I’ve been a home brewer now for, let me see, um, memory’s not what it used to be since I started. Anyhow, with Newcastle Herald journalist Steve Williams profiling the pleasures of brewing in Monday’s Living Green section, it’s time for a testimonial.
Unlike AA, where you have to start any explanation with ‘‘I’m a recovering alcoholic and I’ve been sober now for …’’, home brewers revel in their addiction.
Probably because they haven’t been sober for years.
And besides that, it’s a craft, you see. A holy pursuit glorified for centuries by people as divine as Trappist monks.
Not substance abuse dressed up in beer wankery.
Having said that, ‘‘substance abuse’’ would be a fair description of some of my brews. ‘‘Crime against chemistry’’ another. ‘‘Rocket fuel’’ on occasion.
But as an interest it’s possibly more meritorious than, say, cooking crystal meth.
I was first attracted to home brewing by the challenge of making something better than commercial beer at a cheaper rate. And I’m here to tell you that’s possible.
Hang on, I’ll rephrase that.
I was attracted to the challenge of making something with as much alcohol in it as commercial beer at a cheaper rate. That much is a doddle.
Whether it tastes better, or is fundamentally superior, I’m not sure.
As the creator, you can never really tell. It’s like being a parent. Parents see no evil in their children, and brewers taste no evil in their brew – that they can’t kid themselves doesn’t exit.
Friends and neighbours will never tell you if your children are awful. They’ll always say they’re delightful. Same thing with home brew. Hence it’s hard to get an objective opinion about your beer.
My fallback benchmark is ‘‘over the line’’. As in, if you don’t gag when you swallow, it’s over the line.
Having said that, the gag reflex can be overcome.
It usually happens like this: You take a sip, recoil, and think, ‘‘hmm, different”.
Then you wonder if the bottle might have had an impurity. So you try another to compare.
Scientists do this all the time. It’s called an experiment control. Trouble is, technically, there’s not much control if you’re drinking in your lab. After a couple of ‘‘controls’’, it’s mystifying how much better any brew seems to taste – good or bad.
Possibly that’s got to do with the emotion and hope invested in a brew. Not only do you have to go through the rigmarole of making it. You’ve then got to wait over a month to find out if it’s any good. But if it turns out hellish, it can be devastating. Particularly if you’ve talked it up to a neighbour.
Truth is, no one should ever be allowed to drink your home brew unless they insist on doing so without prompting; and fill out a form acknowledging that fact to guard against public health class actions; and pledge to only say good things about it to your face.
There’s no greater insult than to suggest a bloke’s brew is shite. Still, it happens. But something in human nature dictates that if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And that’s been the theme of my brewing career.
It’s a reasonably straightforward procedure. You take natural ingredients and you turn them into beer. You are beer Merlin. Sometimes your beer is magic. But in all honesty, I’m yet to cast the perfect spell. Or remember how I cast it. Given the gestation period, and experiment controls, it’s easy to forget the winning formula.
So next time I step up to the plate, it’s back to square one. And so it goes.
What’s the worst, or best, home brew you’ve ever tasted?