August 2016 : Expansion - one year on - Magic Rock Brewing
We’re pretty much a year into full production at our new site, and what a year it’s been. There have been some massive highs but for the most part it’s been tough. I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say that re-locating the brewery and upscaling production has been more difficult than starting the brewery originally five years ago.
We have had to adjust and re-learn many processes as well as hire and train new staff, all while installation works disrupt the smooth running of the business.
This hopefully goes someway to explain why apart from promotional blogging there hasn’t been much news regarding progress coming out of the brewery. Some of you won’t care either way but after seeing one or two blatant untruths on social media and conscious of there being an information vacuum developing I thought it might be time for a catch up post to describe what we’ve been up to.
The good news is that we now have five x 110hl FV’s to brew into, meaning 80% more fermentation capacity, as well as a 160hl bright beer tank to package from. For anyone interested in the numbers this should take us from around 10’000hl pa to around 18’000hl production in the next calendar year. This also gives us the ability to leave the beer in tank longer which aids stability, lessens the need for process aids such as finings (more on that later) and ultimately produces better quality beer.
The bad news was that this larger production had a number of seen and unforeseen knock-on effects to our processes. In addition to the disruption caused by removing the old six x 25hl FV’s (which found new homes at Four Pure and Breakwater) and installing the new ones we realised site improvements were needed in order to use them.
First of all the incoming water feed to the site was too poor to allow us to brew twice a day; the flow was so low that we would have had to stand around for five hours while the HLT was re-filled and re-heated before we could brew. The way round this was to install a large water buffer tank but unfortunately the yard couldn’t take the weight of the proposed 60hl (60 ton when full) tank. This meant that the yard would need to be re-enforced all along the brewery side to take the weight.
In addition to this we soon found that our production gas (Carbon Dioxide & Nitrogen) was undersized to cope with the demands the larger production put on it. We use Nitrogen primarily for purging tanks and CO2 mainly in carbonation of beer.
We’ve recently cut a considerable amount of time from our process by installing a Denwell inline carbonation unit which allows us to carbonate the finished beer prior to pack at specified consistent levels appropriate for the finished beer.
One of the major new draws on our production gas is our 12 head ‘Markl’ can filler which uses CO2 to pre-evacuate the can and also to blanket the top of the can just prior to seaming. With twice as much beer we have needed at least twice as much CO2 for the longer packaging runs.
The third and perhaps most difficult issue the new production has created is a lack of storage space. We had foreseen this issue arising but it was still a surprise to see quite how quick our cold store filled up once the larger production kicked in. To address this we have agreed terms on an additional unit on the adjacent industrial estate, (ironically one of the units that we had to relinquish interest in a couple of years ago).
This additional 5000sq ft will be fitted out with additional cold storage for our packaged beer, but we also intend to introduce an ambient temperature controlled area which will allow us to expand our barrel ageing programme which to date has been limited to the 100 or so barrels we can fit in the fenced area in the Tap Room.
One of major areas of attention the expansion has necessitated is with regard to staffing. When we moved to the site last year we had 10 salaried employees split between the production side of things and the office. This has now expanded to 21 salaried employees plus another 7 part time Tap Room employees.
We’ve added key positions in brew house, sales and accounts and are very lucky to have such a committed and talented group of people in all parts of the operation. We are currently hiring for a couple of additional brewing positions more info here. The coming months and years going forward are now about moving the business forward with regard to training, process improvement and ultimately beer quality.
With that in mind, we have some exciting production improvements on the horizon. Firstly we will be moving away from pre-crushed malt and onto whole grain malt which we will store in dedicated silo’s and crush on site as part of the brewing process. This facility will be in place in the next couple of weeks and is going to save us a lot of time in moving and storing malt as well as improving our extract, yield and ultimately quality.
Another significant and imminent improvement is the installation of a separator into our packaging process. This will allow us to centrifuge solids from the beer at pre-determined levels which will again improve yield, stability and most importantly flavour. It will also allow us to stop the use of finings (clearing agents) in the packaging process which will have the net effect of making all our beer (apart from cask beer) vegan friendly. We expect this separator to be operational by the end of October.
In addition to this we are also commissioning dedicated yeast storage and propagation tanks in the coming months which will allow us to store our yeast more effectively, improve yeast health and therefore beer quality and allow us to manage multiple yeast strains at any one time.
On the subject of ingredients we will be working closely with our main hop supplier Yakima Chief – Hopunion LLC going forward and should have access to some fun new hops. We are delighted to be helping them trial their Cryo Hops™ Lupulin Powder product which is effectively a refined version of the T90 pellet many breweries use for dry hopping. We used the powder in the latest version of Cannonball and the results are fantastic, delivering a really defined and clean hop character. We have a few new hoppy beers coming up, which we’re trialling the powder in, we’d be interested to hear what you think.
All the above improvements are done with beer quality in mind but despite our best intentions unfortunately things occasionally don’t go as planned. One downside from an ingredient point of view is that we’ve been experiencing unwanted Sulphur Dioxide flavour/aroma in a couple of the more recent beers. It was prominent initially in Shredder the Orange wheat beer and more noticeably in the second batch of Rhubarbarella we produced. We have isolated the cause of the taint and introduced more stringent QA procedures to preclude further quality issues going forward.
In the case of Shredder the SO2 was re-metabolised by yeast and is no longer noticeable however with Rhubarbarella there seems to be more present and we are doubtful of the beers ability to rid itself of this off character. We we have made the decision to recall and refund anybody who has the beer, if you contact email@example.com we can credit you in full.
In better beer news we have just released our Gigantic Brewing collaboration ‘Special Relationship’, the beer which is based on a ‘Manhattan’ cocktail, and aged in both Sherry and Bourbon barrels is tasting incredible, more info here.
The expansion also coincided with the availability of our beers in cans for the first time, the core range of 6 beers (Salty Kiss, Rapture, High Wire, High Wire Grapefruit, Cannonball & Dark Arts) has just been joined by our Triple Coffee Porter, (brewed in collaboration with local coffee roaster Dark Woods) ‘Common Grounds’. This will be joined next week by our 8th permanent can ‘Inhaler’ which uses loads of really juicy modern hops allied to a low bitterness and lightly malty body.
All the above are available from your usual supplier, if you’re a business reading this we are just in the process of collating email addresses so we can finally send out weekly stock updates and info on new products, if you’d like to be on the list please send your email address through to firstname.lastname@example.org with the heading ‘mailing list’.
As you can see lots happening, we’ll endeavour to keep you a little more in the loop going forward, thanks for reading, cheers!