The Vikings used a magic stick, Belgian monks wild spirits in the air.
Metro is using four types of malted grain, two hops and a sachet of yeast. We are making beer. It will be deli-cious. We hope.
More specifically, we are making rye IPA, 20 litres of the stuff. In this noble pursuit we are getting more than a little help from four good men behind a craft beer revolution taking place in a corner of south-east London.
They call themselves Ubrew and they want you to make your own beer. Banish any thoughts of over-the-counter brewing kits that leave you with something approaching alcoholic ditch water. This is the real deal.
Their plan is a neat one. Members pay a monthly fee to come in, use the industry-standard kit, take advice from their brewer, share tips with other members, bottle the stuff then either take it home or, if it’s good enough, have it sold at the bar at the back along with the professional gear.
Metro did a back-of-a-fag packet calculation and you’re looking at just under two quid a bottle. You may wish to do your own maths.
‘We were our own target audience,’ says Wilf Hosfall, 25, who crowdfunded the company with his pal Matt Denham, 30. Andrew Hadfield, 34, and Nick Fletcher, 27, came on board soon after.
‘We were making beer in buckets our kitchen and thought there had to be some kind of stepping stone between that and a professional level. There wasn’t, so we came up with this.’
The fun happens in an archway in part of what is known as the Bermondsey Beer Mile because of its number of craft beer breweries and tap houses.
Nick, smiley, a glass of beer never too far from his hand – ‘Do you drink wine?’ ‘No, only beer’ — takes us through the process.
First you make the mash. This involves adding hot water to your malt. This dictates the colour, base flavour and alcohol level.
We shall be coming home at a not-embarrassing 6.1 per cent. Nick was good on the particulars as to how, Metro less good at taking it all in.
After an hour, you sparge the mash (from what we can gather it’s basically a cleansing process) and add your hops for more flavour.
This then boils for around an hour to leave you with the wort, which tastes like the crunchy bit inside Maltesers. You then boil your wort for around another hour.
There’s a fair bit of standing round but, hey, there’s a bar at the back and, you know, when in Rome…
Boiling done, you add your yeast, which is where the magic happens.
Yeast is a living organism and does two things. It uses the oxygen in the wort to reproduce then sets to eating the sugar, turning it into alcohol. It was Louis Pasteur that worked out what was going on here.
Before him, beer was brewed by a happy accident, whether from the wild yeast on the Vi-kings’ magic stick or the stuff floating around in the air that helped our monks in Belgium. Let’s all raise a glass to yeast.
Yeast added, the fermentation begins. This takes place in a room at the back, temperature controlled at 16/17C. It will be another four weeks before we come back to bottle it and a fortnight more before it’s ready to drink, which means there’s nothing left for us to do.
Or almost nothing.
‘Can we name the beer?’ we ask.
‘Sure,’ says Nick, seeming less than sure. ‘What is it?’
‘Hop Off The Press.’
‘It’s a good name. Yeah. Like it. Hop Off The Press. Can’t wait to drink it.’
We gave Hop Off The Press to Metro’s resident hophead Nick Howells to taste.
It should be noted that if Howells bought music the way he drinks beer, his record collection would consist only of out-of-print obscurities and hard-to-find first-pressings.
He said: ‘As a slick of deep bronze liquid flows into the glass you know you’re grappling with a mercurial beast.
‘A leathery caramel jab on the nostrils adds a roguish impression, followed by an unexpected left hook of toffee apple to the taste buds.
‘The hops brawl with the toasted rye and smoky malts. The rye triumphs with a sucker punch. Brewed by a rank amateur, you say? Promote that man now!’
Bars that Brew
Bristol: Zero Degees. Swanky looking joint – think burnished steel, neon and raw brick – with its own pilsner, wheat and pale ales plus more. zerodegrees.co.uk/Bristol
Manchester: Blackjack Brew Tap. Less a pub that brews beer than a brewery where you can drink beer, with a pleasingly DIY ethic towards seating and décor. blackjack-beers.com
Glasgow: Drygate. ‘Brewed fearlessly’ is how they describe themselves. Does comedy nights in case the 24 rotating taps aren’t fun enough. drygate.com
Cumbria: The Watermill, Ings, Cumbria. Award-winning boozer Two miles from Lake Windemere. Has eight rooms if you want to get stuck in for the night and walk it off the next day. watermillinn.co.uk
Maidstone, Kent: Swan On The Green. Village green pub. Not one for the hopheads perhaps but why go super fruity when you can choose from a best, porter or mild. swan-on-the-green.co.uk
This first appeared in Metro, April 14, 2015.