Homebrew versus Craft Beer
Why do people make homebrew? It was once done because it was cheap. Then people did it for a wider choice of beers. However, in today’s world, would we be better off jacking it in and doing something more productive. After all, we have all been saved … by craft beer.
The so-called craft beer revolution has arrived, and apparently we should all be very happy because now we can have the beers we want, made in a ‘crafty’ way. So, what’s craft beer? Well, some of the so-called craft brewers want to define what it is, in an attempt to deny other competitors from promoting themselves as ‘crafty’. In short, they want to ring-fence craft beer, and push up sales by denying anyone else a seat on the bandwagon. However, surely if you really want the beers you like, you’re better off brewing them yourself, aren’t you?
Let’s start off by addressing homebrewing. When I was a lad and Joanna Lumley was the most desirable piece of flesh on television (really), homebrewing was the simple act of buying a kit, chucking it in a bucket, waiting three weeks and then having a load of yeasty cloudy laxative pisswater to drink. It was an acquired taste, that took a good few pints to acquire. Anyone who drank homebrew back then might still be unwilling to counternance it today!
As with Ms Lumley, homebrew has changed. With homebrew, it’s for the better! Access to decent ingredients (including those from overseas) has become easier, equipment is more advanced, and high quality texts are readily available. Resources abound for those seeking to tweak recipes, and some brewers even happily publish recipes of their leading beers. After all, they know someone will hit on a good clone and share the information, so why be shy about it?
The real key is that any homebrewer with an ounce of sense can also tweak their beers to suit. For example, I love oatmeal stout, but find most commercially available brews too sweet. I found a decent oatmeal stout recipe, and have – over the course of many brews – got it to where I want it. A previous incarnation of the recipe is posted somewhere on this blog; the latest batch is, for me, the finalisation of the recipe development. I’ve hit the right spot with it. I call it Dirty Chimp. I can’t buy a beer like it, but if I could I would, even though I can make it myself. I still like pubs, after all.
Whilst Dirty Chimp remains my favourite of the beers I brew, I also like variety. By subtly altering the recipe, I am working on three stout variants with slightly different background flavours. They are specifically designed to my taste, and along with the other brews I make, will evolve until I feel they’re just right.
Now, surely the craft beer revolution is simply just what homebrewers do, but on a bigger scale? That’s what they have us believe, and that’s how they like to be seen. The image is somewhat anarchic, challenging, even at times confrontational. They want to challenge bland beers. Remember that word, bland. You might read it again soon.
Now, I live in a small village. It has one tiny shop. It has a red phone box with no phone in it. We’re surrounded by fields. It’s not the most exciting place on earth. However, we are blessed with four pubs. Two of them only sell the mass produced lagers and bitters. One sells the occasional guest ale and Harveys. The other is a Shepherd Neame pub. As I said, I like pubs, but I hardly ever use my four locals. Why? Because by and large, their beer is bland.
Now, I appreciate a lot of people like the beers they sell, but having tasted good quality homebrew, I find their offerings to be generally bland. I think I can make better, and judging by the number of people that will shun commercial beer for homebrew when they pop around, so do others.
Because of this, the whole craft beer thing made me sit up and take notice. Why wouldn’t it? They say the devil makes work for idle hands, and the other day my idle hands went on-line and ordered two mixed boxes of craft beer. I focused on Thornbridge and Ilkley, who I have heard good things about. I rounded up the boxes with a few other selections.
Now, I appreciate that we all have different tastes, and I’d say with commercial beers I tend to find the majority of them bland. By that I don’t mean that no one will like them, but that they have nothing that makes them stand apart. I don’t want to like very craft beer, but I’d expect them to have something that elevates them for those who do. That’s the point!
The craft beers were mixed cases; mixed in more ways than one. I didn’t expect every beer to be good, but I also did expect to taste a lot of different characteristics in those beers. You’d think so, wouldn’t you? After all, craft beer is apparently the beers we’ve always wanted. So, here’s what I found…
Chiron – Tastes like someone has wiped off a camel’s scrotum with a lemon, and then dipped it in sugar.
Halcyon – Imperial IPA. Imagine an average pale ale. Then add an alcohol hit that makes it taste like rusty metal.
Jaipur – IPA. Okay, but there are hundreds of okay IPAs.
Kill Your Darlings – Lager. Boring as an average lager.
Kipling – South Pacific Pale Ale. This tastes like Lorraine Kelly and Myleene Klass, naked, wrestling in a bath of jelly.
Raven – Black IPA. A bland taste reminiscent of Milton Keynes.
St Petersburg Imperial Stout ‐ Stout, obviously. Sadly – because I wanted to like this so much – a bland bunch of donkey’s balls.
Tzara – Koln Beer. Am I still awake? God, that’s bland and dull.
Wild Swan – Golden Ale. Pizzle juice anyone?
Holy Cow – Cranberry Milk Stout. Okay, I ordered this by mistake, but it didn’t taste of cranberries, thankfully. It did, however, taste of bland stout.
The Chief – Triple Hopped IPA. Triple hopped? I couldn’t tell!
Pale – IPA . Imagine a watery IPA. Well, water that down a bit and you’re there.
Joshua Jane – Bitter. Bland, bland, bland, bland, bland. Oh, and it’s bland.
Green Goddess – Peppered IPA. It is claimed to include Sezchaun Pepper, which I love. I couldn’t taste it. Otherwise a bland IPA.
Siberia – Rhubarb Pale Ale. I like rhubard. I like beer. This tasted like someone had done a wee in a glass, wiped off a sweaty camel’s scrotum with a rhubarb leaf, and then rubbed it around the rim of the glass. Truly the worst of all!
Black – Porter. Insipidly bland.
St Peters Brewery
Cream Stout – Cream stout, obviously. Blandness smeared onto something very bland.
Old Style Porter – Porter. Insipid variant of the above.
Bombay 106 – IPA. Well, it’s not bland, and you might even say it’s interesting. It has a character!
White Stout – what it says! Okay, I don’t know that this is a white stout, but it was one of the few beers that I’d have again. Good body, character, and no camel’s scrotumness at all.
Chocolate Marble – Stout. Hale-fucking-lujah! A stout that tastes of malt! Luckily, the chocolate reference is to the malt, not an addition of cocoa, which some breweries think is acceptable.
Dobber – IPA. Again, Hale-fucking-lujah! A proper IPA with its own character.
Porter – Porter, funnily enough. Take some sugar. Add sugar. Add more sugar. Develop diabetes. Watch your teeth fall out. Shit yourself with a sugary tide of sweetness. No thanks!
Bramble Stout – Stout. I wanted to like this so much, but it was a bland beer with a hint of chemical berriness.
Simcoe – IPA. A one hop beer using Simcoe. I like Simcoe. If I made this beer, I’d put some Simcoe in it. When you use a decent hop, why not use it properly. Way too bland considering what it could have been.
Hazelnut Coffee Porter- Porter. If you make a porter, and add hazelnut syrup at the end, what do you think it will taste off? Syrup? That’s right. It does. It gives a good idea a nasty edge. Syrupy dog’s bollocks.
Now, my aim here isn’t to slag off breweries. I like breweries. Someone will like these beers, which is why they make them. My point is that I see no difference between ‘craft beer’ and mainstream brewing. The ‘crafties’ are predominantly average, and I doubt I would struggle to find something equal or better in the mainstream. Where additions are made, they usually are either undetectable or don’t work.
I want to like craft beer, and I’ll keep on searching. I’ll also keep on drinking mainstream beer. However, when I want something that really works, I’ll brew the bastard myself!