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.
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.|
|No Colin, share! For the love of the good god above, share! He would want it that way!|
|Sacramental wine AND cracker. In a glass!|
|If there was a keg at church, I'd go more. Just saying.|
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:
One of the cooler things they implemented was an in-line aerator seen here:
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.