Monday, 2 April 2012

The Inaugural Brew: Creation of a Monster!

Cooper's Home Brew poster #1

Image Details: 'Cooper's Home Brew poster #1', by Bandido of Oz, vis Flickr.

This past weekend saw the inaugural brew of the Boomslang Brewery. Admittedly, it is more 'home brew' than 'micro brew' at this stage, however we are very excited to have made a start. The plan (at the moment - and flexibility is the key to Air Power after all) is to develop our recipes whilst we are in SA and test them on our willing crew of tasters. Admittedly, when you are comparing a fine - we hope - example of a British real ale to Carling Black Label or an assortment of other pish lagers, it may prove challenging to have an educated opinion. Yes, they still call it Black Label here, and it's as wildly popular as it was when I was a wee scorrop and you could still get Skol on tap in the pub. And I must confess now: I love Skol. No, really. I do. Commercial lager these days is way too strong and Skol just takes me back to those halcyon days of being a child in the 80's, when you didn't wear seatbelts, you just crammed 15 kids onto the back seat and hoped for the best. When you could play conkers or British Bullldog without the ever present threat of the fun police coming to sue your teacher's backside off when you inevitably came a cropper. When Silver Cross pram wheels were just the right size for making go-karts. I digress.

I am going to split the story of the first brew over 2 blog posts as it will probably be quite a long one. I like to add in a bit of personality to my blog posts so with all the witty jokes, it may go on a bit! 

Real Ale Bar

Image Details: 'Real Ale Bar', by Phil Hawksworth, via Flickr.

Our first brew took much longer to come to fruition than we expected. The reasons for this are many-fold, but I shall try and break them down as this may assist others who find themselves in this predicament!

The first, and most major problem for us, is one of location. We live in Limpopo, which is a rural farming region of South Africa. SA just does not 'do' the internet/eBay economy like the UK does, unsurprising really, as the SA Post Office is nowhere near as fast or reliable as the Royal Mail and a lot of the population either doesn't have the internet, or the ones that do pay through the nose for it, particularly if you are in the sticks like us. You might think Postman Pat is expensive, but believe me, you don't know how lucky you are! Couple this with the fact that we are in a very rural community, it is very hard to find all the bits and bobs we need to commit the brewing. For instance, I lived in a rural part of Wales before here, and I wanted to buy 2 brewing thermometers to make soap. Ten minutes drive later, and Wilko's is supplying these for me at about £4 a throw. Contrast that to here, and our supplier is 400km away in Jo'burg and postage for the essentials is a no-go as it will take a week and be sat in warehouses in 30 degree heat. This means we have to pick up the goods to ensure they are in the best condition possible, which involves a 5 hour drive one way. Considerably more effort than it would be in the UK, I'm sure you would agree! We are going to try and find a way to get supplies nearer to here, but due to the afore-mentioned lack of internet connectivity, this is going to involve pounding the pavement and speaking to people. This is, of course, not a whinge; it's all part of the African experience! 

The second, is one of availability of gubbins. We have had a few of the bits and pieces for several weeks, however, we have had to go old school and just build some of the stuff. Granted, a lot of home brewers do this with great success, and we have taken inspiration form them in some departments (thankyou DaaB!) but getting stuff done just takes longer and is harder to achieve than it would in the UK. Luckily for us, there is a metal workshop which helped us to fabricate the false bottom, and will hopefully be involved in building the pilot brewery. We have the unique issue of having to transport whatever pilot brewery we build back to the UK in 16 months, so we are definitely thinking along the 'small/cheap but does the job is beautiful' lines.

Limpopo Basin Map

Image Details: 'Limpopo Basin Map', by Water and Food, via Flickr.

Thirdly is climatics. It's bloody hot here in summer, which we are coming to the end of, and it is not unusual for it to be over 30 degrees every day. Trust me, even as an English person, you can get tired of the eternal hot sunshine and blue skies. I live for the rain. It's rained three times since we got back after Christmas in mid-January. And I'm Northern! I am rain! This wonderful weather presents logistical issues as you would imagine. How do we store the gubbins without it going off? How do we keep the fermentation going at the right temperature? How will we store the finished article without it exploding, to mention a few. The tap water here is not really potable either, so we use reverse osmosis water usually, but have had to plump for spring water for the brew. 

All little hurdles to be overcome in the quest for brewing greatness. More coming soon!

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