Back in 1970, the United Kingdom was down to 140 breweries, and it looked as though this would reduce still further, as one giant took over another. But then, with the rise of interest in real ale, microbreweries started to spring up. At first the multinational giants ignored them but in the David and Goliath battle, the little guys started to make inroads. There are now nearly two thousand breweries of various kinds. Not all microbreweries have flourished. The secret is quality. Few breweries are more micro than Hubris-Id, a nano-brewery which is based in Johnny Clayton’s kitchen, and few brewers are more dedicated to quality.
Johnny began his commitment to all things beery over ten years ago by brewing his own beer at home, before joining the Wild Beer Company. There he was involved in brewing some of their interesting range. Finally he left, and now not only runs his tiny nanobrewery from home, but offers guidance to other breweries, as well as courses in brewing.
Occasionally Johnny invites friends to come along to his beginners’ course, known as Brewing 101. Thus it was on a very hot day in July (yes, there were some) your intrepid bloggers, including the discerning brewdog Islay the Westie, found themselves at Stowford Manor Farm, to see how easy home brewing can be.
The beer he planned to create was a simple, balanced, pale ale, using a single malt and a single hop – in this case, East Kent Goldings. His object is to show that good beer can be brewed with a minimum of equipment.
The brewing technique is known as BIAB – Brew In A Bag. This involves a net curtain and clothes pegs. This bag is lowered into the pot of water, pegged to the edges, and malted barley added, to create the mash, which is soaked for about an hour.
This creates fermentable sugars. More sugars are washed off the grain in the sparge – the brewing term for a rinse – after which, the liquid, known as the wort, is boiled with hops to give the bitterness. Next comes the cooling for which Johnny has made an impressive piece of kit using a copper pipe coiled round many times with hose attachments at each end. Once the liquid is at the right temperature, yeast is added and the fermentation begins.
During the waiting periods, Johnny talked about the varieties of malt, the different ways of adding hops – hop pellets are now very popular – where brewing supplies can be purchased, and the trials and tribulations of brewing. One problem on such a hot day was keeping the temperature of the liquid stable at its required level at the various stages. Keeping our own temperature stable was achieved by some beer tasting. Normally these would all be Johnny’s own beers, but as he was working towards a tap takeover at Chapter One he could not spare many of his own, so there were others to try.
The day concluded with a lesson on bottling and putting caps on – but not using the beer made during the course. That would not have been ready anyway, and the tropical heat and struggles with maintaining stable temperatures meant the pale ale was not going to make its appearance in public.
However, just over a month later, after a spell of weather which made the sunshine but a distant memory and delayed our walk to Chapter One, we finally got to try a few of the Hubris-Id beers. Thanks to the rain, we hadn’t made it on the opening night on Thursday , but there was still enough of the Dirty Nick for us to try on Saturday before it had to be replaced by Back-up Beer. My favourite was the Pineagrooble – a pineapple saison – but I was also very keen on the Bocktanical, which had infused juniper berries. We concluded our testing with a cautious sipping of Filthy Little Secret – cautious because, at 10.5%, it needs to be treated with respect. It’s an American Barley Wine, but despite its mighty ABV, it was still dangerously drinkable.
Johnny’s beers can be found on tap and in bottles at an increasing number of outlets, especially Chapter One and Independent Spirit. Considering the size of his operation, the number of places it crops up is amazing. But, as it says on the Hubris-Id website, Johnny’s view is that his beer is ‘unapologetically better’. As he says, he believes in being passionately creative in a totally unconstrained manner. He adds that it’s about doing what you love, standing up for yourself and sticking two fingers up to the people who say “You can’t”. Now that’s attitude.