Brewer Interviews #4 - Alban Howeld

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 fourth blog in the series features Alban Howeld.

How did you get into homebrewing?

It was through cider. I have two apple trees and didn’t know what to do with all the fruit one year; a colleague at work suggested I make cider.  A day’s graft left me with over 20L, a couple of weeks later I got to taste my first efforts.  It wasn’t bad but needed time and I was too impatient to wait a year before doing another brew.  I got chatting to another colleague who pointed out I could make beer at any time of the year, but I have to say I was initially put off by the more complex process of mashing, boiling and cooling which is not part of making cider.   In the end, my wife boought me an all-grain starter kit and, much to the chagrin of my kids, I brewed up in the kitchen.  I think it was about 5 days later I that tasted it and couldn’t believe how good it was.  I’d made a couple of mistakes by bottling too quickly and adding too much sugar to the bottles, but this meant I was drinking slightly sweet, but very fresh well-carbonated beer.  Of course, it wasn’t long before the remaining bottles were over-carbed and less fresh, but that didn’t matter, I’d been bitten by the bug.

Current Set up:

I’ve collected several pieces of equipment over the last few years, but I still use a 30L Burco tea urn as a kettle; I’ve modified it a little to add a hop guard, but it has a false bottom and has served me well.  Another present from my wife was a double-skinned mash-tun that’s easy to clean and has been great.  I have a few fermenters but now primarily use an Anvil 7.5 Gallon Stainless Bucket Fermenter and a clear plastic fermenter.  I brew in the kitchen and ferment in my cellar.


Best piece of homebrewing equipment you own:

The Burco tea urn has been great, but the one piece of equipment that gets used the most through mash, boil, ferment and bottle is the 5L jug.  If you haven’t got one, pick one up from the shop and your brew will become easier

Dream setup:

I would love a purpose-built space where I don’t have to lug 25L of ale about the place, one which has all the necessary plumbing, drainage and temperature control.  Other additions to this would be a means of accurately measuring liquid flow (water/wort) in to the respective vessels, an electric pump to move liquid about the place and a means of cooling wort that doesn’t required gallons and gallons of mains water.  Finally, I’d love to have someone clean all my equipment for me; they’d have to do it for the love of it as I couldn’t afford to pay them; strangely, I’ve had no takers!

What's your 'go to' style?:

I’m always striving to make the best pint of English traditional bitter or pale ale that I can, so between them they’ll account for around 70% of everything I’ve brewed. 

What brews have you got planned in the next few months:

I’m currently just finishing a fresh-hop bitter using some Bramling Cross, courtesy of Tim’s allotment (thanks Tim), and following that I’m going to be trying to create an apricot ale using some Beata hops very generously donated by Solvay Society (more thanks).  Further ahead, I need to recreate a tripel I brewed a couple of years ago as I’m almost out. I keep promising myself I’ll do a sour, so I may eventually get around to that too.


Competitions entered/ placings:

Apart from a couple of months of being in the top three brews at the WIB Brewing club (which is actually one of brewing’s highest accolades achievable), I’ve not entered any competitions. 

Favourite beer of all time:

This is a really hard one as I’ve tasted a lot of very good beers recently, some of them were even commercial, but such a title implies longevity.  I’m going to go for the beer that first made me aware of how lovely and diverse ale can be, and that’s Theakston’s Old Peculiar from the cask; there’s a special place in my heart, and a few brain cells lost to that ale.

What breweries do you feel have pushed the envelope?

I can’t claim any great knowledge in this area I’m afraid.  I’ve heard great things about The Kernel and everything of theirs I’ve had has been excellent.  Others on my watchlist are Cloudwater, The Wild Beer Co & Solvay Society, but I’m sure there’s a load more.

What piece of advice would you give someone interested in starting homebrewing:

Start small and don’t be too ambitious for your first few. Read Blogs & bulletin boards, watch videos, and plan your brew meticulously. Do this and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it years ago.  Best to learn the basics and get familiar with the process first, then you can start doing the funky stuff. Best thing about homebrewing:

Are you kidding?  Lots and lots of lovely beer!

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