The Brewing Process
How to Brew
I am often asked how a new beer is produced. The answer is that "it all depends". There is no doubt in my mind that it is possible just to throw the materials together and something will come out of the fermenter. However a good brewer, like a good chef, can "see" a beer in his or her's mind's eye. That beer can be broken down in terms of what each of the four materials used, water, hops, malt and yeast contribute to creating the beer. The trick is then to be able to reproduce that using knowledge of the brewhouse itself as well as manipulating the process itself to build a harmonious product. You can have the very best minced beef, tomatoes, herbs and pasta but a bad cook can always make a dreadful spag bol! Equally you can make poor beer out of great ingredients but you cannot make great beer out of poor ingredients. It is also important to not only to use the materials appropriate to the type of beer being produced but having an understanding of how they work together is key. (see "Totality")
Just about everyone who is interested in beer will know the four main ingredients. Malt, hops, water and yeast but unless you have been a brewer you will not realise the subtle and sometimes not so subtle (!) variations in these which affect the final product.
Having visited breweries in many of the major brewing nations brings an understanding of the way in which certain aspects of water can effect the individual beer. Throughout the 19th century the development of certain beers styles was heavily influenced by local water. The local water is high in temporary hardness which allows us to brew in a particular style which suits our choice of malt and hops.
Our house style is a soft maltiness so it pays to use the very best ale malt. Our malt is supplied by Warminster Maltings who produce change the wonderful brewing barley Maris Otter (not a potato nor a mammal!) into the malt which forms the heart of an English beer. Warminster is one of the very few tradition floor maltings left in the country. Check them out at www.warminster-malt.co.uk where you will see a picture of the handsome Head maltster Chris Garratt.
You will also find their Warranty of Origin scheme which provides precise information about where our malt is grown www.warminster-malt.co.uk/barley.html
Maris Otter is a winter barley and we buy it whole and crush ourselves having inspected it visually as well as checking its specification. We never buy crushed malt as it is impossible to know exactly what is in it! We recently stopped buying malt from one company as even their whole malt contained an unacceptable level of crap extraneous material!
We also source some malt, especially our coloured malts from the excellent Simpsons maltings in Teeside. www.simpsonsmalt.co.uk/
Hops provide bitterness, flavour, aroma and some degree of anti-bacterial protection. In these days of pure yeast strains the latter is of less importance than in the past especially when one considers that beers are much weaker and lower in hop content than, say, the 19th century.
Our hops come from Charles Faram whose top man is Paul Corbett, an ever deepening well of experience and wisdom. Paul is extraordinarily generous with his knowledge and really provides an excellent service to many small brewers as well as ourselves. You'll find Faram's at http://www.wellhopped.co.uk/. You will find a photo of Paul on the site which is strange as he is a bit of a shrinking violet but far more interesting than him is the list of hops they supply.......we can't use them all, sadly! www.wellhopped.co.uk/Variety.asp
We try to use English hops wherever possible. Goldings we source from Worcestershire as the level of disease in these is less than in the more famous East Kent area: hops are grown in Kent for historic reasons and not because of the quality of the climate or soil. However with the changes in climate the quality of specific English hops is declining ....too much dampness leads to disease. We also use various other hops the use of each is dependent on the type of beer produced. These come from all over the world, New Zealand, USA, Czech Republic...all give fascinating and different flavour profiles enabling us to brew beers suitable for the modern palate.
It is important to be aware that hops are very vulnerable to climatic variations and every year we have to balance these changes to provide a consistent product. For many years we became used to the levels of bitterness in Goldings slowly going up. It was thought that this was due to the increased levels of artificial fertiliser being used but nobody was sure. When we started brewing in 1982 the "normal" level of bitterness for Goldings was between 4 and 4.5. This slowly went up to 5-5.5 up until 2006 when all that changed and all we could get was above 7 or below 3! Extraordinary and nobody really knows why. Fortunately they have balanced out again..it all makes brewing that bit interesting! By the way we only use whole hops...no pellets or extracts at Pilgrim!
and last but in no means least:
The dictionary may define yeast as "any of various single-celled ascomycetous fungi in which little or no mycelium develops and which ordinarily reproduce by budding: they ferment sugars to form alcohol and carbon dioxide" but that is not really the story. A more fun description says "Yeast is made up of millions of tiny fungus cells which literally go berserk when confronted by a liquid rich with sugars".
Yeast that most simple of organisms being a single cell but what a powerhouse lives within. One yeast cell can ferment approximately its own weight of glucose per hour...not many people know that!
In brewing it is traditional to refer to ale yeasts used predominantly in warm fermentations as "top" strains of Saccaromyces cerevisiae and to lager yeasts (cool fermentations) as "bottom" strains of S. carlsbergensis. Modern yeast systematics, however, classify all brewing strains as S. cerevisiae. Many ales are made by bottom fermentation with what were originally top strains.
The most important thing to understand about the yeast we use as brewers is that there are many yeasts, all called Saccaromyces cerevisiae, which differ very slightly in the way they ferment. All were once wild (some still behave wildly!), some make ale, some lager, some bread and some with a curious genetic difference ferment to produce the characteristic flavours found in a Bavarian weissbeer. They vary in the temperatures they ferment at, the flavours they produce (which also change if the fermentation temperature differs) and the very manner they behave. All of which makes the life of a brewer more than a bit interesting!
At Pilgrim we use different yeast strains, often together, but do brew beers with a single strain if we are looking for particular characteristics or even to avoid certain characteristics, a specific flavour for example. We can therefore utilise each yeast to do different things: to provide better cask-conditioning for example. However most micro-breweries will happily get by with a single strain....we prefer a more difficult life!