As the crippling tide of recession stalks the land, it is the frugal hobbies that are becoming more popular. Homebrewing is taking off like never before, fitting neatly alongside vegetable gardening, bread making and staycations. Of course, people in the know have been doing those things for years – no doubt now feeling awfully smug as the newbies struggle with final gravities, under-proving and radish wilt.
I’m sure every city has a network of experienced hands, sharing information and getting together to swap stories. Indeed, homebrewing is no different, and as such there are more than a few avid kitchen brewers in Edinburgh. RateBeer supremo Craig Garvie – the stylus-wielding, bowler hat-toting beer hunter – suggested a mini homebrew competition a while ago, for two local experts in the ’20p a pint’ game.
The challenge set down by Craig was to produce a beer that involved Oolong tea and chilli. Taking up the mantle were (in the blue corner) BeerCast Paul, and (green and gold corner) Tun’s O Fun Benjii. We all gathered at Craig’s house the other night, to test the results – kicking off with a minicask of Loch Ness’s Ness un Korma, an all dark-malt porter with added Indian spices.
It was interesting to see how both homebrewers had interpreted the brief. Paul went for the scientific method – brewing a monstrous double IPA, then ‘watering’ it down by blending in different concentrations of chilli-infused Oolong tea. This produced some absolute crackers, but the consensus was that the optimum ratio (in case you’re taking notes) was 80:20 DIPA to chilli/tea.
I was expecting to be knocked about by chilli, but due to the blending, a lot of the qualities of the tea came through – perfumed elderflower and sweet fruit, before the tingle of heat. Substituting the Oolong for blackcurrant herbal infusion tea was also fantastic – combining with the DIPA to give a wonderful hop profile. As befits the gentlemanly art, Benjii could only doff his baggy green in acknowledgment.
Speaking of the West-Coast Whirlwind, with typical insouciant flamboyance Benjii had rolled the dice on an Oolong tea and chilli mead, and a white hock. The mead was, unfortunately, one of these experiments that just doesn’t come off – but the hock (for which the original recipe contained mild narcotics, apparently) was great. Quite a big chilli finish, but the tea just about poked through.
The joy of homebrewing is that it allows a huge amount of creativity. Paul produced a double IPA that contained a naga chilli, having been steeping in the bottle for three months. Agonising. As bad as the now-infamous Forstner Chilli Hot Beer. Benjii countered with a fascinating ‘reverse whisky and coke’ – non-alcoholic whisky essence blended with soda water, mixed with home-fermented alcoholic (15.6%abv) cola syrup. Take that, Heston.
It was a great night. Not to be outdone, our host even joined the party by adding chilli to Budwesier ’66 and Mackeson’s – each separate concoction was then laced with chilli flakes. Having small fiery seeds bobbing about was slightly disconcerting, and the stout was a full-on volcanic belter. The Bud Chilli was actually pretty nice, surprisingly. It just goes to show that homebrewing need not be about 4% bitter, however cheap the results…