On Sunday we finally made the transition from homebrewers to professional brewers. We wanted to start with something simple to scale up from the 5 gallon batches we make at home to the 42 gallons that fit in our pilot system, and also that we knew people would like (from having made it before, albeit on a smaller scale). So we went with a pale ale using Mosaic hops. The unique and experimental part of this beer is that it is a 0 IBU Pale ale. Probably better saved for a separate post to fully explain, but all the hops were added at the end of the boil, which depending on how you make the calculation, could result in 0 IBU’s, or bitterness units. A typical Pale Ale falls in the 30-50 range, while IPA’s generally contain 40-70 IBU. The entire brewday took us thirteen hours. It was one of the most physically and mentally challenging days of work I’ve ever had. Every professional brewer we’ve ever talked to has said it would take 12-18 hours to brew our first batch (typically a brew day at home takes 4-5 hours) so while it was a long day, we learned a lot and, most important, it was fun! Which is good because we see a lot of 12-18 hour days in our future.
This post about our first brewday wouldn’t be complete without giving a big thank you and shoutout to our neighbors Three Notch’d Brewing Co. Once again, they saved us after I sent Levi a text asking to help troubleshoot our mill. He was there in 30 minutes rewiring our mill to get it up and running. And as luck would have it, our first shipment of malt was supposed to arrive today, but is still in Atlanta for some reason, and Three Notch’d again offered to help by spotting us the malt we need until it arrives later this week. I can only hope that we are able to pay back half of the debt we have incurred to them to this point alone.
One of the things pro brewers talk about is getting your system “dialed in.” What that really refers to is the interaction between your raw materials (grain) and equipment. As an example – during the “mashing” step in brewing, you mix crushed grain with warm water. The warm water uses enzymes in the grain to convert complex carbohydrates to more simple sugars (e.g. maltose, which is a disaccharide), which the yeast will later convert into ethanol. Homebrewers usually buy grain that’s already crushed, but professional brewers crush their own grain. The finer you crush your grain, the more sugar you can extract out of it, which is a good thing. But the flip side is that the finer you crush your grain, the more it becomes like paste when mixed with water, and it’s hard to actually get all the sugar water (called “wort”) out of the grain (this process is called lautering) and into a kettle to be boiled, cooled, and eventually mixed with yeast.
Tomorrow we’ll be making a hefeweizen and then a Rye PA later this week. Hopefully we can bring all three of these beers to the VA Craft Brewers Festival on August 20th. But we’ll of course have to taste them first – one of the other things we’ve been told is that there’s a decent chance we’ll have to dump our first batch of beer. As much as we’d hate to do that, we refuse to offer something to Virginians that we aren’t proud of. Going into the brewery the morning after brewing I was relieved to see that the beer was fermenting away and the glycol controller had the beer at the temperature I had set it at the night before. Talk about a restless sleep. We are optimistic that we’ll have at least two or three fresh, locally made beers available for the VACBF.
After this first three round of beers, we’ll move on to our larger, 10 BBL (310 gallon) system. Just like the pilot system, it will also have to be “dialed in.” But this system will allow us to make large quantities of beers that we know will be popular, like Pilsners during the summer, IPA (year round), etc. The pilot system will then be used for experimental or seasonal batches, allowing us to keep a constantly changing menu while at the same time providing a stable of standards based on everyone’s feedback.
Bottom line – if you’re dying to try some Random Row beer, mark your calendar for August 20th and go to http://vacraftbrewersfest.com/default.aspx to get your tickets. It will also be a great chance to meet our brewers, Kevin and Matt, and show your support for the local brewing scene. We probably won’t be ready to open up our Preston Avenue tasting room by August 20th, so this will be your first chance to taste our beer. If not, hopefully we’ll see you in late August / early September!