Knocking out the various half-thought ideas that end up on this website, something I take for granted – without doubt – are the brewdays I end up going on. Those long, cold mornings standing in industrial units, unavoidably getting in the way, trying not to break anything. They are great fun, sorting out with a brewer beforehand what you’re going to be making, coming up with ideas, losing the hair on your arm as you do the first addition of hops. That familiar glint in the brewers’ eye when time comes for one of the vessels to be cleaned, as they sidle away towards the shelf where the sponges are kept. It’s all part of the fun.
I’ve always wondered if that particular experience is one that could be replicated commercially. ‘Pay and Play’ beermaking for the public, giving anyone a chance to rock up and sort out a malt bill, be a brewer for the day. Well, in Edinburgh (or more exactly, Loanhead), you now can – last week Stewart Brewing launched their Craft Beer Kitchen, based in a small corner of their impressive new brewery, just the other side of the bypass. All prospective brewers need to do is get in touch, book a brewslot, and pony up.
Two different batch-sizes are available – 40 or 80 litres, with the former all bottle, and the latter either bottle, or bottle and cask. This seems to be some investment by Steve, Jo and the team, with three separate brewing systems installed – but it looks to be paying off already, Jo telling me they have already had a lot of interest, and days are being booked up. “We’re open to making anything that’s legal,” said brewer Bruce at the official launch, which took place on Friday at the Southern Bar.
To me, one thing that should be – if not illegal – then at least frowned upon is beer brewed with carrots. Say whaaaat? Yes, Friday’s launch also featured eight beers produced on the test kits, as an idea of what can be done. Root vegetables can work; there are some great beetroot beers out there (and many that are undrinkable), but the 48 Carrot Ale was a real face-scruncher. So called because that number were grated directly into the brew, it had a fraction of a Belgian tickle, then a big, rooty carrot finish. Tasted exactly as intended, and many people loved it – however I was firmly in the other camp. Very firmly. Indeed.
Another beer that went down really well on the night was Earl Grey Amber, brewed with leaves from the distinctively-flavoured tea. Also a great idea, but it tasted like running through a burning Bergamot factory, barrels of Earl Grey syrup exploding in your wake. I wrote the words HUGELY FLORAL several times over. It seems like these kitchen kits don’t half get the flavours into the final product! (Although, having said that, the Popcorn Pils was more grassy than popcorny, which may have been a good thing).
The standout of the event was, for me, the Watermelon Wheat, an idea more breweries should investigate – it works beautifully. The balance of sweetness between the hefe and melon components really came together; in fact, it was almost on a par with 2013’s Cool as a Cucumber landmark for refreshment, just a cracker. Also great, the Blackcurrant Berliner Weisse, even if the combination of fruit and lactobacillus resulted in the beery equivalent of a Muller Fruit Corner; it also worked really well. Ditto the honeysuckle and peach of Ka Pow, a 7.7%, beefed-up, Ka Pai.
Finally, aside from the rich, earthy and perfumed double IPA Poker Face, the remaining standout was Hopricot Pale, an apricot-infused pale ale created by the homebrewing hive-mind of the Brewstore. 6.2% and hopped with Amarillo and Galaxy, it also contained 1.3kg of apricots in 75 litres, which gave a swarthiness I really liked. Orange, peach and a biscuity finish were there too, but the star was undoubtedly the dirty, apricot skin flavour; that simultaneous sweetness and bitterness you get from eating them. Great stuff.
You could argue, I guess, that how these beers turned out didn’t really matter – they were all experiments, designed to get people thinking about what could be achieved on the test kits. That’s the take-home point here (pun intended) – the key thing about the Craft Beer Kitchen is that openness of scope; it yields a chance for people to be creative, and come up with anything they like. Being available to all, it’s a great idea for those who always fancied the idea of being a brewer for the day, or taking the next level with their homebrew. It’s yet another point of variety in Edinburgh’s flourishing beer scene…