So, total disclaimer: although this blog is supposed to be a chronicle of my homebrewing experiences (among other things), I’ve never actually brewed before. While I started Suip! a year ago as an attempt to record my successes and failures in brewing, it has only really recorded one sustained failure; namely, my failure to begin brewing.
To be honest though, brewing has seemed steeped in mystery to me for a while. The homebrew setups I had seen throughout my travels so far made me feel out of my depth. What are those pipes? How do I control the temperature of my mash? How do I get equipment? Despite meeting with the SouthYeasters – Cape Town’s largest, friendliest and most experienced homebrewing community by far – I felt I still had a lot to learn and not many people willing or able to show me what to do.
Last week, however, I took the plunge and signed up to an all-grain homebrewing workshop hosted by Beerguevara (link), a homebrewing supply store in Newlands. It was free, and I had an open morning. I arrived on Saturday, expecting a few hours in some bedraggled man’s basement being overwhelmed by techniques and equipment and complicated processes that I’d never be able to duplicate.
But, as usual, I was wrong. With nine other men, I entered into the Beerguevara realm – a sunny spacious duplex, home to the two guys behind Beerguevara, Andy and Anthony, and their equally sunny wives – and had the mystery and fuzz of homebrewing quickly stripped away.
Some people describe making beer as carefully managing a small eco-system of microorganisms. Technically that’s true, of course, but I’d rather describe it as making a very precise stew. It’s all pots and pans, timings and temperatures, steeping and boiling and tapping. Andy and Anthony have only been brewing for nine months, but what they lack in lifelong experience they make up for in openness, friendliness and an eagerness to share and discuss.
Andy and Anthony have a hands-off approach to teaching – that is, they leave it up to the attendees to do everything themselves, from the grinding of the grain through to the final tapping of the brew into fermentation buckets. The aim of the exercise is collaboration and sharing ideas, asking questions and getting familiar with new processes with the reassurance of someone looking over your shoulder and giving you pointers the entire time.
You come to learn that homebrewing can be done – and done well – with simple, inexpensive things. A cooler box for a mash tun, a plastic bucket for a fermentation tank, airconditioning pipe for an immersion cooler. Mashing, sparging, boiling, hopping, cooling, sterilizing and tapping are done with ease and common sense, all comfortably within the space of a kitchen and backyard. And their results aren’t swill, either: sweet-and-singing dubbels, in-your-face IPAs and coffee stouts all come out of this house. All it requires is patience, a little know-how and a few hundred rand for the most spartan setup.
On the shop front, their ingredients list is solid and ever-growing, allowing you to try as many styles as you have budget and confidence for. Local and German malts are kept in big plastic buckets around their dining room, and hops, steadily imported from wherever they can get them, take up their freezer space. Equipment investment aside, homebrewing is much cheaper than buying beer, even macrobrew, and the feeling of cracking open and enjoying something you’ve made yourself is an inimitable feeling. (Or so I’m told. We’ll see when I start brewing myself.)
All in all, these workshops work brilliantly as both knowledge sharing and marketing sessions. I now have the confidence to buy my equipment and get into all-grain brewing for the first time since I started mulling over the idea about a year ago. It needn’t be complicated; it needn’t be pretentious or expensive. Homebrewing is a brilliant pastime, of mash-filled airspace and the anticipation of each next step towards the goal: something made by your hands and to be enjoyed by your family and friends.
And, frankly, that’s a pretty amazing thing.