Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Never too old to learn

A previous blogpost, concerning a power cut that plunged much of northern Scotland into darkness, had an brooding air of foreshadowing about it. However, do not worry, we're not talking about a plot full of twists and turns to rival a Scandinavian detective cardigan-fest.

My brother and his wife visited us last month, in an attempt to understand what the heck Our Lass and I are playing at by moving to 59 degrees North. As the dutiful host, I felt obliged to entertain our guests as best I could and, as neither of them drinks beer, I decided to increase their sum of knowledge by traipsing over to Quoyloo and the Orkney Brewery Visitor Centre for a tour of the premises.

Regular readers will recall, with an amount of long-suffering weariness, that I am partial to the occasional pint of Dark Island. So how excited was I to witness it being lovingly brewed? Very!

During the years when we had holidayed on the mainland of Orkney, the Visitor Centre was not up and running. Since its opening, we had holidayed predominantly on the outer isles and not had the opportunity to visit. Time to correct that gross error, methinks.

But first, in time-honoured fashion, before we became embroiled in the science of creating a pint of beer, we had a cup of tea and a cake. By some strange quirk of Fate, mine had Dragonhead stout in it.

The Tasting Hall cafe was housed in the original building where the brewery began its life. But this wasn't the first use of the structure for, in a previous existence, it had been the school house for the village. To honour this fact, many of the artefacts from the school were on display on the walls, and the tables and chairs had an oddly familiar look about them, too.

On the tables, old inkwells were now home to packets of sugar.

Some relics from the time when the building was a school.

No school bell, but a whistle for the Headmistress.
Suitably sustained, we were led by our genial guide into the brew house. Here we were shown (and allowed to sample) the various stages of roast cereal that are used for brewing a range of beers.
Pale, Crystal and Chocolate Malts
Of course, another ingredient of beer is hops, and we were allowed to a peedie taste of this too.

Quite citrusy, it was.
On the wall of the brew house was a large diagram explaining the whole process...

The malt and warm water (heated by energy recovery from another part of the process) are first placed in the Mash Tun to convert the cereal starch into sugar. The 'wort' produced is then fed to a Copper or Kettle, where the hops are added and the whole lot boiled.

Mash Tun (right) and Copper (left)
From the copper, the wort is cooled quickly in a heat exchanger and sent to a fermentation vessel, where the yeast is added.

During the fermentation process, the sugars are turned to alcohol.

Once fermentation is complete, the beer can be conditioned either in a cask or a bottle.

As we were technically still at school, there was time for a bit of homework...

Which malts were used for (left to right) Red Mcgregor, Dark Island and Northern Light, do you think?

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