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Whilst brewing is an art, it is also based on science so the laboratory is just as important as the brewhouse. Therefore the lab equipment must stand the test of time, says Astell.

JW Lees is a family brewery company founded in 1828 by retired cotton manufacturer and beer aficionado John Lees. He spent his pension fund to purchase some land in Middleton, North Manchester, where he built his Greengate Brewery from which the company still operates. Six generations on, JW Lees is proud to still be brewing beer on site in the traditional way using similar recipes.

The company now employs just over 1,000 people, 140 at the brewery and 865 in its 36 managed pubs, inns and hotels, as well as letting a further 105 tied pubs to self-employed tenants. Real ale is at the heart of JW Lees and the brewery produces a range of cask ales including their traditional Cask Ale (John Lees original recipe), the legendary 11.5% ABV Vintage Harvest Ale barley wine and CAMRA award- winning Moonraker dark ale. There are also limited edition seasonal cask ales, but JW Lees is nothing if not progressive, and also brews lagers and smooth beers in its state-of-the-art brewhouse.

Back in the days of John Lees, brewing was very much an art. Whilst modern brewers are still steeped in tradition, their craft is based in science, and the laboratory is every bit as important as the brewhouse. Ensuring the quality of the various brews produced by JW Lees is the job of the Quality Control Laboratory. Here the microbiology of the brewing process from malt through wort to final packaging is monitored for the presence of a wide variety of spoilage organisms that could affect the appearance, nose and taste of the product and, just as critical, the integrity of the yeast strain that is unique to each beer. The laboratory is also responsible for supervising Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP)

22 | Tomorrow’s Laboratories

and the effectiveness of cleaning in place (CIP). Microbiological assay requires absolute sterility of the nutrient media on which micro- organisms are cultured and the laboratory glassware which is used for testing. There is no substitute for steam sterilisation and, back in 1996, JW Lees purchased a second- hand Astell autoclave that had been originally supplied to the Morland Brewery in Abingdon – home of Old Speckled Hen until it was acquired by Greene King – in 1986. It served its new owners well for 21 years until, in 2017, it failed and spares were no longer available. It finally became part of brewing history.

Assistant Brewhouse Manager, Jon

Gillibrand, had to find a replacement autoclave and, on the strength of those 21 years, he bought an Astell AMA270 top-loading 135 litre autoclave

The new AMA270 autoclave is a direct steam model, meaning it is supplied with steam from the brewery boiler rather than the autoclave generating steam internally. This means that cycle times are very quick because there is no waiting time for the steam to be generated. It is a bit more sophisticated than its 1986 ancestor. Advances in electronics over the last thirty years mean that is equipped with a fully programmable colour Touch Screen controller, an internal memory for storing up to 5,000 cycles and Holdwarm and delayed start capability. It also has safety features such as over-temperature protection and a cooling lock to prevent the door from being opened until the contents have cooled to a safe temperature. “If it gives as good service as its predecessor,” says Jon, “it’s money well spent!”

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