As usual, this year I wasn't really thinking about Christmas at the beginning of November. This is a problem when you are a brewer and should be planning your Christmas brews but I still haven't managed to get into the habit and all my seasonal beers seem to arrive late because I'm running around like an idiot keeping up with everything else. This year I was lucky and the nice people at Truman's gave me a nudge. Would I be interested in brewing a collaboration beer with them at their shiny Hackney Wick brewery? Obviously it took a while for me to make my mind up, after all I usually only work below ground and I get worried the sky may fall on my head if I'm out for too long.
Having finally agreed to brave the outside world I met up with Truman's Head Brewer Ben Ott to discuss what we were going to brew. Ben gave me a tour of the brewery on our way to select the malt and hops for our beer, which we had decided was going to be a red ale at a fairly quaffable 4.8%. This was to be the first collaboration I have done that wasn't brewed at our brewery. Having done most of my brewing on our little 4BBL kit cobbled together from old Grundy tanks (like so many breweries of our size) the Truman's kit is pretty impressive. A 40BBL brew kit on a full run, or half size brews into a 20BBL FV and all shiny and new. I can see why Ben enjoys brewing there.
The brew day itself started sensibly early and I got a nice sunrise view of the Olympic Stadium as I walked along the tow path from the station to the brewery. Its odd to get to a brewery and find people already working away before I get there, but I was the third or fourth person to arrive and casks were already being cleaned ready for racking beer and Ben was already checking temperatures and filling out the fundamentals on the days brewing log (which I was impressed to discover even has a box for your mood on the day). Ben and I quickly got on with getting the malt into the grain hopper, adding the water treatments, mashing in and generally doing a lot of chatting.
I have a rule in my brewery that when you are brewing answering the phone isn't allowed, as a phone conversation can easily distract you from what you are doing and all of sudden you have missed temperatures, not taken readings or missed a hop addition etc. In future I may also have a rule involving chatting. We all talked pretty much all day (possibly just to live up to the "chatty" entry on the mood section of the brew log) and a couple of times had to take a brisk walk across the brewery floor to turn something off or on. Other than a brisk walk (which is unusual for me as you can pretty much reach anything you need in my brewery with a slight stretch of your arm) the brew day went really smoothly and I am a particular fan of a mash tun you don't have to dig out with a shovel.
The biggest thing I took away from the day is how good it is to work with people who are so knowledgable and enthusiastic about what they do. Ben and the rest of the team really know their stuff, and having four different suggestion of how to achieve the same result is a refreshing change from bouncing my brewing ideas off the wall in the brewery, or questioning the radio. Despite Truman's producing more and more beer the little experimental kit in the corner of Truman's brewery doesn't seem to have time to cool down in between batches. I tasted a few really interesting beers whilst I was brewing which I think will be too unusual to make it onto the big kit, but are definitely worthy of an appearance here and there at festivals or maybe at Truman's brewery tap. Its a real sign of how they really love what they do and how keen they are to continue learning new things.
The beer we made, Christmas Cave, will be available in the next couple of weeks, although we are already taking pre- orders. It is a 4.8% Red Ale using a wide variety of malts and a selection of UK and US hops to give a smooth, full mouthfeel, deep caramel maltiness and a rounded hop flavour with notes of orange rind, dark fruits and hopefully coconut. The "hopefully" is down to Ben and I using an experimental US hop which reportedly has a coconut edge to its fruity profile. For me it was there slightly in the aroma, but very subtly, so I hope it comes through in the finished beer.