What sets our brewery apart is the way that it is done. No automated systems leap into action here. Instead, someone will be here to coax the steam engine into life and then climb the stairs in order to rouse the beer by hand, using a paddle, 365 days of the year. At every stage of the process we are close to our product as it rises and falls through the brewery building, so we can be confident that all the systems and processes are working as they should be to help us produce our award-winning beer.
Brewing begins with the liquor (water) being pumped from a well below the brewery up to the cold liquor tank which is right at the very top of the tower.
Next comes the malt. First of all the mill is checked to ensure that it has the correct crush characteristics. The mill rolls have to be set to give the desired blend of husk, grits and flour to allow good extract and efficient run off from the mash tun.
Once it has been checked, the malt is crushed in the Grist mill from where it travels to the masher and then on to the mash tuns.
The malt that has been crushed in the mill (grist) is stored in the grist hopper ready for use. Cold water (liquor) then travels from the cold liquor tank into the hot liquor tank where it is heated in preparation for mashing with the grist.
The first job of the day, usually at about 6am, is mashing. The crushed malt is mixed with hot liquor through a Steeles masher which then feeds down into one of the two mash tuns.
Mashing-in itself takes 10 minutes, then the mash is allowed to stand for 90 minutes to allow the conversion of starch to fermentable sugars to take place.
This is a process at Hook Norton Brewery that has not changed in 100 years. After standing for 90 minutes, the sweet sugary solution that is created (called wort) is drained from the mash tun, and is run by gravity to one of the two coppers.
The mash is then sprayed with hot liquor through a rotating sparge arm, this allows all of the sugars to be washed from the malt to maximise the extract. The run off process takes approximately 2 ½ hours.
The next step is to check the quality of the hops prior to them being added to the copper.
The choicest hops are used in Hook Norton Beers. Traditional varieties such as Fuggles, Goldings & Challenger dominate with First Gold & Styrian Goldings also being used in some seasonal ales. Late Copper hopping is key to the hop characteristic found in Hook Norton Beers. In addition all beers are dry hopped in cask with Goldings Hops.
In the 2 ½ hours it takes the wort to run off the mash tun, the copper is gradually filling and coming to the boil. Our chosen blend of hops is added and the copper is then boiled for 1 hour 15 minutes. This process allows the bitterness to be extracted from the hops.
After boiling the copper is "cast" to the Hop Back where the hops settle and the wort is strained through them.
The bitter/sweet wort is pumped to the top of the brewery for cooling before being chilled through a place heat exchanger and allowed to flow into the fermentation vessel.
Yeast is then added to the collected wort in the fermenting vessel (a process called ‘pitching’) and fermentation then commences. Hook Norton Beers will remain in the fermenting vessel for a full 7 days. In that time the sugars from the malt will be converted into alcohol by the yeast, with carbon dioxide being evolved as fermentation proceeds.
After 4 days the yeast is removed, using the parachute system, then the beer is gently cooled to accelerate the flocculation and sedimention of the yeast. Gravity and temperature are checked throughout the fermentation process to monitor and control the speed of fermentation. A saccharometer is used to measure the specific gravity.
After fermentation the beer is cooled and checked for aroma, palate, colour, alcohol and trueness to type before being transferred to a Storage Tank reading for racking.
Finally the beer is run into casks, a process called racking. Secondary fermentation then takes place.
Then follows the most important check of all! Representative samples of each rack are taken and set up on a stillage. They are checked to assess quality and to monitor flavour throughout the life of the beer.
The beers are checked each day and the assessments are recorded.