Leaving Le Brewery


Our last day in Normandy, we went out on deliveries with Steve. The final stop was close to the Ouistreham/Caen ferry terminal where we'd catch an overnight boat across the channel.

The deliveries were a fitting close to our time at Le Brewery as we had helped brew, bottle, label, and pack the bottles of Norman Gold we were now delivering. We saw that Norman Gold all the way through!

Before our last delivery, we swung by the coastal town, Dives, where Steve keeps his boat. She is the classic beauty in the photo above. We climbed on board for a tour and heard about Steve's grand plans for her.

After the last delivery and a (magnificent) bite to eat, we arrived at the terminal and parted ways with Steve, who left us with a bottle of Harold's Revenge for the voyage.

We thoroughly enjoyed its warming malty goodness as we sat on the deck and watched the lights on the Norman coast disappear.

Good-bye, Normandy. For now.
Harold's Revenge by Le Brewery

Harold's Revenge by Le Brewery

A Balanced Day

Mashing in

Mashing in

The other day I asked Steve about his favorite part of a brew day. He didn't isolate a particular part, but rather spoke of how brewing makes for a lovely, balanced day.

I understand what he means.  

You get an early start. Your grain is all measured out and ready to go from the day before. You mash in and start to create lovely bready aromas. Your mash sits for an hour, allowing you to prepare for later parts of the day. Weighing hops. Scrubbing fermenters. Then its time to sparge and your full attention returns to the mash.

This ebb and flow of work continues throughout the day. Some parts of the brewing process require careful attention. Opening a valve just so. Taking and recording gravity readings. Other parts involve low-key monitoring and there is time to enjoy a cup of tea. Still other parts of the day get your heart rate going. Shoveling spent grain out of the mash tun.

Shoveling out

Shoveling out

A brew day is balanced, and satisfying. You hit your target numbers for temperatures and gravities (or you don't). You bask in hop aromas wafting out of the copper during the boil. You pitch yeast into your cooled wort and know you're on your way to an active fermentation. 

Using all of your senses is part of the pleasure of brewing- and it makes you a better brewer.

Some of the best wisdom Saul and I have gleaned from Steve and Clement at Le Brewery has to do with using your senses. Tasting all along the way. Even tasting the water in your pipes to make sure you've drained out all last traces of caustic cleaner. Looking closely at your malt while sparging. Finding that perfect spot when the grains go gloss to matte to gloss. Listening. Knowing your brew system so well that you can hear when something goes wrong. 

And then there is the sensory experience of cleaning.  

Scrubbing down

Good brewers are meticulous cleaners. This insight is ever so important. Even this ceaseless cleaning can add to the balance and satisfaction of the day. Knowing your fermenter is sterilized and your beer will not be contaminated. Cleaning the hops out of the copper and thinking about the aroma and flavor their essential oils impart. Getting your mash tun spotless and ready for the next brew day.  

I think Steve has it right. The joy of brewing is experiencing the whole process. The product is not bad either.

Now if only running a brewery were as balanced as a brew day. That part seems more like a balancing act. 


Hops, etc.

Traditional English beers, especially the all-pervasive 'bitter', tend to be well-rounded and smooth drinking.  They are beers to enjoy sipping while your focus is on the conversation, not necessarily beer to obsess about every flavor note and nuance. Calm down!  It's just a pint of bitter, relax and enjoy yourself.  The alcohol level is low so you can have a few with your mates and not worry about the state of your head the next morning.

Whole Hops Straight off the Bale

Whole Hops Straight off the Bale

For some American drinkers, a pint of bitter might come as a surprise. The level of bitterness is certainly higher than what your average bud light is going to bring to your palate and the body contributed by the malt is a lot bigger too. If you're looking for soda-like fizz you'll have to look elsewhere--these beers are well conditioned, but don't even come close to approaching the carbonation levels the American drinker expects in a beer. Oh yeah, and they aren't served ice cold. To the English beer drinker though, they are a lot like what a pale American lager is on our side of the pond; a beer you can sip on and enjoy and not have to think too hard about.  Wait...isn't this post about hops? Oh yeah. I was about to get to that.

Traditional English hops like Goldings and Fuggle tend to complement these easy drinking English beers well. They produce far more mild flavors than the citrus explosions some of our American hops lend to our American IPA's (think Sierra Nevada).

Steve Mashing In

Steve Mashing In

Here at Le Brewery beers are brewed in the English style-- single infusion, open fermentation vessels, cask conditioning-- beautiful traditional English brewing. Le Brewery is not, however, in England, and the brewmaster/owner Steve Skews is definitely someone who obsesses over every flavor and nuance in a beer. A beer geek after my own heart. I love this guy!

All of his beers have the lovely texture of well conditioned English ales when you pour them out of the cask, but they are beers that make you pay attention. Steve doesn't limit himself or his beers to traditional English hops. Like Le Brewery itself his beers have an English soul, but they have left England and aren't planning on going back anytime soon. All of his beers have at least a little English hop flavor, but then they tend to diverge from tradition and take the drinker for a journey around the hop producing world. Some of his beers, notably the phenomenal Norman Gold, overlay the traditional English hops with a blend of highly aromatic tart and lemon-y hops from Slovenia (in this case a remarkable variety named Celiea ) and piney, citrus-y American varieties. Sometimes, as the brewers reading this know, when you try to use too many hop varieties you get a muddled mess, but in this case believe me. It's really good.

As with most British craft brewers Steve uses whole flower hops rather than ground up pelletized hops. He just likes them better, as do brewmasters at some classic American breweries like Anchor, Sierra Nevada, and Victory. It adds a lot more cleaning time to brew days, but you can't argue with the product.

Digging Whole Leaf Hops out of the Brew Kettle

Digging Whole Leaf Hops out of the Brew Kettle