In the Plant: A Day on the Brew Cycle

Hello, friends–Jen here. This past Wednesday, I had the awesome opportunity to brew on the big system with Joe (a.k.a. Carlos). And, I’ll quietly admit, this was my first time ever brewing beer. Lucky for me, Joe was scheduled to brew Dunegräs (our India Pale Ale) that day–a favorite of mine and so many others. So today, I’m going to take you through the brewing process here at Greenbush, just as I experienced it.

For starters, Joe and I pulled down lots and lots of heavy malted barley grain bags. Never one to show weakness, I schlepped those 50-pound bags from one spot to another (I’m always game for a little non-traditional weight training). We had a combination of base grains and specialties for this brew.

Loading the grains into the hopper of the grain mill proved to be challenging for my vertically and muscularly challenged self. We layered the grains beginning with a bag of the dominant grain, then a layer with all of the carefully measured quantities of specialty grains.

With hundreds of pounds of grain to grind, this takes a while. Lucky for me (and waaaay more Joe and Joe), a mere few days prior, Scott assembled a flex-auger system that sends the grain straight into the mash tun. That meant no hauling grain up stairs, yay!

While the big, fancy grain mill ground the grains to the appropriate size and consistency (cracked, but not pulverized into powder), our water heater also delivered hot water  into the mash tun, making what we all refer to as “beer oatmeal.”

This mixture of hot water and cracked grains got to hang out in the mash tun for an hour, getting swirled around by a big agitator, extracting fermentable sugar from the grain. In the mean time, we took a short break to enjoy the insanely awesome weather for a few minutes, then, on to the hops! As with the grain, we measured out specific weights of each hop for the recipe, then arranged them according to when we’d add them to the boil (this comes later, obviously).

When it was time to move the mash from the mash tun to the lauter bed, I climbed back up the ladder with the hose to encourage the mash to get a move on. Once it all flowed into the lauter bed, Joe got the hot liquor tank running for sparging, which keeps low-pressure hot water covering and pressing down on the grain. And we’re so much closer to making it all beer!

We hooked up all sorts of hoses and things (very technical, you know) to allow the slow-flowing hot water from sparging to coax the sugary water away from the grain husks and into the kettle. We slowly brought the kettle to temperature as the wort filled it up. Once it was full, we kicked it into high gear to bring everything to a boil. In the mean time…

…all that grain has to go somewhere. And someone has to shovel it. Decked out in Jill’s Wellies, I shoveled most of the spent grain into barrels that would later be picked up for use at a local farm. I’ll be honest, I called on Joe to take over a couple times. Plus, he doesn’t make as big of a mess shoveling as I do (see above).

After enough time passed, we added the first batch of hops to the boil. I learned very quickly just how slowly you need to add hops to the boil, lest Dunegräs or whatever you’re brewing gets angry and decides boil over. We didn’t reach that point. Whew.

I found that while there is a reasonable amount of time between each step of the brewing process, there is always something to do. Like clean up. There’s a lot of that happening. So, in between hop additions we got to cleaning the floor and I was lucky enough to get my first crack at cleaning a fermenter. Let me tell you, it is sooo much fun. I now know why everyone loves it so much. Did I mention yet that it was 85 degrees out during my brew day? That makes hanging out, spraying hot water into a fermenter and sticking your face into the resulting steam even better. Fear not, we always complete this imperative step with gusto.

Once we made all the hop additions, it was whirlpool time. This fun little vortex separated any solids in the wort and brought them to the top of the boil so they didn’t end up in the fermenter. After the whirlpool, we sent the still-hot wort through a plate chiller (which runs cold water through a series of pipes), cooling down the liquid to a tepid 66-ish degrees, perfect for its introduction to the fermenter. We filled that baby up, continued to clean everything in sight–the lauter bed, the kettle, the hoses, the floor–and then came the final step: pitching yeast (adding it to the fermenter contents).

This is where the magic happens. Adding yeast to the wort starts up the fermentation process, turning the sugar into alcohol, carbon dioxide, and, a couple weeks later, pure happiness.

Thus ends the tale of my first time brewing. Thanks to Scott for making it happen and to Joe for guiding me and teaching me how to brew this awesome stuff we call beer.


One thought on “In the Plant: A Day on the Brew Cycle

  1. Pingback: In the Plant: Small-Batch Brew Day | A Beer in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush

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