Monday, 5 August 2013

The Brewvolution Begins.

This morning, I woke at 6.45am, as I do basically every day, and as always, I hit the snooze button umpteen times until it was about 15 minutes from the time I should be at work. In the past I've done this for many reasons. A long time ago, when I was a university student, I did this because I had zero motivation to drag myself out of bed for an early morning stats class, which I would very likely sleep through anyway. Even earlier than that, because I had zero motivation to present myself at whatever shit job I happened to be working. Before that, it was because school didn't really make me all that excited.
This morning I had somewhat of an epiphany. I was not, as I usually would be, staying in bed for way too long to avoid the shittiness of the oncoming day. No. In actual fact, I was rather looking forward to it. Who could fail to look forward to a glorious brew day? Particularly one in which the Uberv├Âlsch is to be made. I was staying in bed longer than I should, on this particular day because I was so tired after the utter insanity of the last few months.

The Brewvolution is upon us folks. I have been making beer almost every day since my last blog post, I've barely had a day off, barely had a moment to reflect. When I haven't been making beer, I've been in the process of selling it, designing labels, tap badges, installing hand pumps, or visiting other breweries. It has been absolute madness.

This was bought home to me in the most inspiring way possible when I arrived at our little brew house on Waiheke's glamorous Tahi Road, and was advised to watch this video. It's not just us on a tiny little island off another tiny little island in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. This movement toward beer actually tasting of something is a global phenomenon.

It made me feel like a small part of something much bigger than me. And that's a comforting feeling.

I know it has been a while since my last post. I really am going to try to be more diligent in future. All I can offer by way of an excuse are these photos, which should give you an idea of just how busy I have been.

Here we have the Octavius, an 8.4% monstrous Burton IPA.

We decided that it should definitely be aged in a French oak wine barrel (thanks Peacock Sky).

With obligatory dry hopping.

 Here we are, in full regalia, delivering our first ever keg to one of our very favourite establishments in the Auckland area, the lovely O'Carrolls Freehouse.

Because we love good old fashioned kiwi ingenuity, we decided it would be a good idea to wheel the keg up from the ferry on a trolly.

This went better than expected.

And now Brothers Beer have one of our lovely hand pumps.

The feeling in the air at the moment is much like what was happening with the wine industry in New Zealand 20 years ago. Or so I'm told.

It's a good time to be a Brewster.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

My Adorable Little Serial Killer

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that if you are a brewer in possession of a large amount of grain, you have a rodent problem. This year was a particularly bad one for rats and mice, conditions being perfect for them to breed faster even than rabbits.

 A female rat reaches sexual maturity at just five or six weeks of age, at which time she will begin to come into heat every four or five days. Once pregnant, a female rat will gestate her little grain munchers for just 22 days before expelling them, naked and creepy looking, into the world.

I just want to say right here, that I have no problem with domestic ratties. They are quite different from wild ones, just as domestic cats are different from ferals. Domestic rats are basically the ultimate handbag dog. Cart them with you wherever you go, teach them cool tricks, gross people out by waving their tails around. Admire their surreal cuteness.

But I digress. We aren't talking about people's beloved pets here, we are talking about wild rats, who have the tendency to defecate indiscriminately, raid the nests of native birds, causing huge ecological damage, and eat profits as fast as grain. 

So we decided it was time to get a brewery cat, preferably one who would deal to the little bastards in short order. Jerry saw a cat in the SPCA who seemed to fit the bill, and some time later, I was dispatched to collect her.

Meet Oswin the Exterminator.

She took a few days to settle in, but before long, she had sussed out that we would be feeding her delicious food and providing tummy scritches, and there were plenty of rodents for her to play with. She sure knows how to get the job done too. She catches them, plays until she gets peckish, and then just crunches up the head and body, leaving nothing but their tails as evidence of her murders in the dark. Last week I found 7 tails, and the grain store is now entirely unmolested.

Here she is using a broom as an aid in the performance of her brewery duties.

Welcome sweet murder kitty. May your reign of terror be long and bloody.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

I'm Sure My Gumboots Have Never Been That Clean

I know it has been way too long since I have written in here, and over the next little while, I hope to make up for that. I know I get annoyed when my favourite bloggers don't write for a while *cough Allie Brosh cough* so I hope no one has been too put out by my literary laziness.

I really had to write in today though because The New Zealand Woman's Day published an article about me and my beers and I really am far too excited to contain myself. Though I'm sure they must have Photoshopped the mud off my gumboots! My gumboots are pretty much guaranteed to be extremely muddy.

I also have to relay some exciting news that didn't come up in the article. My beer Mash Landing is now on tap at Malones. So I'm off there now to have a celebratory pint (or two).

Along with The 7 from our affiliate brewery Relativity. Though truth be told, I brewed that as well.

We even managed to get hand-pumped real ale on at Malones, so if you are on Waiheke and haven't been down yet, get to Malones for a pint!

I do have to go now, because the beer is calling me. I shall be back soon to tell you all about our lovely brew kitty Oswin, who spends her days hanging out at the brewery and gleefully murdering grain-hungry rats. 

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Adventures in Microbrewing

     I have a lot to tell you about today – many brew projects have been undertaken, which unfortunately has not left me with as much time to write about them as I would like.
The first thing I want to tell you all about is the brewing of The 7. Yes, we did another batch, of 300L (this time we managed to keep all of it, and there were no major disasters).
We did do something fun and experimental in the mash – we added 52 grams of Coleman’s mustard powder. The idea behind that was mustard powder is basically starch, and the enzymes in the grain would convert those starches into short and long chain sugars. Mustard sugars. Yummy yummy goodness.

     This is what it looked like going into the grant. The clarity was superb.

     Once that was all done with, into the kettles it went to be exuberantly over-hopped. We did have a slight drama with the heat exchanger, but we got that working in the end and ran off into one of our lovely 450L fermenters.

     After we were all done, we sampled one of my earlier creations: Terraplane, a dark lager.

     Alan invited me to brew at Wild on Waiheke, a microbrewery nestled between two vineyards on Waiheke’s Onetangi road

     On the day in question it was a cloudless day of scorching heat (again). Another bloody day in paradise. You wouldn’t think it would be possible to get sick of the utterly gorgeous weather, but we have been suffering through somewhat of a drought. I have had to order water in twice, since all the smaller residential properties on the island run off tank water and there has been NO RAIN. The water companies have made a killing this year. The waiting list now stretches into April.

      At 7.59am I arrived at the chap space to pick up Wild on Waiheke’s resident brewer. There sits Alan, cigarette in hand. White gumboots with yellow soles.

     Next to him on the floor there was one shoe and one slipper. This is evidence that his gout has improved. On Saturday (when we made yet more beer at “chap space”) he had hobbled about the brewery actually wearing the shoe and the slipper, owing to the impossibility of getting the afflicted foot into a boot.

     The road works on the Onetangi straight are still in full swing. A conspiracy theory exists among the locals that “they” purposely repair roads shoddily so that work will be continuous. I can’t say whether it is true, but I certainly do notice a lot of road works without much actual improvement to the roads. One lot they did had pot-holes before it was even painted.

     So I may have mentioned in an earlier post, that due to my own idiocy and inability to accept that I DO NOT possess the power of super strength, I have slipped a disk (again) and am basically crippled for all intents and purposes. Moving hurts, sitting hurts, standing hurts, and I can’t lift anything heavier than about 10Kg unless I am SOOOOO careful. Which means, I can’t be on pain-killers because if I am, I just carry on making it worse because I just blithely hoist 25kg sacks of grain around the place (which is fine, when I haven’t fucked my back moving full kegs/bits of the brewery around the place).  

      Even though Alan has gout, he was therefore nominated as the one responsible for getting in the kettle and cleaning off the elements.

     I really thought he wasn’t going to fit, but he did. I got to mash in, using their absolutely enormous rouser.

     The rouser is utterly gargantuan. But then, you do need a big rouser if you brew 1200L.

     I like this little brewery. Not as much as ours perhaps, but it is good. The grant has a little pump inside it which makes that part of the process pretty automated. That gave us time to sift through all the interesting little bits and pieces the brewery had accumulated over the last 15 years. It is vitally important for Wild on Waiheke that they have everything they need for the Auckland Beer Festival. All the taps, and o-rings, and John Guest fittings. There certainly is something very satisfying about having a big case full of John Guest fittings. It makes one feel prepared for whatever mishaps might befall one.

     They do a few things at Wild on Waiheke that we at Ale Brewing Chaps do not bother with. One of those things is bottling. They have a little bottling station at one end of the shed that houses the brewery. 

      I also got a look at the setup they have in the cold-room. If you’ll forgive the tragic pun, it’s pretty cool.

     Meanwhile we are still frantically preparing for the Auckland Beer Fest which is only 8 days away now. Chap’s Rob and Jerry have been making our lovely macrocarpa bar top.

     Jerry found some cool bits that we can turn into unique taps. They even have bullet holes.
But don’t worry, those aren’t all the taps we’ll have. There will be at least TEN, and most likely more.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Auckland Beer Festival!

     It’s been a little over three months since we seriously decided to take our home brewing endeavors to the next level and become true professionals.  Alan Knight already works as the Master Brewer at Wild on Waiheke where he makes damn fine beer.

  (and has done for the last fifteen odd years), but for the rest of us, who have only ever seen our beer consumed and enjoyed by our nearest and dearest, it’s all very exciting.

     There are a lot of hoops one has to jump through to actually get set up as a brewery. We talked to the Auckland Council, but they seemed not to really know what a brewery really was or what it did. They had regulations for brothels (which are legal here) and undertakers, kitchens and jam makers, but not for breweries. So we did everything they asked us to do despite the fact that they were treating us as “food preparation”  and clearly had no idea what we should actually be doing, which is odd when you consider that New Zealand has around 60 microbreweries so this can’t be the first time it has come up.

      I know for a  fact that any brewery would be a lot more sterile than required under the Food Hygiene Act (they have guidelines for the acceptable level of rat faeces in food - when making beer than you can’t allow any). It would become infected and utterly undrinkable, but I digress.

     We went and talked to customs who wanted to sight a scarily gargantuan bond but who were happy for us to proceed. 

     And so, if all goes according to plan, The Ale Brewing Chaps, as we shall now be known, will make our debut appearance at The Auckland Beer Festival 2013

Here’s what happened last year

Yeah. Shit got crazy.

Monday, 4 February 2013

The Lucky 7

     The brewery was primed and ready to go. And we had the perfect recipe to test the apparatus. The 7: designed by engineer and brewer Jerry Wayne to reflect the characteristics of the Lotus 7, light, fun and fast (fast drinking that is).


     I was always going to be a late arrival to the brewery on that particular Sunday, owing to the necessity of taking my puppy to her training classes. Does anyone remember that tiny sock-looking thing I posted a picture of a while back? Well, she's now absolutely monstrously enormous.

Here she is sleeping in a puppy heap with Alan and Jen's dog Charlie. Awwww.

     So when I got to the brewery it was complete choas already and I hadn't had a chance to get a handle on how it had got that way. My first impression was just SUCH a lot going on. The two big 500L kettles outside were humming away, busy getting up to temperature for the mash in, grain was being milled, people were everywhere, eating pies, and curries and yelling and laughing. A lovely young couple were testing their homebrewing skills making some K├Âlsch for their wedding (which now I think about it is coming up very soon! Congrats Kat and Neil).

     Then came the mash in. With the expert guidance of Ben Middlemiss and Alan Knight we got all the grain for the 350L test batch of 7 mashed in with the tiny rouser from the 50L home brew system. The melanoidin malt gave the converting wort in the tun the most gorgeous orange glow. Photographs sadly do not do it justice, so I will let you use your imagination.

     Things seemed to be going so well. But we knew better than to relax. The 7 wouldn't be safe until it was safely tucked into its lovingly prepared 450L fermenter.

     Conversion took place, and a negative starch test gave us the green light to begin sparging and runoff to the kettles. The boil proceeded well, and 7 glorious hop additions lent their fragrance to the air.

And then.

     It was time to test the hop-back, the pipework and crucially, the heat exchanger.

     The thing about making beer is that once you finish boiling and adding hops, you really do need to get it from almost boiling to around 18°C as quickly as possible. You see, while the wort is boiling it's arse off, it is busy-busy producing a rather nasty chemical called dimethyl sulfide. When it's boiling, it's not a problem because it gets evaporated off, but as soon as the boil stops, the wort is sitting at a dangerous temperature. That at which DMS can form, but not dissipate. The result is that it sits in suspension and makes the finished beer taste and smell like rotting tinned corn.

     We were all very keen to get the wort through the 88 plate industrial heat exchanger as soon as possible. And that's when we hit a snag. 

The hop-back blocked, and the heat exchanged jammed full of hop particles.

About 50L of 7 wort went all over the floor.

 So the floor was very, very wet.

      Luckily, the lovely homebrewers had finished using the tiny heat exchanger. Er... yes. The very small one that we normally use for the 50L system. It was going to be a very slow and nerve-wracking run-off.

Finally, we got the remaining 300L of 7 into the fermenter.

     Then, the clean-up. Since I am the smallest brewer on staff I was nominated to climb in and dig out the mash tun. Luckily I had Alex and Tim to help me.

     The next day, a domestic air-conditioning unit was positioned in front of the fermenter to keep the wort at correct fermentation temperature. 

And eventually the wort finished fermenting. We ran off samples, we tested gravities, we tried the glorious elixir of gold it had become. We were ready to keg and condition.

     Let's just move this air-conditioning unit out of the way so we can get at the beer more easil-Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!
The air-conditioning unit over-balanced, the corner landing on the spigot, shearing it clean off.

    Beer was going everywhere. Alan, with reflexes born of long experience, stemmed the flow with both hands, while Alex and I dashed about finding any available vessels that could be sterilised and filled with 7 quickly. We ended up using pretty much every 30L fermenter in the place. It was coming so fast we probably lost another 20L to the brewery floor, so at least it has now been thoroughly christened. 

We reviewed our notes over a pint of what is now referred to as The Lucky 7. Hopefully our next brew will be much less eventful.

Happy brewing chaps! 



Saturday, 12 January 2013

Breaking Beer

     I’ve been helping put together a brewery.  A real brewery that, at some point, will make lovely craft beer to be enjoyed in boutique bars, while Elbowskin play on the sound system. Yes that’s right. I do this for a living now.

     And it hasn’t lost its charm either, like many warned me it would. 

The truth is: making delicious beer just doesn’t get old. 

     I worked in a florist shop once, and the first day I walked in, it smelled amazing. I had no idea what most of flowers were called, but it didn’t matter.
“Wow, that smells incredible,” I commented to a co-worker.
“What smells?” She looked quite confused. Then the look of comprehension dawned.
“Ohhhh the flowers. Right. I can’t even smell it anymore, you get used to it,”
And sure enough, after a month I didn’t notice it anymore either.

     Making beer, you never become immune to the smell of malt. Instead you find the ability to pick out ever more complex and subtle notes of aroma, you begin to understand why a certain malt works in a particular style of beer.

     Hops jump out at you in surprising and unexpected ways. Put your face in a 5 kilo bag of Motueka hops, inhale deeply, and tell me you don’t feel utterly uplifted. It can’t be done.

     Hops. They are lovely things. I’m developing favourites now. Here I’m adding a generous helping of Tettnang hops to a 50L test brew of the Electra. I decided to spice up the recipe by adding some monk tea on the finish. My associates were skeptical at this point (“Tea in beer? Who ever heard of that being any good?”), but the speed with which it was guzzled justified my choice I think.

     So, the new microbrewery consists of these two 500L kettles:

 Lit by two of these handcrafted burners:

Connected through a wall and some very clever plumbing to this 1,000L mash tun:

     Today, we put acid through the entire system and now it’s all clean and ready to go for the first of many mammoth brew days tomorrow.

                                                                     I’ll drink to that.