It is not the size of your brew house…

There is one thing that many start-up breweries and wannabe brewers simply do not get.

The actual size of your brew house is not the determining factor, but actually how you operate the system you have.

Careful planning and management of the process can make immense differences in how much you can produce.

Over-sizing your HLT or adding an in-line water heater results in less waiting time.

Combine that with an under-back or dedicated whirlpool vessel and you can increase your production from 1 or 2 batches per day to 3 or 4 batches per day.

For roughly 30% to 50% extra investment in equipment you can increase your output volumes 300%
(That is assuming you can sell all of the beer…)

To get your thoughts going, have a look at the following sites for some inspiration:
Portland Kettleworks
Ss brewtech

Some of the realities of expansion…

Scaling up a brewery - actually any business - is not a linear affair. To make ten times more beer may take just about the same time on brewing day, but apart from that everything else shifts a couple of orders of magnitude or more…

Something as simple as quickly popping into the homebrew shop to buy a couple of kilograms of malt you forgot about ordering simply isn’t an option anymore. You need bags full of malt for this one day only, plus you need a good flow of ingredients for upcoming brew days. The same applies to yeast, hops, bottles, labels, etc. Getting everything to the brewery on time requires coordination, planning and sometimes even a bit of luck.

The brewing part is easy. Brewing on a bigger system quickly becomes the norm. It is different, but you quickly find a new rhythm. Mashing still takes about an hour; transfers & sparging can take a little longer; boiling is the same; cooling takes a little longer… Different, but not too different or unfamiliar. Once the cooled, hopped wort is in the fermenters and happy yeast is turning the sugary liquid into beer the real “fun” starts…

Packaging, conditioning, storage, distribution, sales, accounts receivable; ordering more ingredients & materials for upcoming batches…

What used to be a couple of hours to get beer into bottles becomes a rather well planned, full day of hard manual labor filling bottles; capping them; tagging / labeling; gluing & packing cases; and finally stacking packed cases.

It is on these days that you somewhat envy the big boys with shiny, advanced, automatic fillers & cappers… But at the end of the day the sense of achievement and satisfaction is much better the hard way. It feels good to have created something. Something that you and others can enjoy. A simple concoction of water, barley, hops and yeast… This simple product which is an essential part of the civilized world we know… Just imagine this world without beer !!

With the beer going to market and sales picking up the “real fun” is set to start…

Let’s assume the beer is well received and there are no major problems. Gradually sales will pick up and then (hopefully) the whole setup is bound to gain momentum. At that point I predict (and hope) the following situation will unfold… as described by Tony Magee from Lagunitas… Running the brewery will become like being chased down the road by a pack of rabid dogs. In addition to being chased like this, managing cash flow in the business will be like falling down a seriously long flight of stairs while blindfolded. On top of that we will have to add managing people… And we all know managing people is similar to herding cats!

I am pretty sure we are in for an interesting, entertaining, fun and informative ride with our little brewing adventure…

Bring it on !!


Expanding a bootstrapped sideline business is a tricky and challenging affair. Despite the challenges it is actually a rewarding and fun experience.

On top of that it is also a serious learning process. Learning involves a little bit of everything… From plumbing and electrics all the way through to financing and taxes.

Since we have been building Gallows Hill Brewing Co at our own pace (we intend to stick to this going forward) and not always with the same exuberant fervor as others, I have decided to put in more effort to document and share our journey. Pretty sure there will not necessarily be weekly or more frequent updates, but there will definitely be more effort being put into documenting our expansion and progress with the brewery.

You may be wondering where we are heading with the brewery… As a start, let’s clarify what is important to us:

The brewery is a serious business, but it is by no means a “get rich quick” scheme. (Anyone getting into the beer business with that in mind should seriously reconsider their position.)
We aim to build the business in a manageable way into a sustainable small endeavour that suit our lives. Those lives involve young families and serious day jobs. Juggling all the responsibilities will be no easy task. We have to accept that this juggling may result in things at the brewery not always going as planned or at the pace originally intended.

We are local. Our operation is based in a gritty part of town undergoing a slow revival. Despite the issues of crime in our area we intend to stick it out and be part of building up our bit of the city. Breweries all over the world are contributing to uplifting rundown neighborhoods and derelict industrial areas.

In South Africa alcohol producers are too easily painted with a tar brush and depicted as the source of evil in our society. We accept that the country does have an alcohol abuse problem, but the mass consumption market is not really the market we are aiming for. Breweries, bakeries, butchers, green grocers, etc. are essential components of a properly functioning society. In our opinion a world without good quality beer is not worth living in.

Being a bootstrapped, small scale & amateur brewing operation (none of us studied fermentation sciences or went to brewing school) we will surely make a number of mistakes along the way, but our eternal strive will be to produce high quality beer our way. We are going to be honest about our products and we take everything about our beer and brewery personal. It is part of us. Due to running our brewery the bootstrapped way, some things we do will be a little unconventional.

The brewery is self-financed! We have no big financial backing or external investors at this point. It is simply a case of investing our own resources and income from our day jobs into the business. We are lucky to be able to do it this way. On the one hand it adds a certain amount of pressure to make it work and forces you to work smart and to make compromises in certain areas. On the other hand it gives us the freedom to do whatever the hell we want to. We do not have a banker or other investors breathing down our necks drooling for payback or returns on the investment.

We have day jobs and young families. On the one side we have two doctors and a little one who is not even six months old. On the other side we have a chef, a structural engineer and a 3 year old toddler. The doctors have crazy & haphazard working hours. My work can be sporadic, often riddled with deadlines, travel, corporate bullshit and having to manage people and projects across the country and around the globe. On many occasions family commitments and work demands forces brewery related tasks and plans to play second fiddle or to take a rain check for a couple of days. Having the brewery is a creative outlet for all of us. It keeps us sane to some extent, I think.

We are still fairly young. Even if we are completely on the wrong path and it does not work out, we will be OK. There is still a lot of life and living left. At least we hope so, right!

Back to where we are heading…

As a start. We are going to make beers that we enjoy drinking. At the moment that is to a large extent Pale Ale, India Pale Ale, Porter, Stout and Barrel Aged Beers.

Variation will probably be the norm. The perfect beer is something we haven’t brewed yet. Maybe we can get there… One day…

We are not in the game of pushing high volume, low flavour beer. We will also not participate in the price war game.

Pay to Play” is unethical and wrong. We will not do it.

Our initial growth will be fairly slow… This is largely due to demands from our day jobs for the next 6 to 8 months, but also because we would prefer to ramp up gradually. There is still a lot of learning and figuring out required.

This is probably a good time for a bit of a recap…

After a burglary mid 2015 - that cost us quite a bit of stainless steel kit - we got to the point of having to decide between plodding along as we were doing at the time, or taking it more seriously and expand the business. After a lot of deliberation, arguments, back-and-forth, etc. we decided on a brewhouse size, selected an equipment supplier and decided on a broad outline of how we planned to run things.

By a stroke of luck I tracked down a guy in our big-ass firm (one of the perks of working for a Fortune 500 multinational) running a small brewery in New Zealand with his best mate. After a couple of emails we learnt a lot from like-minded folks who’ve gone through a similar situation and managed to track down the actual manufacturer of the equipment we were going to buy through a middle-man. With a slight setback in time, scoring about 30% off the equipment cost and getting the opportunity to customize our brewhouse for very little additional cost, we pushed the button on the manufacturing of our new brewery.

Late in 2015 our 3 main brewing vessels arrived. Unpacking was a bitch in the scorching Cape Town summer heat.

Thanks to our bootstrapped approach the expansion is not a case of simply unpacking a couple of containers or crates, and paying a guy to fit the jigsaw together. We had to do it all ourselves. Sourcing all the additional pieces to turn 3 main stainless steel vessels into a functioning brewery is a mission. It is a real bitch when you factor in the generally poor service provided by most South African firms. It takes quite a bit of time to pin down good suppliers with who you can build a relationship and then work together to build a business. (More about that on another day)

Where we stand now there are a couple of small items still missing and a bit of tweaking that needs to be done before we can move into full steam production. At least we managed to run the necessary testing required, proper initial CIP and passivated the tanks.

This was followed by our first big kit brew day. Surprisingly the brew day went pretty smooth. Obviously there were a couple of process related issues. Mostly in terms of timing and a minor boil-over incident… Gladly nothing that cannot be sorted with some better planning.

At least we can confidently say we are now in the home stretch before we start brewing again in earnest.

Do not spread yourself too thin…

This is probably the biggest piece of truth from the Allagash founder. SA breweries should take note…

Don’t be a mile wide and an inch deep. Jerry Sheehan, who runs a number of our distributors, told me this.

And we learned it the hard way. By 2005 we were selling about 5,000 barrels of beer in 30 states and frankly not doing a great job anywhere. Around then, we made the tough decision to walk away from a fair amount of this volume and pull back — eliminating territories where we did not think we could be competitive and relevant.

Now we’re selling 80,000 barrels of beer in 17 states, and I’m much prouder of the job we’re doing today in all of our markets. Better to do a great job in a small pond than a not-so-great job in a big pond.

I think every business has concepts like this that are so simple they easily are overlooked.

We Make Beer…

“I make beer because I like to drink beer, and so does everybody else,” Andris told me once. “I figure if I’m making people happy, then I’m doing something right. And if I can make a buck doing it, then good for me.”
It was that simple. There was no grandiose vision of delivering the masses from mass-produced, monotonous beer. Nor was there a desire for great fame or recognition. Andris’s approach was based on the notion that somewhere not too far away, somebody would get off work, change into comfortable shoes, grab a beer out of the fridge, and find a moment of satisfaction in that first taste. It might not solve all of life’s problems, but when he or she took that first drink, everything would be made just a little bit lighter, a bit better. People depend on brewers to provide them with that moment of relief, and brewers take their role in that relationship seriously.”

We think this pretty much sums up a large portion of our approach to beer. Beer makes people happy… We all love drinking beer; and with that us at Gallows Hill Brewing Co loves making beer. Regardless of the new-prohibitionist approach some authorities take these days, beer is part of the fabric of our society. We will keep doing our part to keep it that way. Being able to enjoy a cold beer after a long day is a well-earned right for any person… A slice of relaxation and freedom.

Thanks to a lot of relaxation happening this time of year; the untimely load-shedding stint from Eskom; and the capacity of our operations at present we are struggling a bit to keep up with demand for our beers. It is not something people like to hear, but we will most probably run out of stock a couple of times this summer.

Being in this situation is not ideal, but when trying to start a small brewery while maintaining demanding day jobs and other personal commitments upgrading and growing a small business takes a lot of planning and very often longer than expected. It is also part of our plan… Growth in manageable and smaller steps. Some people just jump into bigger things without making sure all the numbers work and they have given enough thought to all of the components that form part of running a brewery, we don’t. We do things our way…

2014 was a great year. The support and feedback was great and reassuring. We seem to be on the right track and the foundation to build a much larger operation is taking shape.

Our plan is to start building on this foundation in the coming year, starting with gradual increases in our production capacity and then increasing our market footprint a bit.

Thanks for the great support in 2014.

(Excerpt above from: Lewis, Sean. “We Make Beer.” St. Martin’s Press. iBooks. This material is protected by copyright. Check out this book on the iBooks Store: )

Some Thoughts on Bottle Conditioning

Recently there has been some debate regarding bottle conditioned beers in Cape Town. One of the local bloggers approached brewers with a couple of questions.

Here are our answers to them:

Do you bottle condition any/all of your beers?

Yes we bottle condition all of our beers are the moment, but we have our own way of doing it. I am pretty sure techniques vary from brewer to brewer & brewery to brewery.

What do you see as the pros and cons of bottle conditioning?

Let’s start with the cons
If you don’t know what you are doing the results can be pretty awful.
The beer will probably not be crystal clear.
In many cases you will have consumers who do not know what to expect from a bottle conditioned beer and how to correctly treat bottle conditioned beer. People keep, handle & pour bottle conditioned beers incorrectly resulting in a beer ending up in the glass the way it was never intended.
If you have too much yeast in the bottles, stability issues, such as autolysis, and unwanted haze can be a problem.

Now for the pros
Bottle conditioned beers are alive, unfiltered and unpasteurized.
When a beer is filtered, it passes through a membrane in order to remove excess particulates, yeast, and remaining trub that is less desired in the finished product. Filtering will also remove positive characteristics that contribute to aroma and flavor. Pasteurization is a common practice at larger breweries. When beer is pasteurized, it is heated to 60ºC for two to three minutes, which basically cooks to death any remaining bacteria or yeast. Finished beer can also be flash pasteurized, which means a 15 to 30 second hit of 74ºC heat that’s thought to be a bit nicer to the beer, but it still kills it!
Bottle conditioning, when done properly, can result in beer with a finer + silky carbonation, much better head retention, more complex flavours, longer shelf life, and better aging ability than force carbonated beers.
Bottle conditioned beers change character as they age. Filtered to death, pasteurized beer is simply on a downhill path as soon as it leaves the brewery.

Are there any styles that you think should always be bottle conditioned and any styles that you would never dream of bottle conditioning?

It depends what you want out of a beer. If done correctly you can probably bottle condition anything. Some may say you can’t bottle condition lagers… I do not agree, some of the most interesting lagers we’ve ever tasted were cask conditioned lagers (for all practical purposes cask conditioning and bottle conditioning is the exact same thing).

Some people have said that a beer cannot be considered a craft beer if it hasn’t been bottle conditioned – any comment on this?

Personally I think that is complete crap…

In addition to these questions and answers I have a few more random thoughts & comments:

Due to some issues with a few bottle conditioned beers a few commentators have proposed using force carbonation in Cornelius style kegs and using counter pressure bottlers or a Blichmann Beer Gun.
In theory this can work, but the following must be noted:
Carbonation without proper carbonation stones to dissolve the CO2 into the beer will most probably result in a distinctive soda-bite flavour in the beer.
Carbonation levels can vary between kegs if the carbonation setup is not properly thought through.
You still need a pretty big cooler to keep the beer at low temperatures to properly carbonate & transfer to bottles.
All the added steps present opportunities to oxidize and add bugs to the beer.
Bottling 100+ liter of carbonated beer with a single Blichmann Beer Gun or crude counter pressure filler is a royal pain in the ass.

In the UK cask conditioned and bottle conditioned beer is very common among small brewers. I would almost go as far as saying it is the norm. Just look at the list of breweries on only a hand full of the ones who offer bottled beers do not bottle condition. (The new London brewers have some of the best beers I have ever tried)

On mainland Europe many new breweries are following in the footsteps of UK, Belgian and US brewers. Consequently bottle conditioned beers from small producers are common.

In the USA it varies between force carbonation, bottle / fermenter / brite tank carbonation and hybrid methods. One of the hybrid methods is to cap fermenters / brite tanks to start building up pressure and naturally carbonate the beers. Once this process is complete the CO2 volumes are measured and the quantity of priming sugar and additional yeast is calculated to bring the beer to the desired carbonation level. With the priming sugar and new yeast added the cold, partially carbonated beer is bottled.

I think the decision by most small breweries to bottle condition beers come down to two things:
1. Since the majority of our new brewers come from a home brewing background it is a technique they are familiar with.
2. It is a matter of cost. Most new breweries start quite small. Pressure-rated vessels cost more than 50% more than non pressure-rated vessels. Small pressure-rated vessels are also not that freely available. Force carbonation in large vessels require proper glycol cooling systems to crash cool beer and to keep temperatures low for carbonation. Once carbonated you need proper bottling equipment… And proper bottling equipment can easily cost as much, if not more, than the brew house the small brewery can barely afford if they start up. All these costs add up, thus bottle conditioning may be the only viable option to get things going for many start-ups.

The bottom line with bottling condition is my opinion is: It works great. If you know what the results, characteristics and behavior of the beers will be and you treat the beers correctly it will taste far superior to filtered to death, bland, watery industrial lager!

Running a brewery is filled with compromises. Depending on the kind of operation you run you find a suitable, manageable and hopefully profitable middle ground.

Beer 101 - Making the most of beer festivals

Beer festivals are great… Acres of beers lined up for you to enjoy; a years’s worth of pub crawling in a few hours; shoulder to shoulder with a crowd of beer fans: nirvana!
But festivals can be a little bit too much at times… Large crowds, too many choices & uncomfortable conditions. A good strategy and a little bit of self-restraint can go a long way to make the event even more enjoyable. Here are some tips.

Know your limits…
…of alcohol, heat, sun, being on your feet and dealing with crowds. Be aware that brewers often bring their biggest, baddest beers for these events. This is great but you have to respect these bold beers.

Go when the crowds are lightest…
…get there when it starts, or for a longer festival pick a slow day. Know when to quit - missing the last hour is sometimes a very wise decision.

Do some research…
…find out who is making the beers you are interested in. You may even discover a few brewers and beers unknown to you thanks to the bit of effort.

Don’t be afraid to dump…
…there is just no point in drinking a beer that you don’t like. You won’t offend anybody.

Have a purpose…
…focus on something specific, such as beers you haven’t had before, a particular style, breweries you have never heard of, or finding the perfect session beer. Take notes. Discuss.

Talk to brewers…
…this is a great opportunity to find out more about their beers, how they are brewed, how they think of them, what inspired them to make these beers, and maybe you can find out a few brewing tricks for your home brewing experiments.

…events are often more fun on the other side of the taps. You get the opportunity to spend time with beer people; get to spread the word on good beer; the chance to interact with loads of other beer lovers. It may very well come with a few perks as well… After parties, T-shirts, etc.

Hydrate… with water, not just beer !!


Make sure you have a safe ride home…

(Post adapted from Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher…..Great book to read for anybody with a interest in beer)

What is “Craft Beer”

The term “craft beer” is being used widely lately.

But what is craft beer exactly? In South Africa the definition is loosely based on the guidelines provided by the Brewers Association Instead of the 6 million barrels number a volume of 6 million liters was used.

This is all good, but there is a further clarification that also needs to be factored in.
Craft beer is broken down into different segments. Some may argue that it is a matter of splitting hairs, but I think it is important that consumers know where the beer comes from.

The craft beer industry is defined by four distinct markets: brewpubs, microbreweries, regional craft breweries, and contract brewing companies.
According to the US definitions the breakdown is as follows:

A brewery that produces less than 15,000 barrels (17,600 hectoliters) of beer per year with 75% or more of its beer sold off-site. Microbreweries sell to the public by one or more of the following methods: the traditional three-tier system (brewer to wholesaler to retailer to consumer); the two-tier system (brewer acting as wholesaler to retailer to consumer); and, directly to the consumer through carryouts and/or on-site tap-room or restaurant sales.

A restaurant-brewery that sells 25% or more of its beer on site. The beer is brewed primarily for sale in the restaurant and bar. The beer is often dispensed directly from the brewery’s storage tanks. Where allowed by law, brewpubs often sell beer “to go” and /or distribute to off site accounts. Note: BA re-categorizes a company as a microbrewery if its off-site (distributed) beer sales exceed 75%.

Contract Brewing Company:
A business that hires another brewery to produce its beer. It can also be a brewery that hires another brewery to produce additional beer. The contract brewing company handles marketing, sales, and distribution of its beer, while generally leaving the brewing and packaging to its producer-brewery (which, confusingly, is also sometimes referred to as a contract brewery).
For more opinions on contract brewing read the following by Greg Koch from Stone Brewing Co.
Interview with Greg Koch
The Craft of Stone Brewing Co.

Regional Brewery:
A brewery with an annual beer production of between 15,000 and 6,000,000 barrels.

Regional Craft Brewery:
An independent regional brewery who has either an all malt flagship or has at least 50% of it’s volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.

Large Brewery:
A brewery with an annual beer production over 6,000,000 barrels.

(1 US Beer Barrel equates to 119 liters of beer.)

India Black Ale / Cascadian Dark Ale / Black IPA

In the US (and a few other places) there has been quite some fuss over a new beer style and what it should be called. The style in question is known by basically three different names; Black IPA, India Black Ale (IBA), or Cascadian Dark Ale (CDA). Bottom line… it is a dark hoppy beer.

Oakshire Brewing one of the originators of the style defines Cascadian Dark Ale as follows:
It’s dark in colour, with a prominent “Northwest” hop aroma—citrusy, piney and resinous.
The body has some sweet malt flavours, with hints of roastiness and toasted malt.
The flavours should strike a beautiful balance between citrusy-resinous Northwest hops and, to a lesser degree, roasted, chocolate malt or caramel notes.
The finish should be semi-dry, not heavy like a porter or stout.
Hop aromas and flavours should be prominent, but the malt balance should not be lost in an onslaught of hops. In other words, when closing your eyes, it should not simply taste like a typical American IPA.

The dark beer is quite confusing to some and people easily mistake it for a type of Porter or Stout…
It is most certainly not a Porter or Stout… So, what differentiates Cascadian dark ale from a hoppy porter or stout? There are really three main differences:

The first would be the basic hop profile. These beers are brewed using traditional IPA bittering, flavour and aroma hops with citrus, spice and floral characteristics. Typical hop selections would be Columbus, Centennial, Chinook, Amarillo, Simcoe and Cascade or hybrids of these like Warrior or Magnum.

The second would be the vastly reduced roast malt flavour contributions. This is done by using debittered malts instead of black patent or roast barley. These malts provide colour without the harsher, burnt flavour profiles of robust porters or stouts.

And finally, the third is the much drier finish. This is achieved through the use of very little light caramel malts and high attenuation yeasts.

The Brewers Association developed the following for the American-style India Black Ale category at the Great American Beer Festival:
American-style India Black Ale has medium high to high hop bitterness, flavour and aroma with medium-high alcohol content, balanced with a medium body. The style is further characterized by a moderate degree of caramel malt character and medium to strong dark roasted malt flavour and aroma. High astringency and high degree of burnt roast malt character should be absent. Fruity, floral and herbal character from hops of all origins may contribute to aroma and flavour.
Original Gravity = 1.056 - 1.075
Final Gravity =1.012 - 1.018
Alcohol by Volume = 5-6%
Color = 25+ SRM
Bitterness = 50 - 70 IBU

(Based on an article by Matt van Wyk - Oakshire Brewing & info from The Brewers Association)

American Craft Beer Week

Craft Brewers are artisans… No reason to say more…

Update 2012-06-05

Well… The year 2012 is seriously rushing past… For all practical purposes the middle of the year is just around the corner.

At this point it is probably a good idea to give some feedback on what is happening with Gallows Hill Brewing Co

We have secured a brewing venue. All the legal and administrative items are in progress. As everyone knows bureaucracy is unpredictable… So we will just have to see how it goes.

At the moment we are working on our pilot system, tweaking recipes and planning the road ahead.
In case anyone was wondering… We will always be busy with the process of tweaking recipes… The way we see it is: We have not yet made the perfect beer! In fact we will probably never make the perfect beer…
Who cares… The quest for perfection and the pursuit of breaking new ground are both everlasting

Simple Pleasures

It seems as if the craft beer scene is about to explode in South Africa. There is definitely more and more interest in small scale and artisanal beer offerings and people are more willing to try new beer styles.
For way too long the South African beer drinker had to be content with stock standard – and in many cases rather bland – lagers. Personally I prefer ales. American & English ales are my favourite, Belgian ales come second. Belgian beers are great, but so far they are simply not my favourite…

Talking of Belgian beers… The Belgians are the masters of adding weird and wonderful ingredients to beer. This is a skill they have honed over centuries thanks to the fact that they were not limited by the silly Reinheitsgebot. (As most people know the law had in fact very little to do with the purity or quality of beer. It was in fact a method of ensuring food security and a steady tax income for the government)

Lately it seems as if some brewers and marketers are trying to push concept that craft beer is synonymous with way-out, weird & wacky beers with exorbitantly complex recipes. I am not against the weird and wonderful, but it must be clear that this is only a small piece of the craft beer pie.

I can appreciate the absurdities of some recipes (liquorice root, buchu, tea, oak aged, soured, etc.) for certain types of beer, and also the necessity of craft brewers to create these beers in order to inspire other brewers to step outside the comfort zone of their regular brewing. However, is it not so niche that it’s simply not worth the effort to promote beers with this type of complexity?

A more complex beer does not necessarily make for a better beer, or make it more palatable.

Why does craft beer have to be so complex?

Is it a vanity contest for some brewers?

My stance is: Simplify! Simplify!
Make simple beer, but make it well…