Friday, November 12, 2010

I'd like to put it on the record...

As anyone who ever been to a pub well knows, some of the greatest ideas to ever come to man can be born there. Alas this is usually outweighed by the vast amount of genuinely nuts ones. But thankfully most of us have the good sense, when the morning-after rolls around, to be able to tell the difference. Either way there's usually a fairly clear demarcation between the two. The idiotic ideas are quickly dismissed, normally with a cheery: "jaysus, we talked some amount of shite last night". Just occasionally there's an idea that crops up and stubbornly refuses to be one or t'other, usually making wild swerves between either side, a bit like Jim McDaid driving home from the races. Is it genius? Is it crazy? These are the kind of notions that should be paid serious attention. After all, one of them was the idea to open a brewery, and look at the Trouble that got us into.

So it was at one of the many informal Trouble Brewing board meetings in the pubbie, (we have them there so we can combine such meetings with quality control, i.e. drinking our own beer, and market research, a.k.a. drinking other breweries’ beers), that one of these defiant half-casked ideas reared its head. I'm not sure which of our merry little party mentioned it, I know it wasn't me anyway, but it came to pass that someone suggested a brewing competition, open to home brewers, that we would brew as a once off special. "That's genius", said someone. "That's crazy", said someone else. "Who's round is it?", said someone else with different priorities at that point. "It’s like finding a 2 euro coin when you bite into an onion", said someone else who enjoys weird non-sequiturs. "Ah, your right of course", said someone else, at this increasingly crowded meeting, who specialises in pointless platitudes. Thankfully these board meetings aren't minuted.

So it came to pass that we went ahead and put the competition together, with our usual "what could possibly go wrong?" attitude (generally the answer is: a lot), and released it into the free roaming plains of the Internet and waited. Then after five minutes of waiting, we stopped waiting, realising that such things are defiant of our MTV-generation attention span, and went and did some more productive stuff. Though once again our record keeping let us down and there's no record of what that productive stuff was. I've a strong suspicion that I single-handedly solved the economic crisis. Obviously someone's messed it up again rather quickly, but since none of it was documented, I guess we'll never know.

Anyway, we let the competition ferment, as is befitting brewers, and by closing date we were delighted to find that a grand total of 15 different beers, of various hues and styles, had found their way to us. So now we have 30 bottles lined up in Thomas's conditioning room ready for judging. He insisted on there being two of each bottle in case one got broken or befell some other misfortune that interfered with its beery well-being. Even though that policy did make sense, I chose to interpret that as him being a chancer on the mooch for free beer.

We now have the judging date finalised and the talks are in progress to find suitable candidates for judging panel who’ll do the blind tasting, and will pick the big winner. Hopefully they’ll have finely honed beer sensitive taste-buds and also fit in the appropriately ridiculous Edwardian judges’ wigs we’ve already purchased. Though I’ve a feeling the latter criteria may determine a greater weight of their suitability, and head size be damned.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Visitor numbers are up this month.

There was an event recently that made me call into question whether some of our more well-worn clichés can be trusted. The cliché in question being; "they couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery", I'm having this new found self-doubt after we organised said piss-up, in our brewery, and found it not quite the simple and straight-forward enterprise that it's made out to be. In fact, it takes quite a lot of planning and organisation.

A career in McDonald's awaits...
The invitees were the good people at Irish Craft Brewer (soon to be Beoir), a group that to whom beer is anything but small beer. Unless it is literal small beer, and then they'll undoubtedly be able to tell you the very definition of small beer. In short, they are the folks that know their beer. Anyway, we'd put up an open invite on the ICB website and organised a bus from Dublin to bring everyone in. So we were heartened to see that when the day rolled round that there was a healthy list of people interested in coming along. It was also nice that the rain stayed away, no means a certainty in mid-summer in Ireland, I was working off the theory that Irish people using barbecues angers the rain gods and they seek retribution upon us with a damp sodden summer for affronting them. Hence I disguised our barbecue as a tumble-dryer until the last possible moment, and it seems to have worked and the sun shone.

Interspersed between the ICB crowd, we snuck in sneakily a few members of The Mill Trouble Brewing Appreciation Society, to give them their full makey-uppy title. Who get their moniker by manfully keeping the craft beer tradition alive in The Red Windmill (i.e. our drinkin' buddies). Obviously they're not to be trusted with the serious business of brewery tours, by breaking out a game of footie in the field nearby, instead of picking our brains about brewery operations and such. Most uncouth behaviour.

As to the day itself, our idea was that if we opened the brewery bar for people to help themselves (a Trouble Brewing version of the gimmicky pour-your-own-pint tables), filled the barbecue with burgers and hot-dogs then most likely a good day would be had by all. The barbecue however wasn't self-service, and I spent the first half of the day being manly and cooking meat outdoors, but in a safe controlled environment as nature intended. Though much of the credit must go to Kathryn and Mairead who pretty much did all the real work of preparing the non-meaty goodness part of the spread. Though I think Homer Simpson put it best when, through the medium of song, he opined "you don't win friends with salad..." Sorry ladies.

The cute furry kitten, the only one not on the beer
After the wonderful, delicious and beautifully cooked food was eaten, the crowd reassembled at the brewery to top-up their pint glasses and have a look around. There was also the opportunity to fuss over another attendee that was not officially invited, a cute furry kitten that had decided that it wanted in on this brewery tour business. It was about this time that Thom and Stephen, mainly to distract from the show-stealing cute furry kitten, mounted the platform to thank everyone for coming and announce that Trouble Brewing would shortly hold a competition on ICB whereby people could submit their own beer and the best would be brewed as a once off for the round of festivals next summer. Thom also gave a overview of the brewery set-up, but I think in his heart he knew already that it was a little redundant, as I suspect he knew all in attendance were already well up to speed with their brewery knowledge.

So after a few more drinks, a few photo opportunities and some time for a chat, the bus arrived back for pick-up, we emptied the brewery and filled the bus and headed back to L. Mulligan to relax with a few more beers. We left Thom behind to take care of mundane brewery duties in preparation for brewing the following day and Mairead to take care of the cute furry kitten that she had only moments earlier adopted.
The obligatory team photo, from L to R we have...
So until next time, assuming I can indeed fight my way out of a human-size wet paper bag, which after the experience of recent events, is no way certain.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Something for the (Longest) Weekend...

I've always been a big fan of the Good Friday drinks ban, it has many advantages, not least of which is the slightly counter-intentional effect of promoting the day as one of the most important drinking days of the year. There's no other day that you can combine having a few beers at home with a very civil civil rebellion. I always make it a point to make sure that Good Friday stands for "Good Number of Good Beers Friday" in my house. So this year I was expecting that having a brewery full of beer that I might be able to avoid the pre-prohibition enactment in every off-licence in the country on Maundy Thursday. It didn't quite work out as I'd expected. Rather counter-intentionally having a brewery full of beer meant that it proved to be the soberest Good Friday I can remember, that is, it was a Good Friday I can remember. In the end I had one token pint of beer, before a very early night, the reason for this was the day was spent preparing for the Franciscan Well Easterfest in Cork.

We'd signed up to be at the Easterfest a few weeks earlier, despite the fact that we still didn't have a functioning brewery, though we were nearing completion. We figured that it was just about possible that if the beer gods smiled upon us (i.e. worked our arses off) that the first batch would be ready just in time. So we'd presented ourselves with a deadline, and as every college student knows, there's nothing like a fast approaching deadline to get you motivated. So we got the brewery completed, roughly on time, got it cleaned up, did our initial test, and completed our first brew day, all with enough time to let the beer ferment and condition. Though we barely had time for a hearty round of "hurrahs" and "jolly good show chaps", (we'd chosen "international-pretend-to-be-upper-class-English-day" for our brewing), before having to sort out all the other festival related paraphernalia needed. So while the beer fermented, which is fortunately a labour diffuse process as we also had to get a bar built and source the bar taps and fittings. Not to mention ordering a big orange banner and lurid orange t-shirts.

All of which brought us to Good Friday, the day that we had precisely timed the beer conditioning to end, and one day before the festival started. This meant that the pre-festival rush to get the kegs cleaned and filled, and the van loaded and driven to Cork was on. Not overlooked was the fact that we had our very first taste of the finished beer ourselves, for if that went badly we'd be making a very forlorn and apologetic call to the Franciscan Well and probably going home to hide in the wardrobe for the weekend instead. But fortunately we didn't have to deal with this eventuality and we were off to Cork to set-up stall. All of which meant that by the end of Good Friday bed beckoned rather than the now traditional session.

So by the time Saturday rolled 'round we were ready for our first taste of beer festival life on the other side of the bar, but only after we'd unloaded the van, set-up our bar, made sure the beer was pouring properly and got the little light in the bar tap to illuminate. And naturally we also had to introduce ourselves to the other breweries who were in attendance and who were all very welcoming especially since we were the new kids on the block, in the non rubbish-80s-boy-band sense. It wasn't long after that the doors were opened on the festival and we sold our first ever pint of beer, which we'd named "Ór" from the Irish for gold, it being after all, a golden ale. The Franciscan Well wasn't long about filling up either, so throughout the day there was a steady stream of customers curious about our new beer, with plenty of questions that we were happy to answer. Not forgetting to mention plenty of pints being poured and drunk too. Though there was a good deal of halves being served as well, clearly with so many beers to taste at the festival a lot of people were having a half of each, obviously overlooking the fact that we'd created a session beer.

The Sunday was more-a-less a carbon copy of the previous day, with the work behind the bar consisting of serving thirsty beer drinkers, making sure the beer was pouring correctly and lugging about kegs of beer as they emptied and needed to be replenished. And full kegs are heavy, heavy things, so after all our efforts to get the beer into them in the first place, I was more than happy to see them empty again so soon. Mainly because it meant that people had been happily drinking "Ór", but also because empty kegs are a lot easier to lug about.

And even though our drive home following day was before the opening of the new motorway and we got stuck in Abbeyleix as expected, it was a very satisfying weekend where we got to meet loads of beer enthusiasts and have a few sneaky halves of not only our own beer, but some of the other breweries beers too.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

So that's not why it's called a Grain Bed?

When they're making "Trouble Brewing: The Movie", probably about this time next year, there'll be a moment when the last of the skilled tradesmen leave the scene and the morning sun glints off a pristine and shiny brew kettle and the there's a moment of silent reflection, before one of the three main protagonists who remain on the scene, turns to the others and says something cheesy and Hollywood like " let's see what this brewery can do", before there being high fives all round. Which is a perfect example of why Hollywood movies are better than real life. The reality was of course that when the moment came when we were ready to start our first brew, we were all too busy with a myriad of other things to even notice the absence of a stirring John Williams soundtrack. (The main Trouble Brewing site has our contact details for any of the major movie studios who are almost certainly looking to pay us a big pile of money for the exclusive film rights, and as you can see, I'm happy to be involved and to hopefully get a credit as script editor.)

The brewing machinery hadn't even time for a proper polish either to give it that Hollywood gleam, but since making beer was the aim and not hosting a presidential reception, though which I'm sure is something that is only a matter of time too, we didn't concern ourselves with it. We'd previously concerned ourselves with the making the inside of the equipment very clean indeed, as is only proper if our aim of brewing pristine beer was to be achieved. Anyway to be brief as I can, (which isn't something comes easy to me, it'd be akin to a bear riding a unicycle, it can be done but it doesn't come naturally), The brewing process goes something like this: grain and hot water into the mash tun, leave for a bit, add more hot water and send over to the kettle, bring to the boil for an hour, and add hops at various intervals, finish boil, chill and send into the fermenter and add yeast. And though I think my attempt at being brief and non-technical went well, it did serve to detract horrendously from bringing the skill of the brewer into the equation, as there are innumerable parameters that can make all the difference between the bland and the delicious. Not least of which are the choosing the right grains and hops, something that I think, in my admittedly biased opinion, that we managed to achieve.

What I also think my brief description of brewing misrepresented, was that it made the brewing process seems fairly straight-forward, however on brew-day number one, it was quite the opposite. We learned that heating a 2 meter high tank of water takes a long time, and that if your brewery has a pumping system that was seemingly designed by Erno Rubik you have to be paying a lot of attention to make the water go where you want. Though we managed by dinner time to have kettle boiling away, and not just to make tea, though we did this also, though not using the brewing kettle for the tea making, that'd be a touch of unwarranted overkill. After the boil was done and we had another go on Erno's crazy pipe-work we had cold water pumping through the heat exchanger and were ready to cool the contents of the brewing kettle that was just coming off the boil. Alas, the time taken in heating the water earlier was nothing in comparison to the time taken to cool the boiling wort at the other end of the process. So about 18 hours later, or so it seemed, and after reminding ourselves about once every two minutes to have plenty of cold water for the next batch, the beer was cooled and in the fermenter, with the yeast added and some of us contemplating sleeping on bags of used grain that we'd cleaned out of the mash tun rather than face the long and tired drive home.

Despite the long first day I'm already looking forward to the next day's brewing, I'd imagine it'll be a much improved process when we apply everything we've learned from brew day one, in fact I've already ordered the John Williams tape in anticipation...

p.s. We're also twittering, or tweeting or whatever the hell it's called. I expect the next missive on that latest medium will be to announce the existence of this missive on this medium, no doubt creating some kind of feedback loop that'll probably destroy the Internet.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

It wasn’t acceptable in the 80s.

There's been a lot of action at Trouble headquarters of late, we're in the "prologue to brewing" stage, as I've taken to calling it, whereby we ask skilled craftsmen to "make stuff work" and they set about doing just that. There's the man who'll be fitting the steam generating boiler, which we've taken to calling a steamer; by this I mean the actual machine, rather than the man himself for that would be rude; to distinguish it from the kettle which we've been calling the boiler. Which is an unfortunate chain of events to have started off, as there's the potential to end up with a domino effect where everything gets renamed and eventually the conditioning tanks end up being called Joan Collins, Clive Sinclair or something equally unhelpful.

We've also been visited by our electrician who dances the merry dance of the currents, watts and amps of his trade and who, in my imagination at least, holds up cables in the style of cartoon hero He-man and shouts "I have the power!" before turning on mains switches and so forth. He's also been in close association with the man who made the transformer, who we've been referring to as Optimus, which nicely continues the cartoon theme. Though I'd say that joke is done to death in the world of transformer construction, in a similar way that when you tell someone that you're planning on opening a brewery, that everyone jokingly asks if there's a vacancy for a chief taster. I believe it was exactly this scenario that led big quiffed songsmith Morrissey to write "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore". I know it doesn't mention brewing or beer in any way in the lyrics, but if you look at the subtext it becomes clear that's what he was on about. But I digress...

We've also taken delivery of some kegs, which apart from the fact that they are empty, seem perfect. This however has given us a slight headache as regards space in the brewery, it means that unoccupied space is at a premium. I would've liked to do a definitive test to see if I could legitimately use the old cliché about the swinging of a cat, but rather unhelpfully Thom has refused to lend me his cat Oscar for the task, citing animal cruelty as an excuse. Probably just as well though, since I suspect that if the test was to prove the remaining space was cliché verifying, I'd be complaining about having to clean up splattered cat brain.

Hopefully that satiates the appetite for Trouble Brewing related news for now, and we'll have more to report soon...