It’s not often that you have an opportunity to brew a beer at a brewery, so when Tom McMullen, joint Managing Director at McMullen’s offered a chance to do just that, it had to be seized.
To coincide with the company’s 190-year celebrations and the branch’s 45-year mark, the idea was a collaboration beer between South Herts Branch and Mac’s, to be brewed on the company’s newly-installed 3½ barrel capacity micro-brewery – equipment which they inherited 20 or so years ago when they purchased the Fishery Inn in Elstree. The wood-clad vessels still proudly display the Hertfordshire manufacturer’s name – Brewing Services of Buntingford. The beer was to feature at the St Albans Beer and Cider Festival in September and a small number of Herts pubs.
Discussion between Head Brewer Chris Evans and I first centred on the style of beer to be produced. The idea of a quaffing golden hoppy ale took root – to slake the thirst of festival goers and local drinkers. With the celebrations in mind the beer was to be called “Golden Years”, brewed at around ABV4%. The following ingredients were selected:
Malt – Extra Pale and Caragold malts to provide a golden colour and body, supplemented with a small amount of Crystal malt for sweetness and a little flaked maize to help create a “lace in the glass”. Hops – a 50:50 blend of Columbus and Chinook American hops – to help provide aroma and bitterness with a citrus edge. Yeast – American Pale Ale Yeast. Liquor (water) from Mac’s own 250 ft deep boreholes that extract natural water from directly under Hertford, from the London aquifer. Other – Some finings in the copper to help obtain a clearer pint. Liquor treatment – A little calcium chloride to help provide a softer mouth feel.
The Brew. With a 7.30am start on the day of the brewing, brewing materials were already to hand, as were Chris, now 28 years at McMullen’s and young brewer Jack Baron who has joined the company following graduation from a degree course in brewing and distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. All equipment had been meticulously cleaned and sterilized.
The Mash Tun. Liquor was poured into the mash tun and a small amount of liquor treatment added. The malt and maize were gradually added and stirred in to create a thick “porridge”. The mix was heated to around 65-67°C and sparging commenced – a process that provides a revolving supply of hot water – taking around 2 hours. Regular samples were taken to track the gravity of the beer.
The Copper. The mix is now known as wort and was transferred into the adjacent copper to boil. Most of the hops were added and the wort was brought to a temperature of 100°C for some 45 minutes. Also added was some calcium chloride. After 30 minutes, in a process called “late hopping”, the remainder of the hops and finings were added. A late boost in heat aided with the pumped transfer of the wort into the nearby fermenting vessel, a process which took around 1 hour. Samples were taken to check the likely ABV gravity.
The Fermenting Vessel. American Yeast was taken from a refrigerator and mixed with water to a slurry then added to the wort in the Fermenting Vessel where it was set at 22°C. It was to be left for 10 – 14 days – now known as “green beer”. After the first four days, with fermenting largely finished it was to be chilled to 12°C. At the end of the 10 – 14 days the beer would be chilled to 5°C to aid transfer into 14 or so firkins. Filled casks are stored at the brewery at around 12°C where cask-conditioning continues for a further week.
By 2.30pm the work was done and the waiting game was underway. How has the beer been received? Well, I honestly can’t say here. This edition of Pints of View was at print as our “Golden Years” continued to condition at the brewery. We’ll report in the next edition. It goes without saying that I would like to send huge thanks to Tom, Chris, Jack and everyone at McMullen’s for a great day, their hard work, their guidance and for offering me and the Branch a marvellous hands-on opportunity to fully understand the process of brewing.
Time for a pint!