Friday, June 27, 2014

Barrel Filling Brew Day at Council Brewing

Curtis in front of the brew system and filling the
red wine barrels with Flanders Red
With the announcement of the Council Brewing Barrel Program, this post will be the start of transitioning from my homebrew adventures into the semi-pro. I will do my best to keep writing about upcoming batches, which we already have about 8 in the pipeline. I'll be sharing recipes and our techniques (oak aging, new yeast combos (like wine + Brett), blending and diversifying batches.

A couple months ago, I took a "day off" work to do a double brew day and fill 4 wine barrels. The goal was to fill 2 Gewurztraminer barrels with our standard Saison base and 2 red wine blends with a Flanders Red. We expecting the Saison to be ready in the heat of the summer and the Flanders will probably be our 1st Anniversary beer.

The morning started off with filling the mash-tun. Since we have a relatively small brew system it made sense to use an on demand hot water heater instead of a dedicated hot liquor tank. The on demand hot water heater has a few settings that we can control to hit the correct strike water temps. As with any new system it took a little time to figure out the amount of heat lost to the mash tun, but once up to temperature the thermal mass of the tun/grain keeps the temperature very consistent (one advantage of a larger system). As we mashed in we also added lactic acid to drop the pH down into the 5.2 range. (since this batch we have switched to phosphoric acid for better economy. I prefer to aim for the lower pH range for Saisons as I feel this gives the beer a more "crisp" and refreshing flavor. Along with a very dry finishing gravity the low pH helps to make this beer disappear off your palate quickly.)

Recirculating the Saison mash through the grant
Sparge arm in the 3BBL mash tun at Council Brewing
After hitting the pH (another note on adjusting with acid is that its good to add incrementally as once the buffering capacity is reached the pH will drop quickly) and a mash temp we let the beer rest. The next step is slightly different than most homebrew setups in that we use a grant. The grant helps to ensure you are not pulling on the grain bed with the pump, plus in our case it also whirlpools the wort to help with any particulate that comes through the mash. Once re-circulation is complete, we attach the sparge arm and then pump directly into the kettle.

Transferring wort from the mash tub into the direct fire boil kettle
The kettle's capacity is around 130 gals so its has plenty of room to boil for a full 3BBLS (~93). We usually knock-out with ~100 gals and for the barrel brew days we aim a bit higher. This 3 BBL kettle is also about the biggest practical size that can be direct fired without a custom burner system. Any larger and it would make sense to go to a steam fired kettle, but that involves more capital. The boiling process is just like a homebrew setup until we are done and pump into the whirlpool tank.

Whirlpool Vessel being filled at Council Brewing
We will whirlpool until all the wort is transferred and longer if hops are added for flavoring. The wort still remains fairly hot up near the 200 F range, so you are still extracting IBUs. Once the whirlpool is complete we will pump through a plate chiller (this gets the wort down to about 100 F) and then a copper coil in an ice bath which we can control the flow rate to get us to the appropriate pitching temperature. Coming out of the plate chiller we have an inline diffusion stone to aerate the wort during the transfer to the fermentor.

Curtis getting the ice bath and chiller ready
 for knock-out into the barrels
For these barrel batches and most of our future barrel batches, we will be doing the primary fermentation in the barrel. This is done to save fermentor space (especially since we are adding bacteria and Brett in primary) and barrel fermentation is also reported to help build structure (at least with wine). A 3BBL(~93 gal) system works almost perfectly for filling 2 wine barrels (57 gal). Since we can yield about 100 - 110 gals of wort and fill the barrels with about 50 gals and reserve 2 - 5 gal carboys to top up after primary fermentation calms down. This amount of headspace worked well to prevent any beer loss and we do also add some Ferm Cap to hedge our bet. We fit stoppers and blow-off tubes for the most violent fermentation and then switch to breathable bungs for the extended aging process. The beers will remain on the yeast cake for this entire lifetime, which will make beer that is more Brett forward as the dead Sacc yeast makes a good carbon source for the Brett. If we find that some beers/styles are too Brett forward then we may switch to doing primary in a conical before transferring to the barrels.

Me up on the ladder watching the fill level on each barrel
For tracking each barrel's progress we have added sleeves with tracking notes about the beer. We have installed "Vinnie nails" to all our barrels, which involves buying the following from McMaster Carr ( I looked locally and couldn't find anything):

1" 4d smooth common nail – 316 stainless steel McMaster Carr #97990A102
2” 6d smooth common nail - 316 stainless steel McMaster Carr #97990A104
Adding Saison yeast to the
Gewurztraminer barrels

We added our nails after the barrels were filled. Curtis used an old carpenter trick and used the SS nail with the head torn off as a drill bit (or you could use a 7/64 drill bit) . It worked easily and was actually much less exciting than either of us were expecting. The barrels will actually swell quite quickly, which caused us to drill a few times till the beer poured out nicely.

Hopefully that provided a semi detailed look into filling barrels on the nanobrewery level. Future posts will focus more on new lessons learned and more details on each batch. If you have questions please feel to ask in the comments or let me know if you want to check it out in person.

My little one having fun with the sign at Council Brewing
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