Sentinel Brewhouse brewery tour
Sentinel Brewhouse opened its doors in spring 2016, in what was the former Geoff Hall carpet showroom on Shoreham Street. I decided to find out more about the beer from grain to glass by booking onto one of Sentinel’s onsite brew tours, with the promise of some tasters at the end!
The man behind the beer vision is Alex Barlow, a qualified master brewer who has vast amounts of experience of the brewery trade, which includes being the first Englishman to manage a brewery with Staropramen in Prague.
Sentinel has an industrial vibe with bold greens and hop-shaped lights over the bar. As you order your beer you can see the huge steel brewery tanks behind the clear glass partition. With our drinks in hand, our small group was taken into the ‘boardroom’ for the tour introduction by our guide, Louis.
He opened the session with a lowdown on Alex, telling us about his experience, drive and passion to make great beer. From the creativity to crafting and balancing the flavours of the beer.
We headed upstairs to the malt store to check out the raw ingredients and from here you had a great view of the brewing room. Louis handed round malted barley for us to smell and eat (if we wanted). Each were kilned to different degrees, so a lightly toasted one would be used in a pale ale, a caramel malt would be used in an American red and a dark roasted would be used to make stout.
Onto the hops, the flavour of these varies due to where they are grown and the climate of that country. For example, Australian hops are likely to have elements of passionfruit and mango whilst British hops are more bitter. Ultimately when making a beer you have to consider building flavour to make the beer of your choice.
We headed to the ground floor to hear about the processes that take place to transform barley and hops into a pint. I must admit I hadn’t appreciated the level of science and maths involved.
The malt barley is mashed with hot water to convert starch to a fermentable sugar mix called wort. Once this is at the right sugar level it is drained and pumped into the kettle. All the spent grain goes back to Whirlow Hall farm where Sentinel get their eggs and chicken from, which is great recycling.
The type of water used is important too for your ale, apparently Burton upon Trent has the best brewing water due to the mineral content, so breweries have to ‘Burtonise’ their water to ensure quality ales. Sheffield water is fine for making lagers though!
Then it is time to use your hops to flavour, these are added at different stages to build the beer and the aroma. Testing continues throughout the process to check how it is developing and to make sure it is the right alcohol strength.
The ‘beer’ is then chilled so the yeast can be added to convert sugars into alcohol, this is done in a fermenter and brewed for a set period of time.
You can then enjoy a super fresh Sentinel beer, as sealed beer containers serve the bar directly. According to Louis, their Summer Gold was the world’s first hand pulled beer served in this way.
Time to taste, we got a flight of 4 beers and a four seasons stone-baked pizza to round off the night. The beers were:
PvO: A crisp Czech style pilsner (4.6%)
OS: A tangy Orange Stout (4.2%) carbonated using nitrogen instead of CO2 to create a smoother drink
Ar: A ruby American red (5.2%)
Breakfast saison: An interesting collaboration made with IPA hops and a saison yeast (6%), so it was slightly sour.
I enjoyed the tour, it was informative and well-paced and I learnt a lot about the detail and technique that goes into making good beer.
At the end, we got to tuck into our pizza and savour our flight of ales whilst considering what we had learnt in the previous hour. The tours are run regularly and you can check them out here.
Elements of the beer (hops, grain, etc.) are used in the food offered on the menu too at Sentinel, this includes beer brined chicken…ck battered coley…sentinel beer bread…to mention a few.
Plus, they run frequent beer matched food evenings with the Real Junk Food Project, so you get to taste the inventiveness of the kitchen as they make the best of food which would have otherwise been thrown away. The next one is on the 8 May and has very likely sold out by now, so keep your eyes out for future dates.
178 Shoreham Street