The Student Brewer: How to make your parents proud!

Photo courtesy of James Smith

The university experience provides students with great opportunity for development, for acquiring knowledge, and crucially, for the consumption of vast amounts of cheap alcohol. Most student beer sessions will probably involve copious amounts of practically flavorless house lagers, as they sit and discuss the problems of the world. However, for the discerning scholar, homebrewing presents itself as a very viable option. So as I end my time at Durham University in England, I have had the chance to look back on my university brewing experience and pass on some notes of advice for any potential student brewers out there.

Timing: Anybody who has homebrewed is well aware of the distinctive aroma of beer being brewed. It’s a sensation that is quite rightly not sought after in many other locations, so bringing it to your student kitchen may be viewed as somewhat antisocial . . . as I learned quite quickly. I would personally recommend a Saturday or Sunday morning as the perfect time to brew, whilst everybody suffers the effects of over indulgence of house lagers from the evening before.

Sanitation: The student kitchen is widely regarded as one of the least salubrious environments on planet Earth. Weeks of neglected washing-up, out of date food, and a seemingly irremovable level of grime on all surfaces are not perhaps what you want around as you produce your signature brew. Take the time to thoroughly clean and ensure that all your equipment is cleaned and fermenters properly sanitized.

Fire! (alarm): It doesn’t matter how many pints of lovely beer you do manage to produce in your life, if you set off a smoke detector in the early hours of a Saturday morning in a college dormitory, you may end up spending the rest of your university life socially alone. Clearly boiling your wort for an hour is going to produce steam, so make sure you ventilate the room if you don’t want to become a social outcast!

Storage: As most of you can attest, fermentation can take anywhere between a few days and a few weeks and it needs a stable temperature. In a best-case scenario, your beer is not to be disturbed. I chose the foot of my bed as a safe spot where it wasn’t going to be disturbed.

. . . if you set off a smoke detector in the early hours of a Saturday morning in a college dormitory, you may end up spending the rest of your university life socially alone.

Cost: Students are famously impoverished, so before your first brew, think about how much it is actually going to cost. Brewing equipment can be quite expensive, so shop around to find the bits individually rather than in a full brewing system: EBay is a great start.

Also, for those whom it may be the first time in your life paying your own bills, make sure you can pay the bills before you buy brewing stuff!
Publicity: Think about how many people you are going to tell about your brew. Sure, it will sound great if you’re in the pub, telling all your mates that you’re going to supply them all with free beer, but you have to consider they will all want a try! Part of the development process is that you will make mistakes and produce some rubbish, so maybe don’t tell everybody about your latest batch until you are satisfied with it and can really knock their socks off. Also, the more you give out, the less you have for yourself! Which in turn goes back to the bills segment mentioned earlier.

Most importantly, university really is a time for experimenting, trying new things, and learning. Homebrewing is the perfect meld of those three elements of university life . . . plus, it results in beer!

Issue: January-February 2021