Sunday, August 3, 2008

My first shift as a brewer's assistant

My goal of owning my own brewery, while it still sounds fun, doesn't feel very realistic. I am not sure that I would be willing to sacrifice enough of my time, money and energy to make it work, and San Diego County already has more than a dozen breweries so I am not sure that another one is in great demand either.

But I still love brewing, I honestly enjoy it more than drinking, so when I heard that a small brewery within driving distance allows people to help out on brew day, I jumped at the chance.

I am not going to identify the brewery (the photo is from another brewery) because I don't want to create any damage by publicly writing about someone else's business without their consent. I am sure that anyone familiar with the brewery will recognize it, but I just don't want to point to them directly.

I asked if it would be OK for me to help out one night during a brew and the head brewer said come on over, so I showed up at 4:30pm to help with 2 brews of ale.

There were about 8 other people there; the head brewer, 2 other brewers and some other employees and 3-4 other volunteers. People came and went throughout the night with the head brewer and other 2 brewers being very much in charge, but other people who had been helping out also kicked in when something needed to be done, like cutting heat to a kettle boiling over, or cleaning, or removing the protein from the boiling wort. In total, I would estimate that 20 people came and went during the evening, with an average of 8 on hand at any one point.

The equipment is a very interesting mixture of new and old, professional and home-brew, which is good for me, since it means there is a lot of work to complete a brew and they can really use the help.

The malt had been milled and staged for 2 brews of strong ale, with 600 lbs of grain going into 200 gallons of water for each brew. The first batch was very dense so it took a long time to lauter. They mashed in at around 155, which turned out to be a bit low, and they had to cycle the wort through the boil kettles for almost 2 hours to reach their target mash temperature. Because of the setup, quite a bit of water evaporated and the mash bed became quite dense and took a long time to drain through the false bottom. It was 11pm before we could start on the second batch. The second batch went much better, they mashed in with more water and at 158 and the mash reached target temperature in less than half the time, and things went quickly after that.

I was able to help with almost all aspects of the brew, doughing in (loading the malt into the hot water), working the pump to move the water from the HLT to the lauter tun, and to recirculate the wort to raise the temperature. I also helped filling the pots with filtered water, connecting the hoses, squeegeeing the floor, scrubbing the boil kettle between brews. My main task during the evening was to remove the protiens (also called hot-break) from the top of the boiling wort. It got tiring after a few hours, and the next day, my muscles ached from leaning over the hot pot and scooping.

During the evening I got to talk to the head brewer a lot, asking questions about water quality and composition, his beer selection (ie why he brews the beers he does). I feel like I got a very strong sense of what he is shooting for. I was able to guess what kind of yeast and hops he used by tasting one of his beers, and it was really fun to learn from someone so experienced.

After working for 8.5 hours, I finally left at 1:00am just as they started the boil for the second batch. I would have liked to stay to the end, but I had to wake up at 8am the next day and I was very tired so I went on home.

Everyone at the brewery was very friendly after I stuck around for a few hours and they saw me really helping out. I really had a great time and plan to stick with it until I think I am able to run an entire brew on my own (I don't expect them to let me, I just want to have it in my head how to do it), and will help out during kegging, and cleaning so I get a complete picture of what goes on.

It was a very exciting evening for me, and I am glad to get a chance to see if this line of work would be enjoyable full-time or not. It will kind of stink to give up my evenings for a while, but I have the support of my wife and I think it will be well worth it for the experience.

1 comment:

Andrew Campbell said...

Eric: hey, thanks for coming by The Regal Vizsla. I thought for a while that century you were training for had killed you. As for brewing and dog-training: for those of us who don't get to do either full-time, the tendency might be to either rush and/or get frustrated... and my dogs keep reminding me that patience and reasonable expectations are key. Like you with brewing, I have a similar fantasy about someday being able to give some time just helping out while a true dog-trainer works a bunch of dogs.

But I see that you hit most of the OR high-points. I am a big Stone fan, as you know, so I am suitably envious. Had a nice Brooklyn Brewery Pilsener the other night, though.