Tuesday 31 July 2018

An outsiders' view on pub life

An Australian/Dutch couple share their thoughts on pub life after running a pub in England for six months:

I don't think they were overwhelmed by the experience: "Every day in the pub the same geezers, over and over again, the same faces, the same drinks, the same bad jokes, over and over again." But they do admit they met a lot of interesting people they wouldn't otherwise have met, and got to see real English culture: "the pub is the centre of the universe...the pub is life...the pub is like the church for the English people."

Sunday 29 July 2018

Carnivale Brettanomyces 2018

Back in 1911 (or was it only June?) I was at the Carnivale Brettanomyces in Amsterdam again. "A beer festival dedicated to Brettanomyces and other wild things" it fits in well with one of my beery obsessions.

Brettanomyces and other wild things
Taking place over several days and in several venues it's hard to judge the size of the festival but it seems to be bigger every time I go.

After Boak and Bailey flagged up the prices in Amsterdam I paid more attention to how much I was spending this time and sure enough some of the prices were outrageous.

I had to wince when I got a round in at Walhalla brewery. Thimblefuls of beer cost more than what I can get a pint for in my local.

This was four Euro's worth

Nice little brewery though:

As well as the general boozing there's also lots of events and a technical lecture programme. I did a talk on the many ways that people have come up with to make alcohol from starchy plants.

I should really write it up, but I've covered a lot of the stuff on the blog already: malting, home malting, beer brewing, sake production, and chicha de muko. I also touched on acid hydrolysis and the use of exogenous enzymes to complete the set.

I also managed to get to a few lectures myself, though not as many as I'd planned, what with the networking to be done.

I really should write them up too.

Maybe one day.

The lectures were recorded so should be available online soon.

I had a wonderful time at the festival and I'm looking forward to the next one.

Thursday 19 July 2018

Fermenter Geometry

It's a while since I've done a post about technical beer nerdery, what with more important things getting in the way. But I think I've slowly reached an understanding about why fermenter geometry is significant so it's time for another.

It's a term used in text books, usually shortly before launching into descriptions of the various weird and wonderful types. Yorkshire Squares and Burton Unions often get a mention, and what the hell was going on Spherical fermenters? Most beer is made in cylindro-conical fermenters though nowadays.

Obviously yeast collection techniques will differ with different shaped fermenters, Ale yeast traditionally skimmed off the top, lager yeast scrapped out the bottom. With cylindro-conical fermenters the yeast sediment can be drawn off from the bottom of the cone and they are now commonly used for both ale and lager brewing. 

But that's not really what I was interested in. I wanted to know what does the fermenter shape do to the beer flavour. Having started out as a microbiologist I know that bugs don't read the text books so will at times behave strangely, but how does the shape of a fermenter affect this? It seems the main difference between different fermenter types is not so much due to the shape as due to the depth of the wort.

Traditional fermenters are quite shallow and lager maturation was carried out in horizontal tanks so not much depth of wort.

Not deep
As cylindro-conical fermenters are often big...very big (6000hl)...they can get very tall too. Up to 15m apparently (and even 40m if used for maturation/conditioning).


Greater depth means greater hydrostatic pressure which affects how the fermentation progresses. Carbon dioxide concentration increases resulting in greater mixing of wort due to gas lift. As the height to diameter ratio increases, so does natural agitation and the fermentation rate. This rapid fermentation can mean medium gravity ales can be produced with unseemly haste (30 to 49 hours). Beers made rapidly in tall fermenters with higher pressure contain less esters, as these figures for ethyl acetate show:

Ethyl acetate content of beer resulting from shallow and deep fermentation
Wort height (m) Ethyl acetate (mg/l)
3                        20
18                      12

This demonstrates how putting the same wort into different fermenters can make different beers. There are other factors that affect ester production during fermentation so things such as oxgenation rate, temperature and pressure can be adjusted to compensate.

I also recently learnt that greater surface area at the top of the fermenter means greater loss of hop volatiles if dry hopping in tank. As one of the purposes of traditional lagering is to get rid of unwanted volatiles will it also have an effect there? Certainly horizontal tanks were favoured over vertical ones. There may be more mysteries to fermenter geometry yet.

Thursday 12 July 2018

A visit to Harvey's Brewery

After the warm up at Burning Sky the main event was at Harvey's the next day. We were meeting at 11 am in the brewery tap before the BHS AGM at noon. Or at least that was the plan but a couple of leisurely pints of mild before getting down to business was not to be for me. A points failure meant my train slowly sauntered south and there was only time for a swifty before things kicked off.

Despite running late I stopped to take the obligatory photo of the brewery from the bridge in Lewes, correctly assuming that by the time I staggered back I'd completely forget about it.

Good, innit?

Though not quite up to IBD speed standards the AGM was mercifully brief. If only the committee meetings were like that.

If the BHS embraced keg beer there'd probably be more young people or something

A tour of the listed brewery followed the AGM

The extension to the tower only dates from the 80s though

We heard more from Head Brewer Miles Jenner before going inside:

He talked about when they were flooded. The tank behind him was ripped out of the concrete.

The flood level is marked by the plaque above the head of the gentleman on the right:

They still have a copper Copper, though it's relatively recent, dating from the 90s if I remember rightly. Miles was worried switching to all stainless steel might upset the yeast so replaced the old Copper with a new copper one.

They have a stainless Copper too.

and a steam engine they fire up once a year.

Old and new mash tuns too:

as well as a Sugar Dissolving Vessel with syrups and blocks of invert sugar:

This is where the sacks of malt enter the brewery:

Some of the hops come from The Hampton Estate so bear the Farnham bell.

A map on the wall from 1980 showed where hop farms were then:

Good old Bastard East Kent is there but shockingly no mention of Farnham.

This crime is then compounded by a diagram saying the Farnham bell is used for hops from Hampshire:

I believe all the hop farms in Hampshire are now gone, though the number of hop farms in the Farnham area in Surrey has recently doubled. Sadly only to two though.

Inside a mash tun

More of the copper Copper
They use open fermenters. The parachute shown below is used for yeast cropping. It can be lowered into the yeast head and the yeast runs into it and then down a pipe to where it can be collected below.

The gravity is given in Pounds Per Barrel, which I think makes it 48.6 in degrees Sacch. They still use Fahrenheit too.

Here's a parachute in an empty Fermenting Vessel, with an attemperator to cool the beer on the left, and what looks like some beer stone at the back.

Lots of dipsticks:

Harvey's are the only brewery in Britain to still use returnable bottles.

The 1948 chiller on the left
The recently returned to kegging to satisfy the demand of people who prefer beer that is not the pinnacle of the brewers art. They sell around a thousand barrels of keg a year.

The filler is from Lambrechts
As all good brewery tours do we ended in the sample room, where I'm delighted to say Tom Paine was on despite the fact we'd not quite reached July. I used to have a pilgrimage to Lewes with my dad every July to drink that beer.

The winner for beer of the day was Armada in the brewery tap though, but then the magic of cask beer is not something for mortals to understand.

Monday 9 July 2018

A visit to Burning Sky brewery

As a warm up before the Brewery History Society AGM there was a visit to Burning Sky brewery. They don't normally do tours but Miles Jenner of Harvey's Brewery is our current president and he was able to organise it.

The brewery is based in a couple of barns.

The sky certainly was burning when we visited, though the name comes from a song by The Jam, one of Woking's finest exports*. Apparently the lyrics fitted with what was going on at Dark Star brewery, Burning Sky founder Mark Tranter's former employer.

It's a 15 barrel brewery...

...though it does have a few features that set it apart from the ordinary:

There's a hop rocket for dry hopping

And the mash tun is equipped with rakes for mixing when lambic style turbid mashes are made

There are foeders for maturing beer

A coolship for making lambic style beers

And wooden barrels filled with beer slowly fermenting away.

They do cask, keg and bottled beers.

We got to try a few of the bottles and I was particularly taken with Recusant, which has more than a touch of Orval about it. I'll definitely be getting more of it next time I see it.

* Don't listen to London imperialist Des De Moor when he tries to claim Paul Weller.