Funny how your wedding takes precedence over pretty much every other thing in your life for months on end. I’m back.
Speaking of weddings, We’d found from attending other peoples’ that one of the new (?) must-dos is to have a personalised little bag of sugar almonds for each attendee on the table – these things are called bombonieres. Louise and I walk the line between enjoying tradition (even imported ones) but also rebelling against it, so we decided on a more personal (and useful) memento of our wedding. Beer. After all, what symbolises health, wealth, happiness, fertility and long life more than sophisticated homebrew?
For that is what we provided. A few weeks before the happy event we went to The Beer Factory in Seven Hills and, with the help of someone who knew what they were doing, followed a recipe to make 50 litres of a clone of Toohey’s Old (brew no. 208, if you want to have a go yourself). Perhaps it was the stinkingly hot day (40 deg C) or our usual cackhandedness, but we managed to rather overdo the yeast, scooping out handfuls of the stuff before it absorbed into the brew. Our expert didn’t see us doing this so we think we got away with it, but it meant the three-week wait for the beer to brew was more anxious on our part than it might have been. We may also have been less than precise with some of our other measures which means that we’ll never be able to make exactly the same beer again.
On a much cooler Saturday our friend Peter drove us back to The Beer Factory to help us bottle the stuff. After sterilising the bottles we were set up by a tap and, after a quick taste or two, we set to filling 90-odd half-litre bottles and whacking crown seals on them.
Louise and I had decided that “no. 208”, a great name for a bus, was a bit boring for our wedding beer. It took a surprisingly short amount of time for us to come up with “Old Ball & Chain” as a suitable substitute and Louise set about designing the label, using Old Melbourne Gaol and Abba as her main influences.
I’d recommend the Beer Factory experience to anyone who wants to brew themselves some beer but doesn’t have the time, space or ability to home-brew properly. 50-litre batches should perhaps be shared between two or three friends, as (a) it’s a fun few hours out together, (b) it lessens the workload, (c) it reduces the amount of fridge space you’ll require to store them, and (d) it means you don’t have to drink 100 bottles of the same stuff in a relatively short time. Believe me, we were craving variety after “only” working our way through the 40-odd bottles we didn’t give away. It works out relatively cheaply too, especially if you can provide your own bottles, which of course you can recycle, and don’t bother with labels.
So how did it taste? Well, my first thoughts were that it was like a cross between Toohey’s Old and Newcastle Brown Ale, and on further consumption I’d stick with that. Alas, the yeast issue mentioned above did leave a slight apple-like aftertaste which is, I read, the hallmark of unfermented yeast in a beer. Oops. But it didn’t really detract too much from the good swiggin’ dark beer.
Post script: on a trip to Kiama recently I had a couple of schooners of Kent Old, a beer not often found on draught these days, and was shocked to find that, lack of apple taste aside, it was pretty much identical to Old Ball & Chain. Looked the same too. So if you want to taste what our never-to-be-repeated wedding beer was like, seek out some Kent Old. Bizarrely, the place I’m told you’re most likely to be able to do this is…Newcastle (NSW).