Sunday, April 24, 2011

Boulder Creek Brewing Company

Fellow Zymurgeek and assistant brewer at Boulder Creek Brewing Company Joe Yuhas was kind enough to invite me up to the brewery to sample some beer and talk to the head brewer Matt Heber about what it's like to brew beer deep in the redwoods of the San Lorenzo Valley.
From Santa Cruz, I drove up the twisty highway 9 to Boulder Creek where today you can't tell that this was once the busiest logging town in California. Two billion board feet of redwood was hauled out of these hills by rail car beginning back in the late 1800's. By the 1940's the logging slowed and cabins were built, transforming Boulder Creek into a summer resort and hide out for those living in the bay area.

Today, there are still a large number of vacation homes, but for the most part the houses and cabins that dot the wooded hillsides are permanent residences. Highway 9 becomes the main street as it straightens out down the center of town, and Boulder Creek Brewing is in one of the old commercial buildings that straddle each side of the two blocks that would be considered downtown. It sort of looks like the 'ol West' except with pavement.
Among the population are people who look like prospectors but are most likely the remaining hippies that survived the 60's, giving the town a feeling of rustic practicality and a no-nonsense approach to life. Kind of the way I imagined people were like who logged the redwoods back at the turn of the last century.

Boulder Creek Brewing Co. began in 1989 after they bought used equipment from the now defunct Santa Cruz Brewing and Front St. Pub. I found an old site on the web from before Front St. Pub went out of business. Funny, a pint for $1.75. Those were the days. BCBC has gone through a few brewers over the years and I've visited a couple of times to be disappointed in the beers on tap. The main criticism that I've had in the past was the hit and miss quality of the beers, including an imbalance of the hop to malt ratio and a recurring flavor of infection.

I sat down with Matt over a selection of samplers to talk about what brought him to Boulder Creek and about the improvements he's made on their standard line up since he's been here. Matt has been brewing at BCBC since June 2010 and took over as head brewer in September. Previously, while living in Breckenridge, Colorado he began homebrewing to save money on beer while he worked as a river guide before getting a chance to brew commercially with Tony Simmons, head brewer for Pagosa Springs Brewing. They utilize a six barrel system making award winning beers.
Working directly with Tony Simmons at Pagosa Springs gave Matt the experience he needed to take over the seven barrel system at BCBC. I asked Matt what brought him to Boulder Creek and he said that he was doing a beer tasting tour of California starting in Eureka and working his way South. When he got to Boulder Creek he loved the environment and asked the brewer at the time if they needed any help. He found out that the head brewer position was coming up and was hired immediately as assistant in preparation for taking over the brewery. Perfect timing.


Matt Heber
 His first order of business; take the archaic equipment that he inherited that could be described  as an over sized homebrew set up and eliminate any potential for infection on the beer. Secondly, modify the recipes for a more complex and well balanced beer. Having brewed at Pagosa Springs Brewing I'm sure he had some good recipe ideas.
I look in wonder at the system that he has to work with. The mash tun appears precarious in its elevated position above the boil kettle. Containers of milled grain must be manually passed up scaffolding and stirred by hand into the hot liquor. There is an old rusty electric hoist mounted near by but he confided that they just use to lift the lid off the mash tun. A grain auger is in order here but they haven't got the funds, so they make do. The mash efficiency is at 73% due apparently to a faulty grain mill that can't be adjusted. Located in the cramped quarters behind the bar and beside a wobbly antique liquor cabinet, the system looks like that pile of extra screws you have after re-assembling your broken toaster oven. Yet, Matt has managed to overcome the equipment handicap to produce some excellent beers. 

He brought out a selection of beers to sample and all were delicious. A honey wheat that is dry crisp and brewed with honey from a local farmer, very refreshing. The Rye Pale Ale the is a new recipe he brought in that utilizes 8% rye malt and 50 IBU's. Their flagship beer, the Redwood Ale is an easy drinking favorite of mine and the Dragon's Breath IPA (no one knows who or why this beer is named dragon's breath) that comes in with 70 IBU's and is 7% abv and boasts a large caramel quality to balance the bitterness. A stout with great flavors of cocoa and roasted coffee and malt. When he has the time, a specialty beer like the coconut porter is brewed getting high praise, but for now Matt focuses on keeping up production of the popular fast moving beers, and having enough inventory in stock for supplying the SurfRider Cafe  located in downtown Santa Cruz which also serves several of their beers on tap.

I've had some bad experiences in the past at BCBC and it was refreshing to sample a nice group of distinctive full flavored beers that didn't exhibit any off flavors from contamination. Knowing that Matt Heber is brewing in Boulder Creek, it's going to be easy for me to stop in for a pint whenever I get the chance to take the path less traveled and find myself deep in the redwoods of Santa Cruz County.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Washing Yeast

I keep things pretty simple when in comes to using yeast, pitch a large, healthy amount. I feel confident in the beer quality if I can get a quick and vigorous ferment to occur within twelve hours. If I'm using the dry packets like Safale, which are inexpensive enough to be generous, I pitch three packets directly into ten gallons of aerated wort. I don't bother re-hydrating the yeast. If  I use Whitelabs liquid yeast I step the colony up a couple of times to about 200 billion cells for ten gallons.

I have a plan in mind for subsequent beers to ferment that will get racked directly onto the yeast cake of the previous beer. Generally, I rack to the yeast cake two or three times. Subsequent batches ferment out withing three to four days because of the size and health of the yeast cake in the fermentor.

If I decide to salvage the yeast after fermentation, I will use a sanitized utensil (Pyrex measuring cup) to scoop the yeast from the bottom of the fermenter into a sanitized jar for storage. Or, as seen here in a previous post, I will pull out a liner bag and drain they into a sanitized container. Keep in mind that I ferment in open fermentors and that accessing the yeast is very easy. I'm comfortable storing the yeast in the fridge this way for as long as six weeks. Then, when ready to re-use, I take the yeast out at the beginning of the next brew session to acclimate to the warmer temperatures. After the new batch of wort is chilled and aerated, I will simply pitch the entire content of the jar into the wort. I don't concern myself with the hop debris, protein coagulates and general sludge that is mixed in with the yeast, and I will repeat these steps in salvaging and re-using yeast as often as is convenient.

Having said all that, there is a way of cleaning up the yeast or washing/rinsing out the spurge material. It is a series of steps that involve diluting the yeast sludge with sterile water and pouring off the foreign debris that rises to the top and that settles to the bottom of the mixture. The middle area contains the healthy, viable yeast cells.


Normally when I save yeast it looks
 like this (unwashed), and I would
typically just pitch it as is

Pouring off the liquid
that is at the top of a
container of salvaged yeast



 




















Agitate and watch as it starts to seperate


Adding sterile water to the
salvaged yeast slurry




















In any case, here are the steps to washing your yeast:
Pour off the excess liquid from the top of the container of salvaged yeast
Fill the container with sterile water (in my case I boil and cooled filtered water)
Agitate the jar until completely mixed, don't leave any lumps intact.
Let mixture rest until there is a clear separation of the three layers (you should be able to see a lighter layer in the middle that is formed by healthy yeast.

Once the separation is clear (20 to 30 minutes) gently pour off (discard) the top layer, then pour the middle layer (yeast) into another sanitized container and discard the bottom layer



A clear seperation of the three areas, the
light middle area is the healthy yeast and you
 can see it congregating at the bottom (light area)
 








Again, pouring off the excess liquid

This is a look after a second seperation is complete



With the yeast now in a new container repeat the process to clean even further.
Repeat as many times as you wish but keep in mind that the probability of introducing contaminates like bacteria and wild yeast will increase with each step.



This is the final results.
Pretty clear liquid covering
a healthy yeast cake





After a third repeat filling with
sterile water and agitating






















I hope this was helpful and although I don't personally use this technique I can see the value in it. You could probably store the yeast longer under these conditions and it would be easy to step up a culture from washed yeast to create a very large and healthy colony. Any feed back on this subject is definitely welcome. Cheers!


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Homebrewing Class Structure

I've received requests for the syllabus of my five week brewing course that I teach here in California. I want to make the course available to those that would like to duplicate the system that I use by publishing the hand-outs that I provide the students when conducting the classes. These hand-outs contain all of the information that is covered during the classes, but it is up to the teacher to bring the experience, knowledge and confidence in brewing to the equation to make the class successful.

The plan I've developed is a comprehensive course from the beginning brewer level and then builds on that information to the advanced methods of homebrewing. I have spent some time developing the curriculum and over the years, have honed it down to a very usable process and I feel it is complete at this point in time. I want to make it available to anyone interested in teaching a brewing class in this format or using the information to develop their own criteria. Keeping in mind that I use my own personal brewing procedures when teaching this class, the instructors that utilize this information may need to modify it to suit their particular brewing style.

Students taking a break
The idea is to engage the students with hands-on utilization of equipment and ingredients used for homebrewing. The outline that follows, lays out the basic agenda I use to give the students the tools they need to begin brewing at home with confidence and also provides an opportunity for them to test the waters so to speak without having to make the initial investment in equipment and ingredients. During the course of these lesson the students participate in brewing four batches of beer (25 gallons) of which three are ready to sample by the final day of class.

As you can see from the student outline, we begin the process with extract only, followed by partial mash and finally the all-grain methods and kegging. This outline gives a clue as to the methods I use to teach the class.

Student Course Overview.

Class 1.
Introduction to extract brewing
  1. Sanitation
  2. equipment
  3. ingredients
  4. brewing demonstration
Class 2.
Partial mash Brewing and packaging
  1. grain conversion
  2. yeast types
  3. hop varieties
Class 3.
Partial mash brewing cont. and packaging
  1. grain conversion
  2. yeast propagation
  3. hop utilization
  4. packaging
Class 4. 
All-grain brewing
  1. equipment set-up
  2. mashing
  3. history
  4. recipe formulation
  5. basic water chemistry
Class 5.
Results and tasting session
  1. beer evaluation and review
  2. kegerator explanations
  3. beer and food pairing
If you are interested in obtaining the complete course material, you can place an order through the PayPal form located on the side bar of this page, or send me an email with questions regarding this post. Cheers!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Cooking With Beer

Using homebrew to cook with is a great way to make some delicious dishes and additionally you can proudly say that the 'secret ingredient' is beer I brewed myself. It highlights the creative process and gives me just one more way of saying to my wife "Hey, look at me, I'm like a modern day renaissance man! Right?"
Or, just a way to be inventive in the kitchen and have fun using beer to make good tasting food.

I'm not locked into just homebrew. I'll use commercial beer too but I tend to weight the cost of good commercial beer over the results expected in a dish. Often times I'd just prefer to drink the $5 a bomber beer.

The other night, with the help of the wife (actually, she did all the work while I lurched over her trying to help but really just getting in the way), I worked up a recipe for BBQ sauce that is just plain good. Spicy with a plenty of heat offset with the sweetness of brown sugar and a bottle of under attenuated belgian tripel I had that was taking up space in my kegerator. If you recall from a previous post, (here) I attempted to ferment a small amount of excess wort in a mini fermentation setting. The beer ended up tasting quite good but was on the sweet side because it only fermented about 50% of the sugar. Turns out this was the perfect beer for this recipe as it added sweet fruity spice flavors to the recipe.

The following are ingredients and techniques for preparing this sauce and of course, like homebrewing, substitutions are welcome.

Add caption

Belgian Q Sauce

4 tbls Cooking oil
1 small diced onion
1 cup of Belgian Tripel
1 can tomato sauce 14oz.
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tsp garlic salt
1/4 cup raisins
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. cardamon
1/4 tsp. ginger
5 teaspoons chili powder
4 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons pepper
1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
In a sauce pan, brown the onions in oil, add remainder of ingredients and bring to a boil then remove from heat. Blend until smooth and baste meat in sauce prior to cooking and use some for on the side.




This sauce has some medium heat with a sweet/tart quality that goes well with chicken.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Cannery Row Brewing Company

My mother used to always say "if you don't have anything good to say, then don't say anything at all", so with that in mind, I kept this post about Cannery Row Brewing Company pretty short.

This is a new establishment located in the tourist arena of Monterey. Occupying the building that used to be the Spaghetti Factory restaurant. They boast a huge selection of beers on tap (73?) and pub fare food.


I connected with my daughter who lives in nearby Pacific Grove and we walk together along the ocean from her house to the restaurant. We're finally getting a break in the rain here in California and the opportunity to enjoy the gorgeous length of coast between Pacific Grove and the old cannery row section of Monterey was impossible to resist. We breathed in the warm sun and the smell of the deep blue ocean that crashed along the rocky shore and when we reached CRBC we chose to sit outside in the patio area where I ordered a sampler platter of the house beers.

One very important fact should be mentioned here. The Cannery Row Brewing Company is NOT a brewery or brewpub. They boast a selection of four beers that they call their own but those are contract brewed by St. Stans Brewing Company out of Modesto, California. I don't like the idea of a restaurant calling itself a brewpub or brewery when they don't actually brew any beer. Seems disingenuous, kind of tricky. But wait, I'm starting to slip into that "if you don't have anything good to say..." area so I'll stop here on that subject.


My beer sampler arrive at our table quickly. Of the four house beers that came with the selection of six, one was out of stock (the porter) and so the bartender substituted with a Mendocino brewing strong ale. It was also up to the bartenders discretion to pick at random the other two samples on the platter. They ended up being Sierra Nevada's barley wine and 'Celebration' ale, I didn't get to choose.


Speakeasy to the rescue
To go with my lunch I ordered a pint of "Lupulo", a beer I'm unfamiliar with but the name peaked my curiosity. They were out of that one but I had a backup beer order placed in advance. The word on the street was to have a backup plan because of the high numbers of  "tapped out" beers.  My second choice was Speakeasy's IIPA which they did have and of course this beer did not disappoint.

In conclusion, the following are all the positives I encountered at CRBC.

  • Our waiter was attentive, stopping at our table often to check on us.
  • One of the house beers, "Lucky Sailor -honey wheat", was a good example of an American style wheat beer.

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