About Islay Ales

The People (The Brew Crew!)
Paul Capper, director, used to work for the West Midlands Fire Service and become a full time resident of Islay in January 2003, retiring after 27 years service.

Steve Bavin, a former accountant, who moved up to Islay in 2004 from Surrey and used to work at Bruichladdich Distillery as their Financial Controller until he decided to have a less hectic life.

Jade Macdonald, who has lived all her life on Islay, started with us as a part time employee but now is employed full time.

Other people you will come across in the brewery, both directors, are Ishbel Capper, who moved up to Islay to live in 1993 and has worked in hospitality on the island and Walter Schobert, who retired after many years working as the curator of the German Film Museum in Frankfurt, Germany. He has a lifelong interest in beer and single malt whisky and has and continues to write about whisky.

The Islay Ales Company Limited was founded by Paul Capper, Walter Schobert and Paul Hathaway in 2003 to establish a microbrewery on the Hebridean Isle of Islay. Sharing an interest in beer, Paul, Paul and Walter naturally decided that an island with eight distilleries producing some of the most famous whiskies in the world needed a brewery! After lots of hard work, production started in March 2004.

Normal production at Islay Ales means two brews a week, on a Tuesday and a Friday. We bottle twice a week on a Monday and a Thursday.

Our brewery is a four barrel plant where we can produce roughly 1150 pints (640 litres) at a time. At maximum production, we can brew three times every eight days. Brewing takes one day, but the preparation starts the day before.

The process begins the day before we brew when the Hot Liquor Tank is filled to the 1,000 litre mark and the heating process starts. Brewers refer to water as liquor. The liquor needs to be at 70°C to brew with.

We weigh out the malt and hops in advance and take them to the Brewery ready for use in the next day's brew. Each beer we produce has a different recipe so a different combination of malt and hops is used for each one of our eight regular beers. By mixing various quantities of malts and hops we get different flavours, colours, strengths, aromas and styles.

We use several different types of malt: pale, crystal, caramalt, chocolate, lager and wheat as well as roasted barley. Pale malt, which we use in all of our regular ales, does not have much colour but has lots of sweet sugar flavours. Crystal malt has been kilned for longer so some of the sugars have turned to caramels. The roasted barley imparts lots of colour and gives coffee, chocolate, liquorice and toffee flavours. The other malts that we use are somewhere in between these extremes.

The malt that we use differs from the malt used for distilling as the brewing process requires different properties in the malt. Compared to the distilleries on Islay we use a very small amount of malt, around one tonne a month of all our malts combined.

We mainly use six different types of hops; three (Bramling Cross, Fuggle and Golding) are from England, two (Amarillo and Mount Hood) are from the USA and one (Bobek) is from Slovenia. The various hops give different bitterness and aroma characters to the beer. The hops come dried and vacuum packed and when they are rehydrated by boiling with the sweet wort in the copper oils and resins are drawn out. The resins give the bitter flavour to the beer while the oils give the beer its aromas.

Brewing the Beer
We begin by putting 300 litres of hot liquor at 70°C into the mash tun and add between 99kg and 130kg of malts, which is known as “the grist”, depending on what we are brewing. The mixture is stirred with the mash pole to thoroughly mix the grist and the liquor.

The liquor and malt is left to steep for about 80 minutes. The liquor starts to dissolve out the sugars from the malt. This gives a sweet thick liquid in the mash tun called wort. The wort provides the sweet side of the flavour equation in the beer.

The bitter side of the flavour equation is added to the beer in the copper (or kettle as it is sometimes called). The wort is transferred to the copper using the underback. The copper has heating elements in the bottom. After pumping the wort through the underback for about 15 minutes these elements are covered and we can then turn the heaters on and we start sparging the malt in the mash tun. Another 500 litres of hot liquor at 75°C is sprayed over the mash bed in the sparging process. This extra liquor dissolves any of the sugars that has been left behind in the initial steeping process. Sparging normally takes around an hour to an hour and three quarters. After the end of the process we are left with about 700 litres of sweet wort in the copper.

The wort is now brought to the boil and the first of the hops are added. These are the bittering hops and give the bitterness characteristic to the beer. Resins and oils are drawn out of the hops but as oils are volatile, they are boiled off and it is this aroma that can often be smelled around a working brewery. Two further lots of hops are added usually 10 minutes and 1 minute from the end of the boil. These hops are in contact with the wort for just long enough for the oils and resins to be drawn out but not long enough for the oils to be boiled off and they give the aroma to the beer.

Once the boil is finished the heat is turned off and the contents of the copper are left for 45 minutes. During this time all the characters mix together. The wort is now at 95°C and as yet has no alcohol in it. The wort needs to be cooled down and is run into the fermenter through a heat exchanger. Cold water runs one way and hot wort runs the other way and by the time it reaches the fermenter it has been cooled down to about 25°C

Yeast is added to the cooled wort in the fermenter and it is left for two and a half to three days to ferment. It is during this time that fermentation takes place where the yeast eats the sugar and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. The fermenting beer is tasted twice a day from the fermenter and the specific gravity is checked to ensure that it is progressing to its correct alcohol content. When fermentation has finished the beer is chilled to between 8 and 12°C for around four days.

The beer is then run off, or racked off, from the fermenter into casks where it continues to ferment because it is neither pasteurised nor filtered so the beer will continue to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide in the cask. The beer spends about six or seven days in the fermenter.

After racking off, and 5 or 6 days of storage the beer is ready to be sold as cask conditioned beer or it is bottled. In either case, the beer undergoes a secondary fermentation to give the beer its condition.