The beginnng today of a new semi-regular series, in the spirit of my recent Brewer of the Week I introduce Homebrewer of the Week! First up is, well, me. So here goes.
How did you get into home brewing?
My homebrewing was a result of my getting into beer more seriously than just chugging gallons of whatever industrial stuff was available while watching football in the pub. As much as I love Czech beer, which is predominantly pale lager, my first beer love has always been stout. My first legal beer was Guinness, I loved Murphy's and Beamish as well. I wanted to make my own because there is so little ale being made by commercial brewers in the Czech Republic.
Are you an all grain brewer or extract with grains?
I brew with extract and specialty grains. I don't have the space at the moment to go all grain, though I plan to eventually, the key word being eventually, I am in no rush.
What is the best beer you have ever brewed and why?
Difficult to say, I really enjoyed my imperial stout I brewed last winter as I did my Christmas beer. Having said that, a week or so ago I open a bottle of a barley wine I brewed last November in preparation for Thanksgiving to see if it was worth putting forward for the Dominion Cup. Well, simply put it was smooth, boozing and obscenely easy to drink for its 12%abv.
What is the worst, and why?
My first brew in the US was a total disaster. I wanted to make a pale ale with Amarillo hops, using White Labs' Burton yeast. For some reason the yeast didn't do its thing and the beer didn't ferment properly, so I had to pour 5 gallons down the sink. That was the reason I ditched the 5 gallon batches for 2.2 gallons and clear carboys rather than white buckets.
What is your favourite beer that you brew?
It has to be LimeLight, my lime and coriander witbier, which is also very popular with people who drink it. It is such a simple recipe and the results are consistently good. Without having to go through the hassle of all grain brewing, I am done with LimeLight in about 2 hours from start to finish.
Do you have any plans or ambitions to turn your hobby into your career?
I would love to, but I have to admit that as much as I enjoy brewing, I prefer seeing the enjoyment other people get from drinking it. Working in a brewery tasting room has taught me plenty about serving beer, keeping lines clean and the like, so I would like to have a pub at some point in the future, whether my own brewpub or taking on a tied house with one of Britain's regional brewers.
Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?
My favourite to drink is my Scottish export ale, which I call Gael 80/-. It is very much a classic Scottish ale, more sweet than it is malty, lightly hopped and at only about 4.5% abv something I can drink plenty of. It was also the first beer I successfully conditioned in my polypin/cubitainor to replicate cask conditioning, and it was even better!
How do you decide on the kind of beer to brew and formulate the recipe?
As I said in the first question, it started out wanting to brew a stout. Otherwise I think about the kind of flavours I am looking for and then go from there, sometimes I want to brewing something as close “to style” as possible. For example at the moment I am planning a beer based on my favourite chocolate bar, the Twix. I am thinking about using Biscuit malt, Chocolate malt and one of the Caramel malts, and very lightly hop it.
What is the most unusual beer you have brewed?
In terms of ingredients, my Christmas beer was the most unusual, especially as I wasn't following a given style, just making it up. My initial idea was to make a beer that reminded me of the gingerbread houses my mother made at Christmas when we were kids. I started off with an amber DME base and added some Caramel 80 for colour and a touch of sweetness, for the hops I used French Strisselspalt, a very low alpha acid type. Nothing drastically unusual so far, but then came the spices I added to the boil, the classic Christmas spices of cloves, ginger, and cinnamon, as well as dried sweet orange peel. The result was essentially a very yummy liquid gingerbread, which I called Biere d'épices.
If you could do a pro-am brew, what would you brew and with which brewery?
A very difficult question, and I can think of several breweries I would like to do something with, all of them back in the UK. Everards would be an automatic choice as Mark there has given me tons of invaluable advice for my homebrewing, and I learnt a lot from his when we met up in Prague to tour some of the brewpubs there, not to mention the fact that I think Tiger is one of the nicest beers I had last time I was in England. Another brewer who has been a great source of knowledge and enthusiasm for beer, and whose beer I love drinking, is Jeff at Lovibond's. Finally would be Dave at the HardKnott Brewery because he seems to like doing random stuff, which kind of chimes with my own way of thinking about brewing. In an ideal world, we would all of get together to brew something, perhaps with one us choosing the malt, one the hops, one the yeast and the other the water!