Microbreweries and the revolution in home brewing

Years ago we used to brew beer, and quite successfully so. Later I actually worked for a brewery, and learned at least a smattering of brewing technology. Our beer got better. We used to make a nice brown ale for the summer months, not too strong, but refreshing after work on a warm evening.

We found the old boiler and mash bucket in the attic recently. They’re looking a bit yellowed and sad now, but they prompted us to revive the idea of home brewing. So that’s what we’re going to do.

But, my goodness, what a difference a decade or two makes. When I worked for Bass, it was a fully vertically integrated company. They even owned a maltings, they brewed their famous beers of course, and distributed them to their own tenanted and managed pubs. All of that structure has disappeared now, swept away by regulation, egged on by campaigns for “real ale”.

The campaigners got what they asked for, but it didn’t turn out well for them, at least at first. The old brewery companies divested themselves of their beer making, and left production in the hands of a few giant factory brewers. No matter what the label on the pump said, you mostly got horrible bland fizz. There were a few noble exceptions, like Greene King, but the pub-goer’s choice of beer had undoubtedly taken a turn for the worse. The lobby groups certainly hadn’t achieved their dream of a wide selection of finely crafted beers.

I think that the low point for me came when Jean and I looked for a nice old-fashioned pub in Macclesfield for a pint’n’a pie lunch. No real beer to be had in the pubs that we tried in the town centre. Just iced lagers. And, horror of horrors, iced Guinness.

But in the years that followed there was a gradual improvement as some of the surviving smaller brewers began to expand their range. But it has surely been microbreweries that have sparked the real revolution in craft brewing.

So we’ve started to do some research in anticipation of a new brewing day. We knew that our local home brew shop had closed, and we don’t really want to revert to buying homebrew kits from Wilkinsons, worthy though they are. We want grains, and hops, and suitable yeasts.

So what a nice surprise to discover that the new breed of homebrew supplier has a range of products that we never would have imagined. Last time we brewed, you could get two or three hops (Fuggles, East Kent Goldings, and Saaz), a small range of malts, and a small selection of yeasts (basically ale or lager). One website that I looked at offered around 40 malts (including smoked malts!), around 60 varieties of hop (not counting pelleted hops and hop oils), and over a hundred yeasts.

Now I’m spoiled for choice, and my meagre knowledge is exposed. Some further brewing education is called for, and we’re hoping to get places on a course in a couple of weeks. I’ve also downloaded some rather wonderful brewing software called BeerSmith.

Some way to go to our next brewing day, but with luck it’ll be a good one. I fancy trying to recreate the taste of Ward’s Sheffield Bitter as it used to be. Watch this space.

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4 responses to “Microbreweries and the revolution in home brewing

  1. Watching this with interest John, Thanks for the link to Beersmith

    • Hi! We’re looking at a machine called a Grainfather, which promises to be neater and cleaner than the old plastic buckets. But I need to see it in operation before taking the plunge.

  2. Liking the Grainfather very much. I think this might be a summer project for us – thank you for the info.

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