Thursday, January 30, 2014

Brewing with Elevation 66 - Part Two

Good Morning Ladies & Gentlemen,
Tuesday night, after an “interesting” day at work, I went over to Izzy’s place (Yes, Dizzy is Izzy… I know, it was a real nom de plume worthy of the annuls of history… but I figured why mix it up anymore). In the early morning, we were to brew… but first, we had La Val’s Pizza (Berkeley Special to be exact & it’s pretty good) and then we swung by the Albany Taproom for a drink since it was next door. While sampling some of their selection, they had a “Meet the Brewers” event with E.J. Phair Brewing Company out of Pittsburg, CA (not PA). They also have a new alehouse in Concord. Well, we started chatting with their brewmaster Craig & the sales director Bill… and we basically chatted with them for about two hours. The company is fairly new (as about 90% of most craft brew places have started in the last decade or so) but they’re expanding at a fairly steady rate (again as most) and seem to have a great space (check their website) with plenty of events from comedy & open mic nights… to brewery tours paired with two-buck pints… and just a nice biergarden complete with dart boards kind of atmosphere.
Of course, most importantly, they’re nice guys willing to chat with two random beer nerds… and the beer was pretty fantastic as well. They had four selections on hand Tuesday with their Facepuncher IPA, Plankwalker Pale, Teutonic Night (Baltic Porter & my personal fave) & Shorty’s Revenge (flagship English Amber Ale) but have a few more at their location… which after the gracious hospitality we were shown by them at the taproom, we’ll definite have to check out firsthand soon. More on E.J. Phair to come, I’m sure. Heck, I think this Friday is their brewery tour with $2 pints… so maybe VERY soon. Then again, I know a few of their key guys now. Check them out.
Ready for some brewing? Let's go!!!
Wednesday, we woke up at 4 AM, grabbed a quick bite to eat (toaster waffles) and headed over to Elevation 66 Brewing Company in El Cerrito to help out on a new batch of delicious brew. Brewmasters Super Dave & Big Ben were there waiting for us, so we thanked them for their time & allowing us to be a part of this (even in a small way), and then… we sanitized. Yes, the first, last, consistent & probably most important step of beermaking is sanitization. Why? Well, because even though there’s not really any deadly bacteria that can kill you in beer (alcohol saves you from that), the last thing that you want is to drink a beer and have it be absolutely disgusting because of a little something messing with the recipe or cancelling out another chemical reaction. It’s really a delicate balance when working with beer. It’s a lot like cake… but then again, it’s really hard to f**k up when the ingredients are butter, sugar & flour in a 400 degree environment free of bacteria for about an hour… compared to when you’re dealing with wheat, barley, bitter hops, water, and using yeast which only works under perfect conditions for bacteria over VERY long periods of time. Hopefully that helps to show why they’re called BrewMASTERS!!!
Some artwork around the place...
After cleaning up things with Big Ben, we noticed that Super Dave was already well into the mashing process. Our homebrewing is on a five gallon scale… but this batch was on an over 200 gallon scale… so where we were mashing with 10-12 pounds depending on the recipe, they’re dealing with 400-500 pounds of grains. One of their fellow brewers snapped a tendon in his bicep last week & it rolled up with a curtain on him. Being a brewmaster isn’t for the faint of heart or muscle sometimes… be sure to stretch thoroughly & maybe warm up a little before messing with these large loads. While Super Dave was finishing the initial mash, Big Ben & I wheeled around some of the spent grains (about 1200 pounds of them soaking wet) that they had stored from other brews so that a local farmer could pick them up to feed to his goats & cows. When dealing with these massive amounts of grains, there’s really not much else that you can do with them. Yes, with our little batch, we took a few scoops to make a few loaves of delicious bread… but even on that scale we end up using the vast majority as compost or sharing with the local birds. Especially with small operations like Elevation 66, there’s just not space, storage or the facilities to really do anything else with the grains other than to donate them to local farmers… but it works out well for both ends.

There was a lot of time during the mashing & boiling process where we were waiting for the massive amounts of liquid to heat up to proper temperatures… and during that time, we basically sipped a few brews (YES, it was a little after 7 AM… but we figured that given when we started, it was basically noon) and talked about how the company started, issues they face with space & layout of the building, limited supply versus growing demand, the lack of availability for various ingredients due to the BOOM of Craft Beer and their relative size (many of same things discussed with EJ Phair the night before), how they became Brewmasters, homebrew tips & tricks of the trade, events that they’ve been a part of, what they liked about them, what aspects of the events’ planning were seriously lacking, all different kinds of things, and of course we included the usual getting to know you chit chat & daily observations. Just a pair of great guys who seemed pretty happy to have us around… and frankly, we had a fantastic time helping out, even if only a little bit.
Unfortunately, due to my day job & Izzy’s first week back at school, we had to leave a little after 10 AM to grab some lunch before heading back into the City about a 40 minute BART ride away. This was right around the point where the hour-long boil & hop addition had just taken place & finished, so now they were running the hot wort through their plate chillers and into the fermentation tanks… which apparently is a rather timely process as well (there’s a lot of “Hurry up & wait” to the process as you know, but especially on a large scale) but we definitely plan on coming back and helping some more. This was my first time & Izzy’s second… so yeah, we didn’t do much this time… but apparently as we help out more & become more familiar with the process… they’ll trust us to do a little more, which makes perfect sense. This time around is was mostly sanitization and linking hoses and stuff like that… but a few times down the road, maybe we’ll be adding the grains… or mixing the mash… or adding the hops… or scooping out the spent grains… or testing the beer after fermentation to make sure that it’s ready or going along smoothly… or whatever. Obviously there’s a LOT to learn about the process, but we’re willing to learn.
So another HUGE THANKS to Super Dave & Big Ben at Elevation 66 for letting us get in the way & do a little grunt work for them… but mostly just being cool cats & shooting the sh*t with us before the sun came up. Also, a big thank you to Craig & Bill with E.J. Phair for hanging with us Tuesday night & I’m sure that we’ll see you shortly in Pittsburg and/or Concord. Go patronize these estblishments at your earliest convenience!!! Have a great day everybody!!!

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