Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Home Brew in a Week with the BrewBarrel

Home Brewing Customised Craft Beer

This is a blog about my first ever adventure into the world of home brewing and craft beers. I'm not a beer drinker, as a rule, but this is different - it is customised to practically guarantee that I'd like it. I was not disappointed! Indeed, this would make a fantastic, extra special Father's Day gift for giving on 19th June 2016.

Brewbarrel customised craft beer
BrewBarrel - Voted Silver in The Dad Networks Best Father’s Day Gift Category 2015

About a month ago, I was asked if I had ever tried brewing my own beer and my answer was no, firstly because I don't particularly like the stuff and secondly because all that kit takes up space that I can put to better use. Regardless of this, I was invited to try my hand at brewing a small barrel of something specially selected, with flavours based on my personal preferences for the ice and slice taste.

Having investigated the website at www.brewbarrel.co.uk to find out more about these customised beer kits, I was already aware that artisan and craft beers are all the rage and that the bottled varieties are correspondingly expensive, especially when living on a frugal budget such as mine. I have to admit that buying a kit of anything for the purposes of an extravagant drink with friends simply wouldn't occur to me - until now! Never let it be said that I'm a party-pooper! The prices for the kits are eye-watering to me for personal use but I wouldn't bat an eyelid at buying one as a gift for someone else. So here goes... let's get brewing and find out if it is worth it.

With the BrewBarrel you create your own customised beer recipe in three simple steps:
  1. Select your favourite beer style
  2. Define the intensity of your beer's 'hoppy' aroma to control the bitterness
  3. Add up to three more flavours to make it truly yours
My BrewBarrel kit soon arrived but I never got around to setting it up for a couple of weeks, hoping to have a little barrel of beer ready for sampling over the holidays. As luck would have it, plans went askew, so I have only just got around to sampling it! Now, however, I am glad that I didn't dish it all out to others (sorry folks) as I LOVE IT!

Brewbarrel customised beer
Because of my believing that I didn't like beer, it was suggested that I try brewing an Indian Pale Ale utilising different varieties of hops instead of just one type, which results in a naturally citrusy and herbal sweet beer. Apparently, this beer style is also characteristic of the resurgence in micro brewing and is probably the most popular beer style at the moment. If you are a fan of citrus I can wholeheartedly recommend this.

First delay I had was in realising that I needed bottled water, as I haven't a clue what goes into the well water pumped off the hill at the caravan park near Frugaldom, so I opted for supermarket bough's own natural spring water, which cost pennies. I needed just under 4.5 litres to make up the 5 litre barrel, so bought 3 x 2 litre bottles. Yes, frugal folks, I am home brewing at the caravan! That's how handy this neat little kit is, complete with it's 5 litre tin keg (that I can think of several ways of reusing).

Home brewing using a craft beer kit
This is a German beer kit, produced by a fairly new start-up company in Munich, where home brewing wasn't as popular as it is here in UK. Despite this, 80,000 brewing kits were sold in Germany alone, with one reason being the will of many people today to engage in a DIY hobby and practise some degree of self sufficiency. Likewise here in Britain, where requests began arriving for the bespoke kits. Alongside the UK launch, new beer varieties, such as Lager and Ale, were developed.
I remember the 80s' when every lad and their dad, son, brother and uncle was home brewing. Big plastic barrel kits could be seen in almost every back room, shed or outhouse! Staying home and socialising with friends and neighbours was the normal thing to do during those financially turbulent times and now, here we are in 2016, 30+ years later, still with our turbulent times but with beer kits that are so far removed from the clumsy efforts of the past that it's now trendy for us ladies to have a go. Sexist? Maybe! Fun? Definitely!

Measuring out the boiling water, mixing the syrupy malt, adding the hops and yeast... it really was a dawdle! The most difficult aspect of the kit was probably pushing the pressure valve into the top of the barrel, but even that was relatively easy. I waited the few days recommended and then gingerly turned the barrel - I couldn't resist testing the valve to hear the hiss of the beer inside - proof positive that it was fermenting.

Next, I had to alter the shelves in my tiny fridge to fit in the 5 litre keg, but managed this without having to eat too much to make the space. Who would have believed that beer could be made within the space of a week? As luck would have it, my visitors cancelled, so my beer barrel sat in the fridge for a second week until I decided to do the testing myself.

My frst ever home brewed craft beer
Gingerly, I lifted the barrel onto the worktop and slowly released some gas from the valve. Not wanting to waste a drop, I opened the tap at the bottom and allowed a trickle of the frothy liquid to run into a glass. I'd never make a barmaid, that's for sure! As you can see, I had a glass of what looked like cappuccino froth, but it slowly turned into a honey-coloured liquid and I was able to taste it for the very first time.

What a revelation! Never in my life have I liked beer until now and, even now, I can't believe this is homemade beer! I have no idea of its strength or potency, all I have is the knowledge that I made it, it was simple to do and I like the end product. It's a real treat to the taste buds and I wish this company every success in their entrepreneurial endeavours. They have a great product and, if anyone is stuck for gift ideas, I would happily give or receive a gift voucher that allows me to concoct my own specialist beer from over 50,000 different flavour combinations. I honestly didn't know where to start but can see how easy it could become to keep on sampling more, based on initial results, so...


PS: The kit also includes 3 beer mats - nice touch!
PPS: Cheers, frugal folks! Don't forget Father's Day in UK on Sunday 19th June. smiley

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

London Travel Guide: Top Places To Stay for Under ₤50

London Travel Guide: Top Places To Stay for Under ₤50

Houses of Parliament and the River Thames

Whether you are travelling for pleasure, for passion or even for a business trip, you may still prefer to keep an eye on your finances by finding budget accommodation. When you are in a big city like London, finding comfortable and secure lodgings within your budget can be difficult - indeed, it can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack!

For most visitors, hotels and apartments are the normal type of accommodation sought, but for the money-conscious, hostels and other alternative accommodation are becoming more popular, especially among student travellers. With the current global financial instability, inflation and various other economic constraints, travelling within a budget is becoming increasingly difficult. For these reasons, a number of accommodation providers around the world are coming up with better options for those who are travelling on a restricted budget.

Studies show that in most of the countries where large numbers of tourists pour in every year, hotels have slashed their rates by about 10% at major tourist locations. If you are planning to travel to London in 2016, you should definitely try out the Travelodge discount code 2016 at Dealslands, where you can also find other amazing deals.

When it comes to London, you will find a number of options for bed and breakfast at different locations across the city. Here's a look at some of the more economical choices available to you.

1. Oakwood Bed and Breakfast in Heathrow

This place, which provides bed and breakfast, is situated close to Heathrow airport. Reports say it has excellent, friendly staff who understand the needs of their guests. The rooms may seem small but they are en suite, so not bathroom sharing. Apart from that, you can indulge yourself in a full English breakfast while there.

2. Barking park hotel

This hotel is situated 10km away from the city centre of London and is near to the Geffrye Museum and Ilford Golf Club. The hotel provides a number of facilities like free Wi-Fi in public areas, airport transfers, non-smoking rooms and meeting areas. The rooms are comfortable and come with a microwave, coffee/tea maker and free Wi-Fi.

3. Rossmore Hotel

Rossmore comes with a good price tag and friendly staff. It could be listed among the best budget hotels in London. The hotel comes with free parking and is only 10 minutes away from the airport. The hotel also provides services like free Wi-Fi, laundry services and has its own pub.

4. Heathrow Lodge

The Lodge is situated within easy reach of terminal 5 of Heathrow airport and provides free airport transfers. The rooms are well maintained and come with TV, movies and hair dryers. If you are planning for a one night stay, this would be an obvious choice. Don't forget to check out Hotels.com for deals and find some great hotels where you can use the Hotels.com voucher code.

5. Bursteads Cottages Stansted

Affordable rooms with garden views, this place offers bed and (free) breakfast as well as airport transfer facility.

6. Palmers Lodge

If you are someone who prefers to spend less, then hostels and dormitories can be your best option. Why not visit Palmers Lodge? It is only 4 minutes away from the Swiss Cottage Tube station. The lodge has staff who work 24*7 to help their guests and has a common room where you can watch TV and interact with your fellow travellers.

So, if you want to travel in London but want to make sure you stick to your budget, you can try out any of the above places.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Badgers in the Garden

In December, the bottom of the garden flooded, so we finally had to move the chickens to new quarters further up the garden. In February, the old chicken run was converted into a wildlife garden. In March, we finally got around to setting up the trail cam in the hope of filming some of the local wildlife - now we have badgers!

Badger visiting the new wildlife garden

With the help of a battery powered Trail Camera (these have dropped greatly in price, with models, such as ours, available from under £75) we are able to leave it running and capture footage through the night, thanks to the infra red. These little cameras are amazing and make wildlife filming something we can all afford to do without even incurring the costs of leaving home!

How to attract badgers - leave out some peanuts! The very first night we left out peanuts, our first badger arrived. Prior to this, they had no access to this part of the garden, as it had been fenced off for the hens.

Badger meets badger eco arts sculpture

As you know, we have several ecoarts sculptures in the garden, so the badger had to go and investigate. I don't think it quite knew what to do but I can't help but wonder if it recognised the sculpture as a badger!

Badger watching camera, badger sleeping
At first the badger was curious about the camera, as it shines a little blue light when the sensors are triggered and clicks as it begins filming in infra red. Very quickly, our garden badger seemed completely at ease with the gadget until, at one point, he (or she) lay down and fell asleep watching it!

2 badgers
Over the coming week, our badger decided it was safe enough to bring along a friend to share the peanuts that get sat on top of the tree stump and scattered around it on the ground. We got very excited by this and the thought crossed our minds that this could be a pair that may just return with babies in tow at some point in the not too distant future.

 Now we have 3 badgers!
Within about a week, word had spread of the tasty peanut treats available in Frugaldom's cottage wildlife garden and we were delighted when we reviewed the footage and discovered that a third badger had arrived! This was more than we had dreamed of seeing and had me wondering how many badgers live in a sett - or a holt. I've now nicknamed this corner of our garden 'Badgers Halt'! This was the week they began attempting to dig under the shed, so rocks had to be scattered around it to try and prevent them from tunnelling underneath it. This seemed to work, but then...

We now have 4 badgers in the garden
The next day, after reviewing what the camera had captured during the previous night, we were shocked to see a fourth badger happily munching away on the peanuts. Never had we expected anything like this - we seem to have attracted an entire family of them. The original visitor is there every night, almost every hour from dusk until well into the night and then returns before dawn. They all seem to be most active at dusk, but this may be because the peanuts are all gone by morning.

5 badgers in the garden
And then last night, to round off the month of March and take us through to April, we were introduced to our 5th badger of the group, so I had to go and do some more reading. According to the information about badgers on the Wildlife Trust web site, there can be up to 14 badgers living in the one sett, so I think we're going to need a whole load more peanuts!

These are very entertaining creatures but they are also very boisterous, with a tendency to run at one another, head-butting and body slamming. I will try to upload some of the video clips to our Frugaldom YouTube channel so you can share their antics.


Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Ponies, Tree Planting, Badgers and Beer Making

A few days of glorious weather has put some sun on ponies' backs, helped with tree planting, dried out the ground a bit and even seems to have encouraged the wildlife. But beer-making? What's that all about, I hear you ask?

The top paddock at Frugaldom
Last week we had a visit from the local Forestry Commission and someone very kindly chain sawed and removed all the fallen trees that had crashed onto the boundary wall at Frugaldom. This now allows us free access to the entire length of wall that runs along the top side of one of the fields.

The Frugaldom ponies

Soon, the top paddock will be split into two strips of land - one recreational paddock and one strip for new woodland. The ponies, once they get here, will be used to help clear the land once we have removed the tree stumps and fallen branches. We also need a new fence built to prevent them from wandering too far down the hill or into the stream.

Eddie, Pippin and Willow are having their veterinary checks done this week and, all going well, should be coming to Frugaldom at the weekend. Exciting times!

Crocuses at Frugaldom
Spring is definitely in the air at Frugaldom - while walking the edge of the first field with the machine driver, who will be moving all the old felled trees and roots, I spotted these crocuses. They were a welcome site in an otherwise desolate piece of landscape here. I can't wait for this part to be cleared for new trees, pasture and wild flowers.

Planting holly and hawthorn hedge
Tree planting is a slow process but we now have 1,000 more willows in the ground and finished planting the new holly and hawthorn trees that arrived as part of our wild wood tree pack from the Woodland Trust. Still plenty more to plant, with the hazels, crab apples and downy birch standing in line waiting to go into the next phase of our new woodland at Frugaldom.

Badger in the garden
We set up the trail cam at home, in the part of the garden that was reclaimed from the old chicken run. Within hours, we had our first visitor scurrying around, digging in the turf and munching on peanuts I had scattered on the ground. Badgers seem to love peanuts and we do love knowing that they are around here, safe and well. Now we just need to try encouraging red squirrels and hedgehogs back into the area. We already have deer coming into the garden - they ate all the windfalls in our little orchard during Autumn!

The baby hare
I have spotted the hares on several occasions over the past week while out tree planting at Frugaldom but haven't managed to take any more photos, so this is the one I took a fortnight ago of the new baby. Baby hares are called leverets. Unlike baby rabbits (kittens, I think?), they are born fully furred with their eyes open and able to run around without a problem. Mum leaves them hiding for the day and returns periodically to feed them. The hares at Frugaldom are fairly bold and don't seem to mind that we are there when they lope across the yard.

Toad spawn
This is a big clump of frog spawn that was about to be left high and dry when the water level in the new drainage ditch began to drop, so I moved it along a little until it was floating in a cleared area... it slurped over like something out of a slimy comedy horror movie. I am informed that frog spawn is laid in clumps, whereas toads lay their eggs in strings, so this and several other clumps belong to the resident frogs. (Thanks for keeping me right, DC.)

Brew barrel homebrewing German beer
And now for the beer - there's nothing better than a cool swig of something refreshing after a long day working out on the land and with all this frugal living, many of us don't have the time or the budget to socialise in a pub. It's expensive enough getting dressed up and arranging taxis (or designated drivers) plus babysitters (if you need them) and buying a decent glass of something, so Brewbarrel.com offered to send me a home brewing kit of their finest to have a go at making my own. We aren't known for drinking alcohol here, as it simply isn't in the budget, but we do make exceptions for special occasions. I'm not a beer drinker, so I explained this to the Brewbarrel.com man and he very kindly selected a recipe that he thinks may be my personal preference, based entirely on what I normally like. (Almost anything with a citrus twist.) His helpful advice was to recommend India Pale Ale, as "It utilises different hops instead of just one type, which results in a naturally citrusy and herbal sweet beer... if you are a fan of citrus I can wholeheartedly recommend that one to you."

There you have it - in about a week's time, I'll have brewed my first ever bespoke, luxury beer. It's a 5 litre barrel in the kit, so I'm not too sure how it compares with the equivalent in bottles of artisan beers from the micro-breweries that are springing up around us but I do know that making it myself does have much more appeal.

We still have trees and posts available for sponsoring at Frugaldom, so please consider checking out www.frugalshop.co.uk to find out how.

To get more in-depth details of the Frugaldom project, you'll need to register a username in www.frugalforums.co.uk (Registration is free)

Until next time,
NYK / Frugaldom.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Building a Willow Den at Frugaldom

Fine and sunny weather over the weekend allowed us all out to the field to play at den-building with the grand children. Work is always more of a game when it's fun and having the under 12's in charge of proceedings makes it interesting, to say the least!

To put you in the picture, my grand children have inherited my love of ponies, so the prospect of seeing some back at Frugaldom soon is very exciting for them. First thing on Saturday morning, they were up and impatient to get going, with the master plan being to build a den in the heritage garden (our Garden of Gratitude) that was within easy reach of the barn and had a view of the corrals, so they could see the ponies if or when they arrive.


The work part needing done at the weekend was more willow pruning, but what better material to make a den than fast-growing willow sticks? These will also be great when we get around to creating our frugal pony paradise paddocks!

Building a willow den at Frugaldom
Beautiful blue sky, sunshine and a really sheltered spot for den building, but you can see the snow lying on the Galloway Hills on the horizon. We are so lucky to have found and afforded to buy this little piece of frugal paradise!

Building a willow den at Frugaldom

The sprawling goat willow in the middle of the heritage garden will make a fantastic den, as the branches are already curved over, creating an inviting hide with spectacular views. Better still, the girls will love watching and listening for the pretty little long-tailed tits that frequent this clump of willow.

Building a willow den at Frugaldom

There's an apple tree by the entrance, but the rest is all willow, which we hope will grow up tall enough to weave into an arched walkway to the entrance of the den.

Building a willow den at Frugaldom

The junior clerk of works surveying the 'roof' before we begin weaving through some branches and planting the walls to keep out the wild animals. Youngest is impatient and wanted to know if the willow would have grown by Easter so she could get a door, in case the fox went in 'her' house! laugh

Building a willow den at Frugaldom

The den quickly took shape once all the twigs and stones were raked out of the way and all the clippings from the other willows were planted around to grow living walls. As well as the surplus to requirement goat willow cuttings, there are 200 fast-growing willow cuttings that will be woven together next year.

Planting willow walls for the den at Frugaldom

Putting the finishing touches (for the day) to their den as the sun begins to set - still plenty to do but it will need to wait for another sunny weekend.

Sponsored post for harvest trees

We also hammered a post into the ground for the family who has sponsored 5 harvest trees - each grand child has their name engraved on a disc to show their support for Frugaldom and to pinpoint their adopted trees.

Building a new duck run

Another job that has been done since my last blog post is the new duck run being built. This should keep the surviving ducks safe from any further fox attacks. The hems are much happier and settled well in their new, secure pen and we've even had a few eggs from them over the past week!

Our new wildlife garden

This used to be the old hem run at the bottom of the garden. Those of you who tae part in our forums will know that this area is where I have started my 2016 Frugaleur challenge, planting 5 new colours of willow for growing into sculpture and basket weaving materials. This bit garden was originally designated as tiny house location, but having since bought Frugaldom, this will become the cottage wildlife garden and the old hen shed will eventually become a hide.

The deer are already coming in from the field beyond, we've had a badger visit and there are woodpeckers coming to the bird feeding station nearby. Mr Ecoarts has managed to source some turf, so that will be laid as soon as possible, then we'll sort out feeding stations and set up the trail camera to see what visits the bottom of the garden when we aren't looking.

The Little Red Box portable solar kit

In other news,
  • I am hoping I have managed to source a supply of pallets, which will be a great help at the Frugaldom project.
  • Acknowledgement arrived from our local planning department saying thy are really busy and it could take at least 6 weeks to respond to our enquiries.
  • The Forestry Commission called today to let me know they had been out and removed the fallen trees that landed on our wall.
  • The digger driver is coming out tomorrow so I can show him what needs moving, digging and clearing.
  • The portable solar lighting kit arrived and it is FAB! Many thanks to Kev at The Solar Shed for providing us with a free upgrade to 20w panel and free postage & packaging.
  • The trees arrived from The Woodland Trust for this weekend's tree-planting event. Get in contact if you'd like to attend.