This past Sunday I had the chance to brew one of my homebrew recipes with head brewer Keith Hefley at the Shamrock Brewing Company. The Steel City Brewers and the Shamrock Brewing company together hosted the inaugural Cavalier Pro-Am Homebrew competition in Pueblo Colorado. It was a competition designed to give Steel City Brewers an opportunity to scale up one of their homebrew recipes to a commercial scale, learn about the brewing process of a professional brewer and have the winning beer served at the Shamrock.
The categories for the competition were light, dark, and weird, which were to be tasted and judged by Keith and some fellow beer drinkers and brewers. The competition also gave Keith a chance to explore a new recipe and/or brewing techniques that a homebrewer may have to offer (and also drink all of our competition beers). The beer of mine that was selected as the winner was a Rye Pilsner that was fermented with ale yeast and hopped very aggressively with noble hops. This beer fell into the light category, but also the slightly weird category because it didn’t really represent a tradition style. A big part of the competition in my mind, was not only to brew a good beer, but also to try and predict what type of beer Keith might not have brewed and would be interested in trying to brew.
The brew day itself went very well. Keith had scaled up the grain bill, hops, and yeast pitch count to accommodate his system and process. When I brewed the beer at home, a modified single decoction mash was used, but I knew Keith’s system wouldn’t allow that. I suggested that maybe a step mash might at least promote some of the same enzyme activity, and therefore a highly fermentable wort and crisp, dry finish, that happens during a decoction mash. The flavor component of a decoction mash can’t really be duplicated without doing a decoction, at least in my opinion. Keith said he had done a step mash recently on his system, but the first attempt didn’t go exactly as planned and he had overshot his second saccharification temperature step due to the steam-jacketed mash tun raising the temperature mush quicker than he expected. We erred on the site of caution and very slowly raised the mash-in temperature of 133F up to 152F at a rate of about 1 degree per 3 minutes. It was a time consuming process, but in doing so I think we created the highly fermentable wort we were looking for by accommodating both the alpha and beta amalyze enzymes on the temperature rise up to 152F. The runoff and sparge were also done very slowly, especially when I’m used to doing a batch sparge with homebrew that is done in 10 minutes! The step mash may have also increase our mash efficiency above what was normal for Keith’s system. Keith has brewed thousands of batches of beers and has great brewing instincts to go along with a very technical aspect, so missing our pre-boil gravity wasn’t a big deal, he crunched a few numbers, added some water back to the boil kettle and got us back on track to finish at our goal gravity and volume.
We did a 90 minute boil to drive off all of the DMS precursor associated with all of the Pilsner malt that we had in the grain bill. At the 60 minute mark it came time to add our hops. In a previous commercial scale batch that I brewed, I think the beer got over-hopped because the commercial process for hop additions is a bit different than my homebrew process. Keith agreed to try and mimic my homebrew hop addition process on his system, even though it probably meant lower hop utilization and therefore having to use more hops. Normally, on his system all of his hops just go directly into the kettle, then also at flame out end up spending more time in the kettle during the whirlpool. My homebrew process is putting my hops in a hop sack and then squeezing the bags right at flame out. I’m used to dealing with hops in ounces, but for this batch we had close to 15 POUNDS of hops. Keith was a good sport as I stuff 15 pounds of hops into GIANT hop sacks and threw them into the boil at 60, 15, 10, and 5 minutes left to go in the boil. When I fish my hop sacks out of the kettle at the end of a homebrew boil, it’s pretty straight forward, just pick them out with a pair of tongs, squeeze the juices out of them and throw them on the ground. It’s not quite that easy when you’re dealing with giant saturated hop sacks that weigh 10 pounds each. It was a bit messy and more strenuous, but I think we accomplished mimicking my homebrew hop addition process.
The one thing that stood out most about Keith’s brewing process was his cleaning and sanitation techniques. He doesn’t leave a single chance for a bacteria or wild yeast to come in contact with a batch of his beer. Iodophor, a Star-San type sanitizer and iso-propyl alcohol are all used to keep things impeccably clean. The flaming up part of the is-proply alcohol is also super cool and flashy. He was the Tom Cruise from Cocktail of the brewing industry (for those of you born in the 80’s). I also liked how everything was done in an enclosed system, even the addition of yeast to the finished wort. He has a cool setup that CO2 pushes the yeast from his re-harvested yeast brink directly in-line into the fermenter. All of this may be the norm in the commercial brewing industry, but I was still thoroughly impressed. So after 10 hours, we finally got all the wort and yeast into the ferementer and set the temperature to 63F. This fermentation temperature is also lower than Keith normally ferments this yeast at, but he was open to giving it a try based on the homebrew process I used for this beer.
It was an amazing day of learning how to brew on a commercial scale and working with a brewer that has a ton of knowledge and really takes pride in every aspect of making a beer the best it can be. Keith was very open to trying to keep the brewing process and beer recipe exactly how I had made the original homebrewed version of the beer. I look forward to tasting the beer (fingers crossed that it turns out great) in a couple of weeks at the Shamrock and also look forward to tasting future beers that come out of the Steel City Brewers and Shamrock Brewing Company Cavalier Pro-Am contest!
Written by Ryan Kopp