Saturday, October 19, 2013

With regret, we lost a brew...

On Wednesday I had a brewers worst nightmare - we were forced to dump a brew down the drain.

It would have been around 3 years since I'd last done this, and as I'm sure you can imagine it wasn't an easy thing to do. The day had started brilliantly and I was enthusiastic about brewing our 2014 release of the AIBA Gold medal winning Hedgerow Barrel Aged Sour Ale. I'd again sourced some terrific Maris Otter malt from the UK, a portion of German Rye malt, an obscure Slovenian Bobek hop, the great UK Brambling Cross hop and a carefully selected yeast strain from the USA.

The mash performed very well, sparging resulted in a great wort capture and I was pushing the limits of our 12hL system by cramming 15hL of wort into the kettle. Being a limited release brew, and a once a year occasion, I try to brew at the limit of what we can so we have more quality beer to go around. As the boil started, I maintained a close eye on the boiling wort, conscious of avoiding a boil over with the increased volume. The bittering hops were added and at around 30 minutes into a 90 min boil disaster struck.

Strong winds that had been building throughout the day eventually reached their destructive worst and somewhere in the power supply a weakness was found (a tree over the lines, a pole down etc we're still not sure of the cause) and supply was devastatingly cut. A few curse words flew out of my mouth, and for a brief instant, power was restored and I thought we'd dodged a bullet. Unfortunately it didn't last. 

Being that deep into a brew, I knew that there was no turning back, no holding the wort in situ for the power to be turned back on. I checked out fuse box, hoping that it'd simply be a fuse, alas. I immediately reported the problem to Aurora Energy, and threw out an offer to them on social media that "if they could get it fixed inside the next 15 mins that there'd be a heap of craft beer in it for them". 15 mins passed, then 30, which turned into 45 and after an agonising 60mins, I made the gut wrenching decision that DMS production in the wort would be too great in the final beer, no addition of the late aroma hops critical for this beer and with no ability to transfer or cool the partially boiled wort, opening the valve at the bottom of the kettle was our only option.

If it had been one of our core range of beers, the pill would have been far easier to swallow. I'd have simply weighed out some new malt, refilled the hot liquor tank and set myself to brew again the next day. This ability to brew again almost immediately is a huge asset to have as brewers, as opposed to the hectic vintage demands of a annual grape harvest in viticulture. But because it was a limited release beer, comprising primary ingredients that we simply don't have excess of, and the fact that the beer has pedigree, any compromise on quality is out of the question. Partially boiled beer sitting in the kettle for an extended period of time with no time frame for recommencement presented a compromise on quality.

As heartbreaking as it was, I'm now happy with the decision I made. The last thing we ever want to do is compromise on quality or consistency with any of our beers, even if that means dumping a brew down the drain. Thankfully it happens very rarely, and in this case due to events outside of our control, but I won't hesitate to do it again all in the aim of producing he best craft beer possible - period. I've lodged a incident report request with Aurora Energy, which will hopefully lead to compensation for the lost brew, failing that we'll explore our own insurance claim.

Rest assured we'll brew Hedgerow for 2014 again shortly, and I've no doubt it'll match up to the 2013 versions lofty heights, of which a portion has been aging I barrels for 2.5 years now. Release is set for April/May 2014. We'll keep you posted. Cheers, Will.

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