An evening with Privateer Beers

It was a cold spring evening in March when some of the members of Brewers Group in Manchester (@brewersgroup) descended upon one of Manchester’s newest microbreweries.  We met at Piccadilly train station at 7pm and headed east from the back of the station down Fairfield Street, dangerously crossing the Mancunian Way and finally arriving at our destination – Privateer Beers which is ironically located on Temperance Street!

The brewery itself is tucked quite nicely under a railway arch – we pulled back the shutters and were greeted by owner Matt Jervis standing proudly behind his homemade bar sporting two handpulls and a stack of pint glasses.  Despite the freezing weather outside the brewery was surprisingly warm, as was the welcome extended by Matt and some others who had been invited along too and had already arrived.

After a few moments breaking the ice, Matt proceeded to pull pints of the first beer of the night.  Dainty Blonde is, as you may expect from the name, a pale beer that comes in at 4.2% and has a green pump clip.  I’ve had it before and liked it but this seemed even better than I remembered – I think there’s something psychological about drinking beer at the source!

While we quaffed our first pint a few of us were shown around the brewing kit by Matt who put the brewery together himself and is rightly proud of it.  An ingenious platform made from concrete blocks raises the usual suspects of hot liquor tank, mash tun, boiler and two fermenters off the ground.  It still amazes me that the only real difference between a commercial setup and my own homebrewing equipment is the volume of beer it can brew!

Next up was the second beer of the night.  After the first round Matt was understandably a bit bored of pulling pints so insisted we pull our own which I was really excited by as despite years of drinking cask ale I’ve never actually pulled a pint myself!  It turned out I was surprisingly good at it which was a curse as people kept asking me to serve them.  Think I’ll stick to the right side of the bar from now on 🙂

The second beer was exciting as it was the premiere of Privateer’s latest beer – Red Duke – which shares its name with a potato variety, although this wasn’t why Matt chose the name!  Red Duke is a 4.8% Red Ale, although as Matt pointed out himself it isn’t very red – happy with how the first run of the beer tasted he didn’t feel inclined to change the grain bill and therefore the taste for the sake of changing the colour.  The Red Duke was even better than the Dainty Blonde and is a beer I’ll definitely buy next time I see it stocked on a bar.

Matt explained that Privateer will only ever brew beers lower than 5% as he wants to concentrate on producing quality session beers.  He also mentioned the reason behind his choice of bold colours for his pump clips – he hopes that people will be able to order his beers by colour, presumably when they’ve lost the ability to focus on the words!  Shortly after starting up Matt realised that running the brewery was too much work for one man so he has a brewer who mans the brewery while he’s out on the road selling the beer and promoting the Privateer brand.  We then got to look around the malt and hop store and sniff some Willamette hops (hops smell really good) – again, the same vacuum packed foil bags I use at home – only bigger!

As everyone was now nicely lubricated conversation flowed freely and I put a face to a couple of twitter names I was familiar with.  All in all it was a great night with some great beers and great people – which is about all you can ask for really.  A big thanks to @brewersgroup for arranging and Matt (@Privateerbeers) for his hospitality – a man who clearly knows how to organise a pissup in a brewery!

Matt at home on top of his mash tun
Matt at home on top of his mash tun

Witbier Brewday

As a result of Jane and I having recently fallen in love with a couple tasty Witbiers I decided to have a stab at brewing one myself – you can read about the thought process behind this as well as my initial research in my last post – Wild Wit’ Fury.

So yesterday was brewday, and with the anticipation that this always comes with I had already got all my brewing equipment out of the shed and had bought the ingredients – including the all important White Labs WLP400 yeast.

The Mash

So, gear ready, I got up and got the hot liquor tank fired up good and early (7:30am!) and started the mash. I’d already prepared a recipe so while I waited for the strike water to hit temperature I weighed out the following grain bill:

  • Pilsner Malt (46%)
  • Torrefied Wheat (40%)
  • Flaked Oats (10%)
  • Munich Malt (4%)

The rationale behind the proportions, much like other recipes I’ve concocted, were fairly unscientific except for maybe the Torrefied (not terrified!) Wheat which despite most beer styles calling for no more than 10%, a lot of sources concurred that in a Witbier up to 40% is perfectly acceptable!

Grains mashing in cool box mashtun
Grains doughed in – there is no better smell than this!

The 60 minute mash started at around 67°C and ended at just a smidgen under (my mash tun works quite well after replacing the polystyrene boards with shredded paper that Jane got me from work.) I then vorlaufed by recirculating the first 2 litres back to the top of the mash tun – being a witbier clarity isn’t really that important, but I didn’t want bits of husk in my beer! I then drained the tun into my Fermentation Vessel. Luckily the mash didn’t stick which I’ve heard it can do when using lots of torrefied wheat – probably due to the excellent design and workmanship on my home made mash tun manifold (see this previous post for details!)

Sweet smelling wort draining from mash tun
Sweet smelling wort draining from my mash tun

The Sparge

I batch sparge – I may at some point fashion a device to fly sparge but I’ve had no problems with batch sparging so far. I did two batches of around 7.5 litres, again vorlaufing before draining into the Fermentation Vessel. Once all the wort was collected I transferred operations to the shed and transferred the wort to the boiler

The Boil

A couple of pics of the wort coming to the boil – you can just about make out the melting snow outside the shed door!

Wort coming to boil Wort coming to boil

Once a rolling boil was reached I added the only hop addition I would be doing – 12 grams of Wakatu – a New Zealand cultivar of the noble Hallertauer hops. I did take a picture but it was too steamy to see anything!

I was boiling for 60 minutes, so 45 minutes in I added my copper immersion chiller in order to sterilise it. I then added the two key witbier ingredients 5 minutes from the end – 35 grams of sweet orange peel and 11 grams of coriander seeds which I lightly crushed beforehand – these smelt amazing and will hopefully taste magical in the finished beer. I used no copper finings as I want to achieve a cloudy look consistent with the style.

At flame out I turned on the outside tap and cooled the wort to around 25°C. I checked the O.G. which was 1.048 (about what I was expecting) and transferred it to my sterilised Fermentation Vessel and pitched the yeast.

White Labs WLP400
White Labs WLP400 liquid yeast

This was my first time using liquid yeast and it smelt amazing – it’s easy to see why the type of yeast is so important to the flavour of this beer. It would have been interesting to split the batch into two and try a second batch with a different yeast to compare flavours but I don’t have any smaller FVs.

I placed the lid on tight (I don’t use an airlock) and placed the bucket in my fermenting fridge and set the temperature controller to 22°C. I’d dome some research and decided on this temperature as it’s reported to produce spicier notes at this end of the range. Again it would be interesting to ferment different batches with the same yeast but at different temperatures – although this could get a bit silly.

FV tucked up cosily in fermenting fridge
FV tucked up cosily in fermenting fridge – note the temperature sensor taped to the side and the heater at the bottom
Temperature controller set to 22°C
Temperature controller set to 22°C


I will probably leave for about two weeks in primary before priming and bottling. I’ll let you know how it’s tasting in a few weeks!

All in all a successful brewday – started at 7:30am and had everything done, washed, cleared away and was eating lunch by 1:00pm.

Wilde Wit’ Fury

Jane and I visited The Beagle (@beaglesabout) in Chorlton last Saturday night to take advantage of their inaccurately named “Midweek” menu – although I’m led to believe this is the menu that is normally only offered midweek but has been extended to Saturdays as a Jaunuary offer, so I’ll let them off.  We were both impressed with the The Beagle, the dining area has a good ambience and the food menu was excellent – Jane being a vegetarian had two choices for both the starter and main, which for a set menu is a rarity.  We both thoroughly enjoyed our meals, but what put the icing on the cake was the fact that each dish on the menu had a recommended beer pairing.  Now we know The Beagle is all about celebrating the best in beers from both near and far, and the thought behind pairing beers with food shows how dedicated they are to living this vision.

Now I digress, and this is starting to sound a bit like a review of The Beagle, which it isn’t.  What I’m supposed to be doing is telling you about my next homebrew recipe which was inspired in part by the pairing Jane had with her starter – a Belgian Witbier.  I found out later with a little Twitter magic that the beer in question was a Blanche de Bruxelles by Brasserie Lefebvre (@hopus_beer). I have only tried Witbier once before – an Icelandic White Ale by Einstök (@EinstokBeer) – which I thought was amazing, and the Blanche de Bruxelles just confirmed for me that I like this beer style and that I want to make one of my own.

Blanche de Bruxelles by Brasserie Lefebvre
Einstok Icelandic White Ale bottle
Icelandic White Ale by Einstök

What’s Wit all about?

So, research.  Anyone who has read my recent post on A Journey into Brewing Beer will know that making beer is basically doing clever stuff barley, hops, yeast and water, right?  Well in this case, no, there’s a bit more to it as witbier traditionally has not only an extra ingredient in the mash – wheat – but also orange peel and coriander seeds in the boil.  In terms of hops, the style calls for less bitterness than most as this is said to overpower the flavour of the spices – the general consensus being to add small amounts of bittering hops with most people saying to avoid any aroma hop additions.

So, the recipe I’ve come up with includes the following grains; Pilsner Malt, Torrified Wheat, Flaked Oats and  Munich Malt.  I intend to use a single hop for bittering at the start of the boil with no aroma hops added.  Traditionally witbiers are brewed using noble hops, but for a twist I’ll be using New Zealand “Wakatu” which is actually a New Zealand bred variety of the noble Hallertauer – why?  I happen to have some in my hop box!  As mentioned above, it’s essential for this style to get the spice and citrus flavours by adding cinnamon and orange peel to the boil – this will be the difficult part as getting the right quantities will be tough – and as I’m adding to the boil rather than the secondary there won’t be any chance to fix it if I get it wrong!  Finally, I’ll be using White Labs WLP400 yeast which is a strain specific to the style.

Wit’s in a name?

As with all my beers, I’ll be naming this beer following the “Syco Brewery” theme.  I decided on “Wilde Wit’ Fury” – the Wilde coming from Oscar Wilde (famous for his wit).  A little cheesy?  Maybe, but it works for me!

So, I’ll be brewing this in the near future and will post to let you know how it goes – watch this space!

A journey into brewing beer

When you love beer as much as I do (which is quite a lot), you get to the point where you begin to wonder what’s in the damned stuff anyway. Most bottles of beer you buy are quite clear on the subject – barley, hops, yeast and water.  Is that it?  Clearly I’ve baked cakes that were more complicated, so last November I decided to embark on turning my shed into a brewery.

As a student in Sheffield in the early 00’s I dabbled with home brewing using kits and even ran a website on the subject for a while, but as I got more passionate about beer my palate was spoilt by the excellent beers available locally and the kits just didn’t cut it. I tried a couple of kits again about two years ago and still wasn’t impressed.

So, if I was going to the effort of brewing beer in my shed, it would need to be ‘All Grain’ – i.e. made from the base ingredients – or nothing. I could have tried brewing with malt extract as an intermediate step but didn’t really see the point as I knew where I wanted to end up.  I started to do some research and the shed started to fill with obscure items of kit.

The Boiler

It all started one morning, Jane looked across the living room and squinted at a strange silver object in the corner, “That looks like a tea urn” she said. “It is a tea urn” I replied.  To be more accurate, it had been a tea urn – it was now a brewing copper, the boiler that help my wort through its transition into beer!  The silver object was a 33 litre Burco catering urn I had acquired from eBay at a steal.  With the addition of some plumbing and a home made hop strainer it’s perfect for the job:

Tea urn / Boiler / Elephant
Hop Strainer
My home made hop strainer

Mash Tun

Next up was a 24 litre coolbox.  This was in the shed already and is a staple of our summer camping trips.  This has now become my mash tun and I really must buy a replacement before we next go camping!  I drilled a hole at the bottom and added a tap and then built my pride and joy – a copper manifold to filter the grain from the mash.  This involved some copper pipe, a hacksaw and a blow lamp and was quite fun to make:

This looks like a cool box, but it's really a mash tun
This looks like a cool box, but it’s really a mash tun

This was fun to make!
This was fun to make!

Fermenting Fridge

As I would be brewing in the shed I needed some way to ensure I could keep consistent temperature whilst fermenting my beer.  The popular choice is to take a standard fridge and add a heater and temperature control unit.  In keeping with the theme I bought a fridge for £20 off eBay and built the control unit myself:

Building the temperature controller
Building the temperature controller
Temperature Controller
Temperature Controller
Inside the fridge (spot the heater and temperature sensor taped to fermenter)
Inside the fridge (spot the heater and temperature sensor taped to fermenter)


To finish off, some pictures of the brewing process:

Taking the mash temperature
Taking the mash temperature
Transferring wort to FV
Transferring wort to FV

So far I’ve done three all grain brews and in my opinion all three have been above average beers – a far cry from the kit brews I have done in the past.  I dare say this is just the beginning of my brewing adventure and I’ll be blogging more on the subject in the future so watch this space!

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