A Day in the Life of Cantillon Brewery

A series of photographs published on Cantillon’s facebook page has given a beautiful and succinct look at a day in Cantillon’s brewing process. I’m re-posting these images (and descriptions) here to keep them saved for future viewing and to add some commentary on what you’re seeing!

The key component to lambic brewing is the coolship! This large, flat, often copper, tub serves two VERY important purposes. 1st- The coolship was the primary method of cooling hot wort historically and 2nd- The coolship allows the introduction of wild yeasts present in the air. This combination of yeast is largely what has made Cantillon so famous!

Coolship under ice (no stress, it's just water). It's cold in Belgium...

Coolship under ice (no stress, it’s just water). It’s cold in Belgium…

Late last night, this is what Cantillon’s coolship looked like! Cold as ice and ready to be put to work! You’ll see this bad boy again in a few photos!

For those unfamiliar with the brewing process, I’d suggest a refresher course before reading much further of you may get lost . Note, there are some deviations to typical brewing that go on at Cantillon and I’ll try to note these clearly!

8AM: Mashing in

8AM: Mashing in

The malted grains are added to a mash tun and heated. This pulls out the fermentable sugars which are what we need to brew. The arms you see in this picture that look like medieval torture devices are for stirring.

9.15AM: Allowing mash to rest.

9.15AM: Allowing mash to rest.

When its completely “mashed in” this is what it looks like! The fermentable sugars find themselves dissolved in the hot water which is known as the “wort.” Depending on how the grains are roasted and milled, as well as what grains are used (rye, wheat, barley, etc) the colour can vary immensely. For today’s brew (as with all of cantillons brews) the colour is a pale yellow.

9:40am: Checking wort clarification

9:40am: Checking wort clarification

If you’ve had Cantillon before you may very well recognize that colour! For most beers, the colour of the wort is pretty similar to the final brew. Of course, there are exceptions to this. Cantillon is well known for beers with cherries, raspberries, peaches, grapes, blueberries and even cloudberries! These additions often change the colour of the beer significantly. But back to brewing…

Additionally water is run over the wort to extract every last bit of fermentable sugar as the mash tun is drained. This step is called sparging.

11:00AM: Sparging.

11:00AM: Sparging.

The wort leaving this tank is being transferred to a brew kettle where it is boiled and hops are added. Most of the time, brewers add fresh hops with the intention of the hop flavours being imparted on the beer. Grapefruit, citrus, grass, bitterness, and many other characteristics come with this addition. Cantillon, however, typically uses old hops as they don’t want the strong bitterness!

11:30: Adding aged hops. 50% Tettnang 2009, 50% Target 2010.

11:30: Adding aged hops. 50% Tettnang 2009, 50% Target 2010.

Once all of the wort has been transferred, the mash tun is left full of spent grains.

13:10PM: End of the filtration.

13:10PM: End of the filtration.

This spent grain has to be cleaned out and is used for all sorts of things (bread making, livestock feed, fertilizer). The cleaning steps are usually done by the low man on the totem pole!

14:30PM: Mashing out.

14:30PM: Mashing out.

Oh hey! I know that guy! The “low man” on the totem pole in this case is Matt Tarpey. Formerly the assistant brewer at Portsmouth Brewing, now assistant brewer at Alchemist is currently in a training program at Cantillon learning to brew from the best!

The whole process produces tons of heat and steam which is vented into the cold belgian air (check out those rooftops!).

Evaporation, view from the roof. Indeed, Cantillon is brewing. Can you smell the hoppy wort?

Evaporation, view from the roof. Indeed, Cantillon is brewing. Can you smell the hoppy wort?

After the boil and hop additions, the beer is filtered to remove any hop particles.

4:00PM: Hop filtration.

4:00PM: Hop filtration.

Now its ready for fermentation right? BUT WAIT! Remember that coolship? Where does that come in?

The liquid coming out of that filtration is extremely hot! All the yeasty bad boys that are going to turn those sugars into alcohol can’t stand those high temperatures so it must first be cooled! Most commercial brewers use heat exchange with chilled water to cool the wort rapidly. But Cantillon is old school, who needs expensive plate chiller when you have a coolship anyway? The filtered wort is pushed onto the coolship for chilling!

4:05PM: Wort arrival on the coolship.

4:05PM: Wort arrival on the coolship.

Now comes the hard part… WAITING! It will take as long as 6 hours for the wort to cool and while it does wild yeast and bacteria from the air are falling in and making themselves at home. For most brewers, this uncontrolled introduction of yeast and bacteria is BAD and leads to uncontrolled, inconsistent, and sometimes downright awful product. But for Cantillon, this is EXACTLY what they want!

End of the workday. Wort will cool down during all night.

End of the workday. Wort will cool down during all night.

For now, this is the end of the photo series… but after the wort is cooled hopefully more pictures will follow! (and one more has so far)

7:45AM: The day after...

7:45AM: The day after…

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