Ever wondered what goes into making a good pint? I popped in to Crafty Devil Brewing last month to find out…
Good news everyone – we’ve finally rammed a stake through the heart of the most loathsome month of the year, Bloody January. Those endless weeks of frigid drizzly misery are over at last, and the rest of the year is free to clatter by like a runaway freight train until it’s time to crack open the Bailey’s again.
But cast your mind back to that most dreary of months; it’s a brand New Year. A season of fresh starts, new beginnings and, of course, crushing self-loathing. Just like everyone else mortified by Christmas photos in which they’ve taken on the appearance of a beige manatee, I did my best to be a little healthier in January.
I rescued my running shoes from under the bed, and while I’ve not embarked on any ridiculous detox diets (I’ve got a liver for that, ta), I have cut back on the umpteen thousand calories a day I was knocking back in December.
I did not however, do Dry January. I have done it in the past – I even embarked on a dry October a while back, as moaned about in this very blog. I too have experienced the clear skin, uncharacteristically full wallet and thirsty, desperate eyes that are the telltale signs of this masochistic undertaking.
But while I didn’t partake this year, I’ve certainly reduced my intake. I guess you could say I went for more of a ‘moist January’ vibe. Which is lucky, really – because I’d arranged to go to a brewery and have a bash at making some beer myself…
Crafty Devil is a brewery that’s very close to my heart, and conveniently, my house. They knock out some great easy drinking pale ales like the excellently named Mikey Rayer All Dayer, while Safe as Milk and its big brother Not So Safe as Milk are responsible for converting me to dark beers. I even won the pub quiz at their taproom while battered and singing along to Meatloaf once and they didn’t throw me out, so it’s safe to say I’m a fan.
But I’m not the only one aboard the Crafty Devil bandwagon. From humble beginnings in a Canton shed just a couple of years ago, Rhys and Adam’s brews are now stocked across the UK. They’re well on the way to holding a tap takeover at every Brewdog in Britain, and are (whisper it) currently in talks with a major supermarket around stocking a few of their beers. Their taproom on Llandaff Road has even been crowned the most beard friendly pub in the UK, which we can all agree is among the greatest accolades achievable by a drinking establishment.
They’re also moving into a brand new, much bigger brewery just down the road in Leckwith, and while their occasionally bonkers #CannedInCardiff IndieGoGo campaign didn’t quite reach its (pretty bloody ambitious) target of £80k, they’ve got themselves firmly on the radar of every self-respecting hop addict in Wales. Now seemed like a good time to go and see the devil’s work.
I arrive at a freezing Unit K in Papermill Road at stupid o’clock in the morning, moments before equally bleary-eyed blogger types The Plate Licked Clean, Gourmet Gorro, Eat Weekly and Hungry City Hippy (I could tell you their real names but then they’d have to kill you). We’ve assembled, like a sort of crap, freebie-hunting Avengers, to get our hands dirty brewing Crafty Devil’s newest tipple – the aptly named Paperback Writer.
As much as I would have enjoyed brewing a brainblasting 9% Double IPA, the Crafty boys had something a bit more conservative in mind for our brew – a 3.8% Vienna Pale Ale. Probably wise given that I was supposed to be Keeping it Session.
As it wouldn’t be the strongest of brews, we added Vienna malts, a sprinkle of oats and a smidge of caramalt for body. This makes me sound like I know my mash tuns from my wort chillers. I don’t. The reason I know any of this is because Crafty Devil director and head brewer Adam tells me so.
A pipe-fitter by trade, he’s a completely self-taught brewer, which is pretty incredible when you think about how stupidly complex it can be. Sure, you can technically make beer from just four ingredients – water, hops, malt and yeast – but in reality there are umpteen trillion variables that can be the difference between creating the nectar of the gods and an undrinkable mess. Like Carling, say. It’s half way between science and art; a bit like Professor Brian Cox when he was in D:Ream.
The first step is making the mash. This involves chucking the malt in a huge pot (the aforementioned mash tun), and filling it with hot water. We get to stir it a bit, and feel like we’re being useful (we’re not, but it’s fun). It feels weirdly like making porridge, and Adam tells us that the not-yet-alcoholic result – called wort – does indeed make great porridge.
After about an hour of standing about drinking tea and moaning about the cold some science happens, and releases the sugars from the malt. We drain the wort and put it into massive pot number two for the boil. This is where the real magic happens, and that incredible horlicks-y smell smothers the room like a funky, malty duvet.
It’s basically heaven, and when we add the hops, it smells like Jesus just popped his head around the door smoking a massive spliff – while not particularly closely related, hops and marijuana aren’t too dissimilar in the aroma department. We use a mix of Eldorado and Cascade.
After a good simmer, the final stage is bunging the whole thing in a fermentation tank with more hops and some yeast. The little beasties eat the sugars, and after a week or two Bob’s your mother’s brother.
Fast-forward to February, and Paperback Writer has arrived in premier league Cardiff boozers The Lansdowne and The City Arms. I ordered a pint from the former, immediately bewildering the barman by taking about ten (terrible) photos of it being poured, like a new Dad obsessively chronicling every last burp, gurgle and fart of their new baby.
So how did it taste? I may be biased, but pretty bloody decent actually. Generously hoppy, well balanced and not too thin – in the same weight category as big little beers like Tiny Rebel’s Once Inch Punch and Brewdog’s Dead Pony Club.
I really didn’t do much – I stirred it a bit, fiddled with the hops and ran away when the time came to clean up the mess (sorry Adam!) but you know what – you can’t help but get a kick out of seeing a beer on the bar that you had a hand, no matter how small, in brewing. I might just be tempted to invest in a homebrew kit one of these days…