Tastings School - A day in the life of a brewer

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A day in the life of a brewer

Just what do they get up to all day? We sent Glynn Davis to find out.

The popular perception of brewing is of a rather leisurely pursuit interspersed with regular visits to the tasting room, but the job of a brewer is in reality a tough one that differs widely between breweries.

There is also no such thing as a typical day in the life of a typical brewer as it will be very different working at a small regional operator in the United Kingdom compared with a large modern multinational in America’s Deep South.

One of the more traditional breweries in the UK is Timothy Taylor in Keighley, West Yorkshire – the producer of multiple-award-winning Landlord and the less well-known but gaining in popularity Golden Best – where parts of the day for second brewer Andrew Leman will have some similarity to those of his predecessors.

So to run through his average day, it all begins at 7:30am with a bit of mashing-in to get him in the mood. This involves mixing the crushed malt with hot liquor (consisting of the brewery’s own well water mixed with brewing salt) while the temperature is closely monitored. “We play with the dials so we can increase the malt-hopper opening and alter the temperature so we can keep it at 150 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Andrew.

At 8:00am the mash tun and its contents are left alone for two hours while the enzymes get to work and turn the starch to sugar. At this point Andrew puts the kettle on for the second mash of the day.

Meanwhile he fills out the ‘brewery sheets’ for the next day, which include the recipes for the specific Taylor’s beers he is to brew and the amounts of malt, hops and sugars required. He also makes out a ‘grind sheet’ for the mill man to prepare sufficient malt. And he checks on the junior brewer in the racking room where the important task of filling the barrels takes place.

By 8:30am he visits the fermentation supervisor to check temperatures and specific gravities of the various beers in the brewery’s 14 vessels that hold up to 36 gallons each. At approaching 9:00am he will have probably made it back to the kettle for his cuppa while the brewhouse supervisor runs off the liquid (wort) from the mash tun.

The rest of Andrew’s morning involves the management of the brewing process that includes calculating what needs to be racked the following day and checking with the transport manager on the schedule for the next two to three days.

At midday it’s down to the sample room to check the previous few days’ racked beers so that by the end of the week he jokes that he is “well oiled.” Lunch is a sandwich en route to two local pubs – for purely quality control purposes you understand.

At 1:30pm with everything running smoothly (he hopes), the following day’s programme can be finalised before the junior brewer leaves for the day at 2:00pm - which is okay as he starts at 6:00am. Andrew then helps finish off that day’s brew by dropping the boiled wort into the hop back to separate the hops from the liquid.

Samples are taken and it is then cooled down and put into the fermentation vessel where it sits for one week.

The final touch is to finish off the brew to the correct strength using brewing water to ensure the gravity of Landlord is 1042 and not something like 1046, which can take up to two hours. But as we know, it is well worth the wait.

By then the brewery clock will have ticked around to 5:00pm and Andrew will have earned some liquid refreshment.

While this day would be replicated by brewers at other similar sized operations in the UK there are many more brewers around the world whose typical day differs massively from Andrew’s.

Among them is Jens Eiken, head brewer at the Jacobsen Brewhouse, which is the microbrewery of Carlsberg in Copenhagen that produces five per cent of the company’s total output.

Jens says his enviable role boils down to “trying to see if we can make different beer styles,” which means that much of his time on the brewery floor is more likely to involve him experimenting while the day-to-day brewing activity is in the hands of his team. You might find him playing around with unusual ingredients that could spark an idea that ultimately develops into a beer for the Jacobsen production line.

“This process could be done in a week but we take up to a year from the initial idea to final production. We compose beers slowly as our method is to do small extracts in water and then maybe trial with the most successful combinations as we try to get a balance of aroma, bitterness and mouthfeel in an iterative process,” Jens explains.

Tastings are undertaken at least once a week from the small 50 litre batches that can be run off in the research centre of the brewhouse. Towards the end of the process when “we are closing in on the right product” Jens says the marketing activity kicks-in and labels are produced and quality control gets involved.

His experimentation has led to the creation of various bottled delights including Saaz Blonde, Bramley Wit, Brown Ale and Extra Pilsener as well as seasonal and limited edition beers.

One limited edition was a dark creation, unfortunately only for the Danish market, which contained coffee from Nicaragua. At around £8 per 75cl bottle Jens admits it is expensive but says it is well worth it as it is “packed with flavour” and will probably have cost as much as 10 times more to produce than a standard beer.

Also with a microbrewery under his control but on the other side of the world is Nathaniel Davis, brewmaster at the mighty Anheuser- Busch (A-B) in St.

Louis, who runs the company’s Research Pilot Brewery (RPB) that sits alongside the company’s main automated plant.

His day involves brewing beers in very small batches of as little as fourto- six cases (24 x 350ml bottles) within the 10-barrel capacity plant. Unusually these brews are not produced for sale to the public but are for testing existing A-B beers, analysing ingredients for existing beers, and most interestingly for Beers of the World readers developing recipes for new brews.

So a typical day could involve him creating: a Budweiser with a novel hop addition; a pale ale to evaluate its yeast strains; a standard Budweiser to tweak; and a porter, a stout, a lambic or a completely new beer style to analyse.

He calculates that at any one time he is working on the advanced stages of around 15 different brews with changes made on an ongoing basis as he narrows it down to the final recipe: “While working on a Doppel bock, which is strong, sweet and malty we might need some hop character for spice, citrus or a unique flavour. So I can write up some basic recipes and run with four of them – say with Czech Saaz hops or have them blended with other hops. A large part of the job is honing recipes and identifying which variables we need to keep constant and which to change.” Nathaniel says he typically produces three or four brews each day, which means between 50 and 60 will be in the process of production at any one time because they all have different fermentation cycles – from two weeks up to eight weeks for a European lager.

Twice a day Nathaniel also participates in taste panels at both the RPB and the main A-B brewery, which he says is a crucial part of his job as well as that of his 15 staff who are mainly trainees. They spend around 12 months with Nathaniel during which time he says their “fire of latent passion [for brewing] is stoked.” It sounds like the sort of experience that every passionate beer drinker should have and one that would also give them the chance to fully appreciate the hard work involved in creating their favourite beers.