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.