Greenland’s Ram Quarter development in Wandsworth is the site of Britain’s longest continuously running brewery, with an unbroken history of beer making which dates back to the early 16th century – a tradition which is today maintained by on-site brewer John Hatch. In celebration of Beer Day Britain on 15 June, John gives advice to budding home brewers. In this first part, he discusses the ingredients you'll need to get brewing.
The lockdown has given people the chance to explore new hobbies or revisit old pastimes, and there’s never been a better opportunity for people to turn their hand to brewing at home. The key to any successful brew is getting the right ingredients. Here’s what you need to know and how to get your ingredients ready for the perfect brew.
The most basic and arguably most important part of any beer is water, comprising 94 per cent of most beer. Tap water won't do – a common mistake in home brewing – because water for brewing has both to be clean-tasting and have the correct mineral composition.
Adjusting the mineral composition of your water to turn it into ‘liquor’ (treated water) is a process called Burtonisation, named after the water of Burton-upon-Trent, an area known for its ales. Acid is added to lower the water’s pH to slightly acidic, reducing carbonates while keeping the level of calcium ions high.
Malt (malted barley) is the usual brewing grain, though alternatives exist. The grain should ideally have a low protein (nitrogen) content to stop the beer becoming too cloudy. Of course, it must also be fermentable to provide the alcohol content!
The grain influences the beer’s aroma, flavour and colour. The colour and flavour depend on the time and temperature at which the malt is dried.
The milled grain and liquor are ‘mashed’, or mixed, to form the brew. The mashing temperature is important as it determines the beer’s sweetness, activating the enzymes which break down the proteins into starches and then sugars.
The flowers of the hop plant contain the compounds and acids that give beer its bitterness and aromatic oils. Hops used to be described as either ‘aroma hops’ or ‘bittering hops’ but modern interbreeding means that new strains can be both bittering and aromatic.
After choosing your hops, you need to decide how to use them. The point at which they are added to a brew can affect aroma and how ‘hoppy’ a beer tastes.
Traditionally every brewery used to have its own unique yeast strain which would be jealously guarded. Although we associate beer flavours and aromas with malted barley and grain, the effect of yeast can sometimes overshadow all other ingredients. It gives the beer its character.
Commercial strains of yeast are now widely available – from English Ales, which give fruity characteristics, to American which give less flavour and allow the hops to punch through. There are also famous Belgian Trappist varieties. Almost every beer has an associated yeast strain with which it must be made.
When all these ingredients are assembled and prepared, you’ll be ready to start brewing!
We’ll be posting the second part of John’s guide – the brewing process – on Friday 12 June.