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...).


  1. Wonderful stuff! You're a star!

  2. That makes me feel so much better (sorry!) When I moved onto my new kit at home, I also endured many teething problems. Every brew seemed like amateur hour. I can only imagine what it must feel like on a commercial scale. Once your gremlins are ironed out, it will be fab I'm sure. Well done!!!

  3. New kit is always fun.

    Things to be thankful for

    1- You didnt end up with a stuck mash, nothing raises stress levels and brewer frowns like a couple of hours of jurassic paced run off alternating with under letting.

    2- you didnt boil over the kettle. Pain for a homebrewer , potentially leathal for a probrewer.

    Always look on the brightside!

  4. You've brought a smile to my face! Both of those are true. I also avoided falling into/out of any vessels which is a bonus.

    Brewed yesterday and it all went fairly well, fingers crossed it comes out well!