What’s brewing at The Hop + Grain?
By Adeline Teoh
When home brewer David Montefiore jokingly asked his friend Nicky Stephens to find a business to buy, little did he realise the perfect one was just around the corner. “I'd say to her, ‘Nicky, find a business we can go into together.’ She saw [The Hop + Grain] for sale and within three-and-a-half weeks we'd signed, quit our jobs and went into home brewing,” he says of the fortuitous timing.
That was four years ago. Today, The Hop + Grain Brew Store has two sites — Marrickville and Moorebank — where home brewers can kit up with ingredients, equipment and advice or take a workshop to hone their craft. For while The Hop + Grain was forged in Marrickville, the microbrewery capital of Sydney, it is not a beer producer itself but part of the origin story for many individual beer producers.
Montefiore can attest to the addictive nature of the craft. Not the beverage, but the process. “A lot of people go into it for the result, to save money: you can make two cases of craft beer for 25 bucks, which is $75 a case in the shop from a brewery. But, once they get into it, they go, ‘Oh, the hobby's fantastic’ and that becomes the more addictive thing.”
It’s an activity that suits different kinds of people, he notes. “There's the artistic person who thinks a little more outside the square, and then you've got the scientists who put the lab coat on and stick to all their numbers. Home brewing suits both those people at the opposite ends of the spectrum.”
Another drawcard is the freshness of the beer, which people don’t realise affects the taste until they try their own. “Beer is like food, it can spoil. Home brew means it's going from the shed to your fridge. It's the freshest it is ever going to be,” he says.
Here are some tips to start your home brewing journey.
1. Time, space and equipment
If you’re starting out, Montefiore will always ask how much time and space you have for this hobby and then recommend a method and equipment to suit. Starter kits are extremely accessible. For less than $100, extract brewing takes a few hours and has an ‘apartment-friendly’ footprint, while the all-grain brewing method requires more time, space, and equipment to produce more complex results.
“I used to work in the golf industry and it was a struggle for people to justify six hours away from their family on a weekend to play golf. With this hobby you’re at home and you can get great results in a few hours,” he says.
2. Perfect your fermentation
Home brewing is still recovering its reputation from the days when dad or grandpa would produce something almost undrinkable. The likely reason? They didn’t do the fermentation properly.
“I reckon 95% of buggered up beer is due to bad fermentation,” says Montefiore. “The two most important things are sanitisation and the right temperature. Yeast is a living thing, it needs to be comfortable, it’s very sensitive. As long as you’ve got those two things right you'll get something to drink.”
3. Drink other beers
Interestingly enough, ‘homework’ for home brewing actually takes place outside the home. Montefiore says if you really want to hone your craft, take note of what other brewers are doing and ask questions. “When you go out, especially to the microbreweries, try different beers. Ask the bar staff what's in the beers. They're always happy to share. If you like it, great, you can use it for your own. If you don't like it, you'll know what not to put in your own beers.”
If you’re interested in learning more, The Hop + Grain has a range of classes to suit different levels, from absolute beginners to all-grain brewing. But be warned: once you craft your own you may never be able to drink a standard pub schooner again.
“I drank VB for 26-and-a-half years, and I just love that I've discovered tastes and hops,” says Montefiore. “My palate has changed unbelievably quickly. I speak to many of our customers and they say, ‘I can't go back to what I drank’.”
Visit The Hop + Grain Brew Store at 50 Sydney Street, Marrickville, or online www.thehopandgrain.com.au