I’ll beef this page up with some photos and maybe some diagrams but in the meantime here’s the jist of it..
Ingredients. We only use water, malt, hops and yeast to make all of our beers. We don’t add sugar or any other nasties like corn or extract. We use whole hop flowers, sourced from Farams in Malvern and most of our malts come from Thomas Fawcett and Sons in Castleford. The different flavours and colours all come from the different malts and hops and other characteristics in the beer can come from the different yeasts and water treatments that we use.
Mashing. The malted grains are steeped in hot water in the mash tun for 90 minutes. During this period the enzymes in the malt turn the starches into sugars that will later be fed to our yeast. All the sugars in our beers are extracted from the malt via this mashing process. We don’t add any other sugars.
Sparging. Once all the starches have been converted to sugar we start the sparging process. Whilst the sugary liquid (now called wort) is being drawn off the bottom of the mash tun we sprinkle fresh hot liquor onto the grain bed to ensure all the sugars are retrieved. The wort that is run off is pumped over to the copper.
Boiling. The extracted wort is boiled in the copper for 60 to 90 minutes (the boil length is determined by the recipe). As soon as the boiling point has been reached we start to add hops.
Hopping. Hops are added to the boil at various stages. Boiling the hops releases natural compounds which flavour the beer and also act as a preservative. More hops boiled for longer create a beer that is more bitter. Adding hops later in the boil gives the beer more hop flavour but without the associated bitterness. Different hops have different flavour and aroma characteristics which dramatically change the character of the final beer.
Aroma Rest. At the end of the boil the burners are turned off and the wort is allowed to rest. Some of our beers have additional hops added at this stage to increase the hoppy flavours and aromas without adding extra bitterness. The Ironbridge Pale Ale benefits greatly from a shed load of hops added at flame out.
Cooling. The wort is then passed through the heat exchanger and into one of the fermenting tanks. Each brew fills one fermenter. The heat exchanger cools the wort down to a temperature at which it is then safe to add the yeast. Once the fermenter is full the yeast is added and the lids closed. We use closed fermenters with inbuilt cooling panels to ensure no contaminants get in during the fermenting stage.
Fermenting. The tank full of wort and yeast is now left alone for 3 to 4 days (longer for Steam). During this period the yeast gets to work eating the malt sugars and produces alcohol and CO2 as a result. The yeast also imparts its own subtle flavours to the beer. We use different yeasts for different beers. During the active fermenting stage we keep the fermenting tank cool to prevent overheating.
Crash Cooling. At the end of the fermenting stage, once nearly all the sugars have been converted to alcohol, we turn on the crash cooler and chill the beer down to around 8 deg. This takes a day or so to cool the whole 2000 litres. We then hold the beer cold for a day before transferring to our racking tank.
Racking. The cooled beer is transferred to the racking tank where it gets mixed with auxilliary finings. These finings help the proteins and hop bits to settle out. We then rack the beer which is just a name for pumping it into casks. Some of our beers are dry hopped at this stage which means that additional fresh hops are added to the cask.
Cask Conditioning. The casks of beer are now moved into our cold room where they are stored prior to being delivered to pubs. During this holding stage the residual yeast gets to work on the last of the malt sugars to create that final bit of condition. The tiny amount of CO2 that is generated is not allowed to escape from the cask and gets absorbed into the beer. The final beer flavour and character also develops at this stage.
To The Pub! The casks of beer are then delivered to pubs and this is where the skill of the cellarman comes into play. The beer has to be rested properly and is then carefully vented and tapped and served at the right temperature. The next bit is up to you, drink and enjoy!
What about the keg stuff? Glad you got this far! Our craft beer starts out in life just the same as real ale. Exactly the same fantastic ingredients and recipes. Instead of racking out the beer into casks we transfer it to a lagering tank. There we chill it to 1 deg C and hold it that cold for a week under external CO2 pressure. We then carefully push the (now carbonated) beer through a series of sterile filters to remove all the proteins that would otherwise spoil the beer. It’s this cold filtering that gives the beer an extended shelf life compared to real ale and cold filtering doesn’t alter the beer’s flavour like pasteurising does. From the filters the beer then flows into the counter pressure keg filler and hence into the kegs. We use one-way recycleable kegs that are friendlier on the environment than aluminium or stainless steel casks or kegs and better still we don’t have to worry about getting them back. The filled kegs can be stored and transported at ambient temperature and have a much longer shelf life than their cask counterpart. The end result is a beer with all the flavour of cask but all the convenience of keg.