Much in the same way that gossip columnists love to get near the red carpet, us beer bloggers like nothing better than visting a brewery. Like the celeb-spotters, the closer to the action we are, the more important it makes us feel (or something). Following on from the day we spent brewing with the good Doctor James Davies at Alechemy, we got the opportunity to have another field trip recently. So, this is BeerCast Paul measuring out malt at the beginning of our brewday with Ayr Brewing Company.
Mashing in, Ayr style. The kit used by head brewer Anthony Valenti is very different to our last effort in Livingston – Ayr’s kit is 5bbl, compared to Alechemy’s 12bbl. No top-loading, self-built malt-loader for us on this trip – merely a pitchfork and upper body strength. Still, ripped as we are, the grains were soon swirling around with a vigour that Anthony had never seen before.*
*May not be true
Selecting the hops to use is a careful business (Paul is actually breathing in here, rather than throwing up). On this particular brew, however, the little cones were taking a back-seat. At the start of the year, Anthony launched a blonde stout called Doctor Hornbook – something of a departure to his (award-winning) pale and blonde ales. At 7.2% and distributed in 750ml swingtop bruisers, it signified a change of direction, towards something more experimental.
It was at that launch that Anthony casually asked if there were any particular styles or flavours of beers that might be interesting to see on the shelves. Without really thinking, I suggested a mint chocolate stout – there are plenty of chilli stouts out there, a few orange – but hardly any that combine chocolate malt and mint. Anthony went away, and that was that. Until I got an email from him later that week – the follow-up to Dr Hornbook was going to be…Dr Blacklock – a mint chocolate stout.
Fast-forward a few months, and here’s Anthony checking the sparge arm as the beer is made. The idea of brewing with mint, and mixing the flavours together, really appealed to him – so he kindly invited us along down to Ayr to help out with the actual creation. Needless to say, I’d never imagined something tangible would be the result of my hair-brained suggestion – I’m glad that making that style of beer is even possible (thankfully, Anthony thoroughly checked this out before we got there).
And this is where it all happens, in what looks like a very small garage attached to the GlenPark Hotel. In reality, the brewery goes back a way into the building – although not that much, everything is tightly squeezed together. With three of us there, every time something had to be done, someone was in the way (usually me). But, that’s brewing. Anthony started the brewery three years ago with brother in law Paul (who runs the hotel). Plans to expand to larger premises within the town are on the horizon, however.
The actual brewday went incredibly smoothly – at each stage, the timings were spot on and the efficiency ended up at over 90% (something of a characteristic of BeerCast involvement, as we got 92% at Alechemy). Adding the hops in three, planned, stages was even done without me losing the hairs on my forearm – although I would eventually become far more closely acquainted with the copper…
…much like Paul and the fermenter. The prime reason brewers tolerate the presence of bloggers is for occasions such as this. Before the freshly-made stout went in, the fv had to be cleaned and disinfected, so someone had to go in. One of the downsides with brewing in a small room is the vertical clearance, requiring a bit of the old gymnastics to actually get into the tanks. Still, it’s got to be done.
Getting rid of the spent grains is always the bloggers’ time to shine. For the Blacklock brewday, there were plenty of them. Shovelling near-boiling porridge into sacks is back-breaking when there are two of you – I can never comprehend how some brewers do it all by themselves. The only beneficiaries (other than the people who get to drink the eventual beer) are cows, who get to eat the used malt.
Eventually, you get to the bottom.
The hydrometer, bobbing about in the final run-off. After his research on the specifics of brewing with mint, Anthony quickly realised that using actual mint leaves was going to be hugely impractical. So, using a mint essence or extract was the only real option – but adding it to the mash or the boil would leave the final flavours hard to control. In the end, we decided to brew the base stout (to 6% abv), and then experiment with the flavourings from there.
Anthony pitching the yeast – in what must be a great moment for the micro-organisms. Sitting there in a mulchy bucket, all of a sudden a jug of super sweet, warm liquid arrives to kick everything off. A swirl around, and the whole lot is tipped back into the fermenter and left alone to work the magic. By this time, we’d been on the go since early morning, and the small brewhouse was extremely warm – but (and this is always the great trade-off), it smelled amazing.
There’s always a final job, and cleaning the spent hops from the copper it was to be. Much bigger than the mash tun or the fermenters, I had to wobble my way in from the top of a ladder, through the small hatch. But, as you can see, the fearsome scrubbing action made short work of the stuck-on cones. It was all down to wanting to see the job through, not in any way because once finished we could walk the twenty yards to the GlenPark bar.
Where, in a couple of weeks, you’ll be able to try this – Ayr’s newest stout, Dr Blacklock. It will also be on sale in Edinburgh and (hopefully) other parts of Scotland, for those not in Ayrshire. The exciting news was what followed our brewday. After a chat with Anthony over a few pints of Leezie Lundie, we all realised that adding the flavours later down the line gave him a lot of freedom with how the final beer could taste. So, instead of having one flavoured stout…why not have four?
So, coming soon Ayr Brewing Company will have four different versions of the 6% Blacklock Stout – mint chocolate, raspberry, cherry and chocolate orange. The original, non-augmented stout may also make an appearance – and Anthony is keen to add other releases when the recipe can be brewed again (they are – like many a Scottish brewery these days – currently at production capacity).
Look out for the different Blacklocks if you’re in Edinburgh – we’ll be tweeting when and where they arrive. Let us know your favourite, and head to Ayr Brewing Co’s Facebook page and leave a message if there are any ingredients you’d like to see added to future versions. Many thanks to Anthony and Paul for the hospitality whilst we were there – it’s great to think that a single throwaway comment can lead to a range of beers!