Beer Before Wine is Fine

When I left Australia in 2004, Victoria Bitter (VB) was the most popular beer, and Crown Lager is what we drank when we wished to be posh. Beer drinking was a simple uncomplicated pastime – at the cricket, at the footy, at a BBQ or on the wood, it lubricated conversation in a gathering of men. It created courage, stupidity and humour. It celebrated victories and consoled losses.

Thirsty Work

However, when I returned six years later I noticed a massive shift in beer consumption trends. VB had been pipped by XXXX Gold (a mid strength 3.5%, low carb lager) in the mass market. However, new brands had proliferated – International and Craft Beers have taken centre stage. Beer only shops opened; the best one in Melbourne –

The takeover of Fosters by SABMiller means, Coopers, the family owned Adelaide based brewer, is now the largest Australian owned brewery.

Beer has made a comeback but it looks very different today.

In ten years, International beer brands available in Australia have more than doubled to 750+ and there are more than 150 Craft/ Micro Brewers producing over 500 beers across the country. Pubs now sell a multitude of options on tap – gone are the Fosters or Lion only pubs. The beer drinker has a plethora of choice.

Matt Wilson's Home Brewed Belgium Ale

People now smell their beer – talk about the bouquet and think about what food to match it with – beer drinkers have become wine wankers!! Beer has become sophisticated. Think about the classic pairings  – oysters and stout, hot salty chips and beer, cheese and bitter, chilly crab and lager, soup and pilsner, Belgian truffles and chimay. Indeed, the vast array of aromas, flavours and degrees of carbonation mean many permutations and combinations.

So when a mate asked me to assist him brew his own beer I jumped at the chance – I am a beer bogan from way back. My first real taste of alcohol was an ice cold pot of Carlton Draught on a balcony at the beach. There is nothing as thirst quenching or as rewarding as an ice cold beer after playing a tough game of Australian Rules Football – crisp clean bitterness refreshes the palate and cools the soul.

Making my own beer brought make memories of making ginger beer as a kid with exploding bottles resting under the house.

However, this proposition was different. We brewed our own beer, but we used someone else’s ingredients and brewery. Barleycorn Brewers – is a concept which took hold in North America in the 1970’s, but has only just made it to Australia.

Barleycorn is a family run business, passionate about one thing helping you to make a great beer! This is a professional micro brewery which provides you, the budding brew master, with the chance to create your own preservative free beer. You can enjoy the complete beer experience – from selecting the ingredients all the way to enjoying your unique beer with friends or family.

Damo, two of his mates and I turned up bright and early one cold Saturday morning at Barleycorn Brewers to brew beer.

Brewing at home can be troublesome … kettles, fermentation vessels and most importantly cleanliness; Barleycorn removes the difficulty.

Upon arrival at the converted factoryette, our most difficult task was to get four blokes to agree on which beer to brew – out of 105 selections! Barleycorn offer an array of beers across the various styles, which essentially imitate the more commercial labels plus some of their own original Barleycorn brews.

1)      Standard – eg: Very Best (VB), Budding American (Budweiser) and Aussie Export (Fosters).

2)      Boutique – eg: Asapi (Asahi), Big Cat Lager (Tiger) and Mulsch (Grolsch)

3)      Top Shelf –eg: Devil (Duvel), White Elephant (Elephant Beer)

4)      Low Alcohol – eg: Too Blue (Tooheys Blue),

5)      Mid Strength – eg: Qld Mid (XXXX Gold), Grinders Light (Millers Light)

After some deliberation, a top shelf brew was selected – Heavy Belgian Beer – weighing in at 7.3% alc by volume it was sure to provide plenty of winter comfort.

We are handed our recipe card and the brewers program. Let’s assemble the ingredients:-

–          Malt: 6 litres light, 3 litres medium

–          Sugar: 1000g of dextrose

–          Grain: 500g crystal malt, 250g munich malt … into a tea bag

–          Hops: 80g perle (for fruity bitterness), 40g goldings (for floral fragrance), 30 g saaz (for citrus twist)

–          Yeast: 25g ale

Beer or ale is an ancient beverage (like wine), and was probably produced around 7,000 years ago in what is today Iran (Mesopotamia) and possibly by accident – spontaneous fermentation of cereal sugars by wild yeasts in the air.

Frothy Wort

As beer is primarily water, its source is paramount – Melbourne tap water is filtered and boiling away in our assigned kettle. Mashing begins as the malt, sugar and grain is added to the boiling water – converting the starches (long chain carbohydrates) into simple sugars (saccharification). This forms a sugar rich liquid or wort. Now we understand why beer makes you fat. Then at fifteen minute intervals the various hops are added for bitterness, aroma and flavour – the critical part of brewing. Producing the wort is like making a tasty stock or soup. It takes time for flavour and texture extraction. Our beer soup smells hearty and wholesome.

In a little over 60 minutes our hopped wort is passed through a heat exchanger to cool for fermentation. Yeasts don’t like it too hot – if they are to successfully convert the sugars into alcohol.

Fermentation takes four weeks in temperature controlled environment.

Beer brewing is thirsty work, so we try a few brews along the way. Barleycorn run a beer bank, donate 6 of your brews into the bank and get to drink 6 other beers while you brew.

Stella Stella – just like the original “wife beater” – pale straw, closed nose, a clean refreshing lager. Not too complicated.

Devil – golden honey, frothy head, baked spiced apples, heavy yeastiness with a dash of citrus … this looks and tastes like Duvel.

Singhahaha – clear yellows, stunted head, mellow hops with grassy grains, crisp and clean … aroi!!

Four weeks later we eagerly arrive back at the brew house to bottle and drink our hard work.

Heavy Belgian Beer –  amber tones, persistent head, fruity richness, clean crisp finish. A fine effort.

This works and is popular.  What a super way to spend a Saturday morning – brewing our own beer. Four blokes walk away with a slab and half of froth. We will back in Spring to brew our summer cleansers.


By Matthew Wilson | Produce | Related to: , , , |

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