I don’t mind fizzy beer. I quite like it. But putting bubbles into beer has given me a phenomenal headache since I’ve come to the team at Rye River back in September. It’s all part of what we love doing by getting each and every part of the puzzle in place and putting excellent beers in people’s hands, exactly how they’d expect them to taste and more importantly feel on the tongue.
Our beers are flat by the end of fermentation. That’s when I come in. I take the beer from the Brite Beer tank, pass them through a fancy in-line carbonator and put them straight into the kegs.
Sounds easy? Not exactly.
Before the wonderful carbonator we had to be more inventive. We didn’t want to do what other breweries do by putting a special carbonation stone in the Brite tanks and fizz them from the bottom up. We all felt this would rob the beer of its more delicate flavours, so we had to work around this. Our carbonator was ordered and on its way for our very first beer. The problem was the day we needed to use it, it arrived damaged and we needed it to be fixed.
So while it was on its way to be repaired myself and the guys came up with a very slow but delicate way of carbonating the beer. We rustled through some of Alex’s homebrew equipment and found a mini carbonation stone he used for carbonating his own beers. The problem was this thing was about 50 times smaller than we needed to be for the size of our tanks. So instead of putting the stone into the beer, why not put the beer around the stone???
We sketched it out, got our welders to make it in a day, and when it came back we had invented an inline carbonating solution for our beers. It was tricky and very very slow, created lovely fine bubbles, but the carbonator was coming back soon. It arrived shortly after.
The first time we turned it on we were… absolutely lost! It seemed very complicated but after going through the instructions step by step the first few runs (and a visit from the guy who designed it) we started getting results. Previously it took about 8 hours to carbonate roughly 5,000 litres, and then there was kegging to be done after that (one 30 litre keg at a time). Now we could carbonate and keg 2000 litres per hour filling 4 kegs at a time.
Plain sailing from here on out? No, Uncle Jim’s Stout.
It’s my favourite beer that we brew and also the one I worry about the most. I never thought I could get so stressed looking at a pint of stout settling. When we introduced nitrogen to the mix things got difficult. Nitrogen is what gives the stout its very distinctive thick creamy head of microscopic bubbles, but getting the height of the head on the stout right seemed near impossible. The height of the head depends on the mix of the CO2 and nitrogen and a lot of other settings on the carbonator. We lost so much stout filling test keg after test keg after test keg. Tweaking the settings gradually every time. Timing how long it took to settle and carefully measuring the head height. There were times I honestly thought we’d never get it right. But eventually, with enough persistence (and nearly actual tears) we cracked it. And the biggest relief? When I sit down to enjoy a pint of Uncle Jim’s, all the heartache doesn’t even enter my head (although I have developed a subconscious urge to examine the head on every pint of stout I see now!).