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Contract Brewing Brown Chicken Brown Ale

Adventures in Brewing

Hi there.  Pilot Jim here, with another adventure in brewing. Imagine that you are a small-ish Farm Brewery. You have been in business for a couple of years. You are brewing a wonderful selection of beers. People come from far and wide to enjoy the great beers, the great music and the friendly atmosphere of a Friday night. You find that you are quickly becoming a victim of your own success.  Your demand is getting quite close to exceeding your production.  You dream of acquiring a bigger brewing plant.  You are making plans, getting quotes and measuring floor space.  You are so close, but you are not quite to the purchase and install phase yet, and still the demand is hounding you.  What is a Farm Brewer to do?

Well, if you are S&S Farm Brewery, in Nassau, NY, you team up with Chatham Brewery, on Main Street, Chatham, NY to contract brew the biggest version you have ever brewed of one of your flagship beers, Brown Chicken Brown Ale.

The fun started around 7:30 AM on March 8th.  Chatham head brewer Matt Perry, already had the hopper filled with the grist bill that S&S provided.  The hot liquor tank is pumping into the mixing chamber just below the hopper.  The grist falls down and gets soaked with the liquor.  The rakes are twirling inside the mash tun, to spread the goodness.  The temperature is taken at various points with a digital probe to ensure the mash has hit the correct temperature of 152°F.  That took a bit of time as we are talking about over 1,000 pounds of grain for this 20 BBL batch.  Once everyone was satisfied that the mash was set, the viewing doors were closed, and the waiting began.

It was planned for a one hour mash, and this gave lots of time for Chatham’s Matt and the crew at S&S, Jason Sanford, Addam Sentz and Matt Sanford, to discuss the rest of the brewing cycle, and to discuss just what they were looking for in their new brew plant.  An idea was also floated, that Chatham and S&S should collaborate on a beer that could be featured at both Chatham and S&S.  More on that when the idea hatches.

After an hour the mash was recirculated through a device called a “grant”, which has a series of baffles that trap any grist particles that get past the screen. Then it was on to filling the kettle. Twenty BBL is a lot of liquid, and as you can imagine, this also takes a bit of time. The kettle is steam jacketed, and when enough wort had been transferred the steam was introduced and the heating began.

As we waited for the wort to come to a boil, which also took some time, it was time to dig out the mash tun.  Chatham has a blue steel cart on wheels that is filled, moved outside, and dumped into a waiting trailer, which will be taken to an area farm when it gets full.  It was at least four cart loads to get it all out.  I lost count between digging it out and dumping it out, but it was a sizeable bed of grain.

Now S&S had to put their heads together, and decide on the quantity of hops to add.  Remember, they had never brewed on this scale before.  I believe they used a program to size up the ingredients, but the bottom line was they had to feel good about it in their gut.  This being decided, and the wort on the boil, the hops were pitched.

At the end of boil, whirl-pooling was started, and all the hoses, pumps and connections were put in place, and when it was time, the hot wort was pumped through the plate chiller, the cooled wort was injected with oxygen and went into the fermenter. And again this took some time.

Once the kettle had given up all the wort it could give, minus the trub and hops, the fermenter was as full as it was going to get with this batch. It was time to pitch the yeast.

And just how do you get the yeast into a 20 BBL fermenter?  Very carefully!

Jason Sanford was elected to do the deed.  It involved a ladder, a pair of dull scissors, which was quickly replaced with a knife, and a bottle of sanitizing spray.

We all clapped as Jason descended the ladder, as this was the final step in today’s Big Brew. All that was left was the quick cleaning of all the equipment, and then it would be time to go.

But wait, there’s more!  Matt Perry knew that we would not want to miss the chance to see how Chatham Beer got into those wonderful cans.  And so, we were treated to a display of the Magical Canning Machine.  It was a wonderful time.

All in all, it was a long day, but a great adventure.  I’d like to thank Jason and Matt Sanford and Addam Sentz of S&S Farm Brewery, as well as, Matt Perry and Tom Crowell of the Chatham Brewery for letting me be a fly on the wall for this momentous brew day.  Until the next adventure, I remain your faithful servant,

Pilot Jim