Visit to DB breweries

Ken writes:

I’m back in New Zealand for a long overdue holiday and a visit to friends and relatives.

And since I’m here, I had to pay a visit to DB breweries’ Waitemata brewery to view the continuous fermentation system (cf). I wrote about cf earlier in this post.

The DB cf process was covered in brief in the earlier post. There are three main tanks. The tanks are all stirred to keep conditions homogeneous within each tank. The first tank, known as the hold-up tank, comprises 6% of the total system volume and blends vigorously oxygenated fresh wort (O2 25-45ppm) with actively fermenting beer from the second tank and recycled yeast to maintain a pH of <4.4 and ABV of >2.5%. Hold-up tank temperature is 9C. The cool, acidic, mildly alcoholic conditions help guard against bacterial infection.

Drawing of CF system at Waitemata Brewery


The second tank is 63% of the system volume and is where the bulk of the fermentation happens. The tail end of the fermentation happens in tank three, which is 31% of system volume. The second and third tanks are maintained at 15C. A fourth, yeast sedimentation, tank finishes off the CF system proper. The yeast is washed with cold sterile carbonated deaerated liquor and some is recycled into the hold-up tank. CO2 is collected from fermentation and used elsewhere in the brewery and packaging lines.

I was really struck by how small the cf system was. The total system volume was 2000hl it is capable of producing up to 50hl of green beer per hour, meaning a residence time of 40hours, although my guide on the day, brewery technical manager Doug Banks, said that the residence time is varied between 50 and 90 hours depending on demand. The green beer undergoes a continuous maturation stage for a further 40 hours to remove diacetyl and then is ready for preparing for packaging (I assume this means clarification, and possibly bringing CO2 levels into product specifications).  Traditional batch processes would need a huge tank farm to accommodate these volumes of beer (and in fact the Waitemata brewery does have a large tank farm because it also produces beer by the batch for different brands, notably Heineken). Before seeing it for real, I don’t think I’d really appreciated just what an enormous capital saving cf achieves. A quite physically small brewery could produce huge quantities of beer.

The other highlight of the tour for me was seeing the old brewhouse. It was built in art deco style and is a work of art as well as an impressive piece of engineering.

lauter tun with run off sample ports.
lauter tun with run off sample ports.
Steps up to upper level where the mashing and lautering happens.
Steps up to upper level where the mashing and lautering happens.
brewhouse control panel
brewhouse control panel

One interesting feature of the old brewhouse is a lactobacillus delbruecki reactor vessel for acidifying the mash. Lactic acid was produced in this vessel to bring the mashing conditions to optimum pH level.

Lactobacillus Delbruecki reactor
Lactobacillus Delbruecki reactor

It was a very impressive space. Beautifully uncluttered and beautifully designed and I can imagine it would have been a wonderful space to work. I don’t think the brewhouse is in regular use at the moment although it is still in working order.

I’m very grateful for the chance to view first hand a piece of New Zealand brewing history and happy to see one of New Zealand’s key innovations still going strong into the future. (Some people may be snooty and dismissive in a kind of reverse snobbery kind of way, but fermentation technology is in principle something every brewer can use provided they have the sales to justify producing beer in such large volumes. The details of the recipe matter for the earlier stages of wort production. Maybe in the future the likes of Brewdog or Sierra Nevada will use this technology for their flagship products).


Down the stairs

Dot writes: I had a creepy dream last night. It’s hard to tell coherently, but I know it started in a helicopter carrying Queen Hillary Clinton (!), which somehow I and my companions (Ken and…somebody else. Somebody who’s gone vague now) contrived to destroy. Then we had to flee the mob who wanted to get us for killing the queen, and we were running along a narrow path that might have been the remains of a railway track, but we knew they were after us, and we were dangerously exposed as the path was on a ridge line. So we scrambled off the ridge down the chalky hillside and found ourselves in the upper floor of a house. It was a very bare house, wooden floors and white walls and little furniture. There was a staircase leading down. I went down the stairs and found myself in a lower room. This had a door onto the staircase and another door onto a sort of lobby or corridor. From the lobby I went into another room, then another, then back to the lobby. But the door to the first room, which I’d definitely shut behind me, was now swinging open, and the door to the stairs had been split down the middle and half of it was lying on the floor.

I knew I was dreaming and I wanted to wake up before whatever happened that was waiting to happen. I was stamping my feet and trying to wake myself up, yet at the same time I didn’t want to make a noise for fear of the thing that was lurking somewhere. And also I didn’t know where I was going to wake up to; I couldn’t visualise my bed or remember where I was sleeping. But I think it must have worked at some level. I don’t think I actually woke up all the way, but I don’t remember any more of that particular dream.

Evenings at Vicar Street


Dot writes: what do Weird Al Yankovic and The Proclaimers have in common? Well, they’re all male and came to prominence in the ’80s, they’ve played Vicar Street in Dublin in the last couple of months (Weird Al on 6th October, The Proclaimers on 20th November), and Ken and I went to see them. On the strength of these connections I’m squashing them into a single blogpost. In other ways, of course, they’re rather different. Weird Al is a flamboyant American who sings comedy versions of other people’s songs, plus some looser pastiches of his own, generally sending up the popular music zeitgeist, and has a recent album cover that depicts him as a grandiose fascist leader. The Proclaimers are two resolutely normal blokes with powerful Scottish accents who sing vigorous yet romantic songs of their own without making the remotest attempt to fit in with any trends, and tend to be photographed shouting, because of the name.

Weird Al had a number one hit album in the US last year, Mandatory Fun, and while his show incorporated plenty of hits from his large back catalogue – for example the Michael Jackson parodies ‘Fat’ and ‘Eat It’ and, in the encore, my all-time favourite of his, ‘Yoda’ – it was dominated by the most recent album, as you can see from the setlist. He started with ‘Tacky’, his version of Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’, which he started singing outside the venue; a screen at the back of the stage showed live footage of him passing various bemused Dubliners on his way. Much use was made of the screen. Weird Al and his band made numerous costume changes, during which we saw spoof interviews he’d conducted, snippets of quasi-documentary about him, and bits of songs he wasn’t performing that evening. He didn’t actually talk to the audience at all that I can remember – his speaking voice was mediated entirely through film. Anyway, it was a fun, lively show, full of good tunes. In many ways it was like hearing a highly competent, extremely eclectic covers band, but with more jokes and remarkably silly dancing. The crowd was generally younger than us.

The crowd for The Proclaimers, on the other hand, was generally older than us. I noted the predominance of clean-shaven men – a sure sign of the older generation in these beardy days. It was a seated gig and Ken and I found ourselves sharing a table with a very nice couple from the North called Bernie and Brendan, who told us about their university age son and chatted about the Newry area (they’re from that area, Ken works there). Just in front of us was the Very Enthusiastic Table – two couples who kept leaping to their feet, raising their hands in the air, and making strangely incongruous rapper hand gestures. It was a keen crowd and also rather a smartly-dressed one; I felt scruffy beside glamorously turned-out older ladies in careful makeup and sparkly tops, all getting massively into the music. And the music was good, too. The Proclaimers have an excellent backing band and a large back catalogue of sweet tunes, powerfully sung; though they have a new album recently out, the show was overwhelmingly drawn from their best-known records, the releases of the 80s. They didn’t chat to the audience much, either, but there weren’t any film clips; it was all straight-up, no-nonsense, sing-your-heart-out music, with just a few genial asides. To be honest I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to. I wasn’t quite in the right mood for them; they felt a bit safe and over-familiar and I was itching for something more rock or more weird. But I don’t intend that as a criticism of them, because I think they have written some excellent songs, and I like the political edge in much of their material – they’re not just romantics. It’s only that I’ve been listening to too much Something More recently.

The Proclaimers were supported by Pete Williams. I’d never heard of him before but I quite liked him and his band. His voice reminded me of Kevin Rowland from Dexys Midnight Runners. It’s always hard to do justice to the support band if one doesn’t know any of the songs, but it seemed like tight, tuneful material.

Tim the Enchanter

Picture by via

We should all spare a thought, as we gallop by on our enormous chargers, for the enchanters who make our adventures possible. Who exactly constructs all those perilous beds that get transfixed in the middle of the night by flaming lances? Those fountains with bowls of water that, if poured out, cause meteorologically unlikely storms? Those tomb-stones that can only be moved by the one named in the prophecy? What poor sods have to take a nasty hallucinogenic and produce the prophecy in the first place? Enchanters, that’s who. Tim was an enchanter. He was good at fireballs. He also grew fruit-trees and tomatoes, did carpentry and kept goats, because there isn’t much money in enchanting, even if you’re good at it, which Tim was.

Tim had a suitably baroque wizard’s grotto in the Forest of Adventures. He’d acquired it when the previous inhabitant had been killed in a magic duel by his mum, who could be over-eager to help sometimes. However, he had made it his own, decorating it in his rather stylish way, and bringing in his two magical beasts, the Colour-Changing Cat and the Blood Red Bird. He often worked in partnership with the two neighbouring enchanters, Blaise and Emrys. Recently, however, Emrys had been seized with enthusiasm and abruptly moved to the opposite side of the Forest, where he was busy making friends with all the woodland creatures and constructing odd, complicated bits of magic of his own. He came back to visit sometimes, looking extremely cheerful. It was therefore to Blaise that Tim went when he noticed something worryingly wrong with the local lake. It had a bilious, bulgy appearance and was a good eighteen inches higher than normal. This can easily happen to a lake if too many swords of the wrong kind are cast into it, but it’s a bugger to fix. Tim thought he could do with a hand. Continue reading “Tim the Enchanter”

Cliff walking


One day Fiona didn’t go home. She didn’t get on the northbound train. She didn’t collect the car from where it had been parked by the school, drive to “Sunshine Corner”, receive the daily report on her children’s doings, take them home, unpack their school bags and start the dinner. She crossed to the opposite platform and boarded the train going south.

As she passed each station – Lansdowne Road, Sandymount, Sydney Parade, Booterstown – she felt an invisible elastic stretching and stretching, tighter and tighter, until it didn’t snap but seemed instead to be on a reel, unwinding her ever further from her life. The sea outside the window reached away towards Wales.

At Bray the train stopped and Fiona got out. She left the station on the side nearer the beach and walked down across the road and the esplanade onto the shingle. She removed her shoes and tights and walked knee-deep into the sea. She took out her phone and dropped it into the water by her feet.

Continue reading “Cliff walking”