Brewer For A Day

“Timing is key, y’know”.

Josh Staines – one of the brewers at Malt Shovel – is keeping a careful eye on the temperature gauge to make sure the boil isn’t too vigorous.

He notes down the time the wort starts to boil to ensure hops are added at the correct time in order to maximize flavour and provide valuable balance to the Hoppy Red Ale we are brewing.

Speaking of hops, the ones that are to be used in the creation are an experiment in itself. Josh grins at us as he states that this beer truly is an experiment. “There’s no ‘official’ recipe, so I’ve just created a mix which I think will balance well. See how we go hey?”

It’s been a busy morning at the Malt Shovel Brewery – a 9am tasting of the new Hop Thief 7 kick-started the day (with a follow-up coffee aiding the waking-up process) and following a tour, aged-beer tasting, explanation of the science behind it all, and working up a sweat stirring the malt, right now we’re standing around the Mini Brew Kit with bags of imaginatively named hops such as Dr Rudi, Enigma, and Perle waiting for the nod to add them to our creation.

The hops are integral to making our brew – for lack of more sophisticated language – taste like beer.

Earlier in the day we sampled the initial liquid that came from extracting the sugar from the grain and rather surprisingly it was exceptionally sweet. Without hops beer would undoubtedly taste like soft-drink.

The malt that we used was carefully weighed and combined with the aim of creating a rich red hue. Different malt types are roasted to varying degrees which change the colour of a beer, and we’re aiming for a rich, red hue. It’s one of the more difficult colours to achieve in a beer and as with any good experiment, we won’t know if we’ve been 100% successful until the beer has fermented over the course of a couple of weeks.

The Mini Brew Kit is a 120-litre-capacity scaled down version of the towering vats that surround us and is used to craft, test and trial new beers. Having received an up-close tour of the brewery and gained an increased understanding of how malted grain, hops, yeast, and water are combined to create your favourite James Squire brew, it’s amazing to be actually involved in the conception of what could be a future seasonal release.

It was surreal to receive the email congratulating me on winning the Brewer For A Day competition, and now that I’ve had the opportunity to pick the brains of people like head brewer Chris Sheehan I perhaps still think I’m dreaming. Even more so considering that when I began my drinking ‘career’, it certainly wasn’t with beer. Try cheap-and-nasty Woodstock premixes on for size! Try telling my 18-year old self that I’d be brewing beer in Sydney one day and in true Darryl Kerrigan style he’d tell you you’re dreaming.

However, once I discovered craft beer my outlook changed forever. Fast forward a few years and if you name a beer, I’ve probably tried it – or at the very least, one like it. I shudder to think about calculating the funds I’ve spent tracking down the strangest and strongest beers I could find! Perhaps surprisingly for a hop-head I’ve never had the chance to experience different hop types up close, but it’s an educational experience to smell and note the differences in aroma and flavour between each hop. Dr Rudi seems especially resiny and oily, whilst Perle is earthier and more subtle.

“We’ll add Dr Rudi first, OK?” As soon as I drop the first pellets into the kettle the aroma of the brew changes dramatically. Josh immediately picks up on this. “Can you smell the difference already?”

I love my hoppy beers – as do my brewing comrades Aaron & Tristan – and the sheer amount of hops we’re adding is exciting.  We head upstairs for a BBQ lunch while we wait for the call to add the remaining hops and from there we witness the complexity of the Mini Brew Kit.

A tangled array of pipes head into a heat exchanger which cools down the brew to the temperature necessary to add the yeast and begin fermentation. It’s a tricky process involving constant monitoring of how fast the liquid is flowing from one brewing vessel to the other, ensuring that we reach our ‘target temperature’ of around 20 degrees, and making sure none of the ‘trub’ (leftover hop chunks and malt particles) reaches the fermentation vessel. Even though it’s a process that has we know has been completed many, many, many times by the brewers it’s nerve-wracking to watch.

Concentration levels are high and for a few minutes we all intently watch the liquid flow.

Aaron, Tristan and myself will receive a six-pack each of the new Hoppy Red Ale – dubbed ‘The Butcher’ by Aaron – in coming weeks and I doubt I’ll ever anticipate drinking a beer as much as this one.

Will our experiment be a success? Could it be the first taste of a beer that will eventually be sold in pubs and bottle shops around the country? Or will we celebrate glorious brewing experimentation with perhaps a slightly unbalanced, not-quite-red-to-the-naked-eye ale?

Whatever the result, the chance to take part in this process has been incredible – thanks cannot be given enough to everyone at Malt Shovel Brewery for making our day (and evening spent sampling many a beer) truly enjoyable.

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