Trouble Brewing launched their Trouble Maker brewing competition last summer with the closing date for entries at the end of October. All entries were judged by a panel of experts and the winning beer was to be recreated on a commercial scale. Trouble Makers - The Final Showdown took place on November 15, 2010 in the Bull and Castle. In a huge stroke of luck I won and became the Champion Homebrewer of Ireland (I’m not sure who coined that but it’s something that doesn’t sit well with me). Anyway I was shocked to hear I had won and delighted the panel enjoyed my beer, and the thought of it getting to a wider audience really excited me.
On April 3rd 2011 I went to Trouble Brewing to brew the commercial batch. Here is how I got on…
(For newbies to brewing I have put the brewing terms meaning at the bottom of the article.)
I didn’t really have any idea how much involvement I would have in the brew or the sheer scale of working in a commercial brewery but I was really looking forward to it no matter how little it would be. When I arrived in Allenwood I was surprised at how big the brewery equipment was. Paul was getting the strike water ready so I donned my new wellies and he gave me the tour.
The biggest difference between how I brew and how Trouble Brewing do it, apart from the scale, is the time factor. My brewday can be wrapped up in 4 hours. From a cold water start it could take 9 hours for Trouble, but with a brew the previous day the hot liquor tank (HLT) was nearly full so we were already ahead of schedule.
We got our numbers in order and Paul said that since it was my recipe I would have a big hand in making the beer. To my delight I got stuck in straight away. Opening ten bags of grain is a bit of a pain but the novelty of everything kept me working hard all day.
The strike water temp took a little bit of calculation. The amount of grain obviously being taken into account, but also its temperature and the calculated loss of heat due to so much grain (slightly more than a usual Trouble brew).
Once the strike water was ready, and pumped into the mash tun, we doughed in. Again this would take 5 minutes on my batch but it took probably 15 minutes to get all the grain in and to make sure our mash temp was correct. Fairly tough work here even with two of us on the job. Ten bags of grain had to be lifted and stirred while hovering over a hot mash tun. It isn’t glamorous work! A little adjusting and we were sorted with a mash temp of 67.5 degrees Celsius. My large brewing spoon was replaced with a 7ft long mash paddle. It is tricky to wield, but is essential kit when you have 250kg of grain and well over 500l of wort to stir.
Mash time is the same as a homebrew batch – 60 minutes. This time is taken up with getting the sparge water ready and getting the fermenter cleaned and sanitised. The fermenter had Dark Arts in it and that was transferred to a conditioning tank. We also filled a couple of casks, a new departure for Trouble Brewing.
When the mash was complete we opened the tap and recirculated the wort to use the grain bed as a filter. The mash tun has a fine false bottom but we wanted as little debris as possible reaching the kettle. Once this was ready the sparge started. Again the sparge water was pumped from the HLT and the sparging arm was given a twirl and off it went. The mash tun has its own pump and the wort was pumped to the kettle while the sparge was on-going. Keeping the sparge at the correct rate whilst pumping to the kettle is a fine art – too little sparge water and the tun will run dry and a chance the pump will burn out, too much and the grain bed will float rendering its use a filter redundant.
It takes a surprisingly long time to sparge, lauter and transfer to the brew kettle. You wouldn’t have change from an hour and a half. When the wort was flowing into the kettle the kettle was knocked on as the volume of wort is so large that to wait for the kettle to be full would add unnecessary time to the brewday.
When the kettle was full we had time for a bit of lunch. It takes an hour to reach the boil and just like brewing at home we had to be vigilant of a boil over. I measured out the Galaxy hops. The novelty of having 500g bags of hops wasn’t lost on me and the first addition of 720g smelled fantastic.
More downtime while the boil was on… well not really. The quick clean of my mash tun was replaced with shovelling out 250kg of wet spent grain. I was more than happy to do these dirty jobs all day and tackled this one with more than a smile on my face. The grain bed was well over a foot deep and the smell of the spent grain coming at me was super.
The second and third hop additions were 880g each. The second was added with 10 minutes left and the last with 5. Protofloc was added with 10 minutes remaining.
After the 60 minute boil Paul turned on the kettle pump and whirlpooled for 15 minutes. While this was happening the heat exchanger was sanitised, along with the hoses that would be used to pump the wort through to the fermenter. The heat exchanger took 1.5 hours to cool the full batch to 25C. When the fermenter started to fill I pitched the bucket of yeast. To oxygenate the wort a tank of oxygen was hooked up after the heat exchanger.
That 90 minutes of wort cooling is taken up with cleaning. The cold water used in the heat exchanger gets pumped into the HLT and is ready to be used for cleaning and/or for the next brew. The mash tun false bottom was taken apart and power hosed along with whatever else we had dirtied up during the day.
The fermenters at Trouble have insulation jackets built in and if the wort coming from the heat exchanger is too hot the cooler can be turned on to regulate the fermentation temperature. Likewise if the fermentation drives up the temp the cooler can bring it back down. At the end of fermentation the wort will be cooled so the yeast will drop out and a bright beer can be pumped to the conditioning tank.
So being a pro brewer for the day was not glamorous or sexy but it was great fun getting down and dirty. Knowing how a craft beer is made and meeting the guys who try their best to make something they can be proud of certainly adds to the enjoyment of drinking the beer. I’d like to thank Paul and the rest of the crew in Trouble for their help. Roll on the Franciscan Well EasterFest for the launch!
Brewing terms used:
hot liquor tank (HLT): A large tank where hot water is stored and heated.
strike water temp: The temperature of the hot water prior to adding the grain
mash tun: A vessel where the grain and water combine to form the mash
doughed in: Mixing the grain and water, like making porridge.
mash temp: The temperature when the grain and water combine
wort: The name given to the strike water during and after the mash
sparge: Rinsing the grains to extract the last of the sugars from the grain
lauter: Draining the mash tun of its liquid
brew kettle: Where the wort is boiled along with the hops
whirlpooled: Using a pump to form a whirlpool in the kettle so the hop debris and particles form a cone in the middle
false bottom: A perforated stainless steel floor that allows liquid through but not the grain
bright: Clear, ideally like beer prior to conditioning