LAWRENCETOWN, NS - Barley, water, hops, and yeast.
Change up the ingredients even slightly and you’ve got a different beer. The combinations of those ingredients, length of boil times, when you add the hops, and even the type of yeast you use makes for – literally – an infinite variety of beers to brew.
That’s the challenge for Mark Reid and Sean Ebert – the limitless recipe possibilities but the confining four ingredients. And the part owners of Lunn’s Mill Beer Company in Lawrencetown love that challenge.
“Our process is a little bit different than most conventional breweries,” said Ebert. “We have an all-in-one system. We do our mashing and boiling in one vessel as opposed to two, three, or four vessels.”
Mashing is simply putting the right amount of malted barley into a big vessel and pouring hot water over it. The brewer can throw in some other grains, but the malted barley has been germinated and dried to produce a sugar that the yeast eventually turns into alcohol.
Once the barley has sat in the hot water for the right length of time, brewers rinse the grains to get that last bit of sweet water out of it - a process called sparging. The liquid left after the grains are removed is called wort.
The mashing stage is where brewmasters decide on what grains to use.
“Generally, it’s mostly barley, but some of our beers we do put oats in,” said Ebert. “That’s more for mouthfeel and head retention on a lot of beers. Not so much for flavour or anything.”
At the wort stage, brewers boil the remaining liquid once sparging is done and the grains removed or the wort pumped to a different vessel.
“It’s basically sugar water for the most part. It’s really sweet,” said Ebert. “At that point, we start to bring our wart up to a boil, and depending on the beer, we boil it for various amounts of times, usually about an hour, and have various different hop additions at different times, depending on if you want bitterness, flavour, or aroma.”
Hops come from a climbing plant that produces cones that contain just the right properties to bitter beer, add zest, or add aroma. Many hops add a citrusy flavour to beer.
“Bitterness will be present in all hops. The bitterness comes out depending on how long you boil the hops and how high the alpha acids are in the hops,” said Ebert.
Then there is dry hopping, which is adding hops after fermentation is complete. That’s what adds aroma.
“So if you had First Cut (Lunn's Mills national award-winning IPA), all of that aroma comes from the dry hop.”
It’s citrusy and one of the company's most popular beers.
After the wort boils for the necessary length of time and cools to the right temperature, yeast is added.
“You don’t want to kill it. You don’t want to stress it because that will produce off flavours,” said Ebert.
“Depending on the strain of yeast we have certain pitching temperatures we bring the wart to. Our usual fermentation temperatures for most of our beers is about 19.5 C, about 67 Fahrenheit. That’s about when we pitch the yeast. Yeast can add flavour and dry out the beer. It all depends what type of beer you want. That determines what kind of yeast you use.”
Dry beer lacks sweetness because all of the sugar and carbs have been converted to alcohol.
Brewers take a specific gravity measurement before fermentation starts and another when fermentation is complete. The measurement basically compares the density of the wort against the density of water. Using a chart or calculations, the difference between the two measurements determines what the alcohol content is.
Ebert lets the wort ferment up to 10 days.
“I usually like to leave it for an extra little while just to let the yeast kind of do their thing,” he said. “I’d rather it take a little bit longer and have the beer taste properly than to rush it. That’s when you start having problems and off flavours when you start rushing your beer.”
They don’t filter or pasteurize, so at the end, he brings the temperature down to 2.2C to let the yeast drop out of the beer.
“All the particles and everything will just drop to the bottom and that will clarify the beer,” he said. “And we usually leave that two to three days, depending on the beer. That’s basically for ales. Lagers are totally different.”
Lagers use a different yeast that works in much colder temperatures and ferments from the bottom up as opposed to the top down like ale yeasts.
After those final few days, Ebert adds carbonation and fills the kegs that are then attached to the taps in Lunn’s Mill’s taproom.
“We were pleasantly surprised at the response to our hoppier beers,” Ebert said. “Between our two IPAs and Charming Molly our blonde ale, those are our top sellers. The response to our hoppier beers has been extremely, extremely good.”
Lunn’s Mill has about eight of their beers on tap at any given time, and though many have become standards – like Charming Molly, First Cut and Brickyard Red – Ebert said he doesn’t think they ever ‘perfect’ a beer.
“There’s always something that you find that you want to change about it to make it better. Most people may not even notice. We’re always doing small tweaks. If it’s not in the ingredients it’s in the process – to make things better.”
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