We’re Brewing Frickin’ Beer

On May 26, 2013 - 0 Comments - Beer, Start-Up

Well, it’s been over 17 months since I left my job at Stone to begin work on Modern Times, and we (this has officially gone from an “I” to a “we” project) are finally making beer. Fuck yeah.

17 months sounds (and feels) like an enormous amount of time, but the construction phase of this project has actually been relatively short: just ~6 months from the time I took possession of the building until now. By almost any measure, that’s pretty speedy for turning a giant vacant warehouse into a functioning 30bbl brewery.

And functioning it is! We’ve brewed three batches already, which is pretty goddamn remarkable. Our first brew day was shockingly smooth: Lomaland, our saison, has a fairly light grain bill and no exotic ingredients, which kept hiccups to a minimum. The equipment all more or less worked as planned, which was an immense relief.

The yeast is another matter. Our blend of 95% Dupont/5% Westmalle has been exceedingly sluggish thus far, perhaps owing to our excessively low knock-out temp (we were still learning how to run the pumps/heat exchanger) and the fact that it’s a first pitch, which are often considerably slower than re-pitches. We’re hopeful that future batches will move much faster, but it’s possible that something more fundamental—like tank geometry—is at play.

Despite the slowness of the yeast, the beer is shaping up to be pretty magical. Right now it’s throwing off loads of hay, grass, and earthy complexity in the aroma, with a hint of floral esteriness. The dream of churning out an uncompromisingly complex yet reasonably sessionable saison remains alive for now.

Blazing World, our second batch, was far more difficult to brew, owing to its additional ~600lbs of malt, which led to a sluggish run-off, and the use of our hopback, which was a touch dicey to operate and also interminably slow. The jury is very much still out on whether or not it offers any qualitative advantages to a whirlpool addition, but right now we’re all a bit skeptical, mostly because it was such a pain in the ass.

We ironed out a few issues before our third brew day, but Black House was still a challenge. The ~300lbs of oats (17% of the mash bill) once again led to a sluggish run-off, but also a fairly unpleasant grain-out for Alex and Derek. Spent grain came rushing through the door at unpredictable intervals, which led to a great deal of shoveling spent grain off the floor, which is not anyone’s favorite task.

Since getting into the tank though, Black House has been racing along, thanks to a 5th generation Cal Ale pitch generously donated by the wonderful folks at Ballast Point. Our little corner of Point Loma is skipping distance from Home Brew Mart, as well as Coronado’s Knoxville brewery, and the camaraderie & support we’ve been enjoying from both has been marvelous.

Despite the above mentioned minor annoyances, brewing so far has been unexpectedly straight-forward. We've hit our mash temps and gravities, and the hardware only requires some exceedingly minor tweaks. On the whole, we're all quite pleased with how it has gone. 

On the docket for this coming week is Mike’s 100% Brett IPA, which I’m absurdly excited about, and Fortunate Islands, our hoppy wheat beer, the brewing of which will be made possible by the sale of 88lbs of Amarillo to us by my former co-workers at Stone. Needless to say, we’re incredibly thankful for the solidarity from other San Diego brewers, and we look forward to returning the favor/paying it forward in the happy years to come.

What’s that? You want me to hazard another guess at when we’ll be open? That’s largely dependent on whether or not we pass our final inspections early next week. If we do, it should be no more than a few weeks.

Catching you up on everything

On May 7, 2013 - 4 Comments - Beer, Start-Up

Whoa has a lot happened since my last update. As shameful as it is to have fallen behind on updating you, it’s made less shameful by the fact that we’ve made a ton of progress on getting this motherfucker open.

Since there’s so much to cover, I’m just going to run through it:

a) A week ago tonight was one of the coolest, most amazing nights of my life. While I didn’t lose my virginity, I did witness and participate in an insanely fun, rowdy, and electric gathering on the back patio of The Toronado, as 50-some folks gathered to celebrate the close of our Kickstarter campaign. I’ll never forget the moment we broke $65,000 and the entire place went absolutely bananas. I’ll do a full write-up on the entire Kickstarter experience once we’ve fulfilled the rewards and held the local backers party.

b) So much progress on the construction side. Our entire glycol system is working—which is like the frosty circulatory system of the brewery—which means working cold boxes and tanks that chill down. Tomorrow we’re expecting to fire up the boiler and start running our water filters, which gets us most of the way there on the utilities side.

c) We got a ton of hops in. It’s actually not the most desirable situation, but since I started this whole crazy project too late to snag any 2012 hop contracts, I’ve had to do all of my buying on spot (until our 2013 contracts become available in December-ish). Sourcing these hops took a shitload of work, but here are the results:

d) Today, this rad roll-up glass garage-style door went it. It’ll bring precious air and light into the Lomaland Fermentorium tasting room; we’re going to build a counter in front of it so you can sit there and suck in the sea breeze. 

e) We’ve brewed and tasted many pilot batches. I deeply regret not having the time to write-up all the recipes and results right now, but suffice it to say, we’ve made significant progress. Here’s the core of what we’ve decided:

i. Our first Lomaland batch will be fermented with a 95%/5% blend of Dupont and Westmalle yeast. Dupont is a pain to work with, but it produced the best version of this beer by far. The Westmalle kicker is in there to help the beer finish out in a reasonable amount of time without interfering with the Dupont character. So yeah, we’ll be brewing (and canning, in tallboys) a 5.5% saison with Dupont yeast. That’s pretty spectacularly exciting if you’re a saison fan.
ii. A small addition of Coffee Kiln malt similarly took Black House to 11. It now “pops” whereas before it was just “tasty.” Now it’s “delicious.” Our most recent pilot batch was too thin but otherwise spot on, so we’ll be upping the mash temp but changing nothing else.
iii. Testing on the red rye Mike has been working on was less conclusive, or rather, resulted in less progress, but we’re going for it anyway. It’s going to be a piney, sappy beast heavy on Simcoe & Chinook (we’re considering supplementing with Summit and/or Columbus).
iv. As of right now, we’re planning for our initial round of tank fills to look like this: Lomaland, Blazing World, Black House, unnamed red rye, unnamed 100% Brett Drie IPA. Fortunate Islands will probably wait until summer because we don’t have enough Citra & Amarillo right now.

f) When will we be open? I’m not sure. Perhaps early June if we’re lucky? Perhaps later if we’re not?