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Shed proves a magical place for home brewing; BEER.


RODGERS and Hammerstein got it wrong. In one song from the musical South Pacific, the word "dame" should really be replaced with "shed".

Consider the lyrics from There Is Nothin' Like A Dame: "Nothin' else was built the same / Nothin' in the world / As the soft and wavy frame / Like the silhouette of a shed."

It may not rhyme, nor does it sway with romance, but you can feel the sentiment.

Man's best friend is a shed. His second-best friend is a beer. And, when the two are combined, it's nothing short of magical mystery.

The shed is where dreams come to fruition and where dryness and warmth create wellbeing - and a thirst.

Ken Oliver not only makes his own beer that's indistinguishable from a pint in the pub, he makes his own beer in a mini-microbrewery which he has adapted himself from off-the-shelf components. He makes his own beer to suit his own palate, and he makes his own beer in a shed.

It doesn't stop there, either. Ken wants beer enthusiasts to invest in the equipment he has developed for home brewing.

He isn't fussy on the term "home-brew" but he's so passionate about making beer at home and so keen to share his knowledge that he has assembled the most user-friendly mini-microbrewery imaginable with a system of three stainless steel vessels (which can vary in size from 50 litres to 100 litres), coupled with hoses, pumps, valves and temperature gauges taking up not much more room than an office desk. When he fuels the lot with propane gas - voila - it's a brewery.

"When I built it I thought it was too good to be kept to myself," says Ken, from Kenton, Newcastle.

"I've been brewing as a hobby for 27 years and got increasingly frustrated at the home-brew shops that just keep plastic buckets and tins of malt extract.

"What people do is buy kits and if the beer turns out horrible they never go back to doing it. I started off using a picnic coolbox as a mash tun with two, five-gallon buckets. In America, brewing like I'm doing is huge; it's so popular, so why can't we do it?" Three weeks ago, Ken demonstrated his home brewery at Blaydon Beer Festival and was pleasantly surprised by the interest it created. Two firm orders have come out of it already, while several more people are thinking it over - more than likely plucking up the courage to tell their wives. Ken will also be demonstrating the kit at Alnwick Food Festival which takes place on September 18 and 19.

"My last batch made 50 litres - or 88 pints - of a 4.6% alcohol by volume bitter and used 10 kilos of malt and 120g of hops," says Ken. "The total brew cost pounds 22.68 which equates to less than 25p a pint. It's every man's dream.

"The system would be good for brewing at home, for craft brewing demonstrations or for a microbrewery's experimental brews.

"It's so efficient; everything is pumped around, it's all on one level and it's totally transportable. The stainless steel vessels come from Germany and I drill the holes in them for the fittings, building the system up myself. I suppose that takes a bit of the fun away, but who wants to lift 10 gallons of liquid? "It would also be good for brewing clubs, say five or six people sharing the pounds 1,500 cost."

Ken was a team leader in a food factory on Team Valley, Gateshead, which supplied Marks & Spencer, but his wife Margaret's increasing disablement from osteoarthritis and sciatica meant he eventually had to become a full-time carer. She is often in so much pain she can't get out of bed for days on end - yet she remains a cheerful soul.

"Now that he's brewing in the shed, I can have my kitchen back," she says, recalling the steam from 50 litres of boiling water that would create enough condensation to lift the paper off the walls. "He's always got two kegs of beer on the go but because of the painkillers I'm on, I can't drink any of it, not a drop."

Then she just shakes her head at the full-sized bar in what was formerly the family dining room, with its beer engine, fridge, bar fittings and a full wall covered in CD cases from AC/DC to Zeppelin.

"I got a bit carried away," says Ken.

"Luckily, I have a very understanding wife."

To finance what he eventually hopes will become a business that will allow him to come off benefits, music fanatic Ken sold his record collection on eBay, eventually bringing in pounds 700.

"I had some great stuff, all in perfect condition," he says. "There were about 200 albums altogether - Sergeant Pepper went for pounds 80 which was fantastic. They're all gone now."

Ken's shed is actually a brick outhouse but it is perfect for its new role, plus on a sunny day, he'll wheel it all out into the garden and brew al fresco. The waste goes on to the compost heap ("good for the veg") and, crucially, the neighbours don't complain.

Ken says: "It's all very well thought out, I make the sparge arms and heat exchangers out of copper tubing and it has the likes of polycarbonate side tubes, thermometers and high-temperature silicone hoses. Quite simply, it's a solid stainless steel home system which reproduces the brewing procedure of most commercial micro-breweries.

"The organisers of the Alnwick Food Festival wanted me to make a beer especially for the event, so I've been thinking about butterbeer from the Harry Potter books (many of the film scenes were set at Alnwick Castle). I've got a Victorian recipe for a non-alcoholic version, so the kids can drink it. It has a lot of herbs and spices plus it uses 90 egg yolks.

"I'll give it away as I can't sell it. I'll make it in the usual way and just burn off all the alcohol."

In the Harry Potter series, butterbeer is the drink of choice for young wizards. He is first presented with it in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and although it can intoxicate house-elves, the amount of alcohol it contains has a negligible effect on witches and wizards.

In the sixth book, however, Harry wonders what Ron and Hermione might do at Professor Slughorn's Christmas party "under the influence of butterbeer", indicating that it could potentially lower inhibitions.

Ken Oliver, however, will more than likely stick to producing the stouts and porters he particularly enjoys himself.

"One of my best beers was a clone of Samuel Smith's Brown Ale," he says. "My pals and my son and his mates love it - a keg lasts a week. I'd love to mature it for four to six weeks but I just can't keep it long enough."

In his younger days, Ken admits to being "a bit of a socialist" and, in a 1985 protest at a Margaret Thatcherinspired move to force homeless people out of the benefits system, he and several others slept in tents for six months outside Newcastle Civic Centre.

"We called it Tent City," he says. "The things you do when you're young and daft. The guys from Lindisfarne came over from the City Hall and gave us tickets for their Christmas show. Then we marched from Whitley Bay to Blackpool to protest at the Tory conference."

There is nothin' like a passion/ Nothin' in the world.

Ken Oliver will be demonstrating his home-brewing system at Alnwick Food Festival on Saturday, September 18. If you can't wait, call him on 0191 241 1925.


DOING HIS HOMEWORK Ken Oliver in his brick shed with his stainless steel mini-microbrewery
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 3, 2010
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