Process Developments at S.M.O.D.

Beer is a tortuous beverage for the folks trying to make it. While it’s easy to devote your whole life to making the stuff, it is really hard to translate that into truly “great” beer. Here at the Brewery of Saint Mars of the Desert we’ve just taken one more baby step towards the ultimate goal.

For those of you still recovering from my last blog post I’ll make this short and sweet. Hopefully you all know that most of our beer is produced using a “coolship”. This is the step post boil where we transfer all of our hot wort to a roughly rectangular stainless steel trough. Once inside we add hops at various stages, the wort cools somewhat, aerates and then we pump through a paraflow heat exchanger to primary fermentation. This is how our brewery works and is one of the things at the heart of the character of our beers. If you’re one of the brewers who aspires to “low oxygen” brewing on the hot side, turn your heads now because this is quite the opposite! The cold side however is a different story altogether.

Recently a friend very kindly welded a stainless steel basket for us that was designed after many I have seen around Europe including in some of my favourite breweries. It’s a “hop back” in the original sense I think. The idea is that you load it with whole- cone hops and the wort is forced to pass through upon entry to the coolship. Firstly, this extra charge of hops is a filter bed which keeps back “hot break” from soiling your lovely wort. Secondly, since all of the wort must pass through the hop back and these hops, the wort is further protected from lactobacillus evolution (in the cases we don’t want it).

But Martha and I keep noticing more and more benefit from this new piece. The head retention of the final product has been massively increased, as has everything having to do with our beer’s head: the look, the texture, the Brussels lace. During canning the increased head stability protects the beer from oxygen and has helped us achieve O2 levels in the can that we could only have dreamed of before –that and a few wise nuggets from our good friends at Thornbridge Brewery.

Lastly, even though we’re talking about a very small amount of hops in a 17 hectolitre batch size – the hop character it lends is a big, juicy, spicy hit that evolves in a completely separate layer to the others. The hop character from it starts off predictably enough for whole cones, i.e. that spicy “pipe tobacco” description looms large. As days add up to a week that flavour mellows to soft ripe melon in what seems to me like a most unlikely metamorphosis.

You’ll probably notice it in our new beers: Old School Quality and Floribunda and you’ll definitely clock it in the latest batch of CLAMP.

All praise to the humble basket and all of its fabulous potential.