Thursday, 27 January 2011

Making beer

Lunchtime at Otley Brewery and I would hazard a guess that a similar scene to what is happening here might be seen and heard at hundreds of breweries up and down the land at the same time. The boil rolling to its natural end, an FV being made ready to welcome the new brew — washing, cleaning, waiting, washing, cleaning, waiting, the clanging of metal kegs, a ringing metallic sound as keystones are banged in, radio on (Radio 1 in this instance, what an education for a Radio 3 listener it is), the swish of water from a high-powered hose outside as a cask is dowsed and washed and made ready for its next journey. This is the hour when the labour of the day starts surging to its climax; the time when the 8.30am start spent discussing malt varieties and how they would work together comes to its glorious fruition. And then it’s here, the time, the FV is full, I get off the cask I was sitting on whilst watching the others work and the beer that I have collaborated on with Otley Brewery has gushed its way into the fermenting vessel, while the yeast stands by. Up the step I go, bucket in hand and into the FV goes a stream of liquid, ready to run amok amongst the innocent malt sugars all relaxing after their rigorous 90 minute boil. This all makes me think that although the making of beer on the outside is a mechanised process, what happens in miniature in the boil is where the magic, the transformative process, takes place; it’s almost as if there’s a big bang, the formation of a universe, the creation of planetary systems, all happening in the roiling, angry bull of the boil — and that’s all before fermentation has started, with its own sleight of hand, now you see me now you don’t brand of magic.

And the beer that I hope will emerge in a couple of weeks?

It’s a dark saison, for after all saison is one of those beer styles that are a moveable feast. No names yet, some ideas, but nothing set in stone. We used lager malt for the base with the rest of the grain bill being black malt, Munich malt, caragold and a pinch of crystal (plus of course some wheat for head retention). Hops are Goldings for bittering, while I plumped for Sorachi Ace and Columbus for the late hops; black pepper and Curacao orange were also added. The intention was to make a dark beer that wouldn’t have roasted notes (we drank Steel City’s black IPA Shadowplay at the magnificent Bunch of Grapes on the previous night for inspiration on how to avoid that very thing) and having tasted the wort I think we might have succeeded. Now it’s up to the yeast, a Weisse one, to do its work. I look forward to trying it and will be posting regular updates on the beer’s progress.

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