Stewart Brewing have been operating since 2004 at their premises in Loanhead (just outside the Edinburgh by-pass) but continued success for their great range of beers has meant they moved to a new unit in a different part of the same Bilston Glen Industrial Estate in the middle of 2013. As well as their brand new 40BBL kit they decided to install a demo/pilot/brew-your-own kit, christen it the Craft Beer Kitchen and this has been operational since April 2014. It's a place where you can book-up and then brew your own batch of 40 or 80litres of beer for a Wedding (see The BeerCast), Birthday or just because it's fun and it's possible to-do-so. This year is a fairly big Birthday for myself and a number of old School/University friends and so we decided to have a go at brewing a Birthday Beer that we could all drink and celebrate with.
Outward transport was as follows:-
Train: Glasgow Queen St. to Edinburgh Waverley (every 15 minutes)
Bus: Edinburgh Waterloo Place (Stop ZH) to Loanhead (X62; 00, 20, 40 on the hour after 10am)
I'd been to the old Stewart Brewing premises a number of times, but the new building at the far end of the Industrial Estate is far larger and more purpose built than the old one, with additional space available on-site for future growth (and they have a table-tennis table & some bench-tables out-front under a canopy - cool!).
We headed into the main entrance of the building where there is a well maintained shop full of bottled beer (from Stewart & other Scottish breweries), brewery merchandise, loads of awards and a dedicated growler station with 20 or so taps. It's such a welcome change compared to the old unit which ran the off-sales from a corner of the admin office immediately adjacent to the stores space.
We were given a number of tokens which allowed us access to the beers available from the growler station (mostly Stewart's core range of beers but also some Craft Beer Kitchen specials, although we'd missed the 5 Shades of IPA beers that had been on the week before at the Stockbridge Tap - drats!). There was also a bit of confusion when it seemed our booking hadn't been logged - that's why I always print things off! When this had been sorted out our brewer/helper for the day, Craig, came out to meet us. He'd just graduated from the Heriot Watt Brewing and Distilling course that year (producing some gluten free beer for his final year project (we were able to buy some bottles of these the next time we were in)) and he was really helpful, informative and just very patient with us old duffers. The Craft Beer Kitchen setup is situated in a small corner of the larger brewery space just outwith the brewery shop with the bottling area, storage space & weighing equipment set next to the three multi-purpose custom-built vessels which are used as a combined hot liquor tank, mash-tun and copper for the brewing process.
Looking around it's somewhat smaller than the large 40BBL mash tun & copper that Stewart Brewing use as their main kit...
...and pales into (almost) insignificance compared to the mass of dual-purpose fermenting/conditioning vessels that take up most of the space inside the brewery.
We had been allocated vessel number V3 with the water already up to temperature from the steam that is used to heat these 3 small vessels and the main brewing kit. Now we had by far the most difficult decision of the day to make - what style of beer to brew? (we honestly did not know when we arrived at the brewery what this would be.) The most common beer type brewed at the Craft Beer Kitchen is definitely the Pale Ale/IPA (normally a sort of Sierra Nevada clone), but after some toing-and-froing we decided to try for something similar to the beer that started us drinking way, way back in the time of excursions to the Fisherman's Tavern in Broughty Ferry and the Ferry Tap in South Queensferry, Orkney Brewery's lovely Dark Island. If pushed I'd say that Dark Island is now perhaps a bit sweeter than it used to be (although that could be from looking back through rose/beer-glass tinted spectacles) so we wanted something with a more bitter, burnt and dry finish (I actually wanted to add some wersh blackcurrants & blueberries but was voted down by the other guys - spoilsports!) and maybe just a bit stronger from an abv point-of-view. This choice caused a bit of a problem, there wasn't really an off-the-shelf recipe for Dark Island in the Craft Beer Kitchen 'book of beer' or in any of the real ale reference books, so we were forced to improvise slightly. Instead we followed the recipe for a generic Brown Ale, but would add more chocolate malt and change most of the hops, so I guess we didn't really follow much of the recipe at all. So first things first we had to measure out and grind the pale & chocolate malt using the hand grinder.
This all went into the mesh compartment in the centre of the brewing vessel - doing this means that there is far less spent grain/residue left at the bottom of the vessel - effectively there is no real need to 'dig out the mash tun'.
We also had to measure out and add a fair amount of malt extract (all-grain homebrewers can look away now, this is mostly used to shorten the mashing process) - it's seriously thick & viscous stuff so there was a lot of stirring required (I took some photos).
This was then allowed to stand for approx. half an hour so that the starch in the grain was converted into fermentable sugars (we had a beer or 2 at this point) and then this sweet wort was then raised to the boil in preparation for the hops. First of all the bittering hops, in our case target hops were measured out and added. Standard practise at the Craft Beer Kitchen is to only use hop pellets (it's a bit of a disappointment) but, again, this to done to minimise cleaning (and, I assume, to keep the costs down). We had to apply these slowly (only a few pellets at a time) otherwise the wort started to boil/effervesce over.
We then left this to boil for another 30 minutes and decided to go and get some lunch (brewing is a hungry business). Although there is a huge Greggs bakery just up the road it doesn't do takeaways, and with the café-diner (Chequers-Revive) at the start of the industrial estate closing at 12noon on Saturdays, we were left with the option of the large Asda at Straiton and various variants of sandwich/wrap meal-deals. When we got back we started on the aroma hops - we had decided on cascade to give some additional lingering bitterness (we put in a extra 10% over the recipe) and then after a further 15 minutes we added some Polish lubelski (saaz equivalent) hops, to give a bit of a smooth dry finish and hopefully a slight heather/floral aroma before boiling for a further 15 minutes. At this point we did comment to Craig that we perhaps didn't think the colour was quite dark enough and so (since the customer is always right - ha!) we added some black malt extract before this was boiled again for a further 15 minutes (a post-lunch beer was had). This time the colour looked pretty good.
Craig then switched the heater off to let the wort cool down a bit, but as it was doing so the vessel next to ours had a bit of hiccup and started to froth over the top somewhat. Craig went straight for the mop/squeegee and said this wasn't uncommon with the changes in steam pressure as the main kit went through it's cycle, but I'm glad it wasn't our wort/beer that ended up on the floor!
With the wort cooling down Craig then hooked up the heat exchanger to get the wort down to ~20C.
And then it was a matter of filling up the fermenting containers and pitching the liquid yeast. This was done by switching between the 2 containers a couple of times and so adding the yeast as the containers filled. These are 45 litre plastic fermenters with the beer being dispensed into the cask or bottles using CO2. Craig checked the temperature of the wort (20C) and the OG (1049 I think) a couple of times and seemed happy with the way things had gone.
Even with both fermenting containers full there was still a fair amount of wort still present in the bottom of the stainless steel vessel; this was simply flushed down the drain. I should have taken a sip just to satisfy my own curiosity, but I didn't - fool!
The containers were then sealed, we waved goodbye to them and crossed our fingers. Craig advised us to come back after 3 or 4 weeks and so we booked our bottling slot in for the 4th October (and then took the bus to the Cask and Barrel South Side for some further refreshment!).
Fast forward 4 weeks and we were back (after braving the horrendous roadworks just past the Asda in Straiton). After storing away our 72 pint cask we were shown directly to the bottling/storage area adjacent to the Craft Beer Kitchen vessels where 2 bottling shifts are possible at the same time. This morning we were there with another group who had also brewed a Birthday beer (an IPA).
Keen to crack on straight away we were given a short tutorial on the bottling process and then got to work. Three is probably the optimum number of people for the bottling - one of us washed the 500ml bottles in groups of 12, and then filled them up to the bottom of the neck from the single tap. The flow from the single tap wasn't particularly fast and we soon found out why - after the first few bottles the beer got pretty lively and it was normally a matter of filling the bottles a bit on the low side and then topping them up afterwards.
Of course this meant we could (at last!) sample the finished beer. We were worried about the colour beforehand but it turned out great, almost jet black with a very slight red tint and the abv also came out dead on what we wanted, 5.0%, so first impressions were very good. The beer straight from the tap was a bit cold and maybe a tad fizzy but there was the hint of slight blackcurrant fruits and lots of dark chocolate upfront, some citrus earthiness & a long bitter coffee finish - it was maybe somewhat one dimensional, but not bad at all. This was a definite relief (and a pleasant surprise) but with glasses filled we still had to complete the rest of the bottling. I was entrusted to cap the filled bottles in the single mechanical capping machine (thankfully this had a magnetic catch for the cap) and then wipe the bottles clean (especially the base) before handing them over to my other friend who added the pre-printed labels from the roll that was fed from what seemed like an old printer transport before stacking them in the Craft Beer Kitchen cardboard cases.
We rattled through the bottling in just over an hour and managed 58 bottles (we probably drank maybe another 2 and swapped 3 with the other group), so just short of 5 cases. This was a bit less than the 40 litres or ~6 cases advertised but Craig did let us choose 6 bottles from the shop by way of recompense, and hopefully this won't happen when we open the cask. Our name for the beer was 'The Missing Dwarf'- a bit of an old fogies in-joke in that another friend with whom we normally hang-out with couldn't make it up for the brewing, and since his nickname came from being slightly vertically challenged, this seemed like a decent enough name (sorry, mate). I sent the photo out to Stewart Brewing and we had a bit of e-mail ping-pong with the label design, but it turned out really well (although I didn't see the typo in one of the names - always get the final label checked!).
We took our equal share of the bottles back home and we also tried a bottle against our benchmark & inspiration, Orkney Dark Island, and as expected, it was nowhere near as sweet or plum-like upfront, but it definitely had a somewhat similar, burnt, bitter & dry finish - pretty well what we were hoping for. All told the whole Craft Beer Kitchen experience was great fun, interesting and a more than worthwhile afternoon-and-a-bit out - a big thanks to everyone who helped us. We'll definitely be trying another brewday sometime in early 2015.
Update December 2014
The cask of The Missing Dwarf went on at the Milton Inn, Monifieth, the weekend of 5th/6th December with all the proceeds going to Macmillan Cancer Support. Many thanks to Mark Barton at the Milton, Ash and the rest of the staff for allowing this to go on & for promoting it and also to Jenny at Stewart Brewing for providing the pump-clip. It's certainly quite nice to see your own beer on the blackboard of a pub...
...and even more pleasing to drink your own beer in a pub. The cask had effectively 'conditioned' in the Milton's cellar for close on 2 months and helped by Mark's great cellarman's skills came out smoother, with slightly more body, but still had a great bitter burnt finish. Judging by the amount that we had during the weekend and the money that was raised for Macmillan (a grand total of £227.95) I think it can be termed a success.
Bus: Loanhead (X62; 04, 24, 44) to Edinburgh Salisbury Place (for Cask & Barrel South Side)
Train: Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Queen St. (every 15 minutes)