The Kernel Brewery ‘Table Beer’ Brew Day
I recently had the opportunity to pop along to a Kernel for a brew day. After being asked what beer I’d like to see brewed, I went for the humble Table beer. With all the constant craft obsession with IPAs there’s something magical about delicious low abv beers that still give you a big amount of flavour. Kernel’s Table Beer is one of these. They don’t profess the hops on the front (though they are written on the back), with the focus on keeping the beer as a staple that is ever evolving in ingredients but consistent in quality.
The brewer that day was Emma McIntosh. She was preparing her second unassisted brew. Kernel has the unique approach of having all employees taking turns to do different jobs around the brewery, which means everyone is trained up to be able to brew. Owner Evin O’Riordain explains it’s partly to make sure there’s no frustration between brewers, packers, bottlers and any other people working at the brewery. They all muck in and can all help each other out when needed.
Brewing is obviously a lot about process, and Kernel has such a well defined process in place that you don’t have to have studied brewing for years to be able to produce the beers. Everyone else is on hand to help, and Emma checks regularly about timings, temperatures and pressures to see if she is on target. The table beer is mashed in at quite a high temperature, which helps with the body of a low abv beer that’s not reliant on alcohol. All processes are still by hand, from the mashing to the cleaning, though they are hoping to get a new self cleaning boiler soon and and keep their existing boiler purely for sour beer production. The mash tun on the other hand is staying manual, as most of the Kernel crew seem to love cleaning out the malty sludge.
Emma picks out the hops for today’s brew, a mix of chinook and mosaic. The ever-changing hop combinations that Kernel are famous for is down to the brewer’s tastes and what fresh hops they have in store. Mosaic is definitely a current favourite at The Kernel, especially in low abv beers such as the Table Beer.
They are quietly tweaking the recipes still. At lunch, they lay out breads, jams and cheeses from nearby producers and pour out three recent Table Beers, all with slightly different malt bills to see if any changes stand out. To some extent, the reputation Kernel has produced for ever evolving hops lends itself towards this way of working. Small tweaks on simple but solid recipes to see whether they can create something a little bit better.
Each of the employees have their own opinion of what’s correct, and it seems like everyone’s say holds similar weight. The simplest malt bill, only hopped with Mosaic, wins out this round, but partly because of the pungency of the hop. Evin mentions he prefers single hopped beers as they produced more defined flavours, though he is looking forward to when he can do his ‘S.C.A.NS’, a brew with Simcoe, Citra, Apollo & Nelson Sauvin hops.
The pace at Kernel is still frenetic in terms of supply and demand. They sell around 40 boxes of beer on a Saturday morning alone (not including their kegs) and are selling out of beer quicker than they can produce it. Emma mentioned that they had no pale ales at all in the brewery last week, with something always going out of stock at different times. I was reminded of something Andrew Morgan, the manager of nearby Bottle Shop said, that running out of stock is a sign of a great brewery.
Seeing a brew being made at Kernel makes me wonder why others get their beers so wrong. Brewing, when structured and laid out properly, is something people can learn without too much problem. But maybe that’s where Kernel’s prowess lies, they’ve created a team and process that means their products are consistent and delicious, with everyone on hand to support each other.