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Castle Rock's first Pilot Project beer has arrived; read on to find out more

The Pilot Project is a new (to us) brew kit that allows us to brew beer on a much smaller scale. This means greater freedom to explore, experiment and push the boundaries of our existing knowledge. It’s all about research and development, which is how we landed on it’s name, the Pilot Project.

Matt, our lead brewer, shares some notes on the process behind Pilot Project #001 – Pale Ale.

Click here to find out more about Pilot Project #002 – IPA.


PILOT PROJECT #001 –  Pale Ale

We were keen to start out with the basics, get to know the kit, and attempt to brew an easy drinking, well-balanced, modern pale.

Our aim was to get the profile of the water and the malt to provide sweetness and fullness, that would provide a foundation for the aroma and flavour of the hops.

We also wanted to try out a new hop product, incognito, which has none of the vegetative matter of whole cone or pelletised hops but all of the oily goodness.  The late addition hops in the kettle lay the foundation for the aroma, using incognito meant we were able to massively up that dose without adding the same amount of vegetative matter.

The Brew Day(s)

We had a couple of goes at this brew. Getting the mash temperature right was really important but as we were getting to grips with the kit in the depths of a really cold winter it was difficult to achieve.

Simply put, lower mash temperatures produce a more highly fermentable wort and a higher mash temperature will leave more unfermentable sugars that leave a residual sweetness in the finished beer.

The first two attempts were much lower mash bed temperatures than we aimed for. Consequently, the beers fermented out very low and created unbalanced, astringent and dry versions of the beer.

Despite being in the depths of a very cold January, fermentation attempt three went very well. We used Ade’s fish tank heaters in a bucket of warm water to pump through the coil and maintain fermentation temperatures (where there’s a will, there’s a way!).

It was important to pay attention to our dissolved oxygen levels and we did everything we could to minimise oxygen pick up post-fermentation as much as possible. We had had a few issues with some of the initial brews on the kit, and the hop aroma just wasn’t what we had hoped it would be.

Other issues came in the form of excess fobbing during bottling, caused by not being able to maintain top pressure on the brite tank. This led to underfilled bottles, which is disappointing and frustrating. But we know exactly what went wrong and have been able to learn from the mistake.

Closing thoughts

We are very happy with the way the beer came out! I think we achieved balance, a full mouthfeel and a decent amount of aroma. We are also much more familiar with the limitations and capabilities of the brew kit. It’s a great starting point for us to head out into some really interesting beer-based adventures so I’m excited.

Obviously there are still a few things we need to tweak, our bottling process being first on that list.

I think the Incognito played a big part in the flavour and aroma profile of the finished beer. Lots of strong Mosaic notes come through. It would be interesting to see what would happen with bigger quantities of Incognito, with bigger more hop forward styles, and what character we would get with different hop varietals. I’d like to try out the Sabro Incognito for sure!

Next up

Our next step is to play around with a recipe for an IPA, playing with a different yeast strain, higher ABVs, and a little more colour in the beer. We’ll be keeping the water profile, hop bill and overall process very similar, so we aren’t changing too many variables at once.

We’d like to try London Ale III yeast for a more pronounced ester profile, as well as a higher final gravity, hopefully providing more mouthfeel, more aroma and a more consistent haze.

We would also like to try out standard Maris Otter malt as opposed to Low Colour Maris Otter that was used in this beer to give us a slightly darker colour.

If that works out well, we have some NZ hop blends: Bruce and Betty, that we’d love to showcase side by side in two big fruity IPAs!

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