Friday 6 October 2017

Ingredients seminar at Thornbridge brewery.

Last month I was at Thornbridge brewery for the British Guild of Beer Writers and Brewery History Society seminar on ingredients.

We were welcomed by one of the owners, whose name escapes me. 

He owns the means of production

By the time of the first speaker I'd got my notebook and pen out so I can say with some confidence that it was Mike Cable from Wild Beer brewery next.

He'd titled his talk about all the weird and wonderful ingredients they've used "Innovation in brewing adjuncts", which shows that misunderstanding what the term adjuncts means is now common.

The list of things they've used was quite impressive:
  • Brewing liquor steeped with kombu seaweed
  • Cherry tree branches, flowers, ground pepper corns and lentils in the mash
  • Cocoa nibs, fruit juices, barrel staves, mushrooms, cockles and oysters in the boil
  • In the cellar/infusions fruit juice, fruits, cucumber, beech leaves and fig leaves
I wonder what the hit and miss rate is though? It's fun playing around with strange ingredients but not all of them are going to work. He did say fruit juice can cause problems due to pectin and prolonged fermentation.

Jenn Merrick, ex-Beavertown and due to open a new brewery soon, was next.

We heard more about brewing with fruit from her. In fruit beers customers expect to taste the fruit mentioned on the label. The aroma compounds in fruits are very similar to those found in beer (esters, higher alcohols, terpenes, etc.)

Intact and broken down fruits have different flavour compounds. You need to prepare fruit for brewing:
  • It may be better to use a puree rather than juice. 
  • Crushed skins of citrus fruits are high in oils
  • Frozen fruits have the cells broken down
  • Dried or powdered fruits are also available
The amount of fruit should be limited so it provides less than 20% of the fermentable extract or it thins the beer too much. The beer may also need to be mashed at a higher temperature or have lactose added to give it more body.

Fruits have tannins and bitterness as well as sugar, which becomes apparent post-fermentation.

Currently "breakfast juice" and "milkshake" IPAs are popular but it's hard to balance fruit and hops in really hoppy IPAs. May need to drop almost all the bittering hops and add lots of dry hops.

It's best to add fruit to the conditioning tank to avoid microbiological problems and ethanol helps solubilise flavour compounds. No heating avoids loss of aroma compounds and prevents forming a pectin gel.

Hop companies are now doing extracts of hop and fruit essential oils.

Rob Wilson from Toast Ale followed. The company was founded as part of a campaign against food waste called Feedback.

For their beer a third of the mash is fresh surplus bread. The company is based on the following principles:
  1. Make fantastic craft beer
  2. Use as much bread as possible
  3. Communicate about food waste accessibly
  4. Donate 100% of the profits to Feedback
  5. "To change the world you have to throw a better party than the people and corporations fucking the world up".

They get the bread for free from sandwich companies and currently use a tonne a months. 

Some light refreshment followed in the form of a beer tasting with the Thornbridge head brewer Rob Lovatt.

Coritani at 7.4% ABV was labelled an Imperial English IPA and described as "Timothy Taylor Landlord" on steroids. It was made with Maris otter pale malt, crystal and Munich malts, Savinjski golding hops and a Yorkshire ale yeast.

Very nice it was too. Then it was Days of Creation, a sour red ale flavoured with raspberries. No hops were used at all in making it so the lactic acid bacteria can grow (the background bitterness beers pick up from the brewery give it 6 IBUs!). The beer was fermented as normal, then centrifuged and put in French wine barrels to which Pediococcus and Lactobacillus were added, and three months later three strains of Brettanomyces and fruit. The barrels are kept at greater than 15°C, but not too hot or Acetobacter growth is encouraged. Humidity is keep high to keep down evaporative losses (topping up barrels disturbs the pellicle).

The day having been started by a member of the capitalist class next was had an aristocrat: Prince Luitpold of Bavaria.

He also owns the means of production

His family ruled Bavaria for 738 years and had a monopoly on wheat beer for 200 years. The origins of the Oktoberfest are as a wedding party for one of his relatives. He owns a brewery and they brew to the reinheitsgebot and he passed round a book from shortly after it was written which details it.

I hope these are the right pages

He made that case that beer is made from water, malt and hops, and it's possible to make drinks with other ingredients but they are not beer. He'd brought some beer too, and I see from my notes there was an unfiltered lager with a bitterness of 22 IBU and Hallertau aroma hops. I seem to remember there was a wheat beer too but I have no notes on that.

I think it was lunch after that, as the next page in my notebook is my scribbled notes for the discussion panel I was on later.

Things resumed with Scott Williams from Williams brothers.

They've been making heather ale since 1987, the recipe based on ones used by various home brewers. Bell and ling heather are used, which flower for three months. Bog myrtle is also used which adds bitterness and astringency. All are added to the boil. Heather ale was written about by the Romans, and may be the origin of Asterix's magical potion!

Their spruce beer is based a viking recipe. Spruce needs to be new growth but pine is much easier to harvest.

Their elderberry beer is based on an old Welsh recipe and also contains bog myrtle.

They also do a beer with gooseberries.

The cask version of their heather beer has some hops added to extend its shelf life. The recipes are true to their historic nature but commercially drinkable, and "normal" beers help pay the mortgage (their Joker is the best selling premium bottled ale in Scotland). We got give an comic about the heather ale legend. I know a lot of beers have creations myths, but I think it is fair to say that this one does have a proper legend.

Carl Heron was crisp malt next to talk about adjuncts. Unfortunately I seem to have missed getting a picture of him so have a picture of Thornbridge brewery instead

Not quite up to Donnington standards
Now back to the adjuncts. Hammer milled raw wheat or barley can be used to make up to 20% of the grist in a lauter tun or mash filter (though it wouldn't work in a mash tun). Exogenous enzymes are still needed.

Maize needs to be cooked at 85°C with some barley malt. Rice is cooked at 75°C for 45 minutes.

Micronised grains are 'popped' and the cellular structure is disrupted by subjecting them to infra red light for 45-60 seconds. The "micro" comes from the wavelength of infra red light used (1.8-3.4 micrometres).

Flaked maize is torrified first and can be used to to 20% of the grist (more is high diastatic power malt is used). It give 328 litre degrees per kg (LDK) of extract and has a colour of 1.3 EBC and a maximum moisture of 8.5%.

Flaked rice micronised first, has 305 LDK of extract, negligable colour and a maximum moisture of 8.5%. Its neutral flavour can accentuate hops in beer. It can also  be used to to 20% of the grist (more is high diastatic power malt is used).

Flaked oats (micronised) give 292 LDK, 1.2 EBC and have up to 11% moisture. They be used up to make up 15% of the grist. They are high in glucans so improve mouthfeel and head retention.

Torrified cereals are subjected to intense heat by passing through a fluidised bed of hot air (750-780°C) for 30-40 seconds. The cell walls break down and the grain expands.

Torrified wheat has 310 LDK, 2.5-4.5 EBC and max. moisture 10%. It's usually used as 7% of the grist to aid head retention. It can replace raw wheat in wheat beers. It tends to give head positive proteins, but not haze positive proteins.

Flaked barley is torrified first. It has 308 LDK, 2.5-4 EBC and max. moisture 10%. It give a bit of an astringent bite to beer and aids head retention.

After that it was the discussion panel, and as I was at the time brewing to the Marx Beer Purity Law I made the case for pure beer. I was supposed to have the prince in support but he'd have to leave early. I basically said that most of the novel ingredients used were gimmicky rather than innovative, and the beers that you'll go back to for more are made with standard ingredients. My opposition were Rob Lovatt, who actually seemed to agree with me, and Jenn Merrick, who was prepared to accept the prince's point that some drinks shouldn't be called beer. So the discussion went rather well for me. I still lost the vote at the end though.

After that the business was over so it was back on the coach to the stately home and a chance to see the original Thornbridge brewery.


Then it was off to Froggatt for some climbing for me, sadly it was a bit of a wash out.


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  2. As far as I remember thornbridge use a strain of Yeast derived from Timothy Taylors. Good write up Ed.