Our brewery was first opened in time for the 'glorious twelfth' of 1995.
The building was originally the coachhouse & stables for the Pitlochry to Kirkmichael coach service, the roofspace being 'lads' accommodation. In more recent years it had been a cattle byre and then became the dump for old hotel furniture & fittings.
The present owners had seen successful pub breweries in England and with the thought of the Moulin Inns past history, where did it get its drinks from in 1695 ??, there must have been a local brewhouse in operation - it seemed fitting that we celebrate the pubs 300th anniversary by starting to brew at home again.
Moulin was one of the first microbreweries in Scotland , now there are in excess of 10; it is also a very popular concept in the United States .
We had no brewing expertise, but we hired a consultancy company who fitted the equipment and procured a number of sample recipes, based on our then existing knowledge of the various real ales sold in the pub. The Scots seemed to like slightly sweeter ale, also a little darker than the norm.
Our first two brews, A & B, were tried out in the pub at 50p per pint, very successful they were too, the darker one was chosen, to be served alongside our regular ales like Marstons Pedigree, Tetleys and Old Speckled Hen.
A competition for a name was started and the winner won a bottle of whisky, for Ale of Atholl - simply taking the 'V' out of Vale of Atholl, Our local area.
We experimented with a second brew, lightening the strength and colour of ingredients, producing it at the time they were making the Mel Gibson film, Braveheart. Since we named the beer the film was guaranteed success!!
As winter arrived we looked to produce a stronger winter warmer. For this we had to increase the strength but not the maltiness, we added one pound, per gallon, of local honey to the Ale of Atholl recipe and ended up with the super smooth Old Remedial - named by the North British Rowing Club who were staying at the Hotel at the time.
The bar now sported three of our own beers and one outside real ale, Boddingtons - sales of Boddies had plunged dramatically against our ales, so we tried to copy it.
We experimented with more wheat and no darker malts at all, and once again a distinctive ale was successfully produced - Light Ale - summed it up, and there was no longer any requests for other ales , other than our own, to be sold.
We stick rigidly to our recipes & methods and manage to achieve great consistency in our brews. It is essential that the vats, pipes & kegs are thoroughly cleaned after each use and Latvian Martins Rakauskas - our Brewer - certainly achieves that.
The vast majority of our production is sold across the road, and now a good amount is also going to our new Bothy Bar in Blair Atholl. Other outlets are the Loch Tummel Inn, and the Royal Dunkeld Hotel, The bottles travel everywhere but we prefer to keep our keg produce local.
We started bottling Ale of Atholl in 1999. We can bottle tip to 20 cases an hour, hotel staff lending a hand, the ale still has a little yeast & sugar left in to keep it alive, fresh and 'bottle conditioned'.
Beer for bottling is pumped up to the tanks in the roofspace, left to settle, and then fed by gravity to our little bottling machine. The bottles are filled to 500m1 and capped, we save ourselves the task of labelling by having the bottles printed first.
Our cases contain 20 bottles to provide 10 litres per case, an easy sum for our records.
Bottle storage & handling is a problem and restricts our production, maybe a dedicated unit is the answer. That is for the future.
All the ingredients are natural, no sugars, caramels, malt extract or molasses are added, other than the honey to the Remy.
A mix of malted barleys and milled wheat ( secret recipes)- the GRIST - are added to water ,at exactly 73o C, in the Mash Tun. We are endeavouring to release the maximum sugars from the malted barley, the wheat lightens the taste and helps put a frothy head on our beer. It is left to mash for approx 90 minutes before being slowly drawn off, by gravity, from the bottom. The liquid - WORT -is very sweet, almost like Horlicks, and is gradually transferred by pump to the Copper. Hot water is added to the Mash Tun to wash out the last of any sugars remaining in the GRIST, the brewer is aiming for the correct strength of WORT, about 1045 specific gravity for Atholl, in the COPPER. The specific gravity at this stage has a direct effect on the alcohol by volume ABV' of the finished product.
The WORT is brought up to a rolling boil and then half the required HOPS are added - these give the beer its bitter flavour - and are similar to a seasoning, the boil goes on for a further hour or so, a little longer if the wort is a little weak, then the final hops are added prior to resting the finished product.
The hopped wort is then drawn off to the fermenting vessel, through the heat exchanger, and cooled to a temperature of 27oC.
A preparation of dried yeast is made up and PITCHED into the cooled wort, and then leave nature to take over, producing our beer in 2/3 days. Fermentation takes place at about 25oC, so in winter a little heat assistance is provided, though fermentation produces its own heat, carbon dioxide being the other byproduct, some of which remains in the beer to help it sparkle, and maybe give you a sore head if you sample too much.
We carefully note the sugar content of the beer, the sugar reduces as alcohol is produced, and with our desire to keep most of our beer slightly sweet, we stop the fermentation, by chilling, at a level of about 1008 sg.
It is at this point that our methods are different to the distilleries. They are seeking the maximum alcohol and allow the ale (wines) to ferment completely before commencing the distilling process to separate the alcohol almost completely.
It has been noted that the beer often tastes better in winter, when it has been chilled quicker and also chilled as it lies in the kegs.
INTO THE KEGS
The beer is left to chill down to about 6oC, before it is racked off into the kegs. The Moulin usually uses the 18 gall kegs (Kilderkins) or for other pubs we rack into firkins - 9 galls (they are easier to transport & handle). A 'barrel' is 36 gallons.
Other measures: Polypin -4 and a half gallons, Hogshead 54 gallons
The kegs are filled by gravity, without filtering, some yeast -FLOCS - are allowed into the kegs. The beer is far from clear at this point. So we need to add finings to clear the beer - ISINGLASS -- Isinglass is made up from the contents of a fishes swim bladder, eggshells and other ingredients, and was first used during the war for preserving eggs by coating the shells !!.
The isinglass acts like a magnet and pulls any pieces of yeast, however small, and sticks them to the side of the keg, leaving us with a clear ale fit for drinking, the isinglass usually needs 24 hours to do its magic and the beer must be left in the pub cellar for at least this long before it can be enjoyed.
The Isinglass will tolerate the kegs being moved only about ten times, in that the beer needs to settle & fine after every movement, we think that is one of the reasons that the beer tastes better locally, in that it has only been moved once or twice, whereas a wholesaler would be moving the kegs many more times.
The Isinglass itself remains in the kegs and does not mix with the beer
The brewer usually checks the action of the finings by taking a sample and checking it after 24 hours, the yeast flocs can be clearly seen attached to the side of the glass.
Once the kegs are in a cellar they are Left to settle for 24 hours, then they are vented by knocking in the red plug, through the spile, and a tap is hammered through the keystone.
This often starts a secondary fermentation, any excess CO 2 is allowed to vent through the 'soft' plug placed in the spile.
A quick check of the beer, a glass from the tap - barman's perks - and It is ready to connect to the pipes and be served.