PULSE BREW MARCH 2023
March is most famous in New England for being a) terrible and b) full of Saint Patrick’s day festivities. We’ve covered my feelings on artificially dyed green beer in previous columns and my position remains unchanged: Don’t do it. You are better than this. Get yourself a Dry Irish Stout or Red Ale like a proper adult.
March is also Women’s History Month, and of particular interest to this columnist, it is PINK BOOTS BREW SEASON. Over the next several weeks, thousands of people around the world will craft various magical elixirs, and a portion of each beverage’s proceeds will be donated towards scholarships to further education for women and non binary people in the fermented beverage industry.
As a woman, a brewer, and a passionate advocate for diverse people in beer, Pink Boots Brew Days are my Super Bowl. They are educational, inspiring, and, of special note, often result in particularly unique craft beer offerings. Local breweries currently registered to participate include: Redemption Rock, Altruist, Timberyard, River Styx, Thirsty Robot, Lost Shoe, Rushford & Sons, and Amory’s Tomb. You should try them all. Seriously.
One of my favorite elements of Pink Boots brew days is getting a first hand look at other brewery’s equipment and processes. I wish I could throw the brewery bay doors wide open and invite every member of the public to participate in the kind of hands-on learning experience these days provide. I can, at least, pull the curtain back a little on the anatomy of a real life brew day.
Cleaning – There’s a misconception that brewers spend a lot of time wandering around in overalls, leisurely sipping beer and twirling their mustaches. The only part of that I can personally relate to is the walking (so much walking), and the overalls, which are truly a superior pant. We have a running joke at Timberyard every time we’re deep in the muck, or fighting with broken equipment: “WhAt dO YoU Do wHEn yoU’Re nOt BRewING?” Before brew day, during brew day, and after brew day there is an almost limitless amount of cleaning and equipment maintenance that needs to be done to keep the brewing environment clean and sanitary.
Recipe design – You can’t bake cookies or brew beer without a plan. Without a recipe you would just have some weird pile of mush. (Pssst this this is many brewers favorite parts of the process).
Brew Day Prep – Water is heated, grains are milled, brewing salts and hops are weighed out. The start of a brew is a HUSTLE because the length of the day is determined by how quickly we can get the beer mashed in, and the average brew day is already 8-12 hours.
Mash In – This is the “brewiest” part of the brew day, where crushed grains are mixed with hot water to pull fermentable sugars and produce “wort”. (Remember this word). This is the part of the brew day that gets the most glory and is usually the most hands-on.
Vorlauf/Lauter/Boil – Each of these are separate steps, but they mostly amount to moving fresh wort around to maximize fermentable sugars, volume, and to “sanitize” the wort for fermentation. This is a major simplification, and because most of this happens using pumps, pipes, and hoses, there isn’t much for a passerby to see. Things get exciting again when it’s time to add hops or botanicals like coriander or citrus zest, which can happen at any stage of the boil to impart different varieties of flavor, aroma, and bitterness.
Transfer to Fermentors/Pitching Yeast – Beer spends comparatively few hours being “brewed.” It spends most of its time in fermentation vessels aka “the cellar.” (Spoiler alert: the cellar is usually in the same space, on the same level, and has a disappointing lack of wine or root vegetables.) Wort is chilled in line and sent to these fermentors, where yeast is “pitched” (literally thrown in the fermentor). Yeast is the real star of beer making. Without it we just have enormous quantities of weird sugar water. Steps like dry hopping and lagering happen days to weeks later. At the end of an actual brew day you don’t yet have anything that really approximates beer. The magic is still to come.
There’s more cleaning in the middle of all this, including disposing of all that “spent” grain,” samples to be taken and tested, data to be entered, and even emails to be handled. For all craft beer’s splendor, making it is a very humble process. There’s no reason to gatekeep brewing or question someone’s ability to participate based on their gender, race or any other external quality. There’s a pair of overalls for every body and plenty (and I mean PLENTY) of hard work to go around. No mustache required.
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