Save money! Brew your own beer! #randomwednesday

Brewing beer is great fun.  Not only do you save a shedload of cash (can you say fifty pence a pint?) but once you’ve got the hang of things you can start experimenting…

I started brewing at university.  Kind of an occupational hazard for a microbiology student.  It’s practically homework, when you think about it.  Made a few kits, then was given a book…  We brewed a Christmas ale from first principles, left it in bottles for the best part of a year before opening it.  Yowzah!  The first year, it was strong.  A lovely, rich, dark, liquoricey ale.  Went down a treat.  But it kept getting stronger!  Second year in and you could have a pint of it at best before you started feeling sleepy.  Third year and we were down to wine glasses.  I left 4 bottles of it in the flat when we moved out.

Moved to Kent, found a good homebrew shop, started up again.  Had to throw away the first 40 pints of cider – Kent water is not good for brewing, especially not the area we were in.  Lesson learned, next round we bought a load of water from the supermarket just for brewing.  To be fair, we also had to buy water if we wanted a decent cup of tea.  Down in Kent we had an abundance of superb local ingredients.  Elderflowers and elderberries, the fruit section of Perry Court Farm Shop for strawberries, apples…  When we moved here to Shetland we brought the last of the elderflower wine with us.

And then we took a break for a few years.

A couple of years ago we started up again.  Just to get back into the habit and skills, the family brewed some kits.  Ciders, bitters, a couple of wheatbeers.  And we’ve been experimenting with them.  A muslim bag of elderflower heads went into an IPA during its first fermentation and resulted in a lovely, light, flowery pale ale.  Very nice.  But the piece de la resistance has got to be the mead.

I was staying at my sister-in-law’s house, browsing through their bookshelves when I came across a recipe for something that sounded amazing:  Barkshack Gingermead.  The idea is fairly simple but you’ve a long wait before drinking.  6 months is a bare minimum.  People mutter quietly in forums about bottles that are 10, 12, 13 years old.  It just gets better and better with age.

As with any mead, you need honey.  And lots of it.  Root ginger, whatever fruit takes your fancy (we used raspberries, so the resulting colour is a gorgeous pink) and a few other ingredients.  Just to add a twist (and because I thought it would work), half the bottles got a shot of a very strong cinnamon tea before being capped and stored.  Start to bottling, a month or so.  Six weeks maybe.  Then the waiting began.

Over Christmas I sneaked a bottle of the cinnamon gingermead open, just to see.  Mistake.  Far too early.  Should’ve left it alone.  Last weekend, I opened another one.  Now we’re talking!  The cinnamon has matured into a nice bite, the mead itself slips down a treat.  Can’t wait to see what it’s like this Christmas!

And it’s turned into a nice family industry!  My eldest son helps out, sitting on the kitchen units and holding the syphon tube, they all like carrying bottles back and forth from the cupboard, and Thing Two’s getting to be a dab hand with the crown capper.  All of this is a useful addition to his skillset when he gets ready to go to university.  For the next batch of mead I’m going to get Thing One to do the bottle labels.

One thing you do need, though, is a good local home brew shop.  The kits are heavy and expensive to post.  We had a good one in Lerwick, but he closed recently.  Whenever I visit my parents in Ripon, I go to Drinks Well on the market square and stock up.  Hop & Grape do a good line in mail order for the lighter stuff.  If you’re lucky, you might find your local Tescos has a home brew section.  Hexham certainly did the last time I was there.  A lot of my original equipment is stamped “Boots”, as they used to sell it as well.  Not so sure they do now.

It’s a very rewarding hobby, and you’re never short of a beer.

Do you remember your first? I Can. (#eurovision #esc @bbceurovision)

1992.  Holland House TV room (the one up the spiral staircase), Pollock halls of residence, Edinburgh University.  One Saturday in May.

There were 3 of us.  Myself, my wife-to-be, and a random physicist.  We’d all met up there many times before, sharing our love of Thunderbirds, Star Trek and similar TV shows so it wasn’t unusual for us all to be there on a Saturday night.  We weren’t the partying/clubbing/pubbing types.  Our wine was cheap Bulgarian red, screw-topped bottles.  Unusual at the time, but it saved us having the expense of a corkscrew.  Hey, poor students, right?  The unusual thing about that night was just how dreadful the choices were for TV.  Only 4 channels but nothing to watch.

“There’s a movie on later, should be good.”

“Yeah, but that’s later.  What do we watch until then?”

Y’see, if we’d left the TV lounge the chances were high someone else would come in and put something else on.  So we were determined to stay.  All 4 channels were discarded as options.

“We’ve got to watch something.  Even if it’s BBC1 so we can say we’re waiting for the film.”

“BBC1 it is, then.”

Turned out to be the Eurovision Song Contest.  Hosted by Sir Terry Wogan, who sounded like he’d consumed far more alcohol than we had.  And we laughed.  We laughed like drains, drank, had fun, became outraged at the blatantly political scoring, and promptly forgot about everything the next day.

Until the following year.  During a lull in a movie/home brewed beer marathon the Eurovision popped up on screen.  Subsequent movies were discarded and we began all over again!  Wogan, still drunk, presided once more.  The beer and snacks flowed.  Much fun.

This set the tone for every year since.  We’ve watched it with friends, with family.  Last year my wife and I watched it in the Maternity department of the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary (our son was born the next day).  This year will be no exception.

Yes, it’s cheesy.  Yes, there’s some absolute rubbish put forward to represent the countries.  Yes, the voting is unashamedly biased and not at all motivated by who wants Russia to keep supplying them with gas.  Block voting, neighbours giving each other 12 points, the UK losing no matter how much money we pump into the competition.

The last couple of years, watching with the assistance of Twitter, has been a blast.  You get comments from all around Europe.  In fact, during last night’s semi final someone tweeted that it was like having the whole of Europe round to watch it with you, only without the mess to clean up afterwards.  I’d credit them but there were so many Eurovision tweets last night it’s got lost.

So eat, drink and be merry.  Enjoy Graham Norton’s commentary.  He’s no Wogan, but he’s getting there.  And where did you watch your first?

Blogging about blogging

It’s a funny thing. You write these words because you’ve set yourself the challenge not only of starting a journal but of putting it out into the world for people to read and comment on. You hope it’s going to be entertaining, useful, informative, possibly even funny. But you carry on anyway. And then you look at the statistics.

WordPress is wonderful for tracking this sort of thing. How many people have visited your site, what did they look at. And you get to wondering… Why did that post only get one or two views? I publicised it as much as the one the previous Monday and that got twenty. Why do more people look at my blog on a Thursday than a Tuesday? I find myself having a peek at the site statistics a couple or three times a day. Alright, I’ve got the dashboard pinned to another tab as I write this. I’m a tad obsessed.

Then something like this happens.  I received an award.  For my blog.  From a complete stranger.

Kreativ-Blogger-Award

This came completely out of the blue from Tom Briggs at http://diary-of-the-dad.blogspot.com/. I’d not heard of this, didn’t go into blogging for the awards, but it gave me the most wonderful warm and fuzzy feeling inside! Someone not only read my blog, they liked it enough to share it with others. And that’s absolutely magic.

Part of the rules around this Kreative Blogger award is that I now have to nominate ten of the blogs I follow for this award, inform them of the fact, and impart ten facts about myself. So, my nominees are as follows:

  1. Bringing Up Charlie. In no small part this man is responsible for this blog being here. If I hadn’t stumbled across his post about how to build a Gup-A it might never have occurred to me to get this up and running and, more than that, keep it going.
  2. Him Up North – Call yourself a northerner? Southern nancy, more like. Come to the proper north and see what it’s like!
  3. The Moiderer – Funny, poignant, great to chat to on Twitter, Starbucks-on-tap.
  4. Reluctant Housedad – There but for the grace of God go I. From what I read on his blog he’s making a better fist of it than I would.
  5. She Means Well, but… – Another ex-pat, this time a little further afield.
  6. Sticky Fingers – Originator of The Gallery (click the icon to the right to find out more about that wonderful gem).
  7. Paperback Writer – This is where I would like to be in the future. Writing professionally. I’m a long way off that right now.
  8. Mocha Beanie Mummy – Originator of Silent Sunday (another icon over to the right)
  9. Katie Ganshert – First Line Fridays.  No graphic or icon yet but that doesn’t stop First Line Fridays!
  10. This is where I run out.  I’m actually out of blogs I follow religiously.  So I need a recommendation (or two, three or more!)  I mean, obviously I follow Diary of the Dad but I can’t do a return nomination, can I?  This would just get stuck in a perpetual loop!  Hmmm.  If we could somehow harness the energy such a loop would generated we could power the Internet!

That was pretty difficult, actually. Turns out I don’t follow anywhere near as many blogs as I thought I did! I know some of the nominees above have been nominated by others, but that’s just confirmation of what wonderful people they are.

And now the 10 facts about me…

  1. I’m not a great fan of heights.
  2. I’ve bungee-jumped both Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) and Blaukrans Bridge (South Africa)
  3. I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with my wife after watching a TV programme where the presenter did just that and had horrendous altitude sickness and hated every second of his trip. I, on the other hand, didn’t suffer and loved it.
  4. I was told by my English teacher that my handwriting was appalling and that I should do something about it. I did. I took a touch-typing course and, on a good day, can still do 60-70 words per minute.
  5. At school, I hated sports. Hated, loathed, despised them. I still can’t abide team sports (football, rugby, etc. all leave me with a burning desire to be somewhere else) but it would surprise my old gym teachers to know that I’ll be running my 3rd Half-Marathon this June.
  6. I am a computer magician. I fix things simply by standing behind the user and getting them to repeat what went wrong last time. 99 times out 100 this is followed by “Well, it didn’t do that last time.”
  7. I broke my nose on a water slide in Slovakia
  8. I have known (and been together with) my wife for over half my life.
  9. My favourite city, of all the wonderful places I’ve visited over the years, is Edinburgh.
  10. I am a Browncoat.  And I’m proud of it!

So there you go.  10 nominees, 10 facts, and a massive thanks to Tom Briggs.