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Monday, 12 January 2015

Happy Brew Year 2014...

To say the last year was a bit of a whirlwind would be a bit of understatement, I can't believe I'm writing this article already! I will run through my year as it happened, so let me begin…

I kicked off 2014 brewing with a modest 11 litre stove-top BIAB kit, and judging by the feedback I was getting from the homebrew club, I was producing some half decent beers. This gave me the confidence to start sending out a few of my beers to respected homebrewers, bloggers and makers and suppliers of fine beers. I honestly couldn't have be more pleased with the comments I received on Twitter and Untappd (us brewers like external validation), not to mention the bottles of other folk's homebrew I got in return! Here’s just a few of the kind comments:

Guatemalan Insanity Stout...
“This is super brewing that’s a match for many professional breweries.” Simon - CAMRGB

“This is a beautiful beer. Enjoying every sip. If you’re not already, you should be delighted with this.” Dave Bishop @broadfordbrewer

“A damn fine beer. Would willingly pay good hard cash for this. Just hope it doesn’t keep me awake!” Jim - BeersManchester

Sorachi Saison...
“All in, this is a beer that I would happily buy, and if it was on the bar where I work, it would probably be my beer of the night.” Al Wall - Hopsinjoor's Brewing Spot

Black Forest Stout…
“Commercial quality. Flavours hang together so very well. Dark fruits and choc on aroma carry right through it. Top home brewing.” Andy Parker @tabamatu

Our local band of rag-tag homebrewers from the homebrew club got the chance to experience brewing a commercial beer at Red Willow for the Barnaby Festival here in Macclesfield. Fittingly named ‘Trouble at Mill’ for the festival, it became the latest in Red Willow’s Faithless series for the rest of the world and it received some decent ratings on Untapped. It was a hard days work, but a lot of fun and a great learning experience.

I mentioned in my wrap up article of last year that one of my self imposed goals for 2014 was to enter my beers into competition. As a starter, to ease myself in, I ended up entering a couple of beers into the Thornbridge/Waitrose homebrew competition. I wasn't completely happy with the beers I entered, so it came as no surprise that I didn't win. The silver lining was that Graham Nelson (aka @arrowsails) from our very own homebrew club did win, with his superb Vienna IPA. Further more he has now turned pro, after joining the team at Red Willow. I didn't enter any more competitions after that, realising I could just take my wares to the homebrew club and get honest feedback from my brewing peers.

During the glorious summer, myself and the wife went on a camping trip around the South of Britain that turned into a bit of a magical beer tour. We visited some great brewpubs producing some excellent beers and got the chance drop in on Martin Warren of Poppyland Brewery in Cromer, who I feel is making some of the most interesting beers in the UK right now. If there is one thing this trip highlighted is that if I ever turned professional with this brewing malarkey that I would definitely consider the brewpub route. We also got the experience the majesty that is Beers of Europe - a glorious sight to behold! The choice was mind blowing and we did well not to come away with at least a few hundred quids worth of quality beer!

Having had to enjoy last years IMBC by proxy, via the tweets of various revellers, I promised myself I was not going to miss this year’s shindig at any cost! As soon as the tickets went on sale I was in like Flynn and bagged a ticket for the Saturday afternoon session. The event was absolutely superb and deserving of all the praise that has been lavished on it It is, without a doubt one of the premier beer festivals in the UK, if not the whole of Europe! In hindsight my only regret was not getting a full fat ticket for the whole weekend.

Macclesfield’s homebrew club reached it's first birthday in October! We’re still a bit of disorganised bunch, but have a great thing going on and the four founding members are still very much in attendance. Being so close to lots of quality breweries we've welcomed special guests from Thornbridge, Buxton, Cheshire Brewhouse and Runaway, with hopefully more planned for the new year. If there’s one thing every homebrewer needs, it’s to get their arses down to a local homebrew club, and if there isn't one, start it! You can learn so much bouncing off other like-minded brewers. If you’re local give us a shout and come on down!

Despite not entering another competition per se, my recent Lime Pickle IPA recipe did actually win something, a signed copy of Garrett Oliver’s book - Brewmaster’s Table, which judged by the man himself no less! I've yet to receive said book, but that doesn't bother me, it was credit from a well respected brewer that was the real prize. The final beer didn't turn out quite as I had hoped (I was a little conservative with the lime), but nevertheless it turned out to be a pretty nice beer. Garrett, if you're reading, get in touch and I’ll send you a bottle! Be quick, my supply is dwindling fast!

Early on in the year I was invited to be a guest in a homebrew special of the Beer O'Clock Show with a re-brew of my first all-grain recipe, the Black Forest Stout that I originally sent to Beer O’Clock Steve a year ago. Talking and drinking alongside fellow homebrewers Ady and Carl, it was seriously good fun and it was a real honour to participate. The guys liked the stout and it was good to get comments from someone who had tried the original version. I've already began thinking about how to improve it (more body!).

So what else has occurred this year? Well, the most notable one is I've gone from the aforementioned 11 litre stove-top BIAB kit, to a 29 litre Brupak boiler, then to constructing a dedicated brew shed to house a shiny new 100 litre system, built by Powell Brewing. Looking back, I can’t believe how quickly I have progressed in the space of a year, from getting my head around the basics of all-grain brewing, to well, erm, knowing a tad more than the basics and soon-to-be brewing on some seriously hefty kit! I've gone from seeking advice on everything to now imparting some advice myself. There’s always going to be stuff to learn, but I'm always in search of more input and generally have a couple of brew books on the go.

Hopefully this year will be just as action packed as the last. January see me tied up finalising the brewshed and finishing off the fixtures and fittings. The following few months I'll be getting used to the new brew system and honing my skills further. There will no doubt be lots of room for tweaking and improvement and I’ll probably look at some kind of automation (BrewPi is looking pretty good at the moment). I have plans afoot that I hope will come to fruition, but for now I’ll just keep on brewing the brews and see what surprises the year holds. *holds glass aloft* Cheers!