At Black Sheep, our fundamental reason for being is to brew great beer. We do this by focusing on quality, consistency and the best possible ingredients. It’s the Black Sheep way.
Our brewhouse contains a mixture of tradition and innovation, using the Yorkshire Square Fermentation system which we hold dearly. Our original brewhouse was built from reclaimed equipment which we still use to this day.
Here’s our process …
The brew begins at the Mash Tun, a large circular vessel where hot water (or liquor as it is known by brewers) and milled malted barley are added and mixed by a large mechanical arm. The hot liquor blends with the malt and extracts the essential starch, which naturally converts to fermentable sugars thus leaving a sweet liquid called wort, the starting point of all beers. As well as the fermentable sugars, the malt imparts colour into the wort which dictates the colour of the finished brew.
The water we add at this stage is actually extracted from our very own bore hole here in Masham, so every pint of Black Sheep beer uses the freshest water from the Yorkshire Dales.
Once the wort is created, it is then passed from the Mash Tun to our beautiful copper kettle. As the name suggests, the wort is boiled here for over 60 minutes to sterilise the brew amongst other things. Here, we add the first batch of hops, what we call, the bittering hops. The alpha acids in these hops impart bitterness into the wort, an important trait for most beers.
Following the boil, the wort is then transferred to the Hop Back, a circular vessel where we add the aroma hops. This part of the process is typically where the fundamental aroma of the beer is created. The variety of hops we use here can vary, but they are pivotal to the style of beer we’re aiming to produce and must have a punchy, bold aroma to give the finished beer a deep and flavoursome nose. We allow the wort to stand in this vessel for up to an hour before sending it through a rapid cooling system prior to fermentation.
One of the most unique attributes here at Black Sheep is our Yorkshire Square Fermentation system. We’re proud to be one of only a few brewers in the world using this method. Yorkshire Squares are open top fermenting vessels which have a walled deck above. Here, we add our in-house strain of yeast to ferment the wort and create the alcohol. As the yeast ferments the wort, it rises and flows out of the vessel and onto the walled deck above, thus separating the beer from the yeast. This system also allows us to rouse the beer, where we pump the fermented wort from the bottom of the tank and spray it over the top of the brew. The result is a very clean, dry beer which has become an iconic character of all our ales, a real Yorkshire trait. At this point, we can also add more hops to the beer by what is called dry-hopping. This can impart even more hop aromas without adding significant bitterness.
Due to the nature of the Yorkshire Squares and the dryness that this system imparts into the beer, following fermentation we transfer our beers to a separate sealed conditioning tank where it stands at 10°c for at least three days. This phase allows some residual sugars to ferment but also allows the bitter flavours to mellow, thus creating a perfectly balanced beer. It takes a bit of time to make the perfect Black Sheep beer, but it’s worth the wait!
The Result …
The beer is then filled into casks, kegs, bottles and cans and distributed across Yorkshire and the world.
Because of our special, unique methods of brewing, our finished beer has a distinct character and beautiful flavour which, well… we wouldn’t change for the world.