When I went to University I was a lager and white wine drinker. When I left University I was a real ale and red wine drinker. Who says University doesn’t have its positives. I got a degree as well. 

After a stint of travelling around and living abroad for a few years, I settled back in Essex in 2015. I decided to start a new hobby: home-brewing. This hobby has taken me on an incredible journey. New friends. New opportunities. I’ve written three articles in beer magazines and received money in return.

It’s a great hobby. If you take it seriously, you will learn about science. There’s chemistry and biology in there. Yeast is a living thing and it eats sugar and turns it into alcohol. Temperature control is key. There’s also an artistic side to it: creating recipes. And there is the satisfaction of consuming something that you have made yourself. 

In 2022 I started to get frustrated with the hobby. Things were not going to plan. The beers were fermenting well and tasting reasonable, but some of them were headless. I was doing something wrong and I couldn’t figure it out. I suspect I was sparging water onto the mash at too high a temperature. 

Also I cannot stand packaging and bottling beer. If you brew on the 1st of the month, you are then committed to doing something with the beer around the 15th of the month. This could be syphoning it to another fermenter or bottling it. Of course, if you syphon it you are then committed again weeks later to bottle it. Regardless of your plans, you have to be around and do something. 

The reality is that beer and I don’t particularly get on. And the relationship has got worse with age. It isn’t the alcohol - I still drink wine and spirits, but the beer upsets my workings. I suspect that the active yeast in the beer causes the problem. But it causes too much of a problem for me. Others seem to be able to drink lots of the stuff and be ok. It leaves my digestive system in tatters. (I’m using civil language here - I will spare you the sordid detail.)

In the summer of 2023 I gave up drinking beer. More or less. I tasted some Barley Wines for an article a few weeks ago but other than that, I haven’t had a beer for some time. And as a result, I’ve given up home-brewing. At least for now. There’s no demand for the massive supply it produces. I’ve put the equipment away in the loft and given some pieces away.

Here’s the thing though. I wasn’t a bad home-brewer. I won prizes in competitions. But I wasn’t the best home-brewer. If I wanted to be the best, I would have to brew every weekend and refine the craft. It feels like a curse. I can make the stuff reasonably well but I can’t drink it anymore. Oh well.

As I write this in December 2023, I’m 14th on the London Amateur Brewers Medals Table. I should caveat that not all members submit their places, but I’m not competing at the moment. It’s impossible to beat Mark, Lee and Fraser. Phill has only dropped down to 4th because he stopped brewing for 2 years. It would be possible to catch up with some of the guys in the top 10 but it would need a large amount of effort!

As part of the acceptance process of giving up, I’m leaving on a high as far as I’m concerned. I have the following beers left:

  • One bottle of each of Dry Stout, Sweet Stout, Golden Belgian Strong and Bock. One last tasting with friends at some point.
  • A set of year vintage Barley Wines from 2017 to 2022 (omitting 2021).
  • A significant quantity of Barley Wine 2022. I will enter this in competitions and put it in beef stews as appropriate.
  • Two bottles of Barley Wine 2020. These will disappear over Christmas.

(Mike D took the photo at the County Beermakers in November 2023. The tasting notes will be part of a forthcoming article in Zymurgy magazine. This article follows on from this one.)