Masterplan For Brewing
A start to finish story.
It’s often overlooked as brewers go on about dank hops, dark roasted malts or rare yeasts but water is by far the main ingredient in every brew. We use London’s finest, straight from the tap, but the precise composition can vary dramatically depending on what we’re brewing. With London Pilsner, for instance, we treat the water to adjust the pH, mimicking the soft water in the rivers that flow through the Czech city of Pilsen, where the style was invented. With a proportionally big ingredient, the small things make a huge difference.
Although barley is the preferred grain for brewers it’s not the only malt in town. You can ‘malt’ wheat, rye, oats, sorghum, rice, corn to name but a few. The process of malting involves soaking the grain, causing it to germinate, before stopping the process with heat. The amount of heat applied to the grain has a huge impact on the final brew determining the colour of the liquid and it’s viscosity. The sugars produced by the malt help create a sweet backbone to every brew that provides a foil to the bitter, tart or floral flavours brought by the hops.
Beer has been around for at least 7000 years but yeast was only discovered to be an essential ingredient in the early 1700s, following the invention of the microscope. In contrast to water, proportionally the main ingredient in a brew but often overlooked, the active element of yeast is tiny but has an enormous impact in the way a beer turns out. Broadly divisible into two main categories – ale yeasts (which work better at higher temperatures) and lager yeasts (which require cold to do their work) – yeasts feed on sugars in the malt to create fermentation which generates alcohol, C02 and contributes to the flavour profile. For such a small thing it’s a pretty big deal!
Hops mainly serve to bring the flavour to a brew, though they also happen to function as a preservative too. A tall growing vine, which is part of the cannabis family of plants, there are two broad flavour spectrums which this magical plant can bring to beer – bitterness and aroma. Bittering hops are added to the wort boil at an early stage to activate and release their alpha acids while hop aromas come from essential oils which are a lot more sensitive, they’re added at the last minute to preserve their unique flavour. Hop concentration is measured in IBUs (international bittering units) – the higher the number the hoppier the beer.
Malt is mixed with hot water in the mash tun to form a mash. The heat from the water activates the enzymes in the malt, creating sugar – the first step on the road to fermentation. The spent malt is separated from the sugary liquor – called wort – which is then brought to a strong boil for a couple of hours during which we’ll add bittering and aromatic hops at various stages.
The wort is transferred to stainless steel fermenters and we add our yeast – it’s the most volatile element of any brew so we nurture and handle it with care. Depending on the style of beer being brewed different temperatures are required so we carefully monitor the heat as the magic creation of alcohol occurs. Once fermentation has finished the beer is left to condition, allowing the remaining yeast to absorb undesirable flavour elements, a process that takes about a week with most of our ales and closer to six for London Pilsner.
Once the beer is ready for drinking we filter it naturally, removing the spent yeast to leave a beautifully clear, bright beer. Then, depending on whether it’s destined for keg, cask, can or bottle we may apply CO2 to give it fizz before kegging or add a little sugar and yeast to allow the brew to continue to mature in bottle. After that it’s time for a drink!
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