Last week I took the kids over to Norfolk and deposited them with their kindly and rather put upon grandparents while I went and spent the week shadowing the brewers at the Humpty Dumpty brewery in Reedham, Norfolk. Dot’s parents live in the village so I was able to walk to ‘work’ every morning. Dot, meanwhile, had the whole house to herself as she related here and here.
The team at Humpty Dumpty were awesome. They were really welcoming and friendly and I learned a lot from their professional approach to brewing.
It was really helpful to spend some time in the brewery. One of the things that struck me was how much more awkward things can be simply because you’re brewing larger batches. Humpty Dumpty is an 11 barrel plant, which means they’re producing not far off 2000 litres with every brew. That means they’re putting nearly three hundred kilograms of malt into about a tonne of water. The mashtun is about as tall as a man. Now, how are you going to get the grain in there in the first place? The logistics of safely moving that much grain and water around the plant need to be incorporated into the design of the plant from the beginning, which is not something that you first think of when you’re dreaming of expanding your little stove top kitchen brewery.
It was also helpful to see the brewing week broken down into discrete jobs, especially the clever way preparation for future tasks was incorporated into the time spent waiting for the wort to boil. And when you’re bringing nearly 2000 litres to the boil, there’s a lot of waiting time. The brewers put a lot of thought into preparation, I think, and it must be why the brew days ran very smoothly and seemed to pass very quickly.
There is a tremendous variety in what the brewers do everyday. It’s not like sitting at a desk all day. They might be filling casks, fining casks, moving beer and getting it ready for the delivery drivers. They measure out hops and grain for the following week’s brewing. They brew and more than anything else, they clean and clean and clean. I was on my feet a lot, but it felt like good work. Satisfyingly physical, but at the same time requiring you to keep your wits about you too.
Another consequence of brewing in large quantities is that brewers have to be so much more careful about dealing with the waste products of brewing. The team at Humpty Dumpty give their spent grain to a local farmer for use as animal feed, which saves the cost of disposing with it. They also capture the slurry and trub from the boil and store it onsite in tanks pending dedicated removal and treatment rather than simply flushing it down the drain. I spent some time discussing anaerobic digesters with István, which would be the ideal way to deal with the waste from the boil. This is apparently what Bruichladdich distillery has done on Islay. The waste from the production process is put into a small anaerobic digester that produces biogas which is in turn burnt for electricity that powers the distillery and lets them sell the surplus back to the national grid. It’s an awesome idea. I hope the technology can be scaled down enough to be of use to small businesses like Humpty Dumpty in the future.