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The Belgian Mare Says Hello!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Brewday At Ye Olde Belgian Mare Brewery

Many have asked how the brewday goes at Ye Olde Belgian Mare Brewery. So I decided to put together the following narrative for the general edification of the beer-drinking public.

The typical brewday starts with the filling of the boiler. The boiler is filled with pure well water to a depth of 29 inches. This translates to approximately 120 gallons. Allowing for losses in the mashing and boiling phases of the brewing process, this initial 120 gallons will translate to 100 gallons of beer in the bottle.

Once the boiler is filled, the fire is started in the firebox. The Belgian Mare's boiler is direct-fired with wood, so getting the water up to heat can take a couple of hours. This is no problem as we still have to mill the grains.

Grains are milled in a modified Maltmill that has a hopper with about 75 lbs. capacity built into it. Originally this mill was powered by a hand crank, which is the reason why one of my shoulders is so much larger than the other. Recently, our welder friend, Perley, loaned me a 1950/60s vintage low speed/high torque drill. This three-handled, cast-metal encased beast turns at 350 rpm and has enough torque to twist the head off the Statue of Liberty (not that one would want to do such a thing). Thus it is the perfect tool for powering our grain mill.

I measure out the proper amount of grains for the recipe of the day and run them through the mill using the aforementioned drill to power the mill. As the grains pass through the mill, they drop into a 5-gallon bucket. As they bucket fills, it is poured into the mashtun in preparation for mashing.

The mashtun is an insulated stainless steel vessel with an oak false-bottom. The false-bottom is essentially a floor above the actual bottom of the mashtun. It supports the grains and has holes drilled into it to allow water to pass through.

Once all the grains are milled and the water is up to heat, hot water is run into the mashtun to start the mashing phase. To take advantage of gravity during runoff, the mashtun is situated higher than the boiler. A small electric pump is used to run hot water into the mashtun. Other than the drill on the mill, this is the only mechanized part of the process at the brewery.

As the hot water enters the mashtun the grain is stirred to ensure that all the grain is wetted and ready for the mashing process. Once all the grain is wetted and the temperature is correct, the cover is placed on the mashtun and it is left alone for the next 90 minutes. During this time, enzymes contained in the grains convert starches to fermentable sugars. Once the mashing is complete, the sugar-laden liquid is drained from the mashtun into the boiler. Hot water is also cycled from the boiler to the mashtun to wash any remaining sugars from the grains.

When the runoff is complete, the fire under the boiler is increased and the sugary liquid, now called wort, is boiled for two hours. Boiling sanitizes the wort and causes proteins to precipitate. During the boiling process, depending on the recipe for the beer I wish to make, hops will be added at intervals. Given the size of our brick firebox, once the wort starts to boil, the gate on the fire box can be closed and the wort will continue to boil for two hours without any additional fuel being added to the fire.

Once the boil is finished, the wort is allowed to cool in the covered boiler. Since everything has been sanitized by the boiling process, as long as we leave it alone, we do not have to worry about infection during cooling.

When the wort reaches the correct temperature, usually the next day, it is run from the boiler to a fermenter in the cellar. Since this is the “cold side” of the brewing process, the fermenters have to be cleaned and sanitized before the wort is run into them. As the wort is being run into the fermenter it is allowed to aerate (splash around) to help with the start of the fermentation process. Once all the wort is in the fermenter, the proper amount of yeast is pitched into the wort. Then we wait until the yeast is done creating the alcohol and esters that make the beer what it is.

When the yeast is done, it is time to bottle! Once all the freshly brewed beer is in bottles, the hard part begins: waiting. Since our beers are naturally conditioned and carbonated, they need a lot of time in the bottle. During this time the yeast finishes up the last of the fermentation process and gives the beer its finished flavor. None of our beers are ready in under one month and they may take up to three months to fully condition and carbonate. But, trust me, it is well worth the wait.

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