Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Would you drink this?

Well, obviously you wouldn't.  Even I wouldn't and I bloody love hops, but this is more foliage than beer for even me to drink!

You may be wondering just why I've got a glass (or a polycarb, much safer in a brewery!) of what looks like grass cuttings swimming in... let's not go there.  Well, this is what us brewing types call a "tank sample" and is the first beer out of the conditioning tank, taken as a sample from the "racking wand" (contraption used to fill casks) because you don't want to be wasting time filling nicely washed and sterilised casks with beer which is only fit to tip down the drain.... no, you want to taste and smell the finished beer first, the final QC checks if you will, before it gets passed for packaging, so this is a very important job.

So, this is me QC'ing Waen Lemon Drizzle for casking.... obviously you can't take a mouthful, so you have to smell it first then strain some through your teeth!  Or, wait 5 minutes until the hops have settled and it's then a lot easier.... but who's got 5 minutes to spare, no us that's for sure!

All the hop debris and yeast settles out in the cask (aided by finings) so what you see at the bar - hopefully - doesn't resemble a tank sample, unless you're in a craft beer bar in London then it might look pretty similar to this...

Saturday, 4 February 2017

New clothing!

Well, it's about time.... we don't really do clothing as we don't have many options to sell it (we've not got time to post them out!) but we thought it was about time we had some more made as our brewing T-shirts and hoodies were showing signs of old age and, more worryingly, impending self-destruction....

So, here you go....  only for sale at the Brewery or, if arranged beforehand, from us at any meet the brewer / tap takeover / pub visit!  Just get in touch hops@hopcraftbrewing.co.uk to sort this out.

Front is the Hopcraft cog, back the new Soviet-esque design, guaranteed to annoy and confuse Cyrillic readers and professors of Russian history....

Collaboration with a difference.....

We've recently done a collaboration Sue from Waen along with the guys from Totally Brewed in Nottingham who, like us and Sue, aren't afraid of hops!

So, what better beer to brew, then, than a nougat porter???

We've used roasted rye to give a toasty, spicy edge and then added honey plus honey, chocolate and almond flavourings to give (what Gazza thinks for what that's worth) a beer which actually does smell and taste of nougat... well, honey at least!

There's not a lot of it about so get weaving if you want to try it!

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Look what's back!

Today we've rebrewed a beer which flew out last time, being a reserve SIBA cask champion medal winner, so with a new year's mission to keep more Waen beers on the list (and ours, obviously) we're cranking up production!

So, we give you Lemon Drizzle... a session beer with a big citrussy, lemony flavour.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Happy new beer!

.... to everyone who buys, drinks or otherwise engages with us!

This year, we hope, will turn a solid performance last year into a sustainable business, but that's not easy in the current brewing climate.  There's been a lot of talk on soshul meedya over the last few days about brewers going keg only and suchlike, so this is my take on it and what is wrong with the brewing industry as a whole.... other opinions are available, but these are mine!

As ever, if you disagree (or even agree!) please get in touch, we love to hear from our friends on any of the following; Facebook, Twitter or email.

Cheers, Gazza and Gav 

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Final brew of the year is done!

Well, today we brewed gyle 228.  We weren't planning to brew again this year but good sales in the last few weeks have meant that we'd be struggling for beer in January if we hadn't and, remembering last year, that's not something we want to do as it causes all manner of stress!

So, we cooked up our latest beer, so new it doesn't have a name yet, which is a pale with a variety of hops as we were using up the open bags we have lying around the conditioning room because, as any brewer worth his salt knows, open hops = cheesy hops.  And no-one likes cheesy hops...

All normal then, but at the dry hopping stage we'll be using a new test dwarf hop from the US, descriptively named ADHA-529, which promises in the hyperbole aromas such as "coconut, lemon and mint".... we'll be the judge of that methinks!  Hopefully it'll be similar to the mighty Sorachi Ace but not as dill-like, although we'll see how it pans out next year.

So, all that remains is to rack the final beers tomorrow (Golden Pixie, Grudge Match 7 and Temple of Love) then we're running out the clock until 2017!

Here's hoping next year is better for the small craft brewer than this one has been, but somehow I can't quite see it.... but we'll try and stick around and, more importantly, brew the beers that we - and hopefully you - want to drink.


Gazza and Gavin
The brewcrew.

Friday, 2 December 2016

New HLT element installed.... eventually!

Therein lies a story....

Our HLT (hot liquor tank, which supplies hot liquor (water) to the brewing process) has 3 x 9kw 3-phase heaters installed.  During spring - so long ago now I can't remember when exactly - one of these elements began to trip the electrics, then when we ignored it and reset the trips it began to noisily blow the main fuse on the control panel... so we isolated it, because in summer we don't need 3 elements to raise the temperature, 2 will do fine.

Wind time on to September and we are beginning to wish we'd had the work done earlier as mains water, and the ambient temperature, are dropping meaning the HLT has to be put on earlier to reach 82c in time for the brew, costing us more money outside the economy7 tariff!  
So, Gazza ordered a brand new element which duly arrived... and then sat in it's box for a month as we tried to arrange for it to be fitted.  The problem was our original electrician who set up the brewery had retired and next door (an electrical training place) was too busy to do the swap at the times we needed it done!  This may seem strange, but remember that to empty the tank of hot water costs money and is wasteful, so it's best to do the job on a Monday or Tuesday when the water has cooled down... which was the problem, as Iain couldn't do those days and at other times the tank was either heating up, being used in a brew, or full of hot water we didn't want to throw down the drain...

We considered doing the job ourselves, but one look at the 3-phase wiring put us off; mains is OK, but make a mistake with 3-phase and it's potentially fatal!  Luckily for us Dai, the retired electrician, happened to pop in one day this week and, in ten minutes, the project moved on further than it has during the last 3 months!  The new element is in, it now simply needs wiring up when Dai comes back... watch this space for more exciting element news!  

Here are some photos of the broken element, which is clearly very poorly....

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Two more Waen beers brewed!

Well, strictly speaking one is a collab between us and Sue, but there's no denying that Snowball, which we brewed last Thursday, is a Waen beer and one which is very much in demand going on the requests and hype which it's launch is generating... bloody hell, we'll be in the craft beer glitterati premier league at this rate!

First up was "Psycho Gene", a new beer concocted by Sue and Gazza to show a "down the middle" line between the two brewers' styles.... half and half Crisp best ale malt and Muntons propino, then a dab of German coloured malt and lots of our favourite hops from around the world before it was dry-hopped with the rare, expensive and deliciously fruity (blueberries!) Mosaic hop.... this should be a very flavoursome and tasty little number, weighs in at 4.6% and we can't wait to try it.

Next up was, to quote a well know "comedy" programme, something completely different....

Snowball is Sue's big imperial stout but one with a difference; this one contains cacao nibs, carob powder and coconut, making it quite a complicated brew!  Plus, Snowball has a reputation for misbehaving during the brewing process by sticking up filters, frothing over fermenters and suchlike, so you can imagine the brewday was seen with much trepidation!

Luckily everything went smoothly.... smoothly until the beer was in the fermenter and the final addition of sugar was made whereupon it went absolutely crackers and frothed all over the floor for ten minutes; well, it had to do something to live up to it's reputation!

Monday, 14 November 2016

Cold liquor tank working well.... just in time for Winter!

Well, we knew this was going to be the situation we found ourselves in, and in many ways it's quite amusing.... and in other ways quite annoying.....

It concerns our major project this year, the cold liquor tank, which would have been ideal to have been in service during the summer and autumn when mains water runs warm.  So what, you may say, who cares what temperature the water coming out of the tap is?  What does that matter?

Well, to that I'd say shut up and listen.....  most small brewers use mains water to power their plate heat exchanger (PHE or paraflow in brewer's parlance) which is a terribly useful and also quite mysterious device which takes in water and hot wort from the copper at one end, and spits out hot water and cold wort at the other.... quite how it does it remains a mystery to me (yeah, yeah, I could look it up but that would spoil the mystery, and I know the basics anyhow) but, and here's the crux of the matter, the PHE can only cool wort to "pitching temperature" (around 22°c for us, we run off warm then use the chillers on the FV to bring the temperature down to 18.5°c) at a speed governed by the temperature of the water coming in which, in Autumn, can reach almost 20°c which can mean running off 1500 litres of wort to FV can take almost 2 hours at a pitiful 12 litres a minute which means it's scarcely dribbling out of the aerator!

So, in steps our flashy CLT (cold liqor tank) which solves this problem by using a chiller unit to cool water stored in the 3200 litre bulk milk tank via a coiled copper tube immersed in said water.  This resulting cold water (at around 5°c rather than mains at over 10°c) means the PHE can cool the wort much faster and has reduced the 1500 litre transfer time down to 40 minutes or so, a massive saving in time and much less standing around for us....

However, as you'd expect, in Winter the mains water starts to become a lot colder and the water can - in Jan and Feb in particular - be entering the brewery at around 6 or 7°c which means we don't really need the CLT!  Saying that, at present it's bringing our cold liquor down to nearly 5°c which is very impressive and means, for now at least until the weather gets really cold, we can transfer in just over half an hour at 37.5 litres a minute!  

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Cask "deep cleaning"....

Giving something a "deep clean" is a somewhat trendy thing to do these days for reasons unknown, but if it's good enough for hospitals and kebab shops then it's good enough for Hopcraft towers and our stock of casks!

For the past 3 years we've followed the cask washing mantra of...

1) steam clean cask with 130 degree steam from the Karcher
2) visual eye / nose inspection of cask
3) if it passes, then it's taken inside for filling (rinsed with peracetic first)
4) if it fails, then it's washed again, tested again, and if it still fails the residue / rancid aroma test then the cask will be filled with caustic solution and left to sit for a few days before being emptied, rinsed and inspected again.... 

Before being filled with beer the casks are peracetic rinsed to sterilise them and flushed with CO2 to hopefully evict as much oxygen as possible to prevent staling in cask.

Now, however, we've added an additional step after the cask is brought inside for filling of giving every cask, if possible, a kegbrite wash followed by a water rinse.  Kegbrite is a chemical which is designed to remove hop residue and other baked on crap from inside casks - and if you've looked inside as many as I have you'll know how much potential for crap there is inside casks - which can only, hopefully, improve our final product's stability and shelf-life further.

So, the policy of "permanent revolution" rumbles on, pushing it's nose into all aspects of the brewing process, and I for one welcome it.... and so should our customers with better beer leaving the brewery!

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The return of the beast.... and it's offspring!

Dark muscovado sugar isn't that easy to acquire, let me tell you.... the best place I know to buy it is at Lembas in Sheffield so when I happened to be in town delivering beer, a quick visit was in order!

Two 25kg bags of Billingtons dark Muscovado were duly acquired.  One is for "Spanish Main", our monster of a tropical stout with added sugar and peppercorns, then the other is for a new project we're planning, "Queen Anne's Revenge", which is a pale ale with the same rummy sugar (and maybe peppercorns too!) for a tropical pale ale....  if such a thing exists.  Which it does now....

So, in a couple of weeks we'll be brewing up QAR and then, at a time in the future as yet undetermined, it's bastard offspring will be brought into the world!

Big day of racking, then we brew!

This week we racked (put into cask and keg) four beers, which even allowing for the casks being pre-washed is a fairly big job for a day when you take into account all the other stuff we have to do on a day to day basis too!

Anyhow, we now have March of the Giants 5.1%, We Come in Peace 4.4%, Grudge Match 6 3.9% and Waen Chilli Plum Porter 5.5% all packaged and ready for sale... I say ready for sale but around 50% of that lot has been sold already and is either out of the door or preparing to leave!

So, an easier day today brought forth the latest brew of a perennially popular beer which is being asked for more and more; shame we don't have the hops to brew it more often really!  Citra Plus was originally brewed as a one-off back in 2014 as part of the "plus" series of beers which showcased some of our favourite hops, and was then quietly forgotten.... until we began to get emails from Scotland asking for it to be brewed again!

So, never ones to shy away from pleasing our customers, we "rebooted" the recipe (note the modern parlance here, we're so yoof) in line with current hop diktats and, lo and behold, Citra+ appeared blinking from it's cocoon for a new lease of life! We've since brewed it again, and this is the third time in 4 months... someone must like it, and indeed it seems that Glasgow and Edinburgh are the target markets for this lusciously mangoey brew!  Who'd have thunk it???!!!

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Latest Waen beer brewed today!

It's our third time of hosting Sue Hayward of Waen to brew her beers on our brewery, and this time there was no pressure as it was her multi award-winning Lemon Drizzle, which contains neither lemons nor drizzle it turns out....

Lots of American, German and New Zealand hops, English pale malt and yeast... that's it!  It's currently sitting in FV3 and we're hoping it'll be out and about in a couple of weeks when, hopefully, it'll pass the all-important test of tasting like the original!

Next up we're planning a re-run of "54-46" with Calypso (and other) hops.... 

LD transferring into FV3....

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Two new beers!

We have two new beers on the way from the brews of this week and last, both interesting (we hope!) and both never brewed before!

First up we have "March of the Giants", a 4.9% very pale brew with Kent-grown hops of Japanese origin; Toyomodori!  These were developed by Kirin in Japan but discontinued in cultivation due to problems with downy mildew, but after a spell of being used for breeding are now being grown around the world again and we thought we'd give them a go!  They give a hefty bitterness and a hint of tart raspberry which we're hoping to accentuate with some German Huell melon hops as the dry-hop... if we can get any, that is!

Second is "Magnum Chaos", a brew whose aim was mainly to do a bit of store (hop) cupboard cleaning!  Containing a right old selection of hops, including German Magnum (obviously!), New Zealand Green Bullet, US Cascade and UK Bramling Cross, this 5% or so brew will be more balanced yet still with the hop hit you expect from us....

Next week sees the third Waen brewery beer, "Lemon Drizzle", plus a return of the always popular and perennial favourite "Corazon de Oro".... oh yes!!!

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Toyomodori : Japanese hops, grown in Kent....

That's what we're brewing with today! Here's what we know about them from literally minutes of internet research...

"Produced in Japan for Kirin Brewery Co in 1981 and released in 1990, Toyomidori has since been largely discontinued due to problems with downy mildew. It was developed alongside Kitamidori and Eastern Gold as a high alpha variety but was the least successful of the three in this respect.

Toyomidori is a cross between Northern Brewer and a Wye male and is also the parent of Azacca, the male parent is an open pollinated Wild American hop developed as "OB79" at Wye College"

I'd heard lots of good things about them so, after managing to secure 10kg from Simply Hops, I was feeling rather pleased with myself... but then a brewer I respect told me that he'd been massively underwhelmed by them and had ended up dry-hopping with Simcoe to give his beer some character! So, mixed signals then....

On opening, we've discovered they're just as British as feared.... green tea, raw tobacco, dust and a vague hint of something; not great at all!  But, I'm sure we'll coax something out of them, probably by dry-hopping with something decent like Simcoe like Mr Queally!

Red twigs!

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

New cold liquor tank installed!

Well, after a few months of "managing" with our 1000 litre IBC acting as a cold liquor tank, we've finally plumbed in and commissioned our massive new 3200 litre monster!  This will enable us to chill 2 8 barrel brews (or pretty much any other amount if we top it up!) and save us in the region of 20 to 30 minutes per brew which has, as you can imagine, caused great jubilation at Hopcraft Towers!

There's a few minor things we need to fix once it's been emptied by tomorrow's brew, but all in all it's passed it's tests and is currently busy chilling down 2000 litres of water in preparation for tomorrow when we brew our pale ale with Toyomidori hops...

Those who own and work in breweries will know exactly why we're very happy about this tank, others may not quite grasp the importance; if not, just imagine installing an app on your phone which made your working day 30 minutes shorter... see, it's magic!

The CLT with associated pump and chiller unit

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

New cold liquor tank arrives....

Our present CLT (cold liquor tank) is a 1000 litre IBC which, whilst very welcome in summer, doesn't hold enough cold water to cool a full 8 barrel brew from boiling to 21°c, meaning we need to use (currently tepid) mains water for the final third of the transfer which subsequently takes the same time to run through as the initial 2/3 of the wort owing to the mains water currently being 15°c or so.... in winter it's not an issue, but between May and November it certainly is.... hence we have a cold liquor tank!

Well, despite it being a big improvement on not having one (as we were for the first 2 summers) we've grown weary of the tank's shortfall in cold water so we have acquired a 3200 litre monster from Waen brewery which has an integrated coil to cool the water - our current one has plastic pipes bodged together - so we will be able to run off a full 12 barrel brew in hopefully around an hour, with 8 barrels taking 40 minutes or so, saving us at least 20 minutes standing around on a brewday!  It's actually a bulk milk tank so made from thick plastic although we'll wrap it in insulation foil to keep the cold in.

We've also got the requisite fittings to connect the tank up, so once we've brewed the two beers this week we'll be cleaning it out and rigging it up next week, photos to follow!

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Two dark beers brewed in a week!

This isn't a usual occurrence here at Hopcraft Towers, but this week the planets have aligned just right and we've found ourselves brewing an oatmeal porter and a hoppy US amber on consecutive days!

We always try, amongst the favoured pale and hoppy brews, to have one dark and one red/amber brew on the list as, strangely, not everyone likes hops or pale beers; weird, I know, but we aim to pander to most tastes...  Just as long as said tastes don't involve brown beers full of twigs, in which case there are thousands of brewers just clamouring to sell you theirs so we don't bother!  Anyhow, our dark beers are getting good reviews and, more importantly, they make the brewery smell really nice when they're being made!

So, this week, we're reprising two brews from last year which Gazza thought worked particularly well and are worthy of a second airing, albeit with carefully refined recipes, obviously!  First up will be our US Amber ale, "We Come in Peace", which is unashamedly big, brash and full of crunchy malt and solid, juicy, resinous hops, namely Columbus and Chinook.  The bitterness is high to punch through the maltiness and the overall result is a smack in the chops with a biscuit covered in hops!

Thursday sees the production of our Oatmeal porter, "Dark Underbelly", which is packed full of all manner of malted cereals (oats, barley and wheat) plus lots of toasty dark malts from Germany and the UK to give a smooth, silky and deliciously flavoured beer with just the gentlest dab of hops; this time the hops have been simplified to the European duo of German Magnum and French Brewer's Gold and we're letting the complex malts do all the talking... which, after all, is what this style of beer is all about.

Two dark beers in a week?  Unheard of!!  We'd best start planning some hoppy ones to make up for it, I reckon.... anyone up for some "Mate Spawn and Die"? 

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Brewing for friends

Tomorrow we're doing friends a favour and helping them out by brewing one of their beers for them... this isn't a rare occurrence in the brewing industry, far from it, but this beer has extra significance for me as it's the one Waen brewed straight after our first collaboration together, "Whatever", and I still feel a little bit of me is in there somewhere! 

Anyhow, Sue will be on hand to show us how it's done, so here's hoping we can make as good a job of it as she does.... although looking at the hops in it I don't think we'll have much of a problem!

Friday, 26 August 2016

Back to earth with a crash.....

Well, after our amazing weekend brewing in Haarlem on a brewery so advanced it actually brews by itself.... it's computer controlled, it can mash in, sparge, transfer, boil and get rid of spent grain all by itself!  The brewers start it off at 01:00 then, by the time they arrive at 06:30, it's just starting it's 3rd brew....

Enough of that, we're firing up our Heath Robinson kit today to brew up a batch of something we've not done since November 2013!  OK, the recipe has been savagely butchered and it's quite different than the original, but the ethos of the beer lives on.... we pride ourselves in trying to continuously improve all aspects of our brewing practices, and this beer is about what we're doing now!

So, welcome back "Permanent Revolution", an amber "Little IPA" which has plenty of Cascade, Columbus, Centennial and Summit hops to match the malt and hopefully will become more of a regular as we REALLY like the pumpclip :)