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.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Nano Brewery Equipment

I'm making some brewing progress down here in San Miguel despite our limited budget and I have to tell you that it feels good to have some beer kegged and bottled with more in the fermentors as we speak.

First I want to follow up on the Trappist Ale that I brewed using a kit that I got from Midwest Homebrewing Supply. Turns out that my impatience got the better of me regarding this beer. Even though I pitched 2 vials of the Whitelabs WLP500 Trappist yeast (one that was supplied with the kit and another that I brought down with me) in a 5 gallon batch, there was no sign of activity after 24 and still after 36 hours. Of course I jumped to the conclusion that the yeast was no good and so I pitched a packet of dry US-05 yeast. Soon after, I began to see signs of life from the Trappist yeast and then along with the help of the dry yeast there was plenty of fermentation happening within another 12 hours.

Trappist ale with honey
Unable to leave things well enough alone I decided it would be a good idea to add a kilo of honey directly to the primary (and only) fermentor after several days of activity. My desire was to include the honey flavor to the beer thinking it would be tasty and also to increase the amount of alcohol in the final product. This I was successful at and the beer has all of the phenolic characteristics that come with this beer style but with the added flavor and a decent amount of aroma from the honey. I tasted it for this review but will allow the beer to age in the bottle for a few months before I would consider it ready to drink. This beer is a beautiful yellow/gold color with a creamy white head. The aroma is bold with honey, malt and tropical fruit. The flavor is spicy with pear, honey, alcohol and it has a mouth feel that is full despite the dry 1.010 final gravity (after the honey the o.g. was 1.067).  I want to thank Midwest for providing me with the ingredients for what turned out to be a great beer.

Bottle filler at rest
Bottle filling station
In the mean time, I thought you like to see a couple pictures of the make-shift bottling procedure. I bottled the above Trappist ale, a German hefeweizen and believe it or not homemade root beer which was a challenge because of the high volume of CO2 in solution. I used a spring loaded bottling wand that I stabbed into a cobra tap that was attached to 8' of 3/16" beverage line. You can see this counter-pressure bottling device here for a better description.

At this point I'm still fermenting small (10 gallon) batches in order to have a selection of beer styles to take around and market to a few possible outlets here in town. Other good news is that a major distributor here is interested in having our beers as part of their inventory and we'll be sitting down to taste beers in the next few weeks. Tomorrow I brew a Dry Stout followed by an Imperial IPA.

 Next on the agenda: Creating a brand logo and getting some labels printed for our bottles. I don't think our possible clients will be too impressed pouring from a bottle with masking tape across the front that says 'beer' written in magic marker.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Beer School San Miguel

The first brewing class scheduled since my return to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico is for January 6th. from 11am until 4 or 5 pm depending on how the brew session goes and how much homebrew we drink while learning. If you are in this area or want to fly down from the states for this specific class send me an email so I can get you registered. This will be a limited class size since we will be brewing at the new brewery which is tortuously small.

Beer School Mexico

The class format is designed around learning the basics of brewing will all-grain. The fundamentals of mashing, sparging, hop bittering and the related math. Future classes will delve deep into the science and include packaging and strategies for brewing in Mexico. Hope to see you in class. Cheers!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Nano Brewery Update

Today was test batch number 2 at the smallest brewery in the world. I'm still waiting on grain and hop deliveries but I had some pre-milled grain for a 10 gallon batch of hefeweizen. That along with enough bittering hops to get the job done.

This hefeweizen is the first brew to go into the rotoplaz fermentor as a test to see if there will be any plastic flavors or smells carried over into the beer.

For those interesed:
German Hefeweizen (all-grain) Kit
Batch size 10gal.
Eff. 81%
o.g. 1.052
Ibu's 22

Grain Bill:
Mash at 152f. for 60 min. add candi sugar 15min. prior to end of boil
10 lbs. malted wheat
6 lbs. 2-row
1 lb. light Munich malt
1 lb. oats

Boil for 60 mins. with:
.75 oz. Warrior (pellet) for 60 min. 15.5% aa (The only hops I have at the moment)

Chill to 68f. and pitch salvaged wlp500/ US-05 ale yeast blend.
In any case, I'm not married to the outcome from this recipe, again, we're mainly concerned with confirming that we won't get any plastic tastes before committing to loading the rotoplas up with 40 gallons of pale ale. I installed an additional valve several inches above the yeast dump valve and tilted the tank to about a 40 degree angle in an attempt to cause the yeast to settle down near that lower valve. With any luck, we'll be able to salvage yeast in this way for re-use.

I also installed casters on the metal platform that the fermentor sits on so that once the wort is transferred into it and oxygenated it can then be rolled back towards the cooler area of the brewery.
Along with these modifications, I installed a faucet on the new refrigerator, so that a couple of kegs can be tapped along with storing hops and salvaged yeast.

In the mean time, I'm scheduling Beer School classes for January to be held in the brewery. This will be necessary in order to earn a little money since I'm burning through my savings on the brewery project pretty quick. If you're thinking of visiting San Miguel, plan to fit a brewing class in as part of your activities. See you soon with more updates and beer reviews as the batches come to fruition. Cheer!
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