There was something slightly different to do this weekend, thanks to a really great Christmas pressie (my beer fixation must be getting through). A basics of brewing course over Saturday afternoon with Robert Knops, owner/brewer of Knops Beer in Edinburgh. I'd tried a couple of Knops Beers previously and they'd all been great (though more hops in the IPA, please!) so I was looking forward to this. The course/tasting was being organised and held in Provenance Wines, Home Street in Edinburgh by the lovely owner Valerie.
FYI - this cost of this was £30 and included were the sandwiches and snacks provided by Valerie - pretty damn good as well.
I wasn't quite sure what the basics of brewing would entail - if it was going to be pictures of mash tuns, fermenters etc... in various breweries then I think most of the 8 people attending would have been snoring away (as would the gentle readers of this blog), but instead it was a more of a chemistry/economics how-to brew, with liberal anecdotes and (importantly) a good amount of examples (OK - samples), provided from the shelves of the shop including Augustiner Helles, Black Isle Scotch Ale, Harviestoun Old Engine Oil, Goose Island 312 Wheat, Rodenbach Grand Cru and most of the Knops Beers.
Bob first of all gave a very quick run-through of his personal brewing history - brewing degree from Heriot-Watt, assistant at Castle Eden Brewery in the North of England, then jobs at some of the big brewers, Bass and Coors (he helped introduce Carling lager into Scotland - a claim to shame!), a return to Scotland with Stewart Brewing, and then the setup of Knops Beer. He did look at possible sites for his own brewery but eventually decided it was easier to start off as a 'cuckoo brewer', perform all the initial test brews on his own kit in his garage, then brew and bottle large scale quantities on the Traditional Scottish Ales (TSA) equipment in Stirling.
Bob then really just went through the main 4 brewing ingredients and described their relevant characteristics and what happens to them in the brewing process (very, very quick summary below - any brewing people reading this can skip to the end).
Definition of mineral content and examples from various brewing cities around the world (Edinburgh, Burton, London, Pilsen, Dublin)
Mineral calculations for reaching the correct levels for different beer types
Malt samples - Bob had pale, chocolate and crystal to hand out (and nibble!)
Close-up study of a barley grain (a serious close-up !)
Calculations of malt quantity from a desired Final Gravity (FG) and abv and also approxinate beer colour from the malt used
Hop samples - Bob had Challenger & Centennial (I think) to hand round and be rubbed - some great aromas!
Alpha and beta acids, different essential hop oils
Bittering, flavour and aroma timings in the boil
Alpha acids to IBU calculation. I was surprised at the relatively small amount of hops required to give a fairly hoppy beer
Types - ale and lager, country yeasts
Esters and phenols from yeast types - amazing what they can bring to the beer (esp. the aroma)
Oxygenation and yeast profile over the fermentation period
Why Diacetyl and Acetaldehyde happen
Bob then quickly went through the entire brewing process and the equipment that was required/possible after explaining these ingredients. This all certainly made a lot more sense after knowing a bit more about all the constituent parts.
Although this might seem seem a bit technical, it was really well put over and Bob was always keen to point out that experimentation was absolutely key - always go out and try it yourself.
Bob was a most engaging and informative host, and I left with definitely more of an understanding regarding the science of brewing. There was also time to pick up a few bottles of interesting beer from Provenance Wines, including a bottle of Bob's latest beer based on an old recipe/inspiration, Black Cork.