A homebrewer walks into a brewery – part 1

Max Descloux, Intern

Max Descloux from the tiny brewery Brasserie Lance-Pierre in Switzerland is doing an internship at renowned Brew By Numbers (BBNo) in London. Over a few installments, he writes about how it is for a “homebrewer” to be working in a professional and world-class brewery. This is part 1.

A few months ago, I was looking for a professional experience in film production in London. But then a Jiminy Cricket put another idea in my head: Why not working in a brewery instead? I started to homebrew in Lausanne in 2012 and registered a brewery with two friends in 2014. Always torn between my two jobs, filmmaking and beers, I had a decision to make. Done. Let’s brew in London!

But where? I sent a few awkward emails to London’s breweries, trying to explain my not-so-clear-project to brew in the Capital, without result. A little bit desperate, I contacted friends that knew more brewers than me. That was pretty effective: Two days later, I had an interview with Dennis Ratliff, brewer at Brew By Numbers (BBNo) and a three months internship.

The night before the first day of work was short. I couldn’t stop thinking about my qualifications. I have basic knowledge of brewing, composition of water, acidity of malts, types of hop and needs of the yeast. But I got it by talking with others and reading books; I didn’t study that in a school or at a university. Maybe I was a faker? It’s not that hard to brew, right? It’s basically: Buy some equipment and ingredients and then follow a recipe from an internet forum and pray that it taste something good. Right?

No time for chitchat

It was with a knot in my stomach that I rode to the brewery the morning. Dennis was here to welcome me and introduce me to the team. They are all young, friendly, and… already working: They don’t lose time for chitchat, today it’s packaging day. A little bit relieved, my first task was to keg, something well known to me. And it gave me the time to talk a little bit more with the other brewers. “Which shift do you want for tomorrow, brewday” Dennis asked me. “You can choose between the first, 5am-1pm, or the second, 1pm-9pm”. Without hesitation, I choose the first one.

And so started the BREW DAY, at 5 in the morning, while the City still seemed to be asleep. Dennis asked me to go on the mash tun, while he charged the grain. With a paddle, I steered the twenty bags of grain going in the vessel. No time to waste, we have to prepare the other steps already. We are two in the brew team, and the big challenge is for us to be finished on time, before the start of the second shift and also have enough hot water for the second batch.

The brewing system is separated in five vessels: CLT (Cold Liquor Tank), HLT (Hot Liquor Tank), mash tun, kettle and whirlpool. The surprise for me was that this system is only made for a single step infusion mash. Back in Switzerland, I used to do a mash step, a mash out step and a protein step for wheat beers. But the efficiency of the British malts allow us to do a single mash temperature, a good time saver. We boiled the wort, added hops, Irish moss and yeast vitamins. Then we cooled the beer before pumping it into the fermentation tank. Right on time before the beginning of the other team.

English is not one English

What a day! And it’s just the beginning: I started working three weeks ago and I already feel part of the brewery, thanks to the responsibilities and the trust they gave me. The brewers are really patient and teach me a lot every day. To be fair, the first week was very hard to understand their English. There is brewers from England, Scotland, Australia and the US. Quite often, they give different names for the same tool. I have my small notebook always with me to write down the different names: Hopstand/Upstand; Grant/Under Back; Pitcher/Scoop/Jug; etc… It gets better every day.

Three months will go fast and there are so many things to learn, so many things to understand, so no time to waste. Let’s brew!

P.S. August in London seems to be the place to be for the craft beer lovers. So I took a week to explore and appreciate the city before starting to work. I got an apartment, a bike, went to beer events and I frenetically began a bottle collection.

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