Welcome to our new feature, interviews with Home Brewers. First up is James Smith from BrewJaM who has been brewing since 2010 and is currently based in London.
What was it that first got you into brewing beer?
My friend Matt – the other half of BrewJaM (Brew James and Matt – geddit?) got into homebrewing at university and then stopped a few years ago to concentrate on selling traditional soft drinks at shows and fairs around England. I mentioned an interest in brewing, went round to his and he got all his old kit out and we went from there. It was December 2010 we brewed our first beer together, and probably 2005 or so that Matt brewed his first beer.
What was the first beer your ever brewed?
From kit it was a Woodfordes Wherry – I think this has to be most peoples first kit beer. A decent drink and I don’t know anyone who has done it and ended up with a bad beer.
From AG – indestructible stout – its on brewjam.co.uk. We try to write up all our brews, but I am rubbish at it, so we only ever end up writing the beers we have brewed together.
I actually brewed my first AG before my first kit – pretty sure most people do it the other way round!
Do you now brew All grain/Extract, or both?
AG all the time. I have only ever done kit and ag, never done an extract brew.
Where do you brew your beer? (Kitchen? Garage? etc)
I have 2 AG setups. BrewJaM AG is in a stable on my friend Matt’s farm, and is for larger brews. I also have full AG kit at my flat in London. Luckily I have a very understanding flatmate who is happy for 25kg bags of malt and FVs all over the place.
How large are your batches generally?
Anywhere from 10l to 100l. It depends on what we are brewing. I made a 10l perry last week from tinned pears, so didn’t make much of it, whereas when we were trying some single hopped IPAs we collected 100L of wort and then split into 4 separately hopped batches for the boil. I suppose our standard is 40l, as we can just use 1 of our 50l boilers. Our maximum capacity is 100L, split between 2 50L boilers. In London the maximum I can brew is 20L.
Do you keg your beer, bottle, or both? Any reason why?
Corny kegs all the way! At least for home consumption. Only bottle for giving away and parties. Bottling is so much more effort and takes up more space – a normal corny holds 19l, which is 19000 / 330 = 57 and a bit 330ml bottles. Effort! In Feb/March we brewed 250L+ of beer – who wants to bottle that when you can stick it all in kegs? Brewing is meant to be fun!
If you haven’t used Corny kegs I really recommend it – it makes everything so much easier. The main problem is getting CO2 canisters, but its not too much effort to hunt down a supplier that will deliver for homebrew (or lie and say you run a mobile bar). You can mess about with the carbonation using corny kegs – change PSI etc, and even get into using a CO2 / Nitrogen mix to improve the pour. The only downside is cost. Corny kegs seem to go for about £40 each on ebay, but you can be lucky – I picked 2 really good ones up for a tenner each on there.
Having beer on tap in your kitchen is awesome.
How many beers have you brewed in the last twelve months?
Uhm, maybe 20 or so? It only really picked up pace beginning of this year when I sorted out kit in London as it means I can brew while working (I work at home) rather than heading to Kettering on a weekend to brew.
Talk us through any of your favourite brew(s) that you’ve done…
The single hopped IPAs we did a few months ago were pretty awesome. It is the first time where I tasted a set of beers I’d brewed and thought I would pay good money for this. It is a simple recipe, but the beer tastes so good. Obviously the centre piece of the beer is the hops, and of all the single hopped beers we have done, citra and crystal hops come to the fore as really good tasting hops. Overall my favourite beers to brew and drink are the ones that let the hops do the talking.
The wheat beer we brewed was pretty spectacular – we used raw wheat from the farm, the only downside was having to hand mill 5kg of wheat.
Have you had any disasters when brewing? Any beers turned out bad?
I currently have a brown ale that is too bitter sitting in a keg, loathe to throw it away though, may try and fix it by dry hopping or hope the bitterness dies a bit in the next month or two.
Only beer I have ever binned was a summer lightning clone because I forgot to rinse the keg out after cleaning and so left washing up liquid in the keg which ruined the beer when I kegged it. Beer tasted great, but the soapy aftertaste was horrible.
Have you ever, or are planning on, entering a brewing completion?
Would love to, but never have enough bottled beers. If I don’t get my rear in gear for this years uk national homebrewing competiton (www.bristolhomebrewcompetition.org.uk/) I definitely will next year.
What equipment do you find most useful to your brewing process?
Rubber dinghy oar and stainless steel scouring pads.
The oar is brilliant for doughing in. Scouring pads make great hop strainers.
Other than that counterflow chillers are nice and a pump if you are lazy – when we do the bigger brews pumps are really helpful to get from one container to another.
Have you reached as far as you want to go with regards to equipment and scale, or are you looking to further upgrade?
I want to own a 5 barrel brewery, so no, now here near where I want to be scale wise We are currently upgrading the mash tun to 100l, but other than that no major equipment additions, but we are looking at making what we have more permanent. Oh and maybe build a temperature controlled FV cupboard. And bigger FVs.
What kind of beer styles do you love to brew, and what brings you the most success?
Wheat beers and IPAs. American style IPAs rather than British though. I have been concentrating on brewing brown ales in london, and have brewed 4 in the past month or so – and they are improving each time, so I guess that too.
What’s your favourite hop combination, as well as your favourite single hop flavour?
Single hop is citra. Hop combination changes all the time – it was target/tettnang, but due to all the brown ales I’ve made recently, I’m enjoying the classic fuggle/golding combo quite a bit.
What are your favourite beers that you can buy commercially?
Brewdog – Hardcore IPA
Thornbridge – Jaipur
Most Belgian beers
Cigar City (an awesome brewery in Florida)- Jaialai
Almost anything from stone brewing
Almost anything from dogfish head brewery
Basically anything very hoppy and/or strong – 75IBUs or more is good.
If we are in a generic crappy bar that only serves normal beer then I will usually drink Guinness.
What commercial beers can you just not stand?
Carling. Greene King IPA. Anything bland. Anything that isn’t inventive. I get sad when new breweries start up and then have a couple of offerings that are the same as everything else available.
Any general tips for home brewers, both old and new?
Record everything, nothing more annoying than making a beer and not having enough notes to replicate it exactly because you didint record mash in temperature or something.