Magic ethnography for craft beer

Yesterday, defroster and Conor Lineham finally went on their much anticipated visit to see the guys at Magic Rock Brewery in Huddersfield, with the intention of carrying out ethnographic research for LiSC’s Social Craft Beer project. Without going into the finer details of the project’s research objectives, one of the underlying themes is understanding the role social media platforms play in increasing engagement between Craft breweries and us, the beer geeks, salivating at the end of a shiny craft beer font. By working towards a greater understanding of this relationship, we can begin to piece together how we might design appropriate technologies to help seed, support and improve this relationship in new design spaces.


Donned in completely inadequate attire we arrived at the brewery mid-morning and were immediately hit by a wave of intense malt and hop aromas – shock and awe. The brewery is equipped with state of the art kit, with a number of eye-catching cooperage barrels dotted around with surreal names chalked on them; Bearded Lady, Unhuman Cannonball, Dark Arts, with the beer inside silently fermenting away in the barrel-aging process. The barrels are imposing, sourced from around the world for reasons of creating an eclectic fusion of their previous contents (soaked into the wood) with big hops. In the photo below you can see a thick liquid seeping through a barrel containing a stout called Dark Arts, this was entirely edible, and hinted at what was to come when the beer reached its peak.



So what did we do when we arrived? First we were warmly welcomed by the team, with Rich Burnhouse owner of the Brewery, giving us an overview of it’s day to day runnings. Rich gave us free reign to wander about, under the auspicious mentorship of Magic Rock’s head brewer Stuart Ross, to talk to staff and take part in the day to day activities associated with a growing and successful craft brewery. One of the things that surprised me most about the day was how labour intensive the craft brewing process was, put it this way, you needn’t worry about putting on excess weight with drinking if you worked in one! Rather than me go on about the day in paragraphs of text I’ll run you through some photos we took as the day went on.

After we were introduced to everyone we stepped into the brewery, it was only a few minutes before I was handed a glass of Dark Arts to try from Joe, who was busy filling casks with it for delivery – a great start! Joe is a Forensic Science graduate who was drawn to the craft beer industry for his love of beer.

welcome drink

It wasn’t long before Stu put us to work by tasking us with breaking up the hops required for their venerable Cannonball brew, a 7.4% IPA. Conor and I were handed 3 vacuum sealed bags of some of the popular hops currently being used in craft brewed IPAs – Citra, Centennial, and Columbus hops. We were then tasked with breaking the hops up by having our heads in a bin.


With the hops for Cannonball broken up, we then poured them into the ‘kettle’ for boiling with the beer wort.


Our next task was to dig out the spent grain in the mash tun – shovel and hard graft time! We filled nearly two pallet containers with the spent grain, then had to climb inside with a high pressure hose to thoroughly clean it, much to the amusement of Stu who seemed to walk about with a perpetual grin on his face. It was like being in a steam filled coffin. I’m sure I heard Conor’s muffled laughing through the stainless steel shell. Apparently some of the Magic Rock staff strip down to their Y-fronts to do this task – with wellies on?? The mash tun separates the wort (liquid) from the grain, the wort was destined to be boiled with the Cannonball hops we poured into the kettle previously.


After the slog of the mash tun, we had a welcome break in the brewery office and had a chat with Rich on how the brewery uses social media for different facets of the business, all geared to feedback with a personal touch. Giada, Magic Rocks Italian brewer, broke out the big guns in the form of early tasters of some of their barrel aged beers. These beers were amazing, both in name and taster. Some were a few months away from being ready and others had peaked. This is the closest I’ll probably ever come to being a craft brewer, sampling prototype barrel-aged beers with spent wort grain in my hair. I’ll cherish it. Rich deliberately photo-bombed my moment by posting to Twitter.


In the afternoon we spent more time learning about brewing; with Stu imparting his wisdom on the scientific processes and the role all the shiny stainless steel, gauges and huge fermenting vessels play in making their marvellous beers. There was even time to create some album art for Conor and Magic Rock Stu’s new upcoming single ‘Hop Renegade’:


We had a great day, and can’t thank the guys at Magic Rock enough for inviting us up and teaching us a thing or two about Craft Beer. In the meantime we will be analysing all the data we have collected from our craft beer field trips up and down the UK and hope to present findings through one of the more well-known HCI conferences 😉

Watch this space!


group shot


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