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.