Saturday, 16 July 2011

The Beers of Welbeck Abbey far

So far (fingers crossed!) the beers I've sent out have been a success.

'First Brew' which was a really grapefruity, lemony zesty pale at 4.3% went down very well indeed. We've bottled bucket loads of it, although we've added too much priming sugar to it so it's super fizzy like a lager. Although this isn't how bottled beers are meant to be, my lager-drinking consumers are saying it's lovely and they want loads of it. It is a lovely beer, although really very similar to what many microbrewers are producing so I'm reluctant to keep it as a core product - maybe just a special brew every so often.

Henrietta is going down a storm, it's a very easy drinking pale which is well balanced. Good fresh hop aroma with a subtle bitterness, and a decent bit of body. It drinks like it's well over 4%, despite only being 3.6% - a good trick I think. Very pleased with that one, and it'll be a keeper. Not sure about a permanent name though. Henrietta? Henrietta Harley? Something totally different? Thoughts please.

Ernest George (4.2%) is also going really well, it's very different from your usual microbrewery ale. It's a very deep ruby bitter which has plenty of dark crystal, roasted, chocolate and black malts, and Challenger, Bramling Cross and Willamette hops. In my neck of the woods, this is going really really well because it's different. Not sure if the recipe could do with a little work but I probably need to sit and drink a couple of pints in a good pub to decide. Not having a brewery tap is a bit annoying. This one is the brew which got stuck and wouldn't ferment any further. With a little persuasion it got down to 1011 which was OK - meant it was very very lively though and not quite the right ABV. Second batch is now cooling and behaved much better!

Red Feather (3.9%) amber bitter is brewed with loads of crystal malt. I think it's OK, but the style of beer, ABV, and recipe don't seem to be winning me many customers. People are saying it's OK, but I've got loads to sell this week so we'll see what they say after this batch has gone out. Not sure if it's a bit safe and averagey.

Then there's the black beer - attempt one is called Portland black. This one also got stuck but at 1013, and unfortunately is very very stuck. I've tried everything and today repitched it with an extra 2kg of yeast which I'm hoping will make it drop by 3 degrees to 1010. Fingers crossed. Also, it's not black enough. Anywhere near in fact. I'm going to speak to Nigel (Kelham's recipe God) about it tomorrow to get some advice. I want a teeny tiny little play plant which I can practice recipes and do fun stuff on.

Anyway, enough ramblings for now, just thought I'd keep you updated.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

To brew or not to brew...

Well it's been a fair while since I blogged (again), you'd think I was trying to set up a new brewery or something....

Things are going really well at Welbeck Abbey Brewery now - we're finally producing some cracking beers and selling quite a lot of it. I update the official blog with current beer info last week so have a snoop at that if you want to know exactly what we're brewing.

I've been trying to work closely with the local CAMRA groups. I'm really lucky because I'm in the middle of Nottingham, Sheffield, Lincoln, Chesterfield and Derby, and to be honest I need all the help I can get.

I'm determined not to follow suit and brew lots of highly hopped, high ABV beers which is often what many micros do - I'm not saying it's a bad thing, but I'm trying to brew beers which the consumers in my area want to drink.

I spoke at the last Nottingham CAMRA meeting and was very honest with them all. I explained about what I thought I needed to brew, and thankfully they thought I was at least pointing in the right direction! The grand plan is to brew a 3.6% pale, a very dark 4.2% bitter, and a 4.5% black beer. I wan't sure about the ABV for the pale, or that even a mild/black/porter was right, but after talking to Notts CAMRA I'm now set on my range.

OK, so there's nothing in there of a particularly high ABV, but I can have higher ABV monthly specials. Why? Well, many of my customers drive to the pub so don't necessarily want a high ABV, and often they don't want to spend a fortune on a pint so by keeping ABV down I can keep cost down (grr beer duty!), and at a higher ABV I'll be able to bottle condition a cask of each special knowing that it will keep well.

During my talk I also explained that I am trying very hard to find customers, but don't really know their 'patch' particularly well and would appreciate any help with finding good pubs to supply. I had a great response from this and have had lists of pubs sent to me!

The approach I'm taking is all centered around talking to publicans and CAMRA to make sure I brew exactly what normal people actually want to drink, not what I think they want to drink. I just hope it works...

Monday, 27 June 2011

Sticky yeast

My yeast is stuck again. It's fermented about 3/4 of the sugars into alcohol and decided to stop. Most inconsiderate and inconvenient of the little fellas.

I've got a 'to do' list to fix it, many of these tricks will probably apply to the keen home brewer too.

1. Add oxygen (but I don't think it's that - added loads of oxygen after learning from last time)

2. Give it a good ol' rousing. The yeast I'm using forms a lovely yeasty-Carbon dioxidey-beery foam on the top but doesn't really swim around in the beer very well. Mixing it up (with a very sterile stick!!) gets some of the yeast back into the beer.

3. Give it a zinc hit. Zinc is vital for yeast growth and fermentation. Often if your beer is stuck at a higher gravity and won't budge, a little zincy hit will liven it up.

4. Re pitch it. This is a last resort (mainly because I've not got any more buckets of yeast lurking in the fridge) and it shouldn't really need it as we put loads of yeast into the beer which is more than enough for fermentation. Why add more than needed? Skimming over the subject...

I've roused it and added a zinc booster, all I can do now is wait.... I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

In tip-top condition

Before I start, here's a quicky for those who don't know what bottle conditioned beer is...
Basically its replicating the cask conditioning stage where a little bit of yeast is left in the beer to ferment a little more of the beer. It adds far more character and develops flavour, as well as makes the beer a bit more lively. This is called secondary fermentation and is what makes real ale, real. In a bottle, you encourage roughly the same process, although you often add a weenie bit of sugar as tasty food for the yeast. Normal bottled beer is filtered and so doesn't have any yeast which means this process doesn't happen. Often you can have both cask and bottled versions of the same beer and they taste totally different. Also, bottled beer is often brewed else where, a bit like baking a cake in a different kitchen. In theory they're the same beer but in practice they may be quite different.

We're going to bottle condition some of our beer for the Welbeck Farm Shop. Also, as of this weekend, we'll be having a cask of beer in the shop to sell fresh beer in 4-pint carry kegs (you should go and get some).

But I've never bottled beer before. I know the theory but am not really sure about the nitty-gritty business...

The question is, if I bottle condition a pale ale at 4.3% ABV, will it indeed be in tip-top condition?
Will it ever drop bright or will it be cloudy?

Apparently above 5% is a good guide to go by, because you need a higher alcohol content to make sure the yeast settles out at the bottom of the bottle to give you a clear beer.
I could do a lower ABV but very dark beer because you wouldn't be able to see if it wasn't crystal clear, but then that seems a bit like cheating.

Also, this priming business with the beers (which means adding a teeny tiny bit of sugar for the yeast to munch on). I'm a bit apprehensive about it because it's very easy to under prime which means you don't really get much conditioning, but equally you can over prime.

Last night I had a bottle conditioned beer which was really gorgeous. It was a bitter brewed with crystal malt, roasted barley, and black (or chocolate?) malt (so my excitable taste buds tell me). It was only 3.8% and quite pale. When I opened it it fizzed all over me and the kitchen for about a minute! I'm presuming this may be a case of over priming, and you could see it wasn't quite clear either, but I didn't really care because it was scrummy.

Running this brewery is a very very steep learning curve to say the least. All advice gratefully received.

Oh, and I'll find the name of that beer, but I have given the bottle to my avid home brewing friend already! Also whilst we're on bottle conditioned stuff, I tried the Marstons Very Special Old Pale a couple of weeks ago, which was rather good. It's available at Morrisons I think.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Getting into the swing of it

No not that kind of swing, although it does look quite fun.

The brewing side of things at Welbeck have finally started to go well and we should be distributing beer all over the place from next week. A good sign, considering it's a brewery. And on the plus side I'm going to be working some more normal hours, rather than spending every waking hour in the brewery - I am starting to get fed up of beer which, quite frankly, is unacceptable for a brewer.

The grand plan is to brew several different beers, aiming to develop a range of three core products - an easy drinking pale ale about 4.5 - 4.8%, a dark caramelly bitter somewhere between 3.6-4% and a really lovely rich-but-not-too-heavy mild/porter which will probably be about 5%. Thoughts please on ABV and style. We'll also brew one seasonal special a month.

We've brewed a second and much improved batch of the 'First brew' (4.3%) recipe, with a bit of experienced help on the hop addition from Iain, Kelham's head brewer. It was brewed on Friday and yesterday smelled incredible when I walked into the fermenting room to sample it. The addition which Iain suggested was a little Chinook at the end of the boil. It's got a really lemony grapefruity characteristic which has lifted the whole brew. I think I need to be less worried about over-hopping and just be brave with my hop additions! I seem to be much better at working out a good combination of malts for dark beers, but practise makes perfect and I just need a bit more experience.

It should be ready and racked into casks by Wednesday so I'll let you know what it tastes like.

The bitter is already in casks in the cold store, so I'll make some time to write some tasting notes for you to peruse and comment.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Oxygen is the key to life

This, is a fact.

Well, unless you're an anaerobic type of beasty in which case Oxygen is very much not your friend.

Yeast, is aerobic. The reaction which happens in brewing to get from natural barley sugars to alcohol is...

Sugar (from barley) + Oxygen + Yeasty beasties → Alcohol + Carbon dioxide (beery bubbles) + lots more Yeast

When we brewed the first two batches of Welbeck beer, there was a huge and very dense foam on the top after pumping the wort in to the fermenting vessel. I think this is mainly due to pumping lots of oxygen into the wort during the transfer, so for the third beer we pumped in far less oxygen. We aimed for about 15-20 minutes of oxygenation, because if there isn't any in it, we don't get any fermentation.

We brewed it Thursday
On Friday, no fermentation. But this is quite normal. It's called a 'lag' phase where the yeasty cells are getting used to it's new surroundings.
On Saturday I was expecting it to have gone bonkers. Alas, no fermentation. Eek! I went though all the possible causes of no fermentation, and decided that a lack of oxygen could be the only cause.

Sterilise a long ol' bit of air hose and pump oxygen into the beer for about half an hour. I stood up a ladder holding this daft bit of hose in the beer. It was a bit like blowing bubbles in your milk as a kid, I expected to hear my mother say 'don't do that!'. Oh then I realised, it was 8am on a Saturday morning and everyone else had better things to do!

Whoopee! Came in on Sunday, and after spending Saturday grumbling to my friend Ali about crappy beer and crappy yeast and crappy job, it was foaming all over the floor! I, am technical genius. I awarded myself bonus points for fixing the beer. I have yet to decide what bonus points earn me but, for now, I shall just say homemade Elderflower cordial with tonic. And gin. Lots of gin.

Enjoy the sunshine, and appreciate that pint.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

The only way is up

So as you've gathered the Welbeck Abbey Brewery is now up and running. We've brewed a load of the 'First Brew' which is our debut ale - a golden quaffable beer crammed full of Willamette and Cascade hops making it a summer zinger. A safe option you may think, but it is the very first beer and we need to make sure it's a hit.

The brewing of this beer however, was not as easy as the formulation of it's recipe.

Step one. Mash in.

This is the very first step in the brewing process where you mix together the malted barley and hot water into a gorgeous porridgey blend. It smells divine and is judged mostly by eye. The aim is to achieve a mash temperature of about 65C to get the best sugar extraction. Being the first time we'd mashed in, we set the water temperature at 72C which is what we do at Kelham, but ended up with a mash at 70C!! Iain (head brewer at Kelham) arrived at that point and we started pouring in cold water and stirring it in until the mash temperature dropped. We crossed everything to hope that we'd not fried the important enzymes and ruined the beer.

This did not bode well for the brew day.

Step two. The Boil.
The next stage is to bring this lovely sugary water to the boil in the copper. The copper did not want to boil. We were a little worried as the gas burner had been used the day before for cleaning, but didn't seem to want to get to boiling point. After much fiddling with the thermostat, quite a lot of coffee, and much patience, it eventually boiled. Phew! No boil = cloudy yuck beer.

Step three. Add the hops.
We added the early bittering hops by opening the top lid. This didn't go wrong. To be honest, you'd have to be quite a nincompoop to 'incorrectly' add hops!!

Step four. Add copper finings.

These are little ion tablets which clear proteins out of the beer. I turned the burner off out of habit to add these - at Kelham if you're brewing 30 barrels it can be a bit lethal to keep it boiling. After this, the burner didn't start. Again. It took ages, but after more coffee, a little swearing and quite a lot of worry, it eventually went.

By now, I was quite grumpy and threatening to give up brewing. I'd been looking forward to this day for months, and my fantastical dreams of a glorious brew day were quickly slipping into the abyss of a miserable brew day.

Step five. Casting the copper.

After adding the late aroma hops and steeping them to get as much lovely flavour out of them as possible, we transferred the 'wort' into the fermenter and added the yeast. During this stage we bubble oxygen into the unfermented beer, this is needed for yeast to ferment the sugars into alcohol. It's normal to get a bit of foam on the top of the wort in the fermenter, but not to get about 3 foot of thick grey foam!!

We weren't sure what the cause of this was - crap mash temperature, poor boil, dodgy water, some cleaning chemical residue!? None of us had seen it before, but the most popular punt was that there were ions present which shouldn't have been. To the water, you add salts and acid to get the pH correct and make sure there's the right balance of calcium, chloride, zinc, and many other ions. This makes sure that conditions are optimum for each of the enzyme reactions and fermentation stages. Grey foam is very very very bad (we presumed!).

I think one of the major flaws may have been that we estimated the amount of water in the hot water tanks before we added the acid treatments. After further calculations (which we should have done to start with) I worked out we'd added three times as much acid as we should have. Whoops.

Step six. Fermentation and cooling.

When the beer is fermented, the yeast should usually be on the top - that's just how ale yeast rolls. This yeast sunk like a stone to the bottom. Great. Potential infection by some kind of nasty bug.

Thankfully, it's all perfectly fine and tastes fab. Hooray!

After this fermentation stage, we cool the beer down quickly over night to then transfer into a conditioning tank. The beer didn't cool quickly at all. ARGH!

It finally cooled down, we transferred it, and now it's all sat in casks in the cold store conditioning nicely. Conditioning is a word we use for a second, small fermentation stage which happens inside the casks. It gives a little bit of carbonation so your beer isn't flat, and it adds a 'fuller bodied' sort of texture to it so it's not all wishy washy dish water beer. Often the longer the conditioning stage, the better the beer tastes.

This brew was so horrendous (and miraculously has come through unscathed) that things can only get better. The only way is up (I need to tell the yeast that too...).

Saturday, 28 May 2011

The launch of Welbeck Abbey Brewery!

Welbeck Abbey Brewery Launches!

Tuesday 24th May saw the new Welbeck Abbey Brewery officially opened for real ale production. Bryan Jackson, Chairman of the East Midlands Development Agency, cut the red ribbon on the day. EMDA kindly provided a grant for the purpose-built building under the Rural Development Programme for England which has enabled the joint owners, The Welbeck Estates Company and Kelham Island Brewery, to design and build this state of the art micro-brewery.

Directors Robin Brown and David Wickett both spoke of their enthusiasm for the new venture, particularly as the real ale industry is booming. This is the newest addition to the rapidly growing ‘Welbeck Project’ which aims to establish a sustainable community in this historic rural estate, centred around the Arts, creative business, rural diversification and education.

We welcomed almost 100 people on the day, including a 50’s double decker bus full of guests from Sheffield which added a great sense of atmosphere and excitement to the day. After the official opening of the brewery, we headed to the Harley Gallery to sample the very first beer – ‘First Brew’ at 4.3%ABV, accompanied by fresh sandwiches from the Farm Shop. It was also Mr Wickett’s birthday, so we shared a very appropriate beer-related cake which was thoroughly enjoyed by all. Claire ran two tours of the brewery to explain just what happens to make that delicious amber drink, both of which were well attended by the interested guests.

The beers which are brewed at Welbeck are made purely with Welbeck water, malted barley, hops, and our own fresh yeast. We do not use any refined sugars or artificial preservatives. The recipes are unique to this micro-brewery and are designed by head brewer Claire Monk, who was taught to brew at the award winning Kelham Island Brewery after studying Microbiology at The University of Sheffield. All the recipes and names are inspired by the deep and fascinating history of Welbeck Abbey.

Now that the Welbeck Abbey Brewery is fully up and running, the ales will be available in pubs between Sheffield, Lincoln, and Nottingham from the start of June. If you would like to try some at home, Claire will be hand bottling a small number for the Welbeck Farm Shop each week.

To get in touch and follow the progress of the brewery, you can contact Claire through Twitter: WelbeckAbbeyBry, Facebook: search for ‘Welbeck Abbey Brewery’, or Phone: 01909 512539.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Proud to be British

I've thought a lot about the types of beers we need to brew at Welbeck. Some kind publican friends, and many of the new bunch from the estate have given me some advice, but it's a bit tricky. Well, it's not tricky, but there are two different types of beer drinkers which I need to think about.

Think of the M1 running through South Yorkshire and North Notts - the brewery is just to the south of Worksop. The road is oddly placed and acts like a divide between the beer buffs in the West, and your good ol' bitter drinkers in the East. It means that I need to brew to both satisfy the wests insatiable appetite for new and quirky beers, and produce a regular beer which can out sell John Smiths extra smooth and all the other cream-flow, kegged beers in the club houses.

Whilst that may be a challenge, I have decided that it's a brilliant opportunity to revive a passion for good, old fashioned beers. There are so many pale ale producers in the micro brewery industry, which is great, but I don't want to be too focused on the North American and NZ hops and be lost as a little fish in big pond. A very small fish in a very small pond.

Hops are great, but so it malt. I've decided that the first brew is going to be of the pale ale ilk, really getting a huge hit of zesty hop aroma with Willamette and Cascade. I've decided this because it's a) what I'm used to brewing at Kelham, b) should be quite saleable in the real ale areas, and c) it's seasonal. Although it's blinkin' chilly at the minute. After this I want to brew a cracking beer using lots of lovely caramely, biscuity crystal malt for a sweeter base. To this I'll add some traditional British Fuggles and Goldings hops to match it with a smooth bitterness and earthy aroma. It'll probably be about 4%. It's going to be all British, fitting in with the locally produced. high quality ethos of Welbeck. Brilliant.

Any thoughts, let me know please.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Such soft hands

Just a quickie following on from the last post.

Picture in your head this. A sizable expanse which is nay but dust and rocks. It separates two large creaking barns and is backed by a babbling brook winding through an ancient woodland. The front of this lonely wasteland is the entrance to the new and exciting Welbeck Abbey Brewery.

OK, so in reality, it's the crappy yard in front of the brewery with 'ratty heaven', as Glenn the pest control man calls it, at the back. The added WOW factor in Welbeck beers could potentially be the locally sourced dust. This, we do not want. The powers that be have decided to lay a surface of reclaimed tarmac (dug up road from a near-by village) all over said yard to prevent it being a dust-bowl in summer and virtual quagmire in winter.

Being fed up of the desk and not permitted to help in the brewery installation (one can only presume this is because I am a) too week and feeble; b) a woman; and c) oh so young - see A Woman is Like a Tea Bag) I decided that I would spend the best part of the day helping to shovel, level out and lay the new surface. Of course after only a few minutes the decorator hollers across the wilderness "You should wear gloves when you're shovelling, love, you'll get blisters all over those lovely soft hands of yours". Idiot. Fair comment about the gloves, but sorry, soft hands? I'm a climbing, bell ringing brewer, I've not had soft hands since I was about 15.

Anyway, we're rolling the new yard surface this morning so hopefully we'll be a dust-free, easy access brewery in no time.

Just need a working brewery. Still.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

"A Woman is Like a Tea Bag...

You can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water" Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady 1933-1945.

I'm not usually one to write one of those boring 'gripey' blogs, but I'm going to write a slightly miffed one and invite you to comment at will. Including telling me to shut my trap if you wish.

I shall start my story with another carefully selected quote. You will notice my title and opening line are from Eleanor Roosevelt who championed women's rights and Independence during her whole political career.

"whilst 'brewster' is the correct term for a female in my profession, I like brewer better because I don't think I'm any better or worse than a chap just because I'm anatomically different." Me, some time in November 2010.

OK, so not as famous (give me time) but I still stick by it. For anyone who hasn't met me, I shall give you a little description of myself. I am a medium build 5' 4 1/2", always happy, and I love being with people so have fun whether I'm at work or play. However, I also have the biggest guns you'll have seen on a gal for a while I suspect, love a physical job, and always get stuck in where I can. Oh, and it takes a lot to stress me out, but when I am annoyed, you'll know about it.

So I am getting quite tired of hearing rather sexist comments which are probably prompted by my youthfulness, why can't people give me a chance?
"Don't hurt yourself love, it's quite heavy"
"Who's the forklift truck driver then?"
"Do you want me to drive that back for you ducky?"
"Just you stay over there and let us do it"

The best ones have to be:
"so you're the receptionist aren't you. Who's the brewer then?"
"You're doing a grand job of that cleaning, I've got a whole pile of pots for you to do at mine, love"

I'm used to people asking "So why does a young lass like you want to be a brewer?" I bet they don't ask guys that. On the plus side, most people are surprised but in a good way, that I am the brewer. Talk about challenging gender stereotypes - I'm a white-van man and brewer who does just the same as any bloke in the brewery. I really enjoy the physical side to my job, although I can sometimes be a weenie bit hindered by my height, but that's when I know to ask for help the same as everyone else.

Do I look like a pot-washing, message-taking, adorable duck!? I'm getting a bit fed up of it now, it used to mildly amusing but the novelty factor has worn off. I keep hearing people tell me how incrediby stressed I must be, and that this is an awfully big project to take on alone. I'm not under enough hot water to be stressed. Yet.

A month or so ago, a group of severl brewsters got together and brewed 'Venus-Jade' (4.0% ABV) as part of Project Venus which aims to show off the skills of female brewers. I think this is a fab idea! I did talk to them briefly before they brewed but unfortunately wasn't able to go on the day, I just hope if they do another one I can help.

Women are coming into the beer industry more and more, particularly in the form of micro brewers running the whole show. I'm excited to see women having the confidence to go against the grain in this male dominated environment, taking on all aspects of the business despite an incredulous reaction from many people.

I've got really big muscles too, you know.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Young George

I have discovered that there are a number of avid real ale followers at Welbeck, notably a certain Mark Allen who seems to be rather good at home brew. Or just very lucky, as he's had a 'range' of results, should we say.

His very first (and fabled as his finest) is called Young George, aptly named in honour of his son. It's 4.3% ABV and has been conditioning in the bottle for 3 months.

There is bucket loads of crystal malt in this multi faceted beer, which gives it an incredibly vibrant colour - auburn is the best word I can find to describe it. This beer is crystal clear when poured, with a small but tight head which is maintained throughout drinking.

I love crystal malt, it smells gorgeous when you handle it. Lke a big bowl of that dark biscuity, sweet brown crystalised sugar that posh people put in their coffee. It gives a distincitive flavour in beers which really comes through in 'Young George' - a sweet but not sickly toffee/caramel flavour.

Conditioning this beer for several months has developed the flavours incredibly. They're carried on your palet in a full bodied, gently carbonated mouthful.

The initial taste is of subtle but sweet caramel, which then mellows to biscuits and eventually fades to give way to a very gentle, soft bitterness. This bitterness leaves a crisp but not sharp or lingering hoppy tang on the tongue. Then you want more an more of this refreshingly easy drinking, but incredibly complex beer.


Sunday, 17 April 2011

Dinner at the Abbey

When you're invited for dinner at someones house, it's usually by a fairly good friend, and quite a casual affair. I went for dinner at Welbeck Abbey on Friday which was far from casual in my books.

Darina Allen came to the School of Artisan Food to give an evening talk. Her husband Tim, and food writer and critic Matthew Fort also came to Welbeck for the evening. So the plan (which I was unaware of) was for the three of them to come to dinner at the Abbey with William and Alison (who own it) and two other people from the School and dairy. And me.

I turned up to the front door of the Abbey and walked into the reception room, which was wood panelled with carvings, antique furniture, and shelves full with books which must have been hundreds of years old. There were huge paintings on the walls, and an enormous fireplace with the family crest about 6 foot square carved above it. Think Chatsworth, think Hogwarts, think Buckingham flippin palace. I almost had to pinch myself.

Anyway, so we had a four course meal with beer and wine, followed by lemoncello made with lemons from their garden (cool hey?). The atmosphere was so relaxed it was quite surreal. I was having dinner in a stately home with two celebrities and yet the atmosphere was so chilled we could have been sat in my rather more modest living room having the same evening.

Bizarre. I'm not quite sure how, but I've really managed to land on my feet with this job. Alison and William are so normal and lovely, and I felt really quite chuffed to be invited to dinner.

Anyway, just thought I'd let you know. Back to the real world and brewing.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Not just the proverbial...

At Kelham Island Brewery we hold brewery tours. Just the same as most other breweries in the country have tours, open days and a whole plethora of other events to try and boost their 'consumer awareness and brand recognition', to put the poncy label on it. Basically, we want people to meet us and in the future order our beer over anyone else's because they've been to the brewery and have that lucrative 'inside knowledge'.

Generally speaking, I love brewing, beer, and people. Especially people who also love beer. This means that brewery tours are great fun - I get to talk about beer and brewing to new people outside of the usual bods I see day in day out. When I started doing the tours at Kelham, I knew that there would be people who were more interested in brewing that others, and some people who literally just wanted a piss up in a brewery, but I think I may have been wrong.

I have discovered there are two types of brewery visitors which are poles apart - either they are fascinated by brewing to the point that they try and ask awkward questions to catch us out, or they couldn't give a monkeys and just get trolleyed. There is very little scope in between for people who are just-a-little-interested-and-would-also-like-to-get-a-bit-tiddly-on-beer.

So when I'm doing a tour I know it's either going to be AMAZING, with lots of interested people who ask mostly good questions, or it's going to be horrid, with a bunch of piss heads who just want the beer.

The staff at Heely City Farm came on a tour which I hosted last week, and they were brilliant! I spent about 40 minutes going through the brewing process with them, and they asked lots and lots of questions which prompted more jabbering from me. I did apologise for the babbling about everything remotely related to brewing, but apparently it was 'informative'..... Most excellent. On the up side again, they're going to come and take some of our spent hops for their compost heap. Hops make brilliant compost (if you didn't know) and us brewers just want to get shot of them, so I'd definitely recommend popping down to your local micro brewery and asking for some.

Mary Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row
Or maybe she used compostable hops which would actually work.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Return of the Brew Girl

So you might have wondered why I've been a bit quiet on the blogging front? No? Well, I'll explain anyway.

As you might have gathered, I currently work for Kelham Island Brewery in Sheffield. They've taught me how to brew and shown me the mysterious ways of the bizarre but quite wonderful beer industry. What you probably don't know is that I was taken on to set up a new brewery which in a joint project with Welbeck Abbey, near Worksop.

Over the past couple of months I've been starting to set up 'Welbeck Abbey Brewery', and have pretty much worked on it full time for the last month or so. The brewery is a 10 barrel kit which we'll be brewing on twice a week, hopefully establishing three core beers and then various series of monthly specials. More on that to come soon...

The village of Welbeck surrounds Welbeck Abbey which was built in about 1153 as a monastery, and after various centuries of use as an Abbey, came into the possession of a branch of the Cavendish family. It's been extensively redeveloped during this period, and many of the village buildings were built by the 6th Duke of Portland in the late 19th Century. The brewery is being installed in an old barn, which admittedly isn't as grand as the old stone buildings, but it's still pretty cool. I've set up a (rather rubbish ATM) blog to follow the progress of the brewery, but I'll be writing on here from a more personal angle.

It's a completely different world out there, everyone is incredibly relaxed and welcoming so I already feel part of their little community. Mad things happen though, like yesterday. I am working on a logo for the brewery and want to use the Bentink badge as that's the main family name really (after the Cavendish bit - it's very complex I think!), so I popped in to see Derek, Welbeck's archivist. Yes they have several historians/archivists. He was looking on Google for a good example of a Ducal Coronet, which is basically like a crown but specific for the title of Duke. He couldn't find one, so he donned some white gloves, fetched an tin hat box, and from this old box he produced the Portland Ducal Coronet. It is silver-gilt and is dated about 1820's I think. It's been worn at various coronations over the last 200 years. I took a photo in the viewing room. Mental.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The York

When I came to Sheffield as a wee excitable student in 2006, I passed a rather dingey looking yellow and black, 'Scream' pub in Broomhill. I remember it as a confusing and rather unpleasant place, with a terrible layout and horrid dark corners, peeling black paint work, and a pool table which seemed to take up most of the space. Being situated in the student Mecca for Sheffield Uni Freshers, surely this student pub, armed with it's super cheap spirits and nasty beer, couldn't go wrong?

It was awful, and most freshers quickly grew out of it. It eventually closed in about 2008. After a while it reopened as 'The Dove and Rainbow' which saw it reincarnated as a purple monstrosity, although it did have a good range of local ales on hand pull. Alas, neither the students nor the locals particularly took to this new place and it closed after a few months.

But wait! It has reopened for the third time after having lots of money spent on redevelopment by the new owners. It now belongs to a small groups of bars in Sheffield called the 'Forum Cafe Bars' - this includes some of the more upmarket places in town which the trendy kids frequent, like The Forum (didn't see that coming right?), the Old House, and The Common Room.

The York really fits into Broomhill perfectly, filling the gaping hole in the cafe/pub market for the older students, post graduates and 'Young Professionals'. It describes itself as a 'Victorian themed Cafe/Bar' and it has to be said that this fits the style incredibly accurately, in terms of decor, furniture, and food. Their website describes it perfectly...

The York's interior is an amalgamation of all three previous businesses with a modern and edgy twist. The walls are painted a rich dark blue with sections of heavy glazed green tiles both commonly used in the Victorian period. The pictures are a mix of gilt and wooden framed modern drawings and Darwin-esque style illustrations on actual Victorian newspaper. The heavy oak bar with canopy and hanging hops houses a huge array of divine wines, local and British hand pull ciders and ales including our very own porter and a whole host of wonderful spirits (the whiskey section is fabulous!).
They should not only be proud that the place looks incredible after not merely throwing money at it, but thoroughly soaking it through with giant buckets of cash, but it's good to see the thougt behind the theme isn't just cosmetic. The food is all seasonal and locally sourced, they have their own smokehouse at the back of the beer garden (I know!!), make their own breads jams and chutneys, and you can get real traditional Victorian English food with a modern twist, like scotch eggs and brawn.

The range of drinks on offer is fantastic, no matter what your taste is. Here's a quick run down...
  • There is always a good range of local micro brewery ales on their 6 hand pulls, along with their own 'Anvil Porter' from The Brew Company which is well worth a try.
  • Three ciders on hand pull
  • A collection of some of the best continental beers you can imagine
  • A good few premium lagers on draught
  • An excellent selection of Whiskeys complete with a map to tell you all about them
  • A huge list of wines from all over the world
  • More cocktails than you can shake a twizzle stick at
  • If you're a G&T fan, this place is heaven with a range of gins and tonics and the story behind the drink is explained.

During the day this pub is a busy cafe, serving pots of lose leaf teas in the traditional English way. They also have a selection of cakes and light lunches which makes this a perfect lunch time meeting place for their target audience - it probably wouldn't do anywhere near as well if it was just a pub-lunch type of venue.

To be honest, I could rave on, but I shan't. Even if the theme doesn't tickle your fancy, then at least go for the incredible range of drinks and excellent service which they come with. It's a bit 'yuppie', but that's what Broomhill needed, and it's always totally packed out which proves they've hit the nail right on the head.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Bete Noire

The Black Beast
The name of one of our long standing beers
A term used to describe something partcularly dark, sinister and nasty
Oh how all of this is true

I brewed a batch of Bete Noire last week, which will be rolling out the door at the end of this week. To say it's been a pain in the rump to brew would be an understatement.

This particular brew is very dark with black malt and roasted barley which makes it a lovely darkly malted, rich stout with a real caramel kick. At 5.5% it's one of our well known beers. A beer as dark as this isn't particularly hopped for aroma, mainly bitterness. These few pesky hops however, did cause rather an issue.

All was going well, I was brewing smoothly until about lunch time when I was ready to transfer the wort (the hot, unfermented beer) from the copper to the fermenting vessel - the last stage of the day.

I started the transfer and could hear the pump struggling after only a few minutes.
Turned it off
Turned it on
No joy
Turned it off
Turned it on
We're off!
Oh. No we're not

I cleaned the very very bunged-up hop filter, which is on the pipe line, and shoved it back in
Phew! All is well

So after that fiasco it was OK. For about 5 minutes. During these five minutes I thought to my little self 'so this is going to happen all the time, or worse, the hop filter at the bottom of the copper will get covered in hoppy schmush and I'll not be able to get any of the wort out'.

Oh how the pump struggles. The hop filter at the bottom of the copper is covered in hoppy schmush and I cant get any of the wort out.


What's the solution? Forcing the wort back up the line into the copper and blowing Oxygen through the filter to un-bung it. Oxygen is extremely flamable and would therefore not mix particularly well with anyone having a cigarette nearby (or perhaps would mix a little too well....boooooom).

I had to do the oxygen blasting business a couple of times, but after taking about three times the normal time to transfer, the wort was in the fermenter - woop woop!

Chapter two...

It's a week later and the beer didn't ferment fast enough. It was meant to ferment the sugar to give a 5.5% beer, which usually takes about 4 days. After 6 days it pretty much came to a halt so we have now given up. (It will be fine after conditioning though.....we hope). Unfortunately this has shoved our brewing schedule out by a day so we're now a bit behind.

So, Bete Noire. Appropriately named, me thinks.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Small Beer

Small beer. A beer for small people? This is something I was reading about the other day, and being a fan of brewing history, thought I'd share it with you. Apologies for not blogging FOREVER by the way, been terribly busy!

From what I gather, a 'small beer' was made from the second sparging of the original mash. What does that mean? After the barley grains were steeped in hot water and this liquid was collected it was used to make a strong beer. The soggy grains left would then have more hot water put through them to get as much of the remaining sugar out. This second lot of sugary water was then used to make a second, very weak beer.

So who drank this really weak beer and why did they even make it? The history of brewing dates back thousands of years when sanitation was poor and nasty water-borne bugs like cholera killed many people. It was known that the process of brewing involved boiling the water and adding hops which have antibacterial properties, which effectively made the water potable.

The problem was that to drink this 'safe' beverage all day, its consumers would quite probably end up trolleyed as it was high in alcohol content - not particularly conducive to a productive day. The medieval solution was a home-brewed 'small beer' which was given to children, women, and labourers. It was usually under 2%, and often under 1%ABV which meant it served the purpose of hydrating without intoxicating. Marvellous.

I fancy making a small beer. Make a lovely barley wine with the first runnings and then make a really low alcohol 'small beer' with the second. Maybe one day...

PS Apparently 'small beer' was also something to do with porridgey stuff which I don't understand, and it's also a term use to be mean about modern beer which tastes a bit like dishwater.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Part Maths, Part Art, Part luck.

After the last hop addition, the wort is finished and ready to ferment with the tasty yeast. We transfer it all to the fermenting vessel, leaving behind the squashy hops. It's dead important that the sugar content (specific gravity, or just gravity) of this wort is spot on, because it's the sugar which yeast turns to alcohol and we need the beer to be the correct ABV (we'll have worked this out before hand to use the right amount of malt etc). Boiling wort serves several main purposes, including developing hop bitterness, getting it clear, caramelising the sugars, and reducing it to enhance all the flavours.

After doing this, the gravity can often be to high because so much water has been evaporated. To correct this, we'll need to dilute it before fermentation. This dilution is called a 'hop sparge' because we sparge (spray on hot water, or liquor) through the hops and then also drain this liquor into the fermenter. Hopefully by doing it this way, we have collected up all the remaining wort and imparted lots of lovely hop aromas into the liquor- much better than just shoving in straight liquor. You can aim for a high gravity,meaning you'll have to do a hop sparge which extracts maximum hop flavours for a really aromatic brew.

So that's the hops.

Next is the dilution calculation step which is in theory a way of working out how much liquor to use in a hop sparge to give finished wort at the correct gravity. Although it is an actual calculation, we use a fiddle factor. The fiddle factor (which itself is frequently fiddled) tries to account for the amount of wort left in the pipe work and the hops, as this contains sugar and will contribute to the gravity.

In short, it varies so much between brews that it rarely works first time and often takes a couple of small hop sparges to get the gravity right. If we're really brave we might just cross our fingers and do one big hop sparge after working it out using a big fiddle factor. This is a bit risky though as over sparging means the wort gravity will be lower than intended.

So why is over sparging bad? Well the sugar is needed for fermentation, firstly in the fermenting vessel, and secondly during cask conditioning. To get beer at the right percentage, its essential that enough sugar is fermented during this first stage. We always ferment the beer to the right alcohol content in the fermentation vessel (or as close as we can), but there wont be as much conditioning in the cask because of the lack of remaining sugar. The reduced conditioning doesn't really make a significant difference to the alcohol content, but without this little extra fermentation the beer might be a bit flat. This is because fermentation gives you alcohol and carbon dioxide. The beer will be a little less sweet too, although these are two elements you might not really notice a difference in.

So a majorly over hop sparged beer might give you a flat, less sweet pint. I over hop sparged my special, I hope that's not too flat but I'm going to try it tomorrow and will let you know the verdict.

Friday, 14 January 2011

My First Brew

Today was a significant milestone in my brewing career - I brewed my own recipe at Kelham Island Brewery.

The sales chaps requested a '4% ish golden ale' which, being very vague, gave me a fairly free reign. I decided that I'd brew a slightly darker golden ale as we quite often brew very pale ones - a rich, deep golden ale I thought.

A couple of weeks ago I sat down and designed the beer. It took me a little while, firstly deciding what I'd like this beer to be like, and then working out what ingredients to use in what quantities which would a) produce my desired beer, and b) contain everything in appropriate proportions which would give a beer which 'worked'.

I opted for addition of crystal malt in the grist, which gives a characteristic subtle biscuity, toffee/caramel flavour. It also adds a little red to the beer. Crystal malt is lovely; the sugar inside the grains is crystallized, giving a sweet crunchy snack for us hungry brewers. It smells divine.

As for hop additions, I chose three varieties. For bitterness: Challenger which gives a good rounded but not overpowering bitterness. This is essential to balance the sweetness from the crystal malt. For aroma, I chose two different varieties. Firstly, Good ol' Goldings which are another UK variety with a rich, spicy aroma. This should add a real earthy depth in the aroma. Secondly, New Zealand Hallertauer Aroma which are also spicy but much lighter with a vanilla note which will lift the whole taste.

Now, that is the theory. How it will actually come out I don't know.

Brewing it today wasn't too bad. The Original Gravity was very high due to the sugar extract from the Crystal malt, so if we brew it again I'll have to take out some of the Maris Otter (basic malt which provides the sugar) and probably a wee bit of crystal. Unfortunately I over sparged the hops a wee bit, which means there will be less sugar left to ferment during conditioning. It should be OK, I just hope it isn't too flat! I shall write about hop sparging some time, but in a nutshell: If the sugar content is too high after the copper boil, it's important to dilute this wort to give the right amount of fermentable sugar. We do this by putting more hot water through the hops which are left after the copper has been drained. It also is useful for extracting more of the lovely aroma oils.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

A Real Ale Revolution

The real ale industry is undergoing a wee bit of a revolution in terms of its image and audience. With so many specialist micro breweries in existence, and the availability of more interesting and flavour-packed ingredients, beer has become a consumable which is fast becoming loved by 'foodies'. It seems commonplace to find many people drinking a wide range of real ales out of passion, appreciating them all week long and enjoying a diverse range. A stark difference to old habits of knocking back cheap lager or a standard session beer on a Friday night with the aim of getting bladdered.

The new-age of ale drinkers seem to be the younger generation, with many students and young professionals enjoying and taking an interest in the art of craft brewing. Its a long way from the stereotypical ale drinker image; bearded socks-and-sandals clad old blokes propping up the bar every night drinking the 'usual' session beer. Not that there is anything wrong with that style of drinker at all, that is.

So I've established that real ale is loved not only as a pint down the pub, but also consumed with interest and passion by the younger generation. These people, however, seem to still be predominantly male. There are plenty of women who share my passion for real ales, but no where near an equal number. So why?

Ladies, your thoughts please.

It's often said that women aren't too partial to the bitterness of hops, but enjoy sweeter, more aromatic beers. Many women say they don't like 'bitters', many more say they don't like beer full-stop. The lack of bitterness is often the reason women drink lagers rather than ales. Don't get me wrong, lots of us ladies love ale and the bitterness which comes with the territory, but even as a brewer I'm still not a massive fan of those extremely bittered beers. Dave Wickett, founder of Kelham Island brewery, designed the multi-award winning ale 'Pale Rider' based on this theory. He made it a pale, full bodied, aromatic ale with only a subtle bitterness to balance it. Often Pale Rider is liked by both ale and lager drinkers, and many women.

It's not just the taste though, an awful lot to do with the old image of beer and the fact that many breweries market their beer in a masculine way. They don't mean to, it's just not very feminine. As a female brewer, I don't want to tell women that they should enjoy beer because it's the best drink ever, but I would like to design a couple of ales which could be an option for those who wouldn't usually pick it. To get over the first hurdle these beers need an image which will appeal to women, after all, a drinker will often pick a beer based on pump clip and information provided. Once I've got them to order one of my beers, I've got to make sure they enjoy it and order again!

Girls, please let me know if you love beer, if you think you hate it, or if you're just indifferent. I'd love to know what you do and don't like about ales, and what you would or wouldn't enjoy.
"Hooray! An ale I actually want to drink!"

I'll have a ponder and see if I come up with any other theory than girls-don't-like-bitter.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

A Beer Fountain

Sounds exciting right? Suggests excitement, novelty and a little class? Rather thrilling in a similar manner to a chocolate fountain, or a champagne fountain?


Beer spewing out of the top of a tank under pressure and through a small tube is an impressive bubbly golden fountain, that's for sure. It is not however any of the following:
1) meant to happen
2) beer which is currently being consumed
3) beer which is ever going to be consumed
4) useful in any way, shape or form.

It is, however, all of the following:
1) an error
2) messy
3) cold
4) wasteful

I was transferring beer from a fermenter into two conditioning tanks, which is the last step before we fill the casks. The beer is conditioned in these tanks to make sure all the flavours develop fully, and any bits of protein and yeast are settled out to give a clear beer.

Now, we have 10 barrel conditioning tanks (1 brewers barrel = 36 gallons), and brew beer in batches of 20 or 30 barrels. The actual yield of beer after the fermentation is usually a bit lower than the original volume, so should easily fit into two or three conditioning tanks depending on the amount you brewed in the first place.

I was finishing the transfer of a 20 barrel brew into two conditioning tanks. Iain had started the job and filled one tank, but had to do something else after he'd started filling the second tank so asked me to keep and eye on it and stop it when it had finished. Normally, easy peasy lemon squeezy.

When the level of beer in the open topped fermenter (right) was nearing the bottom, I stood on the ladder and watched until it was all gone when I quickly switched off the pump which was moving it. You've got to make sure you don't let it transfer all the dead yeast and proteiny sludge which is at the bottom of the fermenter because this is not a tasty addition to beer. And the pump might not like it.

When transferring a volume of liquid into a closed tank (which conditioning tanks are), you've got to let the air pressure out otherwise it might damage the tank - eek!

Unfortunately, I'd not noticed that this particular batch was over 20 barrels and so shouldn't fit into two tanks. The consequence of allowing it all to be pumped into the conditioning tank was that beer was forced out of the top through the little valve which was open to let the air out, thus creating a lovely beery fountain.


To stop the fountain, I had to put the ladder against the tank - unfortunately disrupting the elegantly cascading pale rider, climb up it - head first into the beer, and close the valve.

Needless to say this rendered my spirits a little dampened, and made Matt's life a little harder as he had literally just finished hosing down the room to be spotless and beer free. Whoops.

The room pictured is the conditioning tank and racking room which is next to the fermenter room - hence not seeing the start of the fountain! It's a rubbish photo, but you can see Matt filling casks (racking) with beer from one of the tanks.

Note to self, must pay more attention when brewing.