Friday, 18 June 2010

Self sufficiency

"I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer."
-Abraham Lincoln

Long ago and far away, O best beloved, there were three young males at university. Blessed with more time than money, and more money than sense, they decided that during the odd four or five days a week they weren't studying, they would make beer. A relatively modest capital investment was made in bins, barrels, demijohns and such, as well as various plastic impedimenta like long spoons, buckets, syphon tubes and what-have-you. Such was their youthful energy that between them they were soon turning round 120 pints a week. The Rocksoff Brewery soon became rather well-known among the beer cognoscenti of their colleges, and legendary were the end-of-term parties when the accumulated termly surplus was disposed of in the best possible way. Back in the day, our beardless youths estimated the cost of a pint of Rocksoff Best at 10p (compared with a pint of electric soup from the subsidised college bar at around 50p), and the brewery mission statement was "Pissed for a Pound". This, unlike most corporate mission statements, was not only entirely accurate but if anything a slight understatement.

Moving forward some - dear Lord - 28 years, Mrs QO and I (erstwhile stakeholders in the Rocksoff Brewery as well as long-standing CAMRA members) recently became a little tired of handing so much tax to the Guvmint for each pint of beer we consume, and so decided to delve into the depths of the cellar and see what brewery kit we still had to hand. Quite a bit, even if a lot of cobwebs had to be blown off.

My excellent father - never one to miss an opportunity for a canny investment, or indeed a pint - offered to put some capital into the new venture, dividends to be paid in liquid assets. With such financial backing, it was not long before the new Stoats Brewery (we like mustelids) was launched and the sweet scent of malt liquor was in the air here at the Observatory. This 110-year old house is in many ways ideal for brewing. The bathroom upstairs is where the boiler lives, so is constantly warm and therefore perfect for the primary fermentation. The hallway is at a good temperature for secondary fermentation for the 48 hours or so required, and then it's down into the cellar to condition and clear in cool darkness.

Here we see a barrel of Stoats Summer Ale conditioning, and a half-pint drawn off tonight suggests it's nearly ready. This is a light, golden bitter which we plan to make even more summery by adding more hops to the mash. Purists may be disappointed to note the CO2 dispenser on top of the barrel, but purists can, frankly, go and boil their bottoms. It's only to keep a blanket of gas on top of the beer to prevent oxidation, not to force excess gas into the beer. And yes, that is a case of Grolsch - but hey, sometimes you really want a cold one from the fridge. And we're going to be using the bottles to put some real beer in.

The cellarage - a bit low on stocks at the moment, but that's partly because we've had a Canadian around. Fortunately, there's another batch in secondary fermentation in the hallway. This is our way of welcoming visitors to the house.

And tomorrow night these little puppies can go downstairs to mature.

But what is it like, I hear you enquire? Well, not bad at all. There is - to the discerning palate - a certain 'homebrew' flavour to do with using malt extract, but it's one that you can get used to quite quickly. We estimate that today we're brewing at around 3.8 ABV for about 25p a pint, and by my calculations less than 4p goes to the Treasury by way of tax. Is that not a result? There is of course a labour element - roughly three hours per brew of 40 pints - but one can listen to the radio and drink beer while carrying out the duties. It could be worse.

And the end product? Well, you're welcome to come round and try. Here's what it looks like - note the well-conditioned natural head and clarity, he said modestly. And do treasure this shot as a particular rarity - the glass is full.

I leave you with this gem of philosophy.

"Well ya see, Norm, it's like this... A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members. In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Excessive intake of alcohol, as we know, kills brain cells. But naturally, it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine. That's why you always feel smarter after a few beers."
-Cliff Clavin, of Cheers

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