Week 2: Field Trips and Mashing Chemistry

February 17, 2011

After the field trip this weekend to Three Floyds and Flossmoor Station, this week got off to a similar start. Around noon on Monday, we walked over to Goose Island’s brewpub on Clybourn to get a tour of the brew house from their head brewer, Jared. It’s pretty much all stuffed into a small, two story room at the front of the pub. It was cool to see how they maximized their use of the space. They can’t fit a mill in that area, so they use pre-milled malt from (relatively) nearby Mid-Country Malt, which sounds like it works out pretty well.

Jared was pretty cool and was very forthright about everything that he deals with. The big point he tried to drive home was the importance of finding a brewery where you really fit. That might seem silly to say, but every professional brewer out there has a specific way they like to operate and every brewery’s staff has a particular way they operate. With the close quarters you have to be in at a brewery, it’s critical to mesh well with the particular work ethic and mentality that the brewers have. It’s common sense, but it’s also probably not something a lot of people truly understand when they go to interview at these places.

The next field trip we went on was a tour of Briess Malting’s malt house up in Chilton, Wisconsin, yesterday. It was a solid three and a half hour bus ride, so it made for a very long day. Briess is primarily a specialty malt producer, only making small quantities of base malt for certain customers on an individual basis. Their malt house in Chilton is one of the smaller ones in the country, but seeing it first hand put into perspective just how massive the ‘big guys’ must be.

The facility itself was impressive to tour. It’s been standing since 1901 when it was the Chilton Malting Company. Their malt elevator is actually entirely made of wood, which really caught me off guard. Going into the basement to check out their belt conveyors was even better. Old school stone walls, dirt floors, and massive wooden pillars held together by enormous bolts made me feel like I was in a castle’s dungeon hundreds of years ago.

Now the bus ride back to Chicago was on the epic side. Seven cases of beer and a thermos of brandy. Yeah. šŸ™‚

The bad thing about the field trips and all the drinking we’ve done the past couple days is that no one has had much studying time this week. I did my best to catch up tonight, but I reached my limit. The topics this week aren’t too bad. So far it’s been a bunch of info on mash chemistry (lots of enzyme action), mash technology like mash tun design, lauter tun design, cereal cookers, and mash filter technology. Tomorrow and Friday we get into a lot of brew house calculations, which is something I’m really looking forward to.

All in all this has been an epic week. I’m loving this whole experience and feel I’ve already learned a crap ton. I can’t wait for tomorrow afternoon’s tasting panel of English/Irish/Scottish ales.

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