Whats a Wildflower?

In January, I boldly claimed that I was in the process of starting my own Farmhouse brewery. Today, 3 Dec, that statement seems as cavalier as it did then… but for totally different reasons. There is no less truth in the claim now as there was then, but, as you will understand below, the actualisation of this dream no longer carries the same time line.

In September 2016, Chris-Topher Brewing Co Pty Ltd signed a commercial lease for an industrial space in Marrickville, NSW… Chris is my business partner and with my name being Topher, the company we formed has this silly hyphenated name… don’t worry thats not the name of our brewery. If you are a Sydneysider then you may recognise that Marrickville is in the inner city of Sydney, not at farm, in no way rural and directly in the flight path of incoming international flights.

So as a Farmhouse beer enthusiast, what I am I doing with a space in the city… not making Farmhouse beers that is for certain.

Instead in May 2017 (fingers crossed) Chris and I will open Wildflower Brewing and Blending in our beautiful 1890’s ex-metal foundry. To help me and you get our heads around this, I might try to explain below what it is that we are doing and why.

The Name

I have come to realise that Wildflower, as the name of our brewery, means primarily two things to us. Firstly the literal reading, we are focused on making 100% wild ales. All of the beers from this blendery will be fermented with a mixed culture that I have foraged, wrangled, harvested from New South Wales. All of the bugs in our beers, as it were, are entirely indigenous to this state. This was really important part to me, and I’ll explain more about the beers later. Flower, well a number of my cultures were grown off of flora. If you live in this country or have visited, you will know what I mean when I say that the native plant life is exotically beautiful. My best two captures so far actually have come from flowers, namely Wattle blossoms and dandelions. In this first way, the name evokes exactly what the beers are and where they are from.

Its second reading is slightly less tactile. This meaning surrounds the nomenclature and imagery that a word like Wildflower evokes. Soft words like subtle, nuanced and beautiful paired with visuals of colour, life and earthly things. In this instance, Wildflower conjures a less domineering, engineered psyche. This is my true goal as a blender, to bring this spirit to the beer world.

The Product

As mentioned before we are specialising in mixed ferment ales. Pre-industrialisation and the isolation of pure yeasts, brewers made their beers with a mixture of yeast strains rather than single strains. Each brewer would have their house culture (the mixture of yeasts) that they cultivated and propagated. The culture might be a mix of a a few different brewer’s yeasts in addition to naturally occurring wild yeast and souring bacteria from their environment. Over time, these cultures defined a brewery’s house character and would have made them distinguishable from another brewery down the road.

Worldwide now, there are a handful of breweries rediscovering how to make beer using a diversity of yeasts, including wild yeast rather than use a monoculture. Using mixed culture beers takes a certain amount of submissiveness to mother nature and her curious ways. Opposite to single strain pure yeast fermentations, mixed cultures are prone to behave unpredictably and take a great deal of patience from the brewer. These inconsistency and time requirements pose distinct risks for any business. It is understandable that nearly all beer is a product of quick, clean, certain pure yeast fermentations. We feel, however, that the transformation of flavour and abundant harvest of esters mixed fermentations produce underly a character absent in pure yeast beer making. Like others who share our interest, we echo the sentiment of Marc H. Van Laer, 20th Century Belgian brewing scientist, when he says:

“It is certain that the introduction of pure yeasts into industrial fermentation does not constitute the crowning achievement of a system that is henceforth immutable. It seems, for example, that if the application of the pure cultures method has improved the average quality of the beer, if it has decreased the chances of infection, it has given us beer with less character than before.”

Our brewery is only but a part of a larger movement to rediscover the flavours of natural fermentations. Artisanal bakers have revived ancient methods of bread making and are expressing local flavours in their sourdough. Each harvest, more and more winemakers around the world are allowing the native yeasts, resident on the skins of their ripe grapes, to ferment their wines adding an extra element to their terroir. There are cider makers, picklers, foragers, and a whole myriad of food enthusiasts coming back in touch with the microflora from their region. Wildflower, out little brewery/blendery in Marrickville Australia, is an attempt to explore this movement from a beer perspective.

Our Vision

Beer is the common man’s drink, to be consumed commonly. We simply want to provide a quality product made of our region for the people of our community. No time for pretentiousness or snobbery, we feel that the conversation happening around our product is always more important than the conversation about it.

 

If you have any questions about the brewery or its ethos, please don’t hesitate to ask me. I will be writing more pieces that deal specifically with the details of our beer… our culture, recipes, methods, etc. I have been very lucky to have been trusted with snippets of knowledge from the brewing community that help me tremendously in making these beers so it is only right for me to pass these and my own findings on. If you are inclined to social media here are links to our twitter, Facebook and instagram. At the time of writing this post, they are mostly void of content… but that won’t last long.

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Winter Brewing

For makers of barrel-aged mixed culture beers, winter is a busy time. The season brings with it a number of time-sensitive events.

Most notably, the cooler weather makes it possible to brew spontaneous batches of beer. Not only do the overnight temperatures facilitate the necessary temperature drops from boiling to fermentation temperature but also the colder weather inhibits non-ideal yeasts and bacteria in the environment.

Additionally, winter is blending and bottling time for many wineries. After their harvest in the fall, winemakers allow their presses to ferment before beginning to taste through their new wine and barrels to decide what this year’s vintage will include.  As the wine gets moved around, wineries will put some of their new ferments in new oak and rack older vintages for bottling. For brewers, this means that it’s barrel time. Picking up fresh barrels is both preferred in every case and clearly the best time to rack fresh beer if residual flavours are desired.

Picking up my first 4 barrels
Picking up my first 4 barrels

This winter I have brewed 4 spontaneous batches and filled 9 barriques (228 l wine barrels) with a diversity of base beers and yeasts. I have also been foraging/collecting/wrangling wild yeasts from a myriad of sources. As I don’t have a brewery, this means I’m basically a super serious home-brewer. On the former, I’ll have an announcement on this in the next 3 months, I promise. On the latter, that means I have about 2000 l of barrel aged beer right now. Whoops.

All of the things I have been doing have been to help me increase my knowledge of working with mixed cultures. Its all well and good to talk about this all day and play with these strains on a small scale, but I needed to fill barrels before I felt like I could really start to learn. Below is my current barrel log.

Name Make Oak Current use
α Seguin Moreau French No-rinse Gold, innoculated with 3278 (Lambic Blend) (11/8/16)
β Seguin Moreau French No-rinse Gold, innoculated with 3763 (Roeselare) (11/8/16)
γ Tonnellerie Sirugue French 196 l Gold, 32 l Uralla, NSW spontneous wort
δ Dargaud & Jaegle French 187 l Gold, 41 l Gerringong, NSW spontaneous wort (12/7/16)
ε Seguin Moreau French 183 l Gold, 42 l Marrickville, NSW spontaneous wort
ζ Seguin Moreau French No-rinse, no-innoculant BE-256
η Dargaud & Jaegle French No-rinse Raw wheat Saison + bottle of 2014 Gerringong mixed culture saison
θ Seguin Moreau French No-rinse, no-innoculant Raw wheat Saison
ι Saint-Martin French 210 l No-rinse, no-innoculant Raw wheat Saison, 10 l Gerringong Spontaneous wort (6/8/16)

All of these barrels were collected from Canobolas Smith winery in Orange, NSW. They are filled with mainly 2 beers, one just called Gold and the other Raw Wheat Saison.

I wrote about the saison previously here under ‘test brews’. It has turned out fairly hoppy and is tasting very good after 3 months in barrels η, θ and ι. These three have very little if any funky developments, which is what I wanted. These barrels were not rinsed before racking into them as they were racked out of only a day previous. Murray at Canobolas Smith is a very minimalist winemaker and I was interested in the beers development in the presence of wild wine yeasts. The beers have a beautiful soft mouthfeel (30% raw wheat helps) with touches of fruity chardonnay and spicy Motueka hops. Last week I pulled 10 l out to package at home and topped the barrel up with 10 l of spontaneous wort cooled the night before. (photo below)

Barrels η, θ and ι (one has a holding solition) ageing with rustic insulation
Barrels η, θ and ι (one has a holding solution) ageing with ‘rustic’ insulation
barrel pull and inoculation
barrel pull and inoculation

‘Gold’ is a beer that I brewed to fill my second lot of barrels that came in. Like most of my beers, it is quite simple and was produced as a blending beer, produced for secondary ferments. It ended up 80% local pilsner, 10% NSW oats, 10% raw NSW wheat with ~20 IBU’s of aged and fresh hops from NZ and an OG of 13 P. I mashed hot (68C) to leave some longer chain sugars in for the secondary ferments. I fermented with BE-256 which is a pof+ (see Phenol Production § here) dry Belgian strain produced by Lesaffre most notably used by De Ranke for their clean beers. The beer fermented to 3.5P and tasted okay considering it was an absolute sulphur bomb. I was pretty happy I didn’t need that beer anytime soon. I filled 6 barrels with Gold and as you can see above, all but one now have something else in them.

The 3 spontaneous batches are all a little different worts and cooled in different locations across the state. Two are hopped and one has a very slight (near 0) hopping rate. That one, in barrel δ is tasting nice and tart, while γ and ε are developing their characteristics slower and without much tartness, which is to be expected with a higher hopping rate. They all follow the Black Project/ MTF tips/suggestions for cooling rates and SA/V ratios. They were all 45-50 l batches cooled overnight in an insulated kettle to around 25 C the next morning.

Last week, I inoculated α and β with propped up mixed cultures from Wyeast. Im not sure why I did this; but there they are. Those are certainly sitters and I’m not overly excited about them but it will be interesting to see how they develop as controls against the totally wild inoculations.

IMG_2623
Barrels α – ζ (only 6 are full, the others have a holding solution)

ζ and θ are waiting until I am happy with a mixed culture of wrangled yeasts. Below is a table of what I currently have collected that is tasting good. I have already dumped a fair amount of these ‘experiments’ because they smell nasty or have made me feel sick. My wife seriously thinks I’m strange. So these are the good ones…

Strain/culture Current vessel Media Location Volume (l) Notes
Saison/sourdough Nalgene APA wort Home 2
Saison/orchid Nalgene APA wort home 2
Bretty wine Nalgene unhopped DME wort Home 2 no signs of ferment
Bretty wine Erlenmeyer flask unhopped DME wort home 1 some bubbles
Dried grapes Bosco jar unhopped DME wort home 0.5 *taste, step up to nalgene
Dandelions Nalgene unhopped DME wort Brewery 1.5 *taste, add wort
Wattle Blossom Nalgene unhopped DME wort Brewery 2

The standouts from this are definitely the cultures from dandelions, wattle blossom and my own sourdough culture.

part of my wrangled yeast collection
part of my wrangled yeast collection
pellicle on the sourdough culture
pellicle on the sourdough culture

 

My 4th spontaneous batch this season is only 10 l in barrel ι with the rest in a glass carboy co-fermenting with the Dupont strain. I am really interested in this batch. I have been hearing a few things about using coolships just for that, cooling, and then pitching yeast after. It sounds really cool to me and also super functional. I love not having to clean/prepare my heat exchange! This one is less than a week old so we will see what happens overtime.

the coolship cooled saison just post inoculation with Dupont
the coolship cooled saison just post inoculation with Dupont

 

That is pretty much all the brewing I have been doing. Besides this, the winter has seen me purchase of the most expensive piece of homebrewing equipment ever, a Anton Paar DMA 35! This thing is the bomb and will let me take super accurate gravity readings of all my beers in barrel while only using about 10ml of beer. I have very limited experience with them, but the brewers I know who have them adore them.

Anton Paar DMA 35, the works
Anton Paar DMA 35, the works

I have so much more information and details on these beers to share, but it is just too much for any blog. Questions/concerns are appreciated. I will keep updating about the progress of these experiments, what has work and what has failed. My twitter might be the best for binary yes/no reviews of the beers.

As I alluded to before, these ‘experiments’ are all pointing to something I am super excited about but have to keep under the wraps for now. Im pretty bad at that, keeping my mouth shut whole thing, so fingers crossed not too much longer. Until then, best!

Antipodean blues

Over the past few months I have repeatedly caught myself daydreaming about moving back to Europe. It’s not just the proximity to great beer cultures, it’s more the lifestyle we lived there. It’s unrealistic for me to have continued my early retirement forever. From a funding perspective, well, that just wouldn’t work.

But its not the working part that I’m finding difficult getting back used to. Instead, its the not working solely on my passion.

While in Spain, I was able to devote all of my working thoughts and moments towards the message I wanted to send with my beer. Everything from its composition to its presentation occupied my thoughts and time. It wasn’t that the work was easier to do because I am passionate about it (it wasn’t); rather, it was because I felt like what I was working on would have an impact. I don’t know how that sounds. Maybe a little cliche, possibly a bit wanky, most likely it’s absurd… we are talking about beer here. (oh, and not to mention the fact that my current job is pretty much dream job material, thanks Batch!)

But this just means that things aren’t moving as rapidly or as dynamically as I felt they were before. So, posts are less frequent… I’m sorry about that. Also, my timeline is changing. Many of the things that I am working through (sorry to be mystic) take longer than I expected. It’s a combination of being the nature of the beast as well as having to split my time. I’m not embarrassed about this. I’m glad I am keeping the blog and sharing these experiences, delays and thoughts as they arise. Others may deal with things differently, but it helps keep my eyes open and it feels honest.

So, here is what is happening..

-Test brews: I racked a 30% raw wheat saison into wine barrels last weekend. This beer is a follow up on my last test brew which I wasn’t totally happy with. When I finally get to taste some of this properly, I will write a full post. The main goal of this one was volume. I needed to fill the barrels I was receiving so I needed a lot. Again, more on that later.

-Connections: I’ve been really lucky recently to meet a whole bunch of new people who are helping me gain insights into this project. Meeting these other artisans is totally inspiring and is keeping my energy levels high. I might try to put some of these conversations on the blog.

-Yeast wrangling: I’ve been collecting all kinds of things and fermenting them in wort. It’s been really fun and rarely leave the house without a sample tube to store things that catch my eye. These are all tests and mainly helping me gain more experience working with wild yeast. It’s been really fun being a little more in-tune with the nature directly around me, so recommended!

-GABS: I’m on the flight right now back from Melbourne after attending the Great Australian Beer Spectacular. It was great fun, but far better was meeting a handful of people who read the blog. Always enjoyable putting faces with names!

-Locations: We have not settled on a location. I am often down of the South Coast over the weekends still working on this. The main hurdle in this category is council permissions. This was totally expected but we have been finding that our case could be intricate. I hope to have more to say in the coming months.

-Inspiration: I have to say lastly that being back in Australia for good few months now has totally confirmed my desire to work with this land. I have been lucky to visit a few new places as well and see it through other’s eyes. We live in a terribly beautiful country with layers of rich culture and sometimes wild nature. It is abundant, I can’t wait to explore this more.

Well that’s all I can think of for now. I’ve been pretty active on twitter recently posting random little thoughts or movements. Thats usually a pretty good gauge of what I’m up to. When I get a good sample of the barreled saison in a fortnight, I’ll post the full writeup.

Simple Saison

To me, process is more important than recipe. That wasn’t always the case, I remember fawning over clone recipes, sourcing uber specific hops and getting nervous about missing a hop addition by a minute. I cant pinpoint it but over time I have become almost lazy about recipes. If I had to choose, I would say a watershed moment was that first day at Brasserie Thiriez. As a brewer, Daniel was both relaxed and totally in control. Over the time I was there, I don’ think we actually ever talked about recipes; instead, we spoke about yeast health, fermentation temperatures and bottle conditioning. You could argue that these are part of the recipe but I think for the most part recipe in homebrewing means malt bill, mash temp and hops.

After Thiriez and talking with other like-minded brewers, I kind of don’t care about what percent of this or that malt is in their beer. Whats more important is how do you treat that malt, what is it going to do for your yeast, does it make sense to use that ie. are you buying it from the other side of the world. Same with hops, if you want a noble hop aroma there are a handful of good options… I could be wrong but I feel that the soul of beer is formed by how it has been treated rather than what it is made from. For me, that’s what sets Farmhouse beers apart from the rest and that’s what I care about in the beers that I will make.

The beers at my brewery will basically fall into two categories, short turnaround (~3 months) beers and aged beers (6+ months). Within each category I will try to have some staples. For example, I need a 5% saison iv’d into my arm at all times. So I’m planning on brewing a base beer that I can use for all kinds of stuff but also drink fresh and really enjoy. As a side note, I’m not super concerned with making sour beer… if my yeast takes it that way, so be it… if not, so be it. Anyway, I basically want to have this beer that is versatile, changes with the season and gives consumers a good introduction to what we are about. So thats the one I am working on first, for now I’ll call it my simple saison.

The big question for me at the moment is to step-mash or not to step mash. For my first iteration of the recipe, I went will a full on step regime. Later, I’ll brew the same beer using a single infusion and taste the differences. That being said, I probably wont choose the single infusion anyway. Im in the step-mash-is-good-for-yeast camp so its going to be hard to get me out of there. Also when I do start operations, I’m likely to throw all kinds of under modified or raw cereals into my mash so best to start off with what I know works. To be honest, the only downside of a step mash I can think of is time and there are multiple upsides. So if I can brew on a system that can handle it… its gonna happen.

Here is the recipe, 100% Gladfield NZ pilsner malt to 5% ABV and 20 IBU’s of Motueka. Im using this NZ craft malt until the Australian craft maltster Voyager gets up and running, and Motueka, well I had it on hand and I do like it. Bonus is that its from the Southern Hemisphere so its pretty local.

For the mash, I went full on starting with a ferulic acid step at 45C for 20 minutes. I am going to play with this, but I am interested in seeing how a boosted clove profile develops over time, especially once bugs get involved. The rest of the mash is pretty much Mad Fermentationist/Brasserie a Vapeur (a al Hors Categorie blog)/ Weyermann suggestions. So infusion to 55C for 20′, then heated to 61C for 10′ then to 66′ for 30′ before the sparge/mash out at 75C. I was brewing on a Sabco rims system so the last two steps were from recirculating past a heating element.

On the day, I brewed 45 l and split the batch into three fermentors. The main point of this first batch was to test clean yeast strains. Before I started to mix things up by throwing in some bugs, I really wanted to test a few yeasts under my probable ferment schedule and see which one I liked the best. I pretty much know its gonna be WL565 because when that thing gets good wort and a hot ferment, it doesn’t disappoint. I’ve used WY3711 enough to know its probably not what I want. In the weeks previous I could only get my hands on 565 and 566 so those make up my first test. I pitched a healthy, active starter of 565 into 20 l of the wort, then 566 into another 10 l and then mixed the two into another 12-15 l of wort. I didn’t bother with pitch rates or anything this time round. That could come into the equation later, but for my purposes on this round, this should do it. I bittered to 19 IBU’s with additions at 60′, 5′ and 0′. 50% of the IBU’s came from the 60′ addition and the other two both represented 25%.

After knock out, I transported the beers to their fermentation chambers (fridges with stc-1000’s). They were all fermented at 28 C for 1 week. After the week all three beers were terminal around .5 deg P. Sadly the hydrometer I was working with was pretty dodgy so I couldn’t get the best reading. After the week, they were all transferred into clean, sanitised and CO2 purged corny kegs for their garde at 12 C for another 3 weeks.

Its been a week since I transferred them and I am itching to see what happens after the next 3. Naturally, I tasted each of them before transferred and while they had their small differences, because of the hot ferment the phenols were super heavy. If I packaged those beers straight away, you would recognise them as a saison straight away; however, they were lacking flavour complexion and depth. These phenols should chill out during the garde. After the garde, I am going to package and bottle condition for 2 months before tasting. I will update this post with tasting notes.

So, what’s next. While these beers finish, I am going to pick some funk for small batches of secondary ferments. I will write a separate post about how I am going to do this which should follow in a few weeks.

 

Decisions, decisions

In my previous post, I made it clear that this hobby and passion of mine is becoming my livelihood. While I have been professionally brewing for 3 years now, taking on this project is a whole new undertaking and seems far more personal, not only because its my neck on the line but also because I feel so passionate about Farmhouse beer.

I so wish for my future brewery to be an authentic introduction for the indoctrinated to Farmhouse beer, its traditions and its philosophy. While writing my business plan, these elements have crept into pretty unassuming places. It has become really apparent to me, even in these early stages, how influential having a Farmhouse approach is to so many business decisions.

For one, lets talk about timing. I am expecting my fastest beer to take 3 months from brew day to release. I have talked enough on this blog about the reasons and examples of extended fermentations that include some ‘garde’ time as well as the importance of proper bottle conditioning. We know this is best for the beer; but, it creates a pretty real cash flow issue for a young brewery. Consider placing an order for malt, lets say it takes 1 week to get to you, you brew with it, ferment that beer for a month, then bottle condition for another two. Once you release that beer you distribute (self in my case) it over 4 weeks. That would be pretty good, 4 weeks of sales and COD, but thats not the reality. Most accounts would have 30 day credit and as many business owners know, that’s also not the reality. All up, we would be looking at around 4.5- 5 months between payment for materials and payment for our product. As a start up business, this means we need a lot more operating capital as part of our initial investment than other breweries.

Two, equipment. In order to encourage characterful yeast esters, I want to ferment is shallow, wider vessels than most other breweries. Searching for vessels like this has actually been much harder than I thought. I knew that Brasserie de la Senne had theirs made, but I didn’t realise that it must have been out of necessity. In fact, the closest thing to what I am after is actually foeders. So instead of fighting it… I’m now just going to switch to 100% oak fermentations. Foeders carry their own problems and price points; however, they are going to make a huge difference in our fermentations. When I thought about it more, the more it made sense. These vessels were the original Farmhouse fermentation vessels, so although they are pretty scarcely used for primary fermentation, it’s probably worth a shot. I know Casey Brewing and Blending is doing 100% oak for all their beers but I’m honestly not sure of many others who are doing it. Let me know if there are more, I’m genuinely interested in learning more about it.

A third major difference, raw materials. I have been speaking with suppliers and producers about varieties, lead times, prices, etc. However, throughout the whole thing I can’t bring myself to choose to the cheapest or most convenient supplier. When I am producing, I will owe it to my consumers to use local ingredients if I am calling my product local. I think Fonta Flora is a leader in this field. I love how on their labels clearly identify which of their raw materials are from their immediate area. Im not sure if my labels will have ingredient lists but, if Im calling my product authentic… it better be. If you are in Australia, check out Voyager Craft Malt. They will be malting their own crop this year starting about now actually. Its a great outfit and I am really hoping I will be able to support them when I am up and running.

This is by no means an exhaustive list; but, its just an insight to some of the decisions I’ve been making. On other fronts, we have been working with a local real estate agent to find a place, the business plan had gone though its fifth or sixth revision and we are weeks away from a logo and branding. Things are happening on few different fronts, so its pretty exciting.

The next post will be about the beers I am making right now running some tests on yeasts, times and bottle conditioning.

2016: A Year of experiments and planning

I am very excited about this year.

But it’s not because of what will be happening in 2016; instead, it’s because of what is being prepared. I love Farmhouse beer and Farmhouse brewing and have decided to turn my passion into my livelihood. That means right now, and throughout the calendar year of 2016, I am in the planning stages of opening an Australian Farmhouse brewery.

This blog started as an outlet for me to channel and document what I was/had been learning from storied producers in Europe. What I didn’t realise was how forthcoming and encouraging so many of these brewers would be for me to take their advice in a very tangible way and learn from it. Over the past year as it were, my future derailed from commencing my PhD studies in astrophysics to pursuing a life as a Farmhouse brewer.

As for why, its quite simple. While I may be younger than many other brewer/owners, I have even the smallest chance to support the lifestyle that my wife and I envision by doing something I am genuinely passionate about. I would never forgive myself for not taking this opportunity and running. We Farmhouse beer enthusiasts are a modest group and because of this the project is somewhat bold. However, Farmhouse beer was not and is not made solely for its consumption. This is what is so attractive to me about this style of brewing. This project is about community, regionality, family, flavours, sustainability and agriculture. This broad focus is what enamored me, and what I believe will be so alluring to people who come to learn about Farmhouse brewing through my project.

But, in efforts to not upset my wide readership 🙂 (only joking) this does not mean the blog is closing down or becoming a ‘How To’ of starting a Farmhouse brewery. Instead much like my previous posts, I plan for this site to document what I learn and experiment with over this year. So, unsurprisingly I am going to be writing about and analysing all of my recipes and techniques I will be testing over the year. This means a lot of beer, a lot of different yeast strains, fermentation temperatures, conditioning times, wild yeast harvesting, spontaneous yeast harvesting, etc etc.  But Farmhouse brewing has introduced me to so much more than beer so I will also write about some of the culinary techniques, various food and beverage productions, and relevant agriculture musings. So, it should be a good year of posts… much more useful and hands on at least!

Location

I moved to Australia in 2009 and that was when I first visited the South Coast of NSW as an 18 year old, wide eyed traveller. I can still remember how stunned I was at the beautiful, green, rolling pastures of the region directly south of Kiama. It was this amazing mixture of beach, dairy farms, Irish countryside and classically Aussie laid-back mentality. Since that first time visiting Gerringong, I have only fallen more deeply in love with the locality.

On one hand, it’s easy to see why. The natural beauty of this region rivals damn near every other landscape I have ever seen (see the below photos). But on the other hand, I have mostly enjoyed going down there because of the people and their way of life. Its not nostalgia, as in ‘they live a simpler lifestyle like in the olden days’; instead, they have a way of balancing work and life so well, that is to the great envy of the many Sydneysiders who temporarily visit the region.

Sunset looking South towards Foxground/Berry
Sunset looking South towards Foxground/Berry

I guess its actually a lie to say that the brewers I met were my main inspiration for starting this brewery. Before I was even brewing much less Farmhouse brewing, this land, the South Coast of NSW, inspired me. So this is where the journey starts for me, with the land. Certainly, there wouldn’t be any Farmhouse brewery without a rural setting; however, for me I feel that this land in particular is so fertile and rich, it has been calling out for someone to join with it and embrace its terroir.

looking North towards Werri beach and the Kiama bends
looking North towards Werri beach and the Kiama bends

That is where I am right now, looking for a piece of land to put this brewery on. There are a ton of factors to consider but I am open to challenges that I will face in trying to find the right spot. It’s natural, really, for a Farmhouse brewery project to begin with the land. But it is telling too. Before I can even dream of making my first beer I need to encounter my ultimate partner in this adventure, the land itself.

 

Yeast and Time: Brasserie Au Baron

In what I believe to be my final brewery visit of this year, I made the windy, rural trip to Gussignies, France. It is in this small corner of the world, one little brewery has been consistently pumping out quality for over 30 years.

Brasserie Au Baron is nestled into a fabulous brick structure alongside a creek with a nearby waterfall. The once little brewery is connected directly to the restaurant bearing the same name. Its one of those places that would be glorious to visit in the summer, sadly I was there in mid November; but, at any rate I was not going to miss the opportunity to visit this storied place. I say once little because they have just added 4 20hl fermentors, yay more Au Baron!

Au Baron is known primarily for their blonde/saison/bier de garde ‘Cuvée Des Jonquilles’. Shelton Brothers imports the liquid gold to the states and they have limited distribution around Europe; however, they exist for their local market as over 80% doesn’t leave France. While I wish I could easily source their beer when I am back in Australia, I respect and admire this decision to take care of their home market first. After all, this is really the spirit of Farmhouse brewing, isn’t it?

The Cuvée Des Jonquilles is a highly complex, bone dry, peppery and fruity beer. That being said, when you see it poured, it is immediately apparent that it is also very simple. From this, I don’t mean its common or lacks finesse; rather, its more similar to a table wine or loaf… utilising great materials mixed with experienced techniques to make something that is truly worth its value. If this doesn’t make sense to you, it may be a good idea to read some of my previous posts which talk about the value of restraint in brewing.

Before I visited the brewery, I had only ever tasted one of their beers. When I was at Jester King in October, I was lucky to share a bottle of Noblesse Oblige, the 4% collaboration beer between JK and Au Baron. It was the lightest beer I had ever seen, but wasn’t watery at all. I could tell their yeast was special, so I had to visit. Much to my delight, Au Baron makes a handful of other beers that I was able to try when I visited and they did’t disappoint. Notably, their Bier de Noel ‘Saison Saint Médard’, was incredible… I only had one bottle and immediately regretted not getting more. It was beautifully bready with a hue between amber and brown and what tasted like a modest mixture of seasonal spices that finished bone dry, encouraging you back to the bottle for a second taste.

However much I loved the Bier de Noel, it wasn’t the beer I was chasing… I wanted to know about the Jonquilles. So I spoke to Xavier about it most, and here is what I learned.

Making Jonquilles

I’m going to make this short, their process isn’t too far deviated from others I have written about.

Firstly, its 100% pilsner malt. Good ingredients make good beer, hey. So if you want to make this, start with your saison Dupont base and forget about the specialty malts. Shoot for 7% (or lower like I would). Single infusion mash, anywhere from an hour to 2 hours. With how dry it is, I would suggest to start on the lower side and let your sparge raise the temp slightly to get some more alpha amylase action.

In the kettle add some hops early to keep the boil down, use a low AA% from the old world. Throughout the boil add what you like. This beer is not about bitterness, this is a beer for your yeast to shine, I would keep the hops below 20 IBU, less if you can. The yeast will add the pepper you want. Hour long boil, knock out around 22-25 C (72-77 F).

For fermentation, add a healthy dose of their yeast. Grow some up from their bottles if you can, if not… the saison Dupont strain will work well. Stray away from the Belle Saison styles or the cleaner French Saison strains (WY3711). Pitch your healthy yeast into your tank and set your jackets to 27-28 C (80-82 F). Let fermentation continue at this temperature for at least 5 days.

After a week, transfer your beer off most of its yeast into another container and garde that sucker. By this I mean, hold the beer at a cold temperature for an extended period. At Au Baron, the magic formula is around 6 C (42F) for at least 2 weeks. If this doesn’t make sense to you, split your batch, do a side by side test of your beers… one with the garde one without. You tell me which one is more complex at the end, I have a strong suspicion as to which one will taste better. I spoke about this process a lot and its reasons in the Brasserie Thiriez post; however, Daniel gardes around 12C for 3 weeks.

After its garde, mix in some priming sugar and some more yeast if necessary and package your beer. It is imperative that a beer like this is bottle conditioned, preferably on its side too. If you aren’t bottle conditioning your saisons or Belgian styles they are missing something. Not only does this help the beer achieve the mouthfeel you are looking for, it also promotes a tighter bead in your foam. Once packaged, let it sit warm 20-22C (68-71F) for at least a month. You need to view this step as part of the fermentation, not an ends to a mean.

After that, drink it. Easy. Serve at cellar temp 12-15C (53-59F) to really taste the yeast.

Easy does it

Time and time again, I am blown away by the simplicity surrounding making these beers and the complexity they end up with. Its the provenance that created them, their terroir. If you want to make a good meal, don’t buy your ingredients from a supermarket… and if you want to make a great saison, get your hands on good malt, better yeast and put your watch in the drawer, it will tell you when its ready.

Jester King

Last week I got back to the states to visit family and friends in Texas. However, I couldn’t get that close to one of my favourite places in the world, Jester King, without a visit. They really need no introduction but they are likely one of the biggest influences on me, creating the beer that got my whole Farmhouse addiction started: Noble King. I got in touch with them and asked if I could visit and work with them for a week. I was totally fascinated by their beers, some of the hype surrounding them and thought that over a week I might get even a slight insight into what makes them so special to so many. Luckily for me… and for you I guess, they said yes.

Taps @ JK
Taps @ JK

That week was eye-opening and I mark it as one of my most fortunate experiences ever. That being said, I didn’t get what I was initially looking for. When I went there I think I expected to gain knowledge about their brewing, fermentation and ageing processes. What I actually gained, and far better in my opinion, was the realisation that their beer is a true expression of the people there and their location. I learned something that I already knew but actually believed it this time: Farmhouse beer is about making the best of what you have. I am going to spend the majority of this article explaining this phrase in regards to JK but don’t let that fool you into thinking that their equipment is sub-par or any of their ingredients are less than exceptional because all of these things are perfect for their beer. Their specified approach to brewing solely Farmhouse ales has yielded fantastic results because of the people who make them and their in-depth knowledge of their process. There is nothing specifically special or unique about what they do, it’s simply what works best for them.

When I was homebrewing, my most frequent approach to recipe development was cloning. I thought if I could reproduce popular beers then I would be well on my way to understanding how to brew. While it wasn’t a mistaken path full-stop, looking back it greatly hindered my knowledge of my own process, my focus blotted out the periphery. Not only would I follow recipes meticulously matching water profiles and utilising hops from all around the world, but I also aligned my palette to what others had distinguished as ‘world-class’. It hit me from both sides eventually. I travelled back to the states on one occasion and got into a conversation with an American brewer who was using these new hops called galaxy. I had never heard of them, although I was living and home brewing in Australia. Likewise, when I drank my first saison I had this really guilty feeling about the fact that I preferred it’s much lighter flavours than the DIPA’s I was brewing. That was when I realised I didn’t really like getting punched in the mouth with hops, pretty much thinking ‘I like craft beer’ and ‘this is the best craft beer’ so ‘I guess I like really hoppy beers’ in that order. The fact was that I had valued exterior consensus over internal observation. Making Farmhouse beer, and certainly in Jester King’s case, is more a practice of searching within, quite literally an in-sight, understanding what one has to offer before determining what one will make.

Puncheons filled with spontaneously fermented beer
Puncheons filled with spontaneously fermented beer

The People

As I hinted before, the most overwhelming part of my time there was how each individual at the brewery had an impact on their final product. I am going to share a few stories of exchanges I had with some people I am now lucky to call my friends to help explain their influence.

My second day I was able to sit down with Jeff and Ron, two of the three owners, over an amazing pastrami at the nearby Pieous cafe (which is worth a visit in its own right). We got to speak at length about some of their early and continual operational decisions. Two things stood out to me that are worth mentioning here. Firstly, their original steadfastness to make Farmhouse style ales regardless of the negativity they received when they decided not to open with an IPA and pale ale. They have been very vocal about this in the past; however, Ron shared a story of when they sold only eight pints of beer at a release party of the aptly named Commercial Suicide that he and partner Amber were at when the brewery just opened. Ron confirmed that he and Amber we responsible for at least five of them… after all, those are the beers they love. However, they did tell me that although early on they felt the need to force carbonate a few of their beers, they wouldn’t do that again. Secondly, they have rarely ever hired from the brewing industry. The staff at Jester King instead come from diverse backgrounds that share input from their respective pasts encouraging a range of approaches for solving problems. The entire staff there are also, by the way, incredibly good people. But I think this was important for me to recognise, as again they didn’t cherrypick the most qualified, ‘best’, staff in the world; instead, promoted some talented individuals from their community and encouraged them to thrive in their own environment.

On top of the barrel mountains
On top of the barrel mountains

I also got to spend some of time with Ismael, one of their brewers, who has been with Jester King from the very beginning. Ismael had help build the brewery, literally, and when they finished he joined the staff. He told me stories of hand labelling bottles five days a week for two years. If you have been with a small brewery at the beginning, I’m sure you can relate to his experiences.  Thankfully for Ismael, there is now a small production staff who works through those mountains of pallets. These days he helps with everything, he’s a surgeon with a forklift and always the first to offer someone a hand. As Garrett, head brewer, said, he is the glue that keeps the place together. However as well I got to taste a test batch of a beer he is working on that mimics some of the flavours of dishes he misses from Dia de los Muertos festivities. When he was describing some of these foods, I was salivating and honestly can’t wait to hear how they eventually turn out. Just think of Ismael though if you ever had a Jester King beer from their first two years or get a chance to visit their brewery. While his influence isn’t per-say direct he is an integral part of making that place run and a great example of Jester King’s diverse workforce.

On another afternoon, I started taking to Ian, one of their brewery engineers. He had been testing the PID controllers for the fermentors all day and as a trained physicist I was really impressed with his electric acumen. Turns out that I had no idea what I was talking about compared to him or how incredible their entire engineering staff is. Michael, the third in the trio of owners, also studied physics but when he decided to leave his investment banking job to help his brother Jeff start the brewery invested a ton of time reading industrial engineering books. He then proceeded, with the help of Ismael, to build Jester King. Not just the building though, all the plumbing and electrical too. Along the way he has enlisted a small team of engineers, of which Ian is one, to help him with these projects. Ian walked me around and showed me all of the things they had completed, were working on or designing. I was floored, honestly, at how much was done in-house. The boiler water treatment, pumps, glycol chiller, old and new coolship, stainless steel sanitary welding, brewhouse plumbing and electrics, new barrel room, structures for new fermentors, the list of things that they have done or are planning is exhaustive. One of the really cool things they are working on is an upgrade of the brewhouse. Ian and Michael have been sitting down with the brewing team and designing their new brewhouse plumbing and pumps to exactly what they want. At the time we were talking, Ian was having a hard time trying to find manual controls for the new hot/cold liquor mixer which regulates the temperature of the strike and sparge water. Automatic ones would be much easier to find but Garrett insisted on manual ones so that he can make mistakes. Their homegrown approach might seem to slow them down but they have a distinct advantage when something breaks or goes wrong. I heard more than a few stories of overnight or hour-long fixes that could have spelled disaster for other places. Thanks to this team, Jester King is more than a little rustic but I truly believe that’s a benefit for its beers.

Friday afternoon meat, cheese & beer with Ismael, Michael, Ron, Adrienne, Garrett & Zach (asst. brewer)
Friday afternoon meat, cheese & beer with Ismael, Michael, Ron, Adrienne, Garrett & Zach (asst. brewer)

I could go on for some time about the things I learned from them; but, so many times the explanation for doing things this way or that was either the nuances of their equipment or that was just how they knew to do it from their background. That was really what I took away and caused me to pause the most about my own brewing. How many times did I brew without the capabilities of my system in mind or trust the advice of another over my own intuition. Bad practice is a real thing in brewing, but you can’t use them for long because they yield poor results. Honestly, once you understand the basics of brewing, the techniques for any multitude of things are as varied as the brewers that make them. For any homebrewers reading this, if there is honestly something you want to know by all means email me, or the great people at Jester King for that matter, there are really no secrets. However, once you get the basics down, trust your instincts.

Substancia

I wonder how many people are chasing something they may not even desire. I think in all craft it should ring true that your product is primarily an extension of the people involved in its making. But all of this boils down to my first post about what Farmhouse brewing really is, what the term really means. Maybe it is just a nomenclature problem; but, after this past week I’m convinced it’s a philosophical problem and Farmhouse beer really has substance greater than the sum of its parts endowed by the people who make it.

 

I need to add a huge thanks to all the staff at Jester King who welcomed me during the visit! I can’t wait to be back and see what y’all do next!

Trois Dames: Location and Yeast

Last week while visiting friends in the French Alps, I looked at my map and realised I was only a 30 minute drive from Switzerland. As an American, I am still working on getting my head around the proximity of many European countries and usually wouldn’t even fathom ‘popping into’ another country for the day to visit a brewery. But when I calculated the travel time (2 hours each way) and the brewery in question (Trois Dames), the idea didn’t seem outlandish, it was actually a no brainer.

Location

Trois Dames is located in a small, maybe sleepy, town of Sainte-Croix in Switzerland. On the the train to there from Yverdon-Les-Bains you get some beautiful panoramic views of the Lac de Neuchâtel as the train climbs 600m (2000ft) up the Jura mountains. As you enter the town, you get a sense of the agricultural inclination of the area. Its a small town, of only about 5,000 people that makes a great setting for a brewery that prefers a little solitude while still being a little connected.

Sainte-Croix train station
Sainte-Croix train station

 

A short 5 minute walk from the station, the brewery stands as a collection of four buildings seen in the photo below. The main four story building houses the taproom on the ground floor and the solera in the basement while the added-on building (to the left with the red roof) behind contains the brewhouse, bottling line and fermentors. The other two structures are slightly hidden by the photo but one is for storage of packaged beer and the last, certainly most of interest for us is full of barrels, foudres and lots of sour beer.

Brasserie Trois Dames
Brasserie Trois Dames
Tasting room
Tasting room (with a pallet of Sin Frontera just there on the bottom left)

 

Clean Beer

I got there at lunch time and had a good chance to sit down with Luigi, one of the four man team at Trois Dames, to talk about their clean side fermentations. The brewery produces a solid range of American styles with some French influences. They brew on a 2 vessel Newlands Systems brewhouse with a nice, wide lauter tun you can see below. When we spoke about their process, it all sounded like good brewing practices one would expect from a quality brewery as theirs. Lower mash temps for more fermentable worts, 10-14 day fermentations followed by a short trip to the brite tank for clearing, reuse of clean yeast strains, both dry and liquid, four to five times and a nice big rotary-head filler for minimal oxygen pickup. I got to try a number of their beers but a standout was their new collaboration Berliner-Weisse with Storm&Anchor. Made with fresh pomegranate, it wasn’t the lactic acid bomb that you often get with kettle sours; instead, it had a light, refreshing tartness that made it reliably drinkable.

Brewhouse.
Brewhouse.
Clean fermentors
Clean fermentors
bottling line
bottling line (behind the forklift)

Mixed Fermentation and Sours

After lunch, Raphael and I got some time to talk about some of his projects that most interested me. It was interesting to hear how he started making mixed culture beers and how quickly the program has grown. Raphael’s interest was peaked by a friend’s apricot crop. It had a beautiful aroma and he immediately wanted to put some in his beer. So he mixed some of the fruit with one of his amber/brown beers and the result was reminiscent of an Oud Bruin. Its a good story but I’m not going to put it past Raphael that he had many other influences and forays into mixed fermentations. What I do know is that now, the program is growing at such a rate that he can no longer manage it himself and has hired a well known brewer in the industry to take over that side in mid October.

Their process combines the tested techniques of Spanish sherry makers and the Rare Barrel/ Crooked Stave model of transporting wort and fermenting at another location. I wouldn’t say there is a ‘Trois Dames’ method for their sours but I’ll give you an overview. Basically there are two different areas where they make their sour beer. The traditional solera is in the cellar under the house/big building while the rest of the foeders and other barrels are housed in a large wooden freestanding shed behind the production area.

The Solera

The first area we visited was the solera in the basement. As you can see in the photo below, Raphael has a good amount of area to work with and it was nice and cool down there too. Raphael got the solera on the right side going by buying lambic from Belgium and proportionally mixing it with beer of his own. On the ground level he blended 2/3 Lambic with 1/3 house beer, the middle 1/2 and 1/2 and on the top, 1/3 Lambic to 2/3 house beer. It’s a very clever idea but I don’t know how one could buy hundreds of litres of lambic and resist drinking all of it! On the left side of the cellar is a much more eclectic bunch of barrels. From what I got, this side is for playing, you know mixing and matching. It doesn’t work like a traditional solera (empty from he bottom, fill from the top) rather a collection of barrels that can be used for various purposes. I didn’t get much information on them but it seems pretty clear that its a hodgepodge of sour beer. Now, on the other side of the wall on the left is a long corridor that runs the length of the whole room. In time, Raphael is installing a long coolship (similar to Russian River’s) so Trois Dames can start spontaneous fermentations, a really exciting step I know all of us can’t wait for!

Lambic solera on the right, in-house solaria on the left
Lambic solera on the right, in-house solaria on the left

The Sour Shed

After the solera Raphael took me to what I am going to lovingly call the Sour Shed. When we walked in, I realised that the place was much larger than I thought and Trois Dames is in the process of making a load of sour beer. Their process is both efficient and effective, normally working in the following manner. All of the wort for their sours comes from there brewhouse about 20 metres away. It gets pumped the distance into the stainless fermentors you can see in the third photo. These fermentors are jacketed so temperatures can be controlled during primary fermentations. The wort is fermented with commercial strains of brett and lacto or from the dregs out of one of the foudres. Raphael sometimes pitches wort directly into a partially filled foudre for its primary as well. Using the stainless he is able to crash before transferring to collect yeast and clear the beer a little before going into barrels (something Lauren Salazar is a proponent of). I do recall him saying there have been 100% stainless beers he has done but the majority goes into oak. When the time comes for a blend, Raphael has a multitude of options to choose from. With an idea in mind or possibly a barrel with great flavour, he moves beer proportionally into one of his blending tanks, tastes the blend, adds a little sugar and sends it to his sour packaging line. This whole process is very eclectic and lacks the structure you might find in other breweries who make sour beer. However, to me its a little more akin to one big solera crossed with the creativity of a home brewer. In one way the beer does not go through a linear progression from wort to packaging, instead gets moved around learning from its elders or uses the dregs of its elders to ferment. The net volume of the oak is in essence under constant development. On the other hand, Raphael’s lack of structure allows him to play a lot more. Having a collection of different barrels means he is not putting all of his eggs in one basket and instead promoting microbial diversity amongst his beers. All in all, I think they have a lot of fun playing around in there making different blends.

A few foedres
A few foudres
DCIM100GOPROGOPR2705.
continuing to the right, another foudre with a collection of barrels (the Sin Frontera sherry barrels are at the back and can’t be seen)
to the right once more. Raphael and Mike in front of the sour bottling line and the stainless fermentors
to the right once more. Raphael and Mike in front of the sour bottling line and the stainless fermentors

 

I have to encourage a visit to anyone who is interested in Trois Dames or their process. They are located in a beautiful part of the world and there is some great pizza across the street.

As always, if you have any more specific questions feel free to email or comment as I could be more helpful in their techniques at a one to one level.

Yeast: Brasserie de Blaugies

About a month ago, my wife and I began our summer travels across western Europe. I strategically planned our first stop in Brussels to see some of her family and so that we could also hire a car and drive to the smaller, more remote farmhouse breweries in the French Flanders and Wallonia. Over a couple of days we were able to visit 3 Fonteinen, De Dolle Brewers, Brasserie Thiriez, Brasserie Dupont, Brasserie de Blaugies and the infamous Sunday-morning-only-bar In de Verzekering tegen de Grote Dorst. It’s a really easy little road trip with heaps of interesting stops along the way. We have been on the road ever since so I will admit this post is a little delayed; however, I had to share some of the things I learned from Kevin at Brasserie de Blaugies.

Many of you may know Blaugies from their scarce, but solid range of saisons coming from a tiny brewhouse in their family home. If their beer hasn’t reached you, maybe you have heard of their recent collaboration with Sean Hill of Hill Farmstead called Vermontoise. Either way, I’ll admit that it took me an embarrassingly long time to find out about them but once I did, I knew I had to visit. Kevin Carlier’s father Pierre-Alex Carlier started Brasserie de Blaugies in 1988 and has only just recently handed over most of the day-to-day brewing work to his son. However, Pierre-Alex is a very active man and continues to be a crucial member of the workforce at the brewery. Only in talking with Daniel Thiriez about them did I realise how influential this tiny operation has been on the education, conservation and proliferation of the Wallonian saison.

Located about 1 hour and 20 minutes from Brussels and 650 meters from the French border, the brewery sits just outside the small town of Blaugies, hence its name. It’s a picturesque little drive through flat farmlands spotted with distant church steeples and villages full of typically cute brick homes with slate roofs. Even just driving in along rue de la frontier (road of the border), I knew why this place has become so special for the many who make pilgrimage here.

When we arrived they were finishing off labelling a batch at their packaging shed across the street from the brewhouse. To give you an idea, we parked in front of Le Forquet, the restaurant that Kevin’s brother runs (open Wed-Sunday), and the shed was just down to the left. Inside the shed was the bottle cleaner, bottling machine, labeller and packaged beer either ageing or awaiting distribution; but, there was no brewhouse. Across the street, I could see their home with a sign out front for the brewery; but again, no brewhouse. I was a little confused.

However, once the work was done for the day Kevin greeted us and took us on a tour of the place. To start, we went towards his house and only at the last minute when I could just see through the small windows in the garage doors, I realised that the entire brewhouse was fitted into a space smaller than a 2 car garage. He opened the doors and inside, there it was. HLT, kettle and later tun macgyvered literally on top of each other next to three fermenters, two double and one single. My immediate thought was how?, so we started talking process.

can't you see it? the brewery is in there
can’t you see it? the brewery is in there

Blaugies uses a proprietary strain of yeast they selected from a yeast bank in Brussels years ago. All of their beers are fermented with this single strain of yeast, no bugs or brett. They take their yeast up to 6-8 generations bottom cropping, inspecting its health under microscope between pitches. When I asked Kevin how they stored it, he simply turned around and grabbed a 5 L glass container from on top of his glycol chiller and smiled. Storing yeast at room temperature is normal if you are going to be using it soon but I thought that with how few fermentors he had, he couldn’t be brewing very often. Wrong. The Blaugies yeast works its magic in about 3-4 days and their beers spend just over a week in their fermentors before going to packaging where they are really aged. While part of this has to do with keeping up with orders and production demands, the other has  to do with their yeast. Kevin said that it wouldn’t even start fermenting if it was under 25 C. Usually he chills his wort to around 27 C and pitches, he turns his jackets on for a tad above 30 C and lets the yeast go. Not surprisingly, he sees activity in the first few hours since pitching. After 2 days the jackets are turned off and the yeast finishes its job within the next two days. Once its finished, the jackets go back on and he crashes for 2-4 more days so he can collect his yeast.

lauter tun and kettle down to the right
lauter tun and kettle down to the right, sorry for the photos… its really hard to get a decent shot of what is happening in there because of its size!
this is the double batch fermentor
this is the double batch fermentor
HLT in the corner and yeast on top of the... I can't remember
HLT in the corner and yeast on top of the… I can’t remember
there are the 2 singles with the latter up to the left
there are the 2 singles with the latter up to the left

I was really shocked by this process. I had heard of home brewers fermenting at these temperatures but I had never met a professional brewer who did. Also, the tank time of his beers is more reflective of IPA and pale ale factories. The beers obviously speak for themselves so… respect. The strain is interesting to work that fast, attenuate so well and flocculate enough to bottom crop with successful results. I really want to do some experiments with it. If you have or know someone who has grown up their dregs I’d love to know more!

The tank time issue was bothering me as we walked across the street to the packaging shed. The beers are moved into containers and rolled there on packaging days. I expressed my interest in the time issue and Kevin pointed out that his bottle conditioning lasts for around 4 weeks before leaving the brewery. When you take this into account along with the shipping times around the world, the significant portion of their maturation takes place in bottle. However, he also admitted that it wasn’t ideal and they would allow more tine if they could but they have some serious problems with matching demand.

packaging shed across the street
packaging shed across the street

He smiled when I asked about a larger brewhouse because as he shared with me after, those plans are well underway. Literally the week after we visited, they were set to begin construction to expand the existing shed an additional 20 meters to fit in a brand new 20 hl brewhouse with something like 6-8 fermentors. As part of the construction, the shed will also include an elevated tasting bar and a glass front facade for light and visibility from the outside. It’s a significant jump, but Kevin said it was years in the making. If all goes to plan, they should be brewing in the new brewhouse around the end of this year.

My wife and I chatted with Kevin for a good time thereafter just about the brewery, his family and the future of the place. He was very gracious and loaded us up with what he had on hand. For me, it was just one of those times when I had to pinch myself.

There is really no telling what is going to happen once they start operating out of the new facility. I imagine their export game will pick up and hopefully we will be able to find their beers slightly easier. However I do know that the old brewhouse is staying just where it is. Kevin was excited to think about the little projects he could do in there once the bigger brewhouse is online. He didn’t go so far to mention introducing any wild yeast but hey, we can all dream.

All the best to Kevin and the family for the extensions!

my take-homes from the trip
my take-homes from the trip

ps, if you ever do make it to Blaugies, its only 11km to Brasserie au Baron which is worth its own trip too. I was no good with time and had to miss it, but wouldn’t dream of making that mistake twice.