Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Glenkinchie and Belhaven (Part 2)

After the dram at Glenkinchie, it was time to hop on board the Boozer's Bus and truck on out to Belhaven Brewery, located in a very sunny and picturesque Dunbar. Located almost directly on the North Sea, it is a pleasant town. A pleasant town that we descended upon like hungry and thirsty Huns. Our Motorized Longboat came crashing down the narrow streets as we screamed war cries and threats to all that passed us by. We were there to slay a terrific demon, a horrible eldrich beastie. That dragon's name was Thirst. And slake our thirst we shall. We arrived at the brewery a bit late (we almost left a few people in the gift shop) but we were ready to plunder and pillage. After grabbing our round shields and short swords, we fled the bus like a tide of death, slaughtering all in our path and taking anything not securely bolted down (those that were loosely bolted down were given 2 minutes of work after which we deemed it "securely").

Ok...I lied a little bit. Just a teeny bit. There was no powerful dragon. We didn't have swords. But we were thirsty. And in the end, we did kinda pillage like Vikings. But they let us pillage so it's not really the same. We got off the bus and were awaited by this sight:

Old fashioned brick and stone? Check.

Kegs? Yeppers.

Massive smoke stack? You bet.

Why yes, I believe we're at a brewery. And Belhaven is a brewery that does things right. Really, really right. None of this "Hey, let's go on a tour and then you can have a half pint after before getting rushed onto the bus". Oh no. Belhaven knows that we are partial to a pint or two. So the first thing they do when we get in there? Do we start in the mill? HEAVENS NO!

We start in the bar for a pint.

The name of the bar is "The Monk's Retreat". Don't believe me? Fine:

While I am far from monastic in terms of morality, I do meet the quota on sobriety and the ever important "look like Friar Tuck" quotient. I felt oddly reverent in this bar. It was like stepping up to take Communion. At first, you're always at the back of the line in church and it's always awkward. Walking past people streaming away from the altar having had their delightful Sunday morning pre-brunch snack and drink:

I ALWAYS got stuck in the very back. And I never ate breakfast before church either.
 You start getting closer and that's when the agony sets in. People walk away looking beatified (well, satisfied with having a quick sup during church). Yet again, it happens here:

No Colin, share! For the love of the good god above, share! He would want it that way!
Then you finally get to the front and it's all business then. It's time to put your game face on for Jesus. Same thing at the Monk's retreat:

Sacramental wine AND cracker. In a glass!
Only, at church, you got stuck with that tasteless little Nilla Wafer and a quick snort of what tasted like grape juice with grain alcohol (not that I knew what grain alcohol was at that point). Here, you get a choice of sacrament:

If there was a keg at church, I'd go more. Just saying.
 Ahh, much better. A pint of Belhaven's Best went down a treat:

Blessed be!
After a pint and a chat with a few of the big chiefs of the company the tour began in earnest. The Belhaven brewery is massive and brews a lot of beer. Not only do they brew under their name (Belhaven) but they also brew the base beer for Innis and Gunn as well. They're currently owned by Greene King and are undergoing some restructuring. But not in the traditional managerial sense. No, they're building a new brewhouse that will double their capacity. Which means more Belhaven Scottish Ale (called Belhaven Export over here) to put into my tummy. Everybody wins! We start off with this, directly outside of the Monk's Retreat:

A funny little diagram that displays the flow of the brewery. Interesting and antique looking (it looked like it was from the 50s or 60s). The flashing lights mesmerized me for awhile. It was hard to look away. We then progressed along the tour, stopping first at the mill room:

All chutes and ladders in this room. They use, if I remember correctly, a 4 roller Porteus mill:

We then went to the mash tuns:

While it looks like they use an wooden mash tun (like a whisky washback), it's actually a stainless steel tank shrouded in wood to make it look pretty for tours. Frankly, all the gleaming copper and toasty aromas of good Scottish beer being brewed were prettier than some dumb wood. But that's just me. I'm like a thirsty magpie. Beer and shiny things! Next is the kettle:

Yet again if I remember correctly, I believe they use an external gas fired calandria to heat the wort. When they were talking about upgrading the plant they originally wanted to replace this as a gas calandria is extremely inefficient. But they ended up leaving it in place as they were afraid that it might change the flavor of the beer. Which would make me a very, very sad panda. Next were some of their mini fermenters that they use for their small volume beers or test batches:

One of the cooler things they implemented was an in-line aerator seen here:

Instead of aerating through turbulent flow and just kind of guessing how much dissolved oxygen was in the beer, this lovely set-up injected food grade oxygen into the wort at a precise rate. Yay, science! From here we traveled on to their yeast room:

As you can see, they use a cream yeast to ferment instead of brick yeast (cream yeast is aqueous yeast instead of the yeast that comes in large bales). The room and area around it smelled really good but that might be because the ENTIRE BUILDING smelled like boiling malt. But this area definitely had a wonderful bready smell to it. Finally, their main fermenters:

They're...kinda huge. Let's give this some perspective:

That's UNDERNEATH the main fermenters. I had to take the previous photo on the first landing of two flights of stairs. I was debating whether or not to attach one of those hoses to either a very large jug or my mouth. The tour guide had eyes like a hawk (one of the plant engineers) so I had to leave it be. Soon, my sweets. Soon. After this we got to check out their packaging area:

This is their kegging machine, which was being repaired by a bunch of guys standing around scratching their head. It made me smile as it reminded me of my ENTIRE FOUR YEARS AS A CHEMICAL ENGINEER. Ahhh, nothing like absolute bafflement at what you're doing wrong. Only these guys were getting paid to figure it out. I had to pay $50,000 a year to figure it out. Oh, and so the president of my school could have a jet.

I'm not bitter or anything. Really.

Their bottling plant had just recently been removed (it was more economical to tanker beer to be bottled by Greene King) so there was a giant warehouse with nothing in it. Which was kinda spooky. But, I have a question for you. A test, if you will. Ok, pop quiz, hotshot. You use hundreds of pounds / kilograms of malt every day to brew. What do you do with it? Do you scoop it out by hand. Flush it down the drain. If you're Belhaven...

You shoot it into a dumpster through a pipe with blasts of pressurized air. As we walked by the fragrant smell of spent grain lingered in the air an occasionally you would hear a "pssssssht" and then the dull whump of a huge load of spent grain slamming into either steel or more spent grain. It was rather entertaining to watch. After this we got onto the bus and went home to do work and go to sleep early so we could get up and study for finals in April. Hahaha, oh man, that's funny. No, we went back to the bar. Belhaven, in their infinite Scottish wisdom, realized how much students love free beer and free food. So they obliged us:

That's right. Remember what I said so long ago in my Belhaven Scottish Ale review? I'll refresh you:

"My favorite nitro can and one of my favorite beers. While not as good as real draft Scottish ale, this is like a warm blanket on a cold night for me. This is my comfort beer. This and a good piece of beef and ale pie...with a scotch and cigar to finish it off? There's not a happier man"

Oh yeah. Mhmm. That's what that beer is. A pint of Belhaven Export and a Scotch pie. Free. I was in HEAVEN. It was so good. Ahh, makes me wistful just thinking about the tender spicy meat coupled with the cool, malty brew. Mmmmmmmmm. Here's a picture of the merriment, brought to you by Belhaven:

All in all, this was a fantastic day. Not only was it informative and entertaining, it was filling as well. After having a few drams of Glenkinchie and topping that off with more than a few pints of Belhaven (I had the Twisted Thistle, Belhaven Best, Belhaven Export, Belhaven 80/-, some of the Robert Burns Ale, a sip of the St. Andrews Ale, and half a bottle of some beer they brewed for Canada Day or something) I realized that being a brewing and distilling science student is pretty awesome. So cheers to you, Glenkinchie, for the free tour. And a hearty huzzah to the home of my comfort beer, Belhaven, for free reign of the bar for a few hours and some pies. And, most importantly, cheers to you all for reading this. I'm hoping that this is further proof that I do something and that it will quash those rumors. I do things, it's true.

Occasionally I leave Edinburgh to drink.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice. Do you feel the envy as I type this comment? I attended a concert in Memphis over the weekend and had a few pints of Belhaven before the show. Cheers for the photo tour!