Something is brewing in the stills of suburbia

I am a brewer.

Actually, I overstate the case. I am the confused third man in a triumvirate of ale lovers who have bottled their first collaborative beer.

I sterilised some containers and siphoned the final product into the bottles. But, as someone who was a member of the after-school science club team that blew up the chemistry lab at Cromer High in 1988, I was behind a cordon for the bits that involved expertise or mad professor moments.

Nevertheless, despite my walk-on part in the conception and gestation, I am beaming like a proud dad at the 37 half-litre bottles of weissenbock that we have brought into the world.

And, thanks to the government's clumsy bid to beat the binge-drinkers, I can see such heartwarming scenes being replicated more and more in the semi-detached homes of suburbia.


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Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the principle of making it more expensive for young ne'er-do-wells to buy alcohol. If Merrydown cider had been a few pence more expensive in Swanage in 1991, I might have opted for one, not two, litres, and could have avoided a near-death experience interspersed with unnecessary semi-nakedness and a run-in with a geography teacher.

But I'm more concerned about the impact of constantly escalating prices on the burgeoning and beautiful local brewing industry.

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I've never seen a real ale drinker downing a pint in one, or picking a fight with another aficionado because he doesn't like the knit of his sweater.

Yet this industry is in danger of being choked to death in its infancy by the relentlessly rising prices of products that do nothing more sinister than give people pleasure.

The same goes for wine, which is not my drink of choice, but which is also on the escalator to unaffordability.

While cheap cider and lager fuel the excesses of a generation of people whose weekend ambition reaches the dizzy depths of getting legless in as short a time as possible, affordable wine is the weapon of choice for others.

Many respectable, hard-working people in the middle classes cover up the pain of dealing with the pressures of modern life by applying a nightly anaesthetic of Jacob's Creek or Ernst and Julio Gallo.

With their pensions being plundered, the price of their tiger bread soaring and their pets being eaten by gangs of feral hoodies, who can blame them for choosing the grape escape?

But now the government that used to joust for the favour of Middle England is turning on its constituents by taxing its fuel.

By doing so, ministers could be triggering the unlikely phenomenon of people setting up makeshift brewing operations behind the cover of their net curtains and getting quietly sozzled on home brewed wine or beer.

I can heartily recommend brewing, if not getting sozzled. There's more than enough mad science involved to keep the geek in you interested. And there's a degree of unpredictability as you wait to see if your bottles contain vintage or vinegar.

In a land that no longer seems to make anything of its own, there is also the satisfaction of being a 'producer' or a 'manufacturer'. And, although it's legal, it still feels a bit surreptitious - and could add an edge of excitement to some dull routines.

As a footnote, we do not yet have a name for our debut brew. Suggestions, please, to steve.downes@archant.co.uk.

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