Saturday, 25 April 2015

Lambic: Brewing Up A Barrel - Part 2

This is the second part of the article found here and actually took place in March 2014.

Preparing the Barrel

Getting ready.
As we had no way of knowing of how long our barrel had been emptied or just what was now living in it we decided that the safest thing would be to do would be to sulphur it out. From reading on-line a lot of places recommending light sulphur sticks and tossing them in, but a lot of recommendations for a barrel that's going to be re-purposed suggested sulphuring in a different way. I don't think there's actually any conclusive "best" way to sulphur. The irony about it is that when Cantillon and all those great geuze brewers in Belgium rely on the organisms that are present in the barrels when they arrive from the wineries, so for us to be trying to kill everything in a barrel we were going to use for lambic seemed to be a retrograde step, but needed to be done. (Although to be fair to us, when Cantillon receive the barrels they are mechanically cleaned with chains and then steamed.) One of the main reasons was acetobacter. Acetic acid forming bacteria that depend on air, something our barrel was full of (i.e. air) when it arrived. Finally we agreed this method as outlined in BYO would do the job.

Before we treated the barrel we had to make stillage (support) for it. The stillage made for the whiskey barrel (pictured in Part 1) was made without knowing how strong barrels actually are, and was way over-engineered. Barrels are incredibly strong and require very little support, in many places they are supported on just small chocks, so this time around we made a very flimsy stillage from bits of timber from an old pallet.

With the barrel laying on its side on its stillage we set about making up the mixture of citrc acid and potassium metabisulphite as mention in BYO. Potassium metabisulphite was impossible to source from any of the home brew shops, but sodium metabisulphite was readily available. The HBS isn't always the best place to buy things though, and quite often it's worth checking places like your local Asian food store, in my case Eurasia in Fonthill beside Liffey Valley shopping centre. They had no metabisulphite that I could find, but they did have citric acid for the bargain price of €1.45 for 400g, or about a quarter the price of the HBS! Sodium metabisulphite was purchased from HomeBrewWest.

The recommended dosage rates for a barrel of our size, 225 litres, is around 500g of citric acid to 1kg of metabisulphite. These quantities were dissolved in separate demijohns, which were in turn added to the barrel. This is where it got a bit extreme! Straight away the sulphur dioxide being produced was very evident in the air around us to the point where it was burning our nostrils and our eyes! We rolled the barrel around as much as we could, stuck it on the stillage, garden hose, filled with water, and it was left to sit until brew day.

Brew Day!

Wind breakers around burners were a necessity
but didn't always work
Hosting a brew day with six people brewing up around 200 litres represents a challenge in itself, not least because it's a long day in close quarters, but moreso because of the logistics involved. Everyone has to have the ingredients ready in advance which meant the whole wheat in particular had to be sourced from the farm shop, milled and distributed. But the biggest logistical issue on the day is heating water, either for strike or for boil, both in terms of the time taken (there are only so many hours of daylight in a February day) and the amount of energy required.

While our friends across the water in Britain have 80 amp fuses where the mains electricity comes into the house, for some reason in Ireland the main fuse is only 65 amps. Allowing for say 15 amps to run the house (the kettle is 12 amps alone), this only leaves 50 amps to play with. Quite restrictive. So on the day itself gas was going to have to come into it. Fortunately I'm on the mains gas network (which is about a quarter the cost of bottled gas) and that would be used to help too. The breakdown of "power" required was as follows:

  • 8kw burner on bottled gas
  • 8kw burner on bottled gas
  • 3kw+2kw burners on gas cooker in kitchen
  • 3kw+3kw electric elements (26 amps)
  • 3kw induction hob (13 amps)
  • 2kw+2kw electric elements (17 amps)

Tip: The gas boiler for the central heating and hot water is a Worcester Bosch Greenstar 24i and simply put it's a beast. It's 24kW all by itself. If it was mains electric powered it would need 104 amps. I put it to work on the day making sure there was a constant supply of 60°C water on tap. Heating your strike water from 60°C is a lot quicker than from 3°C out of the cold tap.

Thank fook that's over!
Straight away the issues can be seen with using electricity. No single socket can take more than 13 amps, and no mains circuit in the house can take more than 25 amps without tripping a breaker, so on the day the house was a mish mash of extension leads running to different sockets with every circuit bar the upstairs sockets in use!

As regards the brew, the day itself was largely uneventful apart except for thick mashes getting burnt to the bottom of pots. This is something that was a pain in the ass as it required constant stirring once we discovered it was a problem. The day itself was one of the windiest on record, resulting in gas burners being blown out a few times.

Ten hours after we started we had our wort cooled and transferred into the barrel, followed by 8 pitches of ECY-01, leaving us nicely in time to get the 20:45 66A down to the Lucan County for some pool and a few pints.
The end result. 200 odd litres of loveliness. Now the wait begins.

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