It’s been said before, that the internet is a wonderful thing, it helps people from all over the world communicate, meet new people and learn new things.
Thanks to social networking site Twitter I go the chance to meet someone new in the form of Stuart from Crown Brewery along with learning an awful lot of new things about brewing beer. This came along due to Stu inviting me down to help him brew his chilli beer, Ring of Fire, on the condition that I provided the chillis, I jumped at the chance and as soon as I could jumped on the train to Sheffield.
The journey started well, I enjoyed a couple of my favourite ales on the train and managed to read a fair chunk of my book (Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale and Heinrich Harrier’s White Spider)
I was greeted at the station by Stu (who thought it would be funny to have a little sign reading Chilli Up North – my twitter alter ego), He swiftly whisked me through the hi tec parking system at Sheffield station and into the first pub of night, The Devonshire Cat, and what a pub it was, it hasv12 proper ales on at all times and a bottle selection that most specialist shops would be proud of. We had a quick half of the legendary Jaipur (separate blog post on Jaipur, coming soon) and it was off to The Hillsborough Hotel.
I was introduced to Andy the Landlord and then had my first Half of Hillsborough Pale Ale, a lovely light pale ale brewed with cascade hops, right below the bar by @crownbrewerstu this was followed by a sample of what i think was the 13% version of HPA bloody good it was too. I then sampled the Ring of Fire, which was even better from the cask than in the bottles i tried before, Stu then left me to it so i decided it would be rude not to try the Stannington Stout, which was a lovely coffee and liqorice flavoured ale and a great way to end the night, or so i thought, i ended up trying another couple of beers that they had on at the time but i can’t remember the name of them apart from one called Sweeny’s, all i can remember is they were light and refreshing but not a patch on the beers i had drank up until that point.
I headed off up to bed thinking that we were staring @ 8am only to find out at 7 that Stu was already mashing in, luckily he meant the cuppas!
After a quick health and safety lesson we got down to business, Mashing in – for those of you who aren’t familiar with it this is the process of mixing the raw ingredients of the beer with hot water to create wort which is the liquor that eventually becomes beer.
During this process the brew house is rather warm as the water needs to be kept at a constant temperature in order to release the best bits from the ingredients, it also involved a bit of effort on my part as i had to stir the porridge like mash in order to make sure it was all mixed in.
It was then time for breakfast – and a great breakfast it was too, just what you want after a night full of beer and an early start. Big thumbs up the chef at the Hillsborough, they certainly know how to make a breakie!
After breakie it was time for sparging, this basically involves spraying the mash with hot water in order to flush the goodness out and into an under back, it was time for me to earn my keep and pass some of the wort back into the mash tun, here it was we had a little hicup, the mash turned out a little bit thick so Stu had to work a bit of magic and pump some extra water in under the mash to free it up.
Next it was time for me to earn my keep again, but not before a quick bottle of wheatie bits, lovely and refreshing, just what we needed! now the mash was free I had to make sure that the under back doesn’t overflow by pumping it into the boiler, While I was doing this Stu was cleaning casks, which he assured me was his favourite job and a job that all brewers love, this is confirmed by the number of times that the brewers on twitter mention it. He also found time to rack some beer and have a quick tidy up before putting the wort on to boil, we headed up stairs for lunch.
Steak and ale pie, chips and mushy peas – all home made were just what we needed, and very very good they were too, the pie even had Stannington stout in it. It was accompanied by a quick half, i can’t remember what it was but it was another light and refreshing ale and went well with the lunch.
After lunch we added my home grown chillis and and what looked like an awful lot of bags of sugar, after this Stu was kind enough to provide some samples of Samuel Berry’s Pale Ale – a rather tasty pale ale named after the original brewer at the hotel. Stu thinks it needs more hops and im not going to disagree as I love my hoppy ales. I also got chance to try a bitter Stu had brewed, wasn’t so keen on this as it was a bit weak for my tastes, finishing off the samples was the Damson Porter that he had brewed with @ZakAvery, it wasn’t quite ready but it had the makings of a really tasty and interesting fruity porter (which i hope to try the final version of…hint hint)
While i was sat back enjoying the beers, Stu was busy taking readings and making notes with some rather impressive bits of kit which really do make your average home brew kits look a bit rubbish, though they should for what they cost.
Once the boil was finished, all that was left to do was to transfer the liquid gold to the fermenter and clean up, Stu did all the work here and soon had all the kit looking spotless. Before we parted ways Stu kindly gave me a bottle of Smokin Oktoberfest, Sam Berry’s PA and my favourite Unpronounceable IPA, which i learnt was named after a guy nicknamed Unpronounceable Dave.
Overall i had a brilliant time, Stu and the staff at the Hillsborough were all very friendly and always had a smile on their face, the food and beer was top notch, and the actual brewing experience was great, very informative, enjoyable and something I will do again.
The one beer that blew me away was inevitably Ring of Fire, it was totally different to the bottled version, smoother, slightly more fiery and an absolute belter – it’s in the running for my beer of the year!
If you fancy a go at brewing with Stu then get in touch with him and for a small fee I am sure he will happily oblige and don’t forget if you are in Sheffield to call in for some food and a pint or two.
Oh i nearly forgot – keep an eye out for Ring of Fire 2009, its not the 10.3% that the 2008 version but Stu assures me it’s a cracker!