As my week at the brewery progressed the 25kg sacks felt lighter and lighter and I was able to handle the task of cask washing, which leaves you smelling like a pub floor at closing time, with increased ease and speed. When I virtually crawled into work on my second day, I was told that I’d feel fantastic at the end of the week. They weren’t wrong. I really did. Ironically, despite the odd taster, I didn’t have a beer all week. A piss up in a brewery is harder than you would imagine.
As a reward for my hard work earlier in the week, I was given the opportunity to spend Thursday and Friday at the old hall brew house, assisting Ben in making some cask ales. This was the moment I’d been waiting for. Sheffield pubs beware. Finally I would be making my first ever brew.
Malts provide the canvas on which the other key ingredients (water, hops and yeast) are placed. We threw 272kg of the stuff we had milled at the new brewery earlier in through a skylight. There are many different types of malt; this beer required 270kg of Marris Otter (the most common type of pale malt used in British style ales) along with 2kg of black malt to add colour and a rich character to the liquor.
The water supply in Derbyshire is relatively soft. This allows Thornbridge to modify their water with the addition of mineral salts to create various kinds of beer. For example, they can emulate the composition of London water for a porter or Dublin water for a dry stout. The treatment of water has many different effects on brewing. Thornbridge Brew Manager, Dom, will happily admit he could bore people to death when explaining water treatment and brewing. For now, I’ll just say we added some white looking stuff to the malt. We then mixed this with hot water in the mash tub for about 75 mins until the malt’s starch was turned into sugar.
When the mashing was complete we transferred the sweet malty liquid, known as wort, across into the kettle (also called a copper because early brewing methods used copper tanks). Once this was done we were ready to add hops. To our wort we added 10% of the hops to give bitterness. The remaning 90% was added later to a cooler liquor to give flavour and aroma, since not much bitterness is released at lower temperatures.
[Left] Although Thornbridge buy a selection of British, American and New Zealand hops, they cultivate some in the grounds of the hall for “green beer”.
[Below] Mixing in the hops for aroma – one of the greatest smells I have ever experienced.
After 75-90 minutes the liquor is passed through a heat exchanger which cools the liquid down so that yeast can be added for fermentation.
A sample of the liquor – incredibly bitter sweet and ready for the yeast to work its magic. Cleaning out the kettle – one the hottest and most pungent jobs in brewing.
The yeast is then added to the cooled liquor. Over a period of three to five days the yeast turns the sugar in the brew into CO2 and alcohol. The beer is then transferred to a conditioning tank where maturation occurs prior to casking. All in all it takes about a week in total until the beer is ready to drink.
All that remained was one final job. A trip through the grounds of Thornbridge to see Flora, the Goddess of Flowers and patron goddess of hops. Thornbridge say “like our beers, Flora represents beauty and elegance and is a testament to the craft of her maker.” I’m hoping this proves to be right and that my beer turns out to be the perfect finish to a fantastic week.
A huge thank you to Alex, Dom, Ben and everyone at Thornbridge for a truly amazing first week. Big love to Uncle Rubanks and the Mullins clan for hosting me. Up next Foodish Boy takes on the national dish – fish and chips.