Month: December 2016

Beer Brewing for beginners


Neil Riddell reports on the pleasure to be found in brewing your own beer with like-minded friends Kris Drever, Tim Matthew, Rory Tallack and Adam Guest.

When I was growing up the words “home brew” conjured up images of an unpleasantly acrid liquid or those amiable folkie guys who sang about trows.

But these things change. The craft beer movement has really gathered pace, with dozens of brilliant little breweries springing up all over the country in the past five years or so, and in most major cities you’ll find specialist outlets selling top-notch kits for those who want to have a go at making their own.

Last year a group of us – Rory Tallack, Kris Drever, Tim Matthew and myself – decided to give it a try, and the Amateur Fiddlers’ Association was born.

We’d all recently become dads for the first time and, while our days of late-night partying aren’t altogether finished, they’ve certainly become fewer. This was a way for everyone to get together socially at a time of the day more conducive to a lifestyle revolving around small children, to play some tunes and, eventually, sample our own wares and indulge in our shared love of beer.

After a bit of research, we invested in the necessary kit for extract brewing. The main things required were: a boiler to make the brew; a chiller to cool it down; and a large bucket in which the fermentation takes place prior to bottling. Various other implements and measuring devices were included to aid the process.

Being a scientific novice, I would direct those seeking a detailed technical explanation of said process towards a good brew-it-yourself book or one of the many how-to online videos.

On a bright, breezy Sunday afternoon in late April we gathered in Selivoe on the west side, where Tim lives with his wife Floortje and their (then one-month-old) beautiful baby daughter Tove.

Essentially, the basic method involves steeping some grains, boiling the liquid for an hour and adding different hops at different times, cooling it down and “pitching” some yeast.

Soon we had a plastic bucket full of pale brown liquid bubbling away while Shetland fiddle tunes rang out from the steam-filled porch. The brewing process resulted in a pleasing malty odour pervading the rest of the house for several hours – well, Floortje says days – afterwards.

By the afternoon’s end, the bucket was bound for a cupboard (it’s important to get the storage temperature right) to start a fortnight-long fermentation, while Tim’s beloved collie Belle lapped up the discarded malty juice with panache.

Midway through May it was back to Selivoe to prime (add sugar to) and bottle the mysterious liquid, followed by more days waiting for the finished product. Most brews are drinkable in a week or so, though carbonation can take a while to complete and the taste tends to improve over time.

No one really knew what to expect, but you can imagine our delight when – after weeks of suspense – the first batch, an American pale ale, turned out to be not just quaffable but downright delicious.

Each brew tends to yield around 22-23 litres of beer, enough for around a dozen bottles apiece costing a mere 40p per bottle.

We were so pleased with our debut brew AFAAPA (Amateur Fiddlers’ Association American Pale Ale, to give its full title) that it created a tension between the desire to drink it all down and the urge to dish out sample bottles to beer-loving pals.
AFAAPA even received an on-stage endorsement from The Unthanks when they played Mareel earlier this year.

Both Kris and Tim have extensive touring commitments with the weird and wonderful LAU, while there have been a whole bunch of baby birthday parties to attend, so beer-making get-togethers have been fairly ad-hoc this summer.

But we have managed to turn out four batches to date. Number two, Slippery Hammer, was a personal favourite – a highly refreshing German-style wheat beer.

It derived its name from the problems encountered in bottling. The capping device that came with our kit wasn’t really up to the job, so Tim improvised and created his own, vastly superior version. We’re fortunate to have one of the world’s more practical-minded people among our number.

The third brew, an amber/summer ale called Welcome Guest, was the first to feature the metaphorical fingerprints of our new fifth member – Yorkshireman and Shetland Times scribe Adam Guest, back from a short stint in Aberdeen.

Next up we’re planning to experiment with mashing our own grain and making a Belgian-style saison (a light, fruity ale). Other ideas include a Christmas ale and revisiting some of the earlier brews with a view to perfecting the taste. Who knows, we might even try selling it someday.

We’d all thoroughly recommend giving brewing your own a try. It’s a rewarding hobby socially, educationally and creatively, and once all is said and done you get to drink some really tasty beer for a budget price.

Local photographers


We asked local photographer, Andrew Hutton to share some photos of views which get him in to Christmas mood. He obliged by sending in a stunning series of photographs which show Shetland in all its winter glory.
On the subject of photography, this issue also features beautiful images by Joy Allan, Richard Shucksmith and Dennis Coutts among others.

December’s issue out now!


A word of warning. If you are in any way veering towards the “Bah Humbug” end of the spectrum when it comes to Christmas, you should probably steer well clear of Shetland Life this month and go and buy yourself a more sober publication instead. This month, our elves have been working around the clock to bring you a magazine which is dripping with festive cheer: we have the spirits of Shetland Christmases past, present and future and enough photos and features to keep you entertained until the end of this year.
As you can see from our front cover shot, we had a lovely golden-haired elf helping us with our work this month. She’s pictured during a flying visit to the COPE Christmas shop. As well as leaving a few early presents in the stockings, our elf checked Santa’s post-box. It was full of letters, and I’m not surprised – did you know that if you post your Santa letters at COPE you are guaranteed to get a reply from the great man himself?

While we’re on the subject of Santa and gifts, many years ago, Father Christmas kindly left me a copy of this very magazine in my stocking. It was not long after I had moved to Shetland, and I remember thoroughly enjoying it. I mention this on the off-chance that Father Christmas might be reading this editorial and be in need of some inspiration. Shetland Life makes a great stocking filler, and lasts so much longer than a packet of nuts.

We begin this month with the spirit of Christmas present. We were delighted when Santa agreed to give an exclusive interview to our very own Jeff Merrifield. You can learn all about the tracks of Father Christmas’ life in this month’s magazine. We also have award winning apprentice butcher Chris Wright’s tips on choosing meat for the big day, Anne Dickie’s advice on hosting festive dinner parties, some Christmas craft activities from Helen Robertson and our Through da Keyhole Christmas special in what must be the most festive home in Lerwick.

This is followed by some Christmas nostalgia, with Douglas C. Smith’s account of a wartime Christmas party, artist Amy Gear’s reflections on Christmases long ago, and some beautiful photography by Dennis Coutts.

We then move onto the spirit of Christmas future. And if this makes you think of a hooded spectre pointing silently to a gravestone, then don’t worry – it’s far jollier than that! Alex Garrick Wright is already anticipating what spirits he’ll be enjoying over the holiday season. He also makes some hilariously entertaining predictions about what will be on the pages of this magazine in the December 2036 edition.

All this and so much more!

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Father Christmas for giving me six extra pages to fill this issue, and I also want to thank the Shetland Life team for having been such fun to work with these last few months. Finally, to all our wonderful readers and contributors I hope you have a lovely Christmas and a very happy New Year. Keep warm and well, and see you in 2017.

The spirit of Christmas yet to come


If you’re replenishing the drinks cabinet in preparation for Christmas which is very-soon-to-come then you cannot afford to miss Alex Garrick-Wright’s recommendations for Yuletide spirits. There are some real eye openers in his selection of locally available beverages.

Time travelling Alex has also ventured forth to Shetland in the year 2036. Luckily for us, he managed to pay a visit to the Shetland Times office, where he grabbed a copy of Shetland Life’s December issue twenty years from now. You can read some selected extracts from the 2036 issue in this month’s magazine. No spoilers here – suffice to say it looks like there are amusing times ahead!

The spirit of Christmas past


Of course, this is also a time when we look back to the past, and this month’s Shetland Life provides a good dose of festive nostalgia too.

We have some stunning photos courtesy of John and Dennis Coutts (don’t you just love Santa’s rubber boots in this photo from 1959?) and an account of a war time Christmas party by Douglas C. Smith.

Continuing the war time theme, Amy Gear interviews her grandparents and discovers how resourceful Santie had to be during these less affluent times.

The magic of Christmas


This is the time of year to enjoy spending time with loved ones. Getting crafty together is a wonderful way to share the Christmas magic. Why not switch off your smart phone, open up a copy of Shetland Life and get cracking on one of the many Christmas craft projects we’ve got in store for you?

Helen Robertson has two whole pages of Nordic craft activities, while Liam Anderson gives you step by step instructions to make a beautiful decoration using material from the garden.

Meanwhile, Anne Dickie is also on hand with tips for hosting fuss free Christmas dinner parties, so you can move away from the hot stove and enjoy some sparkling conversation with your guests instead.

Santa Stop Here!


“Through da Keyhole” is back. This month, Shetland Life pays a visit to Michelle Cooper’s house on South Lochside, and hears the heart-warming story behind her wonderful Christmas decorations.
Would you like your home to feature in “Through da Keyhole”? Let us know – we’d love to hear from you.
Joy Allan took the photographs for this feature, as well as providing our gorgeous cover shot. You can follow Joy on Instagram at @islanderjoy