Beer-Off: Judgement Day

At last! After nine hopeful weeks in the bottle, today our three judges were invited to a blind tasting of the Two Houses home brews.

Carefully hidden, Pip and I nervously poured out three beers each.  The glasses were labelled ‘Beer A’ and ‘Beer B’.  We fussed over their foamy heads and then watched as Dave carried the six glasses out and placed in front of the waiting judges.

After waiting a few respectable minutes, we came wandering outside and pretended that we were not surreptitiously watching their every move.

The blind tasting begins...
The blind tasting begins…

The first thing that struck me was the silence.  No one was spitting out the beer.  Or giggling.  Or treating it with anything but utter seriousness. Even Lozzie, my drinking buddy and partner in multiple crimes, of over ten years,  with whom I used to drink copious amounts of cheap crappy Chardonnay in our shared house, was talking earnestly about the mouthfeel of the beer…  She was nodding and murmuring with absolute authority and conviction, seated happily between the hop importer and the professional wine-maker.

The beers were given a score out of five in the following categories:

Overall impression

Yes mouthfeel is a thing.  I didn’t know that either.

Serious stuff...  these people know beer
Serious stuff… these people know beer

The identity of each beer was revealed only once the judges had reached the ‘marketing’ category.  I had been so confident about my label. Lovingly hand written and sneakily photocopied at work.  What could be more charming?  Um, a bespoke wooden six pack carrier, that’s what.  I’ll admit I had been worried that Pip might pull something designer-y but she’d been very quiet about it and now I know why!  As you can see… it’s quite a little number.  You’d buy that for someone special and they would love the absolute hell out of it.

The marketing category was blitzed by my sister.  I think I may have lost points for having my child on the label (insert awkward face here).  In my defence, G was mostly obscured by lettering and, come on, I wasn’t in any way trying to market beer to children!  I see now though that it’s a little bit strange to have your child on a beer bottle.  In hindsight it should have just a photo of  Glenn and I and then instead of being really quite odd, it would have been one of the most romantic things I’ve ever done.  

Dickson IPA and This House Brews – Pale Ale

As it stands, Glenn is very chuffed anyway, because ‘Beer B’ (mine) did take out the overall prize (woo hoo!).  But in all honesty it was so close.  The judges didn’t just score us.  They talked us through the merits and failings of both beers.  Apparently mine, being an IPA, was quite tasty and well developed for a kit beer but you wouldn’t want a lot of it as it was quite strong in flavour and better for having just a single glass of.  All three agreed that Pip’s Pale Ale struck them as being the one they would choose to drink a lot of and if  “scullability” had been a category she’d have scored highly there. But Nick also noted a hint of sugar in her beer which meant that perhaps it hadn’t quite reached its full potential.  Pip was stoked that after the tasting was complete, Nick actually finished his glass of her Pale Ale.  I’d like to point out that when you have small children and you have an opportunity to drink in the afternoon, you don’t finish a glass of just any old rubbish. Especially if your job perhaps revolves around the finer stuff.

I think the highlight for both of us was when Sandy said he was impressed that they were both kit beers and that for first timers we had done pretty damn well.  Go us!  ” The beer equivalent of making a packet cake,” said my husband before all this began. I think it’s a bit better than that!

Afterwards we plied our guests with the full beer snack menu of my Cheesy Biscuits and Beef Wellington Mini Pies and Pip’s Peking Duck Rolls alongside prawn tarts, another family favourite.  The new deck was christened while the kids were happily playing with trucks in a mountain of dirt and all in all it turned out to be a pretty good afternoon.

The snacks! Ducks Rolls, Cheesy Biscuits and prawn tarts.
The snacks! Ducks Rolls, Cheesy Biscuits and prawn tarts.

I don’t personally know any other female home brewers.  I’m sure they’re out there, they probably just don’t feel the need to blog about it.  But generally speaking, it does appear to be a very male dominated past-time and now I’m not really sure why.  I’ll definitely be giving it another crack sometime soon and would encourage anyone who was ever thinking about it to give it a go.  It’s not rocket science and you too could have the pleasure of slipping out to the shed and grabbing a bottle to pop in the fridge to have with tonight’s curry.

What could be nicer?

The Two Houses Families
The Two Houses Families

Photo credits: Kat Barrington Photography, Lex and Pip.


Beer-Off: And the Judges are…

At long last, the date for the Great Two Houses Beer-off has been set and you won’t need to wait long as we’re cracking those babies this weekend! But before I introduce our judging panel, we’ve got a couple of sneaky snippets of our label designs to show you…

Label Design: Lex's "Dickson IPA" and Pip's "This House Brews  - Australian Pale Ale"
Label Design: Lex’s “Dickson IPA” and Pip’s “This House Brews – Australian Pale Ale”

The Judges

Our selection criteria for eligible Beer-Off judges was pretty tough going and we weren’t sure we’d find anyone to fit the bill. So we’ve pulled in some favours from a few mates that came pretty close.

Judges must have the ability to:
a) appreciate beer
b) tell one beer from the other
c) be happy to drink our (possibly terrible) beer
d) keep a straight face when lying to us about how wonderful our beer is

Sandy Ross | Hop Importation and Sales

Sandy Ross and family
Sandy and family

Sandy’s darling wife known to us as Pinky Jane sent us this information for Sandy’s bio.

“Sandy quoting this. I’m typing.

Sandy Ross
Nearly 20 years experience in beer industry with 10 years as managing director of Hopco.
Plus nearly 30 Years experience in drinking beer.
Hopco has been selling hops to the craft beer industry since it began.
Sandy is a member of the international brewing and  distilling organisation and does a lot of international and interstate travel every year to source the best products for Australia’s best breweries.

He also has a gorgeous wife…. I wrote that bit 🙂 ”

Apart from being an awesome Dad to his two sons, this pretty much sums Sandy up and why we’ve asked him to be one of our judges. And it really is rather sweet so I’m leaving it as Pinky sent it to us.

Laura Harper | Program Officer

Laura and family
Laura and family

Looking forward to tasting the ladies debut attempt at mastering the secret man art of home brewing!
Laura Harper Facebook

We won’t reveal how many years of drinking this sassy Taswegian Judge has had, but let’s just say Laura’s sampled enough beer to be for us to deem her worthy of being on our judging panel. Laura’s background in the Arts also makes her essential to making sure I get some marks on my marketing to make up for where my beer is lacking other areas. Like taste. I’m not admitting this to Lex this though. Laura lives on the side of the mountain with her partner John and their kids, including the boy with the cheekiest smile in town. No seriously, it is.

Nick Glaetzer | Winemaker


“…first corrupted his hands with wine as a toddler…” Nick Glaetzer GDFW

Ok so its not beer, but with his family’s heritage in the winemaking industry and own lustrous career, Nick’s been around booze long enough to be up for a position as Judge. Nick and his wife Sally moved from South Australia to Hobart in 2005 and since then, Nick has drawn on his experience from Australia and overseas to go on and establish his own award-winning wine label Glaetzer-Dixon Family Winemakers. Naturally we think its pretty good, as does the serious wine-drinking world hence the AWARD-WINNING bit. Nick’s also a bit of a design buff and has designed his own labels and website, and is currently developing an iconic Hobart building into a new home for his family of four – complete with on site winery and cellar door. Not bad Nick, not bad.

Cap that

It’s happened.  I now have thirty long necks of Indian Pale Ale.  Fifteen of these gleaming beauties are sitting on the top shelf of our bookshelf (to keep warm and hopefully become amazing).

Most of the bottles are standard shaped long necks.  But some of them, the ones I will present to the judges, are a more tapered shaped bottle that used to contain pricey foreign beer.  They’re very pretty but it would be a bit expensive to use these for all thirty unless you built up the number over a longer period of time.  I’m thinking of doing this.  Just for the pure pleasure of looking at them.  I’m guessing I might have enough by summer if I’m dedicated.

I stood on the dining table to take this. They'd better be loving it up there...
I stood on the dining table to take this. They’d better be loving it up there…

Once again I headed bravely into the danger-zone of doing-as-husband-says-and-not-arguing.  All of the bottles were scrubbed with hot water and then sterilised in the oven.  The actual bottling process is not that hard, you just need to keep remembering to keep everything really really clean.  Glenn could not  shut up about this emphasise this enough.  He highly recommended keeping one hand clean, gloved and dry for reaching into the packets of bottle caps and carbonating tablets.  And the other for pulling the lever of the bottle capper etc.  If the gloved hand got even slightly dripped on, he made me change it.  Moisture harbours germs.  I absolutely get it now, Honey.

I think Glenn’s head was actually throbbing a bit when he was trying to explain some bits, without doing it himself.  Like how to insert the small spring into the bottle filler tube that gets poked into the barrel tap.  He said I got a bit snaky.  That surprised me.  Note to self: revise fake non-snaky voice.

The best home brew I've ever made! (please please be drinkable)
The best home brew I’ve ever made! (please please be drinkable)

Two sugary carbonation tablets get dropped in each bottle.  Then you just fill it up to the top of the neck with beer (the level will drop down a bit when you remove the hose), pop the cap on and then seal it to the bottle with the lovely capper with a satisfying crunch.  I loved that bit.  Each bottle was given a little swivel to get things moving inside before being set down with it’s friends.

It can be a nifty little operation once you get the hang of it.  There was a lot of talk about ‘getting into a rhythm’ otherwise it can ‘take forever’.  Glenn seemed keen to get back to cooking dinner.  After seeing me fill and cap a few more bottles and feeling reasonably reassured that I wasn’t going to put drippy wet fingers on his entire bottle cap supply, he left me to it.  I was 23 bottles in when I realised I didn’t have enough carbonation tablets. So seven of my longnecks (not the special special ones) have raw sugar in them instead.  Sigh. But other than that, I think it’s all in order.  Just need to sit back and wait for beer to happen now.

Glenn: So now the barrel needs to be cleaned.

Me: Well it’s raining. Do you wanna just stick it out in the rain?

Glenn: That’s not really where I was going with that, no.

Hey, I was a grot when he married me.





Beer-Off: From barrel to bottle

Watching the beer ferment was not so exciting. It was still a bit smelly and took up valuable bench space in our kitchen, but eventually I stopped thinking the ‘blooping’ noise was a dripping tap.

The instructions for the Coopers Australian Pale Ale recommends fermenting between 21-27 degrees but the guy in the home brew shop had recommended slightly lower at between 18-20 degrees over a longer period to achieve a better taste. I think he used some other descriptive beer words but to be honest I really only heard ‘better beer’ and decided to give the guy’s advice a go.

The temperature in our kitchen can go from very cold over night to really warm during the day, especially when I’m cooking with the oven, so ensuring the beer remained at a consistent temperature meant keeping an eye on the thermometer and adjusting the position of heat belt wrapped around the barrel, and usually turning it off during the day and back on at night.

Eventually the blooping slowed right down and Dave suggested we bottle at about 10 days. I realised I hadn’t finished buying up the really swish Japanese beer bottles I’d started to collect and when we went to get the rest they were out of stock. In a panic we then bought a dozen of similar looking bottles and invited the other house up for dinner to empty them with us. They didn’t hesitate to help the other team out here. I’m a bit disappointed in the new bottles as they don’t have the same clean lines as the original style did and look a bit more like your average stubbie.

Hallmark card hits the spot
Hallmark card hits the spot

After the rush of getting the bottles ready (read drunk), Dave then advised the beer was still blooping a bit much and it would be better to wait as this process would be more important than time in the bottle. In the end we waited nearly another week, so the beer had been in the barrel for around the 17 day mark, but 16 from when the yeast went in.

The equipment we used for bottling included the bottles, bottle caps, Coopers DIY Beer carbonation drops, oven, chopping board, the barrel of beer, bottle filler (long plastic tube that fixes onto the barrel’s stop tap) and a bottle capper.

Dave showed me how to set up a very efficient layout for bottling process. Bottles in the oven for sterilising, up onto a chopping board sitting on the cooktop ready for filling, drop in the carbonation drops (1 for the stubbies, 2 for the long necks), hold the bottle so the spring loaded end of the bottle filler touches the base of the bottle and voila, the beer spills out. Fill the bottle to the brim then pull the bottle away from the filler to release the pressure. This leaves a nice air gap in the bottle. The filling was probably the trickiest part, but after a few goes I got into a rhythm that didn’t involve most of the bottle being filled with foam.

Dave was a bit tired and hungry so gave me really short answers when I butted in to ask questions like, ‘is that just sugar’ and ‘what’s the plastic tube called’. I had one of those grass is greener moments and thought how Glenn would give me a longer explanation, but then imagined Lex staring at Glenn secretly wishing he’d give her a much shorter answer. So I just read the back of the drops packet (sugar and glucose to be exact) and googled the correct name for the tube (aka bottle filler).

I’d forgotten I hadn’t decided on which colour bottle caps to use yet and knowing that Lex had black ones, I went with the green instead. And gold for my lucky 13 bottle – but I can’t reveal too much about him yet!

I hear that Glenn is very excited about how excellent their beer tastes already, but I have to admit that even though I only licked a drip off from the back of my hand from some overflow, I’m pretty sure mine just tastes like beer. Dave did reassure me that I do know how to pick the taste of bad home brew, like the dodgy Pilsner he did once…

There was one green bottle cap hanging on the wall...
There was one green bottle cap hanging on the wall…

Read how I began the beer-off  process in ‘Beer from a can‘.

Beer-Off: Beer from a can

I’m not a beer connoisseur by any means. I like it, but fancy variations like schmancy wheat waved over the spring of sacred waters tends to be a bit lost on me. So I chose to make my go-to beer when faced with too many options on tap, the good old pale ale.

The guy in the home brew shop Moonah’s ‘Brew By You’, didn’t bat an eyelid when I told him my sister were having a beer-off, but he did enthusiastically give me advice for a reliable pale ale for a novice beer brewer (or maker as we’ve been advised by Glenn) to make. I walked out of there with a tin of Coopers Australian Pale Ale, a pack of Half and Half (consisting of 45% dextrose, 45% light malt and 10% corn syrup), and because I’m indecisive, a pack each of black and green bottle lids.

Eight plus years of cooking together has made Dave and I pretty harmonious in the kitchen  – I plan the elaborate meal and Dave cooks it.  So for us this was a reversal, where Dave had to patiently instruct me and try not to take over when my technique was not up to scratch.

Our house method was to find the equipment carefully stashed under the desk in the study, fill up the barrel and leave for a few hours sterilizing, empty and leave to dry. Warm the can in some hot water for easy dispensary into a quarter barrel of hot water to dissolve with the Half and Half  mixture. I made this first part a little too hot so even after adding cold and ice water, then had to wait for it to cool down to get between the recommended 21-27 degrees before adding the yeast. This is where I wished we’d started earlier in the day as we ended up waiting over night and had to heat it back up to 22-24 degrees before stirring in the yeast. I got anxious that the yeast wasn’t going to activate so when Dave called me into the kitchen later to tell me it was about to start, I had my eyes glued to the air bubble in the airlock s-bend for a good five minutes before I jumped for joy as it went ‘bloop’ for the first time. After that I kept thinking the kitchen tap was dripping.

I will admit I’m a little worried my conservative choice of beer isn’t going to be fancy enough compared to Lex’s choice of Indian Pale but only time will tell!

Dad used to wrap his barrel in a jacket, Dave wasn't so sure it needed one so I settled for a scarf.
I remember that Dad used to zip his barrel up in a jacket, Dave wasn’t so sure it needed one so I settled for a scarf.

Next up the bottling process in  ‘From barrel to bottle’

Home brewing – stage one

Glenn: You do realise that this is the beer making equivalent of a packet cake?
Me: Of course I do (no idea)
Glenn: It’s about discipline..
Me: Oh (dammit)

Even though Glenn is my favourite person in the world, we are not one of those couples who cook together because someone will always end up spitting it. I happen to know that this is not at all unusual. If you’re lucky enough to have harmony in the kitchen, congratulations! But generally Mr Dickson and I tend to stay out of each other’s way in this area. It is much safer and everyone is much much happier.

So we’re heading into dangerous territory here because home brewing is basically cooking.

Until now I’ve never really taken much notice of the home brewing that goes on around here or up at the other house. All I knew is that I occasionally drank the beer and then the shelves refilled themselves as if by a magical (bearded) beer fairy.

My beer fairy now has about 20 batches of home brew under his belt and to his credit has only thrown one out. This makes him the official expert in our house and I was reasonably committed to not pissing him off in case he abandoned me and I messed it up.

All I needed to buy for my home brew were the ingredients as we already have the actual beer barrel, stirring implement and barrel heater (you need this. It’s winter). You can pick up the necessary equipment for around $100.

Ingredients – These were purchased from the Home Brew shop in Moonah. I love a Pale so I’ve chosen Cooper’s Indian Pale Ale ($18), one bag of light malt ($9) some black lids (ooh posh) and a packet of Copper Tun finishing hops. All up it was around $35. One barrel makes about 30 long necks of beer. Economical!

The (hopefully) magic ingredients...
The (hopefully) magic ingredients…

The most important thing is to sterilise everything carefully and to start with a clean dry kitchen. Things to avoid – detergent and anything that will scratch the barrel while cleaning it or the utensils. The soap in detergent will kill the potential bubbles in the beer and scratching the barrel inside will give germs a place to hide. Glenn was completely bossy about this. “Don’t let let anything touch the neck of the barrel when you’re stirring” and “did you just touch that?!” and “why are you frowning?” (haha I was frowning because I was concentrating really hard on not being an apparent grot). I let it slide though. What a good student.

The instructions that come with the kit are fairly easy to follow. In very very basic terms you need to combine the can of home-brew mix and the packet of malt in the barrel. You then add first boiled water and then cold water to bring to the right temperature. If you heat the can in some hot water first it will pour out easier as it’s very treacly. The Cooper’s instructions recommend a brew temperature between 21 – 27 degrees celsius. The hops can either be added at the end or boiled with the hot water and then strained. I did the latter.

Lots of stirring with a long armed instrument. It needs to be thoroughly dissolved. There’s a temperature gauge on the outside of the barrel. When it hit about 25 degrees I scattered the yeast on the top (under the watchful eye of my coach). The lid was then popped on which has a seal and an airlock. Now it’s just a waiting game really. That and monitoring the temperature. I’ve got mine sitting in the shed which is not ideal as the brew needs to keep warm to ferment. There’s a special heating strap wrapped around the base of the barrel, keeping it hovering somewhere around 25 degrees. Glenn says in summer he only uses the heater at night, if at all. I’ll pop back out later tonight and see how it’s faring. Just read on the instructions that some people use towels for extra warmth.

I’m happy to report that stage one has actually been completed without incident. Both parties were very well behaved. Me in particular!

There she is. I'll be wandering in and out of the shed, giving her pats of encouragement. Go beer!
There she is. I’ll be wandering in and out of the shed, giving her pats of encouragement. Go beer!

The Great Two Houses Beer-Off

When thinking about potential topics to blog about, Lex admitted she wasn’t great on doing ‘projects’, but that she’d like to try her hand at brewing beer. Both houses have been subjected to many months of the smelly bubbling plastic barrel that is a homebrew kit, but to date the task has been a boy only effort. And so we unveil our first project – the Great Two Houses Beer-Off.

Our challenge is to produce a Brewers dozen (13) bottles of labelled beer BY OURSELVES* within eight weeks.

Tasting and judging will be carried out by a panel of beer experts** providing a score out of 5 under each of the following characteristics:

Overall impression

The beer with the best total score out of a possible 30 wins.

The Judges
Stay tuned for the announcement of our expert** judging panel!

The Prize
Admittedly we forgot to ask the boys if they’d decide on one for us and now we’re waiting for them to come up with an appropriately awesome prize.

* Coaching by our own experienced brewing husbands is acceptable
** The term experts has been used to include selected persons who drink beer, were willing to judge for us and may or may not have ‘expertise’ with beer

Stay tuned for updates on our progress!