This blog is part 2 of our Quality Control series.
Brewing memorable beer requires artistry and imagination—just not on the brew day itself.
By that we mean: recipe-writing is the time for big ideas, bold decisions, and exciting ingredients. When it comes time to actually make beer, our brewers become timekeepers, temperature-watchers, and scientists. In reality, a degree here and a minute there can make for a beer that’s not holding up after two months on the shelf. Because those degrees and ticks of the clock are so important, we keep detailed records of every brew.
Record keeping is, for one, a key way to maintain our beers’ consistency—and for two, is a way to make sure we stick to the high standards we’ve set for ourselves. It also helps to have a detailed account of every brew when we want to look at specific batches of beer months, and sometimes years, after they’ve left the brewery.
On the technical side, before brewing, we analyze our milled grains in what is known as a grist analysis. This involves putting samples from each shipment of grain into a cylindrical shaker with tiers of mesh: which become finer as you go from top to bottom. This allows us to look at the grind on our grist, which in turn makes sure we’re pulling the right substances out of our malts. Similarly, in a beer like White, we’ll also measure the grind on all of our coriander before it’s added.
While brewing, we take samples of wort—unfermented beer—throughout the process. We’ll then check these samples for: sugar content (known as extract), IBUs (bitterness), starch content, and pH.
As we mentioned in our previous blog, we’re lucky to have naturally excellent water. That being said, we still test it with an eye toward its flavor and pH, just to be sure.
Our brewers have another, quite acute, way of analyzing our ingredients: their five senses. Brewers are encouraged to chew on grain, smell hops, and let coriander run through their fingers as they check the grind. They even get familiar with the sound of their brewing equipment, so their ears can alert them to a noise (a clunk, a shudder, etc.) that they’ve never heard before. There’s no mechanical substitute for the firsthand experience of a seasoned brewer.
Taken as a whole, all of this checking, testing, and tasting makes for an extremely reliable brewing process batch to batch. Which is good when you’re brewing 24 hours a day for four days every week.
Before we move on, there’s one last brewing necessity that only persistence can achieve: clean equipment. Our heat exchanger and piping are cleaned after every single brew. Every eight brews, we clean out our kettle. And just to be sure, we clean everything—top to bottom—once per week. Sure, it’s a lot of cleaning, but it’s well worth it.
Now, you might be saying to yourself, “the wort gets so hot during the boil that it should technically be sterilized anyway; so why clean so much?” Well, knowledgeable beer friend, beyond being extra sure about keeping the wrong microbes out of our beer, there’s a lot to be said for the efficiency of clean brewing tools. Dirty heating surfaces won’t warm up as efficiently. And unclean pipes or clogged lauter tuns can slow down the flow of beer. All these inefficiencies make for less-sustainable brewing, which—for our own sake and the sake of the environment—we’re keen to avoid.
Next, we’ll move into the cold side of our brewing process. There, we’ll look at how we handle the convergence of wort and yeast—to make the bubbly beer we all know and drink.