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.)

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