As much as I love beer, my knowledge of how beer is actually made is very limited and I had no real idea of how a typical brewing day went. So when I was invited along by Cameron Bowden, Managing Director at Brew Toon in Peterhead, to join them for a brew day - I jumped at the chance. It just so happened that on the brew day in question, they were brewing up a very special beer, with an exceptional bunch of lads. Brew Toon had joined forces with the guys from the Peterhead Lifeboat Crew, to brew up a very sessionable, New England IPA.
The brew was due to kick off at 9am, and what better way to start the day with one of my favourite Brew Toon beers - M'ango Unchained. Seriously, I love this stuff, the smell is unreal! If you haven't tried it for yourself, then I assure you that you are missing out. Beer in hand, we began to learn about the brewing process from Head Brewer Trevor (more on him later), and what the schedule for the day was.
We (Trevor) kicked things off by starting the long process to create the mash*, which involved adding the malts to the water, and then basically waiting around until it's ready.
*mash - the hot water steeping process which hydrates the barley, activates the malt enzymes, and converts the grain starches into fermentable sugars.
While this was happening, it gave us all a chance to have a chat, find out a bit more about the brewery and how it worked, as well as what was going on at Brew Toon in general. This involved getting to sample one of their latest beers, directly from the fermentation tank - I'm not going to say anymore until Brew Toon reveals it, but I can confirm that it is a very special beer, that I am incredibly excited about!
When the mashing process was over, the wort* was then transferred over to the boiling tank for the boil to take place. This was another two part, lengthy process that involved a lot of waiting for things to happen. The first part of the process was the transfer between the two tanks, which was a relatively slow process as not to spoil the brew. The second part was the boil itself, which is also the part of the process where the hops are added - more on that later.
*wort - the liquid extracted from the mashing process during the brewing of beer.
When the wort was transferred into the boiling tank, and the boil began, it was time to start cleaning up - Trevor told us that 60% of the brewing process is actually waiting around and cleaning up after yourself. The first part of this task was cleaning out the mash tank, by removing the malts. One of the great things about brewing is that there is very little waste; all of the leftover malts (loads of them!) extracted from the tank are given to a local farmer to be used for feed, and used bottles are washed, cleaned and given to local home brewers.
While this was happening, we also used this opportunity to break for lunch, and whilst I was enjoying myself so far, it was good to get outside for a walk, and some fresh air. Once lunch was over, it was back to the brewery and it would then soon be time for probably what I'd been most excited for all day - THE HOPS! As soon as I arrived at the brewery, I'd been looking forward to the hops. The smell of hops in a beer, is one of my favourite smells, so I was incredibly excited to have the chance to smell fresh hops in my own hands, and whilst they are brewing.
Trevor measured out all the various hops that were to be used in the brew (again, I'm not going to say to much, and let Brew Toon reveal it themselves), letting us feel them in our hands and smell them, before bagging them up to be added to the boil. The way that the hops are added, is pretty much like adding a tea bag to tea - they are tied up in a muslin style bag and steeped in the boil for various intervals to add aroma and flavour to the brew. They can be added at different stages throughout the boil to change the intensity of the aroma or flavour.
Just a quick word on Trevor - I'm pretty sure he much be one of the most knowledgeable guys on the planet when it comes to beer! During each stage of the process, he took his time to explain it in detail to us, as well as a bit about the history of it too. He was also more than happy to answer any questions that we had during the day - and would always give the most detailed answer he could. He was a highly eccentric character, but obviously extremely intelligent - he was a bit like a non-drug lord, non-murderous, version of Walter White from Breaking Bad...
The aromas that filled the brewery whilst the hops were in the boil were unbelievable! I don't think I've ever smelt anything like it before. It was like the smell of baking filling your house, but even better!
Whilst we were waiting around a local home brewer by the name of George turned up. George helps Brew Toon out by brewing up small scale batches of any potential new beers that they may be trying to perfect - he is in the process of helping them out with one at the moment. George also brews his own beers under the name of Bold Brewing (check him out on Instagram), and he very kindly brought along a selection of samples for me to try. As you can see from the picture below, they are no ordinary beers, and I can confirm from what I've tasted so far - he really knows what he's doing! George then headed back home, to get to work on his latest batch for Brew Toon.
With the hops in the boil, me and Cameron took a trip to visit George at home, and check out his home brew set-up. When we arrived, I was quite amazed to see what George had done in his garage - he'd build himself a room for his own little brewery in the garage. Whilst it was on a much smaller scale of what I'd just seen at Brew Toon, the principles were the same - and I left highly impressed at what I'd just seen. It's amazing what George is doing in his garage, and it must be so helpful for Brew Toon having such a knowledgeable guy close by who is happy to help out.
When the boil came to an end, it was time to transfer the beer to the fermentation* tank, where the yeast would be added, and it would then stay for around four weeks. And with that, we were done for the day. The beer would require further hopping during fermentation, a process known as "dry-hopping", this is in order to further enhance the flavours and aromas, but this wouldn't happen for another few weeks.
*fermentation - the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms, typically involving effervescence and the giving off of heat.
After the brew was finished, I got the chance to accompany Cameron and Brew Toon's PR intern, Shaun down to Peterhead harbour so they could get some shots of the lifeboat crew on their boat to promote the collaboration. Now whilst this was pretty cool to see...IT WAS FREEZING, and I was more than happy to get back inside - although it did allow for some quite spectacular views of the harbour as the sun was going down.
I had a great day in Peterhead with Brew Toon. I can't thank Cameron enough for inviting me up, thanks to the guys from the lifeboat for letting me gatecrash their brew day, and thanks again to George for the beers! For as much as I claim to be such a beer fanatic, I'd never really taken the time to learn about how it's made - so this really opened my eyes, and educated me quite a bit!
I'm really excited for this beer to be released - I can't wait to taste it! I'm also equally excited for some of the other beers that Brew Toon have in the pipeline, I really think that they are going to do some big things this year. If you haven't already been along to check them out, then what are you waiting for? 🍻