Saturday, December 27, 2014

Pumpkin Ale

This beer turned out pretty good. I'm not a big pumpkin beer fan but took a stab at it for the gente. It has a clean crisp caramel maltiness with subtle pumpkin pie spices added at the end of the boil. Easy to drink at 5.5% abv. and the best part is that no actual pumpkins were harmed in the brewing of this beer.

Seasonal beer from Cerveceria Dos Aves

Monday, November 10, 2014

Yes, alive but barely. This beer is helping! Cheers all.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Typical Brew Day

My day begins with the mile or so walk to the brewery. I follow a series of roads that run alongside a shallow river that skirts the center of town. Now, during the rainy season this river is brown and moves quickly towards the reservoir that spreads out past the old train depot. Discarded litter, plastic bags, dirty diapers and rotten vegetable matter all get transported by the rush of the tainted water along with voluminous amounts of dog shit that joins the parade as run-off from the cobbled lanes. But during the dry season it's tepid flow slows and turns to the neon yellow/green color of radiator fluid and emits a smell that can only be described as a combination of swamp gas, raw sewage and burning hair all of which it may actually consist of in part.



San miguel is built in a canyon and I navigate to avoid the steeper hills but the last few hundred yards to the brewery can't be avoided and I labor to finish my walk. Once I arrive (if it's a brew day) I immediately start heating the mash water. I want to start quickly because this is going to be a a long day. My personal best? Ten hours. The day before, I weight out and milled all the grain, prepared the water chemistry and weight out the hops needed to brew four batches of beer back-to-back.



Within moments of prying open the squeaky door to the brewery the next door neighbor boy "el nino", I don't know his real name, shows up looking for work. His hair is mussed and eyes look sleepy, evidently just having sprung from his bed. He has started wearing black rubber boots like mine and he has an expected look in his eyes of pesos and root beer. Usually I send him away with "no trabajo hoy". but when he arrives in the afternoon there's usually something I can task him with if nothing more than having him squeegee the brewing water off the tiled floor into the street. I pay him about ten pesos an hour which judging by his excitement is good money for a 9 year old Mexican boy. He knows which tap on the refrigerator is root beer and asks if he can fill himself a plastic cup worth and then says in English "thank you" after I say it's o.k.

On this day I'm about halfway through my work and I've got twenty gallons of wort in the plastic fermentor when I hear a commotion outside. I look to see yet again, a dead man laying on the sidewalk. A small group of people are gathered around, one person is fanning his face while another cradles his head in her lap. It appears the general belief is that he can be revived but I've seen this mans expression before. His languid, slack jawed resignation and slightly grey appearance tells me he's not here anymore. Soon, someone who seems to be a doctor shows up and has the assembled shuttle the heavy body into the shade on the other side of the street as if that may be the remedy. Finally an ambulance arrives to take him away and it's all over. I go back to my task of brewing, I look up at the thermometer reading on the wall clock, 98f. Two more batches to brew today.

Finally, it gets to be that time during the brew day when I can crack open a 'short fill' and spend a moment appreciating the fruits of my labor. Today it's an Imperial IPA. The clarity and straw colored effervescence draws me into my first bitter/sweet taste and I immediately recognize why the customers demand this beer. One even went so far as to compare it to Ballast Point's Sculpin IPA. Am I flattered? Yes, I admit it. I look out the front of the brewery onto the street, the Mexicans walk up and down the stone pavers peering in as they pass with surprise and wonder at the gringo with his kettles and burners, emitting steam, heat and aromatics that come when brewing beer. What are they thinking? I don't know but I speculate that they're saying to themselves "I could do that. I could make money doing that." They have no idea of the price you pay for really only what amounts to the reward of great beer. It's not about the money (or lack of money) at this level, it's about making ends meet to brew more of the same.


In the end, the fermentor is full and rolled back into the cold room, the cleaning done and the chiller is soaking in caustics. I gather myself up for the walk back home. I'm exhausted and mildly drunk from an accumulation of beer samples but feel satisfied with the efforts I put in.  A good days work.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Brewing A Session Beer

 
Is it wrong that I'm getting all of my calories from beer?
I'm learning very quickly that when you're brewing beer in large quantities on a daily basis, you drink way too much!

Session Beer


Let me re-phrase that... you're tempted to drink too much but because all of the beers that are on tap are 6% abv. or more you have to monitor yourself to the point of it being uncomfortable. That's no fun. The solution, a delicious session beer to quench the thirst while the low alcohol allows for focused attention on the brewing task at hand.

Case in point, the new Cerveceria Dos Aves Session Ale. Classically speaking it fits into the English ordinary bitter category. This beer is only 4% abv. but with a nice maltiness balanced well with a moderate bitterness that satisfies the craving for an easy drinking malt beverage and doesn't weigh you down.

I designed this recipe to brew my last Beer School class and found the results so profoundly delicious and drinkable that I brewed a full 16 cases worth to present at the next Dos Aves function here in San Miguel. This beer drinks easy, satisfies my beer tooth and keeps me on my feet even after numerous pints. I'm loving it!

The secret when brewing this low alcohol beer is leaving enough residual sugar after fermentation to leave the body in tact. Plus a good balance of malt sweetness and bitterness. To achieve this it's necessary to mash at a higher temperature thus preventing the enzymes from converting some of the complex sugars to simple sugar. In this case I mashed at 156f. for an hour. This makes it harder for the yeast to metabolize those sugar leaving the final gravity of the beer higher, in other words a lower attenuation (67%). Additionally, I fermented with S-04 English dry yeast which is a moderate attenuating yeast from my experience. I also wanted to make sure I had enough bitterness in the finished beer to offset this higher finish gravity and I did this with a good dose of Chinook hops at the beginning of the boil. Finally, I added just a touch of roasted barley to give a little more color.

To achieve the Burton on Trent water profile I follow Martin's Bru'n Water spread sheet and used only 55% reverse osmosis water and the rest was regular (super hard) San Miguel municipal water along with the addition of calcium sulfate and calcium chloride to achieve my water and mash ph. goal.

The cool room
I don't know if I'll be able to add this beer to the regular line up here but will certainly have some on tap on brew days for personal consumption. If you're in the neighborhood stop by the brewery and ask for a sample, say you read about it here.

In the mean time it's really hot here in San Miguel. When I'm brewing four back-to-back beers in a day, the temperature is getting up in the 90's f. and I've attached a fan to the ceiling to keep the hot air from the brew sculpture flowing out the front door. I've enclosed the back room where I ferment and installed an air-conditioner to keep it cool. Sadly, it has to vent warm exhaust into the room where I'm working but it's worth for me to suffer if my beer is staying at proper (cool) fermentation temperatures. Oh how I sacrifice for yeast.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Bottling Beer In Mexico

I can bottle 5 or 6 kegs (12 cases of beer or 288 bottles) in one session before my mind breaks from the tedius boredom. These are fully carbonated beers and so I can't fill too quickly without creating a foamy mess resulting in a flat beer. So it takes about an hour per keg to complete the job. Anyway, since misery loves company I'd thought I'd share a short video of me filling a corney keg worth of bottles.

The beer is carbonated to 2.5 volumes is chilled down to 35f., run through 12 feet of 3/16" tubing to a cobra tap with bottling wand attached with a cork on it. You can see a close up of that system here.


See all of my YouTube brewing videos here. You may not learn a lot but it's a good way to kill some time while the boss isn't around. Cheers!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Beer On Demand

Brewing beer for the public is way different than brewing for myself. Even though as a homebrewer I brewed a lot of beer for personal consumption (over the legal 200 gallons per year, don't tell anyone) it's no where near what I'm brewing now.

Our new label design and brand logo


A typical volume per month at this time of the year is 120 gallons, with the trend and current production capacity at 160 gallons. But we still don't have a lot of history to use as a compass, and I'm still in the process of determining how much beer is needed in inventory based on the demand from month to month. Our current standard line-up is: Pale ale, Belgian tripel, Dry stout and Imperial IPA. I've tested a couple other styles over the last year and they didn't receive the high praise that our current four beers get. My plan is to brew our same seasonal beers again this Summer to be released in the late Fall which are the Barley wine and Russian imperial stout. I may brew another Belgian strong ale too.

San Miguel is a tourist destination, not only for American and Canadian visitors but also many Mexicans that want to leave the big cities of Mexico City, Queretero and Monterey for the quaint, picturesque and historic San Miguel. They all come in droves starting in the late autumn and their numbers rise and fall until late spring. Eventually, the flood of visitors tapers down to nothing during the very hot months of May and June leaving the restaurants and bars to chase after the local population desperately hoping to survive the drought.
Because of this flux in population, I have to consider how the seasons will play out, when the demand slowly climbs for craft beer, then transitions into a feeding frenzy to be followed quickly by a deserted town.


Before Mash Paddle
After Mash Paddle
This year has challenged my ability to predict how much beer to have in stock to meet the demand without overstocking a perishable food product that could quickly pass it's 'best by' date in this hot climate. The last thing I want is surplus inventory. I want beer that is as fresh as possible for the best taste. I want to turn inventory quickly, limiting the opportunity for spoiling bacteria that may have been introduced to the bottled beer to get a foot hold and showing up in the worst ways. I also have to consider the ratio of sales (money) to purchases (replacing materials for producing more beer) which is tight and requires a perfect balance to keep the brewery operating financially.

If I estimate the need for product too low I'll run out of inventory. Consequently, I won't have the sales to generate the cash for purchases. Along with this, our customer base gets pissed off because they have to tell their regular clients (now demanding Dos Aves) that they are out of stock. It can get ugly. Case in point, I didn't brew enough in December because I saw that we had plenty of inventory. In January sales were high and by the time I got production up and running we ran out of a couple of styles of beer in February. Currently, I'm killing myself, brewing back-to-back batches, twice a week and wondering if I'm going to have too much beer in April. Stop the madness.

Will I have this figured out anytime soon? I hope so, and at the same time the business is growing rapidly and this needs to be taken into account also.

In the mean time, I predict that we will max out our system and facility by the end of Summer and our search for a larger space to brew in has begun. Ideally, this new place will be about 4 times our current size allowing for a cold room and office. At the same time, we are getting quotes to fabricate a 3 barrel system. We will continue to brew without the benefit of a glycol system but that need is clearly on the horizon.

Our brewery is small and we're still working out the logistics but it's pumping out some really tasty beers. If you're in SMA in the future, contact me for the short tour and a sample of our efforts.

P.S. I'll be teaching a brewing classes on March 16th. at the brewery if you want to join us.
Cheers!







Saturday, January 25, 2014

New Brewery Equipment

There are a couple new pieces of equipment in the brewery worth mentioning here. As you know, I run our brewing water through a reverse osmosis filter because of the high level of hardness and collect the r.o. water in one water tank and run the brine water into another.


Water 'tree'
1/2 hp. pump





















I was using a small magnetic pump for moving this water around and this small pump was just too slow and weak. So, I purchased a 1/2 hp. drive pump and a system of plumbing and valves to direct it where I want. The first valve located at the bottom of the 'tree' leads to a hose for discharging excess brine water down the drain which is located in the very back of the brewery. The second valve I use for directing filtered water to the mash tun and hot liquor tank primarily. I also run some into carboys for drinking water. The valve at the top I have for use with my pressure sprayer that is used to clean out my fermentors and other cleaning chores using the brine water. With this new pump I'm guessing I've got about 40lbs. of water pressure. This is really nice compared to the incoming water which is gravity fed from the rooftop tank and has a pressure of somewhere around 15lbs.


Transfering Dunkelweizen
A plastic conical fermentor




















The second set of new equipment are the 60 gallon plastic conical fermentors and sanitary stainless steel fittings. With the needed head space for krausen, I'll be able to comfortably ferment 44 gallons of wort in these guys. Now, I can also easily salvage yeast from the bottom port and rack the beer to my corney kegs without the need to siphon. Sweet. This should reduce my fear of contamination. I've installed the racking port at the one gallon level so I will have more loss than usual but if I can get at least 42 gallons of wort in initially I should be able to fill 8 corney's with beer after each ferment. That's my goal. I've brewed a small batch (20 gals.) of Dunkelweizen to take one of the conicals on a test run. I should be ready to salvage yeast in the next couple of days and then rack the beer in a few more days after that. I'm looking to see how well the ferment went attenuatively speaking, that I didn't have any spoiling mishaps and then how well it cleans using my new sprayer. I'm going to use the old smaller pump to circulate caustic cleaner (oxyclean) followed by another pressure spray rinse and then circulate acid sanitizer with the small pump again. It all seems pretty straight forward but you never know if this will be an effective procedure and that I can trust it to give me a clean, germ free environment for the next batch of wort. I'm hoping that I don't need to take a scrub brush to the thing. The brewery is growing slowly but I'll soon need to move to a bigger space. In the mean time, with this new equipment I should be able to max-out on production with 160 gallons of bottled beer per month. Wish me luck. Cheers!








Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Cerveceria Alquimia Beer Review

One of the greatest challenges I'm finding as I grow my small brewery is consistency in the product. Producing beer of high quality that tastes, smells, looks and feels the same from batch to batch keeps me vigilant in my efforts.

The grain bill is easy because I have access to all I need, but the hop schedule sometimes has to change occasionally because of the difficulty in getting hops here. So, I find myself adapting recipes based on what I have on hand at the time. The same can be true of yeast. But the hardest part of staying consistent for me is that I can no longer experiment with my beers like I've done in the past as a homebrewer. I like changing up the yeast for instance to see what the results are simply to try something new that could possibly 'wow' me.



Case in point. In the recent past I'd been brewing my Belgian Tripel for sale here which is quite popular. I always use my favorite tripel yeast Whitelabs WLP500. I've been making this beer for years and it's one of my favorite styles. Well, I just happen to have a pouch of Wyeast's Trappist high gravity 3787 and with the spirit of experimentation and to satisfy my need as a brewer to change things up, I pitched it in one batch. After aging and going to market it quickly came to my attention that the usual customers that were selling the tripel at their restaurants and stores were unhappy with the new beer. "Where's the original tripel you were making?" they'd ask. "We liked it, and our customers are confused by the taste of this new one. It's not the same."
As a person that has tasted a lot of beers and in particular the Belgian Tripel ,I happen to really enjoy what Wyeast brought to this classic style and was ready to switch permanently to this new yeast. I ended up going back to the WLP500 for the sake of satisfied consumers but only because I agreed with them that it is a great beer to begin with.

Another hurtle is getting the carbon dioxide level the same for each keg. I'm force carbonating and can normally get close to where I want the volume of pressure but it can vary and I'll end up with bottles that vary. I don't like this. This brings me to the point.

In Mexico, where the craft beer movement is in it's infancy and breweries are small, the normal procedure is to bottle condition the finished product. Since a lot of the 'professional' brewers here are new to brewing they make some common mistakes that often times lead to over-carbonated bottles of beer. The beer is either under attenuated when the bottling sugar is added and or gets infected with a spoiling bacteria. Often, an otherwise decent beer is ruined by gushing out of the bottle, stirring up the yeast sediment at the bottom of the bottle and if any beer is left to drink it detracts from the flavor by stinging the palette with a harsh co2 mouthfeel.


Alquimia Scotish ale

A couple weeks ago I sampled two beers by Cerveceria Alquimia (alchemy), another commendable attempt by a Mexican craft brewer that comes up short. I don't like to start a review like that but there are more criticisms than praise for Cerveceria Alquimia. I received a couple of their beers from my friend Antonio at The Beer Company here in San Miguel. From what I can gather, Cerveceria Alquimia was started in 2011 and is currently brewed in Hidalgo where they boast of using only natural ingredients (I don't know what un-natural ingredients they decided against but there you have it). They feature a selection of classic styles of beer including an Alt, what they're calling a Nut Brown ale, Scottish ale (spelled with one 't') and Porter. I tasted the latter two starting with the Scottish ale.

I just have to say up front that drinking their Scotish(sp) ale was not a pleasant experience. No offence Alquimia but the bottle I had was tart and sour, two components that I never want to taste in a Scottish ale. The aroma was of mildew and locker room sweat. The beer lacked carbonation and the head fell flat almost immediately. Maybe I got a bad bottle from this batch, it's hard to imagine all of their Scottish ales are in this condition and continue to sell but in any case, I didn't like it at all.

On the up side, the Porter was better considering this beer was extremely over carbonated. I could tell this was the case even before opening since the cap was bent up into a dome shape ready to give up it's grip. I took it to the sink to open it and it continued to foam over  and down the drain until half the content of the bottle was gone. It's a shame too because the beer was flavorful and enjoyable. Malty and rich with a hint of smoked malt and burnt sugar. A good dark amber/black color and lingering head. Naturally, still a bit bright on the tongue because of the high level of carbonation but over all I enjoyed the beer.

I still remain optimistic about the Mexican craft beer movement. I just think that these new breed of brewers need a few more years of brewing experience and access to more of the great beers of the world to compare their attempts to. As the market in Mexico opens up, there should be more opportunities for that to happen.

If you want to find out more about this brewery don't bother with their website because it's still under construction but you can go here to visit their facebook page. Cheers!


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