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Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Pitfalls and Pleasures of Small Batch Brewing

The St. Francis Brewhouse has a seven barrel brewery.  This is around 220 gallons of beer at a time.

Compared to many craft breweries and all macro breweries, this amounts to small batch brewing.

But, because of the size, I have the opportunity to use ingredients that would be impractical on a much larger scale.  For example, I can use all imported malts for authenticity in certain seasonals .

I'd like to say that I can always step into the brewery on brew day, change into my rubber boots Mr. Rogers' style, and start the process.  That's not always the case.

Some beers require a great deal of preparation, and today's is an extreme example of this.

A few years back, I brewed up a "Breakfast Stout"--an homage to the amazing Stout from Founders Brewing Co.  It turned out very well, and it's about time I brewed it again.  Now I'm reminded why it's been years since I brewed it!

The ingredient list includes Sumatran Coffee, Kona Coffee, bittersweet chocolate, cacao nibs, and malt.


A day before brewing, I fresh-ground and cold-brewed the Sumatran Coffee.  Sumatran is a dark, rich blend.  The cold-brewing process extracts the flavor of the coffee while leaving a lot of the acids behind.  The result is a less bitter coffee.  My little Cuisinart coffee grinder did not enjoy grinding up 3# of coffee, 8 ounces at a time.  It overheated, just as I finished up the batch.

Next, you cover all the grounds with cold water and let it sit overnight.

Then, the real fun starts--the filtering:


I used a fine grind for the beans.  I would then strain the course particles out and run the coffee through paper basket filters.  Due to the grind, the filters quickly plug and the process takes forever.  Three pounds of grounds took about two hours.

This round of coffee with go into the boil, so sanitation was not important at this stage.

The next round of coffee (Kona) will go directly into the serving vessel, so I will have to repeat all the previous steps and then pasteurize the coffee.

So, why do I go through all this work? 

Because I love you and you're worth it.
 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Magic of Yeast

A little geekiness to start the day.

I brewed a batch of Summer Night Saison yesterday.  Not only is this a favorite style of mine, it's a great beer for homebrewers to make in the summertime.  This is one of the few beers that benefits from a ridiculously warm fermentation.

Backing up, most ales are fermented right around the 64-68°F range.  Homebrewers do not always have an extra refrigerator with a dial-in thermostat to ferment at those temps.  Summertime lagers are even tougher.

Saison, like the Honey Badger, don't care. 

You can let that bad boy get as hot as it wants, and the results will be wonderful.

Getting back to the geek.  After I pitched the Saison yeast, the beer was at a balmy 72°F.  I capped the fermenter temperature at 90°.  Eighteen hours later I get this:

The bottom, green number is the set point for the glycol.  The top, red number is the actual temperature inside the fermenter.

So, the yeast's thermogenic activity inside the fermenter has already brought the temperature up 13°!  It doesn't seem like much, but consider that I keep the brewhouse temperature at 68°F.

My guess is that by the end of the day, I'll hit that 90° cap and the glycol will keep things there.

This heat production will be short-lived, however.  Even the Duggar Family needed to rest from time to time.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Getting Geeky

I'm a fan of British Ales.

So, it's been a while, but I'm brewing up an E.S.B. today.  (English Special Bitter).

Though "bitter" is in the name, by American standards this is not an overly bitter beer.  In fact, it's got a nice, malty backbone to compliment the English hop additions.

There's a town in central England called Burton with a rich brewing heritage.  Burton straddles the River Trent, and the water has some interesting properties that help create some wonderful British Ale styles.

The water has high alkalinity and hardness, due to the presence of several salt ions.  I've decided to experiment a little.

I use an application that takes a survey of source water (Milwaukee city water) and calculates salt additions to imitate water from other parts of the world.

I started with my "salt bank":


 

Here you'll find various salts used for brewing.  To imitate Burton on Trent water I have to add:
 
CaSO4--------Gypsum
MgSO4-------Epsom Salt
CaCl----------Calcium Chloride
NaHCO3-----Baking Soda, and
CaCO3-------Chalk
 
These are all food-grade products.
 
I will add these salts to the mash.  The only problem is that they will drive the mash pH upwards which isn't great for starch conversion.  Most brewers will add a little phosphoric acid to the mash to bring the pH to optimum levels. 
 
As this is an experiment at this stage, I will do without the acid addition and keep my fingers crossed.








Tuesday, April 22, 2014

St. Francis Brewing Co. celebrates American Craft Beer Week!

What is this????

A blog update from Scott??  It's only been eight months since the last one.

The reality is, we use Facebook and Twitter a lot more nowadays to get the word out about the "haps" at the brewery.  Also, this blog is one area in my life where I'm extremely lazy.

But, it's also a good way to get the word out about special events at St. Francis, and there's a pretty cool one coming up next month:


St. Francis Brewing Co.
celebrates
American Craft Beer Week

May 12-18. 2014
 The popularity of American craft beer has reached unprecedented levels.  While the “Big Boys” are seeing sales drop from year to year, beer lovers across America are supporting their local craft breweries in droves, and St. Francis is no exception.

 As America celebrates its craft brewing heritage and to thank you for all you’ve done to help make the St. Francis Brewing Company what it is today, we’ve decided to do something special.

I've come up with seven special beers.  These are outside the realm of our regular line-up.  Starting at noon on Monday, May 12, we will feature a different beer, every day of the week.  You may also pick up a punch card at the Brewery.  Bring in your punch card and purchase one of our featured beers.  Anyone who stops in and gets their card punched for all seven beers will receive a prize when Craft Beer Week has ended.

 Here’s the line-up:

Monday, May 12

Cucumber Saison—we took a traditional Belgian Saison, complete with orange peel, Candi syrup and a special yeast strain, and added a few fresh cucumbers.  The result is a sweet, spicy and refreshing beer.

 Tuesday, May 13

Jaggery Pale Ale—This English-style Pale Ale features “Jaggery”—a type of Indian sugar made from dates.  There’s also a touch of Fenugreek seasoning.

 Wednesday, May 14

Nutty Brown Ale—Nut Brown usually refers to the color of this English ale, but this one is truly nutty!  Lightly toasted pecans were added to the beer to really emphasize that delicious nut flavor.

 Thursday, May 15

Pirate Stout—Shiver me timbers, this one’s got some kick!  Fueled by a pound and a half of molasses, this rich, dark stout also includes allspice, coriander, tangerine zest and black pepper.  Arrrrrrg.

 Friday, May 16

Amber Strong Wit—Who says Belgian Witbier needs to be light in color?  This Wit is amber -colored.  The traditional Belgian spiciness is enhanced with an addition of star anise, coriander and tangerine zest.  (Yes, there are a lot of naked tangerines at St. Francis.)  Some lightly toasted oats help provide a luxurious mouthfeel.

 Saturday, May 17

Berliner Weisse—By far, the lightest of our offerings, this traditional style is a light weissebier that has been “soured”.  As is also common for the style, this beer will be served with a squirt of raspberry syrup.

 Sunday, May 18

Cherry Bock—This German Lager was fermented cold with five pounds of sour Door County cherries.  The result is a smooth, tasty beer with a hint of cherry goodness.


The fine print!

These beers are offered in extremely limited quantities.  From noon to 7:00 each day, they will only be sold one per customer.  After 7:00 pm if there’s any beer left, we will lift that rule.  When it’s gone, it’s gone.

If you are able to stop by every day of craft beer week to try these beers, bring in your fully-punched card between May 18-21 to receive your fabulous prize—a “Seven Deadly Sins” T-shirt of your choice.


So, you may be saying, "but I thought craft beer week in Milwaukee starts this Saturday.  Why are you waiting until May?" 
And, you'd be correct.  There is a Milwaukee Craft Beer week which runs from April 26--May 2.  The lesser-known detail is that this week was created and is promoted by Beechwood Distributors.  Basically, they promote bars and breweries that are in their line-up.  Smart business for them, if not a little sneaky.  St. Francis distributes though another company which has a greater focus on craft beers.  So, we decided to run our promotion concurrently with the American Craft Beer Week.  But heck, too much of a good thing is sometimes a really GREAT thing. 
Anyway, before I return to my cave for another 8 months of hibernation, stop by and visit us on the 12th.  In the meantime, 
Cheers 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Change of Plans

It's not unusual in this industry, or any other.

I was thinking about my Russian Imperial Stout--the one I was going to bourbon barrel age.

But, this one would take up at least four 53 gallon bourbon barrels.  That's fine.  I'm game.

The problem lies in my ever-shrinking cooler space. 

Sure, it's easy to tuck away a couple of 15 gallon bourbon barrels in the auxiliary cooler.  Big barrels are an entirely different animal.

I'd rather not be at the mercy of wildly fluctuating summertime temperatures in our warehouse, and right now that seems to be my only storage option.

So, the Russian Imperial Stout will go on as soon as the Irish Dry Stout dries up.  I'll figure out a new barrel aged beer when the weather cools off.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Other Stuff Goin' On

A previous post told you about my acquisition of a couple of small bourbon barrels.

I ended up filling one with Doppelbock.  After a couple of months of aging, the beer was pretty amazing.  I ended up bottling it in Belgian 750 ml bottles and corking them.  We launched it as our "Pride" series, and the bottles sold out within a couple of weeks.

The next Pride will be a bourbon barrel aged Scotch Strong Ale, and it should be available around July 10th.  Get them while they last, as there are extremely limited quantities.

Due to the success of the bourbon barrel aged beers, I'm going to get my hands on some 53 gallon bourbon barrels and I've already brewed the beer that I intend to fill them with.  It's a Russian Imperial Stout--a really big beer.  You'll have to wait however--I intend to give them about a six month aging, so they'll be ready around Christmastime.

Oh, and if you haven't been around, our beer is in stores now!  I'll talk a little about that in a future post.

Sometimes Incompetence is the Mother of Invention

Yes, I know it's been ages since I've posted.

With my increased use of Facebook to relate the goings-on in the Brewhouse, I've neglected this blog.  There is no guaranty that this is the start of more frequent postings, but I'll indulge myself a little this morning.

Back to the post title, and a little back-story:

I order nearly all of my yeast through Brewing Science Institute.  In years past, I would either call in or email my yeast orders.  Now, they prefer that orders be submitted online.  They've got an online form that you fill out.  Idiot-proof, yes?

Apparently not.

BSI offers two ways to receive yeast.  Starters and Pitchables.  A Pitchable is the proper amount of yeast to pitch into a specific-sized batch of beer, and it is what I always order.  But, I clicked the wrong button and received a Starter.  A Starter is a very small (10%) amount of yeast for the beer you want to brew.  They are much more economical--about half the cost.  So, I open up my yeast box and I find this adorable little pouch of yeast.

I start to panic. 

A quick email to BSI later tells me that they can either ship out a Pitchable size late next week, or I can "easily" make my own starter with the yeast they sent.  Easy for someone who uses starters all the time, not so much for someone who has never done it professionally.  I make starters when I homebrew, but the scale and stakes are so much smaller, that I'm comfortable doing it.

A few minutes (okay, maybe hours) of brain grinding led to this solution:

Here you see one of my homemade homebrew fermenters.  Inside is about twelve gallons of wort with the starter added.  I'm happy to relate that is was chugging along great within 5 hours of pitching.

What happens is the yeast propagates (reproduces) at an exponential rate until the desired levels are reached.

Fast-forward 36 hours and I'm brewing one of our seasonal favorites:  Summer Night Saison.

I will pressure force all of this yeasty wort into the fermenter when I'm done brewing and with any luck, it will take off like a champ.

People ask my what my schedule is like here at the brewery.  I always say that I work around the beer's schedule.  My days are determined by what you drink.  Sometimes the days are relatively short.  Some are quite long.  But I also always say that a bad day in the brewery is still better than a good day at "work".  Today is one of the occasional Saturdays spent in the brewery.

So, depending on the success of this project, I may resort to starters in the future.  We'll see how it turns out.

Now, on to the Saison.

This is one of my absolute favorite beers every year.  It seems to be one of yours as well.  One of the luxuries of working in a small brewery is that I get to use the finest ingredients:
Castle Pilsner Malt Imported From Belgium

I also use the aforementioned special Belgian yeast strain, and British hops.

Saison is a Belgian-style ale that was first brewed as a low-alcohol ale offered to Belgian farm workers.  Saison translates to "season".  Like all good American bastardizations of traditional styles, that whole low-alcohol thing goes out the window.  The ABV will hover right around the 7% mark.

The tapping for the Mug Club is scheduled for July 10th and everyone else can have theirs starting the 11th.