Thursday, February 16, 2012

Reflections and Revelations

I've been doing quite a bit of reading recently.  Reading about the brewing process as a whole, differing mash schedules, yeast pitch rates, hop utilization, overall efficiency, recipe formulation, brewery operations, and on and on and on.  It occurred to me that one of the most rewarding (so far) parts of this process of opening a commercial nano-brewery is the learning.  There are so many parts of this process that relate back to me sitting in a classroom, bored out of my mind, because I had no idea how any of the information I was being taught would ever relate to the real world...but now I know exactly how they can relate!  I recently posted a photo of a stir plate in action that I had just completed building on Facebook and had several comments about it.  The one that stuck the most, however, was from my sister who said, "You guys should speak to a hs science class. Seriously. What could possibly get U.S. kids excited about science more quickly than the idea that they could use their new skillz to make BEER?! I just solved the science brain drain problem right there, people."  While I don't think there is a high school in the world that would let us come in to talk about our process, I do think there is a serious grain of truth there.  I have heard several stories of current professional brewers who happened to be in the right place at the right time and had the right professor steer them in the direction of brewing.

I always enjoyed science class and was generally pretty adept at many of the concepts, but still had no idea how in the world it was going to translate to my everyday life after high school and college.  My aspirations at the time really had nothing to do with applied science.  I had also always enjoyed building things and, sometimes more so, tearing things apart.  Now I am entering into a world that I should have known about years ago because it meshes virtually all of the skills and subjects that I have enjoyed!

I'm not sure I can speak for the other guys in this little self-reflective discovery, but what I do know is that I am unbelievably excited about moving forward.  All of these random interests are now concentrated into one specific endeavor.  Much to my girlfriend's chagrin, I am excited enough about this on a daily basis to come home after a full day of work only to cook dinner and go right to work on some project for the brewery.  Whether it is reading about craft beer trends, sourcing suppliers for our ingredients or building small electronics projects I have a hard time sitting around and not working!  Last night I forgot to eat dinner for the first time (I had a snack, but that really doesn't count!) because I was researching appropriate rpm rates for yeast starters on a stir plate!  Really?  I eschewed pork loin for research on stir plate usage?  I think I might have a sickness of some sort.  While I don't think my experience is identical to those of the other guys, I think all of us are really, truly enjoying this process.  Even though it has, at times, been extremely frustrating, it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience to this point, and many would say that we haven't even gotten to the fun part yet!

Stir Plate Assembly (yes, it's even on the kitchen counter!)

Completed Stir Plate in action

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Progress and Saisons

Well, it has been a little while since my last post so I figured I'd post an update and some photos from recent brew days.  We have really been working hard on finding a location and have discovered that it is a truly difficult task!  There are so many city, state and federal regulations to weed through (some of them contradictory) that it makes it quite a daunting task to figure out what is required.  We have visited several places, put a bid in on one location, are planning a bid on another location and all while keeping our eyes on the city for other potential locations.  Throughout this process we have known that much of our equipment has been ordered and has no place to go!  So, we are also making contingency plans in order to store our equipment until we have secured a lease.

T-shirts have been printed, business cards have been received, Polo's are ready for embroidery, website design is in full swing and, of course, beer has been brewed!  We continue to feel very confident about our preparation and just need to nail down a location to get all of the licensing requirements underway.  While this location search has been difficult, the confidence I have in my partners and those who have been kind enough to help us along this journey continues to grow every day.  Our meetings are relaxed and fun, but we still get stuff done (occasionally Ryan's or Brandon's wife has to prod us to get back on topic, but that's another story)!  We are all ready to start brewing beer and formally introduce our beer to the Des Moines area...just need to find a spot to settle down!

Speaking of brewing, we have been pretty busy on that front as well.  We continue to experiment with different hop varieties, malt bills, yeast, spices, fruit, etc to develop a wide variety of high quality beer.

One example is a Sour Cherry Lavender Saison.  For those unfamiliar with the style, a Saison is also called a Farmhouse Ale.  It was traditionally brewed as an alternative drink for farm laborers during the harvest.  It is moderately hoppy, lots of floral aroma and traditionally is on the low end of the alcohol spectrum (laborers don't get much done when they're wasted!).  This version is an attempt to stay (sort of) within the spectrum of a traditional Saison regarding the hops, floral aroma and alcohol; all while adding a little extra bit of something (i.e. Lavender and sour cherries!).  Below are some pictures from transfer day (moving from secondary fermentation over cherries into the keg for carbonation):

Cherries turn a really strange color after sitting in fermenting beer for a week and a half!

Another shot of the cherries and beer being transferred to the keg.

Me trying to get the last bit of beer out of the fermenter.  There were 4 pounds of cherries in that bucket so it was a little difficult getting to the beer!  (As a side note, Brandon would have been in this photo as he was helping me, but he was doing something inappropriate for the web and had to be cut out of this!)

More to come later, as usual.

Here's to a quick appearance of spring!