Did you know that you can brew your own beer in London… in a way that doesn’t result in you making a mess in your own house?
I’ve said it before elsewhere on this blog: when it comes to alcoholic beverages, wine will more than likely be my go-to. That said, a good craft beer has been known to lead me astray from this rule. Regardless of what I end up drinking, though, I love having the chance to go behind the scenes and learning how things are done/made and, in my most recent experience of this, I got to learn just how much hard work goes into producing a pint of beer.
A few weeks ago, Chris and I were invited down to UBREW to participate in their Beginner Brewing Course. During that Friday evening, we were set to become very familiar with the process of brewing beer.
Before we get to the happenings of that evening, however, let’s deal with the following question:
What is UBREW?
With the benches and bicycles outside, at first, UBREW may appear to be just another brewery-meets-taproom on London’s famous Bermondsey Beer Mile. Once inside, you’ll notice something that suggests that first appearances may be misleading.
You’ll notice people carrying tanks, moving buckets and a general flurry of activity in the large room adjoining the bar area. This is because yes, beer is being brewed, but UBREW is essentially, a clubhouse for beer brewers. The brainchild of Matt and Wilf, UBREW was thought up as a place where brewers, whether they be newbies or vastly experienced, could make their own beer.
After hearing horror stories of dodgy home beer kits and experimental brews, the pair started crowdfunding for a space where people could use high-quality equipment and ingredients, and, ultimately, for the opportunity to create a community of like-minded beer fans. Needless to say, the UBREW concept was a runaway success. They managed to raise over £12,000 and, along with their London branch, are planning a new venture in Manchester (and some other cities too).
What can you expect at UBREW?
If you’re already sold on the concept, memberships start at £65 per month. This includes access to the UBREW space, as well as all of the equipment, ingredients and expert advice from the staff. And don’t think that this experience is just for guys; 15-20% of UBREW’s members are female.
The best thing about UBREW is that it feels completely non-intimidating. As someone who knows very little about the beer-making process, I felt at ease to ask all of my silly questions. For other newbies, the UBREW staff will offer plenty of advice and help members get to grips with making their first brew, and will also guide people with creating beer recipes.
Even though the Friday evening we were there was a busy one, there is a relaxed atmosphere at UBREW. Since a lot of beer brewing involves waiting, members would take a breather by grabbing a beer at the taproom and sitting down for a chat at one of the communal tables. The place seemed to be full of regulars talking about their brews and comparing notes; it genuinely felt like a meeting spot for beer enthusiasts.
If you’d like your beer experience to involve more drinking and less hard work, then the taproom beer selection is a worthy reason for visiting UBREW. With craft beer from around the world, as well as brews made by UBREW members, beer connoisseurs will have plenty to keep them occupied.
The Beginner Brewing Course
We, however, were keen to start making our very own beer creation.
Entering the workshop area, the first thing that hit us was warmth, followed by the delicious smell of sweet malt.
The Beginner Brewing Course can get busy, so we were divided into two groups. The composition of the attendees varied from couples, to single folk to, in our group anyway, a stag do. Our teacher was co-founder Matt who, after a little bit of beer-making theory, got us started with the brewing almost immediately.
We were handed the recipe for an American Brown Ale, a dark beer with rich flavours like caramel, coffee and chocolate (which happen to be three of my favourite things). But, most importantly, you need to know how to create this special flavour profile. Matt ran through the ingredients required for this beer, from the malt to the barley to the amount of water to the different kinds of hops.
From there, it felt like I was back in high school chemistry. Beer making, it turns out, is about equipment, exact measurements and temperatures. It’s the slight variance in any of these factors that result in different types and flavours of beer. And, it was at this point in the evening that I started to appreciate the fact that there’s a lot of thought and effort that goes into brewing a specific type of beer.
But the course doesn’t involve just hearing about the process. You’ll get to smell and handle ingredients and, later, you’ll get to sample the brew as the evening progresses. At various points in the course, members of our group were asked to pour ingredients into our boiling brew, stir or participate in other ways. If you’re after a hands-on course, UBREW ticks that box.
Getting a brew ready for the fermentation stage can, on average, take about six hours, but this is fast-forwarded to make the most of the time on the course.
Instead, you’ll be focusing on the three hours right before the beer tank goes into the fermentation room, where it will remain for two weeks before the brew gets poured into bottles. In terms of capacity, UBREW has almost 80 different brews in this temperature-regulated space in a given week, resulting in anything between 2,000 and 3,000 litres of beer.
We had some work to do before then, though.
Much of the course is dedicated to familiarising yourself with the ingredients, brewing terms and following the recipe. Our American Brown needed to have certain hops added to it at different times, whereupon the temperatures also needed to be adjusted. In between those moments of action, there are various ways to fill the time.
You can go get another beer at the bar, ask Matt or the other staff additional questions you may have and, a highlight for me, taste some unique craft beers from around the world. Matt treated us to a strong stout brewed all the way over in New Zealand.
Even though the course takes three hours, the evening went by quickly and, by the end of it all, there were two main results. Firstly, we had produced a beer. After letting the brew cool down, we got to taste a small sample before it went into the fermentation tank. Matt warned us it would be very watery, but the signature punch of hoppy flavours was already present. The second result? We all left UBREW with a better idea of what it takes to create a single type of beer and, for me specifically, I feel like I gained a much stronger appreciation for craft beer in general, as well as the process behind it.
Best of all? Two weeks after your time at UBREW, you can pick up a portion of whichever beer you brewed during the beginner’s course. Having had that first sip during the course, I can’t wait to see what our American Brown Ale has transformed into!
Ready to take the course?
I’ve already sung my praises over UBREW’s Beginner Brewing Course and how even I, as someone not faintly familiar with beer brewing, ended up getting to grips with the basics. If you’d like to go beyond simply drinking craft beer, I couldn’t recommend UBREW enough.
Happily, readers of Lines of Escape are entitled to a 20% discount on UBREW’s Beginner Brewing Course. Just pop in UBREW20 when you’re making your booking. Happy brewing!
Have you ever taken a beer brewing course? Do you love going behind the scenes as much as I do? Let me know in the comments below!
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