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 :)