Brewing Up a Side Project

The front page of this website says I subscribe to the idea of side projects, yet since embracing self-employment I’ve provided little evidence of anything remotely approaching a ‘side hustle’.

Today that changes. Today I’m proud to introduce you to a little-known thing I like to call ‘beer’.

 Our home brew beer at 'the boil' stage. Photograph by Paul Forrester.

Okay, so at first glance, home brewing might not seem the most startlingly original hobby. Next it’ll be damson wine, you’d be forgiven for thinking. (What if it was craft damson wine though…?).

Originality isn’t the point though; what matters is what that beer represents.

On the scene

People familiar with the craft beer scene are used to upstart new breweries making a splash with inventive new flavours or perfectly-honed takes on established styles of beer. To those people, a group of friends attempting to replicate a popular, essentially mainstream drink (Brewdog’s Punk IPA) in their kitchen is not news.

In fact, such is the state of flux and pace of change in tap rooms and bottle shops that the idea of more people jumping on the bandwagon could be met with a very audible sigh.

At first, I thought I might be one of the ones sighing. I wondered if we were brewing beer because we really wanted to, or because it felt like we should. The three of us are all interested in craft beer (to slightly different extents); I couldn’t help but question if going down this road felt obligatory more than anything.

On a quest

 Chilling the wort after the boil. Photograph by Paul Forrester.

The truth is, however, that we’d spent a year trying to find something - anything - that we could pursue as a meaningful side project. Too much of that time involved talking about making money from things rather than doing them simply because they were fun to do.

The best thing about brewing beer is that, at the very least, you have something to drink. It might not taste great, of course, but there has to be some incentive to do it well!

And it really was fun to do, as well as a great learning experience and a genuinely collaborative process - everything that a good side project should be.

We tasted the beer as it developed, enjoying the change in flavour as extra hops were added and the product was left to ferment for a fortnight. At the end of a satisfying evening spent bottling our very own beer, there was a great sense of pride at seeing 38 bottles lined up on the counter top.

We had actually made something! That thing essentially being a lower strength Punk IPA. Plonk IPA, maybe?

On the side

 Our side project beer, bottled. Photograph by Paul Forrester.

What do those craft beer aficionados think? We don’t know. Of course, we‘re too early in this journey (whatever this journey turns out to be) to think we’ve got something that discerning drinkers might want to try. But whether they’d be excited for us or weary at the idea of having yet more beer variants to try, their opinion wouldn’t matter at this stage.

We’ve told friends and family - people who neither know nor care about craft beer or the latest trendy collaborations between breweries - and they’re impressed. They’re even more impressed when we tell them that we’ve done it all ‘properly’, and show them pictures of our handmade wort chiller and other Heath Robinson-esque solutions.

Hell, as the world’s least practical person, the very idea that I helped solve a problem threatening our entire enterprise (during sparging, we couldn’t extract the wort due to malt clogging the tap) is nothing short of a miracle!

Also like any good side project, doing this has opened other avenues we’d never have discovered otherwise. We brewed hop tea, for example. It was disgusting, but interested us sufficiently to want to try it again and find a way to make it palatable.

On the up

While we’ve only done one brew, which we should repeat to make it better, inevitably we’re already thinking of other flavours and combinations we’d like to try.

There’s another post to be written, perhaps, about the actual brewing process - if only to document for posterity the things we did wrong, and the many ways in which we almost wrecked a kitchen not really designed for producing five gallons of beer.

A pet hate is the appropriation of the word ‘craft’, put in front of almost anything to infer an authenticity that is sorely lacking in many cases. It’s easy to get snooty about ‘craft beer’ and some of its hipster connotations, but I will never again look at the list of ingredients on a bottle of beer - malt, water, hops, yeast - and think, How difficult can that be?

Making our own brew has taught me a lot about the effort that goes into producing a quality, low-volume product. Sometimes, maybe, we all just need to be reminded of that; about anything we choose to consume or take for granted.