By Amy Tindell
It shouldn’t have, but it took a drawn out and excessively complicated Doodle poll for the Venture Café bartenders to schedule a session at Hopsters Brew and Boards. No longer content just to serve beer, we met in Newton on a snowy Tuesday night in February to brew our own.
But first things first: our day jobs had really taken their toll, so we indulged in some much-needed craft malt beverages and locally sourced sustenance before taking on more hard work. Hopsters boasts a series of taps dedicated to New England beers (alas, licensing restrictions prohibit them from serving beer brewed on the premises), in addition to a menu featuring cheese, charcuterie, flatbreads, and sandwiches, all incorporating local ingredients from New England Charcuterie in Waltham and Wood Family Farm in Dudley.
Bellies and brains happy, we headed over to the kettles and supply room, stocked with local organic raw materials, to begin the task of brewing. Hopsters provides each brewing team with a staff expert to direct activities and answer questions along the way. Our expert, Hugh, prepared two kettles for our chosen recipes: one for a Rye IPA and another for a Wee Heavy Scottish Ale.
First, we weighed the specialty grains, dutifully measuring 4 ounces of smoked malt, 2 pounds of crystal/caramel malt, and 4 ounces of roasted barley for the Wee Heavy, and one pound of caramel/crystal malt for the Rye IPA. The women of the group stepped up to apply some elbow grease to mill the grain bill for each recipe, increasing the surface area of the grain to make the starch more accessible and to separate the seed from the husk.
Once milled, the two separate grain bills were poured into muslin bags and placed into the boiling kettles – much like tea – to create the mash.
While the mash boiled for 15 minutes at around 155 degrees Fahrenheit, we measured the liquid malts in the supply room. The Wee Heavy required a whopping 15 pounds of amber malt, which poured lazily, resembling very thick molasses, from large plastic carboys in the supply room. The Rye IPA took a mere 10 pounds of pale malt extract and 5 pounds of rye malt. A brewer can buy liquid malts readily at any supply store, but more ambitious brewers make their own malts through a somewhat painstaking – but they say rewarding – process.
After removing the muslin bags with the grain bills, it took two of us for each kettle to add the liquid malts: one to pour and scrape the malt from its container, and another to stir the mash to ensure that the malt dissolved properly. Hugh advised us to go “not too fast, and not too slow” when incorporating the liquid malts.
While we waited for our kettles to boil again, we measured hops for each recipe. Hops can be bittering – providing the bitter flavor of the beer – or aromatic or finishing – providing that signature citrus, flower or pine aroma of the beer. Brewers typically add bittering hops midway through the boil, and aromatic hops toward the end of the boil. The Venture Café team measured only 2 ounces of Golding bittering hops for the Wee Heavy, but the more hop-heavy Rye IPA required 1.5 ounces of Centennial and 2 ounces of Simcoe bittering hops, along with 2 ounces of Amarillo Gold aromatic hops.
After approximately 30 minutes of boiling the mash, the liquid malts, and the bittering hops (45 minutes total boiling), we added the Amarillo Gold aromatic hops to the Rye IPA, and 1.5 tablespoons of Irish moss to each kettle. Irish moss is a fining agent derived from seaweed that acts as a clarifying agent (i.e., it helps brewers avoid producing cloudy beer). Specifically, it assembles small molecules into larger particles that settle out of solution. In beer, Irish moss helps yeast flocculate (clump together) more effectively and encourages proteins and lipids to settle out with the yeast.
As the boil continued, we activated the Wyeast yeast packages by slapping them, hard. This releases an inner package of nutrients and wort that “wakes up” the dormant yeast in the outer foil package, jump starting the culture’s metabolism and reducing lag time in fermenting the waiting wort. When it’s ready to pitch, the package becomes swollen with by-products – carbon dioxide – of these initial metabolic processes.
After 15 minutes of continuing the boil with the Irish moss and aromatic hops (approximately 1 hour total), it was time to transfer the wort into its storage container for the fermentation process. Hugh drained the wort from the kettle through specialized piping and a heat exchanger to cool it to a temperature favorable (and not deadly) to the yeast. We pitched Scottish yeast into the container for the Wee Heavy and American Ale yeast into the Rye IPA container.
While our hard work was complete, the yeast had just begun their task of feasting happily on the abundant sugars in the wort. This fermentation process produces the alcohol in beer as well as many of the flavors and aromas, which are byproducts of fermentation. Additionally, Hopsters would continue our work, sending our spent grains from the brewing process to Wood Family farm to feed their pigs. As for us, we relaxed into one final local beer to rehash our brewing experience, before stepping outside into the new-fallen snow for our journey home.