Monday, 24 July 2017

Another meet the brewers - Artisan, Buxton

We've got quite a few meet the brewers planned at the present moment, with Derby and Edinburgh coming up soon... for now, however, we headed off to the lovely Derbyshire town of Ashbourne where Artisan is located, the bar run by Paul Duke of the most excellent Dukes Ales beer wholesalers of Buxton.

The event was ticketed and held upstairs in an amazing room with huge crux beams; apparently it's the second oldest building in town!  We presented (talked about, then rambled on about all manner of subjects) 7 of our beers in order...

  • Hopcraft Ghost in the Circuit (cask)
  • Hopcraft / Waen Bumper to Bumper (keg)
  • Hopcraft Wolf (cask)
  • Waen Lemon Drizzle (keg)
  • Waen Pamplemousse (cask)
  • Hopcraft Campania Neapolitan milk stout (keg)
  • Waen Snowball (white chocolate and Raspberry edition) (cask)

One amusing incident was when everyone laughed when Sue said "cock".... apparently there had been a sweepstake on when she'd say it!

With pretty much universal good responses from the knowledgeable and engaged audience who asked questions, listened and showed appreciation when required!  The whole thing took a couple of hours and finished, once the last customers had left, with a lot of gin, rum and a bottle of very rare Buxton beer!  

Next morning involved a very good quality and large full English before the drive back to Wales...hard work, this meet the brewers lark!

obligatory van selfie (with Twigs!)

Obligatory "pre mtb" selfie

Explaining something or other

Sue telling em how it is

Gazza with owner Paul Duke...

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Little piece of history!

When we started the brewery, almost 5 years back, we spent a freezing night in a caravan up in deepest Norfolk to "assist" with the takedown of the old Iceni brewery and transport it down to Wales to form our brewkit.... and if you go right back to the beginning of this blog there are lots of photos of us doing just that!

So what, you might say, big deal.  Well, I mention that as this document recently surfaced in a box of old beery stuff, the original flyer for when Brendan Moore set up Iceni brewery in 1995!  It's a piece of history and important to us as it shows the lineage of our brew plant and things are in a constant state of flux in the industry....

Anyhow, here it is, and it's important to Hopcraft as it's a large part of our day to day life... and shows how times change!  When Brendan brewed on it he made bitters and suchlike, whereas the output now is so different!

Monday, 10 July 2017

Golden Lion, Penarth, Meet the Brewer.....

When people think of meet the brewer events they generally turn to the more well-known and craft-friendly pubs such as the Craft Beer Company in London.  The actual reality of most meet the brewer events is that they are held in a pub which doesn't really want the brewer there, customers who are too pissed to notice and a general feeling of anticlimax and irrelevance...

Well, not this one!  Gazza and Sue did a meet the brewer in the classic back street boozer of the Golden Lion in Penarth with 4 of our beers available and we stuck around until the last train back to talk to the locals about all things beer.

So, not the glitzy highlife most people imagine when they think of a meet the brewer, but in some way much more rewarding as instead of beer geeks we got to talk to down to earth drinkers about what they liked, and didn't like, about the beer!

Sunday, 9 July 2017

New Slovenian hops

Here at Hopcraft we generally use "new world" hops.  This means those from the USA, Australia and New Zealand, although we do carefully select some European hops which we particularly like and even some British ones, especially now the development of new varieties has started to yield results!

Slovenian hops are used extensively in the UK but are one of those which go under the radar with most drinkers and beer lovers knowing little to nothing about them.. Most are based on the venerable (or, depending on your opinion, awful) British Fuggle hop which now - thankfully - taste nothing like them but are still not particularly exciting in the fruity, interesting new world style.

Well, there are some new kids on the block now and they're aiming for a slice of this lucrative market which the new world has had to themselves for a long time.  Step forward, then, a country you'd probably not associate with hop growing but is in fact a big player in the European market and looking to climb the table.... Slovenia.

Slovenia is best known for it's beautiful capital, Ljubljana, and - in beer spheres at least - the Styrian golding aroma hop which comes in various types and strengths.  Now, thanks to alliances with UK hop merchant Charles Faram, new interesting varieties are being planted, grown and evaluated with the most promising planted up for "field trials" and sale.

Two new varieties which have come through this process are Cardinal and Wolf.  Cardinal is more a dual purpose hop with a fruity nose which is quoted as "Apple, Pineapple, Tropical fruits (passion fruit), Strawberries, Anise" and certainly smelt pretty good!  The star of the crop, however, is Wolf which is a bit of a fruit bomb and got a few approving nods from the brewing team when we broke up the cones!  The official blurb promises " Blueberries, Melon, Raspberries, Elderflower, Violet" and, to be fair, many of those were present although it was pure coconut which caught the eye (or nose?) during our first testing of the hop in cask.... but it's the full-on dry hopping test we're looking forward to more!

So, look out for "Wolf", our Slovenian beastie.... one shot only unless it's really well received then we may have to look at a repeat!

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Light blue touchpaper....

Dry hopping is, in general, a pleasurable experience and one of the nicer jobs in the brewery.  For one, you get to smell lots of lovely hop pellets, and even sneak the odd one to rub between your fingers to release the oils and get to the true soul of the hop, and for another it's not (generally) a dirty or strenuous job unless the CT decides to spray you with yeast and/or beer.

This dousing is a very rare occurrence but sometimes, generally if the hop pellets are powdery or loose, the many bits entering the beer will create "nucleation points" which draw the CO2 out of the beer and creates a sudden, sometimes violent, gushing of froth which can catch you unawares if you're gazing reverently into the tank and not watching out for it.... not that I ever do that you understand.

But what are "nucleation points"?  Well, you could always do the usual thing and Google it, but the best example is to imagine a dirty glass into which you pour beer (or any carbonated drink)... the sides of the glass suddenly become covered with bubbles which the dirt is bringing out of suspension.  The other commonly seen manifestation are the new-fangled lager glasses which create a stream of bubbles from the bottom of the glass; this serves no purpose except to look pretty and make the beer go flat extra-quickly, but it's caused by a dimpled bottom (fnarr) which, as you've probably guessed, brings the CO2 out of solution and creates the stream of bubbles.

So, here's what happened tonight when I dry-hopped Waen Pamplemousse in CT7.... it wasn't a particularly violent emission but kept going for a while!  And remember kids, never return to a CT if it goes out, it might go off in your face.  Fnarr.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Too hot to brew!

I'm sure you've noticed that it's been really hot the last week or so.  

Now this might be a minor inconvenience at work normally, but in a brewery it causes many more problems... chillers are working overtime and frequently pack in, beer is at the wrong temperature and acts differently than usual, and the whole place is like a giant oven when the gas burners under our copper are on.... 40c+ isn't unusual upstairs.

So, this week, we decided to drop one of the brews planned as it was just too hot.... but, mitigatingly, we also had a massive amount of other stuff to do as well, so much that it filled the day completely so I've no idea how we'd have brewed even if we'd wanted to!!!

So, tomorrow (as it's a lot cooler) we're back on track and will be reprising an old favourite which hasn't been seen for a good few years....

Then next week, to catch up, we might have to brew 3 times!  

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Festival deliveries....

Festivals, eh?  It's the season for 'em!

Fire in the Mountain is held in the middle of pretty much nowhere near Aberystwyth in mid Wales and, thanks to our super sales bod Ms Hayward with the important contacts, today we dropped 21 casks off for the thirsty festivalgoers to get stuck into!

Delivery was surprisingly painless which isn't always the case at such events; obviously they have people who really know what they're doing... so, within 15 minutes, I was back out onto the narrow lanes to brave oncoming tractors, sheep and all manner of other hazards!

Monday, 22 May 2017

There's worse jobs....

Picking gorse flowers for our spring collaboration beer with Sue Hayward of Waen brewery, "Bumper to Bumper", is a bit of a mixed bag of a job... it gets me out of the brewery for a while into the country but, even wearing rigger's gloves, the gorse still managed to inflict some nasty holes in my hand!  As you can imagine, some choice words were uttered in the bush's direction on more than one occasion....

Anyhow, here's a few photos of me in action as it were.... and the beer is lovely too, we're brewing another batch this week as the first went so quickly and we're being asked for more!  Result....

picking at Pencoed common, South Wales

View from picking site on the Waen, Trefeglwys, Mid Wales

Sunday, 21 May 2017

1825 litres of milk stout...

Ask any old bloke about milk stout and, generalising vastly here, his eyes will twinkle as he remembers drinking Mackesons from cask when "he were a lad", but will then probably bemoan that it's not available any more on draught and rarely in bottles....

Well, tell him from me that he knows sod all.... milk stout is currently one of the trendy styles and is popping up everywhere from small brewers eager to brew something without a load of expensive hops in for once!  All you need is a sack of lactose.... and to know how to brew it, which obviously helps.

We're finding the demand for "Profits of Doom", our milk stout, growing each time we make it and so, just as we are selling the final few casks from the last brew we did a few months back, we're making it again!  Gazza has tweaked the recipe yet again but has been heard to say that we're almost there with this one.... which is, in itself, a rarity as he's always fiddling about with the beers trying to get them "just right".....

We're going to be releasing variants of the brew as is our way; "Campania", our famous Neapolitan milk stout, is flavoured to taste just like a pint of Neapolitan ice cream; yes, really, it does!  We also do a maple syrup edition and this time there will be a very limited cold steep coffee one as the test keg went down so well at our tap takeover at the Craft Beer Company in London the other month....  These last two are by special order so you'll need to be very lucky to catch them!

Adding the lactose

A very full fermenter!

Friday, 12 May 2017

Help on call!

This week has been a long, hard one.  Fnarr.

Gav has been away since last Thursday and so I've been prepared for a week of hard work with Sue Hayward helping out with the two brews planned - both Waen beers - Lemon Drizzle and Snowball... but then, on Sunday afternoon, Sue's knee decided to throw a knee-shaped spanner in the works meaning I'd be all by myself on a week where lots and lots was planned...... not good, for either of us! (get well soon Sue!!!)

So, being the ever resourceful and lazy person I am, I decided to ask for some help in order to complete the veritable mountain of stuff planned for the week.  At one point I thought we'd have to abandon one (or both) of the brews but, as I write this on Friday evening, everything which was planned for the week was accomplished in a more or less perfect fashion!

So, to recap, this week we washed 50 casks, filled them up with beer, had a good chat with Colin from West by Three brewery, brewed 2400 litres of Lemon Drizzle and 1700 litres of Snowball and completed the beer duty return... plus lots of other stuff too numerous to mention.  

I was lucky to have the help of Alex Oliver (who is setting up Space Cadet brewing in the near future) for the Lemon Drizzle brew - that was one busy day! - and then Wil Wild (who worked for Waen) for the Snowball one; I couldn't have done it without them so thanks guys!

Luckily, Gav is back next week, so some sense of normality will (hopefully) return!

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Beginner's mistake....

Concentrate.  Do it properly or don't do it at all..... yeah, yeah......

Late evening cleaning of conditioning tanks is all well and good, but when you're tired and put the bucket under the wrong tank when you're flushing out the spent hop pellet sludge isn't really a position of strength.  Then, to compound it, don't listen to what's going on (in my defence, the chiller unit is bloody loud....) so you don't hear the gunk splashing all over the floor until the chiller goes off, you look down, and see the floor is swimming with green goo.....  yeah, lovely.  Just what I needed.

(and I know it looks brown but that's the lights!)

Sunday, 30 April 2017

What wet bank holiday Sundays are made for....

... well not really, but we've got a short week coming up.... it's a bank holiday (not that it matters running your own business, I'll still be here, plus Gav is in too!) then Gav is away for 10 days from Thursday meaning we've got to get 60 casks washed by Tuesday to fill up with lovely beer, I'm (hopefully) collecting brewing ingredients and some more shiny new casks, then we're brewing 2400 litres of Golden Pixie Wednesday, before I'm off delivering in Liverpool and Kirby with Sue Hayward... so, as you can see, we've got drastic "time pressures" this week!

So, in order to ameliorate said pressures, I'm washing casks on a rainy Sunday.... not how most people spend their bank holiday weekends but, hey, I'd rather do this that go to Ikea! 

Monday, 24 April 2017

Tap Takeover at the Craft Beer Co, Clerkenwell

It's a big thing for a brewer, a tap takeover, as you're there at the bar with all your beers being poured for thirsty (and sometimes critical) customers and there's nowhere to hide (except the toilet, but they even corner you in there to talk beer as I found out)....

Hopcraft have a long association with the Craft Beer Co, having sold them beer from the start of our existence, but we've never before been asked to do a tap takeover / meet the brewer at one of their pubs; in case you don't know, this is pretty much the equal of a musician being asked to play a gig at a massive arena they know well and have seen bands perform at.... scary, yet exhilarating, and giving a sense of having arrived somewhere, wherever that may be, but it's something you don't turn down as it's a one-shot opportunity.

We had to send 15 cask and 14 keg beers to the event and so saved up beer for a month or so beforehand, selecting brews we thought might showcase us in our best light.  We also indulged ourselves in making up some one-off creations such as maple syrup milk stout, dandelion and burdock porter and and extra dry-hopped version of our CF127 UK experimental hopped beer amongst others.

So, 29 beers in all, with a few cask/keg repeats, were packed onto pallets, wrapped, and dispatched to central London for the event.... only to be told the next day by our haulier that there was a market in the streets around the pub (which we'd not been told about when arranging the delivery) so the beers would have to be delivered Thursday, meaning they'd have less time to settle for the event.... which should be no problem for our beer as it drops quickly, but still an annoyance and something we should have avoided really.

Then, out of the blue that evening, we had a message from the manager of the pub saying that beer we were launching on the tap takeover, our 250th brew "Another day closer to the Grave", had only arrived in keg and there was no cask... searching the pallet sheets we saw we'd accidentally (building pallets in a rush is never a good thing believe me) loaded two casks of "East Bay Pilgrimage" instead of one of that and one of Brew 250!  ANY of the other beers and we'd have been able to say fine, we'll credit for the missing cask, but we were launching this beer so it had to be there in cask; a frantic phone call to our haulier the next morning and we were sorted with the single cask on a tiny pallet making it's way down to London in an expensive but very necessary piece of making things right!

So, Saturday saw Gazza and Sue Hayward (plus Twiggy, the Hopcraft brewery cat) set off for Reading with a full van of beer to drop at the Nag's Head before taking the train to London and then, after a tube shambles where everyone seemed to have a different idea as to what was happening due to a closure on the Circle line, we eventually arrived in Clerkenwell where the pub - and outside drinkers - were bathed in an unearthly golden sunlight... a good omen for the rest of the day, I hoped...

In the end, it turned out that Bacchus was smiling on us... the event took place, we sampled all the beers, and I was pretty happy with all of them with a few being extremely satisfying to drink, the cold steep coffee rye stout being a particular highlight.  Even more satisfying, however, are the comments from drinkers who are sampling the beers and telling you how much they (hopefully) like them or (occasionally) dislike them.... to be treated like brewing celebrities doesn't happen very often, but it did on Saturday 22nd in Clerkenwell and, for a day, it felt like we'd arrived on the big stage.  We even, on the way back to Paddington, called in on Craft Beer co Covent Garden for the simultaneous Vibrant Forest tap takeover; now there's dedication.

Then it was back to the real world and paying every penny we owe to the government in beer duty.... but still, for one glorious day, we were rockstar brewers.... 

Tom Cadden, head honcho at Craft Beer co

photo - Steve Cassidy

Twiggy hard at work

"bloody hell, I helped make those!"

18 pints for the stag do upstairs....

we were happier than we look.

That's more like it!

Cask lineup

Keg lineup

Beer being poured

Nice bit of sales!

Monday, 17 April 2017

Gorse beer!

Last week we brewed a beer with a seasonal ingredient, one which we've thought about using for a while but have only now finally got around to it.... fascinating, eh?

This, then, is our latest collaboration with Sue Hayward (Sue the Brew, of Waen Beers) and we've created something quite unusual and very distinctive as we generally do.... our track record speaks for itself!

Gorse flowers, at their best in spring, smell of melon and coconut, reminiscent of the amazing Sorachi Ace hop, so it was only right that we paired the two together in a golden beer which, hopefully, will end up tasting of coconut (note - done a gravity test today and, indeed, it tastes of coconut!) and therefore will be bloody marvellous...

We've been beaten to the sorachi/gorse thing by Cromarty brewing who did a saison a few years back (and freely gave advice on the use of gorse, many thanks guys!) and Farmageddon brewing co-op but coming second (or, actually, third!) has never been a big problem for us and, therefore, we present to you "Bumper to Bumper", our spring gorse pale ale!

Finally, here's a quick note for anyone who, for some bizarre reason, doesn't know what "Bumper to Bumper" means...   just crank it up!! :) 

Adding the gorse flowers - and a little prick!

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Brew 250!

Well, it's taken us almost 4 years to get to this point, but today we brewed our 250th batch of beer! This means, roughly, we've made nearly 500,000 litres of beer since we started brewing, which is such a huge number I can't quite believe it we've done it...

Well, we have... or, at least, something close to that and no, I can't be bothered to work out the total production, not even adding up our HMRC submissions! You'll just have to believe me when I say we've made almost half a million litres of beer....

Brew 250 is a golden ale using 25kg of light brown sugar in addition to the best ale malt, wheat malt and Carapils, and hopped with Galaxy, Columbus and Dr Rudi... we've not decided what to dry hop it with yet but it'll be something rather tasty I'd guess.

So, here's to the next 250 brews... we'll try to stick around if you guys keep on drinking what we make!  I feel that the quality of beer leaving the brewery has never been higher and we promise to keep on with our policy of "Permanent Revolution" to keep improving everything about the beer and brewing... 

Thanks are also due to our past members of staff without who we probably wouldn't be here, so massive thanks to Jay and Ash!  Also we'd like to thank those who we've collaborated with and have generally helped us out along the way... there's too many to list, but you know who you are... cheers.

So, from Gazza, Gav and Sue, cheers and keep the faith!

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!