Off Main Brewing celebrates International Homebrewing Day with first brew in new Ruby Street Brewing system.
"So are you ready for the big day?"
That was the first thing Laura asked me Saturday morning…ha! Was I ready?…hell yeah I was ready. Beyond it. In 2017 and 2018 I brewed over 75 times combined…in 2019, I have brewed 3 times. The itch to mash in had become unbearable. Between the move, deciding on the best brew system, getting the Alpha Ruby in from Ft. Collins and figuring out the whole "I don’t have access to water in my garage" situation (that will be a whole other blog post for sure), there had been significant road blocks to the first brew day on the new system, in the new space. As bad as I wanted to fire up the Alpha Ruby, the time away from the process ended up being a good thing. It allowed me to re-evaluate a few processes, tweak and develop recipes and get the brewery itself in order. It also reenergized my passion for the process as a whole. Let's be honest…sometimes our passions can lead us down a path of the mundane and monotonous…even brewing. But the time away gave me a chance to clear, reset and prepare to take the next massive step towards making Off Main a reality.
First brew on the new system.
A few weeks ago we started planning what the first brew would be. We knew we wanted to participate in the National Homebrewer's Association's Big Brew Day, so setting the May 4th date for the kick-off brew was an easy decision. But determining what to brew was a little harder. A new system…a new scale…a new location…all the “new” worried me as far as what to brew.
I knew I wanted this first brew to be a lager. We are headed to Barcelona and Dublin in a couple of weeks (to celebrate my sister and brother-in-law’s wedding), so having that time away gave me a window to lager a beer and not really lose any valuable brew time. As y'all may know, it gets pretty damn hot here in DFW during the summer, perfect weather for a crisp and refreshing beer. While we love a good lager in the hotter months, they can sometimes lack character. I wanted this lager to have a backbone. Something that reminded me I was drinking a beer, not water.
This lager-with-a-backbone idea led us to a German Pilsner. We had developed the idea for Grassroots (our German Pils) about a year ago when we lived in Davidson. Everyone has a summer "yard" beer and many times it has a name associated with the idea of being outside, putting in a solid day’s work on the house. Weedwacker and Lawnmower from St. Arnold's, Weekend Warrior from Karbach and Lawn Boy from Primal Brewing are a few off the top of my head. While we wanted a name that evoked that same feeling, we also thought it was a chance to portray something more. It was a chance to say something about who we are, what we want to become and how we are going to get there. Grassroots gave us exactly that. It speaks not only to the feeling of the beer, but also the feeling of Off Main Brewing and how we want to achieve this goal. From the bottom up - grassroots style.
The brew day.
Having moved to a fairly professional Ruby Street Brewing Alpha Ruby grade 1 bbl system, there were an insane number of new things to think about and new processes to learn in prepping for Big Brew Day. Small things, like aerating the wort (I don’t think I can just shake a 1bbl Ss Brewtech Unitank) and what on earth am I going to do with all this spent grain? Then there is the cleaning process. Thank God for Ruby Street's fill and flush system. With so much new, it was important to follow all the steps as deliberately as I could…just like I did on my first brew ever, I printed out all the steps I wanted to take and in what order and just went down the checklist. On days like that, my lists are my security blanket…and on Saturday you may as well have called me Linus. I took that thing with me everywhere. On top of that, I had about 3 timers going so that no matter where I was, I knew where in the mash, lauter or boil process I was. Even with my list, timers and instruction manuals, I was still a nervous wreck as I had put a tremendous amount of time, emotional and financial investment and care into this day.
With the confidence battle raging in my head, Saturday morning arrived. Time for donuts with Reece, our 4 year old son. (It’s a tradition we started in Davidson a couple of years ago. On Saturday morning we get donuts. Then we fight about eating our donuts…ughhhh…four year olds, right?!) When we got home, it was time to make the magic happen. 25 gallons of sparge water in the HTL and 19 gallons of strike water in the mash tun, at 151 and 165 degrees respectively. 50 lbs of Pilsner malt straight from Bamberg (shout out to the Lindner's!) and a pound and a quarter Noble hops from Hallertau…we were ready to rock 'n roll.
As soon as the grain hit the strike water and we started recirculating through the HERMS system, I was in the zone. Even with all the new and all the unknown, at the end of the day we were making wort, something I am very comfortable with. And when my nose caught a whiff of that bready goodness, it was on. We nailed our initial mash-in temp of 149 and our Alpha Ruby did the rest, holding it steady the hour and fifteen we decided to give it. The mash out and sparge went off without a hitch. Time to boil this sucker. The 200,000 BTUs pumped out by the burner had us up and boiling in no time. Then came the whirlpool and the transfer. Oh and that oxygen addition issue, the Ruby Street in-line oxygenation kit made that a snap. 1.5L/min for the whole transfer (thanks for the tip Brian!). We now have a full barrel batch of Grassroots German Pilsner sitting in our Ss Brewtech Unitank at a cool 50F fermenting with White Lab's finest and I can't wait to taste the finished product, hopefully on a 105 degree summer day.
Were there things that could have gone better or easier? Sure. Our brewhouse efficiency rang in at 79%, something I will work to improve as we gain more confidence with the process of the new system. Cleaning took longer than it will in the future because I was trying figure out the diagrams in the instruction manual as I was trying to clean. But overall, it was much easier than I built it up to be in my head. Typical.
I hope y'all had the chance to join us on Big Brew Day 2019! If you did, what did you brew? Something new or an old stalwart?