I’ve spent many a happy conversation chatting with Mal Secourable, Head Brewer at Colonial Brewery Margaret River at various beer events.
At some of these events Colonial have been offering beautiful Western Australian oysters with their Kolsch and I’ve indulged in more than one (or five) at a time, shoveling them as elegantly as I could manage whilst standing up and juggling a beer. At the last event, the first South West Beer Festival, Mal and I agreed we’d try and catch up for a pint and a chat soon.
Time flies and schedules are different but since Mal had just returned from ‘Good Beer Week’ in Melbourne, where he hosted a three course Colonial beer dinner at ‘The Botanical’, and I had found myself with a Friday off I thought it would be a great opportunity. After all, who could refuse a Friday afternoon beer? However my suggestion was nicely one-upped by Mal’s invitation to spend a day at the brewhouse while they brewed their next limited release – a Baltic Porter.
”Do you want to come and join in?” he asked.
I think my exact reply was “hell yes”. Only in the South West could an attempt to catch up with a mate result in a day in a brewhouse!
I was excited. Really excited. Mash-in was scheduled for 8am and Mal gave me an open invitation to head over whenever. There seemed to be an understanding that 8am might be what I’d consider “violently early”. I really wanted to be there for the mash and my boyfriend pointed out that I’d be mad to miss it. I knew he was right so I set my alarm and dreamt a beery-sleep. It was still very dark outside when my alarm started making seriously unpleasant noises. It went off again after the factory determined “snooze” time was up and it was still dark and it was really cold and as you’ve probably guessed by now, I missed the mash in.
I arrived just after 9am after a quick read through my Oxford Companion to Beer to remind myself about Baltic Porters – an English style, referring to strong Porter beers exported off to the Baltic countries such as Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
Mal introduced me to his partner in brewing crime, Sorcha, and I proceeded to spend the day being either one of their shadows. I was encouraged to ask as many questions as I liked and, in most cases, needed because keeping up with brewer jargon in the wild is a little fast paced for this beer drinking gal. I’ve done a number of tours through breweries in my career – Matilda Bay, Gage Roads, Little Creatures, White Rabbit and Elmar’s in the Valley but it’s all surface stuff – here’s some equipment, here’s what is does, and so forth which is always great, don’t get me wrong, but compared to spending a whole day at a brewery … it’s the difference between listening to a CD and seeing the act live on stage.
The Colonial Baltic Porter will follow in the footsteps of earlier limited edition beers Keutebier and Mumme to continue the journey in old beer styles that have been a little neglected in recent times. Without concern for the latest trending styles or what Joe Bloggs is brewing down the road or on the other side of the Earth for that matter, Mal and Colonial are about beer styles that have captured their attention and, in turn, their desire to brew it for themselves. Colonial’s Limited Editions have gained significant momentum, flying out the door of the brewery, on show at sister venues The Royal and The Raffles and a few stray kegs making their way to like minded beer venues like Clancy’s Fish Pub Dunsborough and The Norfolk Hotel.
Having not brewed the Baltic Porter before the process was almost like babysitting a small child, watching everything it was doing to make sure it was okay. It can’t be too hot or too cold or too thick and there was continuous testing. As the morning went on I had started to feel somewhat of a really incompetent stalker, following too closely behind poor Mal and Sorcha, so I volunteered to help with the testing. I was proud as punch as I stood in the brewery with a beaker of soon-to-be Baltic Porter in a small tub of ice water, swishing it around and watching the thermometer reach 20 degrees when it was ready for testing. I must have resembled some sort of mad Asian scientist, swishing a black liquid and smiling a slightly deranged smile. It’s a miracle I was invited back again or perhaps Mal was just being super polite.
The first step I got to see was the mash being transferred to the lauder tun. I peered in to see what was happening whilst the contents of the tank slowly rose as the pump worked diligently. That pump certainly had it’s work cut out for it with the Baltic Porter mash being a much thicker one than it had previously dealt with so we were on the look out for any signs of struggle. As the mash began recirculating Sorcha and I decided it looked a little like a cappuccino.
Now it was time for sparging. I used to think sparging was simply washing the mash with water from a thing that looked like an upside sprinkler. Whilst I’m not essentially wrong I did learn a lot more. Yes, it’s about washing the mash and basically making sure you’re getting the most good stuff that you can but it’s also a balancing act between too little, too much, too hot and too cold. There was more staring into the tank at this stage and without a functioning torch it was trickier but thankfully Sorcha had a back up – the iPhone Torch app. It was severely battery draining but turned out to be rather handy on this particular day. Oh and even now on reflection I still stand by my original thinking that the sparging bit looks like an upside down sprinkler.
Soon it was time for the almost-beer to move house again. This time from the lauter tun to the kettle, ready for the boil and the whirlpool. As it bubbled along I was once again struck by the intricacy of it all. Who’ve have thought beer was so sensitive? I mean I knew it was an art and I knew, in theory, that any number of factors could affect the final outcome but it’s really ANY number of factors, no matter how seemingly small. As we watched the bubbles, monitoring what they were doing, Sorcha remarked it sounded like a babbling brook and from there we came up with the idea for a ‘Sounds of the Brewery’ relaxation tape. I think we were half serious; I’ll have to chat with her later to further develop the idea.
Now it was time for hops and so carefully measured doses of East Kent Goldings and Northern Brewer were thrown in for a nice hot bubbly swim in the kettle. I spent more time with my head in the tank and although I was blinking profusely as my contact lens’ struggled with the steam; I was also enjoying the aromas.
“Time for the messy part” I was told. Sorcha and Mal played around with the forklift and positioned a big white tub under the gaping mouth of the lauter tun. Then a slightly scary looking piece of machinery with spinny things was wheeled in. The process I am poorly describing is the removal of all the spent grain from the lauter tun, ready to be taken away and eaten by the local cattle or, sometimes, pigs. Apparently pigs go nuts for it. Those crazy, drunken pigs.
Mal started up the machine and it was damn loud. He declared himself to be a gentlemen as he handed me his ear muffs. The spent grain overfilled two of these huge tubs, hitting home again just how much of a bigger style the Baltic Porter is going to be.
Now it was time for the whirlpool to remove all the hop fragments and other bits and pieces that don’t belong by whirling it all up into one mass of stuff called the trub. We had to listen out for the gurgling noises and I remarked how it sounded like a bath tub being emptied. From here it was time to cool things down and the heat exchanger quickly went to work since yeast doesn’t really like to be boiled. Fair enough too.
The first Colonial Baltic Porter was now well on it’s way to completion! It was time to celebrate and unwind with a little more testing, this time of the tasting variety …
The limited release beers I’ve tried in recent memory have all been big, hoppy American styles and I’ve enjoyed them all but, as a category, pale ale is wider reaching than this and Colonial Pale Ale is a great reminder to this. Inspired by German ale styles the Colonial Pale Ale is an Altbier, a type of Pale Ale, that is beautiful with great biscuity malt, peppery spice and medium body. The background for Altbier evolves from older German ales, like the Keutebier style which was Colonial’s last limited release, with the name “alt” meaning “old” being a relative term to when lagers were gaining in popularity.
Next up we tasted the Kolsch and although by strict definition a true Kolsch is brewed in Cologne, Germany, there are a couple of great Australian breweries producing their own Kolsch style beers. I’ve enjoyed countless Colonial Kolsch pints and it’s always a sensational beer exhibiting great balance in spiciness, bitterness and hoppiness. I also love this style because it’s a great one to recommend to people who are tipping their toes in the water of craft brewing.
The final taster was the Colonial Porter, a fittingly dark number to end the day on with coffee and chocolate delivered with medium body.
I left Colonial with a massive smile on my face, as I normally do anyway, and a far better understanding of the beer making process. Mal and Sorcha were fantastic hosts, as well as Sarah in the bar for making me a great coffee and Adam in the kitchen for an epic fish burger for lunch.
Be sure to look out for Colonial’s next Limited Edition – Baltic Porter – due to land in late June/early July. What a perfect excuse for a winter South West getaway! And don’t forget, if you can’t make it out of Perth, you can always visit their sister venues, The Royal on the Waterfront and The Raffles.