Tuesday 30 September 2014

Another side of running a brewery

Most people think that running a brewery is all fun and games; you make beer, drink beer then make more beer... sadly it's not really like that at all; there's the never-ending cleaning, maintenance, paperwork, sales, admin, invoicing, planning, cask management, buying and.... driving miles in a van to deliver beer and pick up empties!

Most of that isn't a lot of fun, but then you don't get into brewing unless you're in it for the love of it; those who are in it for the money soon learn the brewer's law of "the best way to make a big pile of money in brewing is to start with a massive pile of money"...

Anyhow, here's my view when delivering a load of beer to Chris at the superb Craven Arms in Birmingham on Monday morning and picking up the empties from last time.... 

Thursday 25 September 2014

Anyone for Tiramisu?

This is the scene in FV3 right now (probably not by the time you're reading this but we don't have a webcam, sorry!) as our US05 yeast seems to be in full swing producing Tiramisu.... and no, we've absolutely no idea why it's doing that, but it smells absolutely lush so we'll leave it alone I reckon!

Kegging is growing...

If you believe CAMRA (or the Brown Beer Society as I call them owing to their penchant for bland brown twig juice from 1970) then we're going straight to keg hell - where you're presumably forced to drink Watney's Red, clubbed repeatedly with CO2 cylinders and made to listen to / witness Morris Dancing on an infinite loop - as we dare to put beer into kegs.

Hmmmmm, well excuse me if I don't really give a toss.  To explain why, here's a few bullet points which you'd have thought any rational drinker with a vague inkling of beer knowledge would understand;
  1. The same beer goes into cask and keg, from the same tank
  2. The keg beer isn't fined so is arguably more real than cask, which is fined
  3. A CO2 blanket is used on our conditioning tanks so the cask beer might not be classed as real by CAMRA anyhow - I've not asked them so don't know and don't really care.
  4. The keg beer is passed through a 30 micron filter to remove hop solids but not flavour, protein or hop oils
  5. No pasteurisation is used on any beers
  6. Customers ask for keg, so we supply it; simple.
There are many more points but it's late, I'm tired, so that'll have to do for now... let's conclude by saying that we keg beer because people want it not because we're trying to bring down the real ale system in some way, and it's a lot more work than casking beer to keg it.

Craft keg, real keg, craught beer... whatever you call it it's here to stay; get used to it CAMRA and get with the times before you become totally irrelevant in the modern beer culture.


Sometimes the froth just can't keep itself in

Yes, it's a domestic water particulate filter, it works a treat!

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Sweet Stout, good for what ails yer!

You don't see many "sweet" or "milk" stouts these days; years back, brewers such as Mackesons used to extol the health benefits of drinking their "nourishing" stouts, especially targeting the old and nursing mothers... imagine that in these puritanical days!

Anyhow, as our last dark beer sold out in record time (9 days) we rushed through the next dark beer as soon as we could.  I've long wanted to brew a sweet stout and had spent some time researching exactly what makes a stout "sweet" - don't laugh, it's not that obvious a question as it took me a while to pin down exactly what we needed to do!  Basically, 10% added lactose - milk sugar - is the generally accepted definition of a milk stout and although most UK examples are pitifully weak at around 3% I decided to go more for the US style of 4.5% to 5%.

The biggest surprise was the cost of the lactose which came in at around £160 for a 25kg sack; the accounts department are glad there aren't many hops in this with 5kg of UK Admiral being the only addition with 2.5kg added at 20 and then 5 minutes from the end of the boil for their rough bitterness and fruity character; we like Admiral which, along with Bramling Cross, are unsurpassed for hopping stouts.

So, after a false start when the lactose wasn't in stock despite the hop merchant's computer saying it was, we finally got to brew "Profits of Doom" today and it's smelling lush as it transfers to FV3 at this exact moment!

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Dry-hopping 101

If these words conjure up images of us tipping verdant hop cones from a hessian sack into casks then think again; this is 2014 people!

Here's how we do it - in the conditioning room the tanks are first washed and sterilised before being flushed with Carbon Dioxode to prevent oxidisation of the beer (this imparts cardboardy flavours in case you were wondering...) before being filled with "green beer" - beer which has just finished fermentation and requires further time to mellow and take up hop flavours - then dosed with carefully-measured amounts of T90 hop pellets.  

Pellets are best for dry hopping as the way they are made mashes up the lupulin and makes the aromas / flavours easier and quicker to extract in the tank; 7 days is generally enough although we often allow more.  The other reason we use them is that we can't get whole cone hops out of the tanks after use, meaning T90 pellets are the only option - luckily for us they're our preferred method!

Observe the precision equipment used - yes, that is a Homebase funnel with most of the spout hacksawed off!  Works a treat... 2.5kg of dry hops per 650 litre tank is our current rate, we get two full tanks per brew.

After a week (or more) we begin to drain off the green sludge of pellets from the tanks; this is done 3 or 4 times, tipping beer down the drain on each occasion, until we're happy most pellet debris has gone.  We then connect up the CO2 line to push the beer out of the tank (and to stop oxygen getting in and oxidising the beer) and the racking hose before filling casks or kegs.

The T90 pellets come to us in 5kg foil bags which we try to use all at once in a brew, although some beers have a more complex dry-hopping charge (maybe 2kg Citra, 3kg Cascade) so any pellets not used are sealed up in the bag and stored in our "hop fridge" until required... which isn't usually long.

So there you go, that's our dry-hopping method!  Fascinating, eh?

Green Hop beer!

First off: what is a green hop you may ask, they're all green! (admittedly so, apart from some twiggy ones which are a lovely shade of beige)...

"Green hops" are the British name (whilst Americans call them "wet hops") for unkilned cones fresh from the bine.  As they have just been picked they're still full of moisture - dried hops are around 80% smaller than the same weight of fresh - so the brewer must use 5 times the amount he would normally use to get the same result...

When I say "same result" I'm obviously not talking about them giving the same flavour; green hops give a much more chlorophylly, "sappy" taste along with hints of citrus and even onion (!) meaning you get a totally different flavour experience with green hops to dried ones.  To be honest I've never been a huge fan of the flavour they impart, but as harvest is a once-a-year event it has become something of a trendy brew to make, especially in the states, and increasingly over here too... I got talked into doing one by our hop merchant and a hop farmer so if it's rubbish you can blame them!

The hops arrived this morning, just in time for the brew, and admittedly smell fairly nice; we can tell they are fresh by the hordes of aphids climbing out of the bags!  The brew is a simple 4.5%-ish one with the Progress green hops plus some Citra, Chinook and Centennial - not a massive amount, just a bit - to give it the extra kick I reckon it'll need.  It won't be dry-hopped and will go straight into cask next week... I'd say look out for it but it doesn't have a name yet so you won't know what to look for...

How many bloody hops?!?

Sparging has finished

Happy yeasties!

Sunday 14 September 2014

Testing 123

Last week we too delivery (well, I collected them) of some Dolium kegs to try out as our OWK - one-way keg, one of the new industry buzzwords!.

They are a traditional gas-on-beer keg with a plastic syphon tube rather than a spear; first impressions are they seem a bit flimsy and don't stack too well, but we'll give them a go and see.  Feedback from other brewers and landlords who have experience of them is mixed to say the least, but with EcoKeg apparently opening a factory in South Wales shortly we'll have plenty of other options soon.

The major upside over keykegs (apart from being about a fiver cheaper) is that they use standard sankey connectors so they're, to use a phrase from my old career, "plug and play" with existing cellar equipment.

Anyhow, here's what one looks like....

Tuesday 9 September 2014

What's Brewing....

... this week?

Well, today Jay and I brewed a big (12 barrels, 2250 litres) batch of Citraic which is now up to version 4 and has so much Citra and Mosaic in our bank account hurts!  Seriously, it does.

Tomorrow sees a rebrew of Pixie Spring Golden Pixie, a low ABV session pale ale with just enough hops (mainly Cascade and a touch of Citra) to make things interesting.  This beer is replacing Tidy for a while as demand for bitter seems to be... well, sporadic to say the least.

We're also off delivering in London and the M4 corridor on Thursday, then racking and delivering to Bristol Friday morning; it's all go as usual!

Thursday 4 September 2014

When a brewer sees a huge pile of twigs...

.... what follows is generally unseen by non-brewers.  Well, no more, as here - as captured by Jonny from Brodies and Jeff from Lovibonds - is what happened next.

Apologies if this makes no sense to you, just ignore it and I promise the next post will make more sense.  Well, as much sense as my posts make.

Irony.... oh sweet irony.

Wednesday 3 September 2014

A bit of dry-hopping!

When most people think of dry-hopping it's with whole flowers into the cask, but this is the brave new world, people, and this is the way to do it; it's consistent across every cask, takes less time to get the character into the beer, much easier to do and makes the conditioning room smell lovely.  But it doesn't half make a mess on the floor....

Monday 1 September 2014

Latest coffee (and vanilla) beer ready to cask

Who remembers our first coffee porter?  The one where we did 10 casks coffee, 10 vanilla and coffee and 10 vanilla, coffee and almond?  Course you do.

Anyhow, Gazza has brewed another coffee porter, this one much more complex in the malt department than the previous one, and it's currently sitting in tank now ready to cask up!  This time we're not bothering with the almond extract version as it was the most artificial tasting of the three (we use proper coffee and real vanilla bean extracts, the almond extract was apparently "real" but didn't really taste that way) so this time there are 15 casks of the coffee and 15 of the coffee/vanilla for sale; get em quick as they won't last long.

There will be one single cask of Amaretto flavour but this is already allocated to the "Not the Wantage beer festival" so if you want to try it you'll have to get yourself there from 26th til the 28th September... you know you want to.