NEW YEAR, NEW YEAST, NEW NOKOTA

It has been said that “brewers make wort and yeast make beer”.  While this perhaps over simplifies our involvement as craft brewers in the beer making process, it certainly is true.  We regularly refer to our miraculous microscopic friends as “the most important workers at the brewery” and there is good reason for that.  The happiness of yeast during fermentation can make the difference between world class beer and undrinkable beer, and the diversity of flavours that different yeast strains can produce is astonishing.

In the world of craft beer, it’s so often hops that tend to be the talking point.  But, for even the hoppiest of beers, the majority of the beer’s flavour is delivered by the yeast through fermentation.  As a brewery we go to great lengths to keep our yeast happy and healthy so they can go on to produce consistently great beer.

When it all started at Wild Horse back in 2015, we made the decision early on to manage a liquid yeast* and selected a ‘house‘ strain that we felt would work great for the three core beers we launched with – Buckskin, Palomino and Dark Bay.  San Diego Super Yeast (WLP090) was tested and selected due to its clean, crisp almost lager-like fermentation profile.  Over the last 3 or 4 years we’ve experimented with quite a few other yeasts (both liquid and dried) for many of our one-off brews as well as our newest core beer, Nokota.

Ever since we launched Nokota back in August, it has been fermented with a dried yeast strain called LalBrew New England.  This yeast was selected for it’s fruitier ‘East Coast’ ester profile, taking our core range in a slightly different direction.  We’ve been extremely happy with Nokota and how well it has been received – we’ve struggled to keep it in stock and were unable to fulfil many orders last year.  As with all of our beers, we are constantly critiquing them and making tweaks to recipes and processes.  Nokota has been no different and we have made small changes to each batch to make it even better than the previous.  The one area of the Nokota recipe we’d always planned to revisit was yeast – whilst LalBrew was giving us a great flavour profile, we had always suspected that some of the liquid yeast strains available could lift the beer to new levels.

The doubling of our fermentation capacity (which took place in December) allowed us to start thinking about adding a second house yeast strain.  We knew that for our second strain we wanted a yeast that delivered more fruitiness and softness than San Diego and after some trials on our pilot system (the Black Cloak collaboration Tornado and Galaxy IPA) we made the decision to add London Ale III (1318) as our second house yeast.

In January we pitched our new house strain into Gyle 230 (the ninth batch of Nokota we have brewed).  It was packaged this week and we’re absolutely over the moon with the results.  The fruity ester profile of the new yeast has lifted the tropical hoppy notes as well as softening the whole beer to give it more balance and flavour.  Cases and kegs have been heading out to our trade stockists this week, we have fresh bottles in the fridge and we have tapped a fresh keg at the brewery today.  If you are interested in the flavour differences between the two yeasts, we’ll keep a keg of the previous version on tap for a while so you can taste the two yeasts side-by-side.

As you may suspect, a new house yeast strain coupled with more fermentation capacity can only mean one thing – more new beers!  We have lots planned on that front and will be revealing all very soon.  Watch this space.


*Brewers can buy yeast two formats – liquid and dried.  Because of the high cost of liquid yeast, it is only usually commercially viable to use liquid yeast when it is used to ferment several different beers (yeast is harvested from one beer and then used to ferment another in a relatively short space of time).  Often brewers will manage liquid yeast as a ‘house’ strain and use it to brew many of their beers.  Dried yeast can be as low as a tenth of the price, so it is commercially viable to brew with these yeasts just once and then discard them.  The main problem with dried yeast is the limited availability of strains – there are so many more liquid strains available.

2018 EXPANSION

You may recently have seen on social media and in the local press about our expansion, but until now we haven’t got around to writing a blog about what’s been happening over at Unit 4 Cae Bach in 2018.

The planning all started about 18 months back – in mid-2017 we were very short of cold storage space (we store all our beer cold to keep it fresh) and we took a quick decision to move our office into a temporary portable cabin outside the brewery and expand our old 8⁰C cold room into the previous office space. At the same time, we were thinking about increasing our brewing capacity in 2018 and began hatching a plan to allow this to happen. We also had the problem of our office now being in a portable cabin with no space for any of our growing team to eat their lunch! To add to that, we quickly realised that our double-sized cold room still wasn’t big enough to support an expansion so we needed to look at expanding that again. Oh, and of course we had to finance the whole project too!

To allow all this to begin, the company directors injected some funds and in November 2017 we began work to start renovating the old mezzanine turning it into an office, laboratory and staff room – amazingly Dave’s dad did all of this work almost single handedly over a 5-month period. In late 2017 and early 2018 we were also working with the Welsh Government Food Division to obtain a grant as well as the Development Bank of Wales to secure a loan to allow us to double our fermentation capacity, replace our old, inefficient liquor tanks, expand the brewing floor and build a new larger and colder cold room.

Work began down in the brewery a year ago when the sloped resin floor was extended to accommodate new tanks followed by the installation of a new 600 square foot refrigerated 3⁰C cold room – this saw us knocking through into unit 3, which we now share with our neighbours, North Wales Jaguar Centre. The new cold room was complete by February and was a very exciting addition for us as a brewery – it means we can now store our beer and our hops colder than we could previously ensuring that hops are kept fresh and that our beer is super fresh when it leaves the brewery. The new cold room also includes a ‘direct draw’ cellar system for our tasting room / brewery shop which means beer comes straight from the keg to the tap, without the need for a flash chiller – as far as we know this is one of only two systems like this in North Wales (the other is at Stori Beers in Bala).

In May, our grant approval was received and with a loan from the Development Bank of Wales already in place as well as additional director investment, we put an order in for two 1600L fermentation tanks, two 3200L fermentation tanks and two new 5500L liquor tanks. This equipment was manufactured in Europe and was supplied and installed by ABUK – these guys also supplied and installed our existing brewery. The tank installation took place during the first week of December and took our capital spend in the brewery to around £134,000.

After the many months of planning, we’re incredibly excited to see this expansion complete. We’ve struggled to keep all of our core and seasonal beers available over the last four or five months so the additional capacity is very welcome. We’re also looking forward to the return of special releases in the new year, which we’ve not had capacity to brew since May.

After what seems to be a busy start to Christmas Eve for craft beer and produce shoppers on Cae Bach, we’re now looking forward to some well-earned time with our families over the Christmas period. We’ll be back later in the week to open our brewery shop and are very excited about what 2019 has in store.

Check out our time-lapse video with soundtrack from The Storyville Mob:

Photos:

 

CLOSING TIME

After 20 releases over a two-year period we have brought the 10 Barrel Series to an end. Given we haven’t released a 10 Barrel Series beer since DDH Saison back in May, it may seem like stating the obvious. But we felt we couldn’t officially close the series down without a proper explanation.

The 10 Barrel Series was conceived as a way to explore different recipes and ingredients beyond our core offering, without making a long-term commitment to a particular beer. It allowed us to expand our beer offering alongside our core beers, within the constraints of our limited tank capacity. Our commitment to only brew each recipe once allowed us to celebrate beer in a lot of different forms, from single hop pale ales to dark lagers and re-imagined British classics. We learnt a huge amount about different ingredients, brewing techniques and beer styles.

But as we produced more and more beers, we found that the limits we had set ourselves – to only brew 10 barrels of each release – became limiting. Some beers we could have sold 20 barrels of, if we had re-brewed them; beers like our New England IPA and both versions of Session Pale Ale. Some beer styles we chose to brew were a little obscure and took a while to gain traction.

Perhaps most importantly, we found that by using the same bottle label design, changing only the name of the beer, each release looked just like the last, even if what was in the bottle was very different. It was never our intention to release so many 10 Barrel Series beers, but early successes gave us confidence to run with it. We learnt a huge amount about the branding side of things and will take what we’ve learnt into the future.

The 10 Barrel Series gave us two seasonal beers – Pressure Box (formerly Dry Hopped American Wheat) and Skewbald (formerly Red Rye IPA) – and set the foundation for our session IPA Nokota, so we are a little sad to close it down. But as the brewery develops and grows, it feels like the right time to try something new. It was actually the decision to launch Nokota as a core offering that sounded the death knell for the 10 Barrel Series. Keeping five beers in stock using four fermenters meant there was no scope for one-off beers, for a time at least.

We have been working away behind the scenes, including releasing a number of Experimental Series beers recently, with a view to limited releases making a return in early 2019. There’s more to come on that front in the coming weeks, so watch this space.

RIVER RUNS DARK

Tuesday 23rd October 2018 will be remembered as a dark day in the history of Wild Horse. Quite literally. We took the decision to dump an entire 16-hectolitre (1600 litres) brew of our Dark Bay porter as it didn’t meet our high standards and we weren’t happy releasing it. It was an easy decision to make but a tough one to take.

The irony is, the beer tasted fantastic. The problem lay in the presentation of the beer; it was incredibly murky, almost muddy. We determined that the cause was protein in suspension. Porters are a traditional British style of beer that are usually clear of suspended protein and yeast due to the use of finings. A certain amount of protein will drop out of beer during the normal brewing and fermentation process but finings help to clarify the beer by binding to the protein and dropping out. We use a kettle fining called Compac CG, a vegan friendly semi-refined form of seaweed (home brewers will know this as Irish Moss).

We’re always refining our recipes and making little tweaks here and there in order to make our beer the absolute best it can be. We were hoping to be able to brew all our beers without the use of finings and we’d had good results releasing other beers that were unfined.  Unfortunately, we didn’t fully understand the consequences – darker malts are more protein rich and it appears that without the use of finings, we can’t get the result we want. A more serious side effect to this extra protein is that it affects the beer’s stability and therefore it’s shelf life. Too much protein in beer can cause it to oxidise and create off-flavours quicker than would usually be expected.

It came to bottling day and during the usual preliminary checks we saw that the beer was super murky. We had to ask ourselves “Would we be happy being served this beer?”. The answer was no so the beer had to go. This is the first batch of beer we’ve ever had to ditch and we’re incredibly gutted about it. But worry not Dark Bay fans, we’ve re-brewed it again today (with finings this time) and a new batch will be ready mid-November.

 

CONWY FEAST CRAFT BEER BAR 2018

We’re very excited to be collaborating with Gwledd Conwy Feast to create a brand new Craft Beer Bar on the Quayside at this year’s festival which runs from 26th to 28th October.  The new Craft Beer Bar will be located on the quayside (near the jetty) which will also showcase craft beers from Geipel, Heavy Industry and Loka Polly.  We have put together a very exciting and varied range of beers, which we’re sure is going to go down well with everyone.  The tent will also offer a locally produced still cider from Jaspel’s and two gins from North Star Distillery.

On the Saturday lunchtime, we’re also trying something new called The Brewer Sessions.  This will be in the form of a panel with the producers talking about a range of subjects relating to craft beer.  There will be three different topics and the sessions will run between 12pm and 2pm, followed by an opportunity to meet the brewers.

Craft Beer Tent opening hours
Saturday 11am to 9pm
Sunday 11am to 5pm

The Brewer Sessions – Saturday 12pm to 2pm
12pm – Why do we do what we do?
12:45pm – What is good beer?
1:30pm – Challenges of operating a small craft brewery in North Wales.

POST-SHAKEDOWN SHAKE-UP

BREWERY SHOP OPENING HOURS AND MONTHLY TAPROOM

Well that was fun! And after seven weeks of good times and good vibes at our Summer Shakedown events we want to keep things rolling. From October through until the end of the year we will be hosting a monthly brewery taproom on the first Saturday of each month. The opening hours will be the same as during the Shakedown (11am to 8pm) and there will be a street food offering every month.

But that’s not all! We are also tweaking our shop opening hours and from next month onwards will be open later on Fridays (midday to 6pm) and later in the day on Saturdays (11am to 4pm). This does mean the end of our Thursday shop hours, however, which have been up and down in terms of demand over the summer and especially quiet during the Shakedown weeks. Our feeling is that being open later on a Friday and on Saturday afternoon, rather than the morning as we have been, is a better fit for a lot of people, and we have had some feedback to support this idea.

On top of that, in recent months we have found it increasingly difficult to properly set-up the shop in time for Thursday openings. We have been running at close to capacity for a few months now and committing staff to two afternoons in the shop during the working week, as well as the time it takes to stock the fridge, clean the lines and clear the shop space, has become tricky to manage. We want to offer a quality experience to anyone who makes the trip to see us on Cae Bach and the new hours will help us to achieve that aim.

All our brewery events to date have been a way of gauging interest in a possible taproom offering at some point down the line, and the response to the Shakedown was more than we could have hoped for, especially given we stretched the events out over seven successive weekends. There is a way to go before we could realistically run a weekly taproom from the brewery, not least in terms of the space, but we have been invigorated, and exhausted, by the Shakedown and are determined to run with the concept in this new form. Thanks to everyone who came down to support us over the summer, and we’ll see you in October. Keep and eye on the usual channels for details soon.

Brewery Shop Opening Hours (from October 1)

Sunday to Thursday – CLOSED

Friday – 12pm to 6pm

Saturday – 11am to 4pm

WILD HORSE SUMMER SHAKEDOWN

We’re excited to be opening up a taproom at our brewery on Saturdays starting 21st July, for the whole summer!  We’ll have 11 craft beers on tap, serving our own brews as well as featuring some of the best breweries in UK.  We’re also dedicating one of our taps to a rotating craft keg cider.  To complement our top selection of craft beers and cider, we’ll also be serving locally produced artisan spirits and wines, as well as British craft sodas.  To keep you nourished we’re rotating a different food truck each week, serving up delicious street food.

No tickets required, but please register your interest on our events page on Facebook.

Please note that from 21st July to 1st September our Saturday brewery shop opening hours will be 11am to 8pm, for bottles to go and growler fills.

CALL OF THE WILD HORSE

As we thunder towards summer we are pleased to welcome Aled Lewis to Wild Horse. Born and raised in Llandudno Junction, Aled joins the team as our new delivery driver and warehouse operative. A regular in the pubs of Conwy, he found his way to craft beer through drinking more traditional ales, and it was the full-flavoured, hop-forward beers like Vocation’s Life & Death and our own Palomino Pale Ale that really grabbed his attention. A guitarist in local metal band Morvo, and with a background in conservation, Aled is well equipped for long days of heavy lifting out on the road.

2017 IN NUMBERS

2017 has been a great year for Wild Horse. We have added staff, significantly increased our production schedule and are continuing to grow and expand both in terms of sales, and within the walls of our unit in Cae Bach. This was our first full year brewing on the 10bbl brewhouse and since the summer we have had all four tanks – 60bbl of capacity – full almost all of the time, and have added a new bottling line to get the additional beer packaged. Things have moved quickly and we look set to carry that momentum through into the New Year. But before we dive headlong into 2018 it seems only right to reflect on what we have achieved this year, so here it is, our 2017 in numbers:

3 – new staff members – Ryan in production, Chris in sales and Séan in warehouse and deliveries
24 – different beers brewed including two lagers, a wheat beer, a milk stout and a Medieval inspired dark ale
71 – batches of beer brewed, including 18 double brews
6 – test brews, two of which were not up to scratch and dumped down the drain
1933 – kegs filled
99, 404 – bottles filled, 11, 520 of which shipped in our biggest single order to date back in April
30.5 – the hopping ratio in grams per litre of our hoppiest beer to date, Double IPA. 37kg made up of six different varieties of hops went into a nine barrel batch
9.1 – the percentage ABV of that Double IPA, which is also our strongest beer to date
22 – different hop varieties used
20 – kegs pre-sold, before packaging, of our New England IPA, a brewery record
13 – hours it takes to brew a double batch (two brews in the same day) and fill one of our 20bbl fermenters, this involves a 5am start time for the first brewer!
9 – types of grain used to brew Breakfast Cookies Milk Stout
7 – nights of events held at our brewery in Builder Street
5.45 – average percent ABV overall of the 21 beers we have packaged this year
3.3 – ABV of our lowest strength beer, Pop Up Pale Ale
1 – number of beers keg conditioned and served through a hand-pull

Thank you to everyone who has supported us this year, whether you are a trade customer, an occasional drinker or a hardened regular, we couldn’t have achieved all that without you. All the best for 2018 as we look forward to an exciting year ahead – Iechyd da!

NEW AUTOMATED BOTTLING LINE

Check out the video below of our new six-head automatic bottling and labelling machine.  Our Meheen M6 filler complete with in-line ELF labeler was built to order in the USA and supplied and installed by Yorkshire-based packaging solution specialists, Oasthouse Engineering.  The new system is capable of running at up to 30 bottles per minute allowing us to package more in an hour that we previously could in an entire day.