We're Brewing Frickin' Beer

Well, it’s been over 17 months since I left my job at Stone to begin work on Modern Times, and we (this has officially gone from an “I” to a “we” project) are finally making beer. Fuck yeah.

17 months sounds (and feels) like an enormous amount of time, but the construction phase of this project has actually been relatively short: just ~6 months from the time I took possession of the building until now. By almost any measure, that’s pretty speedy for turning a giant vacant warehouse into a functioning 30bbl brewery.

And functioning it is! We’ve brewed three batches already, which is pretty goddamn remarkable. Our first brew day was shockingly smooth: Lomaland, our saison, has a fairly light grain bill and no exotic ingredients, which kept hiccups to a minimum. The equipment all more or less worked as planned, which was an immense relief.

The yeast is another matter. Our blend of 95% Dupont/5% Westmalle has been exceedingly sluggish thus far, perhaps owing to our excessively low knock-out temp (we were still learning how to run the pumps/heat exchanger) and the fact that it’s a first pitch, which are often considerably slower than re-pitches. We’re hopeful that future batches will move much faster, but it’s possible that something more fundamental—like tank geometry—is at play.

Despite the slowness of the yeast, the beer is shaping up to be pretty magical. Right now it’s throwing off loads of hay, grass, and earthy complexity in the aroma, with a hint of floral esteriness. The dream of churning out an uncompromisingly complex yet reasonably sessionable saison remains alive for now.

Blazing World, our second batch, was far more difficult to brew, owing to its additional ~600lbs of malt, which led to a sluggish run-off, and the use of our hopback, which was a touch dicey to operate and also interminably slow. The jury is very much still out on whether or not it offers any qualitative advantages to a whirlpool addition, but right now we’re all a bit skeptical, mostly because it was such a pain in the ass.

We ironed out a few issues before our third brew day, but Black House was still a challenge. The ~300lbs of oats (17% of the mash bill) once again led to a sluggish run-off, but also a fairly unpleasant grain-out for Alex and Derek. Spent grain came rushing through the door at unpredictable intervals, which led to a great deal of shoveling spent grain off the floor, which is not anyone’s favorite task.

Since getting into the tank though, Black House has been racing along, thanks to a 5th generation Cal Ale pitch generously donated by the wonderful folks at Ballast Point. Our little corner of Point Loma is skipping distance from Home Brew Mart, as well as Coronado’s Knoxville brewery, and the camaraderie & support we’ve been enjoying from both has been marvelous.

Despite the above mentioned minor annoyances, brewing so far has been unexpectedly straight-forward. We've hit our mash temps and gravities, and the hardware only requires some exceedingly minor tweaks. On the whole, we're all quite pleased with how it has gone. 

On the docket for this coming week is Mike’s 100% Brett IPA, which I’m absurdly excited about, and Fortunate Islands, our hoppy wheat beer, the brewing of which will be made possible by the sale of 88lbs of Amarillo to us by my former co-workers at Stone. Needless to say, we’re incredibly thankful for the solidarity from other San Diego brewers, and we look forward to returning the favor/paying it forward in the happy years to come.

What’s that? You want me to hazard another guess at when we’ll be open? That’s largely dependent on whether or not we pass our final inspections early next week. If we do, it should be no more than a few weeks.

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