Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Off for a collaborative brew in a former Dutch Church!

Thursday sees Gazza and Sue of Waen brewery off on a very hard working, stressful trip across to some place called "Europe" to brew a collaboration beer at Jopen brewing in Haarlem, Netherlands, with Ken Fisher of Grateful Deaf brewing (Portland, Oregon)...  it's a tough job....

We'll be Eurostar-ing it across swigging craft prosecco and eating quail's eggs (if only....) before our 3 day stay in the Netherlands where we're not quite sure yet as to what's happening apart from the Friday brew at Jopen!  Ah well, it'll all become clear we're sure.

Anyhow, we're brewing a stout / porter with the addition of seaweed and orange zest!  I've absolutely no idea how it'll come out, but at least it should be interesting!!

Anyhow, keep up with us on FB and twitter.... should be an interesting weekend.

And yes, this really is where we'll be brewing!!!

Return of another old Favourite!

You heard it here first (unless Gazza has already told you, or you've read Facebook).... tomorrow we're brewing one of our most popular beers, Oceanic.

This was developed by Gazza and long-time friend and beery collaborator Dean back in 2015 and it's been brewed on a semi-regular basis ever since, but not for a good few months and so we decided to put that right!

Oceanic is so called because almost all the hops are from the Pacific region of Australia and New Zealand, the home of lusciously fruity, juicy hop flavours.  We use only the pineapply, juicy Galaxy and the lean, grapey, winey and totally unique Nelson Sauvin in the brew (plus a tiny amount of German Magnum for bitterness) and the results are, in our opinion, pretty damn special!

As usual, look out for it at better pubs and bars near you....

Friday, 12 August 2016

US collaboration with Grateful Deaf!

Thursday this week saw Ken Fisher, famous deaf US wannabe brewer of the "Grateful Deaf" beers who visits Europe each Autumn to brew with a number of high profile (and us) brewers, visit our little brewery to cook up an IPA with a Hopcraft twist!

So, look out for "Damned Deaf IPA" shortly.... Centennial, Crystal, Equinox....

Friday, 29 July 2016

Our first (proper) fruit beer!

OK,it's fair to say we've dabbled with the odd fruity thing in the past, but only on a very small scale with just 90 litres of last year's blackcurrant stout and the odd cask of other stuff as a test.

Well, this time we've enlisted the help of long-time collaborator and all-round lovely lass Sue Hayward from the Waen brewery, well known for their fruity beers (Blackberry stout, chilli plum porter, snowball) and so, after our shortest brewday ever (7 hours start to stop, but from mash-in to end of transfer a miserly 5:45)!

Apricots, raspberries, strawberries, mixed fruit and blackcurrants went into the copper of this pale ale (which should be a bit of a strange on in itself) so we can't wait to see what'll happen in a week or so when it's ready to be released!

Watch this space....

Gav and Sue dig the mash

Sue adding some of the fruit

Gazza and Sue prepare the fruit

"Do it the way I'm telling you!!!"

mashing up fruit

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Brews 199 and 200

This week finally sees the 200th brew from our little brewery!

But first we're rebrewing, due to popular demand, our mango-licious hop bomb Citra Plus which has over half pre-sold before we've even opened a bag of hops... this is a very good thing as you can imagine!

Citra Plus is, in a nutshell, a 5.4% pale ale with a huge payload of hops, but not just any hops.... these are the sought after (and very expensive!) Citra which deliver a sweet mango fruitiness quite unlike anything else in the hop world; expensive, rare, but absolutely essential for us!  This beer has quite a cult following nowadays, for some reason mainly in Scotland (particularly the State Bar Glasgow and Staggs Musselborough)...

Next up for today was "every hop i love is dead" whose bizarre name is a play on words with a Type O Negative song and fits our naming theme pretty well I think! This is similar to the 100th brew edition apart for having the malt recipe tidied up and the hops amended slightly.... but it's still full of Simcoey piney, catty goodness.

So, may thanks for sticking by us during our first half a million pints, we do appreciate it!  I honestly think the quality of the beer coming out of Pontyclun is continuosuly improving, as it should with our policy of permanent revolution in the brewing, so don't touch that dial and we'll bring you some more hoppy, interesting beers over the next year we hope!


Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The "third tank"

You may have heard us mention a "third tank" before and were probably wondering what the hell that meant... after all, why the "third" tank?

Well, here's how things work here at Hopcraft towers.  As our conditioning tanks are 4 barrels capacity each (well, 680 litres) this means we brew in multiples of 4 barrels so as to fit the brew into the conditioning tanks once it's fermented.  Usually we brew 8 barrel batches, but sometimes we'll push the boat out and make 12 barrels of some beers; the extra 90 minutes on the brewday is quickly mitigated by an extra 4 barrels of beer to sell!

Now, imagine we've brewed 12 barrels of Golden Pixie.  This might sell at a rate of a barrel a week, so therefore we'd be having the beer in tank for a good few months getting a bit old before it was all sold.  It wouldn't go off or have any major issues, as we flush the tanks with CO2 before filling them and then top them up afterwards to maintain a blanket of protective gas, but we just don't like the beer sitting around for extended periods.

So, why brew so much if it won't sell in time?  This is where tank 3 comes in!  We'll generally, for a big 12 barrel brew, sell 2 tanks as the original beer then the third one will be dry-hopped differently and be released as something else, at present one of the "Grudge Match" series.  This has the added bonus of giving us an extra - different - beer to sell, meaning we sell more beer, plus it also means the beer isn't sat in tank for too long and turns over quicker, meaning you get fresher beer and more choice to boot.... win/win, eh?

So, that's the third tank - a big brew of a particular beer, where the third conditioning tank is dry-hopped (or otherwise amended from normal) and sold as a different beer!

Thursday, 7 July 2016

More Pixie

We always thought Golden Pixie would be a good seller; it was the very first testbrew we did back in 2012 and it's come a long way since recipe-wise, although it is essentially the same low ABV golden beer hopped simply with Summit, Cascade and just a touch of Citra.

For a while sales didn't go well and we struggled to shift a full brew of it, but gradually - I'd like to think in some part due to the recipe being honed to a razor sharp point - sales have increased and now we brew 12BBL of it (around 2100 litres) every 2 months or so.  It also helps that we have a pub which takes a dozen at a time for it's standard cask session beer plus Hopbunker sells a fair bit of it!

The other big thing is the "third tank" which I'll explain more fully in another post, but basically when we do a big brew - 12 barrels - of a beer we get 3 conditioning tanks full of beer.  Two we normally dry-hop and sell as the beer it's supposed to be, whilst the third gets dosed with different (and more!) dry hops and sold as something else.

So, today we brew Golden Pixie v4.0, which has has a bit of a tweak with it's hopping rates although the malt bill is now pretty much set in stone.  Hopefully it'll finally become the finished version, although as most brewers will tell you there never is a finished version of anything you care about!

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Brew 200 edges closer....

Today was "proper" brew 196 (we've actually done 199 including a few cuckoo brews, but we've not counted those under our numbers) a golden 3.8%-ish ale with US Cascade and Czech Kazbek hops, and next week we're cooking up yet another batch of Golden Pixie as it seems to be getting more popular!

After that, however, we're very close to brew 200 and so a bit of a commemoration is called for... the current plan is to re-brew our 100th brew "every hop i love is dead" with a very slight variation in recipe to reflect current Politburo diktats in the production of Hopcraft Пиво, but it's planned that the Simcoe and Cascade pairing which worked so well back in November 2014 will be used again.

So, get ready for our 200th brew in a month or so!  Thanks for sticking with us, and we hope you'll stay along for the ride a while longer as we've some good stuff coming up....

Friday, 24 June 2016

New Van....

It's not ours, it's leased, but hey.... Gazza is testing it out with a run up to Sheffield this weekend, so a full reliability report to follow!

Here's the new one and old one side by side during handover....

A milk stout needs milk!

Not Milk as in pints of white cow juice, oh no.  A milk stout is so called because it contains Lactose, which is a sugar detived from cow's milk, and gives the beer a delicate sweetness owing to the fact that yeast can't work on the lactose sugars to convert them into alcohol, leaving the beer with a full body and sweetish flavour.... so now you know!

Monday, 20 June 2016

We are 3!!!!!

Well, we've made it to 3 years old!!!

The anniversary of Brew No.1 was on Saturday and, despite us not being around to brew, we're sticking with tradition and brewing this year's vintage of the first ever brew, "Statement of Intent", as we've done for the previous birthdays, this being the 4th version of the beer.

SOI is a 5.5%-ish golden IPA with, even for us, a pretty hefty hop charge.  The hops vary with each vintage and what the brewing team reckon are the best hops of the year...  the table below shows how this has changed with each brew of this beer!

Brew 001 180613 - CTZ, Summit, Magnum, Citra, Galaxy, Cascade
Brew 072 180614 - CTZ, Summit, Magnum, Citra, Galaxy, Cascade, Chinook
Brew 133 180615 - CTZ, Summit, Amarillo, Mosaic, Citra
Brew 194 230616 - CTZ, Summit, Mosaic, Waimea, Citra

As you can see, Columbus (CTZ) and Summit are the big bolshy brutes which provide the bitterness and background flavour, whilst Citra has been a constant each brew for it's delicious fruity mangoey character... Mosaic has also been in the last two brews on account of it being plain delicious!

So, we brew on Wednesday, the first time we've not brewed on the actual anniversary but hey, we weren't coming in on Saturday to brew, although Gav was in to transfer beer and dry hop some tanks, whilst Gazza recovered from a party in Manchester!

Look out for Statement in 3 weeks or so, it's always worth a go for it's massive hop character because, as the name suggests, it's what we were set up to do.

Monday, 13 June 2016

The cold liquor tank is operational!

Well, it's been a long time coming, and a lot of planning and blagging has gone into it, but now, just in time for the real heat of summer, our cold liquor tank is operational!

Here's my original plan for it, which as you can see is very fantastic and was, surprisingly, almost exactly what happened in the end!

So, I can hear everyone asking, what's a cold liquor tank?  Well, using the diagram of the brewing process below, look at vessel 10 - the heat exchanger - and you'll see a wiggly line inside which is the cold water "exchanging" heat with the hot wort.  So, even though the cold liquor tank doesn't actually feature in this diagram, it's a pretty important part of kit as we reckon it's saving us 30 minutes per brew when running off the wort to fermenter.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

New red beer

We're known, wrongly in my opinion, for just being brewers of pale and hoppy beers and our other brews scarcely get a mention in dispatches.  OK, I'd be the first to admit that we do major on the 4%-5% extra-pale hop-forward brews, principally because I like that style of beer the best, but I reckon some of our dark brews are just as good as the pales but get overlooked, criminally so on occasion.

Well, with that in mind, it's time for another "non-pale" brew to be created and so I've gone for a style which we've not really persisted with in the past, having created just a couple in 3 years, so it's definitely time "hoppy red", or "American red", or whatever you want to call it, gets - to use current trendy parlance - a "reboot"....

"American" red is a very different beast from "Irish" red; the US version is usually bitter-sweet and hoppy with a generally pretty repulsive tongue-curling burnt sweetness from crystal malt which, for some reason, yanks seem to love.  Irish red has this same rancid treacle toffee sweetness but almost no hops or bitterness meaning it tastes even more sickly-sweet and unbalanced...  and let's not even get into "Flemish" red which, although I absolutely adore it, would probably make most UK drinkers think they were on the Sarsons!

So, here's our latest red brew "Red Mist", but is it really American in style?  Well, in my opinion no, it isn't!  There's no crystal malt in the recipe - actually, there's never been any in the brewery full stop as Gazza loathes it - so we've made up the colour by some specialist German malts and the clever trick of "sparging over" some roasted barley to wash out colour but as little flavour as possible...

It's a red ale, but not as you probably know it... hopped with the bolshy, robust Columbus and fruity Chinook, this is a red different from most of it's peers; just like the brewery, really.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Two much-requested beers being brewed this week....

These two generate a lot of the requests we receive (although Citra plus is our most requested brew) for re-brewing old recipes, and as we love them both it seemed rude not to give them - to use modern contemporary dialogue - a "reboot"....

So, here we have "Mate Spawn and Die", named after a Lard track, which is hopped with the gloriously characterful New Zealand hops Waimea and Green Bullet, then dry-hopped with sticky, juicy, almost liquoricey Vic Secret.... New Zealand-licious!

Next up is "New Dawn Fades", obviously a Joy Division track, with the exquisite combination of tropical fruity Citra and orchard fruity Calypso.... oh yes, it's a belter is this one!  Originally brewed at Steel City in Sheffield back in summer 2012, it was re-brewed at Pontyclun in 2013, again in November 2015, and now it's back with a slightly amended - read improved - hopping regime!

So, in a rare case of no new beers this week, we give you two of our most requested brews; enjoy!

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Testing a new "base" malt

Yep, a new base malt!

For those who don't speak brewing lingo, base malt makes up the majority of the beer's "grist" of grains which contain the sugars needed to make beer.  It's barley (usually grown in East Anglia) which is wet then heated gently to con the grains into thinking the season has changed and it's time to start germinating.  Malting is an extremely complicated procedure which is outside the scope of this blog (and my knowledge!) but this should tell you all you need to know should you wish!

Our beers are generally of a simple malt recipe with 90-95% being "base" malt, then 3% wheat malt (for head retention) and 3% of either Carapils or Melanoidin (for body and mouthfeel).  Some beers have other additions, such as stouts and porters with up to 20% roasted grain, but in the main it's 90%+ base pale malt.

We originally used Munton's Maris Otter blend malt, but after using it for a while decided the extra cost (around £150-200 a tonne on top of the usual £500 or so price) of Maris Otter just wasn't worth it for our beer; Maris provides a more "full" malty taste with, at it's best, a luscious honey character, but with our beers being hop-led we don't need the malt character so moved onto Crisp best ale malt.  This unfortunately has an even more pronounced flavour so that was soon jettisoned in favour of Munton's Propino and Super Pale, bought on tonne pallets direct from East Anglia, and we've stuck with them until now as the malt is pretty consistent, works well with our set-up and provides a good to great extract power (the amount of sugar produced per kilo of malt).

We were recently visited by a rep who offered half a tonne of Baird's Propino for evaluation purposes, and so - ever ones for a freebie - have gone with it to test out it's suitability for use in the brewery.  Now I've heard lots of stories, most bad, about Baird's malt but will resist any temptation to jump to conclusions and we'll be using it as a direct replacement for our usual Munton's Propino and we'll see how it stacks up!

Monday, 16 May 2016

Happy ending!

You may remember I mentioned we had a pair of Robins nesting between some casks in our dirty cask store a few weeks ago?  Well, today we had a peek between the casks and, after satisfying ourselves that there were no critters lurking within, removed the top cask.... to find an empty nest!

The RSPB guide to Robins says two weeks from hatching to fledging, so looks like we've got a happy family of Robins around the brewery now!  All well and good, as we really needed the empty casks back which they'd been using for the past month; next time, though, maybe a nest box would be an idea?

the empty nest....

Thursday, 12 May 2016

A very full fermenter....

Today we brewed a big batch of "Temple of Love", our 3.8% bitter, hoppy, juicy session pale ale which has, through simple customer demand, become one of the very, very few members of our core range of beer.  So far, so good then.

The problem we have with Temple is that we always make too much of it! The malt we use, Muntons Propino, somehow always conspires to contain more sugars than we expect with the result we have to "liquor back" our brew in the copper.  This sounds complicated, but in essence it means that the resulting wort (unfermented beer) is too high in sugar which means, once fermented, it will be too strong for the beer specifications (temple is 3.8%, HMRC customs allow a brewer 0.5% ABV each way on the declared alcoholic strength if they test it) and so we need to add water to bring it down to the desired sugar concentration.

This is done by adding water from the mains and/or hot liquor tank whilst the wort is still at almost boiling point (so the added water is sterilised) until the required amount (which is worked out with our Beersmith software) has been added, reducing the sugar concentration to the required level; in this case, 1035.5° is the specification.  Today, after adding 175 litres of liquor (what brewers call brewing water, plain "water" is used for washing the floor), we ended up with 1035.7° which is near as damn it!  This should, after fermentation, give us 3.8% ABV which is exactly what it should be, yeast permitting!

The only minor issue with liquoring back is that the total volume of wort increases and, with a big brew, this can mean we're pushing the limits of our fermentation vessel capacity!  Today was one of the largest additions we've done and, as you can see, we're not far off the top.... and that's without the yeast head which has yet to form!

It's a bit full....

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

200 more casks on order

We've been putting it off for about a year and can't really afford it, but we have finally accepted the inevitable and ordered another 200 casks!

At present we have approximately 580 casks which may seem a lot but, under the old "rule" of brewery cask management, is actually woefully inadequate; it was always said a brewer needs 2, preferably 3 casks for every one he has out in trade which, given we sell approximately 200 casks a month, would mean we would need a minimum 400 others.... which we don't have.  

Now bear in mind this equation was based upon ye olde times when brewers distributed their casks locally and they "turned over" (got them back) very quickly - generally within a few weeks - whereas now casks go to wholesalers hundreds of miles away and may not be seen for months on end; for example, last month we sent pallets of beer out to Manchester, Preston and Stoke, casks we probably won't see again for at least a month, probably two, meaning the old cask equation should really read 6 casks for every one out in trade, meaning we'd need an unfeasible 1500 casks (or thereabouts) to sustain our business.

We're pretty good at retrieving casks and turning them over quickly, but even so some weeks we're stretched to the limit with our casks and just can't rack enough beer to build up any stock.  This means casks being filled then going straight onto pallets and out the door which isn't the way I want to operate, as these casks won't be conditioned enough unless the wholesaler / pubs let them sit for a few weeks once they arrive (we've had no complaints so guessing this is probably happening....).

What we need in order to build up a level of stock which enables us to properly condition our beers and also have a decent list of beer to sell (recently, on occasion, we've been down to our last ten casks of beer to sell which is a ludicrous situation to be in) is more casks, and lots of them.  Given that I don't like metal casks the solution is therefore plastic, and more correctly Brewery Plastics casks.... but, even allowing for their reasonable price of just over £30 a cask, this is still a £6200+VAT investment in casks, money we don't really have.... 

Just imagine if brewers could, rather than giving 50% of their turnover to the government each month, reinvest some of this money in new casks and equipment?  Fat chance of this happening, but it would make life so much easier and enable us to grow our business so much better than we are able to at present.... we can dream!

Anyhow, we've just ordered 200 new 9 gallon plastic casks (plus 6 extra 4.5 gallon casks which are mainly used at our bar) which will be slightly offset by us returning as many of our 100 rental casks as we can lay our hands on (that'll save us money and get rid of a lot of metal casks in one go) but, even allowing for this, we'll still have extra casks and that'll take some of the pressure off and, hopefully, allow us to build up some stock and sell more beer, which can only be a good thing.

This has been yet another post in our "Crap brewers have to put up with that you don't know about" and I hope it's been educational!

Thursday, 5 May 2016

And finally....

Well, here we are, blog post 300!

Rather than launch into a lengthy monologue or rant, however, I'll be tapping the rich seam of sentimentality which newsreaders call "and finally....." to create a schmoozy sickening kind of post...

Anyhow, here it is.....

We seem to have acquired a brewery pet, and will soon have quite a few more!  A family of robins has taken up residency (literally, they've built a nest!) between two dirty casks in our cask store and was only discovered when Gazza noticed the twigs between the casks and lifted the top one up to see what was going on, to be met with a very angry Robin defending his nest!  The cask was quickly replaced and, despite being very low on casks, we've left them to get on with things and, hopefully, soon they'll be away and we can wash our casks for reuse!

We did add a suet treat for them to eat near to the nest as we're really nice like that.  Even though they're taking up 4 of our precious casks....

All together now, awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!!!

Thursday, 28 April 2016

"Why bring politics into beer?"

So said one bloke - presumably a Tory - at my recent meet the brewer when I proffered my opinion I was glad Thatcher was dead....  well, IMO politics is, or SHOULD, be in everything we do and say.  I know there are those who have no opinions and simply spout what the papers tell them, or just don't care about politics (look where apathy got in 1930's Germany...) but I disagree; the effects of the stupid decisions of politicians matter to everyone and if you're not informed, with an opinion, then you may as well bend over and take whatever is coming your way, and I guarantee it won't be a box of chocolates.

Anyhow, in this vein, we have brewed a beer with local newcomers Twt Lol (in Welsh this means, vaguely, "little joke") and, in a departure from Phil's normal traditional beers, we've cooked up a hoppy amber ale with the luscious US Mosaic and Chinook hops.  The pumpclip features a photo of the nearby Port Talbot steelworks in South Wales, currently threatened with closure due to Tory inaction, and it really does feel like a case of the last stand for UK industry down here.... 

So, to all those involved in the fight to keep a UK steel production capability, we dedicate this hoppy amber IPA and may steel not go the same way as coal... although I'd not hold my breath with a Tory government in charge.  

See, politics is in everything.