Which is the home brew?

This is a true story only half-remembered about my dad, Donald and his brother Sidney. They were both scientists and both achieved much in their different fields, Donald as an analyst of connective tissues, collagen, elastin etc, Sidney in microbiology. You can look them up if you’re interested, D.F.Elsden and S.R.Elsden.

As well as science they had in common a love of good food and beer, probably coming from their parents who had the Portland Arms, a pub which still stands in Cambridge. I’ve had to imagine a lot of the details as I don’t remember them all, but the essence of the story is true, and the ending is true. I’ve had to make up the chemical luperin as i can’t remember what the actual one was.

Beer tasting

Although they lived  several hundred miles apart, Donald and Sid kept in touch and were always pleased to get together. They had both retired and were able to indulge their interests and hobbies, and for Sid making beer at home was not only enjoyable to do, but enjoyable to consume the product.
However Don was never very keen on home-made beer, although he was a great pub beer drinker. He reckoned he could always tell beer was home-made, however good it was, it wasn’t quite as good as pub beer. Whenever he visited Sid, he would try the latest brew, and honestly say he didn’t think it was as good as the ‘real’ thing. This infuriated Sid in a brotherly way because he respected Don and his taste buds. Sid had a go at brewing a dark stout, and Don said this was pretty good, in fact the best of the ones Sid had made… but, it still wasn’t as good as the commercially made stouts.
This played on Sid’s mind… how could he brew a beer which Don would say was not a home-brew? Hmmmm…. So, his best effort (according to Don) had been stout… the most famous stout? The Irish stuff… Hmmm… Sid pondered and then serendipity came to his aid; an invitation arrived to visit the laboratories of the world famous Irish stout company. He didn’t realise how fortuitous the invitation was, in fact he didn’t even think about it but accepted because it would be of interest as a scientist, as a beer lover and as a home brewer.
Now here the details become a little hazy, as Sid was always discrete, but it seems he may have acquired something from the world famous company, maybe some original wort (Think of the wort as a “beer starter.”) Sid continued his brewing and was very pleased with the results. His brother was due to visit; this time, surely his beer would pass the ‘Don test‘? He got brewing taking the utmost care with everything he did in the process, and when he tasted this latest brew, dark and malty, bitter and smooth, he justly proud of the delicious result.
Don arrived and when it came time for refreshments, Sid told him he had brewed another stout and this time he was sure it would be indistinguishable from the famous Irish beer. Sid was going to give Don a taste test – something his brother was very familiar with in the work he did at the Meat Research Institute. He would serve Don two glasses of beer, one was Sid’s brew the other was the Irish stout. Could Don tell which was which.
Don took his time, looking at each beer, smelling it, tasting, smelling again. At last he was ready to give his verdict; Sid had sat quietly waiting, sipping his own glass of his own beer.
“Excellent Sid! This is your best beer ever, very drinkable, great nose, great taste, long finish.”
“Thank you Don, but can you tell which is mine?” Sid tried to keep a smug tone from his voice, tried to look coolly interested.
“Yes, Sid, yes i can, it’s this one! The other one here is the Irish stout, but this without a doubt is yours. Excellent, but this is your home brew!
Sid was stunned, dumbfounded… how on earth… how… what… Guesswork? A lucky guess? But no, Don wouldn’t guess he would give his opinion.
“Bad luck, Sid… you see I’m one of those people, one in several million that can detect the chemical cleaning agent luperin, even in the greatest dilution. You obviously sterilised all your equipment and bottles with luperin and i can taste it.”
“But no-one can taste or smell luperin – that’s why it’s so perfect for home brewers!”
“It is perfect – for most people, but I have a sensitivity to it, and i can taste it!”
Sid shook his head… and then went to get another couple of bottles, home brew for himself, Irish original for his brother.

This is in all essentials true; my dad did have the ability to detect even the most dilute amount of whatever the cleaning agent was, and that was how he knew Sid’s excellent beer was home brewed!

My featured image is of the Guinness brewery in Dublin



  1. David Lewis

    My father tried making home made beer years ago and I can still hear the bottles exploding when I think about it. His next try was home made wine and I still get sick thinking of it. Our beer and liquor stores are open in Canada and I was wondering how you obtain beer in England? I recall a place called an off license.


    1. Lois

      Yes, David, off licenses are allowed to open – so called because the beer, wine etc has to be drunk off not on the premises. When dad was first married he had a go at making his own wine from fruit, but he was never very pleased with the results. However, years and years later, more than twenty, he came across an old bottle of his wine; it poured like a liqueur and was delicious, so maybe his efforts were drunk too soon!
      My husband’s dad once tried to make marrow rum – he cut off the top, scooped out the seeds and packed it full of brown sugar, put the top back on and put it into one of his wife’s stockings. It was hung up in the attic with a small hole in the bottom of the marrow and a container beneath to catch the rum”. One evening the family were sitting relaxing when there was a ‘thwad’ sound of a small explosion. They went up to the attic and looked in – everything was dripping with narrow and brown sugar syrup where the thing had exloded!


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