Monday, December 31, 2012

Smallest Brewery In The World

I've spent the last 4 days trying to brew beer with the most debilitating influenza I've experienced in a long, long time. I feel delirious as I write this post from my infirmary bed at home with a pile of ineffective remedies strewn across my bedside table. Getting sick in Mexico is the worst feeling for me because of the unfamiliarity of the environment while suffering the painful agony inflicted by viruses that seem to be super strains of the most lethal kind. I do not exaggerate. The distress of this illness reminds me of the scene in the movie 'The grifters" where Anjelica Huston is threatened with being beaten with a pillowcase full of oranges. But in my scenerio, it's no threat. I feel like I am being beaten with a pillowcase full of oranges relentlessly until I'm begging in the middle of the night for it to end, to be allowed to slip from the world of the living but it doesn't end and just when I think it might, a smoldering cigar is extinguished on my fevered skin.

The Grifters

But I digress, and being the eternal optimist along with having no option to fail here in Mexico with this endeavour to create a brewing school/nano brewery, I carry on and will tell you that I have been successful in brewing some decent beer and making discoveries about what needs to be done in the future to make it even better.

My number one challenge at this juncture is understanding and modifying my brewing water in order to overcome the insanely high alkalinity. Some of the drawbacks of water with a high ph is pour hop flavor and aroma, harsh hop astringency, low clarity, minimal hot break development and an overall muddy and chalky quality to the finished beer. I can attest to these defects in my own beers here. The hops do not sing like I want them to and the malt comes across as dull.

One tap at a time

I took a ph reading a few days ago using a chemical analysis kit that was purchased at a pet store in California. This kit is used for checking water ph in fish tanks and includes small bottles of acids and caustics that can be added to alter the tank water ph. I knew in advance that the water we are using is alkaline and so asked my brewing partner to also purchase and bring down with him from The States, a substantial amount of phosphoric acid to be used to lower the ph. After checking the water I discovered that the reading was between 7.7 and 8. We brewed our first beer (a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale clone posted in BYO magazine this month) with the altered water. I don't have a  meter yet to check the mash ph so we settled on simply creating a neutral ph of 7 in the mash water and the sparge water. This experiment will give us some more information about how to move forward with our brews in the future. This means we need to wait until this beer is fermented and tasted before brewing again. I don't expect that to be very long since we re-pitched a huge sample of salvaged us-05 yeast from a previous batch of American hefeweizen. The other thing we need to wait on is the results from water samples that we will be mailing off to Ward Labs at the end of next week. This water report is crucial in understanding what we're working with and how we can make the proper changes based on the styles of beer we will be brewing in the future. Sadly, the local water company her in San Miguel does not provide any information to the consumer and even made it difficult for me to get the most basic questions answered. The bottom line though is that the water here in San Miguel is alkaline and hard enough to scratch glass.

In the mean time our artist in residence is working hard to develop our brewery logo and it's coming along nicely based on figures from ancient Mexican glyphs. We will have a short run of labels printed, hopefully next week, to use in marketing our bottled beers to a few local restaurants. We'll also get some temporary business cards.

A bottling line
Three's a crowd

As a side note we sold our first case of root beer. It would be funny if root beer sales were to be what keeps this enterprise afloat during its start up. We use bottled water that is ph balanced and tastes good for the root beer and also because the majority of the water is not boiled.Oh, we also got a table and some chairs for the brewery along with some donated chairs. I'm enjoying not having to make table tops out of garbage bins and it's good to be able to sit down every once in a while. The small pleasures that come when you're starting the smallest nano-brewery in the world.


Mark N said...

Looking forward to hearing more on the progress of the nano brewery. Your mexican water sounds much like I have here in my part of the UK. Very, very, alkaline. I also use the aquarium tests to check the hardness. Mine usually comes in around 250ppm CaCO3, so I use a lot of carbonate reducing solution to get the pH down to 5.2 or thereabouts. Good luck!

Beer Diary... said...

Hi Mark,
I'd be very interested in hearing more about how you treat your water to achieve the lower ph. Can you elaborate on your process?

Mark N said...

Hi Mark, I'll drop you an e-mail.

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