Brewery Intern: Day 11 (Russian Imperial Moves)

A busy day today, we started by firing up the kettle with some warm water left in it from yesterday.  Thankfully, the machine spirits of the burner flame were appeased to ignition by the application of sacred unguents and the sacred rubber mallet of correction, as the appropriate holy words were chanted over the box of indicator lights.

As soon as the ritual had concluded successfully, I set about getting the hoses down and hooking them up to brew kettle through the pump and to the Grundy Room access pipe (that goes through the walls and over the hallway).  I also ran the second pump into the Grundy Room and set up hoses for both transferring water from the kettle to fill the tank and to recirculate the cleaning solutions.  We ran through the cycles of caustic, acid, and iodine (with all of the appropriate rinses) as quickly as we could.

As soon as some CO2 pressure had blown out the last of the iodine, we moved the hoses in the Brewhouse to move the half batch of Russian Imperial Stout into the newly cleaned Grundy tank.  A few switches and levers and off she went.  It was a beautifully quick and complication-free transfer (although the fact that we don’t filter our stouts helps a lot).

The moment the FV was empty, we immediately swung things around again to use the tap water feed and the kettle water to alternately rinse and clean the FV through all of the caustic, acid, and iodine cycles.

After packing everything up and handling a couple of brewery tours, we sat down for a few pints….and swapped out an empty keg or two while we were there, talking with the customers.

Sorry I’m so behind on posts…I’m trying to catch up with some content – I’ll come back and add some photos soon.

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Brewery Intern: Day 10 (Hosing Everything Down)

Back for Monday and the routine starts again.  Craig already had the kettle heating up when I got in and were out of sight, so I got to work clearing space in the Grundy Room, moving kegs around, and pulling out the keg washer.

As I was gathering up hoses and tri-clamps to hook up the pump and keg washer, the guys were busy in the office.  While finishing up rigging the pump (to pull the outflow of the kettle over the hallway into the Grundy Room for the washer’s basin), Karen showed up.

Being the detail-oriented person that I am, I’ve developed the habit of shutting off the gas and beer valves on each keg tap on the washer before connecting or disconnecting a keg.  Bryan and Craig don’t bother, happy to save a few seconds of effort in each cycle.  All three of us have a habit of draping the taps off the sides where they are easily located.  Today, they gave Karen a quick run-down of the washer and she and I got started washing kegs.

After disconnecting the first set, I did not notice that Karen had left one of the taps draped over the front of the keg washer….with the valves left open.  Not thinking about any cause for concern, I brought in the next set of kegs and hooked up the first one.  I opened the valves to what was theoretically a closed system (except for the drain) to have the keg empty its tepid, stale contents directly onto my denim-clad crotch from point-blank range.  As it was under pressure, it blasted right through the paltry protection of my jeans and soaked me to the skin – from hip to hip and down to my right knee.

By late afternoon, the liquid was finally maintaining my body temperature….and finally started to dry 7-8 hours later.  Thankfully, my jeans were dark and didn’t show much after the first hour or so (which of course had to be during the lunch rush)!

We finally got through cleaning all of the kegs and Karen had to take off.  Bryan and I stuck around to empty out the bright tank of John Stark Porter into the newly-washed kegs.

Had a few pints and headed for home….hopefully will add some photos soon.

Brewery Intern: Day 08 (Smoother Runnings)

Today’s brew day proved much smoother (and much shorter) than last week’s for a number of reasons.  Rather than doing a partigyle brew to produce two different beers in half batches, today we were doing a single full-size brew.  It also helped that the kettle burner decided to be cooperative today.

The plan was to re-brew the Milly’s Oatmeal Stout to replace the batch we had drained from the fermentor the day before (which was now serving on tap, replacing the batch that had kicked just a few days before).  This stout is one of the eight flagship beers that will be promoted through the Stark Mills distribution agreement – and will even have its own custom tap handle (we are supposed to see a prototype tomorrow)!

We arrived and got the warm water in the kettle from last night heating up again and positioned our pumps and hoses.  While waiting for the grain delivery truck (actually, our biggest delay of the day), we took apart and cleaned the fittings on a few corny kegs and tested the fittings.  Once the truck arrived, we brought two pallet-loads of grain sacks in by hand, checked them in, and separated the ones that we needed for today.

Once the grain was set, we started moving quickly, getting the mash tun heating up with hot water through the hydrator.  I dropped the grain augur to the floor after the specialty grains were measured out.  Karen and I switched positions this time and she dumped the grain sacks into the augur with Bryan’s help while I stirred the mash and talked with Craig.  That is, until we got through the barleys and the oats started to come up the augur . . . and quickly jam it.  Yee-haw!  The rest of the oats were hauled up to the top and dumped in directly while I stirred.  Then (after disconnecting the power) I unclogged the augur with a screwdriver.  A four-inch diameter pipe was clogged with nearly a foot-long mass of flaked oats compressed into a near-solid cork.  By the time I was done, I had filled nearly half of a brew bucket with oats to stir in.

Milly's Oatmeal Stout in the Boil Kettle

Milly’s Oatmeal Stout in the Boil Kettle

The lovely roasty dark mash settled nicely, recirculated nicely, and (other than a brief near-stick during sparging) lautered evenly until our brew kettle was filled.  We drained off a bunch of the remaining sweet wort to play with while the kettle finished heating up to a boil.  We all had half a glass or more of the syrupy roasty chocolatey malt candy goodness.  I mixed up a chocolate Malt Cola that I passed around. We passed a pitcher off to the kitchen to have fun with – with Bryan reporting hearing the word “marinade” being muttered before he exited the kitchen.

RECIPE: Malt Cola


30-60% sweet wort (bolder British malt flavors work best)
40-70% cola soda (the more citric Coke works better than Pepsi)


Add cooled wort to soda and gently stir before adding ice. Adjust blend to taste.  I like it best with a bit more soda than wort.

Dark roasty worts such as stouts and porters make it more of a chocolate cola, while worts from bitters/milds/browns will be more of a caramel cola. More caramelly worts would also be appropriate blended with a traditional root/birch/ginger beer.

Raking the Spent Grain out the Manway

Raking the Spent Grain out the Manway

I measured out the 75 and 60 minute hop additions, and we got to raking out the now-drained mash tun.  The spent grain was loosened from above with the oar and pulled out of the manway with a heavy-duty garden hoe to fall into plastic 55-gallon drums and trash cans.  The grains were packed down in each bucket to compress them as much as possible.  As each bucket was filled to within inches of the brim, it was loaded on a hand cart and wheeled through the twisting path of ramps and tight corners through the function room, kitchen, and back of the house areas to exit at the back door near the dumpsters.  As the buckets began to pile up, a call was placed to our regular farmer to come collect it for feed for his farm critters.  There is so much heat stored in this amount of grain that even at the below-freezing temperatures that we’ve had lately, it will take days to cool off enough to start to sour.  (We filled about 9 of these big barrels with the heavy, wet, spent grain – which had weighed close to 1,100 pounds while dry before the mash . . . I hope I don’t need to break out the thermodynamics equations for you to get the idea that there’s a LOT of hot mass in each of them.)

I measured out the next additions of hops and put the boxes away before climbing through the top hatch into the mash tun with a bucket, a green scrubby, and the garden hose.  I sort of lost track of time for a while, drenched with sweat and water spray, not able to hear much of anything outside except when I occasionally stuck my head out of the top.  Eventually, I got the four panels of the false bottom turned up and everything inside the tun sparkling and shiny and clambered out with surprising ease.

Top Hatch of Mash Tun

Top Hatch of Mash Tun

Once on the floor, I could see that the others had finished up carting out the spent grain and had gotten the yeast from the Grundy Room to warm up for pitching.  I measured out the Irish Moss and Bryan dumped it in the kettle, along with a couple of gallons of older yeast that we weren’t going to pitch to act as a nutrient.  The final hops went in a bit later and we started the whirlpool.  After the whirlpool was allowed to rest, we started draining into the fermentor.  I opened the manway hatch on the FV and popped the lids off of the two corny kegs of yeast we were to pitch.  The yeast that we had pulled the day before proved much more frothy than we had thought – after overnight settling, the kegs were only half full.  While I was working the yeast loose and dumping it through the hatch, a third keg was retrieved and depressurized to find similar settling.  The third keg also went in before the hatch was sealed up and the blowoff hose was rigged to the top port.

As the kettle drained, we could see that unlike the brew day last week, this brew had formed a nice, solid cone of trub.  Actually, once we had filled the fermenter, drained some to a bucket for gravity readings, and let the rest down the drain, the pile of hops and break was very solid.  It took quite a bit of force to blast it away, layer by layer, with the jet blast from the cleaning hose.  Bryan climbed in this one for the cleaning while we took apart and cleaned the yeast kegs.

Cone of Trub from Whirlpooling

Cone of Trub from Whirlpooling

After everything was cleaned up, we checked on the status of kegs with the bar, replaced the root beer keg, and were done with our brew day.  When possible, we try to have the brewers stay at least through the end of the happy hour.  The staff likes us to be on hand to swap kegs and taps . . . and the management likes us around to answer questions and give brewery tours.  So, dutifully performing my role, I had a pints of the oatmeal stout that we transferred yesterday (decidedly less over-roasted and much more balanced than the previous batch) and mingled amongst the patrons before heading home.

Tomorrow is the Certified Cicerone Exam, time to do some last-minute studying!

Brewery Intern: Day 06 (Kegs, Casks, and Yeast)

Today started with doing some rearranging in the Grundy Room and restacking the full kegs, including moving a few into the cold storage in the back of the house.  We put a few feet of water in the kettle to heat, got the keg washer pulled out, and hand-trucked a pile of 14 kegs from the back door up to the Grundy Room.

During all the walking around, I said something to Bryan about noticing how much the brewery smelled like hops today, joking it must be leaking out of the fermentors with the fresh IPAs from Friday.  Turns out….yup, literally.  FV1 hasn’t been used in some time because the coolant coil in the top half isn’t working right.  We only put a half batch of HFR IPA in it, so the lower coil was just fine (as we found out, unfortunately, on Friday) – however, the heavy rubber gasket around the manway door had torn a bit on the side (and the fill level is currently well above the bottom of the manway door).  Bryan actually sounded relieved that a small amount of IPA was appearing in the edge of the seam around the gasket (which is why we could smell the hops so much).  He pointed that he first noticed the blowoff tube wasn’t bubbling and freaked out that the beer still wasn’t fermenting after nearly 3 days – after spotting the leak and pulling a sample to test gravity, he was much relieved to find it was fermenting just fine.

Once the water was up to temp in the kettle, I got to work running kegs through the keg washer cycles (something that continued through the early evening).  During waits for cycles to finish, Craig and I took the empty metal cask of Apple Cobbler offline, cleaned it, and pried the bungs out.  We took apart and cleaned the beer and gas lines, as well as the cask breather.

Cask Breather

Cask Breather

Later on, we brought out a metal cask of Pumpkin Bread (a sour pumpkin ale blended with a portion of dark porter), set it up on the stand, and installed the saddle (a specially-designed cooling coil that drapes over the top of the cask under its jacket).  Craig hammered a soft spile (porous wooden peg) into the hole in the center of the plastic bung to allow some carbonation to escape through the pores of the wood.  After judging sufficient pressure had off-gassed, he pulled the spile out and screwed the attachment to the cask breather into the bung hole.  While the cask was allowed to rest, a line cleaner solution was mixed up and pulled through the hand pump for a bit before allowing to rest with flooded lines.  The hand pump was pulled periodically for an hour or two before clean water was pulled through to rise.  Craig hammered in the tap, installed the hop filter, and reconnected the line.  We pulled the hand pump until the water was replaced by beer, then poured a couple of samples.  It was lightly sour (but my palate might still be wrecked from judging the sour category at the Boston Homebrew Competition two days ago) and tasted like gingery pumpkin cookies.

Cask Breather Spigot on a Cask

Cask Breather Spigot on a Cask

We carbonated a keg of the house root beer (non-alcoholic) and put it on tap, kicked the last keg of oatmeal stout, and replaced a keg of American pale ale.  We taste-tested the Hopzilla from last Friday: still very yeasty, quite bitter, very piney hops up front (lots of Simcoe in this one) and took gravity readings of the oatmeal stout in the fv (which, of course, ended with tasting….quite roasty).  We took apart, cleaned, and pressure-tested 3 older 5-gallon corny kegs that are used for yeast – then dumped a bit of trub from the fv (fermentation vessel) full of stout and filled two of them with fresh yeast, leaving a fair amount of head space.  After settling, we will pull another 5-10 gallons tomorrow too.

After cleanup and putting the keg washer away, I did some more keg re-stacking in the Grundy Room and pulled most of the freshly-washed Sanke kegs back in.  It was getting late, so before I left, I helped Craig start filling kegs from one of the large holding tanks.  It was acting as a serving tank and had about 6.5 barrels left, so the first keg filled was stacked and tapped immediately to keep the barfront functional.  As I left, Craig was filling the rest of the kegs and planning to rinse out the tank before he left.

Tomorrow is planned to wash that holding tank, fill it with oatmeal stout from the fermentor, and clean out the FV once it’s empty.

Brewery Intern: Day 04 (Swap Them Hoses)

The slow filtration of the red ale last night meant that Craig and Bryan went home after the late-night staff meeting without cleaning the fermentor. The planned brew day for today was postponed until tomorrow. Today, we cleaned.

Today also marked the start of two new interns:  Ashley (a home kombucha fermenter) and Karen (a homebrewer and another member of the Brew Free or Die homebrewing club), both eager to get brewing.  The owner/brewmaster also left for a ten-day vacation today, leaving operations of the brewery in the hands of Bryan and Craig.

I hung back for a good portion of the morning, as Craig isn’t the loudest speaker.  He was doing a lot of the introductory explaining that I had already heard, so I was getting chemicals, putting away hoses, etc. while he was talking.  The burner for the boil kettle was extra ornery starting up this morning, requiring a couple of resets and some judicious *ahem* calibration with a mallet.

Ashley and Karen got some practice connecting and moving triclamp fittings as we cleaned the 14bbl fermentation vessel by:  draining it, rinsing it, adding cold water, recirculating the water, draining it, pumping in hot water, adding caustic, recirculating, draining, rinsing, pumping in more hot water, adding acids, recirculating, draining, rinsing, adding yet more water (this time, pumping in some iodine sanitizer), recirculating, then pumping the iodine into FV#1 (which has been on standby), recirculating that, and finally draining.

Fermentation Row

Fermentation Row

We also took apart and cleaned a Corny keg with short tubes that is used for yeast collection.  One of the quick-disconnects (QDs) had a persistent leak that we spent a little while troubleshooting before solving with an extra o-ring for better compression in the fitting.

We went over the plan for the brew day tomorrow before leaving for the day to let the brewers shop for parts to order.  The plan is to do a split batch:  mashing and using the first runnings for one beer, then adding more grain and mashing again to pull the second runnings for another beer (that might need to be boosted with a little sugar, depending on mash efficiency).  The brewers will be in early at 9am to start setup of hoses, measuring grain, etc. and the water should be mostly heated tonight.

A long double-brew day tomorrow, then off to Boston in the morning to judge at the Boston Homebrewing Competition on Saturday!