Ask a Brewer: Baptism in Beer

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Photo Cred: Ian Steele

I have used one or two of these blog posts to describe the realities of brewing, made bare for all of you on the outside looking in. Everyone wants to brew, but not everyone is comfortable with being uncomfortable, and not everyone can handle the high-stress environment that brewing can sometimes create. I’m sure it’s beginning to feel like I’m just tootin’ my own horn over here, but mostly I just find these types of situations to be hilarious (at least in hindsight), and hope it gives you a chuckle as well. There are more varieties of beer shower than the average person would think, so here’s just a few for your reading pleasure.

This week, in a private Facebook group reserved for craft beer professionals, I saw a post about a racking (siphoning yeast out of a fermenter after primary fermentation) gone wrong. When you rack a beer, you are most often going to pull a thick, sludgy heap of fat, satisfied yeast. Sometimes it can be a little thinner/runnier, but whatever the case, yeast makes for one dense mess. If a clamp, hose, gasket, or whatever slips off in the process, you will almost certainly be caked head to toe in the equivalent of thick-ass pudding. Scrape, rinse, get back to work. Such is brewery life.

Another interesting phenomenon in the brewing world is the explosive nature of active yeast when new sugars are introduced. In other words, most ales ferment in two stages- primary and secondary. Primary fermentation is, generally speaking, the first 7 days after the beer is brewed and the overwhelming majority of the concoction is fermented. In secondary, there is far less activity, making it an ideal time to add new flavors. Some beers, however, work best when flavors are added smack dab in the middle of primary fermentation. If there are sugars involved… the yeast just might have a field day. In essence, your beer is vinegar, and you just slam-dunked a fistload of baking soda into that thing. Kaboom. Sixth grade science project, and the baptism is complete. You and beer are now one.

Sometimes when you hook a coupler to a keg, it’s not lined up the way you think it is. You twist that coupler, pull the handle out, slam it down, and are promptly greeted by the righteous, foamy brew you worked so hard to produce, with all the velocity and fervor that 12psi and a small opening can give (it’s a lot). A storied brewery employee doesn’t flinch- they just keep on working and ignore the cold stickiness. Newbies aren’t so lucky. It’s like a wet, frigid slap in the face, and the reaction is appropriate. Frozen shock. Welcome to the beer industry, it’s gonna get messy.