grain methods.
The next step consisted of the arduous decision of what beer to brew. As we have two fermenting vessels and enough room in the fridge to fit both it made sense for us to choose one each.
It would come as no great surprise that for the last six months or so, we have been all about cramming everything hoppy in our gobs. It had to be something with American hops or nothing at all.
However, the tide was starting to turn and for me it started with a pint of The Rocks Brewing Co.’s The Boxer Irish Red Ale. In the lust for Amarillo, Simcoe and Cascade I’d forgotten how wonderful something malty and slightly sweet could be. So I took that thought to its logical conclusion: sweet stout. Brad on the other hand opted for a Southern English Brown Ale.
I used the recipes in Brewing Classic Styles and tweaked them to suit the supplies available. Not having used specialty grains before, this was a little bit daunting. For those playing at home, specialty grains are barley grains that have been prepared in a multitude of different ways and are used to give colour, body and particular flavours to a beer. For example, in the sweet stout recipe we made use of crystal, black patent and pale chocolate malts to give the desired black as sin colour and hopefully some roasted coffee and chocolate flavours.
Usually when Brad and I brew it is amateur hour at its worst. Pieces of plastic and paper fall into the fermenter, we forget what time we started boiling, forget to add hops at the right time, forget to sanitise utensils before they are thrust into the wort, and inadvertently add way too much or way too little water. You know, nothing serious. But for whatever reason brew day went on with barely a hitch. We even accidentally discovered the perfect ratio of boiling water to hot tap water to give the optimal temperature for steeping the grains.
Yes Brad may have forgot what time he added the hops, and yes I dropped a bit of glad wrap into one of the fermenters, and the bottom shelf of the fridge looks like it could collapse at any moment, and the original gravity of the stout was way higher than anticipated and probably should have copped another whack of yeast, but whatever. Flawless.
I don’t think I’m getting carried away at all when I say that we have 46 litres of probably the best beer ever made.
*I really should mention that given our complete lack of any useful life skills we enlisted the help of the handsome "Jimmy" James Jackson to work his high tech sorcery on the fridge. He can also play guitar and beats me at fantasy football. It's sickening really.