Taking the hop to the shop

04 May, 2007

QI am considering converting an outbuilding at the back of my shop into a small brewery. What size plant do I need for a viable business (servicing the needs of my off-licence and perhaps a couple of local pubs and restaurants) and how much would I need to spend?

A David Porter, the appropriately named director of Porter Brewing Co, has been brewing, training, designing and installing breweries for more than 15 years. In the past five years alone he has installed more than 50 in the UK.

He says: "Quality beers are brewed by the skill of the brewer and the quality of the raw ingredients, not by how much is spent on the plant."

But prices range from £3,100 plus VAT for a one-barrel brewery to £10,700 plus VAT for a four-barrel brewery. "This is usually the maximum size operation that can utilise single-phase electricity supply," Porter explains. Even so, with a capacity of 650 litres, it may be on the large side for a retailer, so you could consider a 2.5-barrel option. "This brewery should be small enough to fit into most buildings and beer cellars, and large enough to be of commercial consideration," says Porter. "The fermenting vessels are manufactured in food-grade polyethylene, and all brewhouse vessels are fabicated new in stainless steel."

The minimum production quantity is about 36 gallons and the price £7,500.But installation is not the only cost to consider. You will also have to budget for refrigeration, air conditioning, casks and washing facilities, building work where required, drainage, electrical work and, of course, stock.

Porter estimates that the total installation costs will be 100 to 150 per cent more than his own charges. "On the plus side, you should be able to produce a quality 4 per cent abv ale for about 24p a pint duty paid," he adds.

But before you can become operational you will need Revenue & Customs permission, the blessing of the local environmental health department, not to mention arrangements for the disposal of spent hops and malt, reliable water and electricity supplies and permission to dispose of trade effluent.

"Rest assured that negotiations are not as onerous as you may think, especially with proper guidance," Porter says.

For more information, check out www.pbcbreweryinstallations.com.QI think we're doing some good work with our wine range, and I would like to encourage some interest from wine writers. How can I attract their attention?

A Wine writers are often very happy to champion a worthy independent, if their range is genuinely interesting and particularly if the wines can be supplied by mail order.

The Circle of Wine Writers (www.winewriters.org) counts most serious (and some less so) wine journalists among its members and publishes their names on its website. For a fee, you can buy their contact details, but you should be able to seek out the principal critics via the newspapers and magazines they work for.

Sending dozens of samples to wine writers is time consuming and expensive and rarely yields the results people hope for. Far better to send a general letter or e-mail pointing out your shop's area of expertise, offering to send samples if required. Some writers might even be prepared to stop by.

What might really mark you out from the crowd is a newsy "hook": you might be bucking the trend with German wines, for example, or have unearthed some brilliant en primeur bargains.

Wine critics are famously short of new material, so an intelligent, vociferous point of view from someone at the coal face of the wine trade is the sort of contact they crave.

Why all the moaning about malo?

QIs malolactic fermentation

always a bad thing? I've seen tasters get sniffy about the subject.

A Malolactic fermentation takes some of the aggressive edge off of wines with too much acidity. But you wouldn't want to subject every white wine to the process - it could replace a fresh, zippy flavour character with something rather more boring and subdued - and this is especially true for warmer climate wines where it's important to preserve what acid is present. Also, malolactic fermentation produces CO2 gas and diacetyl, which can create an excessively strong buttery aroma if not controlled.

Malolactic fermentation can take place in the bottle, especially if the wine is exposed to heat and there is some lactic acid bacteria present. Under these circumstances the wine won't taste anything like the winemaker intended, and tasters quite rightly reject the resulting product.

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