Given it’s the beginning of the year, I thought it was an opportune moment to let you know what myself and the rest of the brewing team are hoping to achieve in 2016.
Arguably the most significant event of this year will be the installation and commissioning of a brand new KHS Filler. It has been a long process and I have spent many an hour sat round a table persuading my fellow directors that this was the right decision.
The decision making process began early last year. We had numerous options on the table, including a cheaper machine, a less dramatic jump in capacity of the new filler and the most contentious option, which was purchasing a canning line instead.
In terms of the canning option, I have had even good friends in the industry question if this was the right decision to make.
I have written on canning lines previously and I have not changed my view. In fact, listening to this recent podcast with Dan Gordon, a Brewmaster who opened his first brewpub in 1987, and Charlie Bamforth, arguably the most well-known of brewing’s Professors, has only compounded my view:
http://www.thebrewingnetwork.com/the-session-dan-gordon-dr-bamforth/ (from 1 hr 40 onwards):
Here is the transcript of what was said on the subject of canning lines:
Dan Gordon: Oxygen is super critical. We measure oxygen content during bottling and anything over 25ppb we consider unacceptable. What’s interesting is the movement in the craft sector towards cans. Theoretically for quality and environmental stability, in terms of light getting through, oxygen is the worst enemy we have and the best can filler cannot get values that are less than double that of a bottler.
Dan Gordon: Yeah. You can’t vacuum a can.
Host: Oh, I see.
Dan Gordon: It’s one of those things they call the crafty brewing sector. They’re going for image and not on quality as if it were really driven by quality there wouldn’t be any craft beer in cans.
Charles Bamforth: No-ones saying oxygen can get into a can, the original level is higher but it wont pick up over time
Host: So what surprises me about this is that the big brewers seem to be dedicated to quality, so i’m surprised that cans are their vessel of choice.
Dan Gordon: The sales and marketing department drive the package. Not the brewers. You can buy a very cheap canning line cheaper than a very cheap bottling line.
Host: You know this is different to what all our other guests come in and say?
Dan Gordon: It’s just fact. We’ve analysed lots of beers that come into our place for trouble shooting and the main problem is always oxidation. If you spend 3 million dollars on a canning line then yeah, you’re going to have a pretty damn good product. But it’s not going to be as good as a 3 million dollar bottling line.
Host: You’re saying they can’t get to the 25ppb level in a can?
Dan Gordon: No how, no way.
So while cans are fashionable and are easy to carry around, we have to do what is best for our beer, which is why we have decided to invest in the KHS Filler.
It is the Rolls-Royce of bottling lines; its technology will enable us to achieve extremely low levels of dissolved oxygen in the bottle, it will future proof the growth of the brewery and will prove to be an extremely robust piece of kit with greatly reduced downtime. The bottom line is that we are putting our beer first.
One thing we don’t do here is grow exponentially and then allow the beer quality catch up, so although we plan to install even more fermentation and maturation vessels this year, we will be able to keep up the consistency and quality for which we are known, and our famous maturation times will not be affected.
Recently we have been experimenting with dry-hopping schedules and temperatures and are looking into the use of improved separation techniques to complement the centrifuge. Hopefully this will lead to even tastier, more stable beer than we already have.
Looking ahead to new releases, you may have heard rumours of Project Serpent… a few years ago, we embarked on a large project with Brooklyn brewery with the aim of producing a totally unique and novel beer.
After months of hard work, this beer has finally been packaged and all our hard work has finally come to fruition. Rather than go into all the details on this blog, here is a link to an article written about Serpent: http://www.brewersjournal.info/meet-the-brewers-when-brooklyn-brewery-came-to-thornbridge/
As hard as it is to try not to produce more beers, we invariable end up with more! Although we have brewed lots of German styles already, my brewing team have all caught the bug for these beers and have all made pilgrimages to Bavaria in the last couple of years.
So in tank at the moment, sleeping the long sleep of the righteous, is our Helles, a style myself and Dominic have been wanting to make for a long time. Despite this being harder to sell than trendy hoppy or sour styles, I love this kind of beer and so we brewed it anyway. And no, we won’t be dry hopping it with Citra!
Speaking of fashionable hops, with the arrival of several tonnes of Mosaic from the US, we will be making a new double IPA, despite already having Halcyon in our stable. Regarding its recipe and production process, I won’t copy any text or graphs out of books to bore you with on this blog, but I am pretty sure the hopheads are going to approve. So basically with the Helles, we’ve brewed a beer for myself and with the Mosaic IIPA, one for the hopheads!
It’s been a while since we made a new strong dark beer, something I feel we’re pretty good at, so we’ve re-brewed the extremely popular Raspberry Imperial Stout and also come up with a new one. Some time ago, Will, one of our brewers here, came to me with a beer he had brewed on the pilot kit; a bourbon oak-aged vanilla stout.
Normally I am not a fan of dark beers, but this was simply delicious, so we decided to make a couple of big batches of it. This will be bottled next week and I’m sure fans of strong dark beers will love it.
Moving back to the brewing team, last year we added two new faces: Chris Lewington from Daleside Brewery and Sam Russell, who joined us from York brewery.
Bearing in mind we’re a much larger operation these days and there is absolutely no room for errors here, as the consequences are far more costly in terms of beer loss and monetary value, the lads have proved themselves already to be brewers of the highest calibre and they have fitted in extremely well into the tight-knit brewing team we have here.
So going forward into what will be an extremely busy year in terms of production, I am confident we will be making the best beer in the country.
Hopefully soon I can grab a spare half hour and write some more about our expanding barrel ageing programme, but for now I’d better get back to work.