Trip Reports and Tech Exchanges
In The Brews...
Several of us from the Southern Maryland Association of Superior Homebrews
(SMASH--that's us PRB'ers) drove up in mid-November to Ashburn, Virginia, to
attend a tour of a "local" micro brewery, Old Dominion.
Old Dominion sells a lot of draft beer to bars and restaurants, mostly their
stock Ale (they only sell beer in Virginia, D.C, and a small part of Maryland).
They specifically targeted Bass Ale because the owner likes the taste of it, and
so have taken over a considerable number of Bass accounts...both because they
charge $70/keg to Bass's $115, and because they can respond to the market faster
and have fresher beer--Bass must pasteurize to import it and Old Dominion
doesn't have to (pasteurization makes it keep longer but alters the taste).
He made a big deal of the freshness of their beer, and the fact that they are
one of only a few breweries who time-stamp their beer in english (currently
there is a large debate in brewing circles about the validity time-stamping
beer, because beer is not always handled the way it is supposed to during
shipping and a lot of factors can invalidate the expiration date). He told
us a interesting story about when a Mr. Busch (as in Anheiser-Busch) ordered a
Bud in a local Manassus bar, read the date on the bottom of the can (which
normal humans cannot read) to find it two months expired. He dragged
everyone at the local distributer out at 2 A.M. Sunday morning to search the
restaurant and distributorship for expired beers. Old Dominion uses the
local Budweiser distributor to distribute their beer.
After having one of their Amber Lager beers we were taken into their brewing
room and he walked us though the brewing process in great detail (though he is
not the BrewMaster he is quite knowledgeable). We tasted raw barley,
roasted barley and hops. Roasted barley tastes like Grape Nuts, as noted
by Kelly Dupree, and the owner stated that Grape Nuts is probably as close
as you can get to beer-in-a-box.
Did you ever notice that when a new beer order comes in that all the beer
geeks pass around a little plastic bag with green rabbit-pellets in it?
They each in turn smell the contents, their eyes roll back into their heads, and
after a second or two, say "Damn, that's some good stuff." We
found out at the brewery that hops (the little green rabbit pellets) are a
member of the cannibus family (cannibus hupus), but are legal and without the
side effects of course.
They buy barley grown in Wisconsin, crack it, mash it with a step-infusion
process, and give the spent grains to local farmers to feed to their pigs.
They had the local water analyzed before they started the brewery, and it was
found deficient in several minerals, so they add about 30 pounds of minerals to
every batch during the mashing. Then bittering and aroma hops are added
during the hot-steam induced boil. The whole process takes about 4 hours,
after which the wort is moved to a fermentation vessel and they add yeast.
They generally brew around-the-clock, from Sunday night to Friday night, with
Friday devoted to root beer.
Then we were taken into the fermentation/storage room. They have about
40 large stainless steel containers in which this takes place (it looked a bit
like a missile forest on a ballistic submarine), each holds about 50 barrels of
beer. The first container as we entered was in active fermentation, it had
a large 1.5" diameter hose from it stuck into a 5 gallon bucket of water
(the airlock) that was venting the expelled CO2 like gangbusters! Most
impressive. They let it ferment for a while, then seal it.
Fermentation continues, but since the CO2 has nowhere to go it naturally
carbonates the beer (they have to add a little CO2 later) over time. This
is contrasted with a major brewery, in which they capture the initial CO2
blowoff, and later forcibly inject the gases back into the beer to create the
carbonation. This saves them time so they don't have to age it, but on the
down-side gives the beer less head and bigger CO2 bubbles.
Old Dominion ages their beers for up to four weeks. Most micro brews
cannot do this because they simply do not have the storage and financial
resources, and most major brews do not do it just because it takes too much
time. Each fermentation/storage vessel costs $24K (and they have 40 of
them!). Wild Goose brewery in Cambridge has only one vessel, so they only
age their beer for 8 days so they can make another batch. This gives Old
Dominion the ability to brew a lot of lagers, which required a longer aging
time, and is also the reason a lot of micro brews make only ales.
The toured ended in the hospitality room. After a sales pitch for
T-shirts and hats (we obliged), we tried the beer. We sampled their Amber
Lager, Sweet Stout, Tupper's ESB, Patriot Ale (which they brewed especially for
the Beer-Of-The-Month Club), Honey Pumpkin Ale, and root beer, all of which were
I think we all enjoyed ourselves on this tour. It is very detailed, and
is nice having the owner give it because he can answer about any question you
can put forward. I have been on two other "big" brewery tours,
and this one was far superior.
Tours are offered every Saturday at Noon and 3 P.M. Call (703)
689-1225, or see me for directions (it's near Dulles Airport). And take a
jacket, it's cold inside!
Todd completed the club's first all-grain brew. Dean helped out as part of
our idea exchange program. What follows is Dean's comprehensive write-up which
offers insight into all grain brewing and is very interesting. I strongly
suggest that the next time you are brewing that you invite a fellow brewer over
to help. We can learn a lot this way. Jerry Elder
This is a Technology Exchange Report to the SMASH, a continuing effort to
distribute skills and knowledge within the club.
Last night I went over to Todd's to watch him mash (single infusion method).
This was his first time performing a full mash...his last beer being a partial
mash in which he used part malt extract and part his own malt. That was an
appropriate way to break into mashing, giving him an opportunity to learn from
his mistakes and for generating ideas for his full mash...he seemed to have it
down pretty good this time. He borrowed some needed extra equipment: another 16
qt brewpot and another thermometer.
Todd cracked his grain the night before using the Corona Mill. He was unable
to attach a drill to it because the chuck wouldn't quite fit right on it and
also once it was going it flung grain all over the place. He may have
over-ground the grain this time (it was a little powdery), but that's better
than undercracking when you're mashing because you need to get to all those
starches (lesson he learned from last brew).
He started the mash with the Striking process, in which he mixed very hot
water with the cracked grains in a 16qt brewpot (this is his Mash Tun). This
gave him a porridge-like mixture that he put in the oven (to keep up the
temperature) for about an hour...or until all the starches where converted to
sugars. He periodically removed a spoonful and tested the starch content with
(While the Striking was going, he used the other brewpot to boil about 5
gallons of water that he stored in a blanket-insulated plastic bucket...for
When the striking was complete the Lautering began. This is the process in
which you separate the converted sugars (done during striking) from the grain.
For a Lauter Tun he used a 5 gal plastic bucket insulated with bubble wrap, a
Phil's Phalse Bottom and Phil's Sparger. He put the false bottom in the bucket
and a hose runs from underneath the false bottom and out a hole cut in the side
of the bucket. This allow liquid containing the sugars to run out, but keeps the
grains in the bucket (the Lauter). To get the grains in the Lauter, first he put
a few gallons of very hot water from the other bucket in it to suspend the
grains, so that not all the weight of them is against the false bottom. Then he
added the porridge mixture and let the liquid flow out of the Lauter into a pan.
When the pan is full he gently replace its contents back into the Lauter. This
is a process called "vorlaufing"...the purpose of which is to
continually let the liquid flow out of the Lauter until a grain bed is
established and the liquid runs without particles being in it. The grain bed
acts as a filter to catch these particles. This is something Todd forgot last
time, hence the floaters in his beer. When there are no more particles the
vorlauf is done.
Then the Sparging begins. He turned on the hose from the other bucket
containing the hot water which runs to a Phil's Sparger...a little dohicky arm
thingy that rotates and sprays the hot water on top of the grain bed...gently
and evenly. He put the hose from the bottom of the Lauter tun into a brewpot and
drew off the liquid from the bottom of the Lauter at about the same rate the hot
water was coming in from the top. He did this until he had about 5 gallons
collected in his two brewpots and this was his wort. From here he boiled the two
brewpots as we normally do when doing extracts, adding hops, etc., and thus the
mashing was complete!
A note about Phils products. After seeing the Phalse Bottom, Sparger, Philler,
and Phiphon Starter, I'm not real impressed with the quality of the equipment.
The ideas are great, but IMHO they aren't made well, hence I'm leary about
buying the Phil Mill. Also though the Sparger is handy you can duplicate the
effect if you don't mind standing there and holding a spoon under the hot water
flowing into the Lauter tun to spray the water evenly. And you can make a false
bottom as described in Pappazon book, but this is probably the one item from
Phil that really seems to be a must-buy.
I was at Todd's for about 5 hours and by that time he was nearly done with
boiling his wort. So plan on allotting about 7 hours to include cracking grains,
setup, cooling your wort, pitching, and cleaning up. Though time consuming, it
seems to be a piece of cake! I should note that he did this without buying a
huge brewpot and/or gas burner...cleverly figuring out how to do it with two 16
qt pots. And Todd can proudly state that he did a full mash. I think his beer's
going to come out really well this time and can't wait to try it. And oh yeah,
he brewed a Pilsner.