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Old Dominion Brewery Tour

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 excellent.

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!



Our First All-Grain Brewer

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 iodine.

(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 later use.)

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.



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