The Hotel Room Challenge: Taking business class grain to glass

For the past year I’ve been traveling to the United Kingdom two weeks a month for a project. Needless to say, it was cutting into valuable brewing time. Sitting in my hotel room one evening thinking about when I could brew next, I noticed something ubiquitous to English hotel rooms, an electric tea kettle . . . or was it really a tiny brewing system!? I started forming a plan, and the Hotel Room Challenge was born. The objective: On my next trip, I would brew one pint of English bitter, in my hotel room, over the course of my two-week stay.

I immediately began to formulate a tiny recipe, needing to scale grains from kg to g and hopping rates. I could use the tea kettle to heat strike water and to boil, but what else would I need? My eyes landed on the ceramic cups in the room, and I found my mash tuns. For my brewing water and a fermenting vessel I decided to use a two-liter bottle of water, betting it was sanitary.

The objective: On my next trip, I would brew one pint of English bitter, in my hotel room, over the course of my two-week stay.

I couldn’t bring CO2 on the plane, and I wouldn’t have enough days to bottle condition, so I decided to use a spunding valve on the water bottle “fermenter” attached with a carbonation cap that fits the threading on soda bottles. This was starting to seem feasible!

I arrived in the UK on a red-eye and to my surprise, was not searched by border agents despite the suspicious looking items in my checked luggage. After a long day of meetings and suffering from sleep deprivation, I arrived at my hotel room brewery and set about making my nano batch. Like most of my brew days at home, I immediately hit a problem. I had packed unmilled grain and needed to figure out how to crush it. My ceramic cup “mash tuns” became my grain mill by crunching and rolling the malt in their plastic baggies.

Here it is . . . all the ingredients and tools required to brew an English bitter in a hotel room. Turns out this is all that is needed to bring grains to glass in less than two weeks. Image courtesy of Matt Talbot

Next problem: I discovered that the electric tea kettle had two settings: Off or “heat to a boil very quickly.” I had to pulse the switch on and off until I hit my strike temperature. Mashing was straightforward and I nailed my temperature, but I was pretty tired so only mashed for 20 minutes. I brought a small mesh coffee filter to drain my wort into the kettle for boiling. Remember the two settings? Well, the “heat to boil very quickly” setting nearly caused a boilover in about four seconds. I was back to pulsing the switch on and off for almost an hour. Honestly, it was probably more like 30 minutes before I told myself that the beer would be somewhere in the right IBU range, so it would be a slightly less bitter “Bitter.” I allowed the wort to cool before pouring into my water bottle “fermenter” and pitching the yeast.

I placed the fermenter into the closet with some sanitized foil over the top and set the room temperature to a cool 19 °C (66 °F). Once high kräusen was complete, I attached the spunding valve assembly to naturally carbonate the beer. After eight days I placed the beer in the mini-fridge to cold crash for two days . . . after all I needed to determine if my Hotel Room Challenge was a success before my flight home.

Excited to try my beer, I picked up my favorite Indian takeaway, to enjoy with my homebrew. I unscrewed the carbonation cap from the fermenter and was relieved to hear the satisfying hiss of escaping CO2. I slowly poured the brew into a glass careful to leave the trub behind. There it was: A cool pint of ordinary English bitter. I sat and enjoyed my paneer kadai, sipped at my beer, and declared the experiment a success. I actually brewed an all-grain recipe in a hotel room from grain to glass in less than 2 weeks. And to be quite honest, it was pretty OK.

Issue: January-February 2020