Sunday, February 16, 2014

My Day at North High Brewing

Last July, I purchased a certificate on the Living Social web site to brew a batch of beer at North High Brewing.  I’ve brewed beer from extracts before, using the Mr. Beer system, so I’ve experienced a part of the process before… but I’ve not yet watched it go from grain to bottle, so I was excited to give this a shot.  My wife joined me.

We arrived at North High Brewing before 4pm.  The bartender greeted us warmly and offered us samples of any of the North High products we wanted to try.  We tried their excellent Queen Maudine Chocolate Milk Stout and Olentangy Brown Ale.  I was offered a list of the available recipes and encouraged to select any one that I wanted to brew that day.

After looking at the impressive selection, I chose one of my favorite styles – a Belgian Tripel.  I copied the recipe from the master book to a clean form, and was escorted into the brewing area.
Inside the brewing area were eight mash tuns.  One was already cleaned and filled with water.  Kierstin (the spelling of her name here may be incorrect) explained the process, answered our questions about how things worked, and got me started.  As it turned out, I had selected a beer recipe that was extract-based, so the brewing process was a slightly more complex one than I had done at home (on a smaller scale) many times before.  It was a good starting point.

Pouring Malt Extract into the Mash Tun
The mash tuns at North High are kept warm by a steam system.  Initially, you turn the steam valve fully on to get the 15 gallons of water up to a rolling boil.  What happens next depends on the beer style you choose.  Throughout the rest of this post, I’ll describe the extract-based tripel brewing process – but realize that North High does NOT just brew extract-based products.  I just happened to select one.

While the water was boiling, Kierstin helped me measure out the appropriate amounts of Pilsner and Munich malt extracts into large plastic measuring containers.  Ten quarts of Pilsner and two of Munich later, I was ready to begin brewing.  I poured the malt extracts into the water and got them boiling.  After a while, the proteins in the extract have begun to break down.  For the next few minutes, you raise and lower the heat to get them reincorporated into the wort.  At that point, it’s time to add the hops pellets.

The first measure of hops provides the bittering.  Because these hops are in there the longest, they’ll isomerize and create the bitter flavor we typically associate with hops.  The essential oils wind up breaking down and not making it into the final beer.

Measuring Hops Pellets
About 30 minutes later, a second dose of hops is added to the beer. These provide a mix of bittering, aromatics, and other flavoring.  Throughout this process, it’s important to keep an eye on your mash tun.  The use of steam to heat the wort, combined with other customers raising and lowering their wort temperatures, causes steam levels to fluctuate.  This can lead to your wort overheating or even resulting in the boil stopping.

15 minutes after that, seven pounds of Belgian Candi sugar is added to the mix.
Then, fifteen minutes after that, another dose of hops goes in and the steam is turned off.  The mixture steeps and cools a bit, then is ready for the next step.

A clean plastic keg is brought into position.  The filtering and heat exchanging systems are activated and the wort is pumped from your mash tun, through the filter, through the heat exchanger, and into the keg.  The heat exchanger cools it from around 200 degrees down to a more yeast-friendly temperature.

Belgian Candi Sugar
The wort at this point tastes something like a sweet tea, with the hops providing the “tea like” flavor.  It’s a bit cloudy, and kind of a medium coppery brown.

Yeast is pitched into the wort and the keg is moved to the fermenting area, where the yeast goes to work eating the sugars in the wort and turning them into carbon dioxide, alcohol, and the typical Belgian flavors.  This process takes about two weeks.  North High labels your keg and holds on to it for you during that time.

On March 1, we’ll go back to bottle the beer.  At that time, the North High staff will move my finished keg of Belgian Tripel to their large walk-in refrigerator.  It will be connected to a bottling system.  Just outside the refrigerator, I’ll place a bottle in the filling machine, close the door, fill the bottle, cap it, label it, and put it in the case to take home.  When it’s all done, I should have about 80 bottles of 22 ounces each.

Pumping, Cooling, and Filtering Station
At this point, you’re probably thinking “OK, this sounds like fun, but how expensive is it?”  The answer to that question is that by my estimates, ignoring my Living Social discount, I’d be paying about $4.35 a bottle.  With the discount, however, my bottles should work out to around $2.75 each.  Even the New Belgium Trippel, one of the least expensive on the market in Ohio, costs more than that.

If you’ve been itching to brew your own beer, but don’t know where to start, what recipe to use, or whether you want to invest in all the equipment, check out North High Brewing.  It’s a great way to learn to brew without having to fly solo.

The staff at North  High Brewing is excellent.  They’re friendly, knowledgeable, informative, enthusiastic, and just great to work with.  I look forward to going back in a couple of weeks, and hopefully beyond.
Customer Beer Fermenting

North High Brewing
1288 N. High Street
Columbus, OH 43201

(614) 407-5278

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