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

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