With noise and distraction all around us, we often need a moment of clarity to help us make sense of a situation, a niggle, an ambition or whatever it may be. The picture above is a photograph I took while visiting Toby McKenzie at his Red Willow Brewery in Macclesfield. The photograph is of a sight-glass which allows the brewer to view the wort running off from the mash tun. These first runnings of wort will be re-circulated (taken from the bottom of the mash tun and pumped back to the top) until a grain bed / filter is formed which traps the grain debris and allows the sugar rich wort to escape to the copper. The brewer knows it’s time to run from the mash tun to the copper when the wort is running clear. It’s never going to be crystal clear at this point in the brewing process, but as the cloudiness dissipates, it signals the moment to move to the next stage.
I knew why I was visiting the brewery, I have an interest in beer, specifically brewing and have the obvious dream of going professional. I try to be realistic and often get carried along, or rather away from, the things I most need to do to work towards my goal. What I took away from the brew day with Toby, was that while there is most definitely a romantic notion of crafting a delicious drink out of water, barley, hops and yeast, there is also the serious business of, well, business. Forget the dream of profit and fame for now, although nice if you can get them, I’m talking about the business of risk and of rolling your sleeves up far enough to get burnt.
Endless cleaning, Sleepless nights, Wreckless ambition.
Stood in the background, an imposter, watching and listening to Toby, Caroline and Ben as they went about a typical day in the brewery made my head spin. I wasn’t naïve to the requirements of a professional brewing enterprise before today, but if I coin the iceberg analogy here, then it would illustrate where my homebrewing brain is currently residing.
I was lucky enough to get to help on many of the daily tasks, and for those that were beyond me I was afforded some of Toby’s time and patience in explaining what he has explained a hundred times before to well meaning visitors. Amongst the bustle of the day, the array of smells and constant din, there were moments of giddy joy. I tasted beer from the fermenter as it was bottled, I cut into vacuum packed hop bails which gasped for air as they breathed new life, and I was let loose with a rather powerful jet spray which could propel a plastic bucket across the length of the brewery with one blast.
So, thank you Toby and Caroline for having me along, I wish you the best for 2012 and beyond, and look forward to trying a few pints of Wreckless and as many bottles of Ageless as it takes before I’m satisfied that I have drunk one that I had a hand in getting to market!