A Brew Day with Christopher from Zeelandt

I recently interviewed Christopher Barber, owner and head brewer at Zeelandt, a small, craft brewery in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. As wine is my specialty, and beer isn’t, I asked him to describe to me what a brew day entails from start to finish. Here is how he does it, in layman’s terms, for those of us just learning.

First things first – focus. Brew days are big days and they’re important days. Christopher says he has learned to focus on “getting through the day and getting the beer right.”

He’s in the brewery by 6.30am to turn on the boiler, because it takes an hour to heat up. While he waits, him and his one employee, Tom, get everything else ready in the brew house.

By 7.30am they can start mashing barley, (that they’ve milled the day prior) which provides the sugars which become alcohol. The sugars are not in the correct form though, so the purpose of the mash is to turn the barley sugars from long chain complex sugars into simple sugars that can be fermented. This happens when the barley is heated with warm water. Chris explains that the mash can be anywhere from 62°C to 72°C, and the process can take around an hour depending on the style of beer. It looks like porridge at that stage.

When that’s done, around 8.30am, they can pump the liquid from the mash into what’s called the lauter tun, where it is separated from the grains and is then referred to as “wort.” It is drained again and pumped into the kettle, where it must spend about 60 to 90 minutes, again depending on style. It will boil in the kettle for a few reasons. The boil stops the enzyme actions, sterilizes the wort, and can concentrate the beer. It also blows off “DMS,” a compound that is made in brewing but smells like corn, which is not ideal in a brew!

This stage is important, and Chris explains that “everything is about consistency. Time. Temperature. Gravity reading. That’s what leads to consistency in beer. You have to measure sugar levels so you don’t extract too much and get tannin, and you can add water if it’s too strong in the kettle and [alcohol levels] will be too high.”

Chris adds his hops, a plant that adds bitterness and flavour to beer, in a few different stages. He explains that doing it that way can “extract some nicer, and better flavours,” but that “every brew house is different and we’re finding what works best for us.” There is a science to it though, and adding at certain temperatures extracts different attributes from the hops.

After the wort is done in the kettle, it goes into the whirlpool, which separates proteins and hops from the beer. This helps with beer stability and clarity in the final product.

Finally, by 1.30pm, things are at a stage where they can be left long enough for the guys to have their first break of the day, eat some lunch, and maybe have a beer, if they’re lucky!

After lunch, it’s time to turn the wort to beer through fermentation. The hot, sterile wort is rapidly cooled through heat exchange plates on its way to the fermentation vessel. The yeast is added, as well as some oxygen. Chris explains that the “yeast consume oxygen and duplicate, and then consume sugars and create heat and CO2.” It’s not as simple as just letting it do its thing either. There are multiple settings Christopher can chose on the fermenter to determine the pressure inside, and how much CO2 to let escape. This has an effect on the ester profile, or the fruity flavours that are produced during beer fermentation. The tanks are also temperature controlled.

Fermentation will commence for 5 to 7 days for Ales, or 12 to 14 for Lagers. Christopher measures the gravity on the Plato scale to determine when it’s done. At that point, it still needs to rest in the fermenter at a warm temperature to allow unwanted flavours in beer to dissipate. After Christopher has tested it and is satisfied, he cools it for 4 or 5 days, which will allow any proteins or yeast remaining to drop to the bottom of the tank.

The beer then goes into tanks in the chiller for another week, and the flavours mellow and blend together. Carbonation can be added in the form of CO2 if needed for that style. Other styles will require bottle conditioning and re-fermentation for the carbonation.

By the end of the 3 to 4 week process, the beer is ready to be bottled, labeled and put in cases, all of which is done by Christopher and Tom at Zeelandt.

So there you have it: a full brew day, and how a refreshing Zeelandt beer is made from start to finish.