Brew Day at Black Bridge

Supporting your local brewery can lead to great beer and brewing experiences. Recently the good folks at Black Bridge Brewery let me spend a day with them and brew K-Town, their understated and charming weissbier.

I arrived there on a Friday at approximately 8 am. Kevin was there, transferring some of their old ale into kegs for transport to an event later in the day. Hops, the the fawned-over-feline and possibly official mascot of Black Bridge, peeked around the stage shortly after my arrival to see who was present to worship him. Well, Kevin was there, so …

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A little before Tim was to arrive he called and had Kevin start up some mash water, so I followed him over to the vessels and watched him work a couple of valves and, voila, hot water started to fill up one of the tanks. Once Tim arrived with more malt we fed that into the grain mill which had been attached to the mash tun. I’m used to working with around five pounds of malt instead of fifty and I usually purchase mine already cracked and have never milled it myself. There’s nothing complicated about that step in the process, dump the bag in the hopper and let the electric drill attached to the crank do the hard work, but at least I can say I have milled grain now. I’m sure there are other aspects to it, such as determining how fine you want the barley cracked, but that was not part of this brew day.

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Once the grain was milled the hot water was transferred to the mash tun and the grains were stirred and temperature reached and …. time to wait, just like brewing at home. While waiting I got to see some new sound equipment that had been delivered and tried to help research a couple of other pieces the brewery was seeking. Around this point, Heather arrived and started going through her routine of opening up for the day.

Then it was time to sparge – rinsing the mashed grains with more hot water to extract all the sugars out of the grains. After recirculating a portion of the mash water a copper ring is attached to the mash tun. Hot water is sprinkled from this arm onto the mash and mash water is transferred to the boiling vessel.  The hot water is added via this sparge arm at the same rate the mash water is transferred into the boil kettle. It was nice to see this method, continuous sparging, in action. I’ve read about it and understood how it was supposed to work. But in my home brewing I’ve used the batch sparging method. So, in a sense, this was new for me, too.

Once the mash tun was drained it was time to clean it out while waiting for the temperature to rise in the boiling vessel. That’s right, cleaning and waiting. Just like home brewing. Oh, and of course there was some beer consumed. K-Town, in fact. I adhered to the head brewer’s pattern of drinking what was being brewed. Good call.

By this time, the doors were open and people were arriving. Tim was mingling with his customers, Heather was pouring beers, Kevin was either playing with Hops or cleaning some fermenting vessels. I think I tried to help him a little, but I may have just had another K-Town.

Speaking of hops, once the boil was reached the hops addition was measured out. I was taught the proper way to tie a string around a mesh bag. The hops, in the properly tied bag, were immersed in the boil. And then there was more waiting. Finally it was time to chill the wort and transfer it to the fermenter. After adding the yeast strain to the fermenting vessel, the wort was transferred through the plate chillers to the fermentation vessel. And we were done.

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All this is just an every day routine for brewers, like Tim (and he did keep reminding me about that).  But it was great fun for me. I was able to see some brewing methods at work that I’ve only read about.  Professional nano-brewing is like brewing at home, just on a bigger scale.  There is much waiting and relaxing and drinking.  Sure, maybe there was not pH testing of mash or water treatment or refractometers – but whatever. The end product speaks for itself.

Tim would be a good educator, by the way.  He walked me through his steps, explaining each valve and why he wanted it to do what it did, explained his motors, talked about the equipment he’d like to have and how it would change his process. While eating lunch with his friend and mentor, Jason Fuller (to whom this town owes a debt of beer gratitude), he talked about hops experiments he did and how those did or did not change the bitterness and aroma values of the final beer.  He was encouraged, during his mentoring, to question everything he reads or hears about brewing, test it, and just brew beer that is his.

I learned a thing or two I can incorporate in my brewing.  I also feel a little more invested in the product being served at Black Bridge.  In addition to all that, it was enjoyable getting to know Tim and the crew a little more.  So thanks to all for the day of brewing.  Now I wanna brew more … another beer at B3 and plenty of my own.

Get to know your local, people, you never know what cool things can happen.  And if you are new to home brewing, definitely get to Black Bridge and hang out.

P.S.  The day after the brew day above we checked fermentation on this batch.  Well, that yeast was vibrant and healthy and working away.  Can’t wait to have some of this batch of K-Town!

 

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Old Pricks by Black Bridge Brewery

“They are to varying extents dark, rich and sweet, typically with suggestions of soft, curranty fruitiness and blackstrap molasses.”  – Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion

What’s new is old again.  An old ale will be on tap this weekend at Black Bridge.  It’s called Old Pricks, which is an homage, of sorts, to the prickly pear beer brewed by the women of B3.  That one is called No Pricks Allowed.  This one is brewed by the old men of B3 and they wish to release it just prior to tax day.  I’ll leave you to suss out the pun therein.

What do we look for in old ales?  They’re beers meant to be cellared, or aged.  So you would taste that time in the body.  There will be some oxidation giving it a papery, stale, sherryish flavor.  Imagine an amber or brown beer kept in a cask for several months or more.  They would pick up the quality of the wood.  Additionally, any leftover yeast would act on the beer, continuing to ferment and bequeathing a winy characteristic.   The beer family these ales reside in, mild and barley wine, are oft considered “winter beers,” so releasing during early spring is … bold, maybe?  It’s cool, to be sure, craft beer will be unleashed whenever brewers decide it is their desire.

It should be a malty, complex, stale delight.

That Smell ….
Muted and subdued.  Mostly, I could identify bread.  The pale malt comes right through in the nose.  As successive glasses warmed there was maybe a little caramel  and a slight ester character.  I want to say it was prune that I pinpointed, but I’m not that positive.  It was that kind of “dark fruit” smell, at least.

In Appearance …
Old ales should be darker beers.  Not stout level but a it should have some woody chromatics.  This has a gorgeous spectrum of red, orange and brown and possesses outstanding clarity and sports a sound ivory and tan head.

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But the Taste …
Strong malt sweetness.  Not overpoweringly so.  Also a dry-ish finish.  The oxidation, the staleness I sought was a specter in the aftertaste.  I’d like to see that more pronounced, but that’s a subjective wish, isn’t it?   The body does seem a bit light.  Aging for extended periods can produce such an effect so in that regard, well done.  It was only aged for 3-4 months, maybe some ruggedness will appear.  If not, it does have a slight creamy mouthfeel that is pleasant and at 6.6% abv it does produce a warming alcoholic effect.

In Conclusion …
Another corking entry to the B3 taplist.  It was only aged a few months, so I really want to see what this will be like when it gets a good amount of age on it in the keg but I really enjoy it now, too.  It’s reminiscent of 80 Shilling, neither aggressive or assertive.  Perhaps you remember the bready goodness of Oktoberfest; Old Pricks is like that, darker in overall tone, color and flavor.  B3 has done an altbier in the past to which this might be similar.  I could only find this note about that beer:  “It was a cousin to the schwarzbier, lighter in color, heavier in body and still tasty.”  Old Pricks is just as tasty.  But it resembles some of the barley wines, mostly, though heavier in mouthfeel and not quite as hefty in alcohol.

History indicates an old ale should be nurtured quietly in the glass, near a fire and steeped in quiet conversation or contemplation.  Old Pricks has that character.  It adds to the pub culture engendered at Black Bridge, not requiring in depth analysis to enjoy but not fearing it either.

 

New Beer’s Eve – The Day Before National Beer Day.

April 7th is the anniversary of the day legislation, the Cullen-Harrison Act, allowed alcohol to be legally sold again in the United States.  Later that year, the twenty-first amendment was ratified and Prohibition repealed.  April 7 has become known as National Beer Day (because we know that beer is the most important of the Alcohols).  Therefore, the day prior, April 6th, is affectionately known as New Beer’s Eve.  That’s today.  Since beer is the focus of National Beer Day let it be the drink over which you meditate.

Alcohol is certainly abused and this has contributed to tragedy – household penury, domestic violence, major health problems, fatalities.  Concern over these abuses contributed to the zealotry of the temperance movements in the early 1900’s and to Prohibition.  Banning a substance, however, does not necessarily excise the problems since the actual underlying causal problem remains.  In fact, such action can lead to other serious problems or makes the object of the ban more tempting and therefore actually promotes what is trying to be stopped.  Prohibition resulted in increased illegal consumption of alcohol, organized crime, feelings of discrimination toward ethnic groups, and reduced tax income for government and other social and legal concerns.

Individual moral stands are products of the context of a person’s life and personality architecture.  They can drive a person to live an honest and rewarding life.  When people become moralists, attempting to enforce their personal code and strictures on those around you, problems seem to arise.  There can be discussions, dialogue with friends, and even family, about your codes; talk, express, listen.  In the end, though, each person has to make their own decisions about things.

Granted, the code we live by should not incur harm to those around us.  The issues noted above which stalk the culture of alcohol do harm.  Those actions need to be addressed, considered, curtailed.  Banning alcohol, unfortunately, did not stop any of that, nor did it cure alcoholism.  If it had, well, it would have been worth the experiment.  But those are, for now, a perennial problem, faced by generation after generation.  Take a moment to examine your own proclivities.  If you, or family and friends, note an imbalance take whatever action is necessary to slay that particular dragon.

Personally, I think the loss of tax revenue was the biggest driver for repeal of Prohibition.  It seems that the best way to make your voice heard in this country is to speak with your Money.  Mammon is alive and well and influential.  Taxation of liquor is a source of irritation for brewers and bar owners.  It can be a big hurdle for new owners.

 

There are more breweries in the US now than there were pre-Prohibition.  There are two to choose from in Kingman, Black Bridge and Rickety Cricket.  The brewers there will be happy to talk to you about their beers and their tax struggles.  It’s a nice spring day, maybe a little windy, just right for a K-Town Weiss over at Black Bridge.  There’s a couple of wheat’s on tap at Rickety Cricket as well.

Cheers as always.

 

K-Town Weiss by Black Bridge Brewery

Unless winter decides it did not represent itself enough this year and decides to hang on and bully us until summer, our weather should start to think about spring soon.  Black Bridge’s recent tap-list addition can therefore be viewed as either a farewell to the cold season or a herald of springtime.  The beer is K-Town Weiss, which is pronounced “vice.”

It is a wheat beer of German descent.  The majority of the grist bill will consist of wheat malt, hops presence will be very low, imperceptible.   The ‘weiss’ indicates it’s a “white” beer which meant that this style was cloudy and hazy instead of having the clarity of a pilsener or strong golden ale.   This was due to the yeast still being suspended in the body of the beer.  Additionally, it indicates that a Bavarian weissbier yeast strain was used in production.  You likely have heard of these beers as hefeweizen – refreshing, light and happy beers, perfect for the desert.

That Smell …
All I could pick up was a yeasty, grainy aroma.  No hops present.  I did not get any clove, which is predominantly the nose of these beers.  So you may smell that, or even some bubblegum.

In Appearance …
It is, indeed, yellow. Not cloudy, I’d say, but nebular.  A bright, appealing nebula of orange juice. 

But the Taste …
Light and bubbly body. Banana has a moderate presence here. Maybe that adds to its Springiness, that slight allusion to a tropical ideal. Nice. So Germany, where this originated, really isn’t tropical. It’s fascinating that a yeast strain from there, which was used in this beer, would develop such flavor motif.  Anyway.  There’s a slight tartness to it, too. Like a Berliner Weisse, almost, but not as pronounced.  Dry finish. No hops perception, and I really didn’t catch any clove. Nor any effervescence.

Conclusions
The wheat beer well known at Black Bridge is Wicked Poison.  It’s a 14% monster.  In contrast, K-Town is a modest 4.7% abv, so it won’t clobber you.  It’s also good with sour cream & onion dip.  Make of that what you will.   Sit on your porch, watch spring happen.

Home Brew Interview: Joe Fellers – Part 3

The second part of this interview with local home brewer Joe Fellers can be discovered here. Therein he talked about local ingredients, legalities and beer trends. Below is the final segment and it gets historical and philosophical.

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So let’s get back to home brewing. Why should people get into home brewing?

It’s one of the oldest art forms. And it’s not just home brewing, I think there’s a lost art of making things we consume. There’s too much consuming and not enough making. Prior to getting into home brewing I liked to cook, but it has somehow enhanced my love of cooking and my love of food and the process because I’ve refined my palate. It’s turned me into a real elitist prick – but you know what I tell people? Just because I don’t like ****** things doesn’t make me an elitist. I will admit that I drank four Coors Light last night

– I can cut that part out.

No. No don’t. You know what I wanted to do? I wanted to drive home but I kinda wanted something that tasted like beer.

– Honestly me and a friend did a blind taste test years ago. We sampled Bud, Miller, Coors and threw Corona in there, just for fun.

Did you do Corona in cans or Corona in bottles?

– Bottles

Yeah, see if you did it in cans you can tell … I was just going to bring that up. I recently had three Corona’s from cans and you know what it tastes like? Come to find out, there’s a reason it tastes like this, but it tastes just like, well, a 90% match, with Hofbrau House Original Helles. And that’s because some people from the Hofbrauhaus, in the mid-1800s, settled in central Mexico and that’s where the Mexican light lager comes from. They brought yeast strains with them. I knew that there were Germans in Mexico but I hadn’t had Corona in cans – other than hammered at the lake – in fifteen years. I poured it into a glass and it was a nice straw color and it wasn’t skunky. I had forgotten what unskunked Corona tastes like. But anyway – you were doing a blind taste test.

– Yeah, and that might’ve made a difference

I’m telling you, man, it’s a huge difference. Heineiken’s the same way. Heineken is a very good lager, a fine example of a European light lager. And I don’t think they’re an adjunct beer. I think it’s all grain.

– Well we did that blind test – and I’ve always put Coors down, but honestly that one tasted better than the others.

It was ice cold?

– They were nice and cold, we had other people pouring for us. I was surprised how well Coors tasted compared to the rest.

It’s interesting to do stuff like that. I wish I could do taste testing like that here. But our distributor will not allow,and Tim won’t allow, Budweiser products here and I completely understand. But I would like to do it to prove a point. People have their brand loyalty when it comes to things but they have brand loyalty up here (points to the brain case) and not what they actually taste.

– Tell us the best resources for home brewers.

Your local brewery. Always. Make friends with your local brewer and the day shift bartender throughout the week. They’ll introduce you to people. The second best resource is going to be online home brew forums. Message boards and forums are kind of an antiquated form of communication on the internet but when it comes to home brewing they are a wealth of information. That’s where I’ve learned almost everything. In a lifetime, if you spent even three hours a day, you’ll never get through all the information there.

But number one would be your local brewery. As long as you like their beers. If you think their beers are not that great, then don’t go to them. But chances are, if they’re still in business they know what they’re doing. And talk to the brewers because they’ll be the first ones to tell you, “don’t do that.” Most brewers, most professional brewers started out as home brewers. In fact, the majority of them that I’ve ever met started off brewing beer because they were underage in college. They bought a home-brew kit on line because they didn’t card them online and so they could brew the beer. It gets you drunk. It’s college. Who cares. Some Uncle Ben’s Minute Rice and some grain you bought for $15 online, might as well do it.

– Are there any brewing techniques or processes that you have discovered that can help home brewers make better beer?

Don’t be afraind to fail. Don’t be worried about “oh, man, I hope this doesn’t taste bad.” You’re going to make bad beers. You’re going to have bad ideas. You’re going to forget to do something. You are going to make the mistake of drinking while you’re brewing, which is a bad idea. It’s a terrible idea. It’s how you end up with really terrible IPAs, that’s how you end up with infections, that’s how you end up making mistakes in your quantities. You get yourself a 15% IPA when you wanted a 6% or you end up with a 2% IPA.

It’s hard for me to give advice when it comes to home-brew technique because I kinda started ahead of the curve – because of Tim. Tim has such an engineering mind that he said, “listen, I went through all this, I don’t want you to have to deal with that. So we’re going to start you off at 7 as opposed to going 1-6.” So a lot of my techniques come from that.

Clean. Be clean. If the cleanest area of your house – you could be a slob, your room could be terrible, your dishes are dirty, food caked on stuff in your fridge – if the only area of your house that is clean is where your brewing equipment is and it’s clean, you rinse it off before using it and scrub it clean after youre done using, you keep all that clean. Make sure you put your concentration in that area. If you’re going to home brew you have to keep things clean otherwise you’re going to have garbage. Garbage in, garbage out. That’s the key. Sanitization.

– Any good gadgets that have helped your brew day be better?

If you brew in a garage have a deep sink. If you have a deep sink in your garage put a hose fitting on the faucet and then run a tube off of it. Just like we [B3] have out back. I have one in my house. It’s so handy for everything. For cleaning. I’m not kidding, I walk out in my garage from my kitchen when I have to fill up more than a gallon, when I have to make stock or something like that, I’ll go out there and use it because I can set my pot on the ground and fill up from that hose. That’s my number one favorite gadget.

Spray bottle. It sounds weird. A spray bottle with sanitizer or just alcohol. I have three of them at my house at all times. I spray down everything. I actually will do a fine mist of sanitizer in my fridge like once a week, in my ferment fridge and my serving fridge. Just to keep any sort of bugs at bay. But I’ll also do a fine mist of sanitizer in my bucket. I also use isopropyl alcohol if I’m going to do any kind of hot ferment. Anything above about 62 degrees, for like my ciders, a few hefeweizens and a few other things. I have one stout I ferment at 68 degrees, which is weird. But if I do a hot ferment everything gets sprayed down with alcohol because I want to control every aspect. And that comes from home brewing. I didn’t do that before.

So spray bottles and a hose bib connector for your sink, both are invaluable.

– What is your personal brewing philosophy, if we haven’t covered it yet?

The Sumerians were brewing beer thousands of years ago. You’re going to make beer, and whether you like that beer or not, that doesn’t matter, you’re going to make beer. So always keep it simple, listen to people that know more than you. That’s it. And I follow that all the time. I’ve got one friend of mine who’s .. four batches I think he’s made, maybe five. He just kegged his first batch about three weeks ago. It’s a Belgian blonde with blood orange. It was really good except he bought a kit and it wasn’t … the blood orange syrup that went into it just didn’t last. It lasted about two weeks and now he has a blonde ale. it doesn’t even have Belgian-y characteristics to it. It tripped the trigger. It got you in. Now he’s hooked. He keeps asking ‘what-if’ questions. I tell him it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter. He asks, ‘well aren’t you worried about this or that?’ And I’m not. I’ve done 216 batches and had three infections and about 10 that I didn’t like. So, 13 beers in 200 batches, okay. That’s enough failure for me to learn lessons. You’re going to fail, you’re going to screw up. But no matter what you’re still going to make beer, even if you don’t like it. Then learn from those mistakes.

– Tell me some positive things about Kingman, as a home brewer.

That any time from about 6 am to about 10 pm at night, sometimes even later, we’re a tight knit community of home brewers; you always have someone you can get hold of. Tim, even though he seems surly, he’s a real big softie, he’s a big baby, he’s a real nice guy. If you’ve got an emergency and you’re like, ‘man, I’m like 35 minutes into my 90 minute boil and I just realized that I don’t have enough hops’ – call him up and he’ll help work it out. Because chances are he’s had that problem before. Jason Fuller, same thing. Me, I work nights. Three nights a week you can catch me at 2 am. If for some reason you have a brewing emergency at 2 am you can hit me up. And I know about 5 or 6 other brewers locally who are the same way. We’re all willing to help each other out. Brewing is a community. We’re all weird, brewing nerds. We all just love this stuff.

– What is the social need for alcohol?

Oh man, that’s a multi-tiered answer. First and foremost, humans have been consuming some kind of alcoholic – excuse me – some kind of mind altering substance as a form of community for thousands of years. It pre-dates the written word … I would say it’s right around the same time the spoken word came about. Anthropoligists say that humans started settling into communities and stopped being nomads because they needed to make substances that altered their minds. And to do that you can’t just roam around – well, it’s easier to grow your wheat and your barley and your sorghum and whatever it is your growing to make your alcoholic substance. So there’s a sense of community that comes with that.

When this country was being formed it was formed in taverns. Even the teetotalers showed up to the taverns because they knew that’s where the sense of community was centered. Not only that but your small communities, even up until just barely pre-Prohibition in the US, most decisions were made, in small towns, at the local tavern or ale house. Or at the brewery. Sometimes all three of those were the same place. So you had city council meetings, you had planning and zoning commissions, you had all those different things, all those things that were decided as a community, in and around alcohol. That’s number one, a sense of community. And that’s a very ancient thing, a very old part of our brain. It goes back thousands and thousands of years.

The need for alcohol, the social need – most people don’t want to talk about it, but everybody has social hangups. Not everyone is forthright and honest without some sort of chemical alteration. Whether it’s benzodiazepines to calm your social anxiety and makes you more outward and outgoing. Alcohol covers those bases and allows me to be more honest about what I’m talking about now. Literally self-referential.

– What’s an overrated craft beer?

Stone IPA

– What’s an underrated craft beer?

Any good pilsener from a microbrewery. And the reason I say pilsener is because a lot of people don’t realize, unless they are a home brewer, that a pilsener is one of the hardest things to brew. Because there is nowhere to hide. You’ve got an IPA, you can screw up your fermentation, your mash pH and all that – just add more hops, add more hops. Boil longer. Leave it in the keg longer. When you have a pilsener and it takes you five weeks to make it and you have five weeks and one day to put it on tap, there’s nowhere to hide. You have to be perfect. There’s no room to screw it up. That’s why when I go to a brewery that has a pilsener on tap, and they call it a pilsener, that’s the first beer that I order. Just to see if it’s good. If that pilsener’s good, I don’t even have to try the rest of the beers. I know they’re going to knock it out of the park because it’s so tough to make a pilsener. Which is why I’ve never tried to make a pilsener. I did a Munich style helles one time and it was okay but it took way too long. It took me almost five weeks, probably four weeks and about 3 or 4 days. No. Give me a hefeweizen, three days primary fermentation, two days to crash cool it, keg it one day. Five days.

– Tell me about the beer scene in Kingman. Is it good, bad, otherwise?

It’s so, so much better. More people are getting turned on to home brewing, more people are getting turned on to craft beer. While I’m conflicted about a second brewery in town, I know that the more breweries the better because that means there’s less bad beer out there. Or less boring beer. Because I don’t like boring.