Kelham Island Brewery Tour
One of my favourite local beers is Kelham Island’s Pale Rider. It was one of the initial concept beers of the founder Dave Wickett, a University lecturer, later becoming the pub owner of the iconic Fat Cat & Kelham Island Brewery owner. Dave has passed away and the business has also been passed down through the family. Being a big supporter of local business and ale, I was looking forward to the Kelham Island Brewery tour (followed by some nice local snap!)
I was initially quite surprised by how much stainless steel that has been crammed into the building. The huge boiler stands to the right of the doorway, accompanied by the massive mash tun and boiler.
The hopper and grain silo sits at the top of the mash tun, ready to deploy the malted barley. The maximum capacity is around 1-1.5 tonnes per mash.
The mash tun is pretty darn huge. you can literally crawl around inside to scoop out all of the spent grain.
The custom boiler sits on a false bottom filter. Hot water circulates the internal pipework to bring the wort up to the boil. I’ve never seen this in a Brewery before, and is essentially quite efficient as the water is recirculated for other tasks.
Space inside the brewery is at a premium, every little bit of space has its own designated function. Each piece of equipment is fabricated inside the building and built from the ground up.
The massive volumes of worts, travels through the heat exchanger and into this contraption. I suspect the device performs the function of some kind of giant Randal, where dry hopping occurs in the beer before going into the fermenters. A pre dry hop perhaps?
After fermentation, the beer conditions in giant cold conditioning tanks with the addition of Isinglass to fine the beer. This was something new to me, somewhat of a cask brewing rule I gather. I’ve fined before using Agar Agar (seaweed gelatine) before and that works wonderfully for the same task. It’s also vegetarian, which is a bonus.
Following the tour, the most informative bit of information I picked up, was something that I found both shocking and wholly disappointing. I’ve always been amazed about the capacity of the Kelham Island Brewery and how it managed to satisfy both pub and commercial bottle contracts. Here is the magic.… it doesn’t!
The brewery has no bottle plant. The tour guide went onto explain that the bottled beer is brewed and bottled up north somewhere, a contact with Robinsons with an approximate recipe for each of the core cask ranges. I found that this went against the grain a bit as I believed I had been buying and drinking Sheffield brewed beer (and supporting local ales!) for the last few years. Bitter mouth feel? Yes.
Following the enjoyable and very informative brewery tour comes a few sample ales. On tap in the tap room was the wonderful and iconic Pale Rider (brewed on site) which was really quite good. At 5.2% it has a great hop bitterness, mouthfeel and body. A good creamy head too. That’s where the fun ends. The season ale: Golden Eagle at 4.2% looked great from the pour. There was no aroma. Carrying on to the taste, no hop presence or bitterness. I drank half to ensure I hadn’t lost my sense of smell or taste. Terrible ale. With a heavy heart, I left the rest. Putting this behind me, i moved onto what I had been looking forward to: The Kelham Island Imperial Stout.
The pour was concerning. No discernable head or froth. The aroma was sickly sweet and sugary. The beer was thin bodied and tasting for the 7% ABV (and far too oversweet like it had not fermented out fully). Bittering was low to non existent and with no carbonation, head or body, I felt like I was drinking cold sweet alcoholic tea. I’m kind of pleased it was just a half. I was quite miffed, as most Kelham Island Beers that I find on tap are really quite good. I guess I’ll stick to their core pub cask beers from now on. I’ll also review buying their franchised bottled beer range to something more local and authentic like Acorn.
Good trip overall, but the seasonal beer was really disappointing.