Hop trials on the exterior of the brewery. The current frontrunner, in terms of height, being Phoenix (left)
Since I last visited the headquarters of Stewart Brewing, even more things have changed at their gleaming Loanhead facility; progress there, seemingly, just can’t be satisfied. The space-aged brewkit fitted last year is soon to be joined by two further colossal tanks; each larger than anything Stewart Brewing have had so far, destined to help deal with the sheer popularity of their core beers such as Holyrood. As things stand, the small-run and the experimental have to be fitted in wherever possible, when time and space allow. Yet, having said that, change also has recently been afoot in that regard, with the arrival of the Stewart Brewing Craft Beer Kitchen.
Launched officially three months ago, the Kitchen has seen a substantial number of bookings already. The three tuns (seen here being photobombed by a plastic bin), were custom built in Glasgow; the engineering company apparently being so taken with them, they now fabricate and produce them for general sale. Despite looking like a cross between an old-school milk churn and a one-person hot-tub, they are controlled by sensors and impenetrable pipework (impenetrable to me, at least). As a unit, the Craft Beer Kitchen is overseen by Bruce Smith, ex-of Natural Selection and Heriot-Watt, and now Stewart’s ‘Innovation Brewer’ – which presumably means all eyes turn to him in the ‘what could we brew next’ meetings.
Speaking of brewing, the reason why I was there was very simple. I’m getting married next month, and figured it would be nice to do something I’ve seen other bloggers (such as Nick) do, and brew a wedding beer. I’m already curating a beer list of some of the Scottish beers that have meant the most to me over the years, but also thought it would be great to have a hand-made, personalised beer that was produced just for the day. Having originally planned to make a Sierra Nevada clone, (it was my gateway), when Bruce said he makes more of that than anything else, and my brewteam for the day included the West Coast Whirlwind himself, Elixir Brew Co’s Benjii Bullen, the result was that we ended up standing around a tupperware tub of gorse flowers, something nobody had even tasted, much lesss brewed with.
The beer that we came up with was a 5.6% American-style brown ale with elderflower, gorse, honey and then matured (for a short while) on toasted coconut. The idea (once I’d moved away from the Sierra) was to think about a flavour that defined my childhood;
Fizz Wiz coconut macaroons. Nowadays, when you hear that m-word you think of tiny French crumbly things in garish colours (or, I do – I know they are spelled differently). But back in the day, my occasional reward for behaving in ASDA was a chewy, teaplate-sized, coconut macaroon with edible paper on the bottom. It’s a flavour I still love today, hence the toasted addition to the brown ale. The elderflower and gorse; well, when you ask Benjii to ‘have a look in his cupboard’, that’s the kind of thing you end up with…
As it happened, raw gorse flowers taste remarkably like mange-tout peas, which is something nobody was expecting. We’ll see whether they come across in the beer as a balancing tannic bitterness, or as the suggested floral, almost pina colada sweetness. I’m glad we pushed the boat out – if you’ve got all the facilities there, you may as well, after all. Having said that, the Stewart brewing guys told me that people generally ask to simply brew things they want to drink, with birthdays being the most popular reason given. Speaking of parties, the other new arrival at Stewart’s since my last visit is their brewery-wall multi-tapped growler station; an idea I’ve discussed with other brewers, and one which usually results in eyes glazing over and thirsty pauses in the conversation.
The Craft Beer Kitchen vessels use pellet hops and malt extract, for operational ease, to shorten the process and make it bearable for non-brewing types (although we used all-grain, on the day). Everything sluices out following the brew; for things that might interfere with the plumbing, a strainer is needed (‘the world’s most expensive muslin bag’, as it was referred to). Here, the gorse and elderflower prepare for their dunking, although it looks like they are about to be jettisoned from an airlock. Hopefully, these flavours should all go really well together, with the sweetness of the honey – which actually had a citrusy, almost lemon curd flavour – working with the coconut and being balanced by the floral botanicals. We used Chinook and Citra, which should bring back another layer of pithy grapefruit to build with the others.
Following all that, the wort was transferred to the bullet-shaped plastic fermentation vessels, and the yeast pitched – which is what I’m doing here. We were going to do a forty litre batch, but in the end scaled up to eighty. That’s two litres of beer per wedding guest, which with the curated list, you’d think would be enough. Wouldn’t you?
Having pitched the yeast and sealed up the fermenters, Bruce wheeled the plastic bullets off to give the little powerhouses a bit of quiet-time to begin their vital work, and we sauntered around the brewery a bit before heading off. It’s a great idea, the Craft Beer Kitchen, and others like them (such as the new public kit at Glasgow’s Drygate) – using what used to be known just as pilot kits as a centre for the public to head out and let their imaginations go. It gives the brewery another source of income, but it also brings them closer to their customer base, as usually the interaction occurs in someone else’s pub, or supermarket. Apparently Stewart Brewing have already had repeat-visitors, which is great to see. If you’d like to head along to the Craft Beer Kitchen and brew your own, check out the Stewart Brewing website. Many thanks to Steve, Jo and the team, and especially Bruce, for helping us put together the beer. Now, the next thing is the name…