May 19 2016
“Oh when you’ve been to one brewery, you been to them all…..yaddah, yaddah, yaddah….”
Or so I thought. Until yesterday.
When Connor Murphy (aka “Mr Manchester Beer Week”) got in touch about coming to a brewday collaboration between JW Lees and Cloudwater, I hesitated. I’ve been in a multitude of breweries over the last two years. So, in terms of looking around one, it held no appeal.
But then, I’ve lived in the world of Micros for the last 3 years. I wanted to see something different. To challenge my perceptions of what a brewery is. To do that – and enter the pages of history – around these parts, that means JW Lees.
The Old meets The New. Tradition meets Innovation. History meets Future. Pre-Craft meets Post-Craft. However you choose to phrase it, this was different. And for all the potential nay sayers who might have doubted motives, Connor pulled something off here. I got the sense that this actually mattered. To both breweries. That both had things to learn.
OK. Here are the bare statistics. 4 tons + of malted barley. 1/4 ton of hops. Yes, you read that right. A QUARTER TON OF HOPS! A small amount of EKG and an ENORMOUS amount of Olicana.
Now, as far as new Micros go, Cloudwater started with a fairly big kit. But think bigger. Because the scale of this brew was mind boggling.
With well over 100 pubs to keep in beer and with 140 staff, this – in the beery scheme of things – is big business.
With 2 x 300 bbl Mash Tuns, 5 x 200bbl & 4 x 100bbl fermenters (and that’s just for the real ale!) this is on a scale that I hadn’t imagined, to say the least
Being the shy and retiring type (whatever Connor might say to the contrary) there were times when I just backed up a bit and watched (and listened to) Paul Wood (Lees’ Brew Manager) talk to James Campbell & Paul Jones from Cloudwater. There was a lot of respect there and a lot being learned on both sides.
(Paul Wood, Michael Lees-Jones – Head Brewer at Lees, Paul Jones & James Campbell)
I asked Paul W how long he’d been with Lees. 44 years. And – as he said himself – he has seen plenty of changes in that time. There was a calm around the team at Lees. Calm borne of experience. Time served, you might say.
There seemed no rush. No panic. This is – in no small measure – due to a mastery of the brewing process. Something that I was in awe of. Or maybe it was Swan Syndrome! Whatever it was, it was impressive. And whatever you may think of Lees’ beers (and I really do love their dark stuff), when you have to service the number of pubs they do, consistency is paramount. And that mastery of process is key.
This is a modern brewery. In old buildings. Old buildings that seem to stretch as far as the eye can see.
I never expected to be this boggled. But just everything about this place…… Each turn you took there was a whole chunk of the brewery as big as some micros.
(This one’s for Connor!)
Walking into the QC/lab, the attention to detail, the kit, the things that some dream of. And all of this kit goes in to producing that sheer consistency of beer that maintains that estate of pubs. And sells beer on a scale that only Brew Dog can imagine.
This picture does not do this whirlpool copper the justice it deserves. I looked in and I could swear that I could see the bottom. Of a 3 storey high vessel. Just think about that power. I saw Paul from Cloudwater gazing into it, mesmerised. I could almost hear the Will Smith line from Independence Day “I gotta get me one of these”!
But it WAS hypnotic. As was watching 160kg of late hop Olicana going in (just before that pic was taken)
The power of the pumps meant that the wort was transferred swiftly into the FV (no 8) and then we were done.
Having tasted the post hop wort, this will be fruity and hoppy, that is assured, with a decnt bitterness too. It will be approx 4.8% abv.
Two different artists. Painting with different colours
It will be called MCR Fold.
And you want it.
And, to treat yourself, go to the Manchester Beer Week Events page. There are some fabulous events scheduled. Things you simply will NOT want to miss.