‘Make your own beer’ classes at Hackney’s Tram Depot brewery are just the tonic

Business partners Jo Llewellyn-Jones and Rob Berezowski

Business partners Jo Llewellyn-Jones and Rob Berezowski - Credit: Archant

Tucked away in a warehouse at the old Leabridge tram depot, a trailblazing brewery is letting beer fans make their own drinks from scratch. Reporter Emma Bartholomew tries her hand – and loves it.

Emma Bartholomew attending a beer brewing class with Brew Club's
Rob Berezowski

Emma Bartholomew attending a beer brewing class with Brew Club's Rob Berezowski - Credit: Archant

I’m more of a Mojito chick than a beer swigger, but enrolling on Brew Club’s absolute beginner course has made me look on beer with eyes afresh.

It is the first place in east London, and possibly in the UK, where beer enthusiasts can come along to brew their own as a hobby, based on a “pay as you brew” model.

Up until now, unless you were prepared to spend about £1,500 on equipment – like the Brewmeister machines here – people who wanted to home brew had to invent their own contraptions, which could involve soldering electric kettle attachments onto massive plastic tubs not unlike Brew Club co-founder Rob Berezowski’s vessel.

But here at Brew Club’s warehouse in the Leabridge Tram Depot, in Upper Clapton Road, you can make the most of their equipment and space – meaning you won’t be tripping over gallons of beer sitting around in your lounge while it ferments, and the messy process needn’t ruin your kitchen either.

The hops, used to give the beer its bitter taste

The hops, used to give the beer its bitter taste - Credit: Archant

Rob tells me: “Brewing isn’t really that difficult, in my mind, but it can be quite technical. The danger is people get a bit overwhelmed.

“There are text books on water, text books on yeast – you can get a degree in brewing.

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“There’s a lot of chemistry that could be involved but we want to make it accessible, and the idea is to help people to get started. If people aren’t confident enough to have a go on their own, the idea is to give enough information so you are confident to come and brew again.

“It’s just fun. I like the science part of it. You make something nice that you can drink and that’s pretty cool.”

The beer ferments

The beer ferments - Credit: Archant

The options are to brew 20 litres of bitter, stout or India Pale Ale, which we plump for.

These are beer “styles” and they exist to give the consumer an idea of what to expect – an IPA should be “hoppy” rather than “dark and malty”.

Beer is generally made from a grain, which can be oatmeal or wheat – which is used in distinctive Hoegaarden, for instance – but we use the usual culprit, barley.

I weigh out 5kg of barley and 250g malt and leave it to infuse in 20 litres of heated water in the Brewmeister for 40 minutes in what is known as a “mash”.

The process leaches sugars from the barley to create “food” for the yeast to convert into alcohol. The more grain you put in, the more alcoholic your final product will be.

Rather like an episode of Blue Peter, Brew Club has already carried out some of the groundwork to make things simpler, sending the water off to the lab to be tested for carbonates, chlorides and sulphates, and adding various chemicals accordingly.

While the brew is mashing, I taste some of the malts, with names like “roasted chocolate” and “Maris otter”.

The Brewmeister beeps indicating the end of the mash, and we pull the barley out and leave it on a metal hook above the liquid, where we run another five litres of water through the grain to extract the sugars left in it, a process called “sparging”.

The infusion is deliciously sweet and malty at this stage, and now we boil it up with the flowers of the hop plant, which adds a certain bitterness.

Hoppy beers are apparently “in vogue nowadays”.

Sniffing the various hops in Brew Club, there is an overpowering, almost mystical aroma, and the chemicals and oils also have an antibacterial effect.

But it’s not a good idea to taste the hops. One man, I am told, reported not being able to taste anything else for the rest of the day after he tried it.

Typically the beer is boiled for an hour, but if you want to increase its strength, you boil it longer.

Oils and aromas from the hops will evaporate off, but you can infuse more hops after the boil to make up for that.

Chilling the beer is easy in the Brewmeister, by running cold water through a cooler. You then sterilise a bucket to store the beer, and add the yeast. It’s left in the back room now for two weeks at the optimum temperature, until you return to Brew Club to bottle the beer, adding sugar to create the fizz.

In six weeks’ time the beer will be ready to go.

Has Rob had any bad beer disasters, I wonder?

“There’s a tendency, and I’m guilty of it, of getting excited and choosing a recipe that’s a bit off the wall,” he tells me.

“Mine was a winter warmer with coriander and honey. It turned out really awful – it was like a weird alcoholic Pepsi.

“The message is to keep it simple at the beginning.”

The process really has been very simple here at Brew Club, although my mind is now boggling at all the possible scientific variables that you could experiment with on your road to the optimum creation.

Beginners’ classes take place on Saturdays from 10am to 2.30pm. see www.brewclub.uk.com for more details.