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How I Created … Hardknott Granite

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Hardknott Granite
by Dave Bailey

It was a bright autumn morning. The sun made an impressive job of lighting the stainless steel water feature outside Sheffield station.

Dave Bailey HardknottIt was my first visit to the city that had always been known to me as the place that made the best stainless cutlery. I was already impressed.

Was that because I am an engineer-cum-brewer and have an inherent love of stainless steel?
 
We were there for onward travel to the Guild of Beer Writers’ barley wine seminar at Thornbridge Hall.

John Keeling of Fuller's was to present a talk on how Vintage Ale is made and there were other great brewers, such as Jeff Rosenmeier of Lovibonds and Steve Wellington of White Shield, who were to talk about their own crafted barley wines.
 
John talked about parti-gyling. Steve talked about how No. 1 is made with an extended boil. I seemed to remember Jeff talking about mash hopping, which I still think is daft, but everyone to their own.
 
These brewers inspired me. I wanted to make a barley wine. I wanted to see if I could get a beer over 10% ABV. I wanted to create something that was a little special and had the depth of flavour I found in the beers I sampled that day.
 
I went home, and on my little 21/4-barrel plant decided to brew Granite. I knew I needed to get an original gravity of over 1100. I knew I needed a very good yeast. I also wanted to prove I could do it without malt extract or added sugar, and this is a main criterion I hold to today for Granite.

Wort Puzzle

But how was I to get more than two barrels of wort at 1100 OG when I could only mash around 90kg of malt per batch, and with a low efficiency mash tun at that?

I decided, on this occasion, to make two batches of wort at a gravity of just over 1050 and boil it down, whilst slowly combining the two, until I had the required gravity.
 
The results were stunning – an OG of 1106 and an ABV of 10.4%; rich, slightly burnt and smoky flavours, due to the very long boil; caramel, and a lush, boozy hit of esters.

I was very pleased with the results and hand bottled it after a suitable conditioning time. As the beer has aged, we wonder if it remains the best version I’ve ever made.

Nonetheless, I needed to reduce the production time: a 30-hour boil is somewhat less than ideal. Improved brewhouse equipment and two mash tuns provided the answer to the problem of efficiency.
 
We now use what we call a 'series double mash' technique. Normally, a brewer will mash in – that is to say mix crushed malted grain with hot water – and then, after a rest period to let enzymes work, wash out the sugars with more hot water or, as brewers call it, hot liquor.

This 'flying sparge' produces ever-weakening wort, which some brewers divide into a high gyle and a low gyle in a process known as parti-gyling.
 
In our method, the high gyle is re-heated and mashed back in with fresh grains to increase the strength of the sugars in the run-off even further. This is then fly-sparged with the second runnings of the first flying sparge.

Confused yet? Just try doing it in practice. It's not easy, especially as the high sugar concentration can easily result in a 'stuck mash'.

The first running of this second sparge hits an excess of 1130 OG, although we are unsure of the exact gravity as we do not have the equipment to accurately measure this high a sugar concentration.

Strongest to Date
 
Taking this, with careful control of mash temperature, wort oxygenation and yeast nutrients, we have managed to get our ABV on the 2013 edition up to 12.7% – our strongest beer to date – helped by using a Belgian style yeast noted for its high alcohol tolerance. It also adds great ester notes to the beer – essential, in my view, for a good barley wine.
 
The hops need careful selection. The higher sweetness of residual sugars needs balancing with higher bitterness, but it is more difficult to achieve that bitterness because of the high levels of dissolved sugar in the boil. This calls for more alpha acids – the precursor compounds in hops that create bitterness.
 
Hardknott GraniteWe therefore select high-alpha acid hops to help with this. For the 2013 edition, we used Green Bullet, Pacific Gem, Pacific Jade and Amarillo, in various combinations, at various times in the process, right from start of the boil to final dry hopping in tank.
 
This incredible beer gives me a great sense of achievement. It is the result of combined experimentation and research on our part, along with advice and knowledge passed on by a great many people.
 
I describe here a fairly brief and simplified version of events in the development of our techniques for production of high-gravity beers. Granite is never supposed to be the same from one year to the next: this is the whole point.

It enables us to tweak our techniques and to experiment a little, allowing us to produce not simply Granite but other higher gravity beers, too.
 
We have produced versions in 2009 (10.4%), 2010 (10.1%), 2011 (9.5%) and now 2013 (12.7%). 2013 will be reasonably easy to get hold of but all previous editions are now very rare. We only have stock for ourselves at the brewery.

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