I arranged for Tim to visit Grain's microbrewery in Alburgh on the Norfolk/Suffolk border for a day learning how to brew beer. Well it was his birthday and thankfully he did bring a few bottles back and also agreed to blog his experience!
"I managed to get lost on the way to Alburgh but what a beautiful place! On the North side of the Waveney valley which runs along the Suffolk/Norfolk border this is unexpectedly rolling English countryside. When Phil Halls and Geoff Wright were looking for a home for their new brewery in 2006 they saw and rejected lots of potential sites including a range of different farm buildings and (thankfully) characterless premises on industrial estates at a much higher cost. When they found their current site at South Farm they knew it was right for what they wanted to do.
What I learned between 9.30 and 4.00 is that the life of a craft brewer is physically demanding, full of sensory (particularly olfactory) stimulation and occasionally repetitive.
All brewers develop their own unique recipes. Today we were brewing Grain's session bitter Oak and throughout the process we referred to a sheet listing the precise weights of ingredients.
The first part of the brewing process is to combine hot water (called liquor in brewing terminology - it just sounds better doesn't it?) with malted barley which comes in big sacks.
This lets the heat release the natural sugars in the barley (which will later be turned to alcohol by yeast) in a big open barrel called a mash tun. The clever bit at this stage as we learned at Beer Academy is combining different types of malted barley: pale, crystal, chocolate in different proportions to create beers of very different flavours and colours. Oak majors on pale malt - Maris Otter to be precise.
The sweetest cup or two of the resulting 'wort' is discarded and then the rest is transferred to a copper tank where it is boiled with hops. Two types of hops are added in two stages: first bittering hops which add bitterness; and then at end of an hour or so aroma hops which 'spice' the brew adding a wonderful, heady aroma. These aroma hops are an expensive ingredient (by weight) but really contribute character and zing to a beer like Oak.
While the 'boil' takes place we get our hands and boots dirty shovelling the spent barley out of the mash tun (see below) - it's oddly satisfying and we just finish in time for Jimmy the farmer to come and pick up the sacks of waste barley husks to feed to his sheep. How about that for thrift and sustainability?
The brew is then transferred into a fermentation tank where it will, with the addition of yeast the following day, begin to become beer as we know it with the malt sugar converted to alcohol. The beer we brewed will be ready in a few short weeks and Phil is going to give us a call when it's ready!"
We really like Grain's beers and are impressed with the way Phil and Geoff are working to bring their beer to new audiences : check out their classic session bitter Oak which has some lovely aromatic hops on the nose, the Ruby Porter which is full, sweet and creamy with that 'Ovaltine' flavour from crystal malt and the Strong Pale Ale which has quite a serious drink with a kick.