Monday, October 22, 2012

Saint William Brewery back on track!

It has been a while since our last post. A lot has happened in between, mostly personal things that needed to be finished so I could devote all my attention and time to the brewery again. One of those things was starting a new job in September. I became Editor-in-Chief for the Gazette van Detroit, an ethnic monthly newspaper for the Belgian/Flemish-American community. This is a very exciting opportunity, and one that will offer ways to promote my passion for beer in many other ways, well beyond the brewery. I have a few projects in the works that are designed to place the Gazette back on the map as a serious partner for all things Belgian/Flemish, and to promote our culture. The biggest of these projects deals with beer, the great rich traditions and heritage of the Belgian beers as well as the exciting innovative American craft beer world. As these projects are still being proposed to the Board, I cannot divulge more about them, but keep an eye out on this blog and on for more news. It will be fantastic!

Tim Besecker checking the mashing setup, left, with
recirculation pump and right boiler for sparging.
Yesterday, I met with Scott McLusky and Tim Beseker, two homebrewers par excellence who graciously allowed me to brew a test batch on their all-grain system, and got help from Ray Patton as well. Over the years, they have put together a very nice and efficient system, based around a 15 gallon kettle, with nice features such as a recirculation system during mashing that helps clear up the wort, allowing for an easy, quick and efficient lautering (on this batch, the overall efficiency was well above 80%, for a self-made home brew system quite an achievement!), a copper cooling coil that is placed in the boil kettle and that brought slightly under 12 gallons of boiling liquid in 25 minutes to a nice 68-69 degrees Fahrenheit, among other things.

Me mashing in the malt.
We made a test batch of Saint William Tripel, a nice Belgian Tripel, coming out to a nice 9.0% ABV that should be well hidden. From a simple base of Belgian Pilsener malt we made the wort, which we had to boil down a little to achieve the desired original gravity. The hopping is where we are adding an American twist, by using Cascade hops, in combination with some European noble hops such as Czech Saaz and German Hallertauer. As any self-respecting Belgian or Belgian style tripel, the main factors providing the beer's characteristic flavors are the malt and, more importantly, the yeast. The hops are there to support the overall balance, but should never be too strong. Adding Cascade adds very nice slight notes of floral and spicy that combine will with the flavors unlocked by the yeast, and add something distinctively American to this otherwise traditional Belgian brew.

Scott checking the lautering
We obtained a larger yield (slightly over 11 gallons) of brew at the correct gravity, which attests to the efficiency of the brewing system Scott and Tim (and others) had put together. A nice added feature they had built in with the cooler, was a whirlpool, by attaching the recirculation pump to the boil kettle and direction the flow back in such a way that it created a circular movement. This is helpful to sort out the 'trub', the organic remains of the hops and whatever husks of the malt that might have been left. The circular motion of the liquid traps these heavier particles in the middle, creating a nice cone. After it was cooled down to 69 degrees the beer was transferred to two six-gallon carboys, at which point we added the yeast, and closed off the carboys.

Cooling the beer
Tim has a temperature controlled environment to store these carboys, to ensure optimal primary fermentation. In about 2 weeks we will take this green beer, add a small dose of sugar and extra yeast (the 'priming'), and start bottling. This way, the beer can continue it's cycle of secondary fermentation in bottle (bottle conditioned beer). This step does not really add to the alcohol content of the beer, but it serves to achieve a good, fine carbonation. Given the fact that this beer will be on the heavier side, this bottle conditioning will make them better suited to store for longer periods of time (easily up to 5 years, if you have the patience to wait that long to drink a great brew). The live yeast in the bottle also prevents certain compounds in the beer from breaking down, in the process creating unpleasant flavors and aromas.

Ready for
The bottles will have to be stored around 71 degrees Fahrenheit for around 3 weeks, at which point they will be ready to be cooled down, opened, and served in a chalice type glass. Ready to be shared and enjoyed!
As this is a test batch, I will be looking for how well certain flavors came through, if some need to be strengthened or perhaps toned down, check overall quality, flavor and balance, etc. So I am very excited to see how this will turn out!

One of the coming weeks we will be brewing the Saint William Honey, again to have a first all-grain batch to check flavor and balance. If (when?) these batches turn out great, we will be using these bottles to help with the quest for investors. They will be a great way to showcase the identity and level of what Saint William Brewery will be as a professional production brewery. Needless to say that I look forward to the day we start our first real batch!

Tim Besecker, Wim Vanraes and Scott McLusky