Six Homebrewed Beers To Keep Brewing Forever

Published on 21 June 2024 in ,

Two stemmed half pint glasses, both containing beer. One glass contains a paler beer that is my homebrewed version. The other is a darker, golder beer that is Boddingtons.
It’s beer o’clock!

Some years a friend told me about a day he’d spent with another of his friends, brewing beer.  Apparently this guy was a really into his homebrew.  Had all the equipment, even down to custom made bottle caps and his own designed labels.  As a homebrewer myself, my eyes raised up at this news.  I confess that I could see the attraction with the custom bottle caps.  But the labels?  You’d have to stick them on after bottling your beer, then soak them off afterwards.  All seemed far too faff.  I can’t even do the custom bottle caps as my own homebrew labelling system basically relies on using different coloured caps for different beers.  And if I’m feeling fancy, I’ll scrawl some letters on top with a Sharpie.  BB for best bitter.  IPA for India Pale Ale.  That sort of thing.

What really intrigued me about this person though was that he only made six beers. Every time he brewed some beer, it was from one of his six recipes.  He’d presumably honed and perfected them over the years and was happy with those six. I guess he had absolutely no inclination to experiment or brew anything else.

I’m not sure I could do that.  I look at homebrew recipes and just want to brew pretty much everything.  I’m exactly the same in the pub.  Show me a rack of beers I’ve never tried before and I’m in heaven.  Unless all six handpulls turn out to be populated with very similar beers anyway.

At the time the thought of tying myself down to only six beers seemed fanciful.  I wasn’t sure it was possible.  But I keep coming back to the idea, wondering.  Recently I realised I now have six that – if you forced me to – I’d happily brew over and over and over again. Here they are.

1. Anchor Steam Beer

Many, many, many years ago I went to a Tex-Mex restaurant near Trafalgar Square called The Texas Embassy.  The name derives from a short period when Texas was independent and had its own embassy in London.  The restaurant’s long gone now, and that’s a shame as the food was great.  But for many years we went there, filling our stomachs with Tex-Mex and enjoying their range of American beers.  This was way before the American craft beer movement took off and there were a handful of craft breweries whose beers made it to these shores.  Goose Island.  Sam Adams.  Anchor.  

Anchor Steam Beer became one of my faves to drink in the Texas Embassy.  It’s an interesting beer because it’s a bit like a lager but brewed using an ale yeast.  Lagers tend to use yeasts that ferment at 6-11 degrees.  Ale yeasts about 18-22.  The result is a rather pleasant, highly drinkable beer that I find incredibly more-ish.  It’s an absolute classic.

When I started doing homebrew using kits, a steam beer kit was one I tried.  And it was equally wonderful.  Indeed I brewed that kit more than once. When I then moved on to brewing using ingredients rather than kits, a clone of Anchor Steam Beer was one I went for, using a recipe from a book called Clone Brews, written by Tess and Mark Szamatulski, an American couple who owned a homebrew shop. They created hundreds of recipes cloning different beers. They seemed quite good at it.  

I love their take on Anchor Steam Beer. It’s a lovely brew, especially in the summer.  It’s not quite as good as the original, I am sure.  Although as Anchor Steam has been almost impossible to get hold of in Britain in recent years, it’s hard to know.  Indeed in 2022 distribution was stopped anywhere other than in California. Then in July 2023, it was announced Anchor’s owners (Japanese brewing giant Sapporo) were shutting down the brewery after 127 years. Production stopped. It’s future was completely uncertain, until the brewery was purchased in June 2024. The beer will return.

Whether it will make its way back to the UK, well only time will tell. If it does, I’ll be sure to brew another batch and see how close I got.

2. SW2

Bottles of homebrewed ale

I’ve brewed several beers from the Clone Brews book, and haven’t been able to compare many against the original version. One of the many reasons for this is because the beer is hard to find.  In some case it’s because the beer is not even brewed any more.  One such beer is SW2.

SW2 was a pale ale brewed in a brewpub called The Orange Brewery in Pimlico, South West London.  Opened in 1983 as a response to the Firkin chain of brewpubs, it was part of a small chain of brewpubs called Clifton Inns, setup in 1983 as a response to the success of the Firkin chain of brewpubs. The brewery closed in 2001, although the pub is still open.  Clifton Inns was owned bt brewers Watney. A highly reviled brewery known for pumping out terrible beer like Watney’s Red Barrel and Party 7. But don’t let that put you off. Cos this is a lovely beer.

SW2 is a British pale ale.  Quite traditional, malty, fruity, and very tasty.  I’ve made it several times for that reason.  It’s also quite simple and adaptable.  This is quite handy as I often have varying hops and things left over.  Hops tend to come in 100g packets and most brews don’t need 100g of one type of hop so you get leftovers.  Some hops get used in lots of different beers (many traditional British beers use hops called Fuggles and Goldings.)  Others are harder to use up.  But that’s fine.  I just mix them into a batch of SW2.  The result is my SW2 is never quite the same beer twice.  But it’s always a lovely drop. It’s basically become my House Pale Ale.

3. Boddingtons Mild

Mild is one of the most criminally under-rated beers going, and that’s a cross I’m willing to die on. When I first started drinking real ale in the 1990s, you used to be able to find mild all over the place – especially in the more local type pubs.

It’s now pretty rare to find mild on tap. There are a few places that have it on all the time. Sometimes you’ll find it on in May, which is “Mild Month” but it’s rare to find a mild permanently on tap. And that’s a shame.

To enjoy this excellent beer, I have to brew my own. I’ve done a couple. Belhaven’s 60/-. Thwaites’s Nutty Black (now known as Thwaites Mild interestingly.) Sarah Hughes’s Dark Mild (oh boy, WHAT a beer!) Of them all, I’ve decided my favourite is a clone recipe of Boddingtons Mild. It’s a lovely drop. Darkish, rich and creamy. Not too hoppy. Not too strong so you can drink a few happily.

The recipe comes from a book called Brew Your Own British Real Ale by Graham Wheeler. It has an extensive section on milds.

One thing I have no idea about is how it compares to the original. Cask Boddingtons Mild apparently finally died in the early 1990s, way before I started drinking ale. Still, I’m more than happy to drink this one to the end of days.

5. Boddingtons IP (1945)

A can of Boddingtons, a glass of Boddingtons and a glass of 1945 Cloned Boddies
Beer, beer, everywhere. But which to drink?

A second entry from Boddingtons here. I followed a recipe for Boddingtons using a recipe from 1945. I did a full on review of this one comparing it to the modern Boddies. In short though, it’s a beautiful ale. Gloriously floral, quite moorish, and very delicious. I’d say it’s a perfect summer beer, and at some point I will brew it again.

5. Eldridge Pope Royal Oak

Another from the Clone Brews book, Royal Oak is a strong bitter. Well, was a strong bitter. Dorset based Eldridge Pope sold their brewery in 1997 and brewing of their beers ended not long after by all accounts. Royal Oak’s therefore a long lost beer.

The recipe book highly praised Royal Oak so I had to try it. The first time I did, didn’t go well. I brewed it, and left it to ferment. It was a warm summer and fermentation ended relatively quickly. The final gravity of the finished beer seemed a little high (you work out the ABV of a beer – or any alcohol – by measuring the “original gravity” before fermenting, and the “final gravity” afterwards) but it didn’t seem excessively high, so I bottled the beer and left it condition on the kitchen worktop. Generally I leave beer on the worktop for two weeks, then move it to the cellar for at least another two (preferably four.)

About a week later I came down one morning and found the kitchen smelling very beery. Bleary eyed and puzzled, I noted too that the floor was sticky. There were shards of glass on the floor.

It eventually dawned on me that one of my bottles had exploded during the night.

This was not good. I hurriedly cleared the kitchen (although I was still finding bits of glass for days afterwards.) Doing a bit of research, I found people online saying to move the bottles somewhere cool to reduce the risk of further explosion. I rushed all 40 or so bottles to our cellar whilst I tried to work out what to do.

A few days later, a second bottle exploded. We were within a few days of going on holiday for two weeks. I couldn’t run the risk of coming back home to a cellar flooded with beer, and I spent about an hour trying to carefully open every bottle so I could pour it down the drain. When I opened them, most of them spurted up a burst of foam that went about 50cm up in the air.

The pressure inside those bottles was incredible. I still don’t know exactly what went wrong, but my guess is that the fermentation got stuck. It hadn’t finished at all. When I bottled it, I added priming sugar for every bottle and that restarted the fermentation. Fermenting creates gas, which you need in the beer to make it sparkle and lively. But too much gas and you have a bottle bomb. The bottles can’t take the pressure of the gas and they break.

It was – and remains – the only batch of homebrew that’s gone so wrong that I had to chuck every single bottle.

It took me over a year to pluck up the courage to brew it again. But I was incredibly glad I did. Royal Oak’s an incredibly gorgeous beer. Rich, malty, with fruity flavours and hints of raisin. It was an incredible beer. One of the best I’ve ever brewed. I was very sad when I supped the last of it.

6. Watney’s Cream Stout

Two glasses of beer and a homebrew book

You know how I said Watney’s was quite reviled as a brewery? That it was well known for making crap beer? Yeah? I said that.

Watney’s made crap beer. I read that their reputation got so bad that in the 1970s, they removed their name from the outside of their pubs.

Not only that, but they were well known for dodgy ingredients. Namely waste beer. Sludge from the bottom of the fermenting vessels. The dregs of beer that was left over in the barrels when they were returned to the brewery. It would all be boiled up and pasteurised, and added into the ingredients. This could account for about 10% of the beer volume. Apparently they weren’t alone because the tax system at the time made it make financial sense. According to the blog Shut Up About Barclay Perkins, it happened in many other breweries too. We just know Watney’s did it because they included it meticulously in their brewing records.

So yeah, Watney’s. Terrible beer. Yet here I am telling you a beer I’d happily brew time and time again, is Watney’s Cream Stout. Err, what?

This is another recipe I got from that Clone Brews book. As I said earlier, the authors ran a homebrew shop and they sold kits based on their recipes. The book said this was one of their best selling kits. They based it on Cream Stout they tasted in 1989 – long after all the rubbish stopped being put in beer.

The recipe is a fantastic beer. Creamy and silky, with beautiful toffee and roasted malt flavours. Watney’s may have been a reviled brewery, but this is a glorious stout and one I’d be happy to make time and time again.

What it isn’t is a beer I can actually ever buy. I couldn’t find out when Watney’s Cream Stout disappeared, but I’m guessing some point in the 1990s when a major wave of brewery consolidation saw the brewery sold to Courage, who eventually became part of Scottish and Newcastle.

Still, who cares? It’s delicious and I can make it any time I want.

So there we are. Six beers that – if I had to – would be the six I’d happily brew time and time again. Of course I’d more than like it if I could brew more than that. And, yay, it turns out I can.

And maybe one day I’ll brew a beer that usurps one of the above from that list. A beer that becomes my new favourite. I have some strong candidates coming up. Time will tell.