Sunday, 14 January 2018

New grain hopper, chute and hydrator installed

After 4 and a half years of service (it was planned as a stop-gap to last a year tops) our old ramshackle malt hopper and mashing in regime has been replaced!

The old one was knocked up quickly to get us brewing but, due to never having enough time or money, we've never got around to replacing it... until now.  We'd become aware that the bottom of the chute, made from marine ply, was becoming increasingly rotten and looked as if it may give way mid-mash depositing up to 300kg of expensive grain all over the floor (and probably Gazza too) so once we'd acquired the old Waen Brewery hopper and hydrator - the device which mixes the grain with hot water - it was time to swap over!

Only, it wasn't.... the new hopper sat in a corner for 6 months until the condition of the old one dictated that we really, really needed to replace it PDQ.... so, the start of 2018 was declared "new mashing in week" and we prepared for the headaches such a project inevitably brings on.  Fortuitously, a Screwfix has recently opened just behind us, so we were confident we could buy any bits needed, making things a lot easier.

In the end, luckily, we got the whole thing done in 3 days and that's including rebuilding the hydrator from scratch!  there are still a few bits and bobs to tidy up, but the upshot of this work is that we now have a completely piped-in pump under the hot liquor tank which can recirculate the tank to mix it and pump water below to the mashing in process at the turn of a lever, not as before where multiple disconnecting and reconnecting of flexible hoses was the order of play.  

The big improvement, however, is in the time saved mashing in - we estimate that the complete process with the old setup would take anything up to 45 minutes, whereas with the lovely new kit it takes 15 minutes maximum!  This saving of 30 minutes on the brewday will be extremely welcome. plus the new hydrator mixes the grain really well making one-man mashing a distinct option now!  The hopper also does something the old one never managed to do which is empty itself without any brushing or goading of grains which is yet another enormous improvement, and finally the hydrator is much lower in the pipe meaning the marine ply of the hopper won't get wet and rot like the old one...

So, win-win all round and a great start to the year for us!

the hopper and chute being bolted together

The completed (nearly) setup with the grain hopper and hot liquor tank

Gav sawing pipe for the new hydrator

looking inside the grain chute

New valve on the sparge arm (which we don't actually need!)

The new grain chute and hydrator in situ with the liquor hose attached to the hydrator

almost done!  Nice pipework.... 

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Xmas shutdown over, back to it.....

Two of the most amazing words a brewer can hear....  within reason, of course.

For us brewers not in possession of a brand which is demanded relentlessly by a slavering populace Xmas is probably the only time of the year when we can be away from the brewkit and actually not having to think about brewing, hops, beer, yeast, casks or have anything to do with the day job except, probably, to drink the fruits of our labours.

Because a beer, once brewed, requires anything from 6 days to two weeks to become ready for packaging most brewers mash in their last brew the week before the final working week of Xmas to enable the beer to ferment, chill and to be packaged and/or put into tanks ready for the new year... some brewers will brew the final week and come in over the holidays to look after it, but luckily (or maybe not, meaning our beer isn't in high enough demand) that's not our position!

The final brew of the year was Waen Chilli Plum Porter, and once that was put away into the conditioning tanks - every one full so we don't have to brew for the first few weeks of January - we took a well-earned break from the whole beer thingy, which is always needed a couple of times a year (at least, seemingly more as we go on) to clear the head.

So, this week we're back to running a brewery.  Sue has already been selling loads of beer today, and I've been thinking about new beers and other projects and Gav has been relaxing at home!  but now we're back, and we begin with a few days of planning what we're hoping to achieve this year, and further down the line, and also some large maintenance tasks which need doing; replacing the grist hopper and hydrator, a full caustic brew, backflushing the heat exchanger, the usual kind of boring brewery things!

So, stick with us and I promise that in 2018 we'll try our very best to bring you the best beer we can, improving on last year's already (in my sceptical opinion) vastly improved production.  But, we can't make it if you don't sell it and drink it, so please keep the faith!

There will be massive pressures on breweries this year; prices of raw materials relentlessly increasing, scarcity of the "hollywood" hops to make our beer, increases in rent/rates/tax, and more things we've probably not considered yet - such as beer duty increases and suchlike - but we're determined to try and get through this year and consolidate what we've achieved this far.  I can see a lot of breweries going to the wall during 2018 if things continue as they are and it won't just be the bad ones, it'll be those with poor liquidity, cashflow issues and investor problems which go, and these may well be some of those producing the better beers at the moment.  Money is no respecter of quality, so those with large reserves will probably be able to ride the carnage out and then come out to pick over the carcasses of the fallen... sounds melodramatic but it really does play out like that in brewing, and we're determined not to be one of the fallen!

We're poised to break the 1 million quid turnover mark (in total, not this year!) very soon so may well brew a special beer to mark us becoming millionaires overnight... that's how it works, right? 

Keep the faith people, we'll keep making it if you keep drinking it :) 

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Our collab beer arrives from Northern Ireland!

It's here!!!!

Our pallet of beer from the excellent Farmageddon brewery in Northern Ireland, including 12 casks of the collab we did there "Wreckin' Crew", has landed at Hopcraft Towers!

If you want one, let us know... it won't last long.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Brew 300!

Well, that's another milestone reached....

No, not getting into credit with the bank account (yeah, right....) but reaching 300 brews done on the big kit here at Hopcraft Towers!  I can't be bothered to work it out exactly, but that's over half a million litres of beer produced since we started here in 2003!

As is now customary, we've brewed another batch of our "centenary" beer which is made each time we reach another 100 brews; "every hop i love is dead" is, obviously, a play on words of Type O Negative's track "everyone I love is dead"... for no other reason than it's a great track, and a great name for a beer!  Plus the pumpclip works too, which they don't always!

So, here's to the next 100 brews and if you keep drinking it, we'll keep making it as long as we can!

Sunday, 19 November 2017

The glorious October revolution

It's 100 years almost to the day since the Socialist revolution in Russia, so to celebrate this (being the whining lefties we are) we cleared the brewing schedule to create a brand new beer to remember the event, "Red OCtober"

You might have supposed we'd brew an Imperial Russian Stout.  But no, I don't like them and anyhow they're impossible to sell in cask.  OK then, how about a red ale?  erm... sorry, but we already have one on the sales list.... well, what about a Kvass?  yeah right, try persuading people that's worth drinking especially from a handpull!

As you can see, we didn't really think this through.... so, despite the shambolic nature of the decision to brew the beer, brew it we did!  It'll be a 5% or so extra pale with shedloads of luscious Citra, Summit and Columbus hops, so expect a fruity, hoppy bolshy beast!

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Pinch point....

Well, after 4 and a half years of brewing, it's finally happened; we've reached some sort of maximum throughput at Hopcraft Towers!  

Well, I hear you say, "some sort" is a bit vague, is it or isn't it at capacity?  To which I answer "sort of"....  and I'll explain why.

We have 4 fermenting vessels, 2 of around 2500 litres and 2 of around 1800 litres (I say "about" as they are 40 years old ex-dairy tanks and we have no idea on their actual capacity except from experience of filling them with beer, so it's a bit vague) and 12 conditioning tanks of 680 litres each.  One "normal" brew fills 2 tanks whilst a "big" brew fills 3, with usually a bit left over for playing around with.

Thus far we've always had tanks free to move beer into from the fermenters because we've racked beer into cask/keg then cleaned the tanks ready to receive more.  The issue we're now having is that we have beer in the fermenters ready to transfer and are right on the limit of how many conditioning tanks we have free, which is admittedly a planning issue, but also dependent on things such as enough clean casks to fill up and enough hours in the week to actually do the racking of casks!

Until earlier this year we kept one of the tanks unused (for a number of reasons, principally it had a dodgy CO2 injector valve) but it became apparent that we needed all 12 in use and so completed a project to bring CT1 into service.  All well and good, but now we've come to the point where we have beer in the fermenter ready to move down into tank but no tanks available to receive it.... 

The "board of truth" shows that we have three beers in FV, two of which have been fined and are on chill (both are below 8°c now) but only two CTs available for filling, and those need caustic washing first (denoted by the red crosses).  Two tanks have been dry-hopped ready for racking this week (2 and 6), but this can't be done until Tuesday as the dry hops need time to infuse into the beer, and we're realising that we need to allow more time for this to happen so it can't be rushed!  

Therefore, there's no option but to wait until Tuesday to transfer Idaho7.... this is a couple of days longer than I'd like, but sitting on chill won't do it any harm so no dramas!  However, it's nice to see that we're producing close to capacity, and it's also good to see where the pinch point is in our production process and that we need to increase our conditioning tanks in order to be able to throughput more beer....

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Collaboration brew in Bucharest - Hop Hooligans

The day had finally come... we were off mob-handed to Bucharest, the capital of Romania, to brew a beer with (IMO) the best brewery in the country!  

Hop Hooligans are less than a year old but have already changed the face of beer in their home country with a steady stream of challenging, tasty and downright excellent beers flowing from their 800 litre shiny brewplant just south of the Bucharest city boundary, and the country now looks fair for a beer revolution along the same lines as the world-beating one currently underway in Poland.

Anyhow, how did we get to do this unlikely collab then? Well, Gazza tried a fair few of their beers earlier this year and he and Sue got talking to the guys who run the brewery, Cristian and Mircea, so it kind of all went from there!

We agreed to brew a strong chocolate orange stout and so over we went to Bucharest for 3 days of sightseeing, drinking beer and brewing.... can't be bad :) 

sampling beers at Luton airport

Here we go!
hung over, in a car off to the brewery!
pretending to be brewers
Mircea preparing the yeast
Mircea prepping the FV
pissing about with a sprayball...
Add caption
oooh what's that in there?

Twiggy met a relative....

17kg of dry hops in 800 litres!!!

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

In with the cool kids, innit

Through a strange combination of circumstances we've ended up supplying a cask of beer to a house party hosted by Moose, drummer of local metal band Bullet for my Valentine.... just how cool is that?

How I think this happened is that Mate Spawn and Die was on in the superb Little Penybont micro-pub in Pencoed when it was sampled by a friend of the band, who recommended it to them as a suitable party beverage after they had been along to a local Bridgend brewery to sample the beers but rejected them as not fit for purpose!  Our star saleslass Sue then finalised the deal with the guys to make it all happen, but only after a scare when we thought the last of the casks had been sold, until it became clear we had one - just one - left in stock; relieved?  

So, Gav was sent to set up and cellar the cask - on the drumkit packing case! - because 

a) It's on his way home, and
b) he's by far the coolest of us with the tattoos and stuff

Gav was invited to the party but had to decline on account of being away brewing in Bucharest with Hop Hooligans, a great excuse if I ever heard one!

Looks like they had a good time with the beer, anyhow...

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Aaaaaarrrrrrr she's back.....

If you didn't guess what is back from this clue, then you've obviously not heard of our Jamaican stout "Spanish Main" before! 

We brew Spanish Main once a year, or when we feel like it (which seems to equate to once a year), mainly because it requires dark Muscovado sugar which is a bit of a pain to get hold of in 25kg sacks without a bit of forward planning - never our strong point - and I'm certainly not going through the tills in Tesco with 25 bags of bloody sugar!

Anyhow, Spanish Main is a big, brooding, bruiser of a stout in a vaguely defined style called "Tropical stout" after the examples brewed in the Caribbean, although we - being contrary types - call it a Jamaican stout which, when you think about, is basically the same thing...

It's full of various of types of dark malts, the aforementioned 25kg of dark Muscovado sugar, plus a smattering hops, the amount reduced this time, and a not-so-secret ingredient to give it a touch of the Caribbean... and no, it's not ganja or chillis, but black pepper!  Ah, and you thought we stuck ganja in it for a minute didn't you?

Anyhow, it's in FV4 now and should be ready to unleash upon the world in a few weeks once it's calmed down and lost a bit of it's youthful vigour, as it were.... watch out for it, me hearties, thaaaaaaar she blows.... or something equally piratesque.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Meet the Brewer(s) in Derbyshire ....

Last week we completed a gruelling two-day meet the brewer tour of Derbyshire, taking in Derby and Waingroves, a village near Ripley... the bright lights indeed!

Our first stop was the excellent Smithfield in Derby.  Gazza remembers this place from ye olde dayse when it was a beer ticker magnet (hence the frequent visits!) but now, after a few years when it seems doomed to either a) fall into the river or b) become offices, it's now reopened and has an excellent new manager in the shape of Emily who is bringing back the customers and, more importantly for future prosperity, finding new ones.

One way of attracting beer lovers - for the Smithfield now has the reputation of having the best beer range in Derby - is to hold events such as tap takeovers and meet the brewer events... which is why Gazza and Sue ended up there on a Thursday afternoon!

We filled the pumps in the pub and, despite being briefed that we were only expected to talk for ten minutes or so, over an hour later and we were still answering questions and eating nutella butties and, of course, drinking beer and gin!  This continued for some time....

The next day we headed over to Waingroves, out in the Amber Valley, for a tap takeover at the famous Thorn Tree pub which I used to deliver to as Steel City 8 years ago!  It's now, after a period of being rubbish, become a cask beer haven again thanks to the team of Rob and Sam with lots of help from Mike of Landlocked brewery and Tom Soar, local bon viveur and beer lover.... we were feeling a little under the weather but soon perked up :) 

As for the "battle of the brewers", Waen Pamplemousse sold out first, just pipping Mate Spawn and Die to the trophy... but there were some great beers on and the locals seemed to appreciate them, so all was good!

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Get out of the water!

.... because the sharks are back!

Our very popular extra-pale ale "Sharks against Surfers" is being rebrewed again this week due to popular demand (basically, Gazza likes it) and so lots of lovely hops have been ordered to make it happen including Chinook, Centennial and Galaxy.  The original highly amusing premise behind this brew was that the hops came from areas where sharks and surfers are in the same environment, but sadly we still can't get any hops from Newquay and South African hops have been bought up, so I hear, by lovely cuddly AmBev.

Anyhow, the name comes from a track by Railpunk pioneers Eastfield and goes something like this...

Keep off the sand, this is not your land - sharks against surfers
Stay out of the sea, keep the waters clean - sharks against surfers
Don't ride the waves, you'll meet an early grave - sharks against surfers
Stop your tricks, you'll get ripped to bits - sharks against surfers

Monday, 7 August 2017

Tap takeover, Cloisters Edinburgh

Our beers get to Scotland quite a bit nowadays courtesy of James at Boot Liquor wholesale, but when we were offered the chance of a tap takeover at Cloisters we jumped at it mainly because it gave us the excuse to reprise last year's trip up to Scotland, this time Edinburgh not Glasgow, and the infamous train journey with a bottle of wine each.... and that's before we'd done the pub crawl, and then the drinking at the tap takeover....

Ah well, it all went swimmingly, pretty much, so here's a few photos from the day in Auld Reekie to show what we got up to!

Twiggy trainspotting at Crewe

Train breakfast


"I'm sure it's around here somewhere...."


Cumberland Bar

6 degrees North

6 Degrees North

Cask and Barrel


Into the old town
Finding Thompsons bar.... final call!

Cloisters beer board

full list!

outside Cloisters

Inside Cloisters!