In this blog series, we'll be interviewing some of the brewers from our homebrew club (and in the future from elsewhere) to give you an idea of what got them into brewing, what they're currently experimenting with and to hopefully inspire others to take the leap into brewing their own beer at home. The third blog in the series features James Bois.
How did you get into homebrewing?
I have been into craft beer since a trip to Vermont in about 2005 that really opened my eyes. Then once the movement started kicking off in London, I really wanted to give it a go but lived in a small flat in West London and was scared of the amount of equipment and mess involved. Then in 2017, BrewDog Shepherds Bush ran a series of monthly free events called Brewniversity where they would demo a brew day on a typical 5 Gallon Homebrew kit whilst talking about different aspects of homebrewing and providing free beer (the magic words!) samples of the style of the day. Seeing the process in action, as well as how imprecise they were at each step whilst still turning out drinkable beers, convinced me that this is something I could do better and within weeks of the final session I had bought my first brewery-in-a-box kit and brewed my first batch!
Current Set up:
I have an extremely small and simple (and cheap) all-grain BIAB (Brew In A Bag) set up at home – a 10L stock pot and trivet from Ikea with a nylon mesh grain bag for the mash and sparge. Then a couple of glass demijohns for fermenting – a 4L (1 US Gallon) one that came with my first kit, and a slightly larger 5.3L big mouth one that I usually use now. This yields 12x330ml bottles per batch of beer, not much but keeps me brewing as often as possible (I aim for once a month).
Best piece of homebrewing equipment you own: With such a simple setup, I have nothing too exotic. The big mouth fermenter has made a few things easier – has yet to overflow (or explode) during fermentation, is very easy to clean and makes taking samples, dry hopping or adding fruit a doddle. Aside from that, getting a fast digital thermometer has made everything easier and more precise than when I relied on a glass one and I couldn’t do without my hydrometer for making sure everything is on track.
Dream setup: My true dream set up would be my own microbrewery and tap room… but as far as my home setup, I am not sure. I am always debating whether I enjoy the DIY hands-on approach I have now versus the simplicity that an automated system could bring. More practically speaking, I would like to get a dedicated space for my brewing equipment so I don’t have to unpack it and bring it to the kitchen each brew day. Oh, and fermentation temperature control would be life changing!
What's your 'go to' style?: I don’t think I have one. I enjoy drinking all styles of beer so like to try my hand at brewing something different each month to improve my craft. I often use the monthly challenge at WIB Homebrew Club as a reason to research and try something new too.
What brews have you got planned in the next few months: With the extreme hot weather recently, I have just bottled a fruited saison and I have another spiced saison planned before the end of summer. I have a NEIPA on the slate next, and then my very first lager is an exciting prospect since I have been reading a lot of experiments that suggest you do not need low temperature control to make a good one at home if you have the right yeast!
Competitions entered/ placings: I haven’t been brave enough to enter one up until now… but we recently placed third with a collaboration brew between the WIB Homebrew Club and WSOTT (Wrong Side of the Tracks) brewery so that has gotten me exciting about putting my beers out there. We have plans to do two WIB collaboration brews for the Peckham Amateur Beer Festival in September, and I have now entered two of my beers into the Brew Con World Series in November. Fingers crossed!
Favourite beer of all time: Very difficult question. I am one of those drinkers that must be a nightmare for breweries – I rarely drink the same beer twice and am always looking to try something new. But over the years, my first taste of a few beers has really blown my mind – KBS, CBS, Heady Topper, Pliny, my first true NEIPA from Trillium, Duchesse, anything Cantillon, everything Jester King…
What breweries do you feel have pushed the envelope? Many. Especially in the US which is where the early years of my craft beer journey was focused. But now we have plenty of great breweries in the UK who are always experimenting and thankfully improving their consistency as well. A few that have made their mark on me over the years are Kernel, BBNo, Burning Sky, Cloudwater, Northern Monk, Wylam… I just hope no more of my favourites sell out to big beer :-(
What piece of advice would you give someone interested in starting homebrewing: Just do it! Get started, make mistakes, learn and before you know it you will churning out great beers and be addicted to this hobby. Find a local homebrew shop or club to get your questions answered while you are learning. Read as much as you can - websites, blogs, forums, podcasts… and buy a book – I recommend How To Brew by John Palmer as the best place to start.
Best thing about homebrewing:
I love the milestones – it feels great when you make it through a brew day, pitch the yeast and put the airlock in the fermenter. It feels even better when fermentation is done and you get the finished beer into bottles and capped ready for conditioning. But best of all is when you pop the top on that first bottle and taste what you have made with your own hands.