Thursday, February 19, 2009

Helping Brew The Bruery's 2nd Anniversary Beer

(click pics to make 'em big)

Hola! As luck/fate would have it, the boys at The Bruery welcomed me back to help them brew up their Second Anniversary beer. I mention fate and luck because the first time I ever stepped foot in The Bruery was 11 months ago when they were whipping up their First Anniversary beer. Such is life. Anyhow, that's me (brown shirt) and the brains behind the Bruery, Patrick Rue (black shirt), standing by a bunch of his barrels. And yes, that is a wine thief in Pat's hand...

So what is the Anniverary Beer? You can forget about styles, as Patrick and the boys have. Recipe-wise it's mostly US 2-row, some munich, and two types of crystal malt. Toss in some Warrior hops at 60 minutes and ferment on their house yeast strain (said to be what Duvel used back in the early 1990s). When that's over, toss it in barrels and call it a day. What's so special about that?

For one thing, the sugar. As you (probably) know, most Belgian beers include at least some Candi sugar/syrup. Also known as "inverted sugar," sucrose, citric acid and water are cooked until the sugar molecules refract light in a different direction. The sugar is also sweeter. Almost all breweries buy Candi sugar, but The Bruery opts to make their own, homebrew style. On a keggle (15.5 gallon converted keg kettle) 100 pounds of C&H Pure Cane Sugar is mixed with about 5 gallons of water. After the concoction begins boiling, a little citric acid is tossed in. And here's the crazy part -- for the Anniversary beer, this conction is boiled for hours. Much longer than I thought was prudent, but Patrick kept taking a peek and saying, "Needs to cook a little more." The invert sugar was boiled until it begin to develop roasty notes. In fact, the finished uber-sweet product tastes like French-roasted honey. 

This is what the finished product looks like. Again, it started life as cane sugar and water and then got cooked down to this. How much? How's 400 pounds of the stuff, hand made 100 pounds at a time? Slavish, if you ask me. But talk about attention to detail. Anyhow, the first 100 pounds of the cooked sugar is added to the empty kettle (beer was still mashing at this point) where it is further caramelized. Then a few gallons of unsparged first runnings are drawn off and caramelized with the sugar. One disclaimer for those of you wanting to try this at home: you are making candy at this point, which is not only in liquid form but well over 400 degrees. It's deadly, lethal stuff. So, massive amounts of caution (and sobriety) are needed. You do not want to spill this stuff on your skin. And we should get back to the beer.

This is a big beer. How big? Last year they used 2,008 pounds of grain for a 30 barrel batch. This year? 2009 pounds. Get it? But there's another key difference. Since last year's 12% abv bruiser got itself brewed, head brewer Tyler King has improved their mash efficiency some 30%. Meaning this year's Anniversary beer should clock in at around 16% abv. Put it this way, at 9 barrels into the kettle, the mid-runnings were coming out 23.8 brix. That's before the sugar and three hour boil. One more thing, they need to brew this beer in stages. So, 15 barrels are brewed starting at about 7:00 am. The other half starts around 3:30 pm. Inverted sugar and all. 

Here's the grant under the mashtun. Sweet wort is pulled from three different locations and mixed together in the grant before either being returned to the mash tun for the Vorlauf or diverted into the boiling kettle. I got to run the grant for the first half-beer's Vorlauf and mashout. While very cool, we're talking about a 40 minute Vorlauf and two-hour run off. Lots of work, but very hands on as someone (me) has to sit and regulate the three valves you're looking at, plus a fourth valve that returns/ships off the wort. 

That's the sight tube used to observe the wort during the Vorlauf. Looking for clear wort. 

Notice how much the wort has darkened up after 40 minutes of Vorlaufing. And no, I'm not sure if "Vorlaufing" is actually a word.

Luckily, Patrick picked up on the fact that I was working too hard and decided to take me barrel tasting! That's me pulling a sample of their Wheat Wine, which was quite boozy but still aging. Yes, we also pulled a sample of their First Anniversary beer. Quite impressive. You do get oak and vanilla from the Heaven Hill Bourbon barrel, but there's also a fantastically deep flavor profile -- layered caramel, darker fruits and a great bittereness that fades into alcoholic warmth.  And I can't even begin to describe what their barrel-aged 18% Imperial Stout tastes like... I'll save that for another post.

Head brewer Tyler King sampling a few of his creations. All in all Patrick pulled nine barrel aged beers for me to taste. Yes, I'm a lucky bastard. I'm not going to say too much more because I don't know what Patrick wants to keep a secret, but I can say that there is a sour beer in the mix that is going to bowl many people over. Maybe even you.

Patrick Rue sampling his wares.

Distribution manager/brewer Jonas Nemura doing the same thing.

Another shot of Jonas w/gas mask. He was milling 1,000 pounds of malt -- grain dust sucks.

And finally, the newest Bruery brewer, Jay. Here he is eating a well-earned lunch after he not only muscled several 500+ pounds barrels of spent grain, but cleaned the damn mash tun. I liked this young brewer quite a bit, and not just because he complimented my homebrew. Anyhow, I hope to see 'em all next year for the Third Anniversary.


Jeffrey said...

I heard Patrick Rue on the Brewing Network, and it made me wish I lived in California. You're making me wish harder.

Mike said...

Good stuff! It is great that the beer scene is finally starting to get some traction in LA.