There’s no denying the guys at Brasserie du Petit St Bernard Brewing Co. (PSB Brewing Co. for short) are dedicated to their craft. Their beers are brewed using the crystal clear, pure waters of the surrounding mountains, they use both new & old world hops which are harvested across the world, from Europe to America to New Zealand while their malts are cultivated closer to home, in the plains of France.
We were lucky enough to spend the day at their brewery in Bourg St. Maurice, being shown the ropes and getting to grips with the complex process that is creating delicious craft beer.
Brewing beer is both an artform and a science, with the process taking weeks, and sometimes months depending on the desired end product. But like they say, all good things come to those that wait and at the end of our brewing journey lies a very good thing indeed… our brand new summer beer, Lapin Bleu! Brewed exclusively for us by the guys at PSB Brewing Co.
It’s fair to say, this was so much more than a piss up in a brewery. This was an informative and fun introduction to world of brewing, with a few beers here and there. Would be rude not to really.
So how exactly do we go about making delicious craft beer?
Every journey begins with a single step and in the world of brewing, it begins with creating malt. Harvested grains, usually barley, are run through a malting process where they are heated, dried and partly crushed to expose the natural starches and isolate the enzymes. These starch enzymes are key to creating the fermentable sugars which will be used by the yeast as a food source when it is added later in the process.
Mashing is where the magic begins. The malt is added to hot water and is steeped for about an hour in what is known as a Mash Tun. Adding the malt to the water creates a glutinous substance called mash that looks a lot like watery porridge. The Mash Tuns at PSB Brewing Co. can hold 500 litres at a time which will yield 1000 pints of beer.
All beers are made using the same key ingredients, barley, water, hops and yeast. It’s the strains, quantities and the way in which these ingredients are manipulated throughout the process that gives different beers their unique flavours
For Lapin Bleu, we used a unique combination grains, selected for us by the beer expert Pat at PSB brewing Co.; Pale Ale Malt, Cara Clare and a wee bit of Crystal.
The heat of the water activates the starch enzymes in the malt which get to work converting the starch to sugar. While the enzymes did their thing, we took the time to take on the hard task of sampling some of the craft beers PSB Brewing Co. are so well known for.
If you ever have a chance, I highly recommend you get yourself down to their brewery. Adjacent to the brewery is their tap room, a hidden gem on the old site of the military garages in Bourg St Maurice. It’s an ideal place to chill out and enjoy tasty beer in good company. And being on the same site as their brewery, your beer couldn’t be fresher!
Back to the important stuff. After mashing, more water is added to the grain to percolate through, carrying with it sweet sugary liquid. The grains are then removed and rinsed, leaving the liquid to continue its journey to becoming beer. Rather than letting the byproduct go to waste, the guys at PSB donate the grains to a local pig farmer.
The liquid we are left with is a sticky, sweet substance known as wort – (pronounced “wurt”!) and is essentially unmade beer, the equivalent of what dough is to unmade bread.
Now it’s time to add some flavour! The wort is set to boil for about an hour (sometimes more depending on the beer variety) during which hops are gradually added. Hops are a crucial ingredient, the addition of which can give different results depending on what time they are added. Add hops earlier, you get more bitterness which balances out all the sugar in the wort, while later additions are more for aroma and flavour.
There are over 150 varieties of hops, and each type creates a slightly different flavour and level of bitterness or aroma. For Lapin Bleu we used the bittering hop Tettnanger and also added the aromatic hop Ariana, both of which originate from Germany.
At the end of the boil, the wort is cloudy thanks to excess grain husks, hops and other particulates that have been left behind. A whirlpool motion is created to separate the wort from these unwanted extras, leaving us with a clear wort, ready for the next stage of the process.
COOLING & FERMENTATION
Once the boil is complete, the now clear wort cooled down and transferred to a fermenting vessel (FV) where yeast is added to it. At this point the brewing is complete and the fermentation begins. The beer is stored at room temperature and over the next few weeks, the yeast gets to work feasting on the sugars in the wort, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2) as a waste products.
MATURATION & CARBONATION
After a patient few weeks, the yeast has finished its job of metabolising the sugars and we are left with alcoholic beer that is flat, non carbonated and not quite yet ready to drink. Fermentation tends to produce flavours that aren’t so desirable in the final product and so for this reason, the beer must undergo some maturation to become palatable.
The aim of this final part of the brewing procedure is to let the aromas and flavours of the beer develop and round out over time. The yeasts calm down and re-absorb some of the unwanted compounds that give it the undesirable flavour. They then settle out to the bottom of the FV, their work – and lifespan – complete. What a way to go.
The beer is also given a boost of CO2 to give it some fizz. The flat beer is transferred once again to another vessel where CO2 is pumped through and absorbed into the liquid to give it it’s bubbles.
Once guys at PSB Brewing Co. are happy with the flavour profile achieved during maturation, all that’s left is to get the beer packaged up, delivered to the bar and served to you! All this new found knowledge has probably left you thirsty for a fresh craft beer… Be sure to stop by La Terrasse this summer to try our new pride and joy, Lapin Bleu!