Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Craft Brewing and Snooping at Moorhouse's

I'm an enthusiastic student if the subject interests me. If you've caught my attention, you can be assured that I'll do my best to make you proud - I'm the human equivalent of a golden retriever. I'm hoping this came off as endearing when I spent the morning with the team at Moorhouse's in Burnley on Tuesday 13th March. Being invited in to use their new 100l brew kit on my second full day of freelancing was an exciting prospect and once I'd finished my Nutella sandwich breakfast I was ready for a day of hard graft and learning. Lots of learning.

Assistant Brewer Jordan would be my teacher for the day and my first task was to walk through the brewery getting to know the equipment and the team busily working to a soundtrack of BBC Radio 6 (no complaints from me.) Jordan came to Moorhouse's after an early career in bar management. He told me he decided he liked the nightlife industry aged 15 when he began working as a cellarman for a local nightclub and continued to enjoy it as a bar manager until he saw a trainee brewer position come up.

"I just went for it, I thought, what have I got to lose? You've got to try."

Well, quite. It's not like I've not had the same exact internal monologue for the past three months. It's a hard logic to ignore. I asked him what he thinks made them choose him despite his lack of experience.

"I was really enthusiastic," he said. "And when they asked me what beer I'd like to brew, I told them a lambic, in a bathtub outside."

Next to the huge stainless steel equipment all around, the 100l craft kit looked tiny. Cute, even. I was shown the grains we were going to use, and the hops, and then we set to work mashing in with an extremely technical wooden paddle.


Jordan had helpfully written out the brewing record for "my" american brown ale before I got there. As you can see, there's a bit of torrified wheat for head retention and dextrin for body. On the whole, the grains were chosen to create a lovely malty taste but avoiding biscuitiness so the juicy Citra and Ekuanot can do some shining. I asked Jordan about the ratios and he said he'd asked a few people and read a few recipes to gauge what might be the best option.

"The best way to weigh a cow is to ask 200 people," he said, cryptically. "You'll get some outlandish answers but you'll get a lot of medians. In there is the right answer." Wiseness or insanity? Well, it seemed to work.



Once we'd mashed and cleaned up a bit, I went to speak to head brewer Dan, who after deciding to change careers in his 20s from a biochemist to a brewer, studied brewing at Herriot-Watt university. He's brewed for Jennings, Tetleys and a number of large breweries across the north of England, and perhaps surprisingly given his background, he has a passion for brewing experimental beers. During our conversation - which was much more like me asking him endless questions and him displaying the patience of a saint - we talked about sours and geuezes and his desire to brew bretted beers at Moorhouse's ("but we'd need to do some serious thinking about that because of the fear of contaminating the other beers with different yeasts.") He also told me he's a fan of hop-forward beers and that Cloudwater are his favourite new brewery.

It's conversations like this that a geek like me lives for. If you'd have told me that by visiting a traditional brewery in Burnley I'd end up talking at length with a very experienced brewer who's favourite beers are dank juicy boys, I'd have told you you were being silly. But here we are. Never judge a brewer by his hometown.



While I waited for the mash to do its thang, I enjoyed looking around the lab by myself, mainly because it made me feel like I was in a game about to replenish my inventory.



The most interesting thing about looking around the lab was finding ingredients for the experimental brews that'll be created on the 100l kit I was using. Juniper berries, spices, fruit extracts and herbs were sat patiently waiting for their day to come. Being able to let everyone loose with the experiment kit has piqued a lot of interest and saved a lot of potential wastage - at least if anything goes wrong, there's only 100 litres of bad beer to drain pour. It's much harder to justify letting your brewers experiment with huge, industrial scale equipment to the people paying for the ingredients and counting on a return. Another secret snoop found me a wooden barrel. I wonder what's going in there once it's been refurbed?


Back to work - it was time to test the colour of the run-off and would you look at that? It's brown af! 


Using another hi-tech stick we added our initial hops to the brew, went for lunch, then came back to siphon it all into the copper with a good dose of Moorhouse's own-grown yeast that's unbelievably valuable and smells very delicious. Before we did that we had a bit of a try. Hot, un-alcoholic, un-yeasted beer is an experience. It's got a healthy taste, but also old-fashioned in its vague sweet vegetableness. Like a Victorian protein shake.




Look at that yeasty cloud. What a babe.
Once all the brewing was over, I took a trip upstairs to see Lee the MD. He wanted to talk about the future of the brewery, and he also wanted to set some records straight. Although most of what we talked about is under embargo at the moment (I've got a feature on standby for when it's lifted,) what I can say is that he said he's looking forward to stepping away from the sexist branding on his products - and I believe him. It's almost common knowledge that Moorhouse's are undergoing a rebrand at the moment and Lee hasn't kept it a secret, but he wants the reveal to have impact and be on the brewery's own terms. All I can offer is the most un-newsworthy thing ever - I like it. I like the concept and the aesthetic. It's good. And this is my blog, so if you want to call me biased because I met and liked these people, you should also remember that this is a place for personal opinion. And that I've never lied to you before.

There's a lot riding on this rebrand. A brewery with beers that have been credited with awards for their quality and consistency is looking to become more inventive, more exciting and more relevant with a newer type of drinker. No matter how popular they remain, it will still cause controversy among some long-time fans. 

"The recipes are remaining entirely the same," I was assured, more than once. "We're looking to the future but we aren't forgetting what Moorhouse's is. We are not changing the taste or recipe or brewing methods of any of our beers.*"

On Monday 26th March, I'll be able to talk at length about the rebrand and so will you, because it'll be officially launched. I'm very interested to see what sort of reception it receives. I also wondered how the team felt about the future, but they're secure. Dan said when I asked him about what he thought of it all:

"I like it. Lee's at the front steering the ship and we all trust him."


*Full list of current beers: Pendle Witch, White Witch, Blond Witch, Pride of Pendle, Black Cat, Premier Bitter and Stray Dog.

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