That was the story up to 1994. In the last month, however, one small London company has reinvented the concept of self-brew for the 1990s, simplifying the technical aspects, adding some welcome professional nous, and offering shop-quality beers for as little as 39p a pint. Taking its lead from more than 300 similar breweries in Canada, Mr Bung's Brewing Emporium is London's first (and the nation's second) do-it-yourself brewery.
Not that you'd work that out from a casual saunter down Acton High Street. If it weren't for the little off-licence attached, you'd probably mark it down as just another launderette on account of the six large top-loading washing machines (or so they seem at a distance) that sit in the window. Even as you add your raw materials to one of these brewing coppers, you half expect someone to pop up beside you and thrust their smalls into the mix. But the laundromat analogy also holds true: brewing at Mr Bung's is as simple as taking your clothes for a wash.
It works like this: Mr Bung provides professional brewing equipment and conditioning rooms. He also offers a choice of more than 200 recipes and the raw ingredients: treacly jugfuls of malt extract, aromatic hops and fresh wet yeast. Mr Bung will not actually make the beer himself because he'd have to charge excise duty. You, the customer, or rather the "Member of Mr Bung's Brewing Club", must sign a form declaring that all the beer brewed is for personal use. It's up to you to do all the work (though there is always help at hand), measuring out the ingredients, hand-grinding the malt, tipping everything into one of the coppers full of boiling water, and ticking off each stage of the process on a personalised instruction sheet.
While the wort bubbles away, the amateur brewer is left with 35 minutes to relax on one of the clubhouse sofas, catching up on the papers or browsing through the small selection of specialist beers brewed by Belgian Trappists and the like. Barely an hour after walking through the door, you are pumping 80 pints of beer into a fermenting vessel. Ales take a week to ferment, lagers five weeks, at which point the amateur brewer returns to the shop to bottle the beer or drain it into a plastic "polypin" container.
I imagine committed homebrewers may cry foul at the almost antiseptic Mr Bung: no smells, no steam, no yeast on the carpet. For the rest, however, the chance to brew cheap beer at speed and to put one over the taxman looks certain to be a winner. A trend to watch.
Mr Bung's Brewing Emporium, 241/245 Acton High St, London W3 9BY Full m'ship pounds 37.50 per year. Associate m'ship for 3 months pounds 5. Prices start at pounds 35 for an 80-pint brew (details: 0181-993 4588); a similar service is at Brewer's World, Ivy Bush Brewery, Monument Rd, B'ham B16 (0121-454 7447)
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