Tuesdays in January are hardly days I think about wistfully on warm summer afternoons, but Tuesday 28th may go a little way to challenging this. It saw the second meeting of the Rebel Homebrew Club, started by Gaz and Bradley of the Tiny Rebel Brewery in Newport, South Wales, and held at the brewery’s Urban Tap House bar in Cardiff. If you’re ever in Cardiff and looking for a good pint then head straight there – it stocks easily the biggest range of quality craft ales I’ve seen in the area. On the pumps that night were beers from Bragdy Mantle and Camden Town Breweries as well as Tiny Rebel’s own.
After grabbing a pint of Mantle’s Cwrw Teifi (pron. ‘kooroo tayvee’ – a dark red sessionable ale, crisp and refreshing; well-balanced and with a distinctive citrus hop character which doesn’t overpower – I’d have it again), I found about 25+ people had already gathered in the room labelled ‘Home Brew Club’. Apart from the hosts, I didn’t immediately recognise any other participants from the previous event, but as the evening went on I picked out one or two. I sat down and joined in a conversation. I’ve always been struck by how friendly the home brewing community is and if anyone reading this is new to the scene or feels hesitant about chatting with brewers I’d say there is no need to be shy. Go up to a brewer with a beer in their hand and ask them what their pint’s like and voila – a conversation.
There was a great mix of experience in the group – I was at a table with two blokes who were literally four days in to their first brew, others in the room had been at it for decades. As we got chatting, some strange rhythms began issuing from an upstairs area and it turned out we were sharing the Tap House with a side of Morris Dancers who’d booked a room for a practice session. This added some extra colour and noise to the evening.
Gaz brought the meeting to order with a welcome and an offer to talk a little about water treatment. This stressed a) the shortfalls of water company generic reports, b) the excellent services of Murphy and Sons and c) the need to get your water checked regularly. Plus a little conversation about adapting liquor to beer styles. Some suggestions were made about local AG brewers posting their water treatment regimes on the brewing club’s web page – I think this is a great idea, particularly for those new to AG brewing. If you know another brewer served by the same reservoir as you uses x amount of CRS (for example) then you can be pretty confident you need the same yourself. It’d be great to see the data plotted on a map, but that’s a lot of work, potentially.
The next item on the agenda was the brewing competition jointly organised by the club and Gwent CAMRA. It being the latter’s 40th anniversary this year, they’d set a challenge to design a 4.0 ruby ale, the winner being brewed by Tiny Rebel and distributed in the area. I handed in my entry, which was not very ruby, and 4.7%, but I was told that those are details which can be sorted out later. I’d also brought a couple of other ales to share – a Chocolate Truffle Stout, and an IPA bittered with Challenger and Bouclier; Bouclier and EKG as aroma additions; and Fermentis T58 yeast. The Bouclier hops were given out by Rob the Malt Miller at the first meeting, and the IPA formed the base of my competition entry. (I liquored the IPA down to 1042, fermented it with Nottingham yeast, and dry hopped with more EKG).
The glasses appeared and the bottle sharing began. The quality was very good, and the range of styles broad. Gaz brought some of his own to share, including an oak-aged beer which had been in the bottle for over a year. It was a complex beer with whisky notes, and would be nice to savour on a winter’s evening. As happens at such events, my palate quickly deteriorated and my appreciation of anything below mouth-puckering IPA levels of bitterness started to become compromised. Nevertheless it was really enjoyable discussing and sampling people’s favourite brews and works in progress. Of the former this included a very drinkable black IPA (thanks Paul (fellow UKCBN member)), and the latter a coffee porter (thanks Craig) in which part – but not yet all – of the coffee flavour profile could be discerned. Hints of ground coffee in the finish, waiting for something upfront, but the base recipe was sound. It was also a great chance for people to speak with professional brewers and others in the industry, including Vince, who designed the Tiny Rebel brewery set up.
You always learn something new at homebrew events like this. They are a great opportunity to share experience, pick up hints and ‘join the dots’ to come up with new ideas for the next brew.
I was very happy with the reception for my chocolate truffle stout, and the IPA went down well too. Or did it…? When I cracked it open it seemed over-carbonated, and although I warned people that it was still young for a T58-brewed beer (T58 is very sulphurous and has a certain ‘edge’ that only mellows after three or four months in the bottle), I think it may actually have been a weizenbock. I had about six or seven bottles of the stuff left over and they seemed to have disappeared over Christmas (I thought maybe I’d been sleep drinking, or hidden them somewhere ‘safe’). The caps were the same I used with the IPA, and the weirdness of the T58 could be confused with the phenols of the weizenbock. The clincher was that it was too sweet for the level of hops in the IPA. Ah well, people liked it. I later confirmed this and found a way of determining which bottles are which, although the method is only marginally more scientific than using a Ouija board.
I’d planned to leave about 9pm, but chatted on until 10ish (kept going by a Tiny Rebel Flux – which was good, but don’t ask me to be more precise than that after the battering my tongue had taken). I left a little after the Morris Dancers had packed up, and as I headed to the station I wondered if Tiny Rebel will simultaneously host a train spotters’ meeting next time, making it a kind of ‘anorak triple-crown’. Regardless, I aim to be there.