Friday 31 January 2014

And finally...

... meet our latest conditioning tank emblazoned with the mark of Lucifer!!!

Oh yes.


Wednesday 29 January 2014

"Drop tests".

Two posts in a day?  I must be bored... actually no, I'm simply feeling particularly munificent and think I should show our readers and casual visitors more of what running a craft/micro/cask ale brewery is all about.

Us brewers do some funny things and "drop tests", or as they are correctly called "finings tests", are quite strange looking things appearing to the untrained eye to be a load of bottles lined up which may contain medical samples.  We all do it differently; some use pint milk bottles, some specially bought glass or plastic vessels, some cheapskates use second-hand pop bottles... but whatever you use it fulfills the same purpose in that it allows the brewer to see if the beer he's putting into cask/keg/bottle is going to clear or not.

Personally I hate having to sell clear beer, I'd much rather leave out the fish guts (Isinglass, the final additive in cask beer to make it clear, is shredded sturgeon swim bladders... or "whale jizz" as some brewers have been heard to call it) but the public gets what they stupidly want I suppose.  Call it years of conditioning or whatever, but many people think a beer which isn't crystal clear is defective in some way when it's probably just some flavour-enhancing proteins and hop oils plus a bit of vitamin-rich yeast swimming around in their pint, heaven forfend it should actually taste of something; fining beer strips out a lot of mouthfeel and hop character so by having clear beer you're having worse beer.  Now you know.

Whatever, this picture shows the last week's drop tests all lined up on our "light box".  The sharp eyed amongst you will notice that it's not a light box at all but a girder with a strip light conveniently located behind it (actually it's not that convenient, you have to lean against a wall to get this view...) so you can see the beers on said light box in all their sparkling clarity.  Stripped down to basics, when we transfer a beer to either conditioning tank or cask we take a small sample, add (more or less) the correct amount of finings, shake it vigorously then leave it on the "light box" to await developments.  If everything works correctly - and you can see that these all have worked beautifully - after 15 minutes or so you'll be able to notice clumps forming in the beer; these are yeast cells being drawn to the bits of swim bladder by virtue of electric charge and forming clumps.

The theory is that yeast cells are bloody small and, by themselves, will take ages to settle to the bottom and leave the beer clear, but if they clump together then these clumps will be heavier and will sink faster, resulting in a clear beer much quicker.  There's plenty of books and stuff around if you really care exactly how and why all this happens but it's simpler to believe me that it works.  If it doesn't work, however, then the beer you're putting into cask won't clear in the pub cellar - this is basically an insurance policy as no brewer wants to send out 30 casks of beer not knowing if the beer inside will clear or not (although apparently many don't actually test their beer in this way!)

So there you go, yet another fascinating insight into the bits of brewing that you never see or hear about unless you know a brewer who jabbers on about it incessantly.  In which case I apologise.

Take one twice a day....

The latest bit of hi-tech kit!

OK, I'd be the first to admit that it doesn't look much.  Actually I'd be surprised if you had any idea what this thing is.

If I told you that this half-metre diameter piece of perforated stainless steel sheet is saving us up to an hour per day I dare say you'd be amazed, suspicious even... but believe me, it does.

This thing is the new filter plate in the bottom of our copper which the guys at Wobbly Brewery have made for us and it replaced the shoddy piece of crap which came with the brewery; put it this way, last week it took us 90 minutes to transfer 1450 litres of wort, today with the new plate it took 45 minutes pro-rata for our 2100 litre brew which, as you can see, is one hell of a time saving doing nowt looking at a digital thermometer and playing with water feeds and wort valves in a vain attempt to keep the temperature of the wort going into the FV constant.

So, all hail the new copper filter plate, yet another replacement part to make the brewday easier, shorter and less stressful.  We can't complain really, having got the brewing kit for a song (we did have to rebuild the whole thing from scratch though), so as and when we can replace parts then we will!

It's a filter plate.  Honest.

Monday 27 January 2014

All in it together...

No, this isn't a rant about ham-faced tory cretin Cameron, but a missive on the camaraderie amongst brewers and others in the industry when you wouldn't expect it.

You'd imagine, with more and more brewers chasing the same (or slightly more) amount of free houses and guest accounts, that brewing would be a cutthroat business with brewers holding cards very close to their chest and keeping the counsel of Homer Simpson, that is "never help anyone"; you'd be wrong.  

Maybe this was the case in the past, and certain brewers I could mention still think we are in those times (and these are the same people who think you couldn't guess what's in a brown beer that tastes of toffee, twigs and grass), but the vast majority of brewers, publicans, wholesalers and others in this great industry are living the "big society" in a way which would probably make Dave C proud if we were making Claret or something equally poncy; someone's short of something or a cask needs a ride somewhere?  You can bet there will be a fellow brewer who can help you out for cost or, usually, for nowt.

A few examples; in Sheffield we found out someone had used our last pack of yeast but, after a quick appeal on social media - down with the kids, innit? - one turned up the next day.  Another time we found out someone had used all our shives... guess what?  A few calls and 50 arrived, gratis.  I could go on with tales of hops, malt, finings, caustic, space on the van for a cask to hitch a lift and suchlike being donated but I'm sure you can see what I'm gunning at here; (most) brewers are all too happy to help out a brother in need in the knowledge that, when they're in a similar situation, they'll get this good karma coming right back at them... and everyone has these moments when they urgently need something, believe me.

On that note, we're helping out a local-ish brewery this week and as Steel City, Gazza and Dave have helped many of the current crop of UK "cuckoo" brewers get started.  When you think about it not a lot in brewing is secret or only you know, so you may as well be the good guy and help out the people in need as, one day, they may be in a position to help you out.  Having friends in brewing is very useful and, after all, is one of the things which makes it such a great industry to be in.

As I said, we're all in it together.  Almost all of us.... 

Tuesday 21 January 2014

Tidy Bitter - the making of a "simple beer".

Today we brewed Tidy Bitter version 5; when we first brewed Tidy we envisaged it as a straightforwards bitter which, by it's very definition, would be easy to create a recipe for and then brew.... hindsight is an amazing thing.

So now, after 6 months brewing with 39 gyles on the board, we're finally getting close to sorting out Tidy, and by that I mean getting the recipe right which has taken 5 attempts and I still don't think we're quite there yet; we've done amazingly complex hoppy beasts which I think we've nailed first time (or got pretty close to target) whilst Tidy remains a constant reminder that the simpler the beer style the less wriggle room you have in making it and the more exact you need to be in both recipe and execution.

The yeast is a simple one, we use Whitbread B (or S04 to give it's commercial name) which does near enough what we want except it has a tendency to give up working completely too soon without warning; one moment you've a huge fluffy yeast head - and S04 gives a huge fluffy crop - the next it's all gone and the beer is lying there limpid and ready, except it's not ready! To counteract this we may pitch in some US05, just a touch, to take advantage of that yeast's superior attenuation powers which means we may get the gravity down this brew!

The malt has been through lots of changes although I think we're almost there now; we've swapped the low-colour Maris Otter for normal Maris Otter to give a touch more body and flavour, Caramalt has been eliminated in favour of CaraGold as it's got a really nasty taste Gazza doesn't like (whereas CaraGold hasn't), Weyermann's exemplary CaraRed remains the mainstay of the colour/flavour stakes and a touch of German dehusked chocolate malt finishes off the flavour department.  We add a dose of torrefied wheat not because we like it - it tastes like popcorn - but because many "normal" bitter drinkers expect their bitter to have certain flavours so we've shamelessly caved in to popular opinion and used torrefied rather than our usual malted wheat; the public get what the public want!

The hops in Tidy have been through the mill.  Not literally, but figuratively.  The rock which is German Herkules has remained constant throughout every iteration of the recipe for the simple reason it's a superb bittering hop and matched perfectly to Tidy.  The other two hops have varied as we've experimented with different ones, always European, to try and get the flavour just as we want it with various varieties being tried and rejected (with Bobek and Saaz the main casualties); we've now settled on what we think is the final hop grist with UK Admiral (red fruit, robust bitterness, rhubarb and custard) and Polish Marynka (juicy, oily, hoppy, grassy) making up the recipe.

So, here's hoping that this time we're satisfied with our endeavours and the finished beer comes out as we want it.  It's a task made extra difficult as neither of us really likes bitter, or at least boring "normal" bitter, so we've tried to make this one as interesting as possible without going too far and veering off into the sphere of flavours we normally inhabit!

So you see, it's not easy getting a recipe right and doubly so if it's with a beer style you don't really care for!  Hopefully we can put this one to bed now, but we always welcome feedback on any of our beers at so give us a shout; cheers!

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Praise for yeast.

I still love seeing beer fermenting, even after brewing for nearly 5 years; it's the alchemy and wonder of it all.  In these enlightened time we know why it happens and no longer have to give thanks to a beardy bloke sat on a cloud, but even so it's still a magical process and I love it - I often look into the fermenter for a while imagining the millions, billions even, of yeast cells gorging on the sugars within and turning a sweet liquid into a delicious, refreshing, healthy (in moderation, obviously!! ) drink.

When I think back to brewers hundreds of years ago with no Antiformin or caustic, no Perecetic acid, no knowledge of bacteria and yeast, no temperature control, no infection control procedures, wooden fermenting vessels and much more I know just how easy we have it these days... it's still hard physical work but we know much of the how and why which is half the battle in making good beer.  

And then there's the hops; imagine having to buy hops by farms in Herefordshire or Kent when they're all the same (or very similar) strain rather than by variety from America or New Zealand... how times change, massively for the better in my opinion!  Just imagine a world without Citra, Nelson Sauvin, Simcoe, Centennial, Sorachi Ace, Columbus and many more... I'd rather not!

These two photos show yeasty activity on our latest brew of Golden Pixie and a testbrew for Charles Faram & Co Ltdone is 1500 litres and one 75 but they're pretty similar.

Golden Pixie in FV2 just beginning fermentation

A testbrew in full ferment

Monday 13 January 2014

Repeat brew!

We're brewing tomorrow and, in a very rare occurrence, it's a repeat beer!

Golden Pixie went down really well when we brewed it back in the Autumn and now, in a spirit of making affordable beer in the dark months of Winter, we're brewing it again but slightly different after some feedback and our own feelings about it; we've cut the bittering level down a few notches but that's about it, it's got the same hops (Summit, Citra, Cascade) and malt (Low-colour Maris Otter, Cara and Wheat) in it so should be the same easy-going hoppy golden beer again!

We're also brewing Thursday, this time a strongish stout at 5.5% or so, as yet unnamed.  Next week should see a brew of Tidy bitter (maybe the same as v4 which was the best yet we thought) and a new pale, hoppy beer which may be similar to Fleur d'Alsace or may not, we've not decided yet.

Keep the faith, hopheads.

It's back!  Well, it will be in a few weeks...

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Back to it!

After a long break, well earned I must say, we're back in the brewery today!  

We've also picked up some new casks from the manufacturers and collected a load of malt and hops for the next 3 brews which will be Simcoe Plus, a 5.5% or so strong stout and a 4.5% or so pale & hoppy creation with as yet undecided hops from the stash.

This evening we've given the brewery plant a good caustic wash and flush through with water ready for the brewday tomorrow (Simcoe plus, can't wait for this one!) and the hot liquor tank is heating up ready for action...

Bring on 2014, here's hoping we build on what we've already achieved.