Thursday 28th October 2010
A chance discussion in a Faversham Pub led to us visiting the Liverpool Organic Brewery. Local resident, yet Liverpudlian by birth, Mike Hawkins, was paying a visit to his family on Merseyside and arranged to visit his old friend John Burns, who is a director of the new brewery, and he invited us along.
So, there we were at Bank Hall railway station to meet Mike arriving from the opposite direction, from his daughter's home in Waterloo. He arrived within a couple of minutes and it took about five minutes to walk to the brewery.
They started in August 2009 but already produce a large range of cask and bottled conditioned beers on a ten barrel plant and brew once or twice a week. Their brewing process starts with the grain added to the mash tun by an Archimedes screw. All malt used is certified Organic and is from Warminster Maltings. Simultaneously water comes from the hot liquor tank, at a controlled rate, to create a thick porridge-like mixture. After steeping for a while, the starch in the malt is released to give the fermentable brewing sugars.
The resulting liquid, now called wort, is pumped into a small "underback" to aerate it and then goes to the copper. Here the wort is boiled for 1 to 1¼ hours, hops being added at different points including the finish, according to the particular recipe. The hops are mostly not organic but as they are much less than 5% of the total, the Soil Association is happy.
After steeping the liquor is pumped from the bottom to the top so that it goes back through the hops that have settled on the bottom. Then it goes through the heat exchanger for cooling, and the water produced by the exchanger is warmed up and transferred to the Hot Liquor Tank for the next brew.
The cooled beer is then pumped into one of the three fermenting vessels, which each hold 10 barrels. The spent grain goes to local farmers who show their appreciation by supplying eggs in return.
The unit next door houses the cask washer, all the bottled ales, as well as both the cold and warm store. Cask beer is placed in a cold room to condition.
They mostly use 9 gallon plastic barrels which are lighter than metal firkins and stack on top of each other so they can be moved around together easily. Additionally, they also use some casks from the late lamented Higson's Brewery.
The warm room is used for conditioning the bottles. In an unusual, but very practical system, the bottles are put straight into their cardboard cases, placed onto trolleys, then taken to the warm room to condition, see photo below right. When this is over, the remainder of the time is spent at room temperature.
Managing Director is Mark Hensby. We went into the office and were introduced to the Head Brewer Karl Critchley, Becky, office assistant and general helper Ken Robinson.
We had already met John's son, Paul, who was busy doing the jobs around the brewery including assisting with the brewing, cask washing, loading the van, helping with the bottling and much more.
They also employ two part time ladies to do the bottling, who do a remarkable 600 bottles an hour between them on the equipment shown in the picture below left. They also do contract bottling for Southport Brewery.
Liverpool Organic has a core range of four beers: Liverpool Pale Ale (4.0%), a light ale with a bitter aftertaste; Best Bitter (4.2%), a well hopped beer with citrus flavours; 24 Carat Gold (4.2%) made with 100% Brewers Gold hops, has an orange citrus finish. William Roscoe (4.3%) is a light bitter using Centennial and Fuggles hops. This beer also features in the "Heroes of Liverpool" range of eight bottled beers, all of which are bottle conditioned.
The core range of bottled beers is the above mentioned Pale Ale and 24 Carat Gold plus ShipWreck IPA (6.5%), a true IPA.
At the time of our visit two other "Heroes" beers were out. Joseph Williamson TunnAle (4.1%), a classic bitter, named after the engineer who created a labyrinth of tunnels under Edge Hill. He said about his workers that "they worked all the better for having their throats wetted" and supplied them with ale and porter. There certainly deserves to be a beer with his name on the label. Kitty Wilkinson established a public wash house during 1893 during a cholera outbreak and probably saved many lives, hence Kitty Wilkinson Chocolate and Vanilla Stout (4.5%) which has a dark bitter chocolate flavour with a vanilla finish.
Other recent beers were IronMen (4.0%), using organic New Zealand hops, named after Antony Gormley's famous Iron Men on Crosby beach. These organic hops were in Honey Blonde (4.5%), with organic wild flower honey. It was very popular, as was Johnny Handsome (4.0%), a lightly hopped best bitter. It is named after a ghost that haunted the Excelsior pub in Liverpool. The beer is now sold at the Vernon Arms, Dale Street, in the city centre.
We were lucky to take home one of the few limited edition bottles of FestivAle 30 (5.3%) which was brewed on draught for CAMRA's 30th Liverpool Beer Festival 2010. A best bitter with a floral aroma and a bitter finish. We also saw the company's first batch of maturing cider.
They will hold their own beer festival, with over a hundred beers and twenty ciders at Waterloo over the weekend before Easter. They intend to begin selling beers on line, so we can all get a chance to drink them.
I would like to thank all at Liverpool Organic Brewery for allowing our visit which was very enjoyable.
See their website at www.liverpoolorganicbrewery.com