Confessions of a student brewer
Here are some notes of advice for any potential student brewers
Monday 20 January 2020
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The university experience provides students with great opportunity for personal development, for the acquisition of knowledge, for meeting new people, but perhaps more familiarly, for the consumption of vast amounts of cheap alcohol. For most students a beer session will probably involve copious amounts of flavourless house lager, as they sit and discuss the problems of the world (or more likely who they went home with the night before). However, for the discerning scholar who wants more out of their university experience, without having to actually do the reading for their course, home-brewing presents itself as a very viable option.
With this in mind, as I return to Durham this year as a sabbatical landlord of one of the college bars I have had the chance to look back on my university brewing experience and pass on some notes of advice for any potential student brewers.
Do it when nobody else is around
Anybody who has been to a brewery will be well aware of their distinctive aroma. This is a sensation that is quite rightly not sought after in many other locations, so bringing it to your student kitchen may be viewed as somewhat antisocial! I would personally recommend a Saturday or Sunday morning as the perfect time to brew, whilst everybody suffers the effects of indulgence from the evening before.
Sanitation is a must
The student kitchen is widely regarded as one of the least salubrious environments on planet earth. Weeks of neglected washing-up, out of date food, and a seemingly immovable level of grime on all surfaces are not perhaps what you want around as you produce your signature recipe. Take the time to clean – thoroughly – and (as you would anyway) ensure that all of your kit is fully sanitised...especially if it has all been sat around in said kitchen since your previous batch was finished.
It doesn’t matter how many pints of lovely beer you do manage to produce in your life, if you set off a smoke detector in the early hours of a Saturday morning in a college housing four-hundred and fifty people, you will spend the rest of your university life sat alone. Clearly boiling your wort for an hour is going to produce steam, so make sure you ventilate the room if you don’t want to become a social outcast!
Storing the Beer
Fermentation can take anywhere between a few days and a few weeks; it needs a stable temperature, not to be disturbed. Crucially you also don’t want anybody interfering with it at any point! Think carefully about where you will leave your beer at this point, as you don’t really want to be moving it at any point either. I chose the foot of my bed as a safe spot where it wasn’t going to be disturbed – although that may say more about how little I have been taking advantage of university life, rather than anything else.
Students are famously impoverished, so before you embark on your first brew, think about how much it is actually going to cost you? Brewing kit can be very expensive, so shop around to find the bits individually rather than in a kit, or go down to Wilkos and raid their budget home-brewing shelves.
Also, for probably in the first time in your life you will be paying your own bills, so before you start using gallons and gallons of water, and using the gas for hours on end, maybe make sure you can stand to pay the bills! Or, if possible, do what I did, and go to a university full of rich kids, and make friends with some old Etonians with more money then sense, and do the brew at their house instead….
Whilst the previous suggestion may compromise this next one – think about how many people you are going to tell about your brew. Sure, it will sound great if you’re in the pub, telling all your mates that you’re going to supply them all with free beer and that you’re going to be outselling Sharp’s by the end of Michaelmas term, but you have to consider that they will all want to drink it! Part of the development of yourself as a brewer is that you will make mistakes and produce some utter rubbish, so maybe don’t tell everybody about your latest batch until you are satisfied with it, and can really knock their socks off with some top quality beer. More importantly though, the more people you tell, and the more you give out, the less you have for yourself!
This being said, giving out the beer to the right people could be invaluable for you. A bottle of bitter given to a college porter, or a tutor, or a cleaner (if you’re lucky enough to have them) could make you ever so popular, providing they like beer of course. Just don’t do it in front of your mates, or you will never hear the end of it!
Or at least tell your parents that you are doing so…
Most importantly, however, university really is a time for experimenting, trying new things, and learning (apparently) so why not take the plunge into the world of home-brewing, you never know what you might discover.
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