Published on April 2, 2019 | by Alastair Gilmour0
And so to shed
Brewing beer, playing records and making people laugh; they all happen in sheds, writes Alastair Gilmour
It’s stick your neck out time. We’re about to present a section devoted to men. Men like sheds and men like beer. Women like shoes and handbags – and beer, when they’re not drinking prosecco.
This is complete nonsense, obviously, designed to raise awareness – and the only thing that rings true is that men really, really like sheds. Really really.
These and the following six pages are devoted to the social phenomenon that is the relationship between the male and the man-cave, the chap and the retreat, the guy and his den.
We kick off with Andy Robson and Michael Collins; friends, work colleagues and neighbours in South Shields. Andy and Michael brew beer for their and their friends’ consumption in a garage in Andy’s garden. Technically, it’s not a shed. Technically it’s not a garage either and although it has an up-and-over door, there is no way that a sensible vehicle could ever have fitted into it.
(The house isn’t that old, but what were builders thinking about when they attached such narrow buildings onto homes and expected owners to tuck their pride and joy away every night?)
Even for home-brewers, Andy and Michael have a USP, a unique selling proposition (though they can’t sell their beer, only give it away). Their brewing kit includes a former hospital lung function cabinet and a stainless steel table from a mortuary.
“We work in the estates department at South Shields hospital, in building and engineering,” says Andy. “When any equipment becomes surplus to requirements you can make an offer for it. We got the lung function chamber and stripped the chair out, boxed it off, and use it for fermentation.”
These are two very resourceful young men who have adapted equipment originally designed for a completely different function, but which – with an enterprising eye cast on them – are extremely valuable for brewing beer following a few tweaks here and a plughole inserted there. For example, their mash tun is a large commercial cool box, and the impressive, lengthly stainless steel table once had a life and death (of sorts) of its own.
Various glass containers and dishes have clearly come to their useful hospital life but have plenty of time left in them for an enthusiast.
Andy and Michael are long-term craft beer lovers and home-brewers of four or five years’ vintage, making regular trips to the likes of Rehills in Jesmond, Newcastle, for bottles and cans of interesting beers to take home and enjoy – and attempt to replicate in the garage.
Small-batch IPAs, saisons and stouts have all been tried with varying degrees of success. “If we try a beer somewhere and like it we’ll give it a go back here,” says Andy.
A professional attitude borne out of their day-jobs informs their once- or twice-a-week brews. They fully realise that you can buy home-brew kits with all the ingredients to make an off-the-shelf Beavertown beer or BrewDog Punk IPA, but their way is starting from scratch with selected ingredients.
Michael says: “We decided to take the plunge using all-grain rather than kits. The first one we did was actually one of our better ones. It’s a canny hobby, a bit like cooking which you improve on all the time through feedback. Though experience and developing equipment, we now have better control over every part of the process – which makes all the difference.”
A stainless steel sink and draining board lie ready to plumb in while plans are in place to extract the chill from a redundant fridge to regulate the cooling process, particularly in the summer.
“It’s all about make do and mend,” he says. “We started off brewing one batch in a day – nineteen litres at a time – but now often brew twice on the one day, usually at weekends, because everybody who knows about brewing will tell you there’s a lot of waiting around, cleaning and preparing, so a long day is actually a more efficient use of your time.
“Most of the beer we drink ourselves or we give away or take to parties,” (Their chocolate milk stout is amazing).
Andy and Michael source recipes and ideas from an American craft brewing magazine which regularly takes readers through varying ranges and different styles which they adapt to suit their own needs and tastes. The pair also make a point of attending beer festival and gatherings of like-minded people such as Indy Man Beer Con in Manchester and more recently the Beavertown Extravaganza in London as well as enjoying – and closely examining – what’s on offer around Newcastle at The Cluny, Free Trade and Town Mouse pubs.
It’s one thing brewing the beer you like to drink, but on their “down time” what do these two accomplished home-brewers like to relax with in a glass?
Andy Robson says: “We were originally struck on Cloudwater beers, but these days Wylam is a country mile better.”
Something special to aim at, then.