Craft brewers unite

With 40 UK pubs closing a week, the future of British beer looks bleak. But Christina Quaine discovers an army of craft brewers determined to reaffirm Britain’s place as a real-ale-loving nation.

Craft brewers unite

Britain has fallen in love with real ale all over again. Joining the UK’s trendy knitters and allotment-tenders is a new craft army: the brewers. We’re turning our kitchens into mini-breweries and even giving up the daily grind to brew for a living – in large numbers. According to the Good Beer Guide (£15.99; CAMRA Books), 71 micro-breweries – small, independent beer producers – opened in the UK between September 2008 and September 2009, and with a similar number opening this year, the total is now more than 750.

Down in Kent, The Canterbury Ales (thecanterburyales.co.uk) in Chartham is just one of the nation’s brewing newcomers. A few months ago, Martin Guy, 50, spent his days producing spreadsheets as a financial consultant. Now he plans to be single-handedly producing 10,000 pints a month. His first brew is The Miller’s Ale, soon to be joined by The Wife of Bath’s Ale.

“I’ve wanted to run my own brewery ever since I bought my first home-brew kit 20 years ago,” says Martin, who hopes to have his ale in Kent pubs by mid-October. “I was made redundant at Christmas so I decided it was now or never. I sold my flat and used my redundancy money to buy a site and have bespoke equipment made. For the first year I’ll be doing everything: making the beer; washing the barrels; book-keeping; bottling some of the beer; and delivering some in casks to local pubs.”

But you don’t have to give up your day job to enjoy a taste of the brewer’s life. “There’s been a surge in hobby home-brewing in recent years and it’s thanks to the recession,” says James McCrorie from the Craft Brewing Association, a voluntary group that supports home-brewers. “Basic equipment costs under £100, and home-brewing makes pub prices seem laughable… even using the very best ingredients, it works out at about 30p a pint.” It’s quick, too – it takes less than a month to brew a batch, as Julia Ackermann, a 38-year-old office manager from Tottenham, north London, will heartily affirm. She brews her own beer and matures it in her laundry cupboards. “I’ve been brewing for two years and I usually set aside one day every couple of weeks to do it,” she says. “I love the smell of hops and malt wafting through the house, and my friends and partner love my hobby as they get to drink lots of free beer!”

What are Martin’s and Julia’s tips for aspiring brewers? “Don’t be afraid to experiment,” says Martin. “I once made a mint-flavoured ale. It was refreshing, though I’m not sure it will catch on commercially.” Julia recommends getting to know other people who do it. “I go to London Amateur Brewers (londonamateurbrewers.wordpress.com) meetings, an informal group for people to meet and share ideas and recipes. There’s a real sense of community about it, and everyone is really encouraging.”

New stuff for ale fans: A beery weekend in the country
In leafy Sussex, new company Southern Ale Safaris offers two-night adventures for beer-ophiles, who get to spend their days slurping around picture-postcard pubs such as The Cricketers’ Arms in Berwick and The Ram at Firle. Extra beericular diversions might include pub skittles, a wander around the county town of Lewes and, weather permitting, a stroll over the South Downs. Thetour will also stop at one of Sussex’s cathedrals of beer-making, such as the Dark Star brewery,for a show-round and tasting. Tours are by mini-coach and cost from £249pp based on two sharinga room at the Star hotel in pretty Alfriston. Lunches, first-night buffet dinner, farewell cream tea – and ample ale – are all included. Website.

The offie that asks “would you like a curry with your beer?”
For metropolitan hopheads, DRiNK of Fulham is a new ‘beer boutique’ in West London offering 600 bottled beers from around the world, plus open-tasting days hosted by top brewers. Owned by Anglo-Asian entrepreneur Shrila Amin, it also sells Indian snacks and prepared-to-order curry pastes – take one home with your beers and whip up a curry to go with ’em. Website.

How to get started

  • Beginners should start with a kit. James McCrorie recommends Woodforde’s (£18.99; Hop and Grape).  
  • Amateur brewers swear by online brewing guide Jims Beer Kit, written by a seasoned home-brewer. You’ll find plenty of information on how to brew and where to buy ingredients and equipment.  
  • Ready to get serious? Successful brewer David Porter runs three-day and two-week courses in craft brewing in Bury, Lancashire, from £350 + VAT (PBC Brewery Installations). 
  • Brew Your Own British Real Aleby Graham Wheeler (£14.99; CAMRA Books) is a classic, with recipes for novices and experienced brewers.
  • Join a club so you can swap ideaswith others. Craft Brewing is the place to find groups near you.

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