The first thing we learnt, is that making beer is not as easy as it sounds! Who knew? In fact the process is intricate and if one thing goes wrong it can ruin an entire batch of beer. We visited Hoogeberg Brewery, located on the Signal Gun Estate in Durbanville, and were treated to a tour of the brewery and shown the process of creating the golden tipple. Labelled as the sleeping giant of craft beers, we couldn’t think of a better place to learn about beer than in the Northern Suburbs of the Western Cape.
We first stopped at the large silver mash tun used for the mashing process. This is where the grains or malted barley are soaked in hot water for about an hour to release the sugar. It is this sugar that the yeast lives off during the fermentation stage to eventually produce alcohol. It is also here where the body of the beer is created as the malt develops the aroma, body and flavor.
Sparging is the concept of rinsing the malt to extract the last of the sugar from the grains. The liquid that has now formed is called wort and the malt is separated from the wort in a process called lautering. Stepping up on to the tun, we peered in and saw the false bottom that falls away for it to separate. The malt is discarded and full attention is paid to the wort.
The wort is now boiled by a gas burner for an hour to kill any micro-organisms that may be floating around in the liquid. It is here where the hops are introduced. The hops are added during this boiling phase as the heat of the water allows the flavours of the hops to be released. The earlier the hops are added, the more bitter the beer. So if the hops are added later in the boiling process, the beer won’t possess such a strong bitter flavor. Another batch of hops can be added minutes before the end of the boil to add another layer of flavor to the beer.
Cooling now needs to take place in order for the yeast to be added. Firstly, the cooling has to be quite rapid as the beer can begin to oxidize and produce a very “off” taste. Secondly, adding yeast to a hot wort will kill it, so it is added here in order for it to begin feeding off the sugars produced in mashing. Hoogeberg has an intricate piping system that allows the wort to run next to pipes containing cold water to cool it down and this takes it into the cooling tanks. The boiling and rapid cooling also ensures that microorganisms are killed off.
Interestingly, Hoogeberg use five different grains for their ale, giving it its unique name “Five Crops”; malt, hops, wheat, maize and rice. The maize adds to the sweetness of the beer, while the rice gives it a smooth texture. Both the maize and rice are sourced locally.
The wort is now run from the cooling tanks to the fermentation tanks in the next room. Here, as mentioned, the yeast consumes the sugars and carbon dioxide and alcohol are expelled. The amount of yeast and the temperature at which the yeast is added determines whether the beer will be an ale or a lager. Adding the yeast is called ‘pitching’ by brewers and it is the essential part of making the beer. Here a thick foam is produced on top of the wort and created by the yeast and it can be left to ferment for up to two weeks in the steel tanks.
Conditioning at Hoogeberg takes up to 28 days where the lagers and ales are kept in separate tanks at different temperatures. The conditioning processes is where the yeast will absorb any “off” flavor produced during fermentation. An ‘off’ flavor in unconditioned beer could be a sulphuric, buttery or apple taste. The lager is left to condition longer than the ale and once the yeast has started settling in the bottom of the tank, it means that they have become dormant, and the process is over. Here the yeast can be removed easily and the golden, clear beer is filtered out.
Bottling and Packaging
Hoogeberg work on a hand bottling system and we walked wide-eyed into the next room where thousands of empty bottles were stacked, being washed and labeled, ready for the next batch of beer to fill it up. We couldn’t wait to taste the two beers that had taken form before our eyes, and we hurried to the tasting room to get our hands on two cold bottles.
The Ystervark Lager is the flagship beer of Hoogeberg and is full-bodied but not too heavy. It has a lovely light hop flavor while the Bontebok 5 Crop Ale is much lighter, sweeter and has a definite more fruity tone. You can buy both beers right here at Cybercellar.com