Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What is Brett IPA Supposed to Taste Like?

When I agreed to be the brewmaster at Kent Falls Brewing Co., the first thing that Barry, the co-owner and brewery manger, told me was: "Make sure the beer is as confusing as possible. I don't care what you brew. I don't care what it tastes like. I just want everything to be the maximum amount of confusing."

We're working at all sorts of inventive, cutting-edge ways of confounding beer consumers, like making a lightly-sour saison one of our core beers (for the mainstream Connecticut market), and releasing a refreshingly soft table saison that clocks in at only 3.8% and is dry-hopped with American hops, so if you want to call it a saison, that's fine, but if you want to call it a table beer, that works too, or if you just want to consider it a farmhouse ale, technically yes, it's that also.

Actually, those two beers have been received shockingly well, even the incredibly low-ABV saison. One of my Things lately is that over-explaining this stuff to people from the very start can be detrimental; just give the beer to them, they will taste it and realize it tastes very good, and not have to try to pretend to care about all the style complexities your inner nerd is dying to spit out in exhausting detail at them. Start with flavor and educate based on what they like and their interest level. Unfortunately, though, that only works when you're starting from a blank slate. When the person drinking the beer has half-formed preconceptions, things get trickier.

Brett IPAs are weird. Often, the very people that need to be educated on what a Brett IPA is supposed to taste like, what makes it tick, are those same beer nerds who actually sort of understand what Brettanomyces is. Lots of beer drinkers know: Brettanomyces makes beer funky. It's associated (confusingly, it turns out) with sour beer. But it isn't usually responsible for the acidity in beer, just the funk — and maybe a bigger push of tartness due to the low residual sugars it leaves behind. Brett is as weird and hard to pin down as it is intriguing and complex.

I've written about this before, but now that I'm commercially brewing a 100% Brett beer that, theoretically, thousands and thousands of people (oh shit whoa wait that's weird) are going to taste, I feel like I need to get it out there again: what is a 100% Brett beer supposed to taste like? What is it? Why is it?

100% Brett beers, in general, do not follow the rules that aged, mixed-culture Brett beers do. Being already a mouthfeel, that's hard to explain to someone over a shouted bar order. A year in a barrel with Brettanomyces simply changes a beer in ways that a quick 2-6 week fermentation (our Brett IPA only takes 7 days to ferment out completely, now that the culture has adapted) won't match. Faster, in beer, usually means less intense, sometimes possibly simpler. 100% Brett beers, fermented quickly, are in no way inferior, just different. They bear a different flavor profile. Their funk is a different kind of funk. They're maybe less intense, but their impression of Brettanomyces character is distinct and readily apparent to anyone familiar with it. I've drank enough 100% Brett beers that I think I could still pick one out of a lineup if my hair was on fire and someone was trying to put it out with a dirty hiking sock full of old trash. Trust me, 100% Brett character may be subtler, but it is unique and identifiable, just different from its aged incarnation.

In many 100% Brett beers, you will find crisp notes of zest, possibly some phenols (though most seem to prefer these beers without much of the phenolic notes), usually a hard-to-pin fruit character, and something like dried sweat. That dried sweat is tastier than it sounds, like berries that are cooling off after running a marathon. But this sweaty note, usually what I perceive as the most funky element of a 100% Brett beer as compared to an aged Brett beer, is still fairly tame and subtle, in the way that an anthropomorphic fruit sweating would be far more appealing than an actual human sweating, But, most importantly, 100% Brett beers don't usually approach full barnyard. And they might be mildly tart, at best, but not actually acidic. Brett doesn't make beer overtly sour. It may create an impression of tartness, but a 100% Brett beer is not going to be full-on sour.

That's the general gist, but each 100% Brett beer will of course be slightly different, depending on the brewer's preference and how they steer it. The general consumer is very likely not to know all this upfront, as a lot of confusion regarding Brettanomyces remains. I've heard from many brewers that this has broken them on the style. They've gotten so much misguided negative feedback, often from the very beer nerds that seek out Brett beers, they simply stopped brewing the beer. This is deeply frustrating and sad to hear. And as with any matter of education, it's up to us handsome, knowledgeable few to address this.

Personally, my goal for a Brett IPA is to have that same juicy, aromatic, fruity, refreshing, accessible, not-very-bitter-at-all-actually beverage that I already seek in a good clean IPA, but with a slight edge of Brett pushing the fruit hop character down minor paths tangential from the usual. The brunt of hops, with an undercurrent of something just slightly strange but equally refreshing. I've been working on a Brett IPA recipe for years as my perfect hiking beer, because that's what I want on top of a mountain. Refreshing, but a little wild, a little disorienting. Not cloying or clobbering or overly severe. I want a beer that tastes like a glass of juice from an unknown alien species of fruit.

That, to me, is what Kent Fall's Waymaker Brett IPA tastes like. I'll write more about this specific beer and the history behind my brewing it more extensively in the future, but for now, I just want to write about how it doesn't taste how you might expect. It's probably not nearly as funky as you'd think. While unfortunately I'm sworn to secrecy about the particular strains of Brett we're using (it's a blend of a number of strains, not one single Brett), these particular Bretts are rather clean as a primary fermenter, with just a bit of that funky zest I find in 100% Brett ferments. They work fast: the first batch was a bit funkier due to me knocking out too cold, and the batch taking longer than expected to ferment, but since then, this beer finishes up just as quickly as a Saccharomyces-fermented ale. There's an edge to the beer, like a weird glass of orange juice spiked with some guava juice, but the fruit and the citrus and the juice is very much the focus. It recreates much of the flavors of an IPA, but many of those flavors happen to come as much from the yeast as from the hops. That's the point. I can't decide whether that's the point of a 100% Brett beer to some hypothetical consumer; I can only offer that that is the point of this particular 100% Brett beer to me, as a brewer.

One Untappd review amusingly said, simply: "I've been had." I'm not even sure in which direction they were insinuating they'd been tricked, misled, which is the frustrating aspect of such things: did they think this wasn't enough of an IPA, or wasn't enough of a Brett beer? Too funky, or not funky enough? My favorite thing about this beer is how much it balances both aspects of what it is in equal portions, but maybe that's a negative to you. Either way, in either direction, I really just can't particularly allow it to bother me, because Waymaker tastes exactly like I want it to. And my job, then, is to help show drinkers what a 100% Brett beer can be, what new things it can offer, rather than playing to whatever misconceptions and erroneous goals they may have formed for it. In my mind, this is a style of beer that did not and could not have existed before, I don't know, ten years ago. Naturally, it will lead to some confusion.

What it tastes like is far more important than all the nerdy details surrounding its fermentation. What it tastes like, I hope people agree, is refreshing and juicy and interesting. Wild enough for the top of a mountain, unique enough for a tulip at the bar. So wherever it is that you drink it, whether or not it tastes like a glass of weird orange juice to you too, I just hope that you enjoy it for what it is. The same should probably be true for all beer, come to think of it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Should Northeast-Grown Hops Be Renamed? / Brewing an IPA with Century-Feral New York Wild Hops

Running a brewery on a real actual operating farm, complete with its own hop yard, I'm very much interested in the quality of local (northeast) hops, and putting them to the best possible use. I can't wait to see what comes of the resurgence of the industry in this region. Of course, the quality of the local hops that I've brewed with so far can vary widely, which is to be expected. I don't take that as a knock on local growing: many of these are from incredibly small operations, basically hobbyists, and local hops are much like a fledgling homebrew scene: some surprisingly good, some need some troubleshooting. But done right, I've seen promising cones.

And generally, where it gets really interesting is that everything I've tasted, when turned into beer, is quite different from its namesake varieties grown in the northwest. So here's something that I think will become a major question in the beer community in the near future: should hops from new regions like the northeast, which diverge dramatically from the character of their western counterparts, be renamed as something new and unique? Are these the same hops? When is Cascade no longer Cascade?

I'm not quite bold enough to raise such a question and then try to answer it myself right now, but I do hope to see some discussion on this subject soon. It is the time to start thinking about such things. Hop farms, particularly in New York, are teetering at the threshold. Right now, many of these farms are prepping for their third-year harvest, an important milestone in the lifespan of a hop yard. Hops generally require a few years before they hit peak maturity, and you'll often hear that the third harvest is the one where they really come into their own. Very few serious operations in New York have been around much longer than this. The same, I imagine, is true for New England in general. As far as we know, the hop farm at Kent Falls Brewery on Camps Road Farm is the only commercial hop growing operation presently in the state of Connecticut (we're also the first farm brewery in the state of Connecticut). Our hops are, in fact, entering their third year. I'll be very interested to see how they perform in 2015. (No pressure whatsoever, Farmer John).

But what's really, really cool and exciting to me is that there are hops growing in the northeast which have been around for far longer than any of the modern batch of hop farms. Decades before farm bills were being contemplated, decades before the craft beer movement was even a twinkle in Ken Grossman's eye, hops were growing wild in the Northeast. Because as you probably know, New York used to be hop growing capital of the Americas... before Prohibition tripped it up, and blight clotheslined it in a vicious and unfair tag-team. All across this region, derelict hop farms were abandoned, hops left to grow feral. This is fascinating to me: all over the state, and nearby states, potentially grow hops that have been wild for almost a century. Hops that may in fact be hundreds of years old, all-told. Hops that have absorbed the character of the land and made it their own. Truly unique, more-or-less native hops. Forgotten, and awaiting rediscovery.

Obercreek Farm, in Wappingers Falls, NY, found such hops growing on their property. Obercreek is one of the many small farms / growers in New York to put in just an acre or few of hops, but these weren't part of the business plan: they were already there, for what Farmer Tim estimates to be about a century, if not more. And with a hundred years to acclimate to the soil, it's no wonder they're the strongest and most aggressive growers of Obercreek's lot. Besides them growing well, I was hoping for stronger flavors than I've gotten from immature local hops, too. And in this aspect, they showed what unique regional hops are capable of. The IPA that I brewed with these New York feral hops may not be game-changing for a contemporary IPA, but it shows off the varied potential for a little-explored type of hop. The flavors were indeed stronger than other local hops I've used, and far more complex. Unique, too.

While the general framework of the recipe was that of an IPA (nothing fancy, there), this doesn't quite taste like any IPA I have ever had. The primary character is something like orange marmalade, but with less citrus. It's rounder, smoother, softer; more suited to a well-balanced pale ale than an IPA, perhaps. The flavor isn't necessarily as striking as some really juicy hop varieties, but it also fills out a spoke on the flavor wheel that I've not exactly encountered — and that sort of uniqueness is always welcome. Smooth orange marmalade: I can work with that.

And who knows what hops this wild variety originally descended from. A safe guess would be that Cluster or perhaps Brewer's Gold might be involved. Another safe guess would be that these hops were not descended from Mosaic. And in any case, they do shelter a hint of the English ancestry that might have preceded them, or at least influenced popular hops at the time, but with that 'American tang' shaping most of what's there. And whatever their background, if we brewers end up using more hops like these, we're going to need to start brainstorming some new names. East Coast Cascade or something a century older: they're just not the same.

A school near the brewery is said to have hops that have been growing wild for 300 years. Now those I really want to brew with.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

When Life Gives You Double-Batch Brews, Make Lemony Kettle Soured Saisons

Kent Falls Brewing Field Beer Saison
The label art indicates in which season the beer was brewed. Wowsers!

I've recently found myself in a situation that, while certainly not unprecedented, is definitely unusual. I am far from the first homebrewer to jump into commercial brewing with no prior experience working at a brewery. Personally, I think the lines between "commercial" and "homebrewer" are going to become increasingly blurred over time as far as the Assumption of Quality goes. Newish online communities like Milk the Funk are already a mix of both pros and homebrewers, all interested in pushing fermentation boundaries with experiments that are cutting-edge no matter who is making them or at what scale. A brewer is a brewer, in my opinion. The equipment doesn't matter too much once you know how to use it effectively.

But equipment does matter, whether a homebrewer or a pro, in that you have to do the best you can with what you got. Only have three conicals? Gotta figure out how many house cultures you can juggle — you're not gonna be able to keep brewing like a homebrewer with ten carboys in a side room and a shelf stacked with jars of yeast. How long is each beer going to take to finish? What's your brewing schedule? Packaging schedule? You only have one brite tank — what happens if two batches finish at the same time? What happens if you have to harvest yeast from two batches at the same time and you don't have a yeast keg free? And how do you dry-hop without a top-access manway, anyway? Can someone please make me a huge funnel that flares outwards about two feet and tri-clamps onto a 2-inch port?

There are endless challenges involved in getting a brewery operating smoothly, especially with extremely limited manpower (to be clear: my nickname at Kent Falls is "Manpower"), but I think you have to look at every roadblock as a potential jumping off point toward new ideas. "The friction of challenge is often that which creates the very spark to ignite a blaze of ingenuity," is probably close enough to an expression that people might sometimes say, I assume, and also an important lesson in why you should never come up with ideas during dry season in a forest. #firesafety

It just so happens that Kent Falls Brewing Co. is on an operating farm, and we're trying to embrace the legacy of farmhouse brewing in many different ways. It's always shocking to me how so many beer styles are a product of happenstance. Brewers didn't start decoction mashing because they did some test batches and realized it would improve their beer — they did it because of a change in taxes on their mash tun volume. Farmhouse brewing has always been about using what you have in the best way possible, and we're trying to keep that in the back of our minds all the time, with everything we do here. The old milk chiller in the cow barn? It helped sell Barry on the property back in 2011, when it occurred to him that it could be used as a coolship and open fermentation vessel. Use everything you have in the most productive, most inventive, most coolest way possible.

By the time I got involved in the brewery, the equipment was already purchased. I didn't have to think about what brewing system, what size, how many tanks, how many tanks to start with and how many to aim to end up with, single batch, double batch, triple batch, etc. As with everything in brewing, this could be good or bad or a little of both. I didn't have to spend months contemplating and jotting down pros and cons of different configurations. My challenge was to simply figure out the best way to use what we had: three 30-bbl fermentors and a 15-bbl brewhouse (plus 16 oak wine barrels).

And our earliest, primary goal was to develop Field Beer, our saison using 100% local malt. Eventually Field Beer will utilize 100% local ingredients, once there's a large enough supply of local hops. There are a few blog posts I probably could and should write about Field Beer — about why local is important to Kent Falls Brewing, what it means in terms of quality, logistics, and the context of this specific beer — but my mission began with the basis of the beer already established. Field Beer will rotate with the seasons, the recipe changing to incorporate a different unmalted grain (oats, spelt, wheat, rye) and a different hop variety each season. I've been pleased beyond my expectations with the quality and efficiency we've gotten from these relatively new operations; our growers and Valley Malt nailed it. We had the ingredients we needed to make a great local saison. We just needed to figure out how to make a flagship beer like this as interesting as possible. The recipe itself was always going to be fairly simple: that rotating unmalted grain (oats for winter) as a small (<10%) portion of the grainbill, and Connecticut-grown, Valley Malt-malted Pilsner for the rest.

I am fascinated by the opportunities to blend. But until our barrel program is relatively established, blending in the traditional context will be fairly limited. I debated blending in old barrel-beer with fresh batches of Field Beer, but that raised more logistical issues than was worth considering for our first beer. The idea stuck with me though: in some ways, double batch brewing is a form of blending. Maybe you have to brew twice to fill each conical, but rather than looking at this as twice the amount of effort for the same result, what if you looked at it as an opportunity to add differentiation? What if there was something unique and different you could do because of the double-batch brew thing, and not in spite of it? Like sour just half the batch, to add a dash of refreshing tartness to the whole beer?

The great thing about this strategy is that it doesn't actually add a ton of time, effort or risk to the process of making the beer, yet it has a great impact on the flavor and complexity of the saison. So far, we've brewed three batches of Field Beer. We decided not to sour that first batch, for various reasons, and treated it as a unique one-off First Batch Ever (read all about the madness that went into making that first batch) and was thus a straight-up 'classic' neo-saison, 5.2% ABV, lightly hopped with American Brewer's Gold. Batch 2 was soured, as the beer will always be going forward. (Bottles include the batch number, but I think Batch 1 has pretty much sold out now anyway).

I will continue to refine and tweak the process as I brew more batches, I'm sure, but the basic deal is this: we mash as normal, keep the temp in the kettle above the pasteurization range until run-off is complete, then begin running the wort through the heat exchanger and back into the kettle. While we're doing this, I run CO2 through the aeration stone rather than oxygen. This way oxygen is scrubbed out, and forms a blanket over the wort in the kettle. I pitch my house lacto culture, rather than innoculating with grain. I've been using this culture (a blend of at least five different lacto strains) for some time now, and prefer both the diversity in culture and reliability in performance I've found with it. If you want to get your own house lacto culture going, my recommendation would be to simply acquire a bunch of different lacto strains from various sources and throw them together... maybe culture some from grain as well, if you're feeling extra sassy.

As far as the souring process goes, time and temperature are the main knobs that I'm going to fiddle with: the first batch I cooled down to 115 F before pitching the lacto, and I let it go for 36 hours, until it was at 3.4 pH. Without any additional heat, the temp in the kettle only dropped down to 104 F before we cut it and fired up the kettle to pasteurize.

After both 'turns' of the batch were together in the tank and fermented out by our saison culture, the resulting acidity is where I wanted it, clean, crisp, refreshing, adding brightness to the beer more than any big pucker-punch of acid. You definitely get the whiff of funky lactobacillus fermentation in the nose, but it's free of anything off. Flavorwise, this is balanced well between lemony tartness and the rustic weird earthfruit of a saison. I'm quite happy with how refreshing and approachable this beer is, how well the souring worked, and how very clean the result of this process was.

I should say that, of course, this is not meant to be a perfectly accurate representation of how historic saison was made. We're not trying to do that. We're a modern American farmhouse brewery, though I'm certainly inspired by historic saison. And we're trying to emulate the mindset of those old farmhouse breweries, but not necessarily any exact recipe. So, no, historic brewers probably didn't kettle sour their saisons like this. We're not necessarily aiming to brew a tart saison just because a lot of historic saison was tart. We're aiming to brew a saison that we find enjoyable to drink, and aiming to take the farmhouse philosophy of using what you have in the most productive, most inventive, most coolest way possible.

As you may or may not know, we're self-distributing in Connecticut for now. Connecticut does not have many breweries making sour beer, or funky beer, or wild beer. I hope we can turn a lot of new drinkers into fans of the tart stuff. So far, the results are promising. I find it actually helps to not over-explain these things: non-fermentation geeks don't need all the particulars and complications. Sometimes if you explain too much beforehand, they'll be overwhelmed, and thus mentally braced to kick back against this too-much-new thing they're trying. But if you only explain: "It's tart, which makes it even more refreshing," the response is generally extremely positive. People focus on the fact that a tart beer is refreshing, which it is, and not that it's some crazy shocking new experience, which it shouldn't be, if it's well balanced. And I've heard now, multiple times, maybe the perfect response: "Damn, this would go great with a burger." There we go.

We bottled 60 cases of this here batch of Field Beer, which will be released locally on 4/17. In case you're interested in checking this particular beverage out, our map of places distributed to is right here.

A photo posted by Derek (@bearflavored) on

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

How to Make Your First Commercial Batch of Beer in 75 Easy Steps

As you may or may not know, I have somehow found myself a job as a professional brewer. I make the beer at Kent Falls Brewing Co, a farm brewery (Connecticut's first). It's pretty sweet! I've been lucky now to have jumped into the world of pipes and clamps and hoses that is professional brewing, and have even made it to the point where we're successfully moving beer out onto the market. How does this work? What sort of process does one go through as a novice pro brewer? I'm sure many of you are curious what it's like to make the dream happen, and so I'd like to share with you these 75 Easy Steps by which you, too, may make your first Commercial Beer. If you are impressed by just how effectively this guide allows you, too, to bring your first Commercial Beer out to market, please share with your friends, family and neighbors so that they too may absorb this useful knowledge!

1. Spend three years opening a commercial brewery. This step is probably the easiest. As anyone in the industry will tell you, breweries practically open themselves.

2. Okay, obviously most of that step #1 was just super painless, but towards the end maybe you find a hiccup or two. Just basic fun stuff like maybe the auger (the pipe that transports the grain from the mill to the grist case) won’t align the way it was intended due to the placement of another pipe, and you’ll have to diagram out some crazy schemes before realizing the grain mill can just go in a different corner altogether, and a super-long auger run solves the problem. Something like this will delay your planned brewing schedule a few weeks, but there was other stuff to get done anyway.

3. When you are just about ready to brew, the winter will take a turn toward the unfathomably brutal and smother your remaining sanity in a blanket of endless snow. This will delay your planned brewing schedule a number of times, but there’s always other stuff to get done anyway. Shoveling, for instance.

4. When the snow let's up for half a day and schedules align, perform your first water brew (a test of the brewing system with only water, rather than actual production of wort). There will be some weird quirks to figure out, some procedural questions to answer, but in general, this goes pretty smoothly. Congratulations! You have now boiled water.

5. Transfer water into a fermentation tank. Find that the glycol immediately chills the tank down to near-freezing temperatures and can’t be turned off. Okay. Uh. That’s… not supposed to happen. Something wonky is going on with the solenoid valves of the glycol system, apparently. This will delay your planned brewing schedule by a day or two. It's okay, you can just... do another water brew, I guess? It's probably for the best, really, if you think about it. The more prepared you are, the better!

6. Briefly considering jumping into the bottled water market instead. The margins are much better.

7. On your second water brew, you’re certain your brew system is operating smoothly. This is great. You’re so close, you can practically smell the wort. Just have to wait for this glycol situation to get sorted out, but that's only a matter of time.

8. Also your cellar-side pump stops working every five minutes due to some unforeseen electrical issue because of course it stops working every five minutes due to some unforeseen electrical issue no it’s cool this is fine it’s just another few days, like, whatever at this point, you know? It’s fine. We've already been delayed a few months, what's a few more days? Seriously, it’s fine, it’s not that big of a deal, we’ll just brew on Monday. All that will be fixed by then, you know.

9. Okay. It’s Sunday night. Time to prep the grain so you're set to go in the morning. Get ready for your FIRST EVER COMMERCIAL BREW holy shit this is so exciting.

10. Why the **** will the grain mill not work?

11. Too tired for this. Can’t troubleshoot. We’ll figure it out in the morning.

12. Monday morning! Brew-time! Right after we figure out this grain mill.

13. Okay, okay, that was our bad. Can’t load the grain in before you start the mill. Should have known better. To be fair, all the labels on the mill are in German. Were you supposed to know what “Zu / Auf / Zulauf” means? Maybe you spent two years teaching yourself German back in the day and you still don’t ******* know what that’s supposed to mean in the context of a grain mill. What do you look like, some kind of German mill scientist? I mean, now you know what that’s for. Okay. Needs to be Zu before you start the mill or it jams. You have to Auf the grain in there as it starts. Got it.




17. Because the coil has popped out of the back of the rotor and jammed itself into the wall, is why. That’s why, right there.

18. At this point brewing is obviously not going to happen until Tuesday, but that’s cool. All the kinks should definitely be worked out by Tuesday. Figuring out a way to work around this whole “auger not working” business isn’t really that hard. One step closer!

19. Look, seriously, it’s no big deal, we’ll just mill 1,400 lbs of grain into buckets and load it into the mash tun by hand. That’s fine. That’s totally fine. We could certainly do that if it’s required. We’ll just get started on that right now, in fact. 1,400 lbs of grain, right on that.

20. You’re brewing! You’re actually brewing! Congratulations. This 20th step in Making Your First Batch of Commercial Beer is easily one of the most important. When Making Your First Commercial Beer, you definitely want to start by Brewing a Beer. Or, if not start, then at least certainly include this step somewhere along the way.

21. Go ahead and make wort. You got this. It's all just hoses and tri-clamps, man. Don't open the wrong valve, don't do anything hastily, don't melt your crotch with hot water and dangerous chemicals, don't ruin thousands of dollars worth of beer, etc. Also might as well make another pot of coffee. Gonna need that.

22. Transfer wort into fermentor. Wow!

23. Pitch yeast. Sanitize everything carefully! Almost there! Stay on target!

24. Holy shit! You did it! The fermentor is half full, now all you have to do is brew another batch tomorrow, let it ferment, crash, harvest, transfer, package, distribute... Oh, and clean. Still a whole lot of cleaning to do. Let's make some caustic and start that CIP on the kettle. What time is it? Never too late for another cup of coffee, anyhow.

25. Man, what a long day. That... that was exhausting. Time to crack open a few beers and celebrate. You've been saving something special for just this moment. Empty it into your face!

26. Get some rest, buddy. You've earned it.

27. Wake up a few hours later, time to do it all again! Let's get some coffee going first though!

28. Still have to load the grain in and stir by hand, but you're a pro at this by now. Think of all the money you save working at a brewery, not having to pay for a gym membership! The benefits really stack up here, when you think about it.

29. Definitely about time for more coffee.

30. Why does the hose water smell like weird plastic chemicals? That's gross. Don't want that in your beer. Guess we can't use the hose? Can someone look into this?

31. Okay, but this step mash in the kettle requires rinsing out the last of the mash to transfer. We're going to need to chase it down with some other source of water. How about service water through the spray ball? That should get it out, right? Yes. Yes. Brilliant. You're a real problem-solver, you are.

32. Why isn't the water coming out of the spray ball? Is everything open?

33. It's just trickling out, like it's clogged with... oh, fuck. Fuck.

34. We clogged the fuck out of our sprayballs with mash, didn't we?

35. FML.

36. Hopefully today's run-off into the kettle won't take four hours like yesterday, but you'll get that sorted out. Just like everything else! Haha!

37. Wait, did you leave the kettle bottom valve open? You're running-off into the kettle, dumbass! It's gonna go down the drain!

38. Stupid! You're so stupid!

39. Run! Run! Wipe out on the floor! This'll hurt a bit.

40. Close call. Maybe poured a liter or two of first runnings down the drain. Not a big deal. Probably didn't need to almost kill yourself, sprinting around a brewery with wet floors, but hey. Really liked that hustle.

41. Mental note: don't ever run. Do things quickly but deliberately. Have full situational awareness at all times, no matter how exhausted or stressed you are.

42. Drink more coffee.

43. Can someone spend, like, eight hours unclogging these spray balls with a paper-clip, one tiny fraction of a grain hull at a time? If someone could just do that right now, that would be just great.

44. Don't worry, we'll accidentally clog them again a second time at the end of the day, when we try to CIP. Ha ha ha.

45. Everything else should go pretty well, though!

46. No truly significant screw-ups. That's very good. Look, at the end of the day, all that matters is you hit your numbers and made wort (and thus, beer) that tastes good. All in all, if you look at it in that light, this is going shockingly well!

47. In a few days you'll notice some epic purple bruises all down the left side of your chest from that wipe-out, of course.

48. Just can't count on things to function smoothly the first time around, I think is the lesson here.

49. Fermentation is really rolling though! So that's great. This beer is going to be delicious.

50. Well, fermentation went perfectly. As long as all the Actual Beer Stuff continues to go smoothly, there's really nothing to get frustrated about. Nothing else matters! Okay? Just keep that in mind because soon you'll be getting your kegging platform up and running and half of the menu displays are in Chinese! Ha ha. Hahahaha.

51. Fill some barrels, fill the brite tank. Relatively easy day.

52. Plan out the rest of the week. Figure it'll take a few hours to try out the kegging platform, work out any kinks in the setup, and teach yourself some basic functional Mandarin. After you know it's running smooth, you can start carbing the beer. Plan to spend the following day packaging. They'll be long days, but it'll feel so good when you're done!

53. Thursday: Test out your kegging platform. You've learned your lesson, by now: it's probably not going to work the first time, okay? Might as well just anticipate that.

54. The fitting for the compressed air into the kegging platform does not appear to be right. So it's just venting air into the atmosphere and won't get up to pressure. Pneumatics won't work. You saw that coming, didn't you?

55. Friday: Fix the connection with the weird, non-standard size fitting. Great. The kegging platform works! Let's get practice cleaning some kegs! Like you said, everything is going to have some hiccup or kink the first time through. Just gotta find it and...

56. Why did it just shut off? Why did it just stop and shut off?

57. Is there a fuse blown somewhere?

58. We'll just get on the phone again and see if we can figure this out!

59. Isn't it miraculous how the human body manages to work so well, almost all of the time? Think about it, man. It's incredible. It's like really pretty rare and usually only after many years of successful operation that it simply fails to function one day. And what real maintenance does it require? Just regular fuel. Waste. Cleaning is optional, really. And normally, that's pretty much it. The human body, man. The human machine. It really is a machine, you know? Just absolutely miraculous, when you really think about it.

60. Long story short: the fuse box inside the kegging platform blew and you need a new one. You make sure it's going to arrive tomorrow, so at least you can package first thing next week.

61. Saturday: Okay, the kegging platform works again!

62. Sunday: Time to carb up this son of a bitch so you can package on Monday!

63. Monday Morning: Why is there beer in the CO2 lines...?

64. Okay, so the CO2 ran out overnight, and the beer started to back-flow. Fortunately, it must have happened right before you came in in the morning to check, so you didn't lose anything significant.

65. Monday: Debate whether beer will be fully carbed by evening with enough time to package, or if it's better to take it slow and plan to package on Tuesday.

66. Take numerous Zahm readings throughout the day to test the carb level. It's going a lot slower than you would have thought, and eventually you'll realize you'll need to hold off until Tuesday to package.

67. Tuesday: Still needs some more carbonation. Take more Zahm readings.

68. You hit it! Let's go!

69. This is actually really easy now that everything is working right. Pretty sweet, in fact. What a convenience this kegging platform is, ultimately! This is so exciting! Your beer will be out on the market by tonight!

70. Calculate, based on keg-filling time, how long it will be until everything is package. You estimate you should be done by around 7 pm, easily, at the latest. Right in time for dinner.

71. You're drooling at the thought of the tasty wild game burger that awaits you, next to the first-ever draft pour of your beer.

72. You are done kegging around 9:30 pm.

73. Race to the first bar ever to carry your beer. Enjoy a burger that the kitchen kindly held for you. Watch with anxiety as the bartender pours the first pour of your first commercial beer.

74. Feel intense relief: it tastes exactly how you wanted it to taste. You've done it! Your beer is out there for the world to tick. In kegs, at least. The easiest way to package. Now you just have to build your bottler from scratch!

75. That can wait, though. Have some more beer first! And also might as well make a fresh pot of coffee!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Kent Falls Brewing - Connecticut's First Farmhouse Brewery, and Certainly It's Most Bear Flavoredest

Kent Falls Brewing Co

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
Where to Find the Beer

I've been neglecting to tell you guys something, and I'm very sorry. It's exciting news. (At least for me!) News that's going to give me a lot to talk about in both the near and distant future. And as such, news that I needed to hold off on until I have some glimpse of hope that I'm about to get my head above water, with everything going on in my life. This whole last year was extremely difficult, stressful, exhausting, et al. These last few months I've had to devote almost every waking moment of free time to working on this whole book thing that is soon due. There were rotten shark adventures to be chronicled, cheeses to be eaten, sleeps to be deprived, and more. I'm inching slowly but surely closer with the book, thankfully. And while there's still plenty more editing to be done, and it'll be a while before I can get a good night's sleep, it's about time I talked about the second big adventure consuming my daily not-free time.

I really didn't want to just casually drop that I'm now a professional brewmaster (I mean: lol) and then not have the time or mental energy to write about it at all for four months. Granted, it's not like I'm really going to have much more time to write in the next few months even once I am done with a draft of the book, but I'll try my best. Starting up a new brewery is an exhausting endeavor all on its own, but I'll do my best to talk about everything there is to talk about, of which there is a lot. Not much should change here at — I'm just going to continue to have a ton of weird brewing stuff to write about, plus catching up on posts from my backlog of homebrew batches and experimental batches. New adventures, new experiments, new opportunities, and a lot of new things for me to learn, this time with some economic pressure not to fuck up. Woo!

But about the brewery.

However you feel about homebrewers starting up new breweries by the coat-tails of their boot-straps, I have to say first off that I did not start this brewery. And thank god — do you have any idea how much work is involved in opening a brewery? It's insane. Couldn't do it, myself. I got off crazy easy: brewery manager and co-owner Barry, who launched the brewery project here at Kent Falls, has born the brunt of the work. You hear how opening a brewery is like 2% brewing beer. This is true. And people talk about how much cleaning is involved. This is also true. What you do not hear is that the other 90% is spent on the phone. Mostly yelling at people. Or sweet-talking people. Or whatever. There's always a lot of red tape involved in opening a brewery, and in Connecticut, they seem to come with a few extra rolls of red tape. There are always unforeseen challenges and hiccups and setbacks. In building a new brewery from the ground up on a swampy farm in the middle of nowhere, there's a million things that can go wrong. Or just set you back month after month.

Camps Road Farm
Pictured: a good working environment.

Barry is very good on the phone; problem solving, networking, and working out general business machinations. This is wonderful for me because I would probably suck at all those things. I just brew the beer, which frankly is maybe the easiest part of running the business.

Our set-up is an interesting one, and a set-up that hooked me immediately, when Barry first approached me in spring of 2014. The brewery is one part of a multi-tiered effort. Kent Falls Brewing Company is located on a farm, but the farm operates independently as a separate business — Camps Road Farm — and includes a 1.4 acre hop field. We are the first farm brewery in the state of Connecticut, and as far as we can tell, also the first commercial hop growing operation in the state. We're growing six varieties: Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Brewer's Gold, Northern Brewer, and Willamette. In addition to hops, the farm grows a whole bunch of stuff in greenhouses, raises sheep, raises chickens, sells eggs, and will expand its livestock options to include pigs (and I hope goats, because I desperately want a goat sidekick brewer's assistant named Brett. So badly). The farm is gonna grow a whole bunch of different berries that I want to throw into beer, squash, various herbs and spices, and just lots of fun other stuff. We're looking for every possible way to meld the worlds (and economics) of small-scale farming and small-scale brewing. Farmer John is relentlessly productive and impressively skilled at what he does, and I can't even describe how exciting it is to run a brewery that's not just situated on farm property, but on a working, productive, autonomous farm operation. Did I mention my life goal of having a goat for a brewer's assistant?

The third tier of the business is a distillery called NeverSink Spirits, located about an hour away from the farm and brewery, in Port Chester, NY. They'll be doing apple brandy and whiskey, among other stuff. We'll be collabearating on things in the future. I will snatch up their barrels when they aren't looking. Once again, this is unbearably cool. Having a source of barrels, having partners who can take one product we make and transform it into another, adding options, adding knowledge. Adding barrels. Barrels!

Red and White Wine Barrels
Barrels! They patiently await funky dry Brett saison.

Barrels: so far we don't have any whiskey barrels. I will eventually put stuff into whiskey barrels and do some fun stouts, absolutely. But those types of beers are not going to be a focus of the brewery initially. We do have sixteen wine barrels to start off with, which will be home to funky farmhouse ales and sours. In fact, without ever actually sitting down and consciously deciding upon it as a particular focus, it seems most of the beers I will be doing in the first six months or so are all pretty sessionable. With most of my beers, I will be aiming for something juicy and drinkable and expressive. Often, weird. To get an idea of the sort of things I'll be brewing at Kent Falls, see: my blog.

Under construction.

Something that's probably obvious from the recipes I post here: I love my IPAs. In the future, I hope to do lots of IPAs, and we're honing in on a final recipe for a sort of flagship clean IPA that I'm very excited about in a few regards. Securing hops to do the IPA you really want to do can be a huge challenge. That, and juggling a number of house cultures, means it'll probably be some time before you see significant quantities of Kent Falls IPA hitting the market. I'll talk about all that more in the future — I find the juggling you have to do as a commercial brewer developing recipes to actually be very fascinating.

In the meantime, we are, to my great delight, going to be brewing two extra-dope-but-not-clean IPAs: Waymaker, a Brett IPA, and Alternate World, a "sour IPA" or dry-hopped gose, depending how you wanna roll. We're planning to can both beers in 16 oz-ers, which is maybe the most exciting thing of all. I'm hoping we'll be able to get the canning going by late summer / early fall, just in time for peak hiking season. I'm gonna need to get in some serious relaxation this fall, and nothing in the world could be more exciting to me right now than having my own vision of the ideal hiking beer, designed specifically to be drank on top of mountains, on top of a mountain, out of a can. Is this the Matrix?

We have a pond.

All these beers will get their own post eventually, but our first beer to be released, Field Beer, definitely deserves more words than just a brief paragraph here. Until then: it is a saison, it uses all local malts (and will eventually use all local hops), its recipe will rotate based on the season, and it necessitates a somewhat complicated brewing process to get some nice tart funk all up in there. More on Field Beer soon.

Besides being on a farm, what is this brewery like, you may wonder?

It's a good size. I say that having seen firsthand the trend of nano-brewing that's emerging all over the place, and in the Northeast especially. We've got a 15 bbl Prospero compact brewhouse. Two vessels, with the lauter tun on top of the hot liquor tank. Rakes built into the kettle, so we can do all sorts of stuff in the mash (when mashing in the kettle) before pumping over to the lauter tun. This is good, because we'll be using decent quantities of unmalted local grains for certain beers. All our batches will be double brews to start, however, as we currently employ three 30 bbl tanks. In addition to those, we have 8 red wine and 8 white wine oak barrels, and, most interesting of all, an old milk chiller from the 50 acre property's previous incarnation as a dairy farm. The milk chiller holds about 7 bbl, or a little over 200 gallons. The idea is that we'll set it up to use as a coolship (I mean, milkship), which would be really fun — but even using the thing as some kind of open fermentor would be fantastic for now, too.

Moving the milkship out of the old dairy barn.

You may be wondering how a mere homebrewer such as myself stumbled into the brewmaster position at such a bitchin-sounding new brewery operation. This would be a very good question, and I'm not entirely sure myself. Though if I had to guess, I would assume it involves some really effective blackmailing. I will say that such an undertaking would be complete madness without a very good, effective consultant to help you get up and running on the equipment and processes. (You wouldn't believe how many valves are involved in making this beer). While all the recipes are of my design, I'm not sure how they would've ever made it to the tank intact without the wisdom and reassuring McConaugheyian cool of someone much smarter and more experienced than me. While this is still a totally insane venture, the help of our consultant has taken this from "coma-inducing levels of stress inspired by disaster" to merely "mental blackout eyeball bleeding levels of stress necessitated by unmanageable work load."

What else? There are so many things to write about, I know I can't cover them all right now and I'm not even going to try. Various observations and experiences will give me great fodder for many blog posts to come, certainly. I mean, what do you guys want to know? What are you curious about, on the front lines of an experience and opportunity like this? I'll be writing about it all, just hopefully distilling it down one topic at a time. Let me know what you're wondering about and I'll be sure to address it. At some point. Once I finish the book. And get some sleep. Good god I'm exhausted I didn't realize it was physically possible to drink this much coffee.

Our very first beer is hitting the market like... well, right now. I mean literally this afternoon. Partly, honestly, I was waiting to 'announce' my role at Kent Falls until our beer was on the market and thus everything actually felt... real. (The twist though is that currently still none of this feels real to me). We're self distributing in Connecticut to start, mostly in the central / western portions of the state. Barry is driving around today and tomorrow delivering kegs. We'll be in New York sooner or later too... hopefully sooner. Connecticut and New York are going to be our primary regions of focus. One of the most unfortunate quirks of this operation is that there's no taproom or tasting room on the farm, and we'll have to go through a bit of a process in order to even sell beer here. To start, a bar or beer store will be your place to find Kent Falls beer. (I'll write some more updates about that tasting room situation later).

We've put up a convenient Google Maps dodad to help you track down our beer. By tomorrow (Friday, March 13th), a decent number of accounts should have our beer. Right now you'll be able to find Field Beer, our locally-grown saison, but obviously the map will be updated as new beers are released. Waymaker Brett IPA and Farmer's Table saison are up next after Field Beer.

Since we don't have a taproom, and therefore can't have a big opening celebration bash at the brewery, we're working on putting something together at one of our favorite local taverns in April. More on that as we get the details ironed out.

Thanks for following along with all my adventures so far. Thanks for supporting the Bear Flavored Merch store and helping me to put cheese on the table throughout the harrowing and hectic last year. Thank you for not laughing at me too hard at this new turn of events, my highly presumptuous decision to try to make a career out of this beer nonsense. There sure are a lot of new breweries opening, haha! It's unnerving, it's terrifying, it's destroyed my ability to get a good night's sleep, and whatever remains of my sanity is highly questionable, at best. Regardless, I'll be here in the trenches (the very muddy trenches), trying my damndest to make the best beer I can, and writing about it as often as I'm able. Bear with me.

Kent Falls Brewing at Camps Road Farm

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