I recently entered paradise in Grantham and paradise resembles a brew house. For years I have been dreaming about brewing a beer with a professional brewer, and that fantasy has now come true courtesy of a brewery in the Lincolnshire market town.
Grantham is notable for being the birthplace of Margaret Hilda Roberts, and because out of three breweries in the area two of them have women as principal brewers. That latter fact is notable because women make up fewer than 2% of professional brewers in the UK. So in terms of putting the X chromosome into excellence in brewing Grantham leads the way.
So how did I pass into beer-vana? It began when I met Sara Barton of Brewster's Brewing Company and expressed my desire to brew beer in a brewery rather than something made at home that only a best friend would drink under duress. Her two word answer was 'Do it'. So I did. In collaboration with two other beer evangelists, Marverine Cole, and Shea Luke we devised a recipe, and arose at dawn on brew day and headed up to Grantham.
Brewing is a form of extreme cooking - choosing and preparing the ingredients; pouring them into an enormous pan, and stirring the mixture using not a wooden spoon, but a rake; boiling the ingredients to extract flavour, and then doing the washing up - on a gargantuan scale. But unlike kitchen cooking the finished product takes a few weeks as it ferments and matures turning by magic into the world's favourite alcoholic drink - beer.
Don't bother to sign up for a gym membership - just work in a brewery! It's really physical work hauling around bags of malted cereal, and mixing it with water in the mash tun to create the wort (sugary water containing colour and flavour from the malt), sorting hops into buckets and lugging them up a ladder to be poured into the copper brewing kettle. Wait for a few hours until everything cooks and the brew is ready to dispatch into the fermenting vessels. Pour the yeast into a bucket with some wort. It needs stirring as it grows before your very eyes when the yeast cells devour the sugar and clone themselves trillions of times. Finally ascend the ladder and pitch the precious concoction into the fermenting tank. Now the yeast performs its miracle as it consumes the cereal sugars and converts them to alcohol and carbon dioxide through the gift of fermentation.
Medieval brewers called yeast 'Godisgood' because they did not understand what was happening during fermentation and assumed it was divine intervention. It's easy to understand why because this is the alchemy of brewing as water, hops, malt (and in our beer's case cinnamon, and Fairtrade cocoa) are transformed with the aid of a single-celled organism called yeast into something sublime.
But back to the prosaic aspect of brewing. The clean-up. This entailed lots of washing of vessels and floors, raking out piles of porridge-like malt from the mash tun, and then crawling into the copper to extract by hand thousands of steeped hop flowers. The spent malt and hops eventually ended up on a farm as livestock feed. Lucky cows!
At the end of brew day we gently tapped the fermenting vessel and said goodbye to the beer inside and went to the pub. A perfect end to a perfect day.
During the following weeks Sara sent thrilling updates on the progress of the brew using phrases such a 'terminal gravity has been reached' which in lay terms means 'the level of alcohol'; and tantalizing us with descriptions of its taste as the beer matured.
Now it is ready to drink and we're having a launch party in early March. Want to come? If you like Porter beers with added spice and chocolate then this is your beer. And the dream continues because a major pub-owning brewery is stocking it as a guest ale in a handful of their London pubs. So if you fancy a pint you'll have to push me and my brewing compadres out of the way at the bar because we intend to enjoy the memory of brew day until the beer runs out. Bottoms up!