Having previously told us about Bateman's of Wainfleet, James Keane was back in England this summer and took the Meet the Brewer tour at the Old Brewery premises of the Meantime Brewery in Greenwich, London.
We arrived to Greenwich and we had a look around the Old Brewery bar and restaurant. The premises are shared with a historical centre. We arrived a little early and took a good look around. Our initial impression was that no brewing was taking place here at all and that this was a flagship bar used for publicity and marketing. Happily we were soon proved wrong!
Rod -- the head brewer at the Old Brewery -- arrived and introduced himself. He started off by explaining the historical significance of the bar area. The fish belly beams were quite significant historically: holding up the brickwork which dates back to 1715. He apparently gets many visitor engineers very interested in this place! He also explained that Michael Jackson (The Beer Hunter!) was a great friend of the brewery and after his death four years ago he donated his private bottled collection to them. It's on display in the main bar area behind glass cabinets.
The history of the place itself was interesting. It's located beside the Maritime University but back in the 18th century that building was a naval hospital. Beer was brewed here and pumped into the hospital to supply the retired and disabled sailors. They would have a beer with their food. The beer was a lot safer than the water back then. The beer wasn't very strong (3.5%) and was probably a dark or brown ale.
We then went into the basement of the bar and we saw the two 1000 litre serving vessels (we did the tour slightly backwards!). The beer is gravity fed from the fermentors on the upper floors into the these tanks. These pressured 'serving tanks' contain large silver bags into which the beer is fed. The chamber is then compressed or pressurised using a simple air compressor -- the pressure in the chamber is 2 bar. This means the beer was not CO2 pressurised as the beer is sealed in this silver bag. This pressure is sufficient to drive the beer back upstairs into the serving taps. It was a very interesting system, apparently very common in Germany.
We then had a look at the brewing system located on the ground floor -- that was mad. It consisted of two main tanks. The role of the tank depended on the stage in the brewing. I will probably get this wrong but I'll take a stab at it as best I remember it:
The grain is added to tank B. The water is heated in tank A. It's roughly a 3:1 water to grain ratio with his batch size about 500l. Typically he does a two stage mash: 30 mins at 62C to utilise beta enzymes, 15 mins to heat up and 30 mins at 72C to utilise alpha enzymes. The grain is then pumped from tank B to tank A -- I gave him a double-take at this point -- 'the grain is pumped ??' Tank A has a false bottom, and the sparging is done here. The wort is then pumped back into B for the boil. The boil is typically 60-75 mins with wort loss at 10% and hops are added usually as the wort starts to fill (pre boil), 10 mins before the end of the boil, and to the fermentors for dry hopping. On completion of the boil the wort is then pumped back into the bottom of tank A which doubles as a whirlpool. 20 mins of whirlpooling and then the wort is pumped from there through some filters and into plate chillers (heat exchangers) which are adjusted to match his pitching temp of 18C.
The fermentors are on two levels above. Rod explained that usually he can pitch as the wort is filling the fermentors as he can monitor the temperature at all stages and will know the resting temperature in the fermentor. The fermentors are actually 1000 litres. He brews on two consecutive days to fill a fermentor, interestingly enough he pitches on day one. He doesnt use any kind of water treatment only preheating the water on the day prior to brewing. He doesn't using any secondary finings either. The beer is then fermented for a week and crash cooled to drop out the yeast.
I was extremely impressed with the setup and while it's pretty clear that much of Meantime's beer comes from the bigger plant up the river, I can confirm that the beer brewed at the Old Brewery was very special indeed. I was very impressed with their range of beers which included the Keller and Helles German styles.
The daytime tour was £25 and lasts about 90 minutes. You get a main course from the menu and 3-4 half pints as you see the brewery.
The 'Meet the Brewer' is a private tour and is very genuine -- you meet an expert brewer who wasn't thrown by any question and I can highly recommend it.
The Old Brewery - http://www.oldbrewerygreenwich.com/
Meantime - http://www.meantimebrewing.com/
Tours of the new Brewery - http://www.meantimebrewing.com/news-events/brewery-tours