Home Brew #9

I can’t believe I’ve left it so long to get back to home brewing my own beer – my last batch was over a year ago!

Home brewing was a hobby which I took up back in September 2014 because I wanted to do something different, which would not only give me joy but save me some money  – it’s a fact that when I have home brew in the house, I spend far less or nothing on alcohol for home consumption. It isn’t an easy hobby but I think because of this, it’s a very satisfying one.

I only brew all-in-one premium kits, and the kit I made this time was Festival Razorback IPA.  This was probably the first kit I’ve attempted where I was a little concerned that I’d done something wrong.

After three days, fermentation still hadn’t started and I thought that I’d messed up with the water temperature, ie too hot, destroying the yeast and I dreaded the possibility of having to pour the whole lot down the drain.

Turned out it was the other way round, my kitchen was so cold that the mix had dropped to too low a temperature for the yeast to do its stuff, so as well as using a brew belt to increase the temperature, I wrapped an old winter coat round the tub and piled towels on top and that did the trick!

The kit produced 40 bottles (20 litres/35 pints) and cost £26.50.  So not accounting for the time spent doing the actual brewing, the cost of these beers work out at £0.66 per 500ml bottle or £0.76 a pint! Definitely happy hour! 🙂

Bit darker than the picture on the box!

Alcohol strength at over 5.5% is probably on the high side compared to what I usually drink but it still goes down easily! A good hoppy flavour, and this despite me not following the instructions exactly and leaving the hops in for just 4 days instead of the recommended 10 days, as I didn’t want to overdo the bitterness. From start to finish, this brew took just over 2 months before it was ready to drink and is likely to get better with time (that’s if I don’t drink them all quickly, haha!).

Obviously it’s nowhere near the quality of say BrewDog but it’s a decent beer with the important quality being that it pours with a good frothy head, which doesn’t disappear after a few minutes and which sticks to the side of the glass as you down the drink, just like a real pint you’d get in a pub! 🙂

I’ve now done 8 different beer kits and one cider kit. I had originally been planning to brew (and document) 10 different kits and then just reverting to brewing my favourites.

However, there are so many different kits out there, I may just keep going and trying new ones that catch my eye and picking up old favourites when I see them on offer.

Brewing as a Business

I can see me continuing with my brewing hobby and probably doing more of it when I no longer need to work.

Friends and colleagues have suggested that I should perhaps look into brewing as a proper business in the future (eg a microbrewery), but I’d rather not convert a hobby into a job.

Whilst it would be nice to earn money from a hobby, I just think that having deadlines and customer expectations would suck all the joy out of it. I’m happy just doing it for fun and sharing some of the fruits of my labour. My friends and colleagues are happy with the free beers they get off me but I reckon they might be a tad fussier if they had to pay!

I’ll leave the experts to rake in the profits that way!

I’ve promised a friend that I’ll do a cherry beer next – not something I would normally drink but I’ll give it a go in the next month or so.

Anyway, cheers!

Holiday and Toilet Rolls

I had an excellent holiday – enjoyed lots of quality time catching up with family and friends.

Where are the customers’ yachts?

Managed to squeeze quite a lot in, including:

  • Weekend at an arts & music festival
  • National Geographic dinner event, with Professor Brian Cox as guest speaker – absolutely mind-blowing!
  • Michael McIntyre live in Hong Kong (funny, although jokes about housework fell a bit flat as pretty much all ex-pats have cleaners/maids…)
  • My Dad’s 80th birthday bash
  • My Gran’s 92nd birthday celebrations (maternal grandmother, in case anyone’s trying to do the maths…)
  • A couple of days in Macau – my gambling exploits ended with a HK$100 loss (about a tenner!)
  • A ‘hairy crab‘ evening with the siblings
  • Two ‘Superhero’ cinema trips (‘Thor: Ragnarok’ and ‘Justice League’)

St Paul’s Church Ruins in Macau, which you might just be able to see behind all the tourists…

Budget Blown

The last few times I’ve been on holiday, I’ve hardly bought anything but this time, not only did I do some Christmas shopping but I also actually purchased some new clothes – I know, whatever came over me!? 😉 So I spent quite a bit more than expected out there but it means much of my present-buying was done, so that was a result.

As mentioned above, it was my Dad’s birthday and there was a full-on formal banquet laid on, with the whole clan in attendance. It was fabulous to catch up with cousins, aunts and uncles I very rarely see and great to see all 4 generations get together. Although I knew I was going to be contributing towards the costs with my other siblings, I hadn’t put enough aside for it, so most of it came out of my ’emergency funds’, which I will have to ‘pay back’ over the next year.

This may put a little squeeze on my savings rate but I aim to tighten my spending further so am hoping there won’t be too much impact there.

Toilet Rolls

Some people (apparently) take toilet rolls with them when they go away on holiday – me, I brought some back! Groceries in HK are very expensive, much of the food is imported, so the own-brands of Tesco, M&S and Waitrose compete well over there versus imports from other countries.

However, I spotted that toilet paper in HK is cheaper than in the UK – half the price of an Andrex 9-pack for similar/better quality – so since I had space in my suitcase and I was under my luggage allowance, I brought back some rolls, haha!

And on that note, with the dark days hurtling towards the inevitable madness that is the Christmas holiday, I wish you all a very merry one and will see you all on the other side!

Looks like Zippy (from Rainbow) dressing up as Santa…

My New Hobby, plus Home Brew #8

As mentioned in my post about 2017 goals, I’d got it into my head that I didn’t want to wait until I was retired before doing something I’ve always fancied doing – that of learning to play a musical instrument!

With my mind made up, I struggled to think of what instrument that someone like me (ie non-musical) could easily learn, which didn’t require formal/expensive lessons. Fortunately, I mentioned my dilemma to my sister who announced that coincidentally, she had just started to learn to play an instrument….

So, that’s how I came to buy a ukulele!

Yes, it’s like a little guitar!

TFS wasn’t too far off when he suggested a banjo in the comments, in that it is a stringed instrument!

For those who don’t know (which included me, before I bought it), a ukulele does resemble a small guitar, except it’s got just 4 strings, not 6 like a guitar. The version I bought is a Concert ukulele.

How Will I Learn?

YouTube will be my teacher – there are loads of free ukulele lessons online. Thus far, I’ve just been learning a few chords and how to strum – I’m just sooooo happy that something sounding vaguely like a tune is being produced! Wow, who knew I had it in me – I certainly didn’t! 🙂

Now, I’m not aiming to be an expert or to be able to perform in public. I’m finding it both fun and relaxing just picking it up and practising for a few minutes at a time. My fingers hurt a little but callouses are already starting to develop.

The total cost of this new hobby was around £60, including case and tuner – I’m very glad I decided to go for it!

Another Home Brew Success

Home Brewing was a new hobby which I took up back in September 2014 – like any good hobby, it’s still going strong and I still get a kick out of brewing my own beer!

However, my last home brew update was back in April as my brewing timetable was interrupted due to having family staying for most of the summer.  I was able to resume at the end of October, although the brew wasn’t really ready until last month.

So the kit I made this time was Milestone’s Black Pearl Stout – yes, I’m partial to a bit of Guinness and wondered if I could do a fair imitation of a decent stout!

The kit produced 42 bottles (21 litres/36 pints) and was free – it was a birthday present.  As I spent £5 on a new tin opener (to open the big cans of malt), the cost of these beers work out at £0.12 per bottle or £0.14 a pint! Not just happy hour, happy days! 🙂

Alcohol strength just under 4%, obviously it’s not a patch on Guinness but..it’s got a good ‘stouty’ flavour and the most important thing of all, it pours with a decent frothy head! I’d notch that as a success, plus my friends and ex-colleagues like it too!

I’ve now done 7 different beer kits and one cider kit. I had originally been planning to brew (and document) 10 different kits and then just reverting to brewing my favourites.

However, there are so many different kits out there, I may just keep going and trying new ones that catch my eye and picking up old favourites when I see them on offer.

Alcohol Budget

Whilst not a specific goal of mine, but as mentioned in a comment I posted on FireinLondon’s post about his spending on alcohol, I’m going to try to reduce my ‘Alcohol At Home’ budget to zero this year…

No, I’m not turning teetotal – this is just to stop me spending money on alcohol for home consumption. This should encourage me to continue brewing my own and it helps that I received 3 homebrew kits for Christmas!

I should also drink the stuff that’s in the house already, which at the last count included 3 large bottles of gin (leaving gifts), plus various other (unopened) bottles of both spirits and wine.

Barring an outrageous alcohol problem, this should all last me a while (not just til end of Feb, FiL haha) – even though I’m not working, I’m still keeping to my not drinking on ‘school nights’, as I don’t want to descend into bad habits!

Anyway, have a great weekend all!

Work Pension plus Shopping Benefits

I’ve finally received my information pack regarding the company pension that I was enrolled onto with New Co in December.

The plan is run by Fidelity, I was able to easily register and log onto their website to have a peek at the new pension.


It looks like I’m on a Drawdown Lifestyle Strategy Plan, which currently has my investments split between a global equity fund and a diversified growth fund in a 70/30 mix.  This mix will automatically adjust over time, ie more in the growth fund as the years go by and then in 10 years time, some of the equity fund starts getting switched into a ‘safer’ bond/gilt funds.  On their risk scale (1 being ‘least risky’ and 5 being the ‘highest risk’), the global equity fund scored 4 and the growth fund scored 3. The bond funds I think scored 1 or 2.

I’m ok with this and have resisted the temptation to tinker with things, although the very intuitive (and quite impressive) website allows me to easily swap and change my investments, and there are quite a few to choose from.

Unlike my colleagues, I actually checked out the funds fact-sheets, had a look at what other funds were available for investment and also compared the admin fees/management charges but in the end, I was satisfied with the default selections and default strategy. I already spend too much time tinkering with my SIPPs and ISAs so this is one less thing to distract me!

I toyed with the idea of whether I should include the value of this pension within my Future Fund and I’ve decided not to, since I don’t include my other company pension. So my Future Fund will continue to be exclusive of any work pensions.  I will however include this pension as part of my overall Net Worth calculation (since I can see how much it is actually worth).

As mentioned before, my contribution to this pension is 7.7%, New Co’s contribution is 14%, so if I can pay into this for a while, I should build up an extra tidy little pot.

When there’s a reasonable sum within this DC pension, I’ll incorporate it into my overall FI/early retirement plan but for now, I’ll leave it out.

Things at work are still quite ‘muddy’ and a little uncertain while New Co continues to try to figure out what they want to do with us. There are integration projects all over the place and our carefully drafted SOPs1 are being reviewed for the umpteenth time, having previously been reviewed by 4 (different) sets of auditors no less! Whilst no redundancies or plans for ‘restructure’ have been announced (yet), we’re starting to see a few people leave the business voluntarily – not everyone is willing to hang about waiting to see what happens (unlike me).

I’m still hoping they go for the ‘Northern Powerhouse‘ idea, since their other office is down south but we’ll see!

Oh, and I finally got my long service award for 20 years (which was in November 2015). New Co is still a little behind the times in that I received the usual award of gift vouchers but they weren’t e-vouchers, they’re old fashioned shop vouchers that I can only spend in-store! Still appreciate them anyway!

Shopping Benefits

Speaking of shopping, I’d been getting various internal ‘spam’ emails offering ‘shopping benefits’ throughout January. After overhearing colleagues talking about getting cashback and discounts off their shopping, I didn’t even open the emails and just deleted without reading properly.

Until someone mentioned that ‘shopping’ also included grocery shopping.

It looks like for certain supermarkets (Tesco, M&S, Sainsbury and Morrisons are the ones I can think of), you can purchase ‘shopping cards’ and get 4% cashback (it varies from shop to shop).

Since I’m still keeping to a grocery budget of <£25 per week, I thought I’d give the shopping card a go and bought a Tesco one for £100, getting £4 cashback. If I keep to my budget, this card will be enough for one month’s shopping.

Currently, most of my grocery shopping is covered by a credit card which is paid off in full every month. I don’t get any cashback with the credit card, just Avios Airmiles.

The shopping card is reloadable so I’m going to use the cashback I earn for future top ups.

Ok, in the scheme of things, if I only spend £100 a month on food shopping, the cashback I earn will total just £48 in one year. Some might say hardly worth the effort but this is no real effort at all! Topping the card up and checking the balance can all be done online, although your balance is also printed on the shop receipt. You then just hand over the card to pay for your groceries as normal.

Saving £48 by itself isn’t going to grow my Future Fund. However, I did also cancel my Netflix subscription a few months back saving £60 a year so all these little expenses I cut back on will continue to add up.

Anyway, I’m not really interested in any shopping cards for other shops, although am due to do a big toiletries shop for my family, so I’ll have a look at the Boots shopping card, which is offering a whopping 8% cashback!

1 – standard operating procedures