Sunday 26 March 2017

Meet the brewer in wildest Gloucestershire

Last week we did our latest meet the brewer at the Fleece in Hillesley out in the wilds of Gloucestershire.  Now you might wonder why we'd rock up at this (admittedly lovely old pub) out in the wilds for a meet the brewer when there must be loads of other (=better) options elsewhere?  Well yes, maybe, but Rod who used to run the Mumbles Ale House - which pretty much single handedly initiated the Swansea area to good beer - is in charge here now and so, having sold him beer for a long time, it wasn't a difficult decision to take the Hopcraft / Waen roadshow out onto the road yet again!

We were very well looked after in all respects with plenty of food, beer, gin and wine coming our way in return for what must have been our most downbeat description of the UK beer scene ever; if we didn't depress most of the audience I'd be very surprised!  Just telling it how it is, but looking back I'd guess most attendees to a meet the brewer would expect the brewers to be more upbeat on the health of the industry... yeah, righto!

Anyhow, everything went swimmingly in the end and a good night was had by all (well, we did OK, which is what matters!) and, we hope, we will have our beer out in Gloucestershire more frequently after our rocking up at their local....

Wednesday 22 March 2017

Prepping casks for filling - there's more to it than you might think!

You might think filling up a cask with beer is a simple process.  Well, you're wrong.

First of all the beer must be in the right state in the right place; this means it must have finished it's dry hopping period and be ready (or as ready as it's going to be) to be packaged.  Easy....

Then, we have the casks.  Imagine, if you will, a cask of beer at a pub.  It's delivered. gets drunk dry (hopefully) then it's put outside empty for collection.  All well and good, except a lot of landlords these days don't bung up (leave a cork and spile in the appropriate holes) the casks.... in winter this isn't a huge issue, but in summer it allows fruit flies to lay their eggs inside which result in small chrysalises of the flies dotted all over the inside of the cask, and they're incredibly hard to shift!  Then you have the sun baking the contents dry and then frying onto the inside whatever happens to get inside the cask.... this is generally worse with metal casks although plastics aren't immune to a bit of baking!

Then, it gets picked up and there begins the shit job of making it fit for being filled again!

Once our filthy, fly-encrusted sun-baked cask finally arrives back at the brewery it's inspected by a gagging employee - who wishes he'd not eaten before inspecting dozens of rancid casks - before being steam cleaned at 130c inside and out.  This sterilises the cask and removes the majority of the assorted crud, hop bits, yeast, flies and other detritus from the cask rendering it hopefully fit for stage 2.

The next stage involves a manual check of the cask's interior condition - basically by sniffing it when hot (to see if it smells "clean" and not musty or stale) and looking inside with a torch when it's cooled a bit (else you can't see because of steam!).  This will ascertain whether the cask is physically clean and free from contamination; if not it goes back through the steam cleaning process and is tested again.  In the very few occasions a cask is rejected 3 times (usually in summer when the fruit flies are more common) it's given a week's soak with caustic solution then goes back into the steam cleaning pile to begin the process all over again!

If the cask passes the visual / nose inspection then it's passed to the next cleaning step, a hot date with hot kegbrite!  This chemical is sprayballed (via our "mini-whirly" sprayheads!) into the casks at high velocity and hopefully removes any remaining crud and, more importantly, cleans the areas the steam washer doesn't get to properly!  After 30 seconds the casks are removed, then rinsed with water.  There is no further manual check of the casks as this stage is purely to do a "deep clean" of what is already a clean cask.

The final stage is to rinse the by now immaculate (we hope) casks with peracetic acid solution which renders them "biologically clean" (there's a massive difference between this and physically clean") before being arranged as per this photo.  The final stage is the addition of the "finings" (fish guts which make the beer clear) and "priming" (sugar dissolved in water) which, when the beer is transferred from the conditioning tank under CO2 pressure, will mix and give the finished beer clarity and "condition" (sparkle, as the yeast still in the cask will wake up and eat this new easy to digest sugar creating CO2), before - as can be seen here - a flush with CO2 to make sure when the casks are filled no oxygen is inside which stales the beer and diminishes the all-important hop character.

Then the cask can go into cold storage before being sold and transported to a pub, where the whole cycle begins again!

Thursday 9 March 2017

Collab at Art Brew in deepest Devon.

We went down to see old mates Becki and John at their new place in Devon to brew a special beer, just because we could!  Called "Crystal Fumbles" there will only be a few casks and some bottles, but it's got some lovely hops in it!

Some brewers with ideas above their station should take note - not all collabs need to be about making money, getting noticed and sales... they can just be about seeing old friends, having a laugh and enjoying the brewday!