Sunday, September 13, 2015

Rivertown Brewery - Cincinnati, Ohio

Rivertown Brewery Tapoom Beer List and Taps
On Saturday, I had the opportunity to visit and tour the Rivertown Brewery in Cincinnati.  The brewery is located in an industrial complex in the Lockland area.  It features a taproom with vintage arcade games, plenty of seating, a small gift shop area (several shelves), a refrigerated section featuring Rivertown's beers and soft drinks, televisions, and a bar where you can sample the company's beers.  Unfortunately, at the time of our visit very few of the beers were still in stock.

Adam, our tour guide and brewmaster, began his brewing career as a homebrewer.  He walked us through the entire brewing process.  He began by showing us samples of grain and hops pellets used in some of Rivertown's beers.   We were invited to chew on some of the grains to get an idea what they contributed to the beer's flavor.  Pale Malt has a slightly sweet taste to it.  Honey Malt is a bit sweeter and tastes a little like honey.

Citra Hops Pellets, Honey Malt, and 2-Row Pale Malt Samples
Adam talked about how a lot of brew day work involves lugging 50-pound sacks of grain around the brewery - an area which often reaches temperatures over 100 degrees during the summer months.  To help reduce some of this heavy lifting, they installed a grain silo capable of holding 6,000 pounds of the pale malt they use.  Since pale malt represents most of the grain used in a typical beer, this has cut down significantly on the lifting they've had to do.

Rivertown's Grain Silo
Pale malt flows from the silo through tubes into the mill, where it's crushed before moving on to the mash tun.

Inside the white room here is the grain mill, which takes in grain
from the silo before passing it on to the mash tun
After being crushed, the grain flows on to the mash tun.

Brewmaster Adam showing the mash tun and explaining the
mashing, hot liquor, and vorlauf parts of brewing
In the mash tun, the grain is mixed with water and the sugars are extracted from it.  Water from the mash tun is circulated from the bottom of the mash tun back through the top.  This allows the grain to act as a kind of filter to clarify the beer a bit.  Once the mash is boiling, hops are added at appropriate times to provide bitterness, flavor, and aroma to the beer (which is called a wort at this point).

The wort is pumped through a heat exchanger which uses cold water and glycol to quickly lower the temperature of the wort from boiling (212 degrees) to a temperature suitable for yeast (typically around 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit).  The wort is then pumped into fermenters.

One of Rivertown's fermenters, in which wort is turned into beer by yeast
In the fermenter, the wort is mixed with yeast.  The yeast consumes sugar in the wort and releases carbon dioxide and alcohol.  Some varieties of yeast also produce flavor compounds which give the beer's flavor more complexity.  The size of Rivertown's fermenters require about $600 worth of yeast for a batch.

When the fermentation is finished, the fermenter is chilled to cause the yeast to drop out of the beer into the bottom of the fermenter.  The yeast is then recovered by the brewmasters and re-used up to twelve times as a cost-saving measure.  A clarifying agent known as biofine is added to further clarify the beer.  The beer is then pumped into brite tanks.

Brite tanks, where beer is further clarified and carbonated before
being kegged or bottled
After the beer is moved to the brite tanks, it is further clarified and carbon dioxide gas added to it.  From here, the majority of the beer is packaged into kegs.  A smaller percentage is bottled.  The brewery has an automated bottling line in it.

The bottling line, in which Rivertown's beer is bottled, capped, and labeled.
Beer comes in from the left side of the photo, circles around, and the
bottles are capped in the machines on the right.

The labeling end of the line for Rivertown bottled beers
Rivertown is one of a few breweries that is developing a reputation for sour beers  They're also developing a variety of barrel aged beers.

Adam showing the barrel and sour beer brewing equipment
Adam showed us the equipment Rivertown is using to brew sour ales.  He mentioned that it's important then they bottle their sour beers to remove and replace all the rubber components in their bottling line.  Sour beers include bacteria that can infect rubber and taint beers bottled in the same equipment.  Cleaning the stainless steel components and replacing the rubber ones allows Rivertown to do both regular and sour beers.

Another element of Rivertown's sour brewing apparatus
Adam also showed us their chill room, where beers can be kept at refrigerator-like temperatures.

The Chill Room
The tour finishes back at the taproom, where you have the opportunity try Rivertown's beers.

Fans of Rivertown's products will enjoy this "backstage" look at how they're made.  As a home brewer, I enjoyed seeing how Rivertown's products are made.

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