Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Dry-hopping in the FV.... a messy activity!

Well it can be!  We've recently moved from dry-hopping all our beers in CT to dry-hopping in FV primarily with some beers getting a second dose in CT as well... double dry-hopping they call it nowadays I hear!

The issue with FV dry-hopping is that it's done with the beer is at fermentation temperature when it is still fermenting, albeit activity is tailing off and is around 20c.  OK, you may think, what does that matter?  Well, quite a lot....

If you look at the graph below you'll see that CO2 is much less soluble in warm liquids than cold ones, meaning, basically, that the liquid can hold less CO2 in solution at a higher temperature.  As the beer is fermenting there is still a lot of CO2 being produced by the yeast and it's bursting to get out of the liquid one way or another.

This would all be fine, but we're about to add the dry hops; when hop pellets are added to the beer they break down into constituent little bits of hop which create millions of "nucleation points"; these sound great but are actually a massive pain in the arse for a brewer... picture those lager glasses in pubs which have a stream of bubbles coming up from the bottom; if you examine these you'll see there is a printed area or blob of glass which acts as a nucleation point to bring CO2 out of solution and therefore forms the stream of bubbles... now transpose that thought into millions of little nucleation points (the bits of hop) and you can imagine how much CO2 is suddenly brought out of solution, and it's got to go somewhere!

So, with all this CO2 suddenly being released out of solution and the yeast head still sticky and prominent, the beer froths up.  Sometimes it overflows the FV and goes everywhere, at other times it's a bit more subdued!  We tried a new technique today of adding a portion of the hops first (20%) to get things started and then planned to add the rest 10 minutes later but, after nothing happened, we threw the rest of the bag in thinking that was that.... bad mistake!  Suddenly the yeast head on the FV began to churn and bubble alarmingly, then started to rise.... and rise.... and rise.... until it reached the very top of the vessel, but luckily for us any repetition of previous yeast sweeping from the floor below was prevented as the photo below is as far as it got before receding back!

Lesson learned, add a bit first then wait half an hour!



Monday, 12 February 2018

CAMRA, a chance for change?



Gazza, supporting Tiny Rebel? What's that all about then?

OK, we haven't always got on and as companies we don't see eye to eye for various reasons... but here Brad speaks a massive amount of sense (although he's maybe a bit of a moderate for the likes of me 😉) and what he's saying is, in my opinion, pretty much exactly what the brown beer society - aka CAMRA - need to do in order to survive in the current fast-moving and, to them, increasingly alien - and fizzy - beer world.

I'd vote for Brad if I was in CAMRA and I am actually vaguely considering rejoining just to vote for him, a la Corbyn... So, please read his manifesto, ALL of it, and then tell me it doesn't make a huge amount of sense to start from zero over again rather than doff the cap to the hardliners who don't want change and consider anything more modern than 4.2% brown beer with a few fuggles in heresy.

As a vaguely progressive brewer I love cask ale and feel that most of the beers we brew, which are mainly hoppy pale ales in the 4.5-5.5% range - are best served from a (well looked after) cask, but freely acknowledge that keg/can/bottle all have their place and there are plenty of beer styles which just don't work in cask but shouldn't be shunned because they are packaged in keg/can/bottle and, in the case of most small brewers, unfined/unpasteurised and tick all the "real" boxes except for containing the dreaded "bad" CO2 (force carbed rather than container conditioned!)

Fundamentally, IMO and that of many others who know what's going on in the industry, beer quality is the key to cask beer's survival as if it's no good people simply won't drink it, and sad to say there are just too many ropey beers (and brewers!) around.  This can be blamed, in the main, on the lemming-like rush to the bottom quality-wise in the current cutthroat price war being waged in the brewing industry due to overcapacity and it'll all end in tears, mark my words...  the big boys are sitting on the sidelines watching us rip each other to bits and, when the gory scrap has finished, they'll step in and take what they want; welcome to the dystopian future of brewing and beer.. 
divide and conquer as I'm sure AmBev, Heineken and their ilk are thinking looking at us fighting under the table for their crumbs.

Quality beer - in general - costs money to make and CAMRA should be explaining that if you want more hops in your beer then someone's going to have to pay for said hops and it shouldn't be the brewer!  Conversely, the Wetherspoon vouchers are a total anachronism for an organisation proclaiming itself to be independent and, IMO, gives the chain an unfair advantage at the expense of other pubs, plus with the laughably low prices Wetherspoon pays us brewers for beer, how are these vouchers encouraging the consumption of quality beer when all more trade for the chain encourages is more brewers selling beer at or below cost because the 'spoons is the only option left in town with other pubs closed down?

With regards to CAMRA, listening to the stuck-in-the-80s mantra many of them (and usually head office) regurgitate, it's evident that something needs to be done.  CAMRA doesn't represent the current beer drinker, the modern brewer, the modern publican or anything apart from old men moaning about how much beer costs, how they saved real ale and how "Red Barrel" (whatever that was) has returned.  It's time for an alliance between brewers and CAMRA but, for this to happen, there has to be a lot of conciliation on the CAMRA side as many modern (and semi-modern!) brewers no longer care what CAMRA say and see them as, at best, an irrelevance and at worse a hindrance.

It's time for a clean sweep of the decks and IMO there's not been a chance like this for a long time... of course, even if Brad gets elected it's doubtful he will be allowed to achieve much, but it's worth a try, for the sake of cask ale.

So, have a read of his manifesto here and decide for yourself.







Pennine mild... flat cap and whippet optional....

People often refer to us as a "craft cask" brewery.  Which is nice.  And confusing.  Myself, I've no idea how to categorise us and see no reason to pigeonhole us as anything; we are a small brewery (small being under the 5000hl annual progressive beer duty limit) making modern style beers in, we hope, a "drinkable" style which means they are meant for session drinking, not sipping... which is what beer is all about.

Anyhow, after that self-congratulatory preamble, here's the meat... we have re-brewed one of the beers which is often talked about but rarely requested (surely a paradox?), one which Gazza is intensely proud of, being his little pet project when it first came out!  it's now on brew three and, as is traditional at Hopcraft Towers, slight amendments have been made to the recipe to make it better and "awesomise" it; the base malt is now proper Mild malt, the ratios of melanoidin malts has been increased, and the hopping has been amended slightly... but it's still our interpretation of that incredibly rare but incredibly good style of Pennine Mild.

So, I'm guessing most people know what a mild is... or think they do.  I really can't be bothered to go into the stories, arguments and explanations of what mild is (that's what Google is for) but, suffice it to say, nowadays - if you can find any - it's a 3.5%-ish dark beer with (usually) a roasty taste.  All well and good, but there also exists a much rarer style of mild which is mainly found in the Pennines in the North of England - hence the name - but also appears in the Midlands and, although it's now extinct, once exisited in pockets in the Thames Valley and Solent.... golden mild or, to give it it's best known epithet, Pennine mild.

The only real example left in continuous production is Tim Taylor Golden Best, although Ma Pardoe's in the West Midlands is similar enough to be considered a close relative.  The beer style is sub-4%, with crunchy malts, biscuity flavours and a sweetish, grainy finish.... not very exciting to read, but when done right it's a corker of a style and very, very drinkable, not to mention very rare nowadays.  Some brewers have produced on-off (or occasional) examples of the beer but it's still clinging on to life by it's fingertips.

So, as Gazza likes Pennine Mild, he decided to brew one.  It look a while to get the recipe right (and it's still not right now) but the first brew drew some good reviews, and more importantly it tasted like a Pennine Mild!  We're now on brew 3 and have done a drastic revamp of the malt bill including using proper mild ale malt to give more body and mouthfeel to the brew.  The hops, unusually for us, take a back seat with Polish Magnum and Junga providing a spicy, fruity and sweetshop character to proceedings... but very subtly.

So, brew 3 of a pale mild.  I didn't expect I'd be saying that 5 years ago I can tell you.   

Enjoy!






Thursday, 25 January 2018

FV2 foam party

We're pretty lucky with our fermenters..  well, apart from them being right awkward to clean, they're in amazingly good nick for 40+ year old dairy tanks and we rarely have any issues with them or anything connected to them.

We brewed Waen Pamplemousse into FV2 the other week, 2400 litres of it, and everything was going to plan until Gav dry-hopped it with 5kg each of Citra and Cascade... it suddenly went mad and frothed up everywhere!  And, because our FVs are upstairs on the mezz, said froth went cascading down onto the floor below... and all over the steel table which is used for everything from saccharometers to glasses to RJT connectors to connectors to tubes to.. well, just about everything else.  And what a mess it caused!

This happens occasionally in the CTs when we dry hop, and there seems no rhyme nor reason for it happening in there... obviously it's too much dissolved Co2 in the beer and so the pellets, once they break down into ickle hop bits, form nucleation points which attracts the Co2 resulting in lots of foam!  But we've only ever had it happen once in an FV and that was the infamous incident with brew 1 of Snowball and the sugar addition.... 

My theory is that, as Sue's beers are fermented warmer than ours, this higher temperature means the beer can hold less Co2 in saturation so maybe this meant that more came out due to the nucleation points than is normal?  hey, I'm not a scientist so don't know, I'm just bringing my limited experience of "what happens" to the table...

Anyhow, this resultant foam party meant the dry hop charge ended up partly all over the floor and stuck all inside the top of the fermenter necessitating what's trendily called a "deep clean" but in reality meant me getting in to scrub the underside of the FV and getting caustic all over my head and arse.... yeah, cheers then, if more were needed yet another confirmation that brewing isn't the glamorous profession people make out!

Me, in a (now) very shiny FV2

What I base my rather flimsy theory on!

Sunday, 14 January 2018

New grain hopper, chute and hydrator installed

After 4 and a half years of service (it was planned as a stop-gap to last a year tops) our old ramshackle malt hopper and mashing in regime has been replaced!

The old one was knocked up quickly to get us brewing but, due to never having enough time or money, we've never got around to replacing it... until now.  We'd become aware that the bottom of the chute, made from marine ply, was becoming increasingly rotten and looked as if it may give way mid-mash depositing up to 300kg of expensive grain all over the floor (and probably Gazza too) so once we'd acquired the old Waen Brewery hopper and hydrator - the device which mixes the grain with hot water - it was time to swap over!

Only, it wasn't.... the new hopper sat in a corner for 6 months until the condition of the old one dictated that we really, really needed to replace it PDQ.... so, the start of 2018 was declared "new mashing in week" and we prepared for the headaches such a project inevitably brings on.  Fortuitously, a Screwfix has recently opened just behind us, so we were confident we could buy any bits needed, making things a lot easier.

In the end, luckily, we got the whole thing done in 3 days and that's including rebuilding the hydrator from scratch!  there are still a few bits and bobs to tidy up, but the upshot of this work is that we now have a completely piped-in pump under the hot liquor tank which can recirculate the tank to mix it and pump water below to the mashing in process at the turn of a lever, not as before where multiple disconnecting and reconnecting of flexible hoses was the order of play.  

The big improvement, however, is in the time saved mashing in - we estimate that the complete process with the old setup would take anything up to 45 minutes, whereas with the lovely new kit it takes 15 minutes maximum!  This saving of 30 minutes on the brewday will be extremely welcome. plus the new hydrator mixes the grain really well making one-man mashing a distinct option now!  The hopper also does something the old one never managed to do which is empty itself without any brushing or goading of grains which is yet another enormous improvement, and finally the hydrator is much lower in the pipe meaning the marine ply of the hopper won't get wet and rot like the old one...

So, win-win all round and a great start to the year for us!

the hopper and chute being bolted together

The completed (nearly) setup with the grain hopper and hot liquor tank

Gav sawing pipe for the new hydrator

looking inside the grain chute

New valve on the sparge arm (which we don't actually need!)

The new grain chute and hydrator in situ with the liquor hose attached to the hydrator

almost done!  Nice pipework.... 

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Xmas shutdown over, back to it.....

Two of the most amazing words a brewer can hear....  within reason, of course.

For us brewers not in possession of a brand which is demanded relentlessly by a slavering populace Xmas is probably the only time of the year when we can be away from the brewkit and actually not having to think about brewing, hops, beer, yeast, casks or have anything to do with the day job except, probably, to drink the fruits of our labours.

Because a beer, once brewed, requires anything from 6 days to two weeks to become ready for packaging most brewers mash in their last brew the week before the final working week of Xmas to enable the beer to ferment, chill and to be packaged and/or put into tanks ready for the new year... some brewers will brew the final week and come in over the holidays to look after it, but luckily (or maybe not, meaning our beer isn't in high enough demand) that's not our position!

The final brew of the year was Waen Chilli Plum Porter, and once that was put away into the conditioning tanks - every one full so we don't have to brew for the first few weeks of January - we took a well-earned break from the whole beer thingy, which is always needed a couple of times a year (at least, seemingly more as we go on) to clear the head.

So, this week we're back to running a brewery.  Sue has already been selling loads of beer today, and I've been thinking about new beers and other projects and Gav has been relaxing at home!  but now we're back, and we begin with a few days of planning what we're hoping to achieve this year, and further down the line, and also some large maintenance tasks which need doing; replacing the grist hopper and hydrator, a full caustic brew, backflushing the heat exchanger, the usual kind of boring brewery things!

So, stick with us and I promise that in 2018 we'll try our very best to bring you the best beer we can, improving on last year's already (in my sceptical opinion) vastly improved production.  But, we can't make it if you don't sell it and drink it, so please keep the faith!

There will be massive pressures on breweries this year; prices of raw materials relentlessly increasing, scarcity of the "hollywood" hops to make our beer, increases in rent/rates/tax, and more things we've probably not considered yet - such as beer duty increases and suchlike - but we're determined to try and get through this year and consolidate what we've achieved this far.  I can see a lot of breweries going to the wall during 2018 if things continue as they are and it won't just be the bad ones, it'll be those with poor liquidity, cashflow issues and investor problems which go, and these may well be some of those producing the better beers at the moment.  Money is no respecter of quality, so those with large reserves will probably be able to ride the carnage out and then come out to pick over the carcasses of the fallen... sounds melodramatic but it really does play out like that in brewing, and we're determined not to be one of the fallen!

We're poised to break the 1 million quid turnover mark (in total, not this year!) very soon so may well brew a special beer to mark us becoming millionaires overnight... that's how it works, right? 

Keep the faith people, we'll keep making it if you keep drinking it :) 

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Our collab beer arrives from Northern Ireland!

It's here!!!!

Our pallet of beer from the excellent Farmageddon brewery in Northern Ireland, including 12 casks of the collab we did there "Wreckin' Crew", has landed at Hopcraft Towers!

If you want one, let us know... it won't last long.


Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Brew 300!

Well, that's another milestone reached....

No, not getting into credit with the bank account (yeah, right....) but reaching 300 brews done on the big kit here at Hopcraft Towers!  I can't be bothered to work it out exactly, but that's over half a million litres of beer produced since we started here in 2003!

As is now customary, we've brewed another batch of our "centenary" beer which is made each time we reach another 100 brews; "every hop i love is dead" is, obviously, a play on words of Type O Negative's track "everyone I love is dead"... for no other reason than it's a great track, and a great name for a beer!  Plus the pumpclip works too, which they don't always!

So, here's to the next 100 brews and if you keep drinking it, we'll keep making it as long as we can!


Sunday, 19 November 2017

The glorious October revolution

It's 100 years almost to the day since the Socialist revolution in Russia, so to celebrate this (being the whining lefties we are) we cleared the brewing schedule to create a brand new beer to remember the event, "Red OCtober"

You might have supposed we'd brew an Imperial Russian Stout.  But no, I don't like them and anyhow they're impossible to sell in cask.  OK then, how about a red ale?  erm... sorry, but we already have one on the sales list.... well, what about a Kvass?  yeah right, try persuading people that's worth drinking especially from a handpull!

As you can see, we didn't really think this through.... so, despite the shambolic nature of the decision to brew the beer, brew it we did!  It'll be a 5% or so extra pale with shedloads of luscious Citra, Summit and Columbus hops, so expect a fruity, hoppy bolshy beast!



Saturday, 28 October 2017

Pinch point....

Well, after 4 and a half years of brewing, it's finally happened; we've reached some sort of maximum throughput at Hopcraft Towers!  

Well, I hear you say, "some sort" is a bit vague, is it or isn't it at capacity?  To which I answer "sort of"....  and I'll explain why.

We have 4 fermenting vessels, 2 of around 2500 litres and 2 of around 1800 litres (I say "about" as they are 40 years old ex-dairy tanks and we have no idea on their actual capacity except from experience of filling them with beer, so it's a bit vague) and 12 conditioning tanks of 680 litres each.  One "normal" brew fills 2 tanks whilst a "big" brew fills 3, with usually a bit left over for playing around with.

Thus far we've always had tanks free to move beer into from the fermenters because we've racked beer into cask/keg then cleaned the tanks ready to receive more.  The issue we're now having is that we have beer in the fermenters ready to transfer and are right on the limit of how many conditioning tanks we have free, which is admittedly a planning issue, but also dependent on things such as enough clean casks to fill up and enough hours in the week to actually do the racking of casks!

Until earlier this year we kept one of the tanks unused (for a number of reasons, principally it had a dodgy CO2 injector valve) but it became apparent that we needed all 12 in use and so completed a project to bring CT1 into service.  All well and good, but now we've come to the point where we have beer in the fermenter ready to move down into tank but no tanks available to receive it.... 

The "board of truth" shows that we have three beers in FV, two of which have been fined and are on chill (both are below 8°c now) but only two CTs available for filling, and those need caustic washing first (denoted by the red crosses).  Two tanks have been dry-hopped ready for racking this week (2 and 6), but this can't be done until Tuesday as the dry hops need time to infuse into the beer, and we're realising that we need to allow more time for this to happen so it can't be rushed!  

Therefore, there's no option but to wait until Tuesday to transfer Idaho7.... this is a couple of days longer than I'd like, but sitting on chill won't do it any harm so no dramas!  However, it's nice to see that we're producing close to capacity, and it's also good to see where the pinch point is in our production process and that we need to increase our conditioning tanks in order to be able to throughput more beer....


Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Collaboration brew in Bucharest - Hop Hooligans


The day had finally come... we were off mob-handed to Bucharest, the capital of Romania, to brew a beer with (IMO) the best brewery in the country!  

Hop Hooligans are less than a year old but have already changed the face of beer in their home country with a steady stream of challenging, tasty and downright excellent beers flowing from their 800 litre shiny brewplant just south of the Bucharest city boundary, and the country now looks fair for a beer revolution along the same lines as the world-beating one currently underway in Poland.

Anyhow, how did we get to do this unlikely collab then? Well, Gazza tried a fair few of their beers earlier this year and he and Sue got talking to the guys who run the brewery, Cristian and Mircea, so it kind of all went from there!

We agreed to brew a strong chocolate orange stout and so over we went to Bucharest for 3 days of sightseeing, drinking beer and brewing.... can't be bad :) 



sampling beers at Luton airport

Here we go!
hung over, in a car off to the brewery!
pretending to be brewers
Mircea preparing the yeast
Mircea prepping the FV
pissing about with a sprayball...
Add caption
oooh what's that in there?

Dinnertime!
Twiggy met a relative....


17kg of dry hops in 800 litres!!!


Wednesday, 4 October 2017

In with the cool kids, innit

Through a strange combination of circumstances we've ended up supplying a cask of beer to a house party hosted by Moose, drummer of local metal band Bullet for my Valentine.... just how cool is that?

How I think this happened is that Mate Spawn and Die was on in the superb Little Penybont micro-pub in Pencoed when it was sampled by a friend of the band, who recommended it to them as a suitable party beverage after they had been along to a local Bridgend brewery to sample the beers but rejected them as not fit for purpose!  Our star saleslass Sue then finalised the deal with the guys to make it all happen, but only after a scare when we thought the last of the casks had been sold, until it became clear we had one - just one - left in stock; relieved?  

So, Gav was sent to set up and cellar the cask - on the drumkit packing case! - because 

a) It's on his way home, and
b) he's by far the coolest of us with the tattoos and stuff

Gav was invited to the party but had to decline on account of being away brewing in Bucharest with Hop Hooligans, a great excuse if I ever heard one!

Looks like they had a good time with the beer, anyhow...


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Aaaaaarrrrrrr she's back.....

If you didn't guess what is back from this clue, then you've obviously not heard of our Jamaican stout "Spanish Main" before! 

We brew Spanish Main once a year, or when we feel like it (which seems to equate to once a year), mainly because it requires dark Muscovado sugar which is a bit of a pain to get hold of in 25kg sacks without a bit of forward planning - never our strong point - and I'm certainly not going through the tills in Tesco with 25 bags of bloody sugar!

Anyhow, Spanish Main is a big, brooding, bruiser of a stout in a vaguely defined style called "Tropical stout" after the examples brewed in the Caribbean, although we - being contrary types - call it a Jamaican stout which, when you think about, is basically the same thing...

It's full of various of types of dark malts, the aforementioned 25kg of dark Muscovado sugar, plus a smattering hops, the amount reduced this time, and a not-so-secret ingredient to give it a touch of the Caribbean... and no, it's not ganja or chillis, but black pepper!  Ah, and you thought we stuck ganja in it for a minute didn't you?

Anyhow, it's in FV4 now and should be ready to unleash upon the world in a few weeks once it's calmed down and lost a bit of it's youthful vigour, as it were.... watch out for it, me hearties, thaaaaaaar she blows.... or something equally piratesque.





Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Meet the Brewer(s) in Derbyshire ....

Last week we completed a gruelling two-day meet the brewer tour of Derbyshire, taking in Derby and Waingroves, a village near Ripley... the bright lights indeed!

Our first stop was the excellent Smithfield in Derby.  Gazza remembers this place from ye olde dayse when it was a beer ticker magnet (hence the frequent visits!) but now, after a few years when it seems doomed to either a) fall into the river or b) become offices, it's now reopened and has an excellent new manager in the shape of Emily who is bringing back the customers and, more importantly for future prosperity, finding new ones.

One way of attracting beer lovers - for the Smithfield now has the reputation of having the best beer range in Derby - is to hold events such as tap takeovers and meet the brewer events... which is why Gazza and Sue ended up there on a Thursday afternoon!

We filled the pumps in the pub and, despite being briefed that we were only expected to talk for ten minutes or so, over an hour later and we were still answering questions and eating nutella butties and, of course, drinking beer and gin!  This continued for some time....











The next day we headed over to Waingroves, out in the Amber Valley, for a tap takeover at the famous Thorn Tree pub which I used to deliver to as Steel City 8 years ago!  It's now, after a period of being rubbish, become a cask beer haven again thanks to the team of Rob and Sam with lots of help from Mike of Landlocked brewery and Tom Soar, local bon viveur and beer lover.... we were feeling a little under the weather but soon perked up :) 

As for the "battle of the brewers", Waen Pamplemousse sold out first, just pipping Mate Spawn and Die to the trophy... but there were some great beers on and the locals seemed to appreciate them, so all was good!






Sunday, 20 August 2017

Get out of the water!

.... because the sharks are back!

Our very popular extra-pale ale "Sharks against Surfers" is being rebrewed again this week due to popular demand (basically, Gazza likes it) and so lots of lovely hops have been ordered to make it happen including Chinook, Centennial and Galaxy.  The original highly amusing premise behind this brew was that the hops came from areas where sharks and surfers are in the same environment, but sadly we still can't get any hops from Newquay and South African hops have been bought up, so I hear, by lovely cuddly AmBev.

Anyhow, the name comes from a track by Railpunk pioneers Eastfield and goes something like this...


Keep off the sand, this is not your land - sharks against surfers
Stay out of the sea, keep the waters clean - sharks against surfers
Don't ride the waves, you'll meet an early grave - sharks against surfers
Stop your tricks, you'll get ripped to bits - sharks against surfers



Monday, 7 August 2017

Tap takeover, Cloisters Edinburgh

Our beers get to Scotland quite a bit nowadays courtesy of James at Boot Liquor wholesale, but when we were offered the chance of a tap takeover at Cloisters we jumped at it mainly because it gave us the excuse to reprise last year's trip up to Scotland, this time Edinburgh not Glasgow, and the infamous train journey with a bottle of wine each.... and that's before we'd done the pub crawl, and then the drinking at the tap takeover....

Ah well, it all went swimmingly, pretty much, so here's a few photos from the day in Auld Reekie to show what we got up to!


Twiggy trainspotting at Crewe

Train breakfast

Apartment!

"I'm sure it's around here somewhere...."

Sorted!

Cumberland Bar



6 degrees North

6 Degrees North


Cask and Barrel

Next....

Into the old town
Finding Thompsons bar.... final call!

Cloisters beer board

full list!

outside Cloisters

Inside Cloisters!