Monday, October 20, 2008

Brewing at 75th Street!

Friday was my opportunity to show up at 75th Street and recreate my little homebrew recipe on a grand scale - 200+ gallons of a strong Belgian specialty ale. It should be ready in approximately a month - I will certainly notify readers of this blog when it is available.

The recipe that won the 75th Street Homebrew contest was my attempt at playing with some of the Belgian guidelines. Belgians make the best beer in the world, and they are ceaselessly creative. Inspired by a book I read on Belgian brewing (Brew Like a Monk), I had set out to create a beer that resembled a Belgian Tripel in terms of color and strength, but which retained a flavor of honey. Belgians often use sugars in their stronger beers, to avoid the thick mouthfeel of an all-malt beer of similar strength. While a great doppelbock will feel thick and viscous in your mouth (like drinking a loaf of bread), a great tripel will be more drinkable - the Belgians use a term translating to "digestibility". When i brewed it, it came out a little darker than intended, but it was an easy-to-drink strong ale with a honey aftertaste).

In scaling up the brew to the larger equipment at 75th Street, I worked with Nick and Chris (their two brewers) to come up with a recipe including a quarter ton of malted barley, 25 pounds of honey, and 50 pounds of dark brown sugar. We used their normal hops (hop flavor and aroma are not a big feature of this beer). Here is a picture of the crushed malt and water being added to the mash tun, where the starches in the malt convert into sugar.

After the sugar conversion was complete, we recirculated the resulting liquid (wort) until it ran clear, using a pump to draw it from the bottom of the tank and putting it into the top of the tank. The malt husks act as a natural filter, to eliminate stuff that would cloud the beer. After it ran clear, we pumped it over to the brew kettle, and added water which had rinsed through the grain, absorbing all that malty sugar.

The brew kettle is steam heated, and brought the wort up to a good boil. We added pelletized hops to bring an appropriate level of bitterness to keep the beer from being too sweet. Balance is the goal.

Not long before the boil was finished, we added the honey and the brown sugar to the kettle. The late addition was an improvement on my recipe by the brewers at 75th Street - I had added my sugars at the beginning of the boil, but they wisely pointed out that the earlier addition would allow the flavor compounds in the sugars to be boiled away, and that the increased sugar in the boiling kettle throughout the 90 minute boil would increase the darkening of the wort through caramelization.

After the boil was done, we ran the beer through a heat exchanger to cool it, and pumped it into a waiting tank that already had the 75th Street house strain of Belgian yeast waiting for it. I dropped by the brewery on Saturday, and it was fermenting away, as it will for a couple weeks, after which it will condition (mellow) for a couple weeks before being served.

After the brew kettle had finished its work, the brewers outfitted me with a pair of rubber gloves, a pail of cleaning solution and a green scrubbing pad, and directed me on how to climb in through the hatch of the brew kettle to scrub it out. I truly thought they were joking, as the hatch did not look particularly big, and some of the other vessels are cleaned through chemicals and soaking rather than elbow grease. So, I kind of laughed it off, until I realized that they weren't just hazing the homebrewer. The next time you go into 75th Street, check out the hatch and you'll understand what a feat of gymnastics and force it was to jam myself into the kettle.

It was a great day - commercial brewing is similar in most ways to homebrewing in terms of process, but the quantities and techniques are more sophisticated. My trusty tin pan won't get the job done in transferring water to soak through the grain - pumps are used for everything.

But, as always, the real work of brewing is not done by machines or humans. As I write this, tiny yeast cells are chomping away at the sugars in the wort we created, creating alcohol and CO2. In a few weeks, we'll put it on tap and serve it up. I hope and believe it will be a great beer, but we won't really know until it's ready to drink.

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Anonymous Nuke said...

Interesting look at the process, thanks Dan!

10/20/2008 11:28 AM  
Blogger Melinda said...

Even though I don't drink beer because I've found I can only handle radler, I've got to say that your brew sounds fantastic. I think you should ship some to Indiana!

10/20/2008 1:38 PM  
Blogger Spyder said...

Looking forward to trying it!

10/20/2008 11:27 PM  
Blogger Owen said...

I can't wait to try this. I remember us having very similar taste for beer so I have real high hopes for this! (No pressure or anything.)

10/21/2008 2:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to be honest, I don't do sweet beers, but save me a glass anyways

10/22/2008 1:10 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Anonymous 1:10 - It's really not very sweet at all. The honey and brown sugar ferment very efficiently, so their sugars disappear even more than malt's sugars do, but their flavor remains. I know, it's kind of hard to think of honey flavor as distinct from honey sweetness, but, if things go well, you should be able to taste the difference at 75th Street in a month or so.

10/22/2008 7:29 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Sounds like fun, and congrats on the win! Can't wait to check it out.

10/31/2008 9:17 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Had this yesterday - nicely done! We enjoyed your tripel quite a bit, despite my hesitation over thinking it may be sweeter than I like. I should have believed you about the attenuation!

1/11/2009 12:39 PM  

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