Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Proud Moment

Blacksburg Brew Do ( was a local craft beer festival held on October 30th. They also had a Homebrew Competition with four categories that you could enter beer into: Light, Amber, Dark, & Specialty. The four 1st place winners would then be judged and a Best of Show would be declared. We entered our Russian Imperial Stout, 'Izvinite Babushka' (Russian for 'excuse me Grandma') into the Dark category. It won 1st place. It then won Best of Show as well. We had good competition for Best of Show, 2 of the other 1st place winners in the remaining three categories were fellow Star City Brewers Guild members.
Part of the prize for Best of Show was getting the chance to brew your winning beer at Bull & Bones in Blacksburg. We went up there the morning after Christmas. We had to be there at 7am, giving us a roughly 45 minute drive. And it was snowing. And the windshield wipers decided that they didn't really need to work. And then we nearly ran out of gas. But we made it there, which was the hardest part of it all.

At 7am we were greeted by Bull & Bones' head brewer, Jim Strickland. Jim only had to roll out of bed and make the couple minute drive there from his house. We were a little jealous of this given our ordeal getting up there.

The brew session went well from what we could tell and other than the one boil over there were no problems that we were aware of. In the between times where we would normally sit around and, pardon the pun, shoot the bull we enjoyed some of Jim's beers off of the tap and played pool. Not a bad way to start your morning, or brew in general.

Their system maxes out at 900 lbs of grain so to accommodate that we had to brew a slightly smaller batch to get the target OG (OG = Original Gravity, which along with the Final Gravity will tell you how alcoholic the beer is). I think he said 8 barrels instead of 10. We ended up coming out a little low on the gravity anyway but still hit 23 plato (1.096), which coincidentally I think is what we actually ended up with when we brewed this at home. So assuming this ferments out to about 6 or 7 plato (1.024 – 1.028) we should end up with about a 9 – 9.5% beer.

As far as the actual process of brewing went I thought it seemed easier than what we do at home. All temperatures, pumps, etc. were controlled electronically and all liquid flow was plumbed in stainless steel and controlled with valves…so no tubes to take on and off or switch around. We did have to hook up the CIP (clean in place) pump and a separate tube to pump sanitizer through heat exchanger though. Cleanup was easier too (except for emptying 900 lbs of grain!!) because everything else was just hosed down and flushed out of the system and down the drains in the floor. ~ This was especially nice given the fact that we've had to have our pipes cleaned out as a result of emptying out a minute amount of grain into the kitchen drain here at the house. It stunk. Badly. We learned a lesson.

The spent grain from the brew session was picked up by a local farmer that Jim knows. He feeds it to his cows. We used a modified hoe to scrape out the mash tun, letting the grain fall into trash cans below that we then hauled outside. It was nice to know that the grain was getting re-used and not just going into the landfill.

Naturally Carrie took a lot of photos while we were there. Here is a small selection of them.

~Stirring the mash~

~This is a neat shot because you can see Jim loading the grain into the mill (in the room in the background of the photo), which then travels to the mash tun where I am stirring it~

~A look down inside the boil kettle as it fills with liquid gold ... aka wort~

~The wort boiling. It boiled over almost immediately after this photo was taken.~

~Jim, hosing down things after the boil over. This ability to clean up like this was one of the true perks of getting to brew on a setup like this.~

~Jim beginning to empty the spent grain out of the mash tun~

~The perk of being the head brewer and having someone else up there brewing with you ... letting them empty all the grain!!~

We want to thank Jim for being such a great host and letting us brew along with him. It was a truly wonderful experience. Thank you Jim! Thanks also to the folks at Blacksburg Brew Do for a fun festival and to those who judged for choosing our beer!

Also, our win garnered us a mention in the Salem Times Register. Here is the link to that article: