Thursday, August 18, 2011

Wood Fired Beer!

Here's a wee pic of my first brewery - Leederville, Perth, Western Australia, circa 1991. Wood-fired - no electric or gas, just a firebox for heating.

We've been having a bit of a home-brew discussion in the brewery this week, as 3 of us are regular practitioners of this dark art, so I had a look at home for some relevant snaps.

To those of a technical bent, there will be seen a mash tun, insulated with wood (1'' x 2'' dressed all-round for the carpenter amongst you), hydrometer, sparge liquor tank - with patented slotted spoon sparge distribution system - Redhead matches and pencil (why pink I cannot remember) for brewing notebook. The wort running into the 10 gallon copper cauldron - it's the old clothes washhouse copper in the shed at the bottom of my garden- was for an 120/- Edinburgh Strong Ale. The boil itself should have taken 90 minutes, but my pals and I were having so much fun chopping up the old blocks of jarrah, an Australian really hardwood, to feed the firebox underneath that the boil lasted four hours! Had to keep adding water to keep the gravity down....

The beer was called Flaming Copper Cauldron and had an adequate strength of 7.7% abv. Tasting it was like a leap back into Scotland's brewing heritage - strong, heady, dark, rich, malty and sweet, oh so sweet, but still luscious and lasting...I even won Homebrewer of the Year with it.

Times like these, oh they were the days...but now we have Blackfriar. Huzzah!

Slàinte, Ken

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Student Daze

We've had a young brewing student, Liam, from Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University, over the last two months learning about brewing at the coal face, far away from the Hallowed Groves of Academe and the Search for Enlightenment.

He has been accompanied by young Czech brewing student Alesh Potesil, below, from Pivovarsky Dum in Prague, for the past three weeks, in learning the ropes in a production brewery specialising in ale, unlike the pilsner beers he knows well.

Chez Inveralmond, the daily quest for wisdom is relatively simple, yet complex: for example - how to get the young beer from fermenter into conditioning tanks and with which hoses and pumps and which bit goes where without having a beer fountain (much more fun and funnier than that of chocolate - if it's someone else's doing) or getting the wrong hoses connected to the wrong tank, thus leading to very grim-faced head brewer and an ashen-faced student.

Therefore the motto here is similar to that of carpenters, measure twice, cut once. In our case, check route of beer twice, then open valve. Liam has been doing a grand job and is discovering that practical brewing, as opposed to higher level microbiology, is very much rooted in common sense and maintaining high standards of physical awareness - e.g., where will that cask roll off the pallet and on to whose foot; how best to bang in cask tap with a mallet without the afore-mentioned beer fountain; holding a heavy beer-filled hose with left hand and connecting hose nut on to valve thread with right hand; listening to the cooling pumps to check all is in order; etc etc.

Alesh, in his turn, has been discovering the joys of infusion mashing with fully-modified malt (without the typical decoctions and multi-temperature mashes with under-modified czech malt) together with our crazy (in his eyes) temperatures for fermenting the wort (18.5 instead of 8 degrees C) and maturation of one week for ale unlike the two months he's used to.

It's vital in the brewery to have an understanding of the science of brewing, but equally it's essential to have an understanding of how beer works, as a beverage, as a social relaxant and convivial accompaniment as well as how the art of making beer enhances our lives and does its small bit in improving the human condition - in addition to getting the process right!

Having the opportunity to take on a student every year is great for us and them as they can learn more practical brewing and management skills in 2 weeks with us than 2 years of textbook study. And we can learn about the latest trends in music, how an ipod works and which nightclubs to avoid...or not!

Slainte, Ken