Friday, 22 October 2021

A visit to Palmer's Brewery

You can't beat an old tower brewery. So I was very much looking forward to the Brewery History Society AGM at Palmers. Built in 1794 being a tower brewery is really the least of it when it comes to history as I was to find out on the tour. 

God's waiting room BHS AGM

I went round with the group lead by Head Brewer Darren Batten. Though you can't tell from the first photo we started at the top, the best way to see a tower brewery. 

This is high up you know


Malt comes in sacks, and they prefer 50kg sacks when they can get them as there are less to hoist up! There's a refreshing small number of beers produced and the malt is elegant in its simplicity: mostly pale and crystal with some beers having amber and/or wheat and one with some munich. 

I can't say 50kg sacks is something I would approve of at work, but then we have to lift them to waist height to mill them whereas here they can just tip them over:

The old screen and mill is no longer used, but as befits an old brewery it's all left in place. 

They still have the steam engine that drove the belts, though the first time it's been used in years was for our visit:

The new mill is a more modest affair and they don't bother with screening the malt nowadays. 

The mash tun us used for brews up to 60 bbl, with annual output being around 7,000bbl. 


There's a lovely copper grant:

And speaking of copper, the copper is actually made of copper rather than stainless steel and it's an open vessel!

Even back in the day I can't help but think surely someone would have said: "Is having thousands of pints of boiling wort in an open vat a good idea?". I guess copper's never been cheap. 

They now have an external wort boiler:

So no more shovelling coal in under the copper:

The guy who brought up the sacks and fed the flame had an unlimited beer allowance and would get through eight pints a day! 

After the copper the wort goes to an underback where more hops can be added:

The hops are mostly Goldings, First Gold and Styrian Goldings, with a small amount of Citra used for a new keg beer. 

The have a Baudelot cooler they only stopped using in 2009:

The hot water from it was discharged straight into the river which, after they'd been doing it for a century or so, the Environment Agency objected to. The Head Brewer seemed a bit annoyed about this. I'd be delighted to switch to a paraflow myself, as I'm sure were the people who had to scrub the cooler clean for an hour each side after use!

The fermenting vessels are also open:

These are cut down old cider vats

Check out the temperature probes!

The yeast came from Eldridge Pope in 1976.

They use a lot of 4.5 gallon pins, which they sell for exactly half the price of a 9 gallon firkin to encourage their pub tenants to focus on beer quality. 

They got the waterwheel going for us too, thought it's also not normally in use. Did the video save thought?  Did it bollocks. They have looked into using the waterwheel for electricity generation but sadly it's not cost effective.  

The weird cowl on the roof is to help vent the steam from the open copper. It needs the right wind direction to work well though!

You can just see a bit of thatch on the roof on the right:

After lunch we went to the brewery shop where the prestigious BHS certificate was presented by the Chairman to the Head Brewer.

And there was a chance to stock up on some excellently bottled beers:

Sunday, 17 October 2021

A visit to the tomb of Eldridge Pope brewery

I started feeling sad as soon as I got to Dorchester South station. Ornate tiles on the wall proudly proclaim "Dorchester Home of Eldridge Pope brewery". "Not any more it isn't" I thought. 

Though Eldridge Pope are now best remembered for their bottled barley wine Thomas Hardy's Ale, I can remember enjoying their cask beers too. 

I was in Dorchester for  a pre-Brewery History Society AGM event. We were taken on a tour round the brewery buildings, which still dominate the town centre, by Adrian Woods, an ex-Eldridge Pope brewer. 

The brewery produced 80,000 barrels a year.

Brewery offices

The brewery

They made ales and lagers (both own brand and brewed under licence). Thomas Hardy's Ale had an Original Gravity of 1.125 and had a primary fermentation with ale yeast before being pitched with Carlsberg lager yeast and left in a conditioning tank for six months. 

Various plans have been put forward over the years for what to do with the brewery site but it's finally being turned into flats. 

They had two coppers (150 and 75 bbl) which they used to parti-gyle four different beers. 

Thomas Hardy's Ale was all malt made from strong wort, the rest of the weaker wort going to make a rather indifferent bitter. The maltings building is still next door to the brewery site, though they hadn't done their own malting for years. 

The owning family weren't particularly involved in the company and managed to make some poor business decisions that lead to them selling the brewery and then later the site which caused its closure. The company continued as a pub company for a few years before they were also sold. 

Sunday, 27 June 2021

How to breed new barley varieties

Finally, years after learning how new hop varieties are bred I learnt about barley breeding and how the seeds breed true. I don't think I've been as happy to hear anything since I learnt the invisible etchings of Salvador Dali were safe. 

With hops each new seed is a unique individual and so in effect a new variety, established hop varieties essentially being clones made by taking cuttings from a single female plant. Barley though is clearly grown from seed so how does that work? Read on and see:

Various methods can be used for developing new varieties of plants:

  • Cross breeding
  • Hybridisation
  • Mutation
  • Genetic Modification

We were told that breeding is easy, but the punch line is that making new varieties might be easy but making new varieties better than the old ones is a lot more difficult. 

The registration system is important because unless your variety can get official approval (Agiculture and Horticulture Development Board and Malting Barley Committee) it is unlikely to go far. 

Plants are selected for a number of criteria, but particularly harvest yield. 

Non-GN (glycosidic nitrile) is important for malts used in distilling because of concerns it can produced the carcinogenic ethyl carbamate during distillation.

Barley plants have male and female parts. The first stage of making a cross is to cut the male parts off a plant to prevent it self pollinating. 

Then pollen is taken from the other plant involved in the cross and used to fertilise the first one. 

As Confucius says, in breeding filial generations of offspring are numbered F1, F2, F3 for first, second and third generations, etc. 

Each cross will make 500-1000 sibling seeds, with the same parents but different combinations of genes, 

These will be crossed again, giving move diverse gene combinations but also fixing diversity by inbreeding to get homozygous plants which will breed true due to having the same alleles for each gene.

The best plants will be chose to proceed with for further breding trials.

Seeds will be sent to New Zealand to speed up the process, rather than waiting another year to plant. 

By this stage only plants breeding true will be moved forward in the trials.

One quick test if the plant will be a good variety is if it makes 25g of seeds. Laboratory and genetic tests will also be used to look for desired traits in the plant. 

Larger scale trails will be carried out:

100kg of seed will be obtained from these. From these further tests, including micromalting will be carried out. 

The breeding and selection of new barley varieties is in many ways similar to how new hop varieties are made, except for the self pollinated inbreeding to get homozygous plants that will breed true from seed. Tissue culture can also be used instead of self pollination as haploid pollen can be used to make homozygous diploid plants.