When I was younger. Much younger. Much, much younger, I used to homebrew. I started while I was still at school.
It was my elder brother that got me into it. We were broke. Dead broke. It was the only realistic way of getting our hands on any booze. With mum living on a widow's pension and pocket money non-existent we had no choice.
We started with Geordie kits. Cheap and cheerful, bought in Boots. At first we just stuck to the kit recipe. Then my brother bought a copy of "The Big Book of Brewing". That was when we started getting more serious. When was it? 1974, I think, that we got our hands on a recipe for Younger's No. 3 clone. We brewed it, but had no idea how much it resembled the original. Younger's hadn't brewed No.3 for several years. I can remember taking a bottle of it along to Martin Young's birthday party. I wonder where he is now? His mother's shop, Jane Young, is still there on Chain Lane in Newark. Who owns it now?
(Digressing slightly, Martin was also a CAMRA member. We travelled down to London together to the first national CAMRA estival, held in Covent Garden market in 1975. This was between its closure as a flower market and its transformation into a posh shopping centre. I can only remember one beer I drank there - Yorkshire Clubs Dark Mild. It was pitch black and rather good. Shortly afterwards the brewery was bought by Federation and closed.)
The next step was to go all grain. We got hold of an old Burco boiler to use as a mash tun. Our batch size jumped up to 10 gallons or more. Initially we used second-hand plastic barrels, of the type used to dispense cider or sherry in off-licences. It was one of these that held the iced Mild I drank in Leeds in the summer of 1976.
My brother heard that John Smiths were selling off their stock of wooden barrels to gardeners. They chopped them in half and used them as plantpots. Philistines. They were still in working order. After Barnsley closed in 1976, they had no use for casks of any kind. They'd gone all bright. A brewery dray delivered the 6 wooden firkins he ordered to our house at 48 Wilfred Avenue. (I still think of it as "our house" despite not having there for more than 30 years.) The casks were a mixed bunch. Some Barnsley, some John Smiths and some Hole's. A couple still even had dry hops in them.
Newark wasn't just a brewing town. It was a centre of malting, too. In the 1970's there were still active matings in the town. My brother took advantage of this to buy his malt in bulk and direct. He purchased a sack of pale and a sack of mild malt. We now had everything we needed to brew on quite a grand scale. Or rather my brother did, because by this time I was away at University in Leeds.
My brother brewed the odd firkin of Bitter or Mild, but I think he had trouble getting through it quickly enough by himself. He brewed off and on until 1979. That year he found a job accountanting in Jamaica. The last beer he brewed before leaving was Jamaica Barley Wine, an incredibly strong beer he hoped would be ready on his return a couple of years later.
Just before my brother left for Jamaica, he drove up to Leeds in a van, bringing the burco boiler, firkins and malt. I hadn't asked him to. In reality, I didn't want all that stuff. I was living in a rented room and didn't really have anywhere to put it.
I was in 97 Brudenell Road at the time. Not the most hygienic of environments, what with the 8 single men, mice and cat. I only brewed there twice. The first brew, a firkin of Mild , was infected, but some of it got drunk. The second was stinking before I even got it out of the mash tun. Not worth fermenting. I called it a day after that. But for the following three years I dragged all the equipment along with through a succession of rental accommodation. When I left Leeds for London in January 1983, I dropped it off in Newark on the way South. It was such a relief to be rid of it.
There followed a long hiatus in my brewing career. Until 1992 or 1993. Dolores and I we were back in Amsterdam and had bought our first flat, on Willem de Zwijgerlaan in De Baarsjes. Finally the space and hygiene to brew again.
I can't remember what prompted it. Maybe I'd noticed the place selling home brew supplies in De Pijp. That could have been it. I bought a monster saucepan, bags of malt and hops and set to it. Oh, and a thermometer and hydrometer. It's hard to brew without those, too.
My first brew was a Mild - what else? Now, down the homebrew shop, I hadn't been quite sure of the Dutch names for all the malts. I thought I'd bought pale and black malt. In fact it was amber and chocolate. My recipe was 95% of the former 5% of the latter. What I got wasn't a Mild, but quite a nice Porter. It was all downhill from there.
I tried about another half dozen brews. None was as good as my first accident and I started having infection problems. That's when I realised that a kitchen stove in a small flat isn't the best place for sterile brewing. So I stopped.
I still have the giant saucepan, hydrometer and thermometer. (I think, buried in the depths of my beer cupboard, there are even still a few bottles of my beer.) It would be possible to brew again. But with the kids, the internet and all the other crap that fills my life there really isn't the time. Not to do it properly. And I've found a much better way of getting the beer I want made: I get Menno to brew it for me. He has a professional brewery and knows what he's doing. That's why I no longer brew.
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