Ramble On

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Shiny Stuff @hawksbillbrew

We picked Alpha Brewing Operations for our five barrel brewhouse.  They worked closely with us to review our business plan and expectations for the brewery before specifying a system and sending along a proposal.

Almost as much fun are the frequent emails we get about the status of our order.  The big shiny stuff had to be fabricated, but last Friday we got a status report on it, with photos, showing that the tanks were completed and were being loaded into a shipping container.  It's estimated that they will arrive in Baltimore by mid-November.

From there, they will be transported to the brewery in Luray, where they'll be united with the brewhouse, which will arrive separately by early December.

The three tanks shown here each have different functions:

1) The top photo is a five-barrel fermentation vessel.  It is made of stainless steel, as are all of the vessels I'm writing about today.  This is where the sugars in the wort produced by the brewhouse will be converted by yeast into alcohol.  The conical section at the bottom of the tank allows spent yeast and other suspended materials to settle out of the beer before it moves on to the carbonation process.

2)  The second photo is our five-barrel brite tank.  This is the next stop for the beer after fermentation - it is used to carbonate the beer before serving it.  Although breweries can serve directly from the brite tank, that won't typically be the process at Hawksbill Brewing - we'll move the beer to kegs for this purpose.

3) The final photo is our 10-barrel hot liquor tank.  We'll use a lot of hot water during brewing - specifically for the "strike," the water that will be used to soak the grain in order to extract the sugars, and for the "sparge," essentially a rinsing process that allows us to capture the sugars that will eventually be fermented in the beer.

While our system is designed to produce five barrels at a time, we doubled the size of the hot liquor tank to give us some flexibility.  By heating double the requirement of hot water, we can do two brews in quick succession.  This is part of how we will accommodate seasonal fluctuations in demand, and hopefully any growth we experience in our first year or so of operation.

There's plenty of action to come at the brewery, so be sure and follow our Twitter feeds for updates - the brewery is @hawksbillbrew and these blog posts (among other info) is @cabin_jim.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Equipment Updates @hawksbillbrew

I wasn't lucky enough to be out in Luray last week when David and a few others drove some of our new arrivals down Main Street to the brewery: the fan coil and chiller for our brewing system.  These items had shipped from Oregon and arrived in town late last week.

After a few days' storage it was time to pick them up on the skid steer and move them to the brewery.  They got lucky with the weather, certainly - look at that bluebirdy sky!

So what does all this chilling do for us at Hawksbill Brewing Company?  There's a good reference article on glycol systems here, but to summarize, that coolant is safe for use in food and brewing operations.

This equipment, combined with others in the brewhouse system, will help us get temperatures down as low as 25 degrees in our fermentation systems.
Even more important than the temperature is the ability to automate and precisely control temperatures in the process, since some beer styles require fermentation at lower temperatures and some at higher temperatures.

In any case, now that this equipment is here we can get started on installation, so that it will be ready to connect to our brewhouse and fermentation equipment when those items arrive.

Monday, October 24, 2016

More Construction @hawksbillbrew

Over the last two weeks, much of the project planning has come together, so we are beginning to see an uptick in construction progress.  I thought I'd feature one aspect of that in this first post of the week - I'll have a couple more posts that talk about other progress.

One of the features of the building is this glass block window near the front entry.  I'm not sure if it is original, although it certainly could be: this article suggests the material has been in use since the early 1900's, contemporary with the building's original construction in 1911.    

In any case, this one has seen better days.  Several blocks are broken, maybe just wear and tear, but possibly due to vandalism.  We've decided to simply replace it with a plate glass window, so the team showed up last week to begin demo.

I've asked that some of the materials be saved and put aside for us.  As we continue to find out more history of the building, it may end up being important that we have some of these for reference.  In any case, they do form an important reminder of some of the legacy uses of the place as an ice storage facility and creamery.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Hawksbill Brewing Co. Construction Update

Construction work at Hawksbill Brewing Company is progressing in tandem with everything else that is going on:

  • Equipment fabrication
  • Financing developments
  • Recipe formation
  • Social media outreach
  • Sponsorships planning
  • Interior design
Each one of these could be a blog topic on its own, but since I received the very interesting photo to the right as a message, I'll start from there.

We have three main contracts in place - general construction, electrical, and HVAC/Mechanical/Plumbing.  All three are proceeding in parallel, with David working as general contractor to help keep them from stepping on each other in the building.

Last week, the plumbing really got underway - the core drilling in the photo was one of the essential steps in that part of the project.  The results told us just a little more about the building, basically confirming what we already knew.

The structural report we had let us know that we were dealing with substantial concrete slab construction.  We had six of these core drill holes done last week - and we found depths of 15 to 18 inches.  In one case, the drilling wasn't finished at the end of the day because they needed a longer bit!

Just a repeat of something I've written before about the building.  From what I've been able to discover, it was built in 1911 to house the Luray Ice Company, which supported the Norfolk and Western (now Norfolk Southern) rail line that runs behind the building.  In fact there is still and earthen ramp down into the basement, which may have been part of the logistical arrangements for this operation.

Once there were refrigerated train cars, the ice business closed.  It was soon replaced by the Blue Ridge Creamery, which operated for a few decades.  I've found auction listings for milk bottles from the creamery since I learned about this bit of building history and have included a detail photo from one of the auction sites in the post today.

There's still a ways to go with everything, and I'm sure I'll have more posts to follow.  Stay tuned!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Thoughts on Beer Styles - Hawksbill Brewing Co.

Our team has been working on recipe development while the other aspects of Hawksbill Brewing Company come together.  Kevin and David have come up with a list of four standards, and I thought I might add to my brewing traditions series with a short post on them. 

The four styles are listed below.  True to the current craft brewing tradition, we’re making our own adjustments, both in terms of process and ingredients.  It’s my sense that we are following more of an English brewing tradition on most of our standards, so the definitions below (all are linked to the source page) show those tendencies.

American Cream Ale:  This is a mild, pale, light-bodied ale, made using a warm fermentation (top or bottom fermenting yeast), and cold lagering.  Despite being called an ale, when being judged in competitions it is acceptable for brewers to use lager yeast.

Brown Ale (English Style):  These brown ales range from dryer (Northern English) to sweeter (Southern English) maltiness.  Roast malt tone (chocolate, nutty) may sometimes contribute to the flavor and aroma profile.  Hop bitterness is very low to low, with very little hop flavor and aroma.  Known for rich and advanced flavor without centering too much on hops, this style is extremely sessionable and food-friendly.

American India Pale Ale:  Characterized by floral, fruity, citrus-like, piney or resinous American-variety hop character, this style is all about hop flavor, aroma and bitterness.  This has been the most-entered category at the Great American Beer Festival for more than a decade, and is the top-selling craft beer style in supermarkets and liquor stores across the U.S.

Brown Porter:  No roasted barley or strong burnt/black malt character.  Low to medium malt sweetness, caramel and chocolate is acceptable.  Hop bitterness is medium.  Softer, sweeter, and more caramel-like than a robust porter, with less alcohol and body.  Porters are the precursor style to stouts.

In addition to these four we’ll have rotating selections and seasonals, and sometimes we’ll feature pilot brews of recipes in development.  It’s all part of the craft – and we’re working on it!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Holiday Weekend Visit to @pendruidbrewing

After writing that post about Farmhouse Ales earlier this week, I got to thinking that it had been a while since I went over to Pen Druid Brewing in Sperryville.  I was at the soft opening in August 2015, post here, and earlier that summer they visited the hop yard, in this post.

So after a few holiday weekend errands I headed over the mountain to check in.  I didn't want to go empty handed and brought along a pound of Cascade hops from Lot 1 of this year's harvest.

I sat at the bar and chose a couple tastes - specifically Space Mothers and Cyclops - while casually talking with Jennings and later Lain (Van was travelling just then) about how things are going.  The clientele was steady, with several pairs and groups at the bar and seated inside and out, so we had some time to chat about their style of craft brewing.

In some of the articles featuring the brewery, and from my own experience working with them on hop yards matters, you can't miss the influence their travels in Europe have had on their approach to craft brewing.  The linkage to Belgian styles is strong, and they've committed a lot of time and effort to developing local ingredients that can be combined in uniquely artisanal brews.  They've even isolated their own yeast strain which categorizes many of the offerings as wild ales.

While I was there I enjoyed three beers:

Space Mothers: this is a biere de miel, or beer with honey, that was created as a joint project with Aslin Brewing.  The ABV comes in at 10.1% for this one, which they called a "hoppy wild."  Nice citrus notes abound.  

Wild Darkstrong:  The malts in this complex dark beer reminded me at first of a brown ale.  The IBUs were much lower, but even though I tried it as my second taste, I could still pick out flavors of chestnut, fig, and raisins.  I could envision sharing a growler of this at a holiday gathering, even though the ABV was still pretty steep at 8.5%.

Venus:  After the first two, I decided to enjoy a third sample and picked this one, a blonde sour at 7.3% ABV.  One of the things Pen Druid is known for so far is their prolific use of wine barrels for aging their beers, and Venus spent 10 months in red wine casks before it was kegged.  There was a slight lambic statement in this beer, which totally rounded out an enjoyable craft beer experience for me.

We talked about the prospects for Hawksbill Hop Yards, and I reported on our results this year: how the Columbus, Chinook, and Fuggles were essentially no shows.  So much so that I've talked with David about plowing them under and expanding to all Cascade (although I really want to see the versatile Fuggles through!).  Jennings insight was that this is how local styles develop - you produce what grows here - and combining that with Virginia grain and Virginia yeast would ultimately result in a good thing.

Reflecting on those thoughts on my drive back to the Valley, I realized that I was pretty lucky to have the opportunity to contribute to our emerging craft beer scene with these hops.  It's worth the investment we're putting in to the hop yard, and the focus we had on processes this year.

The consistency is going to pay off in terms of the character of the beers that will be produced.  The steady hand of craft brewers like Pen Druid will get us there.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Brewing Traditions: Biere de Garde

While all the preparation for opening Hawksbill Brewing Company is rolling along – we’ve had to push our opening back to March due to a few hitches while we await our licenses – I’ve been exploring beer styles to broaden my appreciation for the craft side of what we’re planning to do.  I also picked up a book recently, FarmhouseAles:  Culture and Craftsmanship in theBelgian Tradition, but Phil Markowski, which digs into the beer styles of Belgium and Northern France.

I should say that my study of this topic has been fortified by the discovery of Schlafly’s Biere de Garde offering, which I found at my local, Bethesda Market.  In addition to the excellent deli, they take care to stock an extensive collection of beers.  They’ve contributed in no small part to my beer education – thanks Jay and Sonoo! 

Also contributing to my interest in the style is the creative farmhouse approach that our neighbors at Pen Druid Brewing are taking with their beers.  I’m overdue for a visit (they visited the hop yard last year, and I went to the soft opening), but it’s clear from their social media posts that their exposure to these beers, stemming from years of touring in Europe, led to some aspirations – as Markowski says, “Brewers of this region consider themselves artists, first and foremost, and the vast range of beers reflect this approach.”

The history of Northern France and Belgium is complex and especially tragic due to its central location during the two World Wars.  Someday I’d like to visit and absorb that part of the story in person, but today my plan is to have a look specifically at Northern France’s Biere de Garde; in a future post I’ll circle back for a quick study of the Belgian Saison style. 

Markowski sets up the discussion of biere de garde, to which he dedicates about 20 percent of the book, with the following: “The French have a little-known tradition of beer appreciation.  While they don’t begin to rival the Belgians in the sheer range of flavors and styles, they have a rich beer culture, particularly in the regions of Nord, Pas-de-Calais, and Alsace.”  He goes on to note that in 1905 a British brewer found that there were 1,800 breweries in this region, typically producing less than 3,000 barrels per year, but industrialization of the industry there led to the kind of homogenization that we have experienced in the United States during the 20th Century.

Right there on the label of the Schlafly version is their tribute to the beers of this region.  The modern style is roughly defined by a deep copper color, balanced hop character, and a higher alcohol content of between six and eight percent by volume.  The term “de garde” refers to provisioning beer for later consumption, which was done by either increasing the hops or alcohol content – my sense of it is that the Belgians went in the direction of more hops, while the French went in the direction of more alcohol, but neither went so far as to compromise the character of their local ingredients.

The book goes briefly into the farmhouse tradition in the region.  These beers were created for sustenance, which is why they have such a robust malt bill; but they also were likely produced with a lower alcohol by volume most of the time, since they were meant to provide refreshment for all of the farm laborers.  Stronger beers were brewed later in the spring brewing season, with the intention of storing them for consumption later.

Thinking about Pen Druid’s commitment to the style, obviously based on their travels, I don’t recall much exposure to biere de garde during my own nearly five years in Europe.  I was in Amsterdam a couple of times, but these country ale styles weren’t prevalent there; also a few weeks at various times in Paris – again, it’s not likely I experienced these beers and we were drinking a lot of French red wine, anyway; and also a weekend in Brussels on the way back from Moscow in the 1990’s.  I probably encountered these beers somewhere in the course of all of that, but simply can’t remember, and thus, I can’t attribute liking them so well to memories.

At this point in the development of Hawksbill Brewing, the goal of research like this is to determine whether it’s feasible to have a go at brewing these beers in Luray.  Markowski says they need four weeks of secondary fermentation and conditioning at temperatures in the 32 – 35-degree range.  Committing one of our four fermenters to this process doesn’t seem economically prudent at this point, but perhaps we can have a go at keg conditioning a batch to see if our customers appreciate the beers.

As an alternative, there is the concept of a biere de Noel (note the page is in French) which adds specialty grains to the process.  It’s fermented more quickly, on a pace that is more typical of the beers we’ll have on standard rotation.  As a fall back, at least we can do something like that seasonally with the style, as we build on our experience and skills.