Choosing Our First Round of Brews

This was the aspect of opening a brewery that I was waiting for - not the paperwork, the BS, and the politics. On March 23rd, we brewed our first beer on our big system, 155 gallons at a time. This was our German Dark Lager also known as a Schwarzbier. I will be honest, I was somewhat intimidated knowing that this beer and this brewery have my name on it. But there was no going back now. I reminded myself that I was just doing my hobby but producing a lot more beer at a time.

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One of the most difficult aspects of this process was choosing which of our beers to have on tap when we first opened. We have 18 taps in total. Four of these will be dedicated to the vino's, probably a cider or mead, leaving us around 12 taps for beer. Well, looking through my catalog of recipes we had to narrow it down from about 160 altogether. Some were easy to eliminate, some weren’t. Then we had to take into account having a wide variety to appease all palates: some light, some dark, some hoppy, some fruity, some big beers and some small. It sucked. Eliminating some of those beers off of the opening tap list was like choosing which of my students I would pull up from hanging off of the edge of a cliff. I knew, however, that those beers would be next in line to fill one of our fermenters. Ultimately, we brew what we would drink on the porch at home - it's that simple.

Now, onto the first few brew days. I took a day off of work that Friday the 23rd, because I am a star employee but was actually just super excited to get in there and make some beer. I woke up at 5:30 am like I would for work, knew it was brew day and got moving. I milled about 300 pounds of grain, water checked all of our connections again, cleaned and sanitized everything, and then Chad showed up. Typical.

For those of you who are not familiar with the process, here’s a very quick run down:

  1. You combine crushed grains with hot water in the range of 146-164 degrees which utilizes enzymes that break the long strands of sugars in the grains (starches) into smaller, simpler strands of sugar that the yeast like a lot more. This is called the mash, and this process lasts about an hour.

  2. You rinse the grains with hot water while you remove the liquid the grains have been sitting in with sugars dissolved in it (called wort) over to a boil kettle. This is called the sparge and usually lasts anywhere from 30-60 minutes.

  3. The boil: You bring this wort to a boil usually for 60 minutes depending on the recipe. This is also where you add your hops to balance the sweetness of the wort and add flavors.

  4. Knockout: This is when you cool down your hot wort after the boil as fast as possible to what we call pitching temperature (the temperature your yeast like to metabolize at). It is then transferred into the fermenter.

  5. The yeast is pitched.

  6. Wait and let the yeast do what it has done so well for millions of years..

I will be honest, we had a few hiccups on our first round of brewing. Nothing major though! I thought it was going to be a lot worse. The biggest problems we ran into were some missed target mash temperatures, opening the wrong valves, and a stubborn sparge pump. We hit 3 out of 4 target gravities though. We brewed once on that Friday, double batched on Saturday, and once again on that Sunday. I think we were probably up there 40 hours over the 3 days. Good news though, the beers more than exceeded our standards. 

You can view the rest of our line up on our site under, "Our Beers." This will show you what is available in the taproom at any given time!

Here's to living and learning! Prosit!