Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Pro Brewer for a Day; Fool for a Lifetime

(That's me on the left and brewmaster Doug Hurst on the right. Didn't know that the pros wear safety glasses and rubber gloves just to check the original gravity? They absolutely do. Safety first!)

As I've discussed before on this blog, I tricked Doug and Tracy Hurst of Metropolitan Brewing into thinking I'm some sort of Altbier expert (I mean, I've been to Düsseldorf and read Horst Dornbusch's book on Altbier; that's enough, right?), and as such they asked me to serve as a consultant for their spring seasonal, I-Beam Alt. Well, after helping them brew a test batch back in January, I took a day off of work today and trekked up to Ravenswood to help them brew 22 barrels of Alt. Yes, for one day I got to pretend I am a professional brewer.

So how did it go? Well, things didn't start off too well. My plan was to take one train that arrives on the south side of downtown Chicago and walk across the loop to a train that leaves from the north side of downtown and ends up four blocks from Metro. Unfortunately, I decided to stop at a Dunkin Donuts between the first and second trains and they took forever to make a frickin' egg, bacon and cheese wrap. As such, I missed the second train, and the next one wasn't leaving for two hours. So I had to walk over to the el, which meant much more walking and me arriving 45 minutes late.

Once I got to the brewery, I discovered that I forgot the power cord for my laptop. I also discovered that my camera didn't have a memory card in it. This ended up being a moot point as my camera battery was also dead. You'll notice I don't have a ton of pics from today; that's why. (Fortunately, Leah and the kids stopped by later in the evening and Leah had her camera, so we got a few pics.)

Anyway, after those initial problems, the brew day itself went fairly smoothly. I had heard from my pro brewer friends that most of large-scale brewing is cleaning, and they are pretty much right. If I screw up a 5-gallon batch, I waste a few hours and maybe $30. If a pro gets an infected batch they're losing a lot more than that, so there's lots of cleaning going on. Of course, they do have a few gadgets that make things easier, namely drains in the floor and a hose with scalding-hot water. Man, would that be awesome if I could have those in my garage!

The brewing process itself wasn't that different from homebrewing except that most tasks could be completed by moving a hose, opening a valve and throwing a switch for a pump. It was definitely nice to simply turn on a pump to recirculate rather than collecting four cups in a pyrex measuring cup and dumping it back into the mash tun.

The one thing that was definitely harder on a pro scale? Cleaning out the mash tun. For starters, you have to shovel out over 300 lbs. of spent grain. But after shoveling out most of it, getting the last bits of grain out of there is a real pain in the ass. The next time I brew at home and clean out my mash tun by dumping out the grains into a trash bag, filling it with hot water, and then dumping it back out, I'll appreciate just how easy that is.

In the end, I'm pretty excited about the Alt. The test batch had a small addition of chocolate malt and a significant flavor hop addition, both of which aren't exactly to style and it definitely showed in the results. For today's brew, we got rid of the chocolate malt and cut down on the flavor hop addition. The end recipe ended up almost the same as the Alt I brewed last year that I really liked, so I'm hoping this one will be a crowd-pleaser as well. If you live in or near Chicago, you'll be able to find I-Beam Alt at your favorite watering hole right around April 1st (no foolin').

So that was my day as a pro brewer. As of tomorrow, it's back to my normal life as a mild-mannered reporter for a large metropolitan law firm. At least my co-workers like beer. :-)

P.S. The firkin you see to the left is not being filled with the Alt (since it was just brewed) but rather with Metro's Flywheel Bright Lager, which will soon be available on cask, Kellerbier-style, at Revolution Brewing on Chicago's North Side.


Blogger Mark said...

You have no idea how jealous I am!

2:37 PM, March 11, 2010  
Blogger Matt said...

That... is awesome! Can't wait to try it.

1:35 PM, March 12, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That looks awesome dude. Will any of the test batch make its way down to the HOPS! meeting this month?

3:20 PM, March 14, 2010  
Blogger Brian said...

really looking forward to trying it man. Let me know how sales are when it gets released, I'll certainly do my part buying it retail. We do need to stimulate the economy right??

9:36 PM, March 21, 2010  

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