Eureka, I finally managed to write a post about our current (2013) brewery. I would like to take you on a tour through our small brewery and show you some of our equipment. And I have to share some information with you concerning the future of this blog. But first about the brewery. In Switzerland you have to pay alcohol taxes on your homebrew if you brew more than 400 L (106 gal) a year. We easily brew more than that and therefore belong to the tax-paying breweries in Switzerland. And you get a license number (in our case 469) but are not allowed to sell beer. You just have to pay taxes… To be able to sell your beer is a totally different story and very time and money consuming to get there. However, we would really like to sell some of our beers in small quantities in the future and we are already working on different fronts to get there.
Because you have to add a brewery name as you register for the tax licence number, we had to think about the future a bit. Sure Eureka Brewing would be very obvious. However, because of different reasons we finally came up with the name Blackwell Brewery. The Blackwell Brewery therefore is our official brewery name and was founded by my brother and me in 2012. Oh, we even have a website of our future brewery (bilingual) and a nice logo:
Cool, right? We even have some pretty neat labels such as the black one shown below for the special releases
and a white version for the occasional releases. I am very proud that we came up with the label design on our own…
Before we head into the marathon to finally have the license to sell beer, we first work on our basic recipes to have some nice basic recipes. The next steps would be to tweak them and implement some unique twists. As we do not want to invest in a bigger brewing equipment (yet?) and just sell really small amounts (lets say 50% of a batch), we do not have to brew the same recipe over and over again. We and a lot of our present consumers (they drink our beers in the brewery) like the diversity. We will still brew the stuff we like. Not what others like. In the end, we do not want to earn a lot of money with or brewery. Just enough to brew further more exciting batches. Maybe going professional is an option in the future? We will see.
Setting up the Blackwell Brewery took us a lot of time and this is only one reason why I haven’t posted a lot of posts recently. But now the whole things seem to be fine so far and I now have some time to spend for other things such as my research work, brewing and beer microbiology. One might ask what will happen with this blog in the future. Well, despite going partially pro here, I will still post about all our recipes (well the most interesting ones) and other stuff we do. I really like the homebrewery community and discussions and like to share recipes and experiences. Even if we sell the beers. We do not care if even a bigger commercial brewery use our recipes (a lot of them are basically not my owns as well). We still have enough ideas and like to live an open recipe policy. So no worries, the blog will go on as usual. Enough of news, lets start the brewery tour.
We first started brewing with a kettle similar to the one shown in Fig 1 in 2006. The one shown in Fig 1 has an additional electrical heating source and can hold about 25 L (6.6 gal). However, the first kettle had no such heating source and we had to heat up and boil the wort on the kitchen stove which took a lot of time. We therefore purchased the kettle in Fig 1 to be independent of the kitchen stove. We still use this kettle for most of our batches because it is very easy to use and no gas is used.
In 2010, my brother and I decided to get ourself some bigger kettles and purchased two 50 L kettles (13 gal) and two gas burners (Fig 2). This is the equipment we use for bigger batches.
You might have seen our PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) system before (Fig 3). This is basically an automated mashing system. You only have to program the PLC with your mash schedule, press start and wait until the mash schedule is done. We used this system a few times and it works very well. However, I used some parts of the PLC system for my new kegerator. The kegerator was more important than the PLC. Therefore no PLC anymore. In addition, the stirrer broke a few months (or years ago), we bought the spare parts but never put the motor back together. Today we just occasionally stir the mash by hand. So no stirrer necessary. If the PLC is ready to work again, we will have to fix the stirrer as well.
Next about our sparging equipment. We first used the equipment shown in Fig 4 for sparing. This is basically a bucket with a false bottom and sprinkling device to evenly distribute the sparging water on the grain. This system worked but we had a lot of problems with stuck mashes. We therefore purchased a false bottom for the big kettles and use the big kettles as lautering kettles (Fig 5). Works very well now.
To boil the wort we use either the kettle shown in Fig 1 or 2. Depending on the batch size. Sure the heating times with the gas burners are way shorter than with the electrical kettle. But I see no problem here. I do not like to rush through a brew day anyway.
A typical two-batch brew day can look like shown in Fig 6: One big kettle can be used for mashing (with the stirrer motor) and the other one as a lautering kettle (first batch). We collect the wort from the lautering kettle in the kettle shown in Fig 1 and use the very first kettle we owned (similar to the one in Fig 1 without a heating source) to prepare the sparing water. A pretty nice equipment in my opinion. We not only have the equipment to brew two different batches a day but have the possibility to brew different batch sizes as well.
This will be our brewing equipment for a very long time. We do not intend to buy additional kettles or bigger ones. It just works fine now!
After the boil we either use(d) an immersion chiller or a plate chiller. We tend to use the plate chiller because the chilling is faster than the immersion chiller (in our opinion).
Fermentation. For the fermentations we normally use HPTE plastic fermenters (Fig 7). We have several of them and in different sizes. Normal size is 30 L (7.9 gal). In addition three smaller ones with a volume of 15 L (4.2 gal) for split batches or any other experiments. As we do sour beers occasionally, we have a separate 30 L and 15 L fermentation vessel for sour beers only. And some glass carboys as well.
I am quite happy with these fermenters because they are easy to handle, easy to clean, not heavy to lift and rather cheap. On the other hand, glass carboys are rather expensive and the type of glass carboys commonly used by US homebrewers are not available around here (or at least I haven’t found a source yet). This is why I use these plastic fermenters.
I use these fermenters as primary and secondary fermentation vessels. Sometimes the beer is in these vessels for a couple of months and I could not pick up any oxidation signs in any of my beers.
The cellar is more or less a mess. We store a lot of beer down there (actually 271 L (72 gal). I had to do an inventory… for the tax-guys. And that’s what came out going through our cellar. It took me a lot of time to go through all the boxes with old experiments, old batches for further maturation and count them all. Anyway, it is done for this year and another inventory will follow next January. Next to beer is a bunch of fermenters down there with fermenting beer. Sorry for the bad picture quality. The light down there is not very good to take any pictures.
In the picture above is a small part of the fermenters. On the very left side with the beautiful pellicle is the 2012 Solera. The fermenter with the wooden plug contains the #38 Flanders and the other four fermenters on the right contain the #50 Flanders batch. This is the batch where I split the beer into four different fermenters to find out if there is a difference between the plastic fermenter and glass and in addition if the addition of commercial dregs to the Wyeast Roeselare blend have any impact on the flavor.
Then right next to the Flanders fermenters are the #57 Lambics fermenting away. I split this batch as well and added some of my isolated bugs in some of them to again test their ability to have any impact on the finished product. These kind of experiments are great deal of fun and I already created a really great wild organism blend called Milupa 1 which is working on the Solera, the one with the nice pellicle.
In front of the fermenters are bottles with my latest Belgian Quadrupel batch (brewed in late 2012). I even added some Brettanomyces to some bottles to see what happens.
Next is another cool and very recent experiment. Our Whisky barrel which currently contains the #67 Koschei Imperial Stout. I don’t know how long this beer will stay in the barrel but at the moment it seems like bottling time is in the near future and we have to think about another beer to fill the barrel.
We do not bottle all our batches because we do not have that many bottles. And because it is much easier and faster to just fill a keg with fresh beer and then hook it up to our tap line. We built ourselves a kegerator a few years ago for a summer party and this was the star of the summer party. Well the beer was fantastic as well and most people just wanted to use the tap… and this might be just one reason why a lot of the beer got consumed that day.
Well, this is the end so far. I hope you know have a clearer idea what our equipment looks like and what experiments are currently running. Hope you enjoyed reading this long post and stay tuned!
By the way, the Blackwell Brewery will be no further topic here. We cover all the Blackwell Brewery related stuff on the respective page and just have put a link there to this blog for all the people interested in reading about our experiments, recipes or wild souring stuff. Cheers and thanks for reading
Very cool. I really like the graphic design. Who did that for you?
I think it’s interesting that the standard procedure varies by country. I rarely see anyone outside of the US & Canada using plastic coolers for mash tuns, for example. In my native Brazil it seems people go for something more like what you are doing.
We used an online web logo contest to get the logo. But we tried for several months to come up with a logo ourselves first. We gave up in the end. Simply because all the designs we had sucked 😉 On the other hand the labels are our work. (Took us several months again to finally get the labels we have now)…
There are indeed some procedure and equipment variations between North America and Europe. I don’t know how it looks like in other continents beside North America and Europe though. One of the biggest differences is that here around nearly no one uses glass carboys. Simply because none are available at low prices. Plastic is really easy to get since it is widely used to make apple juice, cider or a kind of wine. Another advantage of plastic carboys is that many have a spigot. And there is yet another difference: units. Not only the SI-unit differences such as kg, degree Celsius (except Canada) but some brewing specific ones such as Plato and EBC for color.
Thanks for commenting and Cheers, Samuel
That’s strange about the carboys, because the last time I bought a glass carboy it was made in Italy and reasonably priced. But I don’t know if you are missing much. I ended up giving it to my friend and buying more plastic instead.
Those ‘italian’ carboys are made in china. Seriously. Almost no one is using them, simply because you can’t buy’em here(EU). I was searching italian ebay, amazon, webshops and interwebs etc. Nothing but ‘bubble’ glass carboys.
The glass carboys I have are made in Italy as well. Or at least that’s what the label tells me… I see no disadvantage to use plastic instead of glass and that is why I stick to plastic carboys in the future. I only use the glass carboys for my sour experiments. Simply because it is easier to clean them.
Those plastic are excellent, imho! I’m using them too. I was reffering to those ‘US’ glass carboys, whose we can see on every homebrewing youtube video. But at US amazon, they’re described as ‘italian carboys’.
PS Those labels are mindblowing! Simplistic and classy!! Congrats!
I really love that automated Weck mash tun, as well !! Awesome!
I was referring to the US carboys as well. I have never seen such carboys here around. Really funny if they are indeed made in Italy 😉 Well, there are even Swiss breweries brewing excellent beers such as really interesting sours but they only export them to the US. Nearly no chance at all to get them here around… There is simply no market for such beers here.
Thanks for the congrats. We really love our labels as well 😉
The website looks great and I like the logo. Between the awesome travel reports from Belgium and your next steps toward craft beer in Bern, you’re living the dream! 🙂 Any chance you’ll do a post on the easiest route to building a kegerator here in Switzerland?
Hi and thanks for commenting. Well, for outsiders it might sound like living the dream. However, setting up a brewery is a lot of work and the biggest workload is still ahead of us. Still it is a lot of fun talking to people about or beers and stuff.
Concerning the kegerator. I just put it down in my to-post-list. I will try to write up a post about our setup. Our kegerator is basically a small freezer and a beer tap tower with two faucets. I got the tower including the two faucets on ebay for a ridiculously low price. The temperature is controlled by a simple PLC (I don’t know the type out of my head). Anyway, further details in a future post.
Where do you live in Switzerland (just roughly, don’t need to add any details here)?
Cheers and thanks again, Samuel
I live near Zuerich. We met at the Rappi Bier Fest and shared some brews with Elias & Brian, my brewing buddies. Good tip on EBay or Ricardo for towers. Thx. I hope we can all get together someday for a tasting and geeking out. 🙂 I’d love to hear more about how you approached bottle conditioning with Brett.
I knew I heard that name before. Now I remember who you are. Good luck finding a tower. And yes we should get together once again and geek out 😉 Maybe we meet at the upcoming SIOS trophy? We could certainly do another beer exchange. I haven’t decided yet to attend the Craft beer festival a second time…
Bottle conditioning with Brett. I have to tell you that I do not have a lot of experience here. I leave my Brett beers (mainly a mixed fermentation with bacteria as well) ferment to the very end till the gravity reaches 1.002 or lower. Then bottle the beer as normal with an addition of sugar. Sometimes add some wine yeast to ensure a complete carbonation. On the other hand, I tend to add some Bretts to every beer I bottle. I bottled a Belgian Quadrupel last year and just added the Bretts. No sugar at all. Gravity was 4°P (1.016). I hope the Bretts eat through the remaining sugars and therefore carbonate the beer. I gave Elias one of my examples (Raison d’ẽtre with Bretts) and none of my bottles so far had any troubles like extensive foaming or over-carbonation. I hope this holds true for the bottle I gave Elias… 😉
In my opinion the most important part is to ensure you don’t have a lot of sugars left for the Bretts to eat through. If you bottle a beer with Bretts at lets say 3-4°P (1.009 – 1.012) and add extra sugar for the appropriate carbonation level, you might get yourself some bottle bombs. Either let the beer ferment to the very end and add extra sugar and wine yeast, or bottle at the gravity where the remaining sugars ensure the carbonation level. In the latter case, the carbonation might take longer than in the first case because the carbonation might solely rely on the activity of the Brettanomyces yeasts. In the first case, the wine yeast will carbonate the beer relatively quickly. However, the fermentation time it takes to get the beer to the terminal gravity might take a few months as well…
I’ll see you at the Sios trophy for sure. I’ve been looking for info about this year’s competition, but can’t find it. Do you know what day it is & how much beer is required for a single entry? Otherwise, another beer exchange sometime could be fun. Thanks for the info on Brett in the bottle.
The trophy is taking place on the 16th of March as far as I know. I don’t have any further information yet. That’s what I know from the final report from last year’s trophy. Three bottles are required for each beer. I can’t remember if there was any specification about the bottle size. However, I remember that some of the bottles were 0.33 L and most other bottles were 0.5 L in size. A forth bottle is required if you want to participate in the label contest as well. See you at the trophy and happy brewing, cheers Sam
I understand it’s a lot of work, but pursuing something your passionate about is always worthy of praise (and envy!). I’ll continue to follow along closely as I have been. Maybe I’ll get to visit the brewery and sample some day.
Cheers, nothing will change with this blog. I still have some interesting experiments going on right now and well this is and will always be a further passion of mine. Science and beer… a perfect combination 😉 And yes it is true. If you are passionate about something you are well motivated and this gets you through nearly everything. If you ever are in the neighbourhood let me know. Cheers, Sam