I was able to make it down to Coast again for two more days this week. It actually worked out well for me, as I was in Columbia over the weekend for a fantasy football draft, so I went down to Charleston Sunday night.
In case you’re curious, I got Michael Turner, Brady, Boldin, Thomas Jones, Marshawn Lynch, Eddie Royal and Braylon Edwards with my 1st 7 picks (6th slot out of 10, PPR league). I like my squad, especially after week 3 when Lynch comes back, but I did get Fred Jackson as a handcuff.
Where was I? Oh yes, beer…
I was very excited for this week, since Coast was going to brew up their first ever barleywine on Tuesday. However, that meant that Monday was actually very busy. In a commercial brewery, at least a small one, brew day actually begins the day before.
The first half of Monday was just like a typical Monday at Coast. Since it’s shipping day, we cleaned and filled kegs to go out to the distributor.
Around 1:00 we finished with that and then began preparations for Tuesday’s brew. The first thing we had to do was move the Double IPA out of fermenter 3 and into one of the empty bright tanks. For you homebrewers out there, a bright tank is essentially used for secondary fermentation. You can make additions and even keg beer straight from one of these tanks.
David wanted to add some whole leaf cascade hops to the bright tank to give it some additional dry hopping. To increase the efficiency of the hop oil, we first hand crushed the hops into a nylon bag. So yes, that means that if you have a Double IPA a few weeks from now, I had my hands on your hops. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
After sanitizing the bright tank, we tied the hop bag to a rod inside the tank and began moving the beer. Once that was completed, we cleaned the fermenter to get it ready to hold the beer we were brewing tomorrow.
While the water and PBW was circulating in the fermenter, we started milling the grain to be used the next day. Since we were going to brew a barleywine, which is a high gravity style, we had a LOT of grain to crush. We milled about 15 50-pound bags of grain. That comes out to around 750 pounds.
One other interesting tidbit about Coast’s system. They have 15-barrel fermenters, but the brewing system is only 7.5 barrels. (A barrel is 2 full kegs.) That means that to get a full batch of beer, they actually brew two batches.
While this method is less efficient time-wise, one advantage is that if they don’t hit their gravity or some other desired effect on the first batch, they can compensate on the second batch and get the final product exactly where they want it.
We finished up around 7:00 and I headed out to Moe’s Crosstown Tavern for a burger. I think David stuck around a little while longer to wrap up. It was a long day.
Tuesday, Brew Day
Brew day started at 7 am, although I was a bit late. I underestimated the traffic in North Charleston that early. I didn’t arrive until 7:30. Remind me not to live in North Charleston.
Typically, since Coast brews two batches on brew day, David usually starts around 5 or 6 am. However, we were able to start a bit later because we were only doing one batch today. Due to the amount of grain in one batch, it would make for a very long day to do both in the same day.
My first task of the day was to give the mash tun a quick rub down and start the sanitization process on the fermenter. After I finished that, we started pumping the strike water into the mash tun and began mashing in.
Scott and Rich from the Charleston Beer Exchange joined us for the day, so they also got to participate in the festivities. They were especially helpful during the mash-in.
Rich, David and myself. David is not holding a brewing trophy. It’s a hydrometer.
Trying to stir 750 pounds of wet grain is not easy. Between the four of us, we were able to relieve each other as fatigue set in. It was like white water rafting through oatmeal. I think my deltoids are still sore today.
This barleywine pushed the mash tun to its limits. The beer took more grain than Coast’s Blackbeerd Imperial Stout, which is the highest gravity beer they have made to this point. We filled the mash tun nearly to the top.
Once we were all mashed in, it became a lot like a brew day on my porch. We mashed for about two hours. Then it took about an hour to transfer the wort and sparge the grains. The boil took almost two hours.
Since we were only doing one batch today, there was considerable down time. It was by far the most laid back of my days at the brewery. Brewing is one of those activities where it’s like you hurry up and do something, then you have 30 minutes or more of waiting for something to finish.
You can try to be efficient and clean something or get something else ready while you’re waiting on one thing to finish, but sometimes there is nothing to do but wait. That’s always a good time do a little “quality control” and sample the fruits of your labor!
I had to leave at 5:00 to make it back to Greenville for dinner, so I wasn’t able to see brew day to the end. Since this was such a big beer, it took a lot longer than most brews Coast has done. However, I left the beer in good hands :)
After being exposed to most of the different activities that go on at Coast over the four days I’ve worked there, I am in awe that David and Jaime have been able to operate the brewery by themselves. Jaime helps out with the brewing operations, but her primary responsibilities on the business end of things.
With all there is to do and know, it’s amazing that David handles most of the brewing activities himself. I wouldn’t even know where to begin trying to assemble a commercial brewery. While the process of brewing beer is the same no matter what scale you have, there is so much more equipment that you have to know how to operate, and even repair yourself.
For instance, if the pump on the sanitizer jug went out on the keg washer, I’d be sunk. Or if something went wrong with the boiler, or the CO2 compressor, or the brewhouse manifold, and on and on. I guess after 10 years of commercial brewing, you pick up a thing or two, but from my perspective it borders on miraculous.
Final Thoughts After My First Two Weeks
Overall, I have had a great time over the past two weeks, and it’s been an incredible learning experience. I feel very at home in the brewery, and I could see myself brewing commercially some day.
However, I was also very fortunate to be in a brewery that was small enough to where I could help out in all aspects of the process. From week to week, you do a lot of the same things over and over, but at least each day is different from the last. There is a lot of variety in what you do.
If I were starting out in a larger brewery, I would probably be assigned one particular task: cleaning or filling kegs, running the beer filter or bottling line, etc. If I had to do the same thing every day, I’m sure it would get monotonous after a short amount of time. Like anything, I’d have to “put in my time” before being given more responsibility.
So where do I go from here? Well, it’s week-to-week. I can’t go down to Charleston next week, so I’ll have to see if I’ll be able to make it down in the coming weeks. I have some other things going on in life, so there’s no way for me to know. I am very thankful to David and Jaime for allowing into their livelihood, and I hope I can make it down at least a time or two more before the clock strikes midnight.
All I know is, nothing over the last two weeks has discouraged me. If anything, I’m fired up to keep going. As a matter of fact, I’ll be brewing up 10 gallons of Untamed IPA this weekend. It’s a far cry from the 300 gallons I helped brew Tuesday, but with some new found knowledge, this could be my best brew yet.