As a huge fan of the beer scene from both a drinking and a homebrewing perspective, Its always been brilliant to tell people that I work in a local and well respected brewery. My roles revolves mainly around fixing computers and supporting other technical issues as opposed to working in the brewing side of things itself.
A few weeks ago, I put a request out there to Bill, our Head Brewer and asked if he would mind me coming over the Brains Craft Brewery section and help brew a beer with them from beginning to end and see what It’s all about on a more commercial level.
Recently, everything was signed off and I was given the opportunity to spend a day in the brewery, It was like Christmas morning when it was all finally signed off.
The Brains Craft Brewery have been operating since around 2012 and have the kit to produce upwards of 15 barrels (Roughly 2400 litres) within the original Victorian brewing tower. They are able to make use of both whole hops aswell as pellets and have produced over 100 beers so far including Pale Ales, Wit Beers, Porters, Dubbles and more.
Atlantic White (A Belgian Style Wit Beer) & Bragging Rights (A Bragwd style beer) are two of my favourite mainstays with Cafe Phoenix (A Porter with Phoenix hops) and the more recent Lemondrop (A Single hopped ale with Lemondrop hops) also hitting the spot everytime.
On 12 July 2016, I arrived promptly at 7:30 in the morning ready and raring to help produce the current days project, Frisco, which as my colleague in work pointed out would have been being brewed this time 2 years ago.
Frisco is a California common style beer brewed with San Francisco Lager Yeast and a trio of American hops including Cluster, Willamette and Chinook.
The initial process involved the connection of some piping and a few lever adjustments to send hot liquor trough the network to prepare brewing water ready for the brewing process.
Its at this point that any brewing salts would be added to the source water to improve quality and affect the overall mouthfeel at the end.
The grains (Which are milled on site) were prepared the day before in their respective quantities and loaded up ready for pouring into the Mash tun along with the hot liquor.
Here the grains would go through the mashing process of converting starches from the crushed grains into sugar ready for the fermentation stage.
Whilst the grains went through the mashing process at around 65°C, we gathered a bucket and the ingredient list to prepare and weigh the hops.
This gave me an opportunity to see the abundance of hop varieties kept in storage and to help locate the three we need to Frisco.
After a little searching, Sarah found a set on the top of one of the highest shelves, a set packaged up from a recent delivery and a final set kept in the chiller having been used a couple of days prior.
We proceeded to weigh the hops and portion them out according to the early part of the boil (Bittering) the latter part of the boil (Aroma) and the rest for the dry hopping along with the yeast addition.
With everything prepared, we continued to monitor the mash tun and ensure the temperature was suitable until the end of the cycle and a final temperature of 65°C was reached.
With the key temperature hit, the next step was to bring the mash to a suitable mashout temperature which allows the structure of the mash to hold itself loosely so that the wort can be recirculated with a good flow.
If the structure of the grains were to collapse or compact in any way, it could result in a stuck sparge where the wort would struggle to work its way through the grains.
With the circulation complete, a sparge would take place which is where the grain bed is rinsed to extract as much of the valuable sugars as possible.
The resulting wort from the sparge would be sampled at regular intervals and tested with a hydrometer to check for liquid density. This was also a great opportunity for us to sample the sugary wort at each stage.
The earlier samples had more sweetness whilst the later samples offered more in the way of maltyness.
With all the required and quality wort extracted from the grains, we needed to clean the mash tun out. This was probably one of the most exhausting tasks I’ve undertaken in a long time.
A conveyor belt was switched on below us and a hatch opened up to reveal a hole, into which we would need to scoop the grains into. Using devices similar to a rake and a spade, Sarah and I started pulling the grains from the mash tun doorway and into the hole.
I was practically on all fours reaching all around the mash tun to ensure the grains were loosened enough scrape out.
Occasionally Sarah would climb to the top and push the grains from the harder to reach areas for me to pull with the rake device.
After 20 to 30 minutes we had cleared the worst of the grains and I was on the verge of collapsing on the spot – completely breathless.
A hose was finally switched on and I cleaned all the loose ends down into the hatch revealing a pristine and shiny mash tun ready for the next job.
All of the tasty wort was piped into the brew kettle and brought to temperature ready to start adding the hops. The temperature gauge was showing at around 100°C when the ideal boil temperature was reached then we proceeded to add the hops in two portions.
A small hatch was opened with a pair of safety gloves and the first set of hops were added which would help with the bittering side of things.
At his point, we saw our chance to run over to a local baguette store and grab some lunch for about 30 minutes.
After the brief lunch, the hatch was opened and the second set of hops were added to help with the aroma. These ones were a bit risky due to the quantity of hops going in and the fact that they would produce a foam which could overflow.
I worked quickly to empty the hop container and close the hatch safely.
After a little more temperature management, we were ready to send the beer to the fermenting chamber. So many levers and pipes to remember!
The final stage of the process was to send the the hot wort through the the pipes and a heat exchange which would cool the wort to a yeast safe temperature, through a separate pipe that would allow the introduction of oxygen into the wort and finally into the fermentation tank where it would gradually fill until it hit a temperature gauge.
The temperature of the wort was at between 16°C to 17°C which is perfect for pitching the yeast, of which we had two small bucketloads from a previous brew of Fresco a few days before.
The final step was to add a selection of hops for dry hopping right away. I found this to be an unusual time to put the hops in. That’s why i’m in the office and not in the brewery….. For now!
There you have it. This experience has only cemented the direction I’m moving in when it comes to the home brewing and the beer reviewing. It has given me the extra desire to want to push forward with working within a craft brewery producing awesome beers.
Check back soon for an update on the fermentation and conditioning progress.