Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Sunburst Bohemian Pilsner in bottle bursts on to the craft beer scene with elegance, panache and and a gloriously Bohemian taste!

I'm very excited today as we're launching our new range of beers today - the Inspiration Series. It's a brand new series of beers which have been inspired by the great beer styles of the world. There are some amazing classic beers out there in the wonderful world of beer and we thought it was about time we made our mark on this field. We asked everyone in the brewery to get together and make up a Beer Development Team to think about some new beers for us to brew and they came up with the Inspiration Series, a numbered list of deliciously diverse and exciting beers. We've got 4 in the pipeline, or grist-case I should say, at the moment, and Inspiration Series No.1 is Sunburst Bohemian Pilsner. You can see we've got a brand new designed look and those of you with excellent 3D vision can tell it's a 330ml long-necked bottle. 
As you know Sunburst on draught has been developing over the last 15 years from a cask-conditioned version originally to a filtered version in keg more recently. I've always wanted to get it into bottles but we just didn't have the maturation or lagering tank capacity. It takes 8 weeks icy cold maturation after its 10 day cool bottom fermentation to develop its exquisite and complex Saaz and Hallertau Hersbrucker hoppy aroma, its smooth malty palate and its soft lingering finish. This fermentation and lagering regime is only possible with our beautiful Czech lager yeast, which I get from my good friends at the Brevnovsky Brewery in Prague. One of my long-term plans has been to get more tank space and get a dedicated maturation cellar, which we now have and at last we can put Sunburst into bottle! Slava, Slava! Hooray, Hooray in Czech!
A happy brewer in his new maturation cellar
It's No.1 in the Inspiration Series because I've been inspired so much by my Beer and Brewery Hunting visits in the Czech Lands to brew this beer. I've had a very long association with Bohemia and the Czech Lands, first learning some Czech in 1968, year of the Prague Spring, so I could sing in the boy's chorus on the stage of my mother's opera company in Smetana's Bartered Bride. Years later I started to visit the country more often and since, as they say in Czech, Hospoda je nejlepsi ucitelka - the pub is the best teacher, my language skills improved along with my appreciation of their wonderful brewing traditions, sowing the seed for my desire to brew my version of the wonderful Pilsner style. Exacting to brew as it's such a delicate, yet exhilarating taste, with no margin for error, but oh, so exquisite to enjoy.
I hope you all enjoy as much as I do. Diky moc a Na Zdravi! Thank you very much and Slàinte, Ken

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Three Cheers for today 1st March is Iceland's 25th Anniversary of Beer Day - Skál!

Today, the First Day of March, that amazing country of Ice and Fire, Volcanoes and Tectonic Plate-shifting, Iceland, celebrates that most exciting of days for a brewer and beer lover - Beer Day!

The Icelandic Flag at þingvellir, the site of the first Icelandic Parliament

Today is the 25th Annual Beer Day as beer was illegal in Iceland from 1915 right up to 1 March 1989, after the people felt it was time to embrace the joys of beer. And quite right too! Now it's proper and respectable to have a view like this in your cellar:

50 litre kegs in Reykjavik pub cellar

 I was lucky enough to have a short visit to this incredible island in May last year (corresponding blog to follow when I find the photos). Favourite bar/cafes were Cafe Babalu, Laundromat CafeÖlstofa Kormáks Og SkjaldarBest eating by far was down at the docks in the Sea Baron. They are brewing some delicious beer of all types - from the palest of pilsners to the most imperial of stouts, with everything in between. Get over there if you can - you'll not be disappointed by the welcoming and friendly Icelanders, the out of this world volcanic scenery and the beautiful beer. 
Fagnið pivni daginn í dag! Celebrate Icelandic Beer Day today!
Skál & Slàinte, 
Ken

Friday, February 21, 2014

Snowdrops and sunlight

Cycling home from the brewery this afternoon, I watched a flight of oystercatchers head for their roost, for the first time in months in sunlight, as the days are drawing out with the Winter Solstice well behind us and Spring on its way. I was heading under the old bridge over the River Almond (as in Inveralmond) a couple of hundred yards from the brewery, when I suddenly saw beside me a host of ivory snowdrops which had flourished and blossomed this week.

I had to stop and take a picture as for me snowdrops represent the beginning of Spring, along with that most marvellous of birds (in my humble opinion), the Oystercatcher. These two Signifiers of Spring return to the banks of the Almond during the same week every year and it's a great filip to the soul hard-pressed by the extremes of Winter, bringing their lightness and brightness to the riverbank and meadow. The Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) comes through the soil by the river, where its bulb has been more often  than not (and weeks at a time!) deep under the winter rainwater and snowmelt, breaking out with bright alabaster white and vivid green on a background of washed out withered grass and heath.

The charming Oystercatcher (Haemotopus ostralegus), immacutely turned out in his exceedingly smart black and white plumage, brings his own colour to the drabness of the scene with his bright orange-rimmed red eyes, orange legs and beak. The high-pitched shrill cheep-cheep sounds out its cheeriness as the bird wings swiftly through the air looking for its mate, with whom it mates for life. We have two pairs who nest at the brewery every year - one pair at the front and the other at the back.


Spring is also the time for us in the brewery to get on with brewing this year's beers - our regular Duncan's IPA, a blond bitter beer tipping its head to the IPAs of the past, and our newly-vamped Tighthead Ale brewed specially for the 6 Nations Rugby tournament - scrum-ptious! As well as these two, brewed just today, our own brand-new offering to the Wetherspoon's Spring Beer Festival - Marzenfest - a malty deep golden ale with luscious, biscuity malty notes on the palate from the toasted Munich malt and hints of springtime buds and trees flushing with their newly unfurled leaves from the sweet Brewer' Gold hops on the nose. Prosit!


Just makes me want to have a beer right now writing about it, so I'll pour myself a glass of Homecoming...why don't you do the same? 
Cheers, Slàinte and welcome to Spring!
Ken 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year to one and all this Year of Homecoming Scotland 2014!

Every New Year brings its own special joy and reflections on the previous twelve months and this one is no different. 2013 was a very interesting year for the brewery with three new people joining and new beers created and enjoyed, not to mention more fermenters, conditioning tanks, keg filler and cask cleaner together with solar panels on the roof (ok, where else?) and a new liquid CO2 bulk tank system. So I celebrated Hogmanay with some Santa's Swallie and some fine Scottish Tablet.

On top of all of this we brewed some fabulous beer and tried our best to improve the human condition through the medium of beer! I think we've succeeded and we'll strive to continue with this approach over the next twelvemonth.
2014 is the year of Homecoming Scotland and I'm proud to have brewed a delicious eponymous beer to celebrate this:

Here's a shot of Dave the Tanker Driver with me filling up Tanker T32 with the first batch of Homecoming Scotland 2014 beer which has now been packed into stylish and contemporary 330ml longneck bottles. Great for every occasion!
Jamey Bowers, the current Miss Scotland, gladly pouring the first glass of Homecoming Scotland 2014 beer 
Anyway back to wishing you all a super and fulfilling New Year. May it be prosperous and happy and accompanied by great-tasting beer!
Bliadhna Math Ur! Happy new Year!
Slainte,
Ken 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The countdown to Xmas has begun and there are more goodies in Santa's sack...

We're all very excited at the brewery because we're going to get some lovely Xmas gifts from Santa. Three new dual-purpose 30 bbl fermenting and conditioning tanks are in the middle of manufacture.



They are almost ready for the lorry, with only minor finishing touches to do. Stainless steel comes from the steel mill with a protective peel-off grey plastic coating, which remains on during the welding and bending processes. Once the tanks have been transported here, unloaded off the lorry, uprighted and put into position on the brewery floor, the plastic coating is peeled off to reveal the shiny stainless finish. Great fun - it's a bit like popping the bubbles in bubble-wrap  - once you start, you can't stop! And then the real excitement comes when we fill them with beer. Can't wait.
 
Hope you all have a relaxing and enjoyable lead-up to the Xmas period. I'll be looking forward to a few pints of our scrumptious Santa's Swallie, ask for it in a pub near you...
Slàinte!
Ken 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How to help the environment and decrease your carbon footprint by installing Solar PV Panels.

In these carbon-conscious times we've been thinking good and hard about our energy usage. Even though we're in Scotland where a high proportion of electricity comes from hydro schemes, we felt it would be a very sensible environmental decision to put solar panels on to our roof, as this will help our overall usage of electricity and furthermore contribute to the national grid.

 
Three weeks ago the scaffolders arrived and in a day had erected this multi-coloured framework mainly around the western side of the building to allow the electricians to install the solar panels on the roof. They did pick a very wet day to put the scaffolding up as you can see from the sheen of rain on the tarmac.


This is the view on the roof looking North, with the brew kettle chimney stack in the upper right of the picture. So now you know what a Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Panel looks like. For a more detailed guide on Solar PV click here.


Here is Michael the electrician, hiding behind the platform on the cherrypicker, commissioning the inverters - the 2 black and blue panels fixed to the wall above the malt intake hopper. Inverters turn the Direct Current (like in a torch battery) into Alternating Current as in your 2-phase 240v domestic supply, though at the brewery we have the added complication of having a 3-phase 415v supply, which is much more efficient at running our types of big pumps and refrigeration equipment. The power from the PV panels comes down through the roof along the black cables into the seven black and grey isolator switchboxes then into the inverters, from where it goes into our distribution board. We had to switch off all the electricity into the brewery for a few hours for the connecting up of the PV power to our distribution board (all the grey/white panels on the right of the photo)  which did involve a 'Throw the Switch, Igor' moment, when the main power line was cut off. And much more excitingly, when the power was switched back on again!
 
'Throw the switch, Igor!'
 
The cardboard recycling lorry, which comes by us on Thursday had a bumper load as every component came in a little box. In fact we recycled all of the wrapping, cardboard and pallets that the installation came with, to help with the holistic green approach we've taken with this project.

One thing I was very pleased with, despite the fact that the commissioning of the PV panels took place on a cold dank rainy day, was that the system managed to generate 4 kW in about half an hour after it was switched on before the dusk made it too dark for any power generation.
 
Our new sun-o-meter

Every day we're hoping for sun and its light, as that's what makes this work to harness the sun's energy to help our environment for the present and for the future, as I want people to be able to enjoy our (now greener) beer far into the future as well.
Slàinte,
Ken

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

All new shiny stuff - can a brewery ever get any more exciting than this?

Been a while since I posted anything - so much been going on over the summer together with my lack of modern computer skills ( ie my old laptop at home where this blog is put together getting outdated with operating system and browser and me being unable to fix it - until now that is).

Been doing a bit of hill walking, contemplating the craft beer scene

There have been quite a few changes at the brewery - new people, new systems, new kit, new van and even a new kettle. A new toaster would be nice but we'll have to wait a bit for that. The underlying theme of all this change isn't in fact change for its own sake but it's more of an emphasis on quality and the delivery of great tasting beer, because, what really matters for me and all of us in the brewery is this - great tasting beer.

There has been a lot of talk over the past year and even more attitudes of all kinds in the press and blogosphere about craft beer, crafty beer, craft vs. keg, craft vs. real ale and micro vs macro. My idea is quite a simple view - is it beer I can be proud of and proud to tell the world about. Everyone has a different spin on craft beer and this one is mine. I has taken me years to learn my craft and I'm still learning. I still want to brew better beer and to brew beer better.

One way of doing this is to have better equipment, so over the last 6 months we've been investing in new kit in the brewery, beginning with the keg machine. This keg cleaner/filler arrived one dreich Saturday morning in April all the way from the manufacturer Comac in Bergamo, near Milan. It's very near where San Pellegrino water (my personal favourite) comes from, and if you know anything about grand opera, it's the town where the composer Donizetti was from.The driver was Bulgarian and spoke no English, let alone Scots, so it was back to my 6th form Russian O-level to dredge up enough Russian to use as a common tongue to unload the kegger safely.

My first day in Scotland - I hope they unwrap me soon

Now the kegger has been installed (after agonising where to place it), it looks great, but much more importantly puts our great tasting beer into kegs much better and safer than we could do it manually. We have been racking our craft beer into kegs for Sweden, USA, Malaysia, Finland and Norway for several years now, but it meant degassing the keg (a pressure vessel), taking out the keg extractor tube or spear. This has to done very carefully after ensuring the keg is completely degassed and contains no pressure as even a very low pressure over atmospheric pressure can cause the spear to fly out of the keg and cause a serious injury. A special key is needed to open up a keg to prevent this happening by un-trained personnel. After this, cleaning and sterilising the keg and spear then refitting, gassing up and filling very slowly to minimise fobbing losses. Four days work for four people to fill 100 kegs, whereas the kegger can clean and fill 100 kegs safely in less than four hours, allowing us to enjoy the fruits of our labours even more!


The left hand side is the cleaning and sterilising head and the right hand side is the filling side. The machine has various cycles it can go through depending what we want done, whether cleaning or cleaning, sterilising and pressurising only (for filling the next day for example) or going through the whole regime of cleaning, sterilising, pressuring and filling right there and then. Comac were very understanding of our requirements and delivered an excellent machine which has already filled since commissioning at the end of April this year over 1500 kegs. 

The kegger needs various services - steam for heating the caustic detergent tank, air pressure for actuating the rams and valves, electricity for powering the PLC (process logic controller) and sensor systems - pressure/flowrate/temperature/fill levels/liquid, CO2 for pressurising kegs, water for rinsing and tank filling.Not least, a drain for de-ullaging or draining out the dregs and rinsings. So plenty of effort was devoted to installing these in March and April.
The service end of the kegger
New steam pipe from the boiler
 We also commissioned a new type of air compressor - a rotary screw compressor, which is so quiet (unlike the reciprocal action compressors of old) that we hardly know if it is on. This delivers the service air at 6 bar to the kegger and to various other bits and pieces in the brewery, more of which later...

We've been using the kegger to fill not only chilled and filtered beer into kegs, but also real ale, unfiltered but treated with isinglass finings to allow the yeast to settle quickly to the bottom of the keg where it sits below the bottom of the extractor tube. We do this by mixing the rough beer with isinglass in a 5 bbl conditioning tank, then pumping it to fill through the kegger. The various pressure and flowrate settings on the kegger we can alter to allow the low level of  carbonation within the keg to stay within our specifications for the ideal conditioning for real ale. In the pub, these kegs are connected to a handpull, which draws the beer from the keg without any external CO2 gas pressure going into the keg as the gas vent on the beerline to keg coupler is open to the atmosphere, which lets air into the keg as the beer is drawn out.

A lovely system and these kegger-filled real ale kegs are being used in over 40 pubs for our beautiful beers. Just thinking about it makes we want to pop out for a pint now, so I'll sign off now and carry on after some 'refreshment'. How about a pint of Thrappledouser?

 
Cheers the noo & Slàinte, Ken

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Brewing and tasting continues apace with new developments in brewland

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.
Slàinte, Ken

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Santa came through with the goodies!

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 OrchestraBig 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

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Christmas and A great New Year!

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,
Ken

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tour, Taste at the Brewery Tap and Win a Prize!



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                                            

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Blackfriar, Baking and Balsamic.


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!
Slàinte,
Ken