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