Call it witchcraft: Nikki named home brew champion

CHEERS! Nikki Roberts, of Lismore, took out the home brew champion ribbon at the North Coast National this year.
CHEERS! Nikki Roberts, of Lismore, took out the home brew champion ribbon at the North Coast National this year. Melissa Gulbin

TIRED of berry smoothies, North Coast National home brew champ Nikki Roberts figured the glut of foraged blueberries and mulberries in her freezer might work in a wheat ale.

The Lismore retro treasure retailer had already entered seven other home brew categories at the Lismore show, including her tried-and-true Liquorice Stout and celebrated Hard Apple Cider with Mint.

But it was the berry-flavoured wheat ale wild card, bottled hours before entries closed, which took out the Beer of Any Other Variety category as well as scoring the champion exhibit ribbon.

Ms Roberts started brewing a year ago after joining a Northern Rivers home brew Facebook group, where members gifted her some kit.

She entered every single category bar the lager division. Lager, Ms Roberts said, needs to be consistently brewed at lower temperatures, not possible from the kitchen bench of her immaculately quirky flat.

"I've got something on the boil all the time with different concoctions. My kitchen smells like a fabulous brewery constantly. At night I go to bed and can hear them bubbling away like witch's brews. I call them my 'witchy-woo-woo' brews," Ms Roberts said.

"There is a long and interesting history with witches being connected to brewing. All of the symbols we associate with witchcraft were actually linked to female brewing.

"Black cauldrons were used for boiling wort. Women brewers had cats to keep rodents out of their grain storage. Brooms were displayed above the door of a brewer with ale for sale. When they took their ale to market, they would wear tall, pointed hats in order to stand out from the crowd.

"Traditionally, brewing beer was women's work. The water was too polluted to drink. Part of the domestic duties for women was to turn it into beer so that it wouldn't make the village sick. It also increased the nutritional value."

It was only when serious money could be made out of beer that it became a man's domain, Ms Roberts said.

"Home brewing is delicious, alcoholic, organic chemistry," she said.

"One of the best things about home brew is that you can really tailor the product to your own taste preferences. I tend to hold back a little bit with boiling hops in my beers as I don't really like them too bitter. I am also a big fan of dry hopping - adding hops to the fermenter a few days before it is bottled - which lets you keep all those lovely essential oils and floral and fruity flavours which are lost during the initial boil."

She explained that the bloke-dominated home brew scene tended to focus on a more bitter, hopsier brew.

However, Ms Roberts had no intention of up-scaling her "witchy-woo-woo" operation for commercial sale.

"There is too much red tape and focus on consistency. I love experimenting," she said.

"But hey, if Stone and Wood want to give me a job, I wouldn't turn it down."

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