Not sure which forum this belongs in so putting here...
On Wednesday I had the amazing opportunity to help out with a brew at my local brewery… I’m sure a few of you have heard of it, a little place called Cigar City Brewing You may be asking yourself, how does one get such an awesome opportunity? Well, I got it by drinking a lot of Cigar City beers, which was pure torture I tell you! In November 2012 my local beer bar featured CCB as their brewery of the month. Every Friday night from 6-8 you got a raffle ticket for every CCB beer you ordered. At 8 they did a drawing for some CCB swag, and then at the end of the month all the remaining raffle tickets were combined for the grand prize, which was “Brewer for a Day” at CCB. There were 5 Fridays during November, and I made it there for 4 of them if I recall, and I had at least 4 beers each trip, so I had at least 16 entries in the raffle, maybe more. You also had to be present to win, so I knew I had stacked the deck in my favor pretty well. Whelp, as you can guess, I won.
Now it would have been REALLY sweet if they would have allowed me to brew one of my own recipes, or at least take one of their existing recipes and add my own touch to it, in fact I pitched the later idea to them but unfortunately that didn’t happen. I ‘just’ got to help out with one of their scheduled brews. They sent me their brew schedule and let me decide which brew I wanted to help with. I wanted to make sure it would be something that was more of a 1-off, that way I could get bottles that I KNEW I helped with. The beer I chose was a cordial cherry imperial sweet stout. This recipe was put together in collaboration with Mikkeller, this was their second time brewing it due to poor attenuation with the first batch. They warned me in advance that it would be a long day, and they were 100% correct, however it didn’t take as long as they had originally feared. We brewed this beer on their original 15 barrel system. I was under the impression that most systems that size had some sort of stirring mechanism built in that agitated the grain while mashing in. I was sadly mistaken. Here is a photo of me mashing in, the mash paddle that I am holding on to is about 8 feet long.
Each mash had right at 1100 pounds of grain, and they mashed pretty thick. We had to do three separate mashes to fill the kettle. It was a bitch to stir.
A few observations after my day:
Mashing in and stirring 1100 pounds of grain is hard work. I did the first and second mashes, the main brewer did the 3rd mash because I had developed some pretty massive blisters from the mash paddle.
Commercial grain mills are bad ass. I milled all the grain for the 2nd and 3rd mashes. Their mill would chew through a full bag of grain in about 30 seconds or so…. Quick enough that it would be done with one bag before I even had the next bag open and ready to pour in.
The commercial brewing process and home brewing process are pretty much identical. I am a batch sparger so that was the biggest difference. Each mash roughly followed this time frame: 10-15 minutes to mash in, 30 minute rest at 149, 30 minutes to vorlauf/recirculate, it then took about an hour to sparge/lauter, and then ~15 minutes to pull out the spent grains. I REALLY wish I had brought myself a couple kegs or carboys along, after each mash we had to have dumped at least another 50-100 gallons of ~24 plato wort down the drain. I would have loved to have taken that home and boiled it down. We doughed in for the first mash at 6:35 am and were kettle full, starting the boil by 2:50 pm. We hit a boil 30 minutes later. We boiled for an hour, then did a whirlpool for about 15 minutes before transferring through the giant wort-chiller into the fermenter. It took an hour to drain the kettle into the fermenter.
Since there was a lot of downtime I got to spend some time on the 30 barrel system as well. That system is pretty much 100% automated… They were brewing Maduro while I was hanging out, it was cool to see but for the most part they just push buttons and open/close valves to move stuff around from vessel to vessel . If I recall it 4 vessels… The first vessel was the mash tun, then from there everything got transferred to the lauter tun, then obviously that drained into the brew kettle, and then after the boil everything gets transferred into the 4th vessel which was for whirpooling.
Here is a photo of the 30 barrel system:
Here is one of the mash while sparging/lautering
Here are the first runnings going into the kettle
Pure awesomeness here…. They have 17 barrels of Huna aging. I tried to smuggle one out under my shirt but it wouldn’t fit
Some more other goodies barrel aging…
Serious blow-off from a quad that they had brewed the previous day
More serious blow-off from a batch of Jai Alai also brewed the previous day.
This smelled heavenly
All-in-all it was an absolutely amazing experience. I was also able to share some of my barrel-aged homebrews with the brewers and got some good feedback.