Monday, August 25, 2014

Brewing a barley wine at Rare Form Brewing Company (8/24/14 in Troy, NY)

rareformbrewday (3)Yesterday, my homebrew club – Albany Brew Crafters – got to do something really cool: we brewed a barley wine at Rare Form Brewing Company in Troy. I’ve watched professional brewers make beer on their giant systems (“giant” compared to a 5-gallon homebrew setup, that is), but I’ve never actually partaken in the commercial brewing process myself. This was definitely a fun and educational experience, not just for me, but for the nine other members of the homebrew club that participated in the brew day.RareFormBrewDay (45)
Kevin Mullen, the owner of Rare Form, has been a supporter of Albany Brew Crafters well before his brewery opened for business. He attended a few of our meetings at The Ruck (which is literally right around the corner from his brewery), and we discussed the idea of brewing a beer for ourselves using his “Psycho Brew” system. We paid for all the ingredients; about 270 total pounds of grain and about a pound of hops. The yeast was graciously donated by Shmaltz Brewing Company: White Labs 1056 “American Ale” strain, which is good for high gravity brews (if you know Shmaltz, you know they love to make big beers). The recipe was based on an English-style barley wine homebrew concocted by the club’s current president, Dustin Mitchell. He brought a keg of it to the Shmaltz first anniversary bash back in May, and it was a hit with the crowd.rareformbrewday (8)
The club also has its own bourbon barrel, which we got from a distillery downstate a few years ago. In fact, this isn’t the first time we’ve brewed a big batch to age in the barrel. Back in 2012, several club members gathered together and each brewed a 10-gallon batch of the same Russian Imperial Stout recipe. After fermentation, it was transferred to the barrel and aged about six to nine months. I wasn’t part of that project, though I’ve tasted a few bottles from that batch and they were delicious; on par with something you’d get from a high end commercial brewery.rareformbrewday (4)
Anyway, it’s been a while since our last barrel project and we wanted to do another brew, but this time we’d step it up a bit. Rare Form’s system is relatively small at 5BBL, but it’s the perfect size for homebrewers that want to make a batch big enough to fill a 53-gallon bourbon barrel. Kevin acquired all the grain in advance, all we had to do was come in and do the brewing.rareformbrewday (9)
Members arrived around 8am on Sunday morning. We wasted no time as we got the mash-in process completed by 8:30am (154 degrees for an hour). Then we lautered for another hour, and transferred the liquid to the adjacent boil kettle. It took a while to get going, but once we did, it was a nice rolling boil which we let go for another hour (hop additions at 60 and 30 minutes until flameout). While waiting on the boil we had to clean out the mash tun, to which we transferred the wort once the boil was complete. That took a while, as did the process of manually filling up about 15 carboys and fermenting buckets. Then it was another hour of cleaning, followed by a tasty beer at the bar around 2:30pm. If you watch the video below you probably won’t be able to tell that it was a six-hour process from start to finish. There is quite a lot of waiting around when it comes to brewing.rareformbrewday (6)
We’re leaving our fermenters in the back of the brewery at room temperature for a few weeks, then we’ll siphon all the beer into the barrel and let it age for several months. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.rareformbrewday (5)
If you’re a homebrewer with aspirations of going pro someday, I highly recommend participating in a brew day like this. I’m sure there’s just as much manual labor to be done at a brewery this small as there is at a major commercial enterprise. It’s a lot of sanitizing, mopping, sweeping, hosing, organizing parts, and connecting/disconnecting equipment. The experience gave me flashbacks to my active duty Navy days. Some of the other guys seemed surprised and impressed by how well I could swab the deck.rareformbrewday (2)
Thanks again to Kevin Mullen and Jamie Caligure of Rare Form for letting us use their equipment and facilities. Also thanks to Shelby Schneider at Shmaltz Brewing for hooking us up with their yeast. We hope to collaborate with Shmaltz and other local breweries on small batch brews in the future.RareFormBrewDay (56)