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.

Quack Quack: Peking Duck Wrap Snack

Chinese style duck like Peking or roast duck has always been a favourite of mine. Finding them in Hobart used to be rare and so our family had a little tradition of swinging by City BBQ in Melbourne’s China Town to grab a couple of roast ducks on the way to the airport to catch the return plane ride. Their home-coming would be celebrated immediately with a family dinner of this well-travelled delicious take away roast duck.

The prettiest duck wrap you ever did see...
The prettiest Peking duck wrap you ever did see…

The traditional mandarin pancake is light and delicate. But let’s face it, it’s pretty cold in Hobart right now and I like the idea of a warmer, heavier wrap with a bit more meat in it to go with my beer so I’ve combined a couple of recipes with some modifications to try and recreate a Peking duck wrap I discovered at a travelling food van a while ago.

Note: both the duck and wraps need to be left overnight, so allow preparation time the day before.

The Duck

2.5kg duck

2 Tbs of malt

1.5 Tbs of boiled water

Marinate the duck overnight
Marinate the duck overnight

I’ve always been in awe of the idea of cooking Peking duck, thinking it needed crazy amounts of culinary expertise and equipment, but this recipe from ‘The Food of China’1 has been modified to suit being cooked in a home kitchen and as I discovered is not so scary, just needs time to be prepared and rested before cooking.

Put a large pot of water big enough to hold your duck on to boil. Meanwhile, prepare the duck by rinsing, removing any fat from the cavity opening and neck then cutting the wing tips off and discarding the parsons nose. Plunge the duck into the pot of boiling water for 2-3 minutes to tighten the skin. Remove and leave to drain and pat dry. Dissolve the malt with the 1.5 Tbs boiled water and brush the duck all over while the skin is still warm. Traditionally, this would need to be hung up in a dry cool and airy place, but at home, place it on a plate slightly elevated on a rack or in our case a couple of knives and leave uncovered in the fridge for a minimum of 6 hours or overnight.

In a preheated oven at 200 degrees, place the duck breast side up elevated on a rack in a roasting tray. Cook without basting or turning for 1 ½ hours. Cover with foil if the skin looks like it is getting too dark, but be careful of the fat that can spit from the tray when hot. Carve the duck meat with skin into thin slices and put aside.

The duck should be lovely and brown with crispy skin
The duck should be lovely and brown with crispy skin

The Wraps

500g plain flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

1 cup water

2 tbs condensed milk

2 tbs olive oil spread, at room temperature

½ egg, lightly whisked

Additional olive oil spread

Additional vegetable oil

I tend to shy away from any form of dough that I can’t make in the food processor as I hate getting it all stuck to my hands and bench surface. This Roti Chanai recipe from Poh’s Kitchen, though sticky to start with works into a beautifully soft dough and I’ve added a few tips to lessen the ‘stick effect’ (chefs look away now).

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl, making a well in the centre, poor in the wet (leaving the additional spread and oil). Using a wooden spoon, gradually stir the flour into the wet ingredients grabbing it from the outsides of the well until it is one sticky mixture. Lay a silicone mat on a flat surface and knead the dough (sorry, you’ll get your hands dirty here) until the stickiness subsides and the dough is lovely and soft. Roll it into a log and then divide into 10 equal pieces. Give each one another knead before rolling into a ball and covering with the additional olive oil spread. Lay the dough balls next to each other in a deep dish, cover with a tea towel and leave to rest at room temperature overnight.

Flatten the roti until transparent
Flatten the roti until transparent

Using your silicone mat again, lay one of the balls of dough on it and pressing down with the palm of your hand, flatten and smooth out the surface as much as possible of the dough moving your hand in a circular motion. The dough should be super thin and for these wraps roughly 30-40cm in diameter.

The original recipe forms a square roti, but the wraps need a rectangular shape so fold the dough in roughly a third of the way on either side of the circle with a smear of olive oil spread in between each layer, then fold in the ends to form a rectangle shape. Make sure they’re roughly 10cm wide, a good size to eat comfortably with one hand. On a high heat, pan fry the roti in a little hot vegetable oil until golden blisters appear on both sides. Once cooked, place the roti onto a chopping board and give it a gentle squish from around the edges so the roti bunches up and flakes. Repeat a few times and put aside ready to be served.

Pan fry the roti until golden blisters appear on both sides
Pan fry the roti until golden blisters appear on both sides

To Serve

Cucumber finely sliced lengthways

Spring onion finely sliced lengthways

125ml hoisin sauce

Salad greens

Edible flowers

Finely sliced cucumber, spring onion and hoisin sauce
Finely sliced cucumber, spring onion and hoisin sauce

While the roti is still warm, lay it flat and spread a fine dollop of hoisin over one side. Lay a few pieces of duck meat in the centre with the cucumber and spring onion. Gently roll the wrap up and lay on a bed of salad greens and garnish with edible flowers or in this case, grab a stunning salad mix from Provenance Growers at the Farmgate Market on Sundays.

Peking duck wrap snack!
Peking duck wrap snack!


1 The Food of China Hsiung and Simonds Murdoch Books 2001

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‘.

Cheesy biscuits

So it’s been about six days and my Indian Pale Ale (IPA), which has been bubbling away nicely, has now slowed to a sporadic gurgle.  This apparently means that the fermentation process is almost over and it’s not far off being ready to bottle (exciting).  However, it’s not quite there yet so we’ll leave it alone for now and talk about things that are great to eat with beer. Hurray!

We’ve decided that, along with the home brew, our judges will also be presented with a few tasty snacks made by the Two Houses.

First up, I’d like to share the recipe for our cheesy biscuits.  These spicy little morsels are completely addictive.  Cheese biscuits in general are the Pringles of the biscuit world.  Mine are ideal for eating instead of dinner and watching an entire season of Veronica Mars.  Add a glass of wine or beer to make it seem like a proper meal.

They also make a great present for a good friend.  Pop them in a glass jar with a tight lid.  Apply a big sticky label with ‘happy birthday’ or ‘sorry your fish died’ scrawled in your charmingly sloppy handwriting.  Add a ribbon if you want to be extra fancy.  No need for wrapping paper OR a card.  Nothing to toss.  Win!

Glenn saw this and immediately asked if it was for him.
Glenn saw this and immediately asked if it was for him.

Cheesy biscuits

1 cup of plain flour
2 tablespoons of self raising flour
125g chopped butter
1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
125g grated cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
big pinch salt
big pinch freshly ground pepper
half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper (or more if you like)

Put all ingredients in a food processor and whizz until it’s crumbed and you can form a moist (but not sticky) dough.  If it’s too dry then add a tablespoon of water and whizz again.

Turn the dough out onto clean bench and roll into a long sausage of about 4 cm thick.  Wrap tightly in paper or cling wrap and stick in the fridge for three or more hours.

Remove and slice into discs about 5 mm thick.  You should get around forty small biscuits out of that roll.

Bake in moderate oven for about fifteen minutes or until golden.

Give your kiddies one or two each. The rest are for you after they’re in bed.

Serving suggestion.
Serving suggestion.




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’