It’s 7am when I pull into the misty car park of The Jolly Crispin. The whole area is considerably higher than it’s surroundings and you can see the whole Black Country stretching out below you into the mist. I’m half asleep and I’d had rather a lot of scrumpy the night before at my local cider house so everything is feeling pleasantly Tolkienesque.
Fownes have been around for about two years now. They’re a “dwarfen” brewery in the backyard of The Jolly Crispin in Upper Gornal… making a whole host of real ales from a very packed out shed. They want to bring back the ancient tradition of storytelling into the public house and every beer they make has a tale to tell. You can check out the Fownes Brewing sagas on their website. They’re pretty epic and even better when they let out storyteller John at festivals.
Tom’s already been at the brewery for a while so when I arrive we’re ready to start weighing out the ingredients for our experimental brew. Fownes are known for their porters and we’d be making an experimental citrus porter. A whole lot of lemons and limes are going into this brew!
I really couldn’t help sticking my head in the bags of hops. Give me Cascade and I am a happy hophead.
First it’s time to mash in. Everything smelt gorgeous and like I was hanging out in a Malteser. Always a fun activity for a Wednesday morning. Some Maris Otter Pale and Carafa Special make their way into the mash tun and I get to stirring. In which it becomes amusingly obvious that being a foot taller than me (Hello Tom) gives you the right to laugh at the shortarse leaning precariously over the mash tun.
The was something very satisfying about stirring the malts in with the water even though it’s bloody hard work. I don’t have the upper body strength to be a brewer. I have the upper body strength to be mocked by a brewer.
The next important stage? Stopping for a cuppa. The sun’s out, the mash tun is doing it’s work and Fudge, the Jolly Crispin’s resident dog (and possibly the dopiest dog I’ve ever met) comes over to say hi.
The liquid is starting to look like a beer as we drain the mash tun. The wort is thick and dark as it goes through the sparging process and into the copper. The sweet and sickly smell of the wort fills the little brew shed and I watch the copper slowly fill, still clutching my tea. This is my first ever brewday and it’s truly fascinating to see a process in action that you’ve only read about before. No matter how many diagrams I see, there’s nothing on the cluster of tanks, pipes and ingredients in the Fownes brew shed.
Now it’s time for the hops to go into the boil. Progress is our bittering hop. That goes in first. We’ll add Pilot and Cascade 10 minutes before the end. The boil’s on the go and it’s time to refuel the brewers.
We know how to roll at lunchtime. McDonald’s happens and so does some of Korvak’s Saga, Fownes’ awardwinning porter. It’s smooth, bitter and burnt chocolate. And it has my favourite feature in a porter – it’s thick, heavy and treacly. And matches surprisingly well with a Quarter Pounder 😉
50 minutes and a few beers later the final batch of Pilot and Cascade go into the boil. Then I prepare the limes and lemons. The first time the Fownes boys tried to make a citrus porter they used oranges but alas, not enough. This time a lot more fruit went in. I chopped the fruit and scored the skin to get as much of a juice and zest possible into the brew.
At this point the brew smelt beautiful; simultaneously rich and tart. 5 more minutes in the copper and we switch off the flames.
Through the cooling system and a quick check with the hydrometer for the original gravity and the brew is making it’s way into the fermenter for the final stage.
The last addition to the brew is the yeast which we prepared by mixing the dry yeast and leaving it to get it’s bubble on. With the help of a ladder (the fermenting vessel dwarfs me!) I pour the yeast into the tank and stir it. And now we wait…
I was back in Lincoln by the time the beer left the fermenter and I won’t be able to have a taster of Korvak’s Grudge until I meet up with the boys again for this year’s Robin Hood Beer Festival at Nottingham Castle. Only a couple of weeks to go!
Even so it was a lot of fun getting hands on with the brewing process. For Tom it’s a job but seeing something off paper was fantastic. And fingers crossed… the product of the brew will be fantastic too.