About Islay Ales
The People (The Brew Crew!)
Paul Hathaway, originally from Ascot erkshire moved to Islay in August 2003 having visited many times on holiday. Paul is a singer who performs locally and has toured in Germany.
Paul Capper moved to Islay to live in 1993, though he only became a full time resident in January 2003 after retiring from the West Midlands Fire Service after 27 years.
Walter Scobert 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.
Other people you will come across in the brewery are Steve, a former accountant and Yasmin who also works in her family business.
The Islay Ales Company was founded by Paul, Paul and Walter 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 usually 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 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 days’ 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 beers. By mixing different quantities of different malt and hops we get different flavours, colours, strengths, aromas and styles.
We use several different types of malt; pale, crystal, dark crystal, caramalt, chocolate, lager, roasted and barley. Pale malt 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 use six different types of hops; three, Bramling Cross, Fuggle and Golding from England, two, Amarillo and Mount Hood from the USA and Bobek 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 100 130kg of malts “the grist”. The mixture is stirred with the mash poleto 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 by which time the elements are covered, 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 picks dissolves up any 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. The 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. These 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 has no alcohol in it yet. 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 beer 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 Polo Shirt 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.