Homebrewing in the kitchen

Posy Parsons (left) and Claire Russell

Posy Parsons (left) and Claire Russell - Credit: Archant

I’m brewing an India Pale Ale in my kitchen – don’t all rush round, as it will take around a month before it’s ready to sample. I can’t promise it will be drinkable as my previous attempts at home-brewing have been less than stunning: I’ve had more stuck fermentations than Queens Park Rangers have had managers.

But this time I’m in safe hands for the kit has been created by a new company, Homebrewtique, run by Posy Parsons and Claire Russell in Salisbury Avenue, St Albans. They are a five-minute drive away or a quick phone call if my malt won’t mix or my hops aren’t hip.

There are essentially two types of home-brewing: kits and all-grain. Kits are easy to use and come with cans of malt and hop extracts that are quickly boiled, mixed with yeast and left for a week or two. The resulting beers are best described as cheap and cheerful.

Full-grain home-brewing is identical to commercial beer making. My box of goodies from Homebrewtique contains a bag of ground malted barley and sachets of hop pellets and brewers’ yeast. The first stage – the mash – requires mixing the grain with hot water and heating it for an hour.

The sugar-rich liquid created – the wort – is then boiled with hops for a further hour, allowed to cool and then mixed with yeast in a fermenting bucket. The fermenter is left for a week or so until bubbles stop rising to the surface, after which the beer is bottled with specialist brewers’ sugar and left for a further couple of weeks to clear and condition.

Posy and Claire are beer lovers from countries where tasty beer was once hard to find. Posy is from Boston, Massachusetts, while Claire hails from Melbourne in Australia. Posy had a taste of imported Bass Ale at the age of 15 and went on to sample beers made by small craft breweries in New England. She says she never liked mass-marketed American beers.

Claire says in Australia Foster’s was “the beer you took to a party and let other people drink”. Her father introduced her to tasty beer and they had the good fortune to belong to a polo club that served decent beer to its members.

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They met when they were both living in Burnham Road, St Albans, and their children were at Fleetville School. Claire has lived here for more than 14 years now and has almost lost her Aussie accent. She worked in the chemotherapy wing of the Royal Marsden Hospital in London and then moved to a business consultancy.

Posy worked in market research and real estate before a company that owns TK Maxx transferred her to the UK.

The two discussed going into partnership to run a coffee shop or something similar and then had a brainwave. Claire’s husband is a keen home-brewer and makes beer on a large scale. Claire and Posy thought – with the enormous interest in craft beer here and the amazing number of new breweries – that keen drinkers might want to make good beer at home.

But it had to be made simple. They are both keen cooks and as Posy says: “If you like cooking you’ll like brewing.”

Claire adds that people are surprised by the quality of the end product. “We walk and talk people through like a recipe book. People are busy so we’ve taken a lot of the pre-work out of brewing.”

“Even though the first stage of mashing and boiling takes around 3½ hours,” Posy says, “there’s plenty of time to do other things while the pot with the mash is in the oven.”

The large room in Claire’s house where they bag up their grains and hops is packed with bins holding a wide assortment of malts, including England’s finest malting barley Maris Otter and caramalt, Munich, chocolate, roasted malt, wheat malt and flaked barley. The hops include varieties from many countries and include English Fuggles and Goldings and German Magnum and Perle.

You can choose from a wide range of beer styles. My IPA is a single hop beer but Homebrewtique also offers a multi-hop version and a stronger Imperial IPA. You can brew an American-style pale ale along with porter, stout, wheat beer, English bitter and a California steam beer.

The kits are attractively packaged and come with clear and concise instructions. As well as selling on line, Claire and Posy are talking to the Beer Shop in London Road with a view to selling their kits there and also hope have a stand at the St Albans beer festival in September.

I hope they don’t regret using me a trainee brewer. If you hear a loud explosion in Marshalswick in the next few weeks, you’ll know old fumble fingers has messed up again. But, wth luck and a fair wind, in a few weeks time I may be able to offer you a great beer packed with flavour and sparkle.

Homebrewtique, 52 Salisbury Avenue, St Albans; www.homebrewtique.com