Project Brewery Part 2

So we’ve bought all the kit we need to make beer. Brewhouse, FV’s/CT’s, pumps, heat exchangers and bottling line. All we need to do now is wait for it all to arrive and plug it in! Happy days! What, wait..we need a different type of power supply? And drained flooring? And a glycol cooling system? And permission for all this from the landlord? Aw jeez…

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Part 2 of this blog is all about the infrastructure and planning required to turn our warehouse into a brewery. Honestly when we began the process of planning this out our expectation was that finding the kit was the big job. In reality it’s the preparation of the space that’s taken the most time, and almost as much money!

So, what have we needed to do?

Planning:

Check and sign off on planning use of warehouse.

Receive permission from landlord for improvements to flooring

Receive permission from local water company to drop commercial waste into drains

Amend brewery license to increase production and change layout


Building works:

Install 3 phase electrics

Install required wiring to effectively power all equipment

Install brewery control panel

Install drained flooring with resin non slip covering

Install full glycol cooling system to effectively temperature control all vessels

Install new cooling system for cold room

Reconfigure entire layout of both buildings

Our first job was planning our brewery out, both in size of production and layout. Really I can’t believe how much of what we’ve done has had to depend on utter guess work. The question ‘how big a kit do we need?’ had to be decided before we did anything. How much more beer will we need/do we want to produce..our 15bbl kit with 6 FV’s (2500L tank capacity) will allow us to brew around 50% more than we currently are able to brew as gypsy brewers. Is that the right size? Only time will tell….

So, 15bbl it is, with 6 FV’s. We were then able to draw out a plan for the brewery. Annoyingly that’s not a rough sketch, but the plan we needed to submit to HMRC as our new brewery plan to allow that to be processed  in time. So no last minute change of minds then. We also needed to submit an application to Bristol Water and Wessex Water to ask for permission to draw large quantities of water from the system and also to put trade effluent back into the system. Both required litres per hour and per year estimates. Now we had our brewery size that was a little easier to calculate but again, the numbers are based on guess work. It’s pretty scary submitting all these official documents when we feel like we’re just sticking a finger in the air!

Planning use for our warehouse luckily was no bother, after a quick phone call to the local planning department they confirmed that our current use permission covers use as a small brewery, so we were able to sign that off with no stress.

We’ve had a great relationship with our landlord since day 1. They’ve been really communicative and friendly towards us and generally excited to have a beer producer on the site. We’d discussed improvements and amendments to the building and had verbal confirmation everything we were planning to do was going to be cool with them. Then in February we received a letter telling us that our landlord had gone bankrupt and that the property had been repossessed by the bank. Our lease is fine and we retain our right to be there, but it’s meant that rather than communicating with a person that has a connection to us and to the property, we’re communicating with an agent for a financial institution who has no interest other than receiving our cash. To say this has caused a hassle would be putting it lightly. Slow communications and blunt refusals, plus outrageous increases to our service charges have been the norm so far. On the flip side we’ve been able to do everything we required to do, it’s just taken an awful lot more work to get there than I believe was necessary. We got there though, and that’s the main thing. So what have we had to do to the building?

Electrics:

Cost of Materials: £5500

Cost of Labour: £2000

Supplier: Handy Electrical (www.handyelectrical.co.uk)

We’ve had to change the entire fuse box from a 1 phase to a 3 phase (essentially making it larger and more robust to carry more power to the kit) and then run new cabling and install new sockets for all equipment. We’ve went heavy on the equipment and set it up to be able to handle loads above our max capacity to ensure we don’t get caught out. While this squeezed our budget heavily we all felt it was well worth the investment at the beginning of the project to put in a robust and professional electrical supply.

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Glycol Chilling For Fermenters and Cold Liquor Tank:

Cost of Chiller: £8500

Supplier: ICS Cooling (www.icscoolenergy.com)

Cost in internal materials: £7500

Cost of Labour: £3500

Supplier: Handy Electrical (www.handyelectrical.co.uk)

This was a sore one as the install was more than the chiller itself. On the other hand effective cooling and temperature control is utterly critical when fermenting wort so to cut corners at this stage would be to utterly undermine the investments into every other part of the project. We’ve got a glycol cooling system that is totally capable of dealing with our brewery requirements and (fingers crossed) won’t let us down!

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Drained Flooring

Cost of Drained Floor: £8500

Supplier: Polydeck Resin (www.polydeckgroup.co.uk)

These guys were superstars of the highest degree. After Harzfloor took our deposit and ran for the hills (court case ongoing) Polydeck stepped in and were on site within the week. They recognised we’d been left in an extremely difficult spot both financially and our project timeline  and put their full efforts behind making sure the floor was down before our brewery arrived. It’s rare you see large companies taking a personal approach, but these guys did. I will genuinely be eternally grateful to Joe at Polydeck for the efforts he made making it happen. Plus, the floor looks epic!

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Water Pipework

Cost of Materials: £1500

Cost of Labour: £800

Supplier: Handy Electrical (www.handyelectrical.co.uk)

You’d think that running extra water pipes from the mains into the brewery area would be easy….not with the specifications that our water suppliers require it’s not! Double check valves at every point, filters, more filters, increased pipe diameters from the mains inlet, all adds up to quite a job. I’d budgeted a few hundred pounds for this section and it escalated badly!

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Total costs of internal work to the building are detailed below:

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When we began putting the project together my estimations were far less for this part of the project than we ended up spending. By the time the project plans had been been finalised we felt we had a better understanding and had increased our budget for internal works to to around £30000. I really feel that we did everything we could to maintain low costs while  doing everything we had to to install a professional system that would do the job the require from it. My advice to anyone going into to a brewery build project would be to take the numbers we’ve spent as realistic and ensure they have the budget to cover this side. While it’s added on a huge amount to our overall costs, I firmly believe the investment into the internal infrastructure will pay back  hugely in both brewery functionality (and by extension on going costs and team moral) and quality of beer produced.

Project Brewery Part 1

6 months ago I wrote a blog post setting out our aims and goals for 2017. We’re now 5 whole months in. So where have we got too? Well we’ve spent a lot of money, and we’ve not got any kit to show for it! So a pretty poor start on the face of it, but scratch below the surface and it looks a little rosier.

4 weeks ago we placed the deposits on all our equipment that is going to become our brewery. The economics of buying a brewery are a little painful cash flow wise, and as we have decided to buy new it becomes even more painful. Stainless steel is a pretty good investment. It doesn't depreciate hugely (if you look after the kit!) and is pretty easily resellable. But as it needs fabricated all brewery builders ask for a pretty hefty deposit up front (in our case a mix of 30% and 40% as we’ve bought from 3 different suppliers) before they will commence fabrication. 12 weeks later our kit will arrive….we hope! We’ve gone with suppliers we know, and suppliers that have worked with people we know. So we have a fair confidence that the kit we are going to receive in exchange for our hard earned is actually what they say it is going to be, and that it will arrive on time.

So, what have we bought?

Out kettle.

Out kettle.

 

Brewhouse and 2 x FV’s =

Mash Tun, Kettle, Hot Liquor Tank, Cold Liquor Tank

All associated stainless steel pipework, pumps and heat exchanges

What  size: 2000L working capacity

Fermenters -

2 x Dish Bottom (10 degree cone) FV’s

What size: 2500L

Who we bought it from: Elite Stainless (www.esfabrications.co.uk)

What it cost: £42000 ex vat

Why we chose these folks: We brewed a collab with the superstars down at Verdant in February, and they bought their whole brewery from Elite last year. We were able to gain a great deal of confidence in the quality of the equipment and Elites ability to deliver on time and on budget.

Our FV/CT's.

Our FV/CT's.

 

Fermenters -

4 x 70 Degree Cone Dual Purpose Vessels

Who we bought them from: Malrex Fabrications (www.malrexfabrication.co.uk)

What they cost: £41000 ex vat

 

Why we chose these vessels: We invested into these vessels and paid a premium for them to allow us to both ferment and condition in the same tank (our dish bottom FV’s from Elite will mainly be used for cask and for primary fermentation of our sour beers). The steep cones will allow us to both crop our own yeast and heavily dry hop while saving on wastage. These vessels are top of the range and will last us a lifetime.

 

Why we chose these folks: Jon at Arbor Ales has been using Malex for years and speaks really highly of them. We’ve brewed on Arbors kit many times and love the quality.

 

Bottling Line -

IC Filling 662 Bottling Line

Who we bought it from: IC Filling (www.icfillingsystems.com)

What it cost us: £32000

Why we chose this line: On our budget we had a choice of either this line or a Meheen (the same line Cloudwater used until they recently replaced with their canning line). They were really the only viable options that allowed the quality and speed. We chose the IC primarily because our friends over at Lost and Grounded have one and have spoken very highly of it.  From all angles, extremely low dissolved oxygen levels, consistency of use and speed of use, we hope this bit of kit will allow us to really commit to our stubbies and get them out to the wider world on a consistent basis.

 

Our second hand ex-Chanti Foudre.

Our second hand ex-Chanti Foudre.

Foudre -

1200L Ex Chanti Foudre with full drainage system and RJT Fittings

Who we bought it from: Garbellotto (www.garbellotto.com)

What it cost us: £2000

Why we chose these folks: Honestly, they were one of the very very few foudre suppliers I could find. After a lot of research (hunting google!) I found these guys. Along with a few other suppliers who were horrifically expensive these seemed like the best option. As they are new to us and we don’t not have a reference we have bought 1 second hand Foudre and are awaiting delivery to check quality of product and service. If all is good we will go back and buy 2 x new and 1 more second hand ex wine.

The space where our brewery is going to sit.

The space where our brewery is going to sit.

 And that’s it! Delivery is expected in the 3rd week of July for all equipment. £50000 ex vat lighter (we have to pay vat and wait to claim it back) with bills due on delivery of a further £65000. How have we paid for it? Well, that’s another blog post! In the meantime we are organising the warehouse in preparation for the brewery to arrive. New drained floor, electrics, planning permissions, brewery license amendment, new premises license application for tap room..the list goes on! My intention is to write a series of blogs in the coming weeks detailing the costs, suppliers and financials of all parts of the process. I hope you enjoy them!

Well That Was A F@cking Disaster

As gyspy brewers we’ve found the solution to getting our beers into bottles or cans to be probably the biggest ongoing frustration we’ve experienced throughout our first 2 years. Only one of the breweries we work with has a bottling line, and they can only allow us to bottle into the bottle shape and size they use. So when we came across a company last year who offered a canning solution that seemed to tick all the boxes we were really excited. We spent a great deal of time playing with our branding to work with the cans shape and colour, and spent an even greater amount of time working with them to tie down the processes they would use during the time they were handling our beer to satisfy ourselves that the beer would be returned to us in as great a condition as it left us. When we finally sent the beer we also packaged half the batches into keg so we would be able to taste the exact same beer from tap as well as can to allow us to really appreciate the impact the canning process was having on our beers from a consumer perspective.

 

We sent both USPA and IPA and waited with not a little anticipation for the beer to be returned to us in cans. When they arrived we were like a bunch of kids at Christmas, until we opened the cases….and a great deal of disappointment set in. The labels on the cans were quite obviously bubbled and in some cases creased. A phone call to the team who packaged the beers eased our worry for a few days as they assured us that the bubbles would dissipate as the cans were moved and agitated, causing greater pressure in the can and forcing the bubbles out from under the labels. Sounded unlikely at the time, and even more so now looking back, but at the time I was just happy to have the possibility of a solution. We tasted the cans and honestly they tasted great. Next to the keg, there was no discernible difference. So it looked like we had some work to do on the labelling but the actual canning had been a success. We released the cans to market (having sold the entire runs before they landed back to us we had them in our warehouse for a total of 3 days) and awaited with excitement the feedback. Within 2 weeks though it became apparent that we had some issues with Diacetyl formation in a small percentage of the cans. This leads to a butterscotch type flavour and the dissipation of hop character. In hoppy pales, not great.

'Photos of us when tasting diacetyl.....'

The cause of this could be microbial infection or excess oxygen exposure during handling. We are unsure what the exact cause but as the problem only seemed to occur in a small percentage of the cans it is likely there was a problem with one of the filling heads, be it infection or oxygen exposure. If the cause was oxygen expose if would be pretty ironic considering that one of the benefits to us of cans was the presumed safety and protection from oxygen exposure! The canning company are not accepting responsibility, but can also tell us that the beer was not compromised when it arrived with them. As there is only a small proportion of the cans that have been affected we can only surmise that they had an issue with one of the filling heads, or there were some pauses during the filling process where some cans were allowed to sit without being sealed for longer than was ideal, allowing O2 pick up. We are pretty gutted about this as in 2 years of brewing we’ve never had any issues with diacetyl. I’d like to stress at this point that if anyone has had a can that has been affected please drop us an email at beer@lefthandedgiant.com and we’ll arrange for it to be replaced with our new bottles wherever you are. We are utterly committed to presenting great beer, fresh. In this instance we’ve allowed our ambition to get beer into cans to compromise that.

test bottle of Duet.

test bottle of Duet.

 

Lessons learned? We were really apprehensive about sending our beer out of our hands to allow someone else to package for us. We should have listened to our gut instinct and stuck with what we can control, which is keeping the beer in our own hands and within our own processes. Every experience, good and bad, is a lesson to move forward with. We’ve got big plans for 2017. The future is bright. The future is in Stubbies!

The Economies of a Small Brewer

This is a blog post I wrote just about exactly a year ago. I felt very exposed writing it, and ultimately decided to leave it lying in a folder unused. We’ve just closed out our second year of trading and posted a profit. A small one, but it shows that the actions we took in our 2nd year were fundamentally sound and based upon good reason. I think this has given me the confidence in the convictions and reasonings that are detailed below to make this public. I hope you enjoy it.

 

The Economies of a Small Brewer
 

It’s taken me some time to come to terms with the following, for a number of reasons. As a bar owner (and going back further, bar manager) and a wholesaler for the elite of the UK beer scene, the trend towards packaging wholly or at least largely in keg has been a bone of contention.

We’ve seen Brewdog begin the trend (to much criticism). People like The Kernel start up and flat out refuse to do cask from the get go. Then the last year or so Buxton, Magic Rock and Beavertown either cease to do cask entirely or price it to the point where it equates to the same thing. I, like most, saw this as a way of shadowing the cool kids over in the US making great beer The UK, as it so often does, taking its influences in trends directly from what’s came before across the pond.

The last year however has opened my eyes and allowed me to see more sides to the argument, and to have a broader view as to what is currently going on in the UK beer scene when it comes to the keg vs cask debate. I’m still entirely unsure as to whether this is something I feel comfortable discussing in a public forum as unfortunately where the buck stops (as it so often does) is with price.

It’s with cost of product against achievable sale price. And it’s about an unwillingness of the new kids in the UK brewing scene to compromise their product and thereby lessen its cost to produce that is driving the huge shift towards keg packaging. I could be way off here, as I haven’t interviewed every brewer in the land, but let me share my experience on the matter to allow me to explain.

December 2014 Rich, Jack and I sat down together to discuss the beer we would produce, and the packaging we would use to present to market. We, as is fairly typical I believe, think that some beer style are better suited to keg and others to cask. We were very keen to present in both containers, and while some styles we would keg more of, others we would cask more of. Largely, I think we expected to end our first year with around a 50/50 split keg to cask. And we set off in that vein. We costed out beers before we produced them, but didn’t let cost dictate how we would brew and the ingredients we would use. We looked at our peers in the industry to try to figure out an achievable sale price for our beers, trying to set a fair price that would still allowed a margin to allow us to pay the bills at the end of the day. We are not trying to become millionaires, but we are trying to ensure we can eat! The thing that jumped out at us from day 1 was the difference in what we were going to be able to charge for our keg products than for our cask. We keg into 30L containers, and our casks are 41L. However when it came to our achievable sale price, they are almost the same. That’s a painful fact, and one that tells a painful story. If you take a cask from us you are getting 11L for free over the same purchase in keg. The immediate response to this is going to be a familiar one. 

KEGS A RIP OFF. These new craft breweries are charging an arm and a leg for their keg beers and taking advantage of the cool factor, pocketing a huge margin at the expense of the paying public!
This is a fair reading of the subject, if you look at it from only one perspective. That one perspective tells us that you buy a cask beer at tap for £2.50 and the same beer on tap for £3.50 that the brewery is ripping the bar off, that the bar is ripping the customer off, or probably a combination of both. In my experience, that is certainly not the case. See below an example of a beer we sell, translated from sale price from us to a bar, then translated from that point through to the customer.

£79 for the cask or keg, the bar aiming for a 61% gross profit, which is pretty low for a public house. Most would aim for 65% plus, but the one’s I have/do operate aim for low 60’s. The cask comes out at £3.30, the keg comes out at £4.74. Seems madness on the face of it, but for the bar to stay in business they need to hit these numbers (most bars operational/fixed costs run out at around 45 to 50% of their turnover). If they hit 60% on their sales they’ll leave themselves with 10 to 15% of their turnover as profit, or which they’ll lose 20% on corporation tax. If they have a great year they may turnover £500000. That will leave them with 10% so £50000 before tax, £40000 after. Great if the bar is owned by one person, but bars are usually not, so you are splitting your 40k between the group. It’s a lot of work for  small numbers) 

So what’s going wrong? The bars not ripping you off, so it must be the brewery, right? How can the achievable sales price on a cask and a keg be so vastly different?? And here is the rub. It’s not the keg that’s over priced, it’s our cask that is underpriced and undervalued. Sounds like an easy excuse, and an easy way to up your prices, pocket a fortune and ride off into the sunset in my gold plated ferrari. 

Not my gold plated ferrari...

Not my gold plated ferrari...

Historically cask has been a relatively cheap product for pubs to get hold of. We still routinely get emails from breweries offering 41L casks to us for £50 a unit, or offering buy 2 get 1 free deals. The fact of the matter is that one cask does not cost the same to produce as another. The breweries that have been selling cask for many years at these low prices, and setting the expectation of the paying public are quite simply putting less ingredients, and ingredients of lower quality into their beers. Depressing the expected value at the tap with an average product. And that’s cool, as there are people out there that want that product. Not everyone wants a premium, full flavoured and vibrant beer. The bother is that publicans and consumers expect to pay the same for one as they do the other, despite the vastly different costs to produce. To put things in perspective once again with the figures.

In our first year of trading we lost £18000. It hurts to write that, as I find it embarrassing, but I am sure we are not the only one’s to set up a brewery full of expectation only to have the opening year deal them a very serious dose of reality. We sold more than we thought we would, we just made far less from those sales than we expected too! An example of the same beer I detailed above with the bar sale price as now detailed below from cost of production through our (average) sale price(while our list price is £79 we sell to 4 wholesalers around the UK who we need to discount to allow them to sell to market at around £79. 

Our average sale price (factoring in our sales to wholesalers) are vastly different between keg and cask. That’s part of what’s caught us out. Our wholesaler partners take far more cask than keg, meaning we are discounting more for that package than keg. We also have found that while we may stick a £79 price tag on our cask, the reality is that every customer wants to pay less. We are constantly in a state of fighting against the demand to sell cheaper. So while our average sales price on cask ends up over our first year being £68.23, our average sales price for keg is £77.01, very close to our actual list price (which is what we built all our projections on. If we were to go back and redo our first year and package everything into keg, we’d currently have profit in the bank.

That’s simplistic I know, we wouldn’t have sold as much). Our fixed/ operational costs in year one were just about 50% of our turnover, about what we expected. We expected our year 1 to be tight, and expected to clear about a 5% nett margin (to split 3 way) as our expected profit on sales was 55%. The difference in projected profit, to actual profit/loss, was all in cask. Our actual margin for cask was 43%, which means for every cask we sold we were losing 7%. We could have not bothered selling cask, halved out turnover and came out with more money (and a profit). I suspect that this is an experience that every small brewery in the country has came across over the last few years, and I suspect that this has also been behind the decisions to quit cask entirely, to increase prices or to cut back hugely production into cask.

I want to stress something at this point, as this blog is very cash/margin orientated. We don’t run a brewery for the cash, or the margin. We do it because we love beer, we love the industry, and we believe that we can bring something fresh to the party and help cement the UK beer scene as among the best in the world. 

To do that though, we need to make a profit. It’s a sore fact of business that there needs to be something left at the end to pay the bills. We’re not trying to get rich, and we are certainly not growing for an ABInbev sale, but we all quit jobs to do this. While we love cask, and we think that some of our beers are awesome in that format, we can’t do something that is pouring our cash and our hard work down the drain. So we are taking the stand that some great breweries before us have taken. We’ll still do cask, but we are going to be doing it in a far smaller quantity than before. We are also going to be raising the price so we are least breaking even when we sell it!

We sincerely hope that the quality, the care in the ingredients chosen and the processes used will convince people that the beer is worth the value we place on it. 

 

** As a final point to this, in 2016 we raised our cask pricing significantly so cask margins match keg margins. Our customers by and large supported us when we did so. We still cask both Pale and Lactose Tolerant, and when we do they sell out almost before they hit the stock list. 

 

 

Do The Can Can

Near the start of 2016 I wrote a blog about our bottles, and discussed the future of where we were at with that side of our business. At the time, we had seriously investigated the possibility of canning our beers (I’ll get onto the ‘why?’ shortly) but really the multitude of issues involved in using mobile canning facilities far, far outweighed the potential positives. Quite simply, the compromises in quality and the risks of inconsistencies in the final packaged product just didn’t stack up. Ultimately we are a small and quality focused brewery, and the crux of every decision we make starts and ends with whether it’s the best thing for our beer.

A very early prototype of our IPA label.

A very early prototype of our IPA label.

So when we stopped bottling (for info on that decision check out the blog post) we simply transferred that beer production into kegs, as we have never been able to keep up with demand anyway! It was a painful decision though, as we essentially said to a whole host of customers who had supported us ‘you can’t have beer anymore!’. More than that however, was our own personal motivations as brewers and beer drinkers. We do what we do first and foremost because we love creating and drinking great beer. By not bottling we take away our own ability to enjoy our own beers anywhere other than our Tap and the other great bars that support us. So we’ve been working ever since we stopped bottling to find a solution. A solution that ticks all the boxes that we require to allow us to feel comfortable with the process, and be proud of the final product. And we reckon we’ve found it. We came across a small company based in North Wales through our friends down at Tenby Brewing Co. Bespoke Canners are a great little company that specialise in offering a full packaging service. They have a Cask canning line (a Canadian manufacturer who have provided canning lines for the great and the good of the world craft beer scene) that we have been hugely impressed by the performance of. The process is fairly simple. We transfer our beer there in 600L stainless steel conditioning tanks (which we used to use to bottle from). The beer then goes into a cool room and they then chill it down to 1oC  (1 - 2 weeks). Once at temperature they transfer the beer into their system and carbonate it. Its then ready to go through their canning line. It is unfiltered and unpasteurised, meaning the beer you taste from our cans will be identical to the beer you will taste on tap. Finally, the beer is palletized back down to us in Bristol where we can then get it on the stock list and out to you folks (after we’ve quality checked it, of course…;-)

Why We Can.

Why We Can.

 

There are quite a few companies that offer a similar service in bottling, but there a few reasons we lean towards cans rather than bottles. Are we jumping on a bandwagon? We asked ourselves the same question, as there are certainly a lot of ‘cool’ breweries who have began to can over the last few years. It is a trendy thing to do, and there is a segment of the market that are very attracted to them for the way they look. Has that affected our decision? Perhaps..a little. Ultimately, we (personally) are a part of that segment of the market. Remember, we are beer drinkers just like you folks, and many of the breweries and beers we are attracted too and look up too are canning now. An aspiration to be like them has certainly had a small impact in our decision, but only a small part. How our beer looks is very important to us (and we think the cans look great!), but how it tastes is far more important.

When we look at our brewery as a whole, our overriding goal is to be making good decisions not just for our beers and ourselves, but also for our local community and the environment. We don’t want to just be a business taking from the economy, but a business actively contributing to the people, the businesses and the countryside around us. Cans are not only great for our beer, keeping it fresher by eliminating light damage and reducing oxidation but they are great for our environment too. They weigh significantly less than bottles, meaning we can transport more at a time and reduce our CO2 footprint. They are way more easily recycled than bottles (cans are among the most recycled material on the planet) and they are far safer to drink in the outdoors as a dropped can is picked up, but a dropped bottle is smashed and left to harm.

Cans make sense, and there are greater reasons than ‘being cool’ that are causing such a shift from bottles to cans across the industry.

We sent our first two 600L tanks up to Bespoke last week. We are sent our 2 favorite beers, USPA and IPA and we cannot wait to get them back canned and ready to drink. We only get around 70 cases per batch so availability is still going to be super scarce but we have cases already earmarked for our regular customers. We’ll give you an update as to where you can get your hands on them as they start to go out.

In the meantime, here’s to the next step in our journey. I look forward to enjoying a can of Left Handed Giant with you all sometime!

Tap Room Closing Party

Beer festival season is in full swing, which can only mean one thing. The end of summer is near. With the nights closing in, the temperature dropping and Santa once again dusting off his house breaking equipment we are contemplating the yearly structure of our tap room. We have had a great summer at the Tap Room with huge amounts of people making the journey out to us every Thurs, Fri and Sat. I have been genuinely astounded by the reaction to the place and it’s been great fun hanging out there with everyone there. The food pop up’s have been epic and the lovely folks at Mission Pizza (who also wrote our chalk boards) have become a semi permanent feature, mainly due to their epic pizzas but also due to the people they are and what they bring to the general vibe!

Table Tennis, Forklift Basketball, Pizza, Beer, an awesome outdoor space away from the hustle of the city but 10 mins from the train station. It’s been amazing...but...it seems to us a pretty grim experience to trudge through the rain and wind to get deep into industrial estate land and sit in a cold warehouse. We want folks to have a great time when they come out, and we also want to have a great time serving you.

As such, we are going to close the tap room through the winter, and are having a closing party on Friday 30th September. There will be food from Mission Pizza, an awesome line up of beer and music from warehouse man/ delivery driver/ brewing assistant/ fashionista and DJ Andy Sherlock. 

We reckon we will do this every year, and we will have a new season launch party the 1st weekend in April. So let’s drink some beer, eat some great food and see the summer out!

 

Bristol Vice II

One of the things we love most about being a brewing company is being able to brew beers with our friends in the industry. The first collaboration beer we made was with Wiper & True back in January last year when we brewed a beer called Bristol Vice: lots of wheat, part soured mash, saison yeast and some modern German hop varieties; namely Hallertau Blanc and Mandarina Bavaria. It was dry, refreshing, slightly tart, with some spice, floral and peachy notes from the hops.

When Bruce, Rich & I sat down together at the start of this year to look at our brew plan and organise some collaborations for this year; a slightly different take on this beer was at the top of our list. We all loved version one, but we wanted something different from the second version. After lots of emails back and forth with Michael and Will from Wiper and True and a few discussions over beers Bristol Vice II was born:     

Lots of wheat (still)

Full kettle sour

Punchy American dry hops

The beer changed so much through fermentation that it was hard to figure out how it was going to end! It went through stages of Nelson Sauvin-like white wine flavours, peach notes and then tropical fruit. The end product is something we are really proud of: clean, dry and sharp with some really nice grapefruit and pineapple notes.

We'll be pouring this beer and another 10 beers each from ourselves and Wiper & True at Small Bar on Thursday 12th May.

https://www.facebook.com/events/823983957706649/

Come down and let us know what you think!

Jack

 

Bottled

Last year we decided we decided we were going to give bottling a go. We were trying to establish our business, and trying to get our beers into the hands of as broad a spectrum of people as we possibly could. Bottling seemed like a no brainer. Open ourselves up to bottle shops, and the fridges of premises who’s keg and cask lines are tied. We looked at buying our own bottling line, we looked at using the lines of the breweries that we use to brew our large batches of beer on, we looked at using using facilities specifically set up for this purpose, where we would send a container of beer to them and receive it back fully packaged. The compromises in quality required to use other people’s bottling lines (we’d be required to sterile filter our beer), meaning the end product would just not be the same as the beer you’d taste in either keg or cask, led us to a flat dead end. It just wasn’t a goer. Which led us back to how we could do it ourselves without having to buy a full scale commercial bottling line. We are not the first to come across this problem, and we won’t be the last. Talking to our friends in the industry it was clear that most people when starting their businesses out had reached the same cross roads. Contract out bottling, do it yourself, or don’t bottle at all. So how do you bottle, without full scale commercial equipment, while maintaining quality and consistency? With great difficulty, and with a great deal of man hours, is unfortunately the answer. On racking day we rack into 600L tanks that we later bottle from. We get about 1800 bottles from a bottling run from these 600L tanks, which equates to about 75 cases. It doesn’t take long at the brewery to rack our beer into the tank, that’s the easy bit, but once we get it back to our warehouse that’s when the fun begins. It takes us around 8 hours, with 3 people (those that follow our twitter feed will recognise the video embedded below that I posted the last time we were bottling Pale) to get through a whole batch from set up, bottling through to clean down. We have a 4 head filler, which basically means we can fill 4 bottles at a time. It’s entirely manual so the first person takes 4 bottles and hooks them onto the filler. Once they are full they are passed onto the next in line. The cap is placed onto the bottle and then the bottle and cap are placed under the capper which is just a very large press. You put the bottle in the correct position, and pull the lever, the cap seals on. Not really hard work the first time, but 1800 times later your arms starts to hurt a bit…

Finally we have one person passing clean bottles to the bottle filler person, and also taking full, sealed bottles from the capper and placing them into our boxes. The jobs not done yet though, as the bottles at this point are still unlabelled. We know what they are, but I doubt they’d sell well in this condition so it’s off to the labeller we go! Not on the same day I might add, as we enjoy being (partially) sane, and the thought of a bottling run and a labelling run back to back may well push us off the edge..

We bottle condition our beers so before we begin our bottling run we add the required yeast to the 600L tank to allow the beer to begin fermenting again in the bottle (again, making it fizzy for you!). This only happens at the right temperature, so we always make sure to sit our bottles (we do this too for our kegs and casks) in a room in our warehouse which we keep at around 20 degrees. We do this for around 2 weeks so this gives us some breathing space between bottling day and labeling. Our labeling machine is set up in the conditioning room (very cosy and warm for the person operating it) and we literally spend an hour here and an hour there labeling. The machine is a very manual process also, meaning we do one bottle at a time. It is partially automatic though (our old one required us to turn a handle to rotate the bottle and apply the label!) so all we have to do it pick the bottle up and place it on the machine. The machine rotates the bottle and finally, we have a sellable product! Our bottles were always designed to be screen printed onto the bottle rather than labelled. It’s a painful thing for us that in the scale we are bottling the costs to screen print just make it totally unviable. Which means we’ve got to label, which takes us ages, and ends us up with an inferior looking bottle!

But wow they have sold well! We decided to go with our stubbies as we thought they looked great and would help differentiate us from the huge array of other beers on the shelves. You folks seem to have loved both the beers in the bottle and the bottles themselves. Which makes this next sentence a bit painful to write. We have decided to quit bottling our core beers for the time being. We don’t have much capacity, and we are turning back keg and cask customers. We are diverting beer from keg and cask into bottles that then cause us huge stress, time (read money!!) and headaches and we’ve got to the point where the benefits are being outweighed by the problems. We really appreciate everyone who has bought our bottles over the last 6 months, and hope that you enjoy them enough that you’ll bear with us until we can put ourselves in a position that we can bottle efficiently in house in a way that makes it viable. When we do, we’ll use our stubbies, and they’ll look 10 times better as we’ll not do it until we can do it in the volume that will allow us to screen print directly onto the bottle. Which brings me to my final point. Though we will no longer be bottling our core beers, we will be releasing far more frequently small batches of special one off 750’s. We have commissioned a generic, screen printed 750ml bottle (the mocks look amazing!) which we will add a label too to differentiate the beer. In doing so we vastly lower the time cost of bottling as each 750ml bottle takes 2.5 times the liquid of our 330ml’s, and as we can buy a very large batch of generic Left Handed Giant labelled bottles that we can now screen print, taking away the issue of labelling both from a time perspective and a quality perspective.

In the coming week’s we’ll be releasing photos of the new bottles and also details of the first special editions. In the meantime our last batch of 330ml stubbies for a while are just coming out of conditioning. Get them while you can!!

Our Tap Room

Around 6 years ago I went to San Diego and took a tour around some of the best breweries on the planet. The thing that struck me on the trip was not only how great the beer tasted fresh, but how great a community the breweries has managed to build around themselves and how many people took the time to travel to visit their tap rooms.

I guess the thing I thought was really cool was that almost without fail they all had tap rooms, and almost without fail the actual brewers were just hanging out, having a beer, and talking about beer! From Green Flash literally just having some taps in the wall of their cold room on the brewery floor and a money box for the cash, through to Port Brewing/Lost Abbey having an actual bar area segregated, but within the brewery area and surrounded by barrels aging beer, through to the world class facility that is Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens, the place blew me away. I wanted something like it back here in the UK. Fast forward 6 years and the UK scene has taken leaps.

The Kernel (as per usual) led the way, opening their doors on a Saturday morning and sharing their tables with the cheese merchant that shared their arch, and eventually spawning the jewel in the London beer crown that is now the Bermondsey Beer Mile, and throughout london you can now visit many breweries with Beavertown and Brew By No’s being overrun most weekends. Elsewhere there are a few permanent tap rooms, with Cloudwater and Magic Rock both doing great jobs of creating an inclusive atmosphere and encouraging folks to come by and drink fresh beer.

Down here in the South West though, considering the volume of world class beer being produced, has been a little quiet. The times though, they are a changing. Last year Moor Beer moved into town from the backwaters of Somerset where they established their business, taking on a unit in St Phillips just behind Temple Meads Train Station. They opened a Tap Room where you can go and hang out at weekends with the brewers. They are holding some of the best attended events in the area. Good Chemistry have moved in just round the corner from Moor. A 200 yard wander takes you to their front door, where they are also creating a Tap Room within the brewery building. Set up on a mezzanine overlooking the brewkit, it’s a really cool space. We moved into our unit in St Philips 20 months ago. Only a 5 minute wander from Moor and Good Chemistry, we are set right at the end of the cycle path. We began building our Tap Room last year and it is almost done. We’ve got outdoor space and have build a bar overlooking our (very small) brewkit, but most importantly right within the bones of where we will eventually build our main kit. I fell in love with the space at Port Brewing, hanging out within touching distance of the equipment that made the liquid in my glass. It is there that has inspired our Tap. Another 5 minute wander will take you to another little cluster of breweries. Arbor and Dawkins have both just relocated (though Arbor were already in the area, they’ve just moved to a bigger site) and Crane have moved into Arbor’s old site. Lost and Grounded are about to set up in the area. A cluster of 7 great breweries all within walking distance of each other, all within walking distance of Temple Meads. Not everyone is going to have permanent Tap Rooms but the ability to taste so much great beer brewed within proximity to the city centre is a massive leap from the days when the sole brewer in the city was Bristol Beer Factory!

 

We are launching our Tap Room on the 30th of this month alongside an event featuring Moor, Good Chemistry, Arbor and Dawkins. 2 days to tour around 5 great venues, drink some great beer and meet some great brewers. If it feels like the beginning of something special for the area and for Bristol, I reckon that’s because it is!

Left Handed Giant/Verdant Collab Brew

We've been quietly impressed with the guys at Verdant for quite some time now, getting to taste their beers pretty frequently at Small Bar. They brew on the same size kit as our kit, but only brew on that whereas we cuckoo in various breweries where our friends in the industry let us squeeze in, as well as brewing on our own little kit. So we know the hard work and skill it takes to produce reasonable amounts of beer on a small kit, and by all accounts we reckoned these guys must work very hard, and be extremely skilled!

The idea of a collab came about when we were discussing the challenges of cuckoo brewing so we invited the Verdant team along to see for themselves. The opportunity to make a beer together seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.

The idea of a baby Belgian pale was inspired by Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch. Big hoppy Belgian IPA. We decided we wanted to squeeze the Belgian characteristics with a big hop punch into a low abv beer, sub 4%. As we all bounced ideas back and forward the below brewsheet came together, we went for surebrew 570 (Belgian golden ale) for our yeast and Centennial, Columbus and Amarillo as our main hops with a touch of Warrior in for bittering. We introduced a complex malt bill to give the beer some depth with Pale Ale Malt, Vienna, Carapils, Flaked Oats, Rye Malt and Caramunich all going in.

The brewday was great fun, with both teams learning a lot from each other. We also drank copious amounts of beer, thereby ticking both boxes of ‘things to achieve from a collab day’ ;-)’  

The beer has ended up 3.8%, we kegged it last week and it is tasting great! Real big body and fruity flavours, with the hops and belgian yeast working great together. It tastes way bigger than 3.8%, which was the idea.

A couple months ago Matt Davies, one of Small Bar’s very first team members, made a bit of an error when tweeting that a Verdant beer had just came on tap. Verdant have beer called Headband and one called Lightbulb. Somehow these 2 came together to lead Matt to tweet we’d just started pouring Verdant Headlamp. Verdant politely pointed out they don’t make a beer called Headlamp...so for our collab we thought we’d take Matty’s inspiration and call our baby Belgian pale Headlamp! We did discuss Maneken de Pis, but we weren't sure of associating ourselves with a small Belgian baby who spends his time peeing in a pond..

The beer will be available on our lists as of next week, and may well be pouring in Small Bar this weekend.

Go get it, and enjoy!

Our New Pilsner

Pilsner has now made it on to the Left Handed Giant core beer range, exciting stuff I know! This may come as a surprise to some, but followers on the twittersphere may remember a few weeks back a picture was tweeted giving some clue as to what we were up to. Anyway, down to brass tacks. Lager-esq beers are a tricky beast to get right. Often lacking in something we humans called flavour. We are all too familiar with the fizzy piss that’s poured ubiquitously across the country. Correct me if you must, but the issue with lagers and pilsners is that there aren’t a lot of place to hide favour wise. The beers have to be pretty damn clean tasting and have a hop profile that is just so. Too much and the beer runs risk of jumping way out of style, obviously to little hop flavouring and it’ll just be lost in the sea of commercial booze that is out there already or otherwise fall flat in taste.

As all sensible people know unfiltered and unfined beers are the best kind. The purists out there may already be chanting that authentic pilsners are filtered, individuals holding firm to this ideology are also the kind that would probably be excited by an evening duct taped to David Icke, thus we ignore them. I digress, our pilsner, just like the rest of our range is vegetarian friendly and unfiltered.  Our pilsner pour a lovely straw colour and is (filtration aside) as authentic as we could make it given the restrictions imposed on us, be they geographic circumstances or brewing equipment. The malt is all genuine Czech pilsner malt from Czech land and the hops all Saaz. Which is especially novel given that Saaz hops are currently harder to find than hens teeth thanks to a spectacularly underwhelming harvest over the past couple of years. So that’s the malt and hops, what of the water I hear you ask? Believe or not, even the water chemistry was carefully researched by our head brewer and subsequently treated to mimic the water table of western. The beer was matured for as long as we could get away with; six weeks (the current nationwide average is around a week). The end result is what we like to think is a true representation what we believe a great bohemian beer should be. 

The team in the brewhouse have really nailed it with this one, as we think it's a great beer! Left Handed Pilsner won’t be making it into bottles unfortunately, so square that question firmly away. For now it’s all keg and available at all good beer bars. What of the future? Given the unexpected shortage in Saaz here at Left Handed Giant we haven’t decided to sit idle. There is a whole world of pilsner types to explore. From the spicier Germany variety to new world and dry hopped editions.