It's been quite a month what with one thing or another. Putting a new shower in at home, getting the new conditioning tanks into operation with cooling pipework in copper, but soon to be insulated, running the glycol coolant around them and topping up the big glycol tank, commissioning the upgraded and shiny white refrigeration compressor, fitting sight-tubes to all the conditioning tanks (not just the new ones), brewing plenty of Tighthead to keep the thirsty folk in pubs happy during the Six Nations Rugby. Even managed to watch the Irish game at Murrayfield, the day after hosting at the brewery some great Irish brewers (and rugby fans). Planning for our new keg cleaner/racker which Fergus and I saw in Bergamo, Italy, for a hasty but essential pre-delivery inspection. Welcoming a new member of the brewery team, young Andrew who will be improving his brewhouse skills at the mashtun and copper. Not to mention enjoying the brief sunny week in early March before the snow came back with a vengeance...and getting out and about to some pubs for some professional sampling.
CT1 with it's rather simple but effective pushfit sight tubes. The bit that sticks out to the right is a pressure relief valve, to stop the tank imploding should beer be pumped out quickly without the CIP (the black and red handled one below) valve being open.
Our new refrigeration compressor with its copper pipework still to be lagged at the back.
What it looks like on the inside. It's just a fancy fridge except without the food or drink. The compressor is the black bit on the lower left and the white cylinder is the gas expansion tank. Fridges work by compressing a gas into liquid and then allowing the liquid to evaporate back to gas which brings a drop in temperature, just like droplets of sweat on one's brow evaporating in the breeze, bringing a drop in temperature.
The pressure gauge of the glycol coolant within the system
The old shower cubicle at home after I'd gone mad with a sledgehammer. I kept the copper pipework for the new fittings.
All shiny and new. Note to self - must get shower door
The February sun shining bright on St. Matthew's Church Spire - the view from the back of my flat
Oh such beauty! Sunburst in all its glory.
A happy and contented man...in the Ericht Alehouse. Top pub.Go there. Enjoy.
I know it's been a while since Christmas and the festive season, but we've been hard at it in the brewery with plenty of beer going out in lots of different tankers, casks, kegs and bottles. I took a few days off over Hogmanay and had a lovely time in the Black Isle with the Lady Arlene and her family. Hogmanay itself was very pleasant indeed with a visit to the pictures in Eden Court, Inverness, to see Life of Pi (2D) - an excellent interpretation of the best-selling book - followed by great grub and grog at the Castle Tavern featuring our thirst-quenching Thrappledouser and the hearty and robust Lia Fail. Then over the River Ness to a crackin' outside concert with the Treacherous Orchestra, Big Country and Skerryvore. We snuck off to see the bells in at our lodgings for the night before a glowing fire and some fine uisge beatha.
Above you can see my personal haul of beer-related Xmas goodies. Garret Oliver's wonderfully informative Brewmaster's Table - fascinating reading with some inspiring food and beer ideas. He's an interesting and interested writer with a superb turn of phrase and throws a good deal of light on to the American brewing story. From early spruce beers through Washington, Jefferson and the 19th century pre-eminence of Brooklyn as a brewing town (a good water supply being paramount), continuing on through Prohibition - such a sadness - and up to the present day. A lovely and worthwhile treasure.
My sister Fiona, who lives by Helston in Cornwall, sent up the beautiful print of Spingo Christmas Cracker from Helston's Blue Anchor Pub Brewery. A frame is being sought as I write and a space found on the wall in the sitting-room. A fine accompaniment it shall be to the third of my beery gifts - a delightful limited edition ceramic relief from Fife artist Hilke Macintyre which proudly displays admiration and anticipation of the foaming brew. Thank you, Arlene.
Meanwhile, back on the brewery floor, more excitement ensues with the very recent addition of our three new 30 barrel triple-purpose vessels. Triple-purpose because they can be used for fermentation, conditioning and carbonating bright beer for kegging. They are dish-bottomed with the dish underneath, as we call the shape of the underside, exactly the same profile as the domed lid. The relatively flat centre of the dish, where the inlet/outlet lies, is ideal for letting the flocculating and sedimenting yeast and proteinaceous trub settle out, without dragging it all through to the casks, filter or kegs. Below is a shot of our very own Three Wise Men, Richard, Malc and Duncan, standing in front of our new members of staff with their proper names - Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar - our Three Kings, each with his gift, but instead of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, we have Fermentation, Conditioning and Carbonating Pressure!
We've already filled Caspar, on the left, with Tighthead, our 4.2% amber ale ready for the Rugby World Cup. Looking forward to it and the rugby! Slàinte, Ken
The Festive Season is upon us now and Father Christmas has been good enough to send me a picture of what's in my stocking. I don't quite know how he's going to get them into his sack and down the chimney, but his special powers will ensure, I'm sure, that these three new 30 barrel tanks arrive on time in the brewery!
'Tis the season of goodwill and merriment, so I'll wish you all a wonderful Christmas and New Year and share with you all a picture from our very good friends, Osmo & Sari in Finland wishing everyone a Good Yule with help from Messrs Blackfriar!
Nollaig Chridheil is Bliadhna Mhath Ùr! Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year,
It's been quite hectic at the brewery for the last month or so, with folk being away on holiday (me too, although I did visit five other breweries during the 4 days off, old habits being hard to break...) and new computer systems going into the office and with two new people starting work - ok, I know you can't really call it 'work' if it's in a brewery - so I'll give you a whistle stop tour of what's been going on.
Above we have the lovely people from the also lovely University of Study of Gastronomy from Piedmonte, Italy, who popped in today for a tour and in depth technical discussion about how we brew beer. Always nice to have food and drink lovers come by for some serious organoleptic evaluation! Grazie, Amici.
This is a Norwegian paraphrase for a well-known prayer - Our Beer, which art in the Brewery, Hallowed be Thy Name - put on to the brewery tap's mini-blackboard to welcome our guests from southern Norway, who had booked a tour and taste complete with pies on a Friday lunchtime three weeks ago.
Casks of Lia Fail and Ossian, pictured above, were the main offering at a cèilidh (dance) in Bankfoot, two weeks back, where we were helping to raise money for the Chernobyl Childrens' Lifeline, which brings children over from that radiation-poisoned part of Ukraine and Belarus each summer for a month to help them get some healthy living and fresh green vegetables. We helped to raise over £2000, thanks to the thirsty dancers.
Winter is just upon us, with Autumn's cool evenings and misty mornings turning to darkness and chill as the Earth tilts more away from the Sun. Here's my bike on the bank of the River Tay on my journey in to the brewery one Sunday morning last month, lying prostrate in front of a very elderly elderberry tree, which, despite the amount of lichen it carries, still flowers and copiously bears fruit. It's a late flowerer and therefore brings forth its berries late in the season. When the berries are just away, it acts as my natural alarm clock to remind me that the Festive Season will be upon us soon, with its attendant ale, Santa's Swallie -
Yo Ho Ho!
One day later here's the Almond River, 200 yards from the brewery and in the other direction my elder tree. The river is flowing under the old Inverness road bridge in spate and about to burst its bank. However you'll be glad to know that the brewery and it's stock of freshly-brewed Santa's Swallie is quite a bit higher up from the river, keeping the beer safe for everyone! Thankfully.
A small chalkboard welcome for our Swedish visitors two weeks ago - for those of you with good Swedish, you'll recognise the language is quite an old style of around 1541 AD. Continuing with the Swedish theme, we were chuffed to bits to receive a Silver Medal from the Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival 2012 for Ossian. Tak sa mycket och Skal! Ken
Continuing the baking theme in these pages, it's good to hear more people are trying out baking and cooking with beer. Campbell's Bakery in Crieff have been baking a beautiful loaf with Lia Fail and Ian, one of our regulars in the Brewery Tap on a Friday afternoon (come on down for a taste and a look around), brought in a heavenly loaf of bread baked with Blackfriar and chilli flakes - would be so good dipped into some extra virgin olive oil and balsamic. The previous Friday he brought in some divinely rich brownies made with Lia Fail. So baking with beer was certainly still in my mind. On Friday evening I was going to bake an ordinary gingerbread, but since there was already a half-opened botle of Blackfriar on the kitchen table, the loaf took on a new dimension. Especially when I pulled out of the cupboard the jar of ground ginger to discover it wasn't ginger at all but cardamom. Hmm... Since the butter was already melted and cooling in the frying pan and the sugar and treacle had been mixed together, I thought, 'Fair enough, carry on and add the cardamom in place of the ginger and throw in the last of my ground cinnamon - and while I'm at it, use the Blackfriar I'm drinking in place of the milk...'
You can see above a stylist's photo (all right, I took the picture, and you can also see I'm no stylist!) of the loaf complete with a well-thumbed through and stained Lofty Peak Recipe Book. The loaf did taste slightly gingery - cardamom, cinnamon and treacle, together with the not-so secret ingredient of Blackfriar combined to give a rich, spicy warmth. Tasty and moreish. Lovely words, even for a brewer!
I'm not the only one to think that Blackfriar tastes good, as we received a postcard from our good friend Johny in Liberec, Czech Republic with his view on this mighty ale - I hope you can read them -
Diky moc & thanks very much Johny for the good words!
Been on a bit of a baking frenzy this week - three dense and very moist chocolate cakes, two loaves of rye sourdough, one wheat sourdough and one batch of chocolate cupcakes. I prefer to call them fairy cakes, as there is something magical about them.
The extra special thing about the chocolate fairy cakes is that I used Blackfriar in the recipe. We've been brewing it for bottling this week and I've been tasting it rather more than normal. Yes it's true, there are advantages in being a brewer! Anyway back to the cupcakes or fairy cakes. The finished article was a real success and tasted divine. Moist and rich, dark chocolatey and hints of dark roasted malt. Although I've called the fairy cakes 'chocolate', there isn't any actual chocolate in the recipe as the chocolate flavours come from the cocoa, fleshed out a bit more by the caramelisation of the dark maltiness of the Blackfriar beer. The dark muscovado-type sugar also adds its hints of treacle and molasses which really round of the flavours here.
Well worth a try and ever so easy.
40g soft margerine - I use the well known brand named for the bird that is said to deliver babies.
130g dark brown sugar
100g plain flour
1 & 1/2 tsp baking powder
40g cocoa powder
1 egg medium - from Hugh Grierson's free range honesty shop past Tibbermore
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
120ml Blackfriar Ale - indulge in a glass of the remainder whilst the oven works its wonders.
I use a wooden spoon and a big earthenware bowl for everything - a lot easier to clean and even better for getting your finger to scrape the last bit out.
Oven on to 170c. Tray with 12 fairy cake cases at the ready.
Mix marg, sugar, flour, baking powder and cocoa together to make a a well-combined crumble. Don't eat any! Not until it's baked...
In a bowl or measuring jug whisk the egg and stir in the beer and vanilla extract. Add this to the chocolatey crumble and stir in steadily, just to get it smooth and mixed. Don't beat it too much or you'll drive out the bubbles to lift the cakes up.
Spoon into the cases and into the oven for 15 minutes or until springy to touch.
Let cool for 5 minutes in baking tray then carefully put on to wire rack.
I like to dust them with icing sugar and then enjoy with a cup of Lady Grey tea.
Something we've been doing for quite few years now is triple brewing - not brewing tripel, the Belgian strong blond ale as in Westmalle Tripel or Chimay White - but simply doing three brews consecutively into one fermenting vessel. If one's brewlength (the amount of each brew, i.e., 30 barrels) and FV capacity are the same then there is no need for such extravagant behaviour, however if one has a FV thrice as large as the brewlength, then doing three brews consecutively into said FV will work effectively. The brews can go in three days in a row, which what we do currently with Bigger Bertha (its other name being CT7) shown below, or straight after each other, without a break, if one is shift brewing around the clock. The first at 8am, the second at 3pm and the third at 10 pm.
Our regular brewlength is 30 bbls (barrels) or in metric speak, 50hl (hectolitres or 100 ltres). We have 4 sizes of FVs - 20, 30, 60 & 120 bbls which means most of our brewing is in 30 bbl aliquots. The two smaller 20 bbl FVs get brews of 20 bbls and the 30 bbl FVs get the standard 30 bbl brewlengths. But for the two larger FVs (FV8 at 60 bbl and CT7 at 120 bbl, the latter revelling in its status as a dual-purpose vessel - fermenting and conditioning) the dark arts of double and triple brewing must be practised. Those of you with a mathematical bent will be asking yourselves why we don't do quadruple brewing into the largest tank being of four times our standard brewlength of 30 bbls. The answer is we need some freeboard or space above the fermenting wort for the yeast head to rise up. And indeed it does. Especially with the stronger beers. For Blackfriar, our 7% Scotch Ale, for example, we'll brew 3 x 20bbl brews into FV8 and it likes to foam up with serious intent.
I was reminded of this today by our summer placement student from Heriot-Watt University, Liam, who asked how much yeast we pitch into a double or triple brew. A good question. We pitch 10 litres of yeast slurry to give 18 million cells per ml of wort for the first brew of 30 bbls which is oxygenated for 30 minutes. As the cells take up the nutrients and the oxygen present in the wort, the yeast cells multiply sufficiently to be able to cope with the next brew coming in. This second brew only gets 10 minutes of oxygenation, which allows the now-multiplied yeast to grow even more to be able to ferment the doubled brew in the FV and also, after the third brew is added without any oxygen, to continue the fermentation to completion. A simple tale of yeast going forth into the fermenter and multiplying.
Lia Fail yeast head getting going in style
It's important to get enough yeast cells to ferment out the wort but we don't want too many otherwise the beer will have the wrong flavour, and beer is all about flavour. Having the yeast multiply, generally fourfold during a fermentation, is good for our flavour characteristics, and it's also a lot easier and simple to pitch 15 litres into a brew than 60 litres.
As far as yeast vessels are concerned, we use simple 25 ltr drums into which yeast is run, merely by opening the valve and letting the yeast slurry flow in gently, from the bottom of the cone of an FV of one of the previous week's fermentations.
The drums are stored in a fridge at 3 degrees C where they sit until needed for brewing over the following 6 days. I wouldn't really want to leave the yeast in the fridge longer than a week as it will begin to lose viability and vitality quite rapidly after then. Pitching involves the yeast being pumped into the FV in-line with the oxygenated wort using our yellow peristaltic pump shown below.
This pump from the peristaltic experts, Watson-Marlow, works like a hand milking a cow, gently squeezing the milk down a teat into the milk-bucket, by gently squeezing the yeast through a flexible hose (the clear hose coming out of the right-hand side of the pump) into the fast-flowing wort coming from the heat-exchanger and thus into the FV, getting good mixing with the wort in the process.
Our pitching set above, where wort travels along the green hose and the pale beige yeast slurry is coming in from the left. We find this method of pitching gives consistent results in fermentation and flavour and it certainly beats opening up a fermenter lid and pouring in 15 litres of slurry and helps avoid infections from wild yeasts and bacteria which will do no good for the taste of the beer. And what we're all about is, of course, the taste of the beer! Like in this pint of Thrappledouser...
As you'll have noticed the blogs have been a wee bit thin on the ground recently. Mea culpa, as I've been overseas to the United States of America. Athol in Massachusetts to be precise, helping the town celebrate its 250th anniversary, in my humble capacity as an Atholl Highlander, the Duke of Atholl's personal bodyguard and army, based at Blair Castle, Blair Atholl, Perthshire. We were away for two weeks, ten days in Athol staying with host families, then one night in Boston, finishing up with 4 days in Bermuda, opening the first ever Bermuda Highland Games, being billeted in the Royal Bermudan Regiment's Warwick Camp. I'll start off with some high points of our stay in Athol.
The very fine Derek and the late great Will Sellars - who were tasked with looking after Niall and me in Athol. We think we won the jackpot with the host pairings - the best people who could not do enough for us. Will, on the right, passed away unexpectedly a week after our return. A tragic loss to all who knew him, as he was an upstanding gentleman - a Virginian and a Scot of ancient descent - immensely proud of his heritage and very knowledgeable of Scottish and American History. We only knew him for 6 days, but I felt he was like an elder brother. A caring, fun and kind man, ever ready to stand up for those in need. A good storyteller and a fine singer too. We'll all miss him.
The bar in our host's house - being a good 25 minute drive away from the centre of Athol, it was a very pleasant room to spend some relaxation time. The fridge was full of lovely beers - Wachusett and Berkshire Brewing, to name but a few. As one sipped at the fine ales, through the window (seen from the garden in the first picture of this piece above, to the left of the flags) could be seen a bird feeder - not for sparrows or chaffinches, but for hummingbirds. Amazing tiny birds - stunningly irridescent and beautiful - a real treat for us.
One of the Athol hosts, Jerome, in his garage beside his pride and joys - his classic XJS Jaguar and his three barrel self-built brewery. He had a 'kegerator' in the kitchen which contained 4 kegs of his homebrews on tap - excellent beer and very tasty indeed. A good brewer for sure. I suspect there a quite a few microbrewers in this country who could learn a thing or two from Jerome. One of our Atholl Highlanders did very well staying with Jerome and his wife Liz! Four beers on tap in the kitchen - Wow! Super people who certainly know how to put on a cracking party.
'Hey, let's go and visit another brewery...'
'Ok, if you insist...'
And what a brewery it was. Berkshire Brewing Company, in South Deerfield, in Western Massachusetts, has been going 19 years. Founded by homebrewers Chris and Gary, it's a really friendly homely brewery that brews fantastic beer. I felt so much at home there on our tour with my fellow Highlanders Ross and Kevin and their host Don. Here we are, below, in the Dick Schatz taproom inside the brewery. The late Dick Schatz was one of the band of helpers in the Berkshire Brewing Co. (BBC)'s early days, when friends would come down and pitch in unpaid with hand bottling or scrubbing out tanks. He left his huge collection of American Breweriana to BBC and they honoured his memory with this lovely bar.
Out in the fermenting cellars. Like us, they pretty much brew ale, with one or two bottom-fermenting styles. BBC brews about four times as much as we do at Inveralmond, but there is still the same attention to detail and passion for the beer.
Ssshhh... Beer sleeping quietly in the lagering cellars.
The growler cleaning team and a real jolly pair. A growler is the standard term for the brown half-gallon flagon used by most new breweries in the US, seen coming out of the washer.
A sneaky shot from the men's restroom - complete with the super homebrewing magazine, Zymurgy. If you're serious about homebrewing, get a subscription - just google it. It comes from Boulder in Colorado, but it's high quality homebrewing information with good articles and plenty of practical knowledge.
Back in the taproom with a shot of the full beer range on draught. If you get the chance to pop in, do. You'll not be disappointed. Great beer, great people with a great attitude. As the BBC t-shirts say, 'Things are looking up!'
Next brewery - ok, we were there as the Atholl Highlanders doing gigs here there and everywhere, but we did in fact do a show at this next brewery. In Merrimack in New Hampshire (state motto on every number plate - 'Live Free or Die!') is the Anheuser-Busch Budweiser Brewery. The smallest of their 16 breweries in the US, it was still the size of a small city.
Real live brewing heritage, folks, Bud-style. Not our great piper Ross - he's just there to give the brewery behind some scale - but the plastic horse, Big Scott, who was one of the renowned Budweiser Dray Clydesdales. There is a huge stable block here, where they keep one of the Clydesdale teams. The horses seem to be a bigger attraction than the beer, so much was made of them during our tour.
The famous Budweiser USA beechwood chip lagering tanks. There were seemingly hundreds of them. The tour took in the major points of brewing Bud, from the malt and rice rail wagons, through the brewhouse with its rice cookers, mash tuns, lauter tuns and hop kettles and on to the fermentation cellars. One of the interesting things about Bud is that these lagering tanks, laid inside up to a foot deep with beechwood chips to allow the yeast to continue to mature the beer for 21 days by remaining in contact with the beer rather than flocculating and settling on to the vessel floor, are krausened, or primed, with a percentage of freshly fermenting beer. A traditional German practice, but not unsurprising, as most of the older US brewing techniques came from Germany. Quite a labour-intensive operation - adding the chips and then taking them out afterwards all by hand to clean and so on. Nice to see it still continued by a Very Large Brewery.
An Inveralmond T-shirt smuggled inside the sanctum sanctorum of the brewery tasting room. I was expecting the security heavies to hustle me out double-quick!
The famous New England Clambake, put on for us by the Athol 250 Committee, as seen in the musical 'Carousel', although there may be more lobster visible than clam. Truly sensational. A big fire within the stone cicle is started, then plenty of seaweed laid on top, then buckets of fresh clams and lobster, then covered with more seaweed and finally a tarpaulin. This allows the steam from the wet seaweed cook the seafood to perfection. Delicious.
The Blind Pig, Athol. One of the Great Pubs of the World. I cannot recommend the Pig enough - great staff, great customers and great pub grub, topped off with a superb selection of crafty brews on draught. A beer festival in itself. The beer fridge at the end of the bar holds a cornucopia of first-rate New England micros - go visit and enjoy. Summer opening hours 11am - late M-F, closed Sat/Sun.
Friendly folk beside the flowers - always like a bar that has fresh flowers in a vase on the bar. The locals kept buying us beer and we felt this was a wonderful and honourable tradition that we should indulge ourselves in. Thanks everyone! The hospitality was overwhelming and humbling, but we did give as good as we got. One of the pipers Ross, already seen in these notes, got up his pipes and stood up on the bar cranking out a few good tunes for us to sing along to, then he would go into what became known as 'the Death March' - he would step off the bar on to a bar stool in time with the beat and then off into mid-air without looking, expecting us to scrabble madly about placing bar stools under his feet as he marched around the bar on to the hastily-placed bar stools! Incredibly, each time this happened, his foot would land on to a stool just in time. Nerve-wracking for us rushing around with the stools, but hilarious to watch!
The Pig in all her glory - kitted out in fine Scottish style, wearing her own Athol 250th Anniversary Medal (on the purple ribbon) which we were all presented with in the Town Hall at a grand ceremony after a march through the town with colours flying and fixed bayonets. In the soaking rain, I might add, but it didn't detract from the occasion, merely add to the heightened emotions.
Young Niall and I flanking Carol and Deb, who was also looking after us in excellent fashion, from the Athol Town Library, proudly showing us the bold extension plans for the venerable building. Ah yes, Culture - I remember it well...
Get on the bus, get off the bus. Where's the next gig? What are playing? Who are we playing for?
I hope you will forgive (or enjoy) my indulgence as I share my thoughts with you. I will try to stick to brewing and beer, but my mind often wanders to other, sometimes esoteric, subjects. I may even drop in to Gaelic if the mood takes me.
Ken Duncan, Head Brewer at The Inveralmond Brewery