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How to brew beer at home – An interview with Nick Holt

How to brew beer at home – An interview with Nick Holt

How to brew beer at home – An interview with Nick Holt

Craft isn’t just about yarn it’s about using skill to make beautiful things by hand. This week in our Father’s Day special we have had the pleasure of interviewing award winning amateur craft home brewer and father of two, Nick Holt. We know that many of our male readers are interested in learning how to brew beer at home, and Nick was very happy to share with us some of his tips… so here it goes!

Just so you know, Nick’s accolades include:

  • First place in round one of the Battle of the Brewers – Gander IPA
  • First place in the Brisbane Amateur Beer Brewers (BABBS) IPA and Pale Ale mini competition – Bird in the Hand IPA
  • Second place at the Grafton Show IPA Category – Gander IPA
  • Second place in the BABBS Porters and Stouts mini competition – Double Chocolate, Double Coffee Breakfast Stout
  • Second place in the BABBS Strong Ale and Bock mini competition – Loosey Goosey American Strong Ale
  • Third place in the BABBS annual competition Porters & Stouts category – Two in the Bush Porter
How to craft beer at home BABBS

Nick at his home brewery (aka shed!)

Tell us what got you started with home brewing

I have always really enjoyed beer, particularly new and different craft beers from around the world and I wanted to see if I could make my own beer.

How did you start your home brew journey?

There are lots of good YouTube videos, forums, books and websites on how to brew beer at home. I read and read on my commutes to work and taught myself the process. I started brewing using fresh wort kits that are available at most home brew stores. I think this is the easiest way to get started as most of the process is done for you. It is sort of like a packet cake mix where you add the wort and the yeast into a fermenter, wait and get beer. Fermenting is one of the most difficult things to get right, so I thought if I could manage that, I could move onto making my own wort.

Tell us about this ‘wort’

Wort is basically unfermented beer. It is made up from water, grain and hops. Once you add yeast it converts the sugar from the grain into alcohol. The hops give the beer the bitter and fruity/floral flavours, the grain gives the malty flavours and the yeast produces clean or ester flavours.

Talk us through your home brewing set up

I start a few days before ‘Brew Day’ by making sure my yeast is healthy. I do this by making a very small batch of beer to grow the yeast in. I can then use this yeast for my beer. I brew out of my shed and on brew day I make sure everything is clean to avoid contaminates that can infect the beer and produce undesired flavours. I measure out my water and now that I am getting more serious about brewing I actually adjust the mineral content of my water to suit the flavour profile for the type of beer I am brewing. I use a piece of equipment called a Grainfather and add the grain to the heated water and sparge the grain by rinsing the grain to get all the extra sugars out. The liquid is then boiled and I add hops at various stages of the boil to get different flavours. This is now the wort. Once the wort is cool it is placed into the fermenter with the yeast and into the fermentation chamber. I use an old chest freezer with an external thermostat to keep the beer at a stable temperature. Depending on the type of beer, it is fermented for between one to four weeks. Now you have flat, warm beer. I put my beer into kegs and carbonate using CO2, cool the beer and it is ready to drink. I can test the sugar content before I add the yeast and after the beer has finished fermenting so I know the alcohol content of my beer.

How to brew beer at home

Adding the grain and the sparge

How to brew beer at home

The boil

How to brew beer at home

The fermentation chamber

How to brew beer at home

Checking the alcohol content

 Tell us about some of the beers you have brewed

My favourite beers are IPAs and Pale Ales, so I tend to brew these the most. I also enjoy brewing speciality beers. My most recent beer was a 13% Imperial Stout – not an every day beer! I have also brewed a double chocolate, double coffee Breakfast Stout, a Belgian Pale Ale, a Vienna Lager – there are too many to remember as I am up to my 21st brew! My home brewery is called ‘What’s Good for the Goose’ so I like to name my beers after old sayings that tend to have a bird reference. Some names include Bird in the Hand IPA, Two in the Bush Porter, Loosey Goosey American Strong Ale and Duck Season Belgian Pale Ale. I have aptly named the 13% Imperial Stout Tongue Tied!

How do you choose what you want to brew and where do you get your recipes?

I am part of a home brew club called Brisbane Amateur Beer Brewers (BABBS) and we hold six competitions throughout the year with each competition dedicated to a few different styles of beer. I like to enter the competitions so this helps me to decide what type of beer to brew, encourages me to try new styles and I also get unbiased feedback from the beer judges. I research the style of beer, including drinking commercial examples of the beer to get inspiration for the taste. I then look at recipes online or in books and then build my own recipe to suit my own style or the flavour I am after in that particular brew.

Craft Beer Grafton Show Brew

Craft Beer Grafton Show – Second prize!

Where do you find the time?

I work full time, study Law part time and have a toddler and a newborn so my time is precious. A brew like this takes around six hours so I try to take a Saturday morning once a month to brew. I try and incorporate other chores around my brew, like mowing the lawns during the boil stage etc. The other stages of the brew, like preparing the yeast, adding dry hops during the fermentation and quality testing (aka drinking the beer) can all be done after the kids are in bed.

I am interested in home brewing, how should I get started?

Talk to your local home brew store as they have all of the information and equipment to get started. There is a lot of information out there on how to brew beer at home, but it can be a bit overwhelming. Brewing is a hobby where you can start simple with very little equipment and make a good beer. Once you get the feel for things you can add in more equipment, try new recipes and really refine your skills and still get good beer. Joining a local home brew club is also a great way to meet people that also enjoy brewing. Don’t feel like you are too amateur to join a club, we all start at the beginning.

Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today, Nick. All the best with your future brews and have a happy Father’s Day.

Imogen and Ana