Saturday, 31 October 2015

Elgoods brewery and 'spontaneously' fermented beer

I don't know why I find brewery history so interesting but I do. So there was no way I was going to miss out on the chance to visit Elgoods brewery and see their open copper coolers.

Head Brewer Alan Pateman took a break from his holiday to show us round and talk about the beers he's stated making based on the lambic style, though they call their beer 'cambic' (as they're in Cambridgeshire) to keep the lawyers at bay.

Elgoods date back to 1795 so have a long history, but times have changed and they can’t just sell mild and bitter anymore. They've done lots of New Product Development in various styles  and now brew 30-40 recipes a year, including sour beers.

Being an old brewery the malt hopper dates from 1910, Boby 2-roller mill from 1912 and the mash tun is even older, though they don't know exactly how old.
Normally mash at 150°F (65.5°C) but for the cambics go slightly higher to 152-154°F (66.5-67.5°C)
They have a 15 quarter mash tun (2,300 kg capacity), with which they can make 30-100 bbl of beer depending on the strength. They use mains water, which is chalky so add AMS and gypsum to the grist.

For cambics they first used 70% pale malt and 30% unmalted wheat but this caused problems in the mash tun so they now use torrified instead of raw wheat. Old hops from 2010 are used, which have lost most of their flavour and bitterness but still have the tannins. They brew 45 bbl at a time using open cooling trays (coolships).

The wort pH is lower for lambics so it's adjusted with lactic acid in the hop back to pH4.5-4.8 on the cooling tray.
They have a 95 bbl copper from 1950 which is boiled at 1.5 lbs over atmospheric pressure. The boil length is 60-90 minutes depending on the colour of the beer. If late hops are used they’re added in the hop back. For the cambic they boil for 2.5 hours. Lots of tannins get into the wort from the hops and the gravity rises from 40-45°Sacch to 55-60. The cambic wort cools to 55°F (13°C) overnight. Each of the two cooling trays will take 27 bbl with a depth of about 12”. They were last used previously 22 years ago, the current head brewer saying one of his first acts was to stop using them. A lot of evaporation takes place in the cooling trays, enough to raise the gravity by 4°Sacch. They’re also very good for cold break formation.

Oak planks, made from a 250 year old dead oak they had in the brewery grounds, have been placed above the cooling trays so condensation can form on them and drip back into the trays, hopefully taking the microbiological flora living on the oak with them into the wort. Oak chips are also added in tank at a rate of 244g of oak chips per hl. They ferment for 6-9 months in glass lined tanks dating from the 1930s that they weren’t using but had never disposed of.

They think they have more fermentation taking place from lactic acid bacteria than Brettanomyces yeast. The youngest beer tastes only slightly sour and very cidery, they older beer has a more pronounced sourness though, and they’re blended together like a gueuze at Elgoods. It certainly seemed like a very credible lambic style beer to me. The also do a sweet fruit flavoured version for people after something a bit less in your face.
The cambic is sold in bottle and keg but 70% of Elgoods output is cask, with total beer production a modest 5-6,000 bbl a year.

As I was driving I had the mild, and I can see why Elgoods got by for years just selling mild and bitter, as it was really rather good. If you're after the cambic it mostly goes to the states but some can be found in specialist beer outlets as Elgoods Coolship.


  1. Got the emails for this trip and was gutted I couldn't make it being in India and all. I remember Alan commenting that he had some Coolers back at Elgoods when we visited Cantillon a few years ago. Can't wait to get hold of some when I visit home next.

    1. It was an excellent visit, and fantastic to see the coolers in use.

  2. "The wort pH is lower for lambics so it's adjusted with lactic acid ..."
    I thought the lower pH in lambics is from the lactic acid produced by Lactobacillus and (sometimes) Pediococcus during fermentation, not by simply adding lactic acid.

  3. The final pH of the cambic is defintely lower than normal beer due to bacteria but they adjust the wort pH too so it's lower before fermentation starts.

    1. Sure, that is what Elgoods are doing. But to suggest that traditional lambic brewers are using lactic acid is, I suspect, doing them a disservice. But I'm no expert so may well be wrong.

      I'm certrainly aware that souring before fermentation is an option, but achieving that by just bunging in some lactic acid sounds like a bit of a cheat.

    2. I can only pass on what I learnt at Elgoods, as it's a long, long time since I went round a lambic brewery and that was as a tourist. I do know that Alan Pateman has been round lambic breweries though and hired a Belgian brewing consultant.

    3. I've just seen in Jeff Sparrow's 'Wild Brews' that some lambic brewers add lactic acid to the wort to stop enteric bacteria growing.

  4. The correct English word is "cooler" not "cool ship".