Thursday, August 6, 2009

Brewing my beer at Sam Adams - Part 1

One of the fantastic parts of winning the Patriot Homebrew Competition is that you get the opportunity to go in and brew your beer at the Sam Adams brewery in Boston-- how cool is that??? (Click here to see more photos)

My big day came up on July 30th, which coincided with an AHA rally at the brewery and a press reception for me (cool!) at 5pm as well. That makes for a pretty long day, as I was told to report at 9am! I have to say, this was a really fantastic experience, and here's how it went:
  • After getting stuck in the wonderful Boston rush hour traffic for the first time years (I work from home), I slogged my way through and found a spot in the brewery yard around 9:15. I came in and met Dean, one of the brewers, who got me set up in coveralls and rubber boots.
  • Dean, Andrew and Bert, the three brewers I was working with had set up the day so that we did two batches. The first batch, which had a slightly different grain bill from the second, was already mashed in and was in the lauter/collection stage. Dean gave me an orientation to the equipment which included 4 different "tuns" or kettles (l to r in photo): lauter, mash/boil (2 of these) and whirlpool, and showed me how they were set up.
  • While the lauter finished, Dean showed me the grain room, where they store the specialty grains, and do the crushing (for those who aren't familiar with the brewing process, the grain needs to be crushed before mashing, where the sugars and flavors are extracted).
One of the things that struck me about the whole process is that while it is the same process I do at home, the scale is so much bigger! I have no problem carrying a pail full of grain to be crushed or to mash in, but they use a forklift with a big plastic chute on it! The tuns we were dealing with are 9 barrel tuns--a barrel is 31 gallons. I brew in 5 gallon batches at home on my stove, just for perspective. So one 9 barrel batch is 55.8x what I brew at home! And we brewed 2 of them.
  • The collection finally finished, Dean started cranking up the steam jacket on the boil kettle and got that going. Somewhere along the line we picked up the 3.8 lbs of fuggles pellets that went into the brew, and once the boil got going, I dropped those in (at right). Man the aroma of boiling wort is fantastic!!! It really fills the air with the smell of sweet sugary, malty goodness--tempered with a nice earthy (with fuggles anyway) hop smell! WOW!
  • While the first batch boiled away, Jonathan and Rob from the Sam Adams Creative Dept. came in to interview me (on video) about the competition, the beer, brewing, etc. I had a lot of fun with this stuff, since I like to talk about beer and brewing -- and me, sometimes too :-). The interview phase went on for a while as it was interrupted for other stuff.
Another interesting thing about this kind of working brewery is that there are tours coming through all the time. Every so often I'd look up, and there's a group coming through taking pictures, learning about how beer is made. I wonder how many of those pictures I am in--as far as they knew, I'm just another brewer at Sam's!
  • Just before lunch, I had another view of the glamour side of brewing. Andrew, who now had joined Dean and I, had me clean out the mash from the first batch. So, imagine a great big pot full of steaming, wet grain. Dean pulled up in a forklift with a pallet that held 3 plastic 55 gallon barrels and handed me a shovel! We opened up the port in the side of the lauter tun and a bunch of grain plopped out in to the nearest barrel. So this was my next job--and I don't want to scare anyone who might enter a future competition, it was fun--filling the 3 barrels with the spent grain.
  • There's a neat feature in the tun that helps a lot, a push-arm that you can drop down. To picture this, think about a big automatic stirrer (there's a motor on top of the tun that drives it) spinning slowly to keep the grain from clumping while you lauter. So after the lauter and collection is over, the remaining water in the tun is drained out (and thrown away) and the vanes spin a bit faster to cool the grain down from 170 degrees and to help the liquid flow. So this push arm is up above the grain bed until you are done and ready to clean out. Then it drops down and pushes the grain along the bottom until it reaches the door, and I scoop it out into the barrel! I actually think it was about the same amount of work (for me) as dumping one of my batches at home--but I don't need a forklift!
I also found out where all that spent grain goes. Dean said that a farmer down in Foxboro comes and picks it up regularly. I think it makes good mulch--there usually wouldn't be much sugar left for it to be a feed, I would guess. I have never seen animals eating my grain, anyway.

So the rest of the day was a lot of the same kind of thing:
  • Mash, lauter, collect and boil the second batch
  • Add the hops to the boil
  • Clean out the boil kettle from the first batch
  • Clean out the lauter tun from the second batch
  • Admire the fermenter where my beer was going
One thing you should know about cleaning up in a brewery, is that it involves a LOT of water! You get to play with hoses indoors, and all the floors are cement with big drains in them. The hoses are industrial as well, so they are about 2-3 times the diameter of your typical garden hose and hold a lot of water. Everything liquid or nearly liquid goes down the drain.

Andrew had me clean out one of the fermenters. In my brewery at home, a fermenter is a glass bottle that holds 5-7 gallons of liquid. I can pick them up, rinse them out, move them, no problem. At Sam Adams, a fermenter holds hundreds of gallons and is made of stainless steel. They also have a conical bottom, and when the fermentation is finished the yeast collects there. They also fill with CO2 (carbon dioxide) as a result of the fermentation, since they are sealed well.

The first step was dumping the yeast out the bottom onto the floor, and it came out in this pale stream, until it hit the floor with a spat! (photo above) So I hosed that out for about 20 minutes as it kept coming out. Andrew came over and opened up a port in the side of the fermenter, and you could SEE the CO2 coming out! You don't want to breath that stuff, but it was kind of cool to watch it. He had me spray in lots of water to rinse down the sides and "knock down" the CO2 as well. This went on for a while in a sort of on-off cycle until it was finally pretty clean. It made me appreciate how simple dealing with a glass bottle can be--until you break it.

Although all of this may sound kind of boring, and maybe like I was just cheap labor (I joked about that myself), BUT this was really fun and exciting for me! I got to play with the "big boy" toys, if you will, something an amateur brewer rarely gets to do. I'm happy to clean out grain to be a part of the process and understand how they make beer professionally-and how close to what I do at home it is. So when 5:00 rolled around I was somewhat tired, but very happy!

Stay tuned for part 2....

1 comment:

  1. Dave sounds like you had a great day at the brewery. I like your comparison of scale.