Saturday, 27 December 2014

The year ahead... In terms of brewing

The new year is just around the corner and we will have to hit the ground running... From a stock on hand position we are screwed and from a production capacity point of view it is not looking much better.

At least all the pieces are coming together to put a significant upgrade project in motion. In effect we will replace all our brewing infrastructure, except for a couple of items. It promises to be a challenging year ahead.

It is actually quite crazy when you realize how many things have to be planned, synchronized and decided upon when planning a brewery expansion. All the pieces of the puzzle representing a brewing operation is intricately intertwined. If you change one thing it effects a myriad of things, from financial prediction models; amounts to be financed to the various parts of the practical operations of the brewing process itself. Just deciding the actual brewhouse size and fermentation cellar capacity is a process of note.

Thanks to a lot of research, reading and listening to podcasts it is clear that it is not necessary to have the biggest possible brewhouse. Instead it is more important to have a flexibly piece of equipment and one that can be run multiple times in a day or shift. Even when planning to run a relatively small brewing operation one can learn from big breweries. Large breweries always use fermenters a couple of times the volume of their kettles. This results in always blending a couple of batches together, evening out small batch variations, resulting in more consistent and repeatable beers. It is also more effective in terms of space, cost and other resources. In order to push the number of brews per day / shift, some large breweries run two kettles for the same mash / lauter tun. If correctly planned the output capacity of a relatively small brewhouse can be doubled from a 2/3/4 batches per shift rate to a 4/6/8 batches per shift capacity with the simple upgrade of adding a second kettle.

If all goes to plan the increased production capacity will allow us to grow the business and increase our market footprint. We should also have enough inventory on hand to make sure all beer gets enough time to condition properly and that we have a reasonable stock buffer to deal with spikes in demand and unexpected large orders.

The bigger capacity will also provide the opportunity to play with some new ideas to push the boundaries in the Cape Town beer market. Beer for us is about experimenting. Given the large wine & distilled spirits industry in the Western Cape the base material, i.e. barrels, for a barrel aging and sour beer production setup should be available.

A barrel program requires three basic areas to be covered: Time & patience; space to keep barrels; and the willingness & capability to experiment + learn from mistakes and others. I am confident we can cover all these with some dedication, hard work and the space we have.

Despite all the side projects like barrel aging, sour beers and other one-off beers we plan to refine our production of flavorful and hop-forward beers. Our passion and core dedication will remain with these beers as they are aimed at showing beer consumers that there is no reason why beer should be bland or dumbed down. We all deserve to drink beer with more character than fizzy yellow dishwater with trace amounts of hops and real malted barley.

May 2015 be a memorable beer year...

Sunday, 23 November 2014

It is almost the end of the year...

We are in the last stretch of the year... Finally !! I am honestly running on fumes at the moment. This has been a long-ass year. I am tired, need to break away and drink beer for days on end while gazing at the ocean to clear my mind.

As always there are way too many things I planned to get done in the year that never got done. Luckily a few things got done and a few unexpected issues were handled along the way.

Achievement number one is actually just making it to the end of the year - we've managed to sort out some form of balance between raising a toddler, starting a small business and dealing with the aftermath of a huge company merger. Number two is that we are getting the hang of our brewery and it looks like we are building a good base to grow from. Number three is sorting out my responsibilities in my day job... Well, sort of, I think... in order to do what I am good at and love (designing structures) and less of what I hate (tedious admin and holding other people's hands because they do not have the balls to try things for themselves).

As always about this time of year I go into some form of reflective mode. Sometimes it is really a bit depressing. This time round a couple of things are weighing on me...
I am 35 and pretty sure there is no fucking way I will carry on with my current job until I reach retirement age. Somehow I need to figure out some kind of balance between work, hobbies, play, what I want to do and income. Seems like an impossible task!
Our country is in a mess! Our government is well on their way to run everything into the ground. The president is a thieving, uneducated, thug and an idiot. He has so much dirt on the other idiots in his party that they simply keeping protecting him. In addition to this there are too many people in our country doing jack-shit, living off welfare grants paid for by the dwindling number of taxpayers. Looking to start a life elsewhere is increasingly in the back of my mind.
The private sector in SA is taking strain. It increasingly looks like even our yearly salary adjustments are in jeopardy and any chance of bonuses being paid are looking seriously slim.... Despite the fact that our department was super profitable and made 3.7x our targets. All thanks to other fuckers who cocked up. Too top it all workers in the public sector are demanding increases in the order of double the inflation rate! Ridiculous! 

It may sound like I feel like giving up, but giving up is not an option... We'll just have to keep our heads down and grind on. Adversity is always the breeding ground for new things. Often quite rewarding too... To do this some sort of plan or goals are required. Not having a plan or some goals is the most effective way of failing.

Even though it is probably a little early for jotting down New Year's Resolutions the following things I need to get sorted:

I need to get fit again... Mountain biking, trail running, jogging, whatever. No more time for excuses!

We need to expand our brewery seriously. We either do it properly or call it quits now. Half-assing anything never works.

I need to figure out my day job. Either I am where I want to be when I reach 40 or the brewery needs to become my day job.

I need to spend more time on my personal life and less time on my office life.

My bike will be customized and ridden more...

We need to find another old car to restore or turn into a bad-ass hotrod.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Taking Ownership....

This will be the first time that a post is not beer related... Well, at least not directly.

This week I've come to some sort of realisation.
There are some basic principles that apply in life and to some extent they determine how you progress in your career and life in general.

In my normal day job I am part of the construction industry. Projects are complex, stop-start, subject to crazy deadlines and in general quite tricky. Projects take forever to get off the ground... To finish them takes even longer. Some people work quite sucessfully on projects and complete them acceptably. The difference comes in the following: There are people who "own" their projects while others just take care of them. The former ensures that everything is done correct and as good as humanly possible no matter what happens... Even if they are tied up with other work, out of the office / country, on leave or start their second shift at 10pm after putting the kids to bed. The latter just makes sure things run smoothly and they do their job while they are there and within normal working hours... And maybe a bit more than normal working hours... But just a little bit. When they cannot be there the project simply becomes somebody else's responsibility to handle.

Some people never take initiative to figure things out for themselves. The moment they feel unsure or find themselves in unfamiliar territory they freeze and others have to assist. I am not like that... Sometimes you just have to say "Fuck it !! What is the worst than can happen...!?!" And just figure it out by trial and error.

People who get somewhere in life see the opportunity in any situation, no matter how dire. Others just bitch and get grumpy because "other people get all the opportunities".
Guess what... To some extent getting ahead in life is thanks to a fair amount of luck, but mostly it is because of seeing things differently and creating opportunities for yourself.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Craft Beer in Cans - Looking GOOD in the UK

In May of last year, Camden Town Brewery became the first “microcanner” in England. The brewery cans its own Hells Lager and two beers it brews for the Byron Hamburgers eateries. This autumn it will can two more beers. The beers are canned on Cask’s automatic five-head filler & seamer machine.

This summer two more London craft brewers -- Fourpure Brewing and Beavertown Brewery -- each purchased Cask equipment and joined the UK microcanning movement. Fourpure is the first UK craft brewer to shift from bottles to cans for its core beers, while Beavertown and Camden Town include cans among their bottled offerings.

Fourpure’s can sales have far surpassed its 2013 bottled sales. “In our first month,” brewery co-founder Daniel Lowe says, “our cans doubled our historic bottle sales. The second month they quadrupled them.”

Logan Plant, founder of Beavertown, says his bottle use is waning. “I’m looking to push bottles out but for a few specialty beers,” Plant says. “The acceptance of our cans has been amazing. We started up our Cask canning line in May and cans have already become 65% of our sales, while bottles are just 7%.” 

Current sales data (from IRI) shows that US sixpack and twelve pack sales of canned craft beers for 2014 are up 89% and 79% respectively, compared to 16% growth of bottled sixpacks and twelve packs.

Canned craft beer is the hottest craft beer package in North America.  This segment is just beginning in England, but it’s starting out much faster than it did in the US.

Craft canned beer makers and consumers appreciate the benefits of cans. Cans provide complete protection from light and oxygen, a fresh beer’s biggest enemies. Cans are also highly portable, welcome in places bottles are not, and easily and infinitely recyclable. 

Plant says his richly flavored canned craft beers benefit from the freshness-keeping power of aluminum cans. “We use a lot of US hops in our beers,” he says, “with those big resiny and tropical flavors. The only way to look after them is to shove them in a can. I don’t think a bottle is up to the task.”

Those can benefits and others (including reduced shipping & fuel costs due to their light weight) have fueled the massive rise of American canned craft beer.

According to the Brewers Association (the US trade group for craft brewers), over 10% of the US’s nearly 3000 small and independent craft brewers are canning all or some of their beers. A US website,, lists about 1500 canned craft beers from 418 US craft breweries, in a wide array of different beer styles. 

UK beer lovers seem open to the idea of small-batch canned beer. “We meet naysayers,” says Camden Town founder Jasper Cuppiadge, “who prefer the bottle. But once they find out that small breweries are canning, it totally changes the way they think about canned beer.” 

Plant says there’s a stigma in the UK that “cheap, mass-produced beer comes in cans. So we need to educate people. We’re all on a mission,” Plant adds, “to make great beer and push it forward. Cans are the package for doing that. They are the best for keeping beer fresh and full of all of its flavor and life.”

(Post text from Cask Canning Newsletter)

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Not quite sure about this one from SABMiller

About two year ago we attended a beer dinner hosted by SAB. The CEO at the time was Norman Adami. He was actually on stage promising that they will never compete with small brewers and that they would like to assist the small guys and grow the beer segment of the market for all.

I do not quite think this is in line with his promise. This smacks of pay-to-play, undercutting the small guys, etc.

At least people who appreciate proper beer are not really brand loyal. If SAB converts fizzy yellow water drinkers to beers with a bit more character we all may end up winning a bit. Unfortunately their tactics will create a barrier to entry for many of the smaller breweries.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Lazy Sunday Afternoons... Planning, thinking, over-thinking

Lazy Sunday afternoons are supposed to be fun. Quite frequently I end up day-dreaming, planning and running through different scenarios in my head. In many cases these scenarios involve setting up spreadsheets in order to plan, calculate and decipher the best way forward. Not quite the kind of fun I normally have in mind earlier on the weekend... Often it turns into a bit of a depressing thing really.

The one thing that remains heavy on my shoulders is to tackle our brewery upgrade the right way... As right as one can go... The risk of taking the wrong direction or going bust is simply part of starting and growing any business, I suppose.

Getting any business of the ground is no easy task. In fact running any business profitably is quite a challenge. Running more than one is a serious challenge.

Brewing is capital intensive and requires hefty investment up-front. It is not realistic to grow from generated income without substantial money injections. When starting small you simply do not have the advantages of critical mass...
Being able to buy raw ingredients and materials in bulk is what gives larger operations a considerable advantage. Larger orders can cut the cost of certain items by half or even to a fifth. In turn margins are much better and it is possible to pay off debt or provide some return on investment.

Where we stand now there are basically three options:
1. We increase capacity and production to grow the business
2. We carry on as is and break even at best
3. We quit (I don't like quitting, so this is not really an option)

At the moment it looks like we are going for Option 1.

The biggest question is... How big do we go?
Too small a system will mean that you may end up reaching full capacity way too soon.  (In less than a year we have already doubled production) When using a small system it is possible to churn out a vast quantity of beer, but it will mean that it needs to run 4 to 6 times a day and you will end up working yourself and/or your staff into the ground.
Too big a system and the initial capital outlay will be prohibitive. The bigger the system the more expensive the equipment; the bigger the electrical capacity required; the more intricate the fermentation control; the bigger the cooling capacity needed; the more expensive the bottling solution; and the more staff you need.
Where is the middle ground...? Not too big and not too small. And hopefully only a couple of staff members to worry about.

I am of the opinion any brew-house with a capacity below 300L per batch is too small. A brew-house of around 700-1000L in capacity is probably too big... So it looks like the 500-700L system size range is the middle ground.

At around 600L it is possible to churn out a considerable amount of beer while still brewing yourself. Our current fermentation concept will still work and with a bit of tweaking we can make our packaging process work too. All in all we should be able to produce more beer with less effort for a while.
This size system would also work if you were to employ a few people to brew and package beer in normal hours. For the foreseeable future we will probably still run the show as an after hours gig. Before handing over some of the brewing to paid staff we will most probably employ people to run the packaging, cleaning, preparation and other smaller administrative tasks first.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

How to treat bottle conditioned beer

Let us take a step back first... What is bottle conditioned beer? Unlike the majority of ordinary bottled beers, bottle conditioned beers are a live product, bottled with a small amount of yeast that provides additional fermentation and maturation whilst in the bottle, leading to a much deeper character and flavour, and a natural, soft carbonation, rather than the forced carbonation used on soft drinks and ‘bright’ bottled beers.

Whilst treating the bottle with care in order to avoid a cloudy glass of beer when pouring, the yeast is nothing to fear: in fact, it features many health benefits — it is a rich source of B-complex vitamins, protein, and minerals such as chromium. “German doctors used to prescribe bottle-conditioned wheat beer to patients with vitamin deficiencies.” As a probiotic organism, yeast helps your body break down nutrients, regulates your digestive system, maintains your nervous system, and even helps modulate blood-sugar levels.

How to store and care for your bottle conditioned beer:

In order to enjoy your bottle conditioned ale, we recommend the following steps:

Always store and transport your bottles upright, with the cap facing up. Never store bottles on their sides.

When bottles have been transported they really need some standing time to allow the yeast to settle ou again.

Store bottles in a cool place away from direct sunlight. Around 12 degrees Celsius is the optimum temperature for storing (and also for serving in many cases).

Allow the sediment to settle before serving if it is visibly ‘floating’ or has caused an otherwise clear beer to become cloudy.

Pour your beer smoothly into a glass, not allowing it to ‘glug’ out, otherwise the yeast will become disturbed.

When pouring keep an eye on the trub. As soon as it creeps into the neck of the bottle, stop pouring... Unless you would like to pour some of the yeast into your glass.

By following these simple steps (especially the last) the quality of bottle conditioned beer will speak for itself.

In terms of storage temperatures, the following should be noted:

So what happens if it is kept at the wrong temperature?
If it is stored for too long under temperatures that are too COLD, the flavour will be compromised and the beer will become cloudy and flat as the low temperature slows or stops the fermentation process.

If it is stored in conditions that are too WARM, the yeast goes into overdrive and not only will it consume all the sugars and shorten the life of the beer, but the beer will over-carbonate and will ‘gush’ (foam over) when opened as a result.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Lazy Saturday afternoon on the sofa ramblings....

It's been a while since I wrote something... Guess it is better to just jump in and put together a couple of thoughts.

Ah well, let me write about the obvious... Brewing and beer.

Running a brewery as a sideline is no easy task. It is a balancing act of note... Day job, family life, friends, me-time, admin, logistics, marketing, sales, planning, strategy, brewing, bottling, orders, finances, excise duties, dealing with the authorities, etc. Most weeks I wish there were eight or nine days instead of 7 and that weekends were at least 3 days... Not to rest, but to get extra time for brewing & bottling.

So far it has been going great. The beer is getting better & better and we are getting great feedback. The one thing we have realized is that a serious upgrade is inevitable and will have to happen in the near future. With the upgrade we will have a tsunami of new obstacles to deal with... Logistics and time management (and possibly additional staff) will be at least an order of magnitude more tricky to deal with. Somehow we will just get through it...

Not to get ahead of myself... But I reckon we will have to increase our production tenfold within the first two years of being in operation. (We are only nearing the end of year 1 now and we have more than doubled production already) Crazy actually. In order to do this we will build a scalable and robust brewery with our upgrade with one key basic design characteristic: It is not the size of your brewhouse that matters that much, it matters how many batches it can churn out in a shift. This basic concept is something quite a number of new breweries fail to grasp. (In case this does not make sense to you... Buy yourself an early Christmas gift: "Beyond the Pale: The Story of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co."

One of the main advantages is that beer consistency improves since you get an averaging effect filling large fermenters with multiple brews. The other main advantage is that you have more flexibility (something we like a lot) by being able to make quite a few different beers in a single shift if you would like to. If your system is badly designed and you can run only one brew in a 8 hour day, you are really up shit creek without a paddle...

I guess a few are wondering... Will Gallows Hill keep bottling conditioning when they upgrade? Well, does The Kernel Brewery, Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn Brewery, Dogfish Head, Hill Farmstead, etc. still bottle condition... Yeah they do! And most probably so will we. Pretty sure the technique will be refined further, but for now we are keeping with the small batch, artisinal approach regardless of some people trying to advocate for the demise of bottle conditioning.

On that note... A future post on the correct treatment - transport, storage and pouring - of bottle conditioned beers seems like something we must tackle.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Doing the right thing... In terms of beer packaging

With craft beer being a growing market segment I have noticed that quite a number of new players are not abiding by the rules. As a start I do not quite agree with all the rules, but not agreeing with them does not mean one can simply ignore them.
The problem with a few bad apples in the industry is that they end up irking the authorities and it results in more hassles for those who play by the rules from the start.

The next time you pick up a few small batch beers have a look at the packaging...

Does the brewery state their name and address? Can you actually determine who manufactures the beer? An actual address is required... Just a website does not count.
(And by the way... If you buy small batch beer should you not be more interested in who actually brews the beer you are spending good money on? Who do you prefer to support... The guys who experiment and craft good beers themselves or the people who bought a recipe and get someone else to brew the beer?)

Is there a warning portion with black text on a white / light background covering at least an eighth (as far as I can remember that is the required fraction) of the label portion in question?

Can you spot a disclaimer stating that the beverage cannot be sold to people younger than 18?

Is the bottle volume indicated in a font size not smaller than 4mm?

Is the alcohol content and main ingredients visible in letters no smaller than 1.5mm if it is a 330ml bottle or 2mm if it is a 440mml/500ml/550ml bottle?

Does the brewer claim the contents is organic or gluten free without providing some form of certification standard they adhere to?

Is the beer spiked / infused with some kind of spirit?

If you answer YES to any of the questions above the packaging and/or contents is not compliant with the rules and regulations.

(All images from )

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Sunday Afternoon Nostalgia - 2013 London Trip - The Kernel Brewery

The one thing I struggle with is to properly capture adventures. As soon as you get back from a trip normal life takes over way too quickly. Cameras with nearly full memory chips and semi legible notebooks are quickly packed into a cupboard, forgotten and only discovered many months later...
In most cases I never get around to attempt documenting the adventure they contain.

With some spare time on hand and some Sunday afternoon nostalgia I guess, now is as good a time as any...

My brother had quite a stroke of luck and was "forced" to take four weeks off work, otherwise he would have lost some of his leave. They were already planning a trip to Europe so we decided to extend the trip a bit; join up in London and have a week of sight seeing, museums and as many pubs + breweries as we could fit in. It was destined to be a fun trip... We haven't been on holiday together for almost 10 years.

Off the plane it was me vs. the London Transport system. Parts of the Piccadilly line serving Heathrow was down for track replacement and I has to navigate the bus system to get to Shepherds Bush... Not a difficult process, but quite time consuming and cutting into our "beer research" time. I dropped off my bags and we were on our way to brewery number one via the Maltby Street Market.

As always Maltby Street is a very cool place to hang out... Loads of stalls with food, pastries, coffee, beer, gin, cocktails, antiques, fresh produce, and much more. Sadly Maltby Street has become a bit too hipster. Quite a few of the places that started it have moved to other railway arches. To some extent the flair of small producers having a market day on Saturdays is gone. I think the biggest loss for the market is that The Kernel Brewery moved to a set of arches a few blocks away. Quite a number of Maltby Street tenants followed them.  

The Kernel Brewery is by far my favourite brewery in London... and one of my favourites in the world.

The Kernel Brewery was founded in September 2009 by Evin O’Riordain. From Irish decent and with an education in English and Russian literature, he is not your typical brewer. He has a different approach to brewing beer. High quality, hop forward and interesting beers are what you can expect from them. The beers aim to showcase the characteristcs of the hops. Some of the beers can a bit on the "acquired taste" side of the scale if you are a normal commercial beer drinker, especially when they are single hop beers with using very distinct or very new hop varieties. Their beers constantly evolve and change. Evin's stance on brewing is pretty much summed up as follows: "I’ll never achieve perfection, there are always things you can change.”

The brewery is very community focussed. Market days on Saturdays are pretty special. From early mornings people shuffle through the brewery & makeshift tap room to stock up on small batch beers for the weekend & week ahead or simply to stop for a pint or two while eating something bought from the charcuterie or bakery next door.

After a few tasters we hit the road to find Partizan Brewing. The search took longer than expected. We got a bit lost in South Bermondsey and must have walked past the nondescript rail arch housing the brewery a couple of times.

Partizan is one of the newer breweries in London. They took over the old Kernel brewing system and are cranking out very good beers. Unfortunately there were not many people at Partizan and no vibe to mention, so we tasted a few beers and headed back to The Kernel.

Within the hour that we were gone the tasting area at The Kernel filled up with beer fans... With some charcuterie & bread from the neighbouring arches we settled down and started to really enjoy the beers... Great beer, good food & interesting company...

Our tally for the day at The Kernel and Partizan:
The Kernel - Export India Porter
The Kernel - Pale Ale Mosaic
The Kernel - IPA C.A.N.S
The Kernel - IPA Columbus
The Kernel - Pale Ale Nugget
The Kernel - S.C.A.N. Darkly (Black IPA)
Partizan - 9 Grain Porter
Partizan - IPA Bobek Amarillo

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Some thoughts on Bottle Conditioning

Recently there has been some debate regarding bottle conditioned beers in Cape Town. One of the local bloggers approached brewers with a couple of questions.

Here are our answers to them:

Do you bottle condition any/all of your beers?

Yes we bottle condition all of our beers are the moment, but we have our own way of doing it. I am pretty sure techniques vary from brewer to brewer & brewery to brewery. 

What do you see as the pros and cons of bottle conditioning?

Let's start with the cons...
If you don't know what you are doing the results can be pretty awful.
The beer will probably not be crystal clear.
In many cases you will have consumers who do not know what to expect from a bottle conditioned beer and how to correctly treat bottle conditioned beer. People keep, handle & pour bottle conditioned beers incorrectly resulting in a beer ending up in the glass the way it was never intended.
If you have too much yeast in the bottles, stability issues, such as autolysis, and unwanted haze can be a problem.

Now for the pros...
Bottle conditioned beers are alive, unfiltered and unpasteurized. 
When a beer is filtered, it passes through a membrane in order to remove excess particulates, yeast, and remaining trub that is less desired in the finished product. Filtering will also remove positive characteristics that contribute to aroma and flavor. Pasteurization is a common practice at larger breweries. When beer is pasteurized, it is heated to 60ºC for two to three minutes, which basically cooks to death any remaining bacteria or yeast. Finished beer can also be flash pasteurized, which means a 15 to 30 second hit of 74ºC heat that's thought to be a bit nicer to the beer, but it still kills it!
Bottle conditioning, when done properly, can result in beer with a finer + silky carbonation, much better head retention, more complex flavours, longer shelf life, and better aging ability than force carbonated beers.
Bottle conditioned beers change character as they age. Filtered to death, pasteurized beer is simply on a downhill path as soon as it leaves the brewery.

Are there any styles that you think should always be bottle conditioned and any styles that you would never dream of bottle conditioning?

It depends what you want out of a beer. If done correctly you can probably bottle condition anything. Some may say you can’t bottle condition lagers... I do not agree, some of the most interesting lagers we've ever tasted were cask conditioned lagers (for all practical purposes cask conditioning and bottle conditioning is the exact same thing).

Some people have said that a beer cannot be considered a craft beer if it hasn’t been bottle conditioned – any comment on this?

Personally I think that is complete crap...

In addition to these questions and answers I have a few more random thoughts & comments:

Due to some issues with a few bottle conditioned beers a few commentators have proposed using force carbonation in Cornelius style kegs and using counter pressure bottlers or a Blichmann Beer Gun.
In theory this can work, but the following must be noted:
Carbonation without proper carbonation stones to dissolve the CO2 into the beer will most probably result in a distinctive soda-bite flavour in the beer.
Carbonation levels can vary between kegs if the carbonation setup is not properly thought through.
You still need a pretty big cooler to keep the beer at low temperatures to properly carbonate & transfer to bottles.
All the added steps present opportunities to oxidize and add bugs to the beer.
Bottling 100+ liter of carbonated beer with a single Blichmann Beer Gun or crude counter pressure filler is a royal pain in the ass.

In the UK cask conditioned and bottle conditioned beer is very common among small brewers. I would almost go as far as saying it is the norm. Just look at the list of breweries on only a hand full of the ones who offer bottled beers do not bottle condition. (The new London brewers have some of the best beers I have ever tried)

On mainland Europe many new breweries are following in the footsteps of UK, Belgian and US brewers. Consequently bottle conditioned beers from small producers are common.

In the USA it varies between force carbonation, bottle / fermenter / brite tank carbonation and hybrid methods. One of the hybrid methods is to cap fermenters / brite tanks to start building up pressure and naturally carbonate the beers. Once this process is complete the CO2 volumes are measured and the quantity of priming sugar and additional yeast is calculated to bring the beer to the desired carbonation level. With the priming sugar and new yeast added the cold, partially carbonated beer is bottled. 

I think the decision by most small breweries to bottle condition beers come down to two things:
1. Since the majority of our new brewers come from a home brewing background it is a technique they are familiar with.
2. It is a matter of cost. Most new breweries start quite small. Pressure-rated vessels cost more than 50% more than non pressure-rated vessels. Small pressure-rated vessels are also not that freely available. Force carbonation in large vessels require proper glycol cooling systems to crash cool beer and to keep temperatures low for carbonation. Once carbonated you need proper bottling equipment... And proper bottling equipment can easily cost as much, if not more, than the brew house the small brewery can barely afford if they start up. All these costs add up, thus bottle conditioning may be the only viable option to get things going for many start-ups.

The bottom line with bottling condition is my opinion is: It works great. If you know what the results, characteristics and behavior of the beers will be and you treat the beers correctly it will taste far superior to filtered to death, bland, watery industrial lager!

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Decisions, decisions, decisions...

When starting a brewery there are certain decisions you make and routes you take with your product that are made due to the fact that you have very little choice or limited resources to achieve your goal.

The first item we had to decide on was how we will be dealing with consistency... Making consistently good beer is a challenge we are willing to accept and we are trying our very best to keep it that way. However, to make the exact same beer well every time without any noticeable differences between batches is extremely difficult for any startup brewery. On the other hand isn't it just a little bit boring to make the same thing over and over and over.
We decided to embrace "inconsistency" and to make varying beers. If we make the same recipe again it will differ from the previous. To a large extent because we think we will never make the perfect beer. Perfection is something you always strive for, but will never achieve.

Having decided the concept the next group of decisions have to be in connection with ingredients. In general we do not really like South African hops. The majority of the local varieties do not suit what we want to brew at the moment. Local malts, although the choice is limited to a single type of pale malt and a black malt, are good to use if you have some basic knowledge of ingredients. Hops and any speciality malts we use are imports. Some say it is too expensive to import such a large portion of your raw ingredients. We do not agree... The bulk of your cost can actually attributed to packaging, capital costs and labour if you have to pay people to make your beer instead of doing all the hard work yourself.

The following major decisions were related to fermentation.
Firstly we decided against the use of plastic fermenters. Plastic scratches and cleaning them properly is a royal pain in the ass. We use stainless steel only. Even though it costs a little more.
Secondly we decided to control fermentation temperatures the way most small breweries in London do... By using the suitable fermenters in spaces kept at the right temperatures. To do this we have a temperature controlled fermentation room.
There are a couple of decisions many brewers struggle with...
When running small batches, do you need conical fermenters? Actually NO. Unless you want to drop a lot of cash of having them jacketed and using glycol cooling systems. Yeast trapped in the cones may be easier to get out eventually, but due to the pressure and heat they generate yeast autolysis and the accompanying off flavours are a real threat. With fairly wide, flat bottomed fermenters you do not have this problem. There are also quite a number of brewers who swear these flatter fermenters also work better for dry hopping.
Do you need vessels capable of handling pressure? NO... Open fermentation works fine.
Do you need secondary fermenters? NO... Cold crashing and proper conditioning can clear your beer damn well if done correctly.

Lately there seems to be a few people who frown upon bottle conditioned beers... Well, we decided to go this route. Tough shit! It works for us at the moment.
It is probably safe to assume that most of the newer breweries going this route have not perfected the technique yet... Hell, not even quite sure we have, but our bottle re-fermented beers taste way better than any keg carbonated beer we've ever made.
Bottle conditioned beers have finer bubbles with a more silky smooth mouthfeel.
Bottle conditioning scavenges any oxygen in the bottles resulting in a more stable product with a longer shelf life.
Due to the fact that the beers are bottled alive they also develop characteristics with age force carbonated beers cannot.
Bottle conditioning has an old world charm to it... And we are suckers for doing some things old school for the hell of it.
Furthermore, being similar to the carbonation process used for cask beer, bottle conditioned beer can be classified as Real Ale. Force carbonated beers can never be classified as Real Ale.
If breweries like The Kernel, Beavertown and even the monster Sierra Nevada can do it why should the technique be frowned upon?
(A common mistake new brewers make when force carbonating is doing it without proper carbonation stones. This results in a beer with a distinct carbonic acid taste.)