The day started with the alarm going off at 5:30 AM. The trip to St. Paul from the west side of Minneapolis at this hour is very smooth which is fortunate for a guy who has to put up with highway 100 every morning. Upon arriving at the brewery at 6:45 AM I am told by head brewer Andy Ruhland that we will be brewing their first Belgian Pale Ale.
He pulls out a sheet that is used to log all of the stats and times throughout the day. “You have to document everything” says Andy. “It’s all about consistency.” The brewing recipe tells us that we’ll need to use three types of malt, two different hop varieties, and a tiny bit of both gypsum and calcium chloride to aid in the stabilization of the water. The malt bill calls for Belgian Pale Ale malt, Medium Crystal, and Dextrin malt. The hops we’ll be using are Jarrylo which is a newer dwarf hop variety from the west coast, and Galaxy hops which lend a tropical flavor profile to beer. The yeast is a flocculent Belgian variety called B-22 d’Achouffe. Flocculent yeast varieties are easier to reuse making them highly desirable among breweries.
We start out by heating the water at 7:00 AM. Andy doesn’t mess around, his timing is impeccable.
At 7:05 AM we start ripping open the 16 bags of malt that we’ll be using. This is where the heavy lifting begins. Andy put me to work lifting and dumping the 55 lb bags of malt into the grist case which begins the process by sending the malt through the mill, then down to the auger tubing and into the mash/lauter tun.
Next it’s time to clean out the underlay, a system that will act as a natural filter a little later in the process when transferring from mash/lauter tun to the boil kettle.
This guy who is made out of driftwood is keeping watch over the process. #nobadbeerhere.
It’s now 7:15 AM and time to underlay the mash/lauter tun, give the vessel a good rinse with hot water before filling with foundation water. Foundation water makes mashing in easier by creating a small barrier between the malt and the bottom of the tun.
Mashing in begins at 7:25 AM. This part of the process extracts the sugars from the grain and along with water—helps to create the wort. The rake inside assures an even mash so as to evenly extract the sugars leaving little waste.
At 7:45 AM the mash in is complete. Now it’s time to clean up the mill room we just made a mess in.
At 8:25 AM we begin prepping and sanitizing the fermenter that we will be using. Cleaning and sanitizing is by far the most important part of the brewing process. Andy has been stressing this throughout the morning.
Next it’s time to conduct the Vorlauf boil which will help to clarify the beer on its way to the brew kettle. This will take us about 20 minutes.
Now we will add the yeast to the fermenter. Twenty one pounds of it to be exact. Yeast is very sensitive to temperature so its stored at 34° until ready for use. Here we hook the keg of yeast up to the fermenter and push it with CO2.
Our sparging process is almost complete now. Sparging is where the grains are rinsed of their sugars creating wort, which will be sent over to the boil kettle to start the process of lautering which is basically the collecting of the extracted sugars. At this point Andy mentions that he doesn’t care as much for piloting beer recipes. He likes to write a recipe and brew it, not mess around experimenting with it. "I think there are some times where pilot brewing is important, but for the most part I don't see a need for it” says Ruhland. “If you know your ingredients, know your equipment, and know your yeast, then you know what you're going to get."
At this point, we’ll be testing the pH balance of the wort as it moves into the boil kettle. Our initial reading was a solid 5.3. Our little buddy which was carved out of drift wood is looking out for us. Coming from Canada, this little guy is supposed to ward of evil sprits—which in a brewery are microbes set on infecting perfectly good beer. “No bad beer here” says Andy laughing.
Now we’re running what is called a hot loop through the system which will sterilize the rest of the equipment so that we can run the wort though it when it’s done boiling. This entails running 180 degree water through the entire system for 30 minutes rendering it sterile and ready for chilled wort.
We are now boiling wort at 11:10 AM. We’ll be adding our relatively small amount of bittering hops here at this point.
Now we wait for 50 minutes before we add our 10 minute hop addition. That means it’s time to order lunch from DeGidio’s which is an Italian restaurant right across the street. We’ll be taking it out so we can keep a close eye on the boil.
With 10 minutes left in the boil we add more hops. These will contribute to the aroma and flavor rather than adding bitterness to the brew.
At 12:10 PM the boil is officially done and we will be transferring the beer from the boil kettle to the whirlpool. The wort is now almost fully transferred and we are now about to add the last of the hops to the whirlpool. These will contribute strictly to the aroma of the final product. Expect pear and tropical fruit aromas from these hop varieties. These should play well with the style of beer we are making.
Once the beer is done in the whirl pool we will begin a process called “knocking off” where we will move the wort from the whirlpool to its new home in the fermenter where it will meet the yeast and eventually (3 weeks later) become beer. It’s important though that we get the temperature of the wort down to 70° before we transfer so that it doesn’t kill off the yeast that we put in the fermenter earlier. We do this with a large wort chiller that will get it down to that temp in a matter of minutes.
Knocking off is the final part of the actual brewing process for us but we have plenty of cleaning ahead of us. It’s now 1:10 PM and we are done moving all that beer over.
Now we’ll clean up and I’ll head out for the day. According to Andy, this is one of the better brew days he’s had since he’s been here. Let it be known that if the beer doesn’t turn out, it’s probably my fault.