A little while back I put an idea out to the good folk of Twitter, the idea being a bottle swap- 4 bottled brews from my neck of the woods, Sussex, in exchange for 4 from, well, somewhere else. The general gist was to be able to get some of my favourite local brews out there and receive some beers in return that I wouldn’t necessarily be able to get a hold of online. A reply from Steve @LearnToBrewUK resulted in a box of brews from the Leeds area; 4 commercial brews and 2 bonus beers from his homebrew sessions.
The first of these bonus homebrews was a bright, zesty pale, pouring with a mild carbonation and a light white head that dissipated into a fine lacing. On the nose: melon, citrus, delicate candy sweetness and on the palate it was smooth and perfectly balanced. Biscuit-like malts boosted fresh fruit notes; apple, melon, citrus into a lasting finish where clemantine lingered in the aftertaste, pepper appeared at the edges and a dryness came through. It was lip-smackingly good and incredibly moreish.
The second poured dark with a glorious red hue and left the same fine lacing on the edge of the glass until the very last drop. A sweeter beer this, throwing sweet malts and dried fruit into the aroma. It’s smoother, yet with that same full mouthfeel as it coated my palate with a chewy mix of dates, currants, dried apricot and a toffee under note.
I could quite easily have sessioned both of these beers as they turned out to be every bit as good as the commercial beers and Steve, along with Andy, can teach you to brew some mighty fine beers of your own on a Learn To Brew session.
So I decided to find out more:
-When did you start brewing?
Steve: About 4 years ago, fancied the idea of making something myself, thought that things must have improved from when I was 18 (not that long ago) and adding some water to a tin. I actually had no idea it was possible to make all grain ale.
-What’s your favorite beer/brewing memory?
Hmmm it was seeing my Mum (in her 60s) drinking one of my ales, out of an oversized beer mug. As well as it being a bit comical that her full face kept disappearing into the glass, it was also genuinely lovely that she asked for a second one, having never drunk ale before.
-What inspired you to start Learn to Brew?
I met Andrew when our kids were born- a time when your need for alcohol increases. I knew he made beer and had sampled some of his. I asked Andrew if I could borrow one of his brew buckets so I could make a kit Beer, he said no! He then went on to say it would be better for us to do a full grain brew and that I would thank him for it. He then gave me an analogy (I since found out wasn’t even his) that it was the difference between filter coffee and instant. He was right. I brewed a Landlord clone at his house a few weeks later and was so happy with the results. Andrew then gave me the ingredients to make my own brew and lent me some kit, which was me off on my way. He has shown a few mates the ropes and after a few brews I was finding more and more friends were interested in how to brew.
-What can people expect from a typical session?
We pride ourselves on being light hearted and so our sessions reflect that. All we are really interested in is making sure people can leave the day knowing how to make a beer that is really tasty and have enjoyed finding out how to do it. We really want to earn the £70 people have given us for the session- we both have full time jobs, which takes the pressure off and means we have to have fun with it too- otherwise it is just not worth doing. We can take up to 10 people on a session and they work in pairs, we have a 33ltr set up for each couple to use. We normally make a light hoppy pale at about 4.5% but people have the option to change that a little bit if they want something darker, less hoppy etc. A typical session runs like this:
Have some coffee while we wait for everyone to arrive, start the ball rolling with a quick explanation that we are going to get everything started without folks really knowing what they are doing, weighing out the grain and starting off the mash; we have 90 mins before any more action so plenty of time for: introductions, a discussion about what is beer, run through the ingredients with little samples of each to look at taste smell etc. We show our Learn to Brew movie; a fairly tongue in cheek thing we put together to show the process we will be following through the day, then we go through equipment and where to source it from (usually manage to cram in that we have a couple of things for sale) and websites that you can visit to get more info about how to brew; we always refer to John Palmers site and also Jim’s Beer Kit. We show some photos of set ups ranging from expensive shiny kit to us with a pan and a tea urn. We usually make the discussion last 90 min when it is time to get on with the next step of the brew.
After we get to the boil and put some hops in we have a break for lunch, which is when we get the samples out, usually of beers brewed on previous sessions, sometimes we do a taste comparison with a cheap brew from the local supermarket just to show off what good stuff you can make. We also introduce the notion of naming your beer and talk about how the 20 bottles you get to keep from the session will look, how long to leave them etc. By home time everyone has a brew bucket full of beer, which they have made themselves. We store it for them whilst they are fermenting and bottle it two weeks later. We quality inspect every ale and then ship it out to people .
-Is there a list of dates people can put in their diaries?
We run a session every month, they are always on a Sunday. Our next ones are:
22nd Feb | 29th March | 26th April
Our website http://www.learntobrew.co.uk should be done for the end of February. Our Facebook page learntobrewuk also has updates but Twitter is the main source of news for us. We are running a beer festival called Homebrewfest on 28 th February 2015 at Wharf Chambers in Leeds. It is the first one we have done and is a chance for homebrewers to show off what fine ales they can make.
-Any big plans for the future of Learn to Brew?
We have some small plans of being able to offer some bigger brewing experiences and also to be able to sell some of our ale locally The brewery application is in and we have two venues who will take a cask off us now and then, but really it is just about Learn to Brew at the moment
Best of luck to the guys for the upcoming first Homebrew Fest and if you like what you’ve seen you can email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.