Tuesday, 28 April 2009

CAMRA and homebrewing

Since CAMRA have re-launched 'Beer' as a quarterly magazine they've had a small article each issue on homebrewing. Unfortunately they're badly done by someone who obviously doesn't know much about homebrewing. 

The first of the article was for some bizarre reason about how to make some murky brew out of rye bread. Not quite sure what this has to do with real ale but I thought maybe it was meant to be something to get people started easily, with little need to buy kit or ingredients. 

Next came the more obvious starting point of how to make beer from kits. Most home brewers start this way, myself included, and it is pretty simple. I though the short length of the article was a bit of a shame though, as there were a lot more useful things that could have been said. 

The third article, getting round to full mash all grain brewing, really got on my tits though. The same short amount of words was given to explaining this more complicated process and the author just wasn't up to the job. The method he briefly describes for mashing involves adding an immersion heater to the mash and leaving it overnight.

This is the method that CJJ Berry described in the Amateur Winemakers homebrewing book produced over 40 years ago when homebrewing was legalised in the UK. It's over long, over complicated and leads to poor tasting beer. In CAMRA's own homebrewing guide, first published in 1990, Graham Wheeler writes: "Under no circumstances should you resort to the practice of overnight mashing as advocated by some members of the homebrewing fraternity". The fact is, mixing your grains with hot water and leaving them in an insulated mash tun for 90 minutes will give good conversion of the starch to sugar, with no need for heating and in a lot less time. 

The article continued in a similarly clueless fashion. No mention was made of how to separate the wort from the grains, or from the hops for that matter. Vague instructions were given, like "boil for about and hour" and "add a third of a packet of hops", with no mention of size of the packet or the variety of hops. It was not well received at Jim's Beer Kit homebrewing forums but to be fair to the author himself did post there, and I hoped he'd learned something. 

Sadly my hope was misplaced. The latest article includes similarly awful brewing instructions. This time he does actually specify the size of hop packet to use in the recipe but otherwise it's just dire. I'd be surprised if anyone actually brews this way, even the bloke who wrote it.

CAMRA have dabbled off and on in having home brewing articles and books over the years. They've just produced a new edition of the excellent Brew Your Own British Real Ale At Home (though as most homebrew will have extraneous CO2 added it won't count as real ale by CAMRA's definition). They've also intermittently had homebrewing articles in their paper. But these latest articles are some of the worst I've seen on homebrewing, and could be made so much better very easily - by getting someone who knows what they talking about to write them for example. 


  1. This is funny Ed. Wouldn't you think that someone in CAMRA would know about actual brewing?? The process itself is rather simple. I brew on a rather primitive all grain system, but I hit my target gravity almost 100% of the time. Surely CAMRA have fallen asleep at the wheel again.

  2. Yes, there's not much too it but you really have to have brewed yourself to understand it and clearly no one at Beer magazine has.

  3. Totally agree, the BEER homebrew articles have been weak, at best. No surprise as the vast majority of CAMRA members I've met couldn't dig themselves out of a mash tun.

    The UK would be a much better beer place if CAMRA members were required to brew their own beer before becoming a member.

    I guarantee they would rethink their hard line on extraneous CO2. Imagine, after a 6-12 hour brew day and weeks of anticipation, tasting the fruits of their labour being devoured by acetobacter after only the 3rd or 4th day on dispense.

  4. It would certainly stop people pontificating about things they've read about but never actually done. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.