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Secret Drinker tries home brewing in Covid-19 lockdown

You can say what you like about the Germans, and fortunately we’re on the same side in this latest war, but you’ve got to admire their ruthless efficiency.

I couldn’t get my hands on a home brew kit for love nor money but then, following a tip from a faithful fan, the internet came up trumps and fortunately money was enough to secure it.

All you need to brew your own beer at home delivered to your door in one box, direct from Germany
All you need to brew your own beer at home delivered to your door in one box, direct from Germany

Within a matter of days, all the gear was winging its way to me from far-flung Berlin.

So, I’ve got all the gear, but do I really have any idea? To be honest no.

First of all I had to get through the packaging which was no mean feat in itself, our Berliner cousins do not leave anything to chance believe me.

Once inside I ferreted around for instructions fearing there might not be an English version and all I would face would be: “Jeder Dummkopf sollte in der Lage sein, anstandiges Bier zu Machen. Wie scher kann es sein? If so, I seriously doubted my O Level German would cut the mustard – not least because my mark was a ‘U’, and I seem to remember it stood for unclassified.

Fortunately for me I realised the efficiency meant there was a fantastic English version of orders and, fortunately for all of us, they’d even included a few jokes.

The key to the whole process is this 5L keg – this is where the magic happens. You just lump everything into the keg and then pour the beer directly from it seven days later
The key to the whole process is this 5L keg – this is where the magic happens. You just lump everything into the keg and then pour the beer directly from it seven days later

So, having got into the box and released the goodies I was ready to start. The good news is that with all the boredom around the Secret Drinker house currently there was no shortage of willing hands to help.

I’ve never seen such enthusiast offers of assistance.

The first thing I had to do was stop my apprentice from playing with my malt bag. The incredibly squidgy nature of the thing makes it almost irresistible, so although I needed to be strict, I could see the attraction.

The kit, already in a special cardboard box, was packed into another hefty cardboard box which will challenge anyone to open
The kit, already in a special cardboard box, was packed into another hefty cardboard box which will challenge anyone to open

Next I realised the vital ingredient in brewing is beer, so a quick visit to the fridge saw me armed with just the thing – a bottle of Bishop’s Finger.

At least with this in hand I would know what I was aiming to produce.

Though previous boasts of taking on Kent’s number one brewer at its own game were fading with every moment. The Finger, as always, was excellent and helped the brewing process get started.

I’m delighted I had a bottle of Shep’s Bishop’s Finger ready to open during the brewing process – not only great refreshment, but an inspiration too
I’m delighted I had a bottle of Shep’s Bishop’s Finger ready to open during the brewing process – not only great refreshment, but an inspiration too

Everything you need comes carefully packaged in the box apart from water and a measuring jug.

Luckily, and purely by chance, Mrs SD had bought a collection of new jugs so I was ready to go. In essence it couldn’t be easier, first you squeeze the contents of the malt bag into the keg and then add 400ml of cold water.

This is probably the trickiest element of the whole process as the malt is like glue, in fact if I had to say it reminded me of anything I would say Gorilla Glue.

The only extra things you need are a measuring jug and water, everything else is included in the kit
The only extra things you need are a measuring jug and water, everything else is included in the kit

Both Mrs SD and the faithful hound both loved the smell of the malt but it was wickedly sticky and tricky to clean up if you got it anywhere.

The former reckons she remembers being given this stuff on a spoon as a child, though I’ve no idea why a parent would do this to their kid?

Then you add 1L of boiling water and shake well –the warning about using an oven mitt while holding it makes good sense, although I defy anyone not to test how hot it gets.

The apprentice couldn’t resist fiddling with the tactile malt bag, it takes a little bit of emptying and by the time I’d finished so was the Bishop's Finger
The apprentice couldn’t resist fiddling with the tactile malt bag, it takes a little bit of emptying and by the time I’d finished so was the Bishop's Finger

Following this you simply top up with another 2.8L of cold water and add the yeast and hops.

But, this is the part of the process which most challenges the 10 minutes they claim it all takes.

The mix froths up so much that you have to let it subside before you can add more cold water.

The only thing you need apart from the items in the kit is a measuring jug and H2O – fortunately Mrs SD recently took a delivery of a couple of new jugs
The only thing you need apart from the items in the kit is a measuring jug and H2O – fortunately Mrs SD recently took a delivery of a couple of new jugs

This took so many attempts I finally left the apprentice doing the job and spent a useful hour fixing the wisteria back to the wall.

The final step is to sterilise the pressure control valve and close the keg with it – job done.

At this point you just place it in a vertical position for five days, simples.

In among the all-important steps you need to take there are even a few, mildly, humorous jokes to keep you upbeat
In among the all-important steps you need to take there are even a few, mildly, humorous jokes to keep you upbeat

The ‘info’ panel in the instructions says: ‘Like a horde of hard-working ants in front of a picnic basket, the yeast goes to work for five days, converting the sugar in the malt into alcohol and carbon dioxide’.

I have no idea how the final result will turn out and what I will have produced in a week’s time, but overall I enjoyed the process and, with lots of advice and help from the family, it turned into quite a bonding exercise.

I took a surprising level of comfort from feeling the warmth of the bottom of the keg and then carrying it through to the boot room where it must sit for five days. Following that it transfers to the fridge for two further days.

Finally, the keg was placed on the third shelf in my boiler/boot room where it needs to sit for five days before being transferred to the fridge for two further days
Finally, the keg was placed on the third shelf in my boiler/boot room where it needs to sit for five days before being transferred to the fridge for two further days
I managed to dig out a bottle of Old Speckled Hen to see me through the final stages of the brewing process
I managed to dig out a bottle of Old Speckled Hen to see me through the final stages of the brewing process

The apprentice summed up by agreeing it was remarkably easy to make, but he followed that by admitting he has very low expectations for the finished product.

I myself, have seriously reviewed my claim Kent’s #1 brewer could face a serious challenge – Sheps, don’t worry you’re safe.

Join me again in a week when I review the result of my labours.

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I found this at the back of my second beer fridge but sadly it was past its best, probably not surprising at the best by date was February 2019! Straight down the sink
I found this at the back of my second beer fridge but sadly it was past its best, probably not surprising at the best by date was February 2019! Straight down the sink

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