Sometimes, life is indeed full of surprises.
A few weeks back, I blundered into a Twitter conversation between Tandleman, Tyson the Beerhound, Jay Krause (Quantum Brewing) and David Mayhall from Allgates Brewery. During this conversation, a “collaboration brew” was mooted. I, being a bit of a cheeky scamp, asked if I could tag along. I even volunteered to be the ‘teaboy’. Surprisingly, David invited me in. Shocked and excited in equal measure, I tapped in “08/06/2013 – Allgates” into my calendar.
In case you haven’t been reading this blog recently, I like Allgates beers. A lot. Clean, crisp and (mostly) hop forward they inhabit the space between 3 – 5% abv and are really refreshing, dark or pale. I was introduced to them by my arch-nemesis Jaz (who else) who himself is a fan. He’s rarely wrong in his beer tastes! They have a small (yet perfectly formed) tied estate within the Wigan area and each pub has its own character. They also have a superb selection of guest beers in their pubs. Worth a visit in other words!
Anyhow, with a start time of 09:00 agreed, I pulled away early from an evenings debauchery with the aforementioned Jaz, in order to get me some ugly sleep.
My main worry (a bit late!) as I approached the brewery, was an utter absence of technical knowledge. Basically, my knowledge of hop properties could be detailed on the wing of a gnat.
Knocking at the door, I was let in by Jonathan, the head brewer. A busy man, he brought me upstairs where, chatting merrily, were Tyson & Tandleman. Jay (unfortunately) had taken ill and couldn’t make it. David, the co-owner then arrived and we had a chat about how the day would go, from the grist (the malt/oats) to the hop selection and all things in between.
Jonathan suggested a grist comprising 175kg pale malt (Maris Otter), 10kgs each of roasted barley and chocolate malt, 25kgs of malted oats and 8kgs of torrified wheat (for head retention. That being agreed (I nodded dumbly!) we set off to the top of the world – or, at least, the brewery!
(That’s 228kg – right there!)
Having loaded the dry goods, we moved downstairs to the mash tun. The hot liquor (water – to lesser mortals, like me) was set at a ‘strike temperature’ of 73.6 C and as the water started to fill the tun, the grist was released. Now. I don’t know about you, but 228kg is a LOT of grist! It took quite a while to fall into the tun! There was a lot of (ahem) encouragement required for the chute to help the malt down.
(Liquor & grist into the Mash Tun)
Whilst all the malted goodies were loading into the tun, a vigorous mashing was required to avoid any clumping of the malts – especially with the oats. This was done manually and we all had a go. Needless to say, Jonathan’s technique was far superior! (Tandleman was none too shabby though!)
(Mmmm….My kind of porridge!)
With 535 litres of hot liquor in that mash tun, we had a mash temperature of just over 65C and it was getting steamy! Really enjoyed the manual mashing, but it was bloody hard work. They don’t just twiddle their thumbs, these brewers, oh no.
Then, with that done, another type of brew was required whilst due consideration was given to hop selection. After a bit of discussion (with zero input from yours truly!), Jonathan decided to go with Amarillo and Ahtanum for “first wort hopping”, Galena and Warrior for bitterness and more Amarillo and Ahtanum with additional Nelson Sauvin for aroma. A heady mix.
Prior to transfer to the copper and the addition of any hops, Jonathan poured off a little of the wort. Black, quite oaty and only slightly sweet. This was tasting promising!
(FUN Time! The hop store!)
Once ready, Jonathan took a hydrometer reading to determine the Original Gravity of this “beer”. A slightly high 1051, this was “liquored back” (more hot liquor added) slightly to achieve the desired gravity of 1049 prior to transfer to the copper. Just prior to this, the mash was ‘sparged’ (water sprayed into the mash) to extract as much of the sugar as possible from the fermentable material.
The wort (not as sweet as I imagined) was transferred to the copper (where, in boiling, the hops release their goodness!) Once the wort was transferred, the first wort hops were added. A little bit of light work for yours truly. These were Amarillo and Ahtanum and 1/2 kg went in at this stage for smoothness of flavour.
This initial addition is something that Allgates have been trying recently with excellent results. A little break for some light refreshment (thank you David!) and a nice couple of halves of Calico Deep and Ostara (I ADORE the Ostara and want her to have my babies!). During this, Jonathan added the first bittering hops, 1/2 kg each of Galena and Warrior (Galena being a particularly good hop with Stouts, I’m advised)
(Jonathan The Alchemist – with his book of beery spells!)
With the wort now transferred to the copper, you start to appreciate why these brewers are so fit. Time for shovels! That there below, is 228kg of dry grist, soaked. And hot. That is about 2-3 feet deep and a hell of a lot of weight. It was shovelled from the mash tun into sacks which got winched downstairs for myself, Tandleman and Tyson to hump into drums outside. The spent grains get picked up by a (presumably VERY strong) farmer who uses it as feed for his animals – lucky devils!
Each sack must have weighed at least 40kg + that’s nearly half a TON! David and Jonathan hooked up the sacks to the winch and we emptied them into the drums (probably the source of my sore shoulder this morning!!!)
At approximately 14:00 Jonathan added the final bittering hops (Warrior and Galena again) before, at 14:35, the final (aroma) hop addition of Nelson Sauvin, Ahtanum and Amarillo. Not long afterwards, we were ready to transfer to the Fermenting Vessel.
The wort (now featuring some hoppy goodness) transfers to the FV via a clever piece of kit called the Heat Exchanger. The heat from the wort is partly removed (from 100C to 21C and heats water in the opposite direction, headed to the Hot Liquor Tank. A very clever piece of energy-saving kit indeed!
The wort having been transferred into FV #1, it was time to let the yeast have a party! Tandleman had this pleasure. A quick wet with some wort (no, not Tandleman!) and in it went, the FV was closed and (with some cleaning up – kindly, David and Jonathan did this!) we were done. Back to the bar for an Ostara to cool down!
And the beer? It is going to be a hoppy Oatmeal Stout at around 4.9% abv. Lovely and dark with (no doubt) plenty of chocolate and oaty character. It is likely to be a one-off (although there could possibly be a second take at some point – there’s more oat malt!).
I’m quite excited to see how the Amarillo will work in a stout. It smelled superb in the brewery. Should be released in about 3-4 weeks. I’ll be having some (but then, Tandleman, Tyson and myself may know where some of it may be going!). Come release, I’ll let you all know!
I think I can speak for us all, this was a brilliant way to spend a Saturday. I learned loads. You do tend to when you’re actually involved, rather than listening to a tour guide. I even learned a little about hop properties! I’m a very lucky boy indeed and very grateful to David and Jonathan for their generosity and patience. We were fed, (definitely) watered and I had a fantastic time, which I won’t be forgetting in a hurry. (Try the Calico Deep – Dark – and the Ostara if you get the chance. You won’t be disappointed!)
The generosity bit? Well, for one, I was invited. Second, lunch was superb, courtesy of David and his local Booths! Third (and a total surprise this) David is letting us have 3 firkins of the finished beer, 1 each for Tandleman, Tyson and myself to raise money for the chosen charity of each. Mine being St Anns Hospice in Little Hulton who gave fabulous care to Dad in his final days. A more than worthwhile cause. Thank you David for your generosity, hospitality and patience, Jonathan for your patience and skill and all 4 (inc Tandleman and Tyson) for taking this beer drinker to school!
It was great to meet Tandleman and Tyson. I had met the former at Wilson Potter brewery some months before (another brewery we both like), but didn’t get to chat much. We were both (ahem) ‘refreshed’ and I was just about to head to Manchester. A veritable mine of beery wisdom and a bloody nice bloke. I hadn’t met Tyson previously, but another beery good guy who, again, knows loads about beer. David and Jonathan were still quite busy, so we decided to get out of their hair and nip over to the Anvil for a wee one!
Excellent fruity pint of California followed by a pint of the gorgeous dark and smooth AllBlack mild. During the second, David and Jonathan called in, unaware we were there. I just sat back and listened to the guys chat. An absolute pleasure.
So, there you go. I can honestly say, that in about 4 weeks time, I will have taken an active part in the creation of something that I will see pouring from a handpump. From Grain To Glass. To me, it will feel really special. And trust me, this beer will TASTE special too. But of course, I’m biased. I worship the Dark Side!
Back to Wallgate station with Tyson & Tandleman and a walk up the hill.
On that note…’til next time…