Sunday, 21 August 2011


When Pete Brown, Mark Dredge and I went up to BrewDog to brew our eponymous beer, I spent a good chunk of the drive from Aberdeen to Fraserburgh talking to James Watt about how I wanted to start a homebrew school in Leeds. Basically, have a very small plant (say 25 litre) that people who were interested in brewing, but didn't know where to start, could come and brew under supervision, leave the beer to ferment, and then bottle it themselves. I have to admit that my constant blathering was mainly help to keep my mind off how hideously hungover/drunk I felt, but sadly the idea never got off the ground.

I started homebrewing as a way of understanding the process and pitfalls that go to make up the finished product. It was sort of an academic interest, just without any academic rigour - hence me tipping away 35 litres of infected homebrew this evening (note to self: obsess more about sanitation). It also helps that, if everything goes right, you end up with a few cases of beer at the end of the process. By virtue of it being (a) really fresh and (b) the fruit of your own labour, you usually get something pretty enjoyable out of it too.

I've been given quite a bit of homebrew lately, and there are two questions that these precious bottles raise for me. Firstly, should they be judged at all, or just silently drunk (or poured away)? And secondly, if they are to be judged and evaluated, should they be judged against commercial beers, or should we cut some slack?

Going back to a point that I made in my previous post, I'm quite happy to give polite, honest feedback to anybody, as I'm sure plenty of brewers will know by now. So I was wondering if there was any mileage in starting a group blog, based in Leeds, for homebrewers to post recipes on, and then meet quarterly to try the beers that they are brewing?

In fact, to take it a step further, I've created a blog around which to base the idea - Leeds Homebrew (we can change the name later) - and I've posted my first ever homebrew recipe on there. The format of that post is what I hope will be a standard format for recipes posted - if you want to add liquor treatment, or any other details, then please do. But recipe first, comments second.

If you'd like to get involved, and think that you can meet once a quarter, and bring some homebrew along, then why not get involved? The only stipulation is that the beer brought along has to be made at home. Commercial brewers are welcome, but you can't bring beer that you've made on your big shiny kit at work. If you want to contribute, email me and I'll add you as an author on the blog - zak(at)

But to get back to the original point - are these homebrews for drinking or review?

(Bottles pictured (L-R) - @GhostDrinker - "Red Room", Dean @MrFoleys - "Suspicious Minds", @cheeeseboiger - "Construkt", Craig (I thought it was @craighall, but it isn't, sorry - please get in touch!) - "Resonance Cascade", @thebarleyswine (missing in action) - "Saison Brett" & "Transcontinental Shit Mix", @iamlonewolf - "Arctic Stout"


  1. Zak, as a homebrewer, I find that the online forums such as give me everything I need in terms of information and advice. I'm not sure there would be any mileage in trying to condense this type of broad knowledge (and willing help) into a small area (Leeds).

    At the risk of sounding like one of the panellists on the Dragons' Den: how would it scale? The best you could hope, of course, is that it would go nationwide, and then you're right back where you started at Jim's Beer Kit.

    I just give my beer to friends (some of whom are professional brewers), reap the universal praise and then contemplate starting a brewery for a short while before I realise that none of the pro's have asked for the recipe.

  2. Homebrewing can put a smile on your face, but can also give you a swift kick to the balls. It can be very unforgiving indeed and I've experienced the lows myself. I think the 'Leeds Homebrew' blog is a great idea and I'd love to be involved to share both the experiences and final products!
    Tricky question on drink or review? Having been lucky enough to receive some feedback from you on one of my own creations I'd be inclined to say 'review'. But as someone who will receive more than your fair share of beers to try, much like the Radio DJ would demo CD's, I can see why you may not want to have to put fingers-to-keyboard every time you try a homebrewed beer. There is also the fact that some of these homebrews verge on pro standard while other (ahem) are newbies! how can you possibly compare? hmmm I'm sure others will comment with more conviction one way or the other. Great blog subject!

  3. Have you got in touch with the Craft Brewing Association? Or posted anything at Jim's Beer Kit? You should be able to find a few people there.

  4. Maybe you should simply review the ones you deem worth reviewing, Zak (i.e. the good ones). It may seem a bit harsh on those who receive no publicised feedback, but it also might encourage home-brewers to step up their game if it might result in some exposure! Anyway, I'm sure the idea of sharing homebrews is not to be blogged about, but to get the necessary experience and feedback to improve. I can't really comment on the Leeds Homebrew group as I don't brew myself, but from talking to tweeters and customers I bet there would be several interested.

  5. (of @thebarleyswine obscurity)

    Think this is an excellent idea and you are the best placed to advance it. Ignore the first comment. The greatest failing of otherwise excellent resources like Jim's is the inability to engage with the ACTUAL product. The skill to hand fashion a "Rims" system is not necessarily the skill to brew a superlative beer.

    As a homebrewer my biggest problem is wanting to improve my beer but lacking a critical audience to help me hone in on flaws.

    A Leeds forum would be excellent but I think it would be important to formalise or adopt an evaluation system. I'm not particularly concerned about conforming to style but aroma and tasting notes from a panel of more experienced folk would be useful.

    Count me in and let me know if I can contribute any help.

  6. The 25L idea sounds kind of like what they call a B.O.P. or brew on premises in the states. I'm not sure how the idea would take off in England but it's fairly popular in some areas across the pond, especially college towns.

  7. Anon - I've obviously not made clear what this is intended to be. It's not an online info resource - I lurk at Jim's quite a bit, and think it's great. It's just a way of using the web to get a group of homebrewers together every few months for a few beers, trying to build an actual, physical community from an online one. I've no desire to 'scale-up' - it doesn't make sense in the context of what I'm trying to do. This isn't a business, it's a community project.

    Broadford - thanks for that, I think it could be fun. In terms of the music analogy, I think that it's easy to separate technical faults (singing flat, poor recording techniques) from aesthetic ones - maybe that would translate to homebrew evaluation too?

    Ed - I'm reasonably confident that this will act as local node for Leeds / W. Yorks homebrewers, and maybe will act as a model for others?

    Ghostie - so be it!

    Corkhill - indeed, this blog is only mean to be a diary page for what people are brewing, and what they might bring to the next meet, not a message board or discussion forum for how the beers turned out, how to do something technical, etc - that's what Jim's is for. This is meant to be a priming area for the quarterly meets.

    Matt - thanks, I'll let you know if I think of anything. I've no idea where this might go at the moment!

    Anon - I'd sort of heard about those projects. There are various alcohol licensing issues with doing that here in the UK, but I'm confident that they can be complied with for a community brew project.

  8. Fantastic idea. Through London Amateur Brewers I've learnt that there is no substitute for getting your beer drunk by people sitting in the same room as you, people that know what they're talking about and are willing to tell you where you're going wrong. Beats any internet forum anywhere.

    Good luck with it Zak!

  9. Why not just go into Wilkinsons and buy a home brew starter kit for £20?

  10. I think you misunderstood; I meant you should review the good ones on here, not the Homebrewing blog. Provided the brewers themselves wouldn't mind a published review of course!

  11. It's a great idea. Very topical for me: along with four other guys I started the Victoria Homebrewers' Guild last week. Our aims are to provide community, peer advice and review, and to pool our resources for buying ingredients and equipment. There has turned out to be a lot of interest. Very rewarding.

  12. Count me in. I have just been saying recently how it would be good to get some feedback from fellow homebrewers. I personally could do once a month!!

  13. I would probably travel over to Leeds for something like this - sounds like fun. I wouldn't review brews on the blog though - I don't really see the point for the reader: Better would be to do a chinese whispers brew where e.g. I take your recipe, make one change which I think would improve it, brew it and so on. I would also vote for encouraging people to brew 1 gallon batches - you can do them on the stove, it doesn't need much equipment beyond a 3 pound fermenter and a bottling bucket and wand and with extract you can make some decent beers without shelling out for equipment and do more experimentation....

  14. What Mark said. Best of luck with it!

  15. Mark, Beer Nut - thanks. I'm not sure where it's headed, but the ride should be fun - or at least feature a few beers on the way

    Cookie - no reason at all - shall I let you know when our first meet is scheduled?

    Ben - that's the thing really, I still can't tell if homebrew is meant to be evaluated as a commercial product (it isn't), but if not, then how?

    Dan - good to hear, thanks

    ipapunk - excellent, nice to have you on board

    Anon - the 'chinese whispers' brew sounds like fun, for sure. But I don't want to get prescriptive about how people brew, other than it needs to be done at home / non-commercially

  16. Homebrew can be reviewed like any other beer. If you get your process right then there should be no reason you can't make beer of the same quality as any micro. In fact I often wonder around a micro thinking how much more sophisticated homebrewers are. Micro's sometimes don't have the luxury of temperature controlled fermentations to the nearest 0.1 degree and can't splash out on ingredients like we can.

    It took me two years of trying (and reading) before my beer started to get to a level where it was acceptable to me (and the London Amateur Brewers who are a very discerning group) so don't expect to get anywhere quickly.


Sorry about the word verification - the blog was getting spammed to bits.