My work; outside of beer, with just a little bit of it inside too.

For over twenty years I have worked as an electrical engineer within the water pump industry, working with all sorts of pumps from domestic shower pumps right up to large industrial applications.  The work wasn’t just limited to pumps though, it was all types of rotating electrical plant; if you can think of a piece of equipment containing an electric motor, I’ve probably worked on it.

The largest of which was on board HMS Ocean whilst it was docked in Devonport.  We replaced bearings on the motors that powered the ships gun compressors.  These motors were huge, 265kw and weighing nearly a ton each.  The bearings were pretty hefty too, I could easily put my leg through the centre of one!

In amongst all this heavy industrial work, I’ve kept a few brewery pumps running too. The first brewery I can recall visiting for work was O’Hanlons.  There have been a fair few others along the way, but it all started here.

Prior to becoming just Hanlons and its relocation to Half Moon, the brewery was based on a farm just outside Whimple.  It was pretty rustic to say the least, the track that led to the brewery skirted a field and would have been the ideal playground for someone like Petter Solberg or Marcus Gronholm, but for me in my van it was ridiculous.  When you eventually reached the brewery you were often greeted by a large boar that pretty much roamed free, but it was fine, you just accepted it and got on with it.

Fighting through the cigarette smoke in the office, you’d check in and find out what needed doing.  The brewery itself was served by a borehole and a well, each having their own pumps and water treatment.  The equipment had a hard life and breakdowns were inevitable, regular servicing was required too.  Even though I got to know the equipment very well, you just never knew where the next failure would be.  But the one thing I did know, was that without water, there would be no beer, so the pressure was always on to get things working again.

Once the job was finished, I’d often leave with a few bottles of Yellow Hammer.  This was the Yellow Hammer I loved, bottle conditioned and slightly hazy, I could drink bucket loads of this golden fruity delight, and did too! It was just a beautiful beer.

Back then, the thought of being self employed never even crossed my mind, I had no reason to be self employed, so why would I be?  But, like everything, I had to change.  The driving force behind this change was the arrival of our baby, Ace, and for the last seven months I have been self employed and doing what I have always done, working with electrics, pumps and water.

The brewery work has continued too, I was approached by Two Drifters shortly before Christmas and asked if I would install some water filtration plant in their new brewery. How could I say no?  A new local brewery, promising new beers, with strong ethics in sustainability and carbon negativity; this was going to be a slightly different challenge, but one I was up for.

In late 2018, Gemma & Russ Wakeham began the massive task of setting up their brewery on the outskirts of Exeter.  Located near the airport and powered by 100% zero emission energy, everything about the brewery had to be managed and controlled with sustainability in mind.  Their plans were big too.

The finished product was to be delivered locally in the brewery’s own electrically powered van, which would only be charged at the brewery by their zero emission electricity.  The use of carbon neutral couriers would enable the products to venture a little further too.

To go beyond carbon neutrality and become carbon negative, the brewery will be working in partnership with Climeworks to remove CO2 from the air.  By using direct air capture, more CO2 is removed from the atmosphere than is produced in the emissions from the production, manufacturing and transportation of the ingredients that are used for brewing.

This technique will enable Russ and Gemma to create what they believe to be, the world’s first carbon negative brewery and distillery.

The plan for my work was to install a water softener, reverse osmosis unit and an ultraviolet steriliser, along with a pump and some plumbing around the brewery.  With this equipment in place, the incoming water would be completely stripped of its chemical and bacteriological load and later remineralised to suit any style of beer.  Various tappings were installed throughout the brewery to give the option of using raw, softened or RO water.  These different waters could then be used for different processes in the brewery, depending on the requirements of the process.  A mechanical seal cooling system for the brewery pumps was also plumbed in.

The RO water was also piped over to the distillery to be used in the production of rum.  The six stills all required a water flow and return, with individual isolation and flow controls.  I modified an underfloor heating manifold to provide exactly this.  Each still has its own isolation valve and manual flow regulator, giving complete control of the distilling process.  The return water is not wasted either, it’s collected or passed back to the brewery for further use.

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Following on from this, I was asked to install the chiller system for the four fermenting vessels and cold liquor tank.  This was a big job for one man, with over seventy metres of pipe to snake around the brewery and into each vessel, along with solenoid valves, pressure regulators and commissioning valves.  A continuous circuit had to be achieved and the flow through each vessel balanced.  It had to look good too.  With this pipework being constantly on show, the angles had to be just so.  Being predominantly solvent weld ABS, you only get one shot at getting the final assembly correct, so there’s no place for any inaccurate measurements.  But when finished, it was incredibly satisfying to take a step back and just admire those angles.

Shortly after completion and commissioning, the beer entered the fermenting vessels for the first time to do its thing.  Drifters Gold was the beer of choice, a light golden beer with the right attributes for some summer drinking.  Swiftly followed by Sunrise, a peach infused pale, generously hopped to amplify the adjunct.

Both beers were due to be canned and the contract canning company had been booked weeks in advance, way before I’d even started to install the chilling equipment!  The pressure to complete in time was immense, but it all came together in the end and both Drifters Gold and Sunrise made it into cans, nestled in biodegradable can holders.

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Seeing both of these beers, and the rum, available to buy in local outlets, and directly from the brewery itself, was incredibly satisfying.  After all of the work I’d put in, which totalled well over 100 hours of labour, it was really quite overwhelming.

 

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Black Tor Brewery – The bottled beers.

Set in the beautiful Teign Valley, just outside of Exeter and right on the edge of Dartmoor, is the Black Tor Brewery.  Recently under new management and in the process of rejuvenating some familiar recipes, along with adding in some new ones, Black Tor are ready to deliver some fine ale, to not just their local Devonians, but to as far a field as their beer may be requested.  As Jonathon, the head brewer, personally delivers casks of beer to pubs dotted about the South West and further afield when called upon.

Using traditional brewing methods, along with combining local and natural ingredients supplied by Tuckers Maltings, Black Tor are producing some fantastic classic ales, which, offer a nice distraction to the rat race that is the world of Craft Beer.  And sometimes it’s nice to take a step back and relax with a fine ale instead.  Just take a minute, or twenty, and sit and ponder over the exquisite, deep, and long lasting flavours that a proper hand crafted ale can give up.  Take your time, enjoy, and savour every last drop.  You mustn’t forget, that traditional ales are the heart of our country, and deep in the depths of our counties, there’s many a fine brew being laboured over as we speak.

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In addition to the well travelled casks, Black Tor are now offering their beer in bottle conditioned form.  I was fortunate enough to be able taste a sample of Raven whilst on a recent work call to the brewery, and I was delighted by the fact that this beer would be available in bottles along with two others, Devonshire Pale Ale (DPA) and Pride of Dartmoor.

All of the trio are staple brews and offer a good insight to the brewery’s work, and I’m sure, once you’ve managed to empty your glass, slowly, you’ll be on the hunt for more.

So let’s get started shall we?  Pull up a chair, preferably your favourite one, set the dog on it’s bed and go.  Grab yourself a bottle of Raven and a glass.  Crack the top, release that gentle fizz, and now pour.  Nice and slowly, leaving the sediment behind, or not, its your choice after all.  Now sit down, put your feet up and admire that glorious, glowing, reddish copper liquid before you.

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Allow your nose to take in the sweet caramel and berry aroma, breathe deeply now, we’ve only just begun and you’re in for a treat.  Follow that aroma, and dive in for a taste.  The smooth caramel butteriness develops into some further summer fruits, leaving you with a medium bitterness that just craves another gulp.

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When you’re ready to move on from the Raven, it’s time to get acquainted with the DPA.  Offering another fantastic show of colour, the DPA sits before you proudly showing off it’s rich golden depth.  The aroma starts off a nice hint of caramel with a dusting of a fruity funk.  And it’s the gorgeous caramel that initiates the soft mouthfeel, leaving you with a lightly bitter and bready finish.

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And if you’re ready for your final instalment of the evening, then reach for the Pride of Dartmoor.  That beautiful, deep, autumnal glow lets you know that something good is sat before you.  With it’s grassy, biscuity aroma leading on to a taste that’s almost like a toffee apple, the soft mouthfeel leaves you with a lovely toffee taste and a light bitterness in the back of your mouth.

As is often the case with bottled ales, I do feel that they have lost a little something in the bottling process.  The Raven, at least, has a slightly fuller flavour when drawn from the cask, and it’s a shame that the same flavour profile isn’t present in the bottle.  But, all in all, these three are really nice ales, and Jonathon should be commended for his efforts in taking the brewery on and the work he has done in order to make these beers available.

He has the enthusiasm and also the will to create something good, and I would like to take this opportunity to wish him all the best in his brewing venture and also to thank him for providing the beers that enabled me to write this post.

Visit the Black Tor website here.

Follow them on Twitter here.

Hops & Crafts, Exeter’s newest bottle shop, is now open for business.

Situated in McCoys Arcade in Fore Street, alongside a wide array of local independent traders, the shelves are primed, ready to quench the needs of thirsty Exonians with a battery of craft beer and local ales.

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With the unfortunate departure of Whistle Wines from Queen Street earlier in the year, Exeter City Centre was crying out for a good bottle shop, and Hops & Crafts has filled the void with an outstanding variety of offerings from the likes of Beavertown, Siren, The Kernel and many, many more; Some of which are unfamiliar to me, but no doubt, in time, will become less so.

But what I really wanted to know was, just how did Exeter become home to this bijou beer boutique?

Being one of the first customers through the door on opening day, I was able to quiz the proprietor, Chris Harper, to get a little insight on his beery journey from Fort Collins, Colorado, all the way to Exeter.

My taste for craft beer developed whilst living in Fort Collins between 2004 & 2012, this was when a microbrewery was a microbrewery, and not craft. When we arrived in Fort Collins there were five breweries.  This number had increased to eight on our leaving, but now the total amounts to more than a dozen!

On top of the breweries, the local taprooms also played a part in the huge beer culture in the area. Feeding the locals with all the knowledge and the beer that they craved. These became the destination of choice when you had guests from out of town to entertain or where you went any day of the week to try some new project beer the brewers did just for fun.

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My love for Belgian beers started in Fort Collins too, at the hugely popular hometown brewer gone rockstar big – New Belgium Brewing Co.  A brewery who exclusively brewed Belgian style beer, but their range has since expanded to include various other styles too.  

So if you couple all of this, to the classic American liquor stores where you could go in and choose from dozens, if not hundreds of beers, then you’ll see why I felt like Exeter was a let down in the beer department.  The problem I had with the local beer was that it just wasn’t what I was used to, and although I did eventually begin to appreciate the traditional ales, I never found anything that I truly loved.

It is somewhat of an understatement to say we were spoiled for choice in Fort Collins and since moving to Exeter I had been longing for a better selection of good beer.

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During a cycling trip to Belgium in 2013, where I brought back far more beer than I could actually carry, I discovered that the so called ‘special’ beers, that commanded a premium at home, were available in pretty much every convenience store and at normal prices too.  This was fantastic, however, once again, I knew I was ruined on British beer.  

I knew there was room for improvement, and after sampling some Magic Rock and Wild Beer at the Beer Cellar, my eyes were opened to the other side of the British brewing industry.  The Beer Cellar may only have been host to four taps and a few bottles, but, I knew there was hope.

I’ve never considered myself the entrepreneurial type, but after dwelling on the thought of opening a bottle shop, I decided it was time to put my videography background on the back burner and concentrate on this new venture.  The idea was stuck inside my head for a long time and when I eventually pitched it to my wife, she embraced it and said I should do it!  

After completing the course to obtain my Personal License in July of this year, things came along nicely, right up to the opening of the shop last Friday.

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The response prior to opening had been fantastic, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all develops.  I just hope the brewers and distributors will acknowledge that there is a population south of Bristol who likes good beer, and when they do, I’ll be a lot better off and have a lot more to offer folks like you!

So, come on people of Exeter, the next time you’re in town make sure you head down to McCoys arcade, pop in to Hops & Crafts and stock up your beer cupboard with something a little different.

Follow Hops & Crafts on Twitter here.

Or visit their website.