Thursday, June 21, 2012

Beer Soaked Video

A big shout-out to Jeff Linkous of the Beer Stained Letter. Jeff diligently documented our homebrew adventures with the Tun Tavern's brewmaster Tim Kelly and posted a crisp little video.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Hot, Wet & Dirty

By Sal Emma

I always knew homebrewing is hot, wet, strenuous and potentially dangerous work. Today, I know making beer for pay is hot, wet, strenuous – and even more dangerous.

It brings new appreciation for that hoppy IPA or tart saison they’re cooking up at your local brewpub or micro. It’s (almost) like eating king crab after watching “Deadliest Catch” on Discovery. Sure, few brewers pay the ultimate sacrifice for their craft. But you could easily mess yourself up pretty nicely in a brewery.

Whether it’s wear and tear after hand loading a ton of grain or having 220-degree steam melt your face off … the men and women who brew your favorite beer are putting their all into it. Next time you hoist a glass, toast the folks who forced it into existence.

We had an up-close and personal look at all this recently, apprenticed to a patient and gracious tutor, Tim Kelly. Tim’s the brewmaster over at Tun Tavern Brewpub in Atlantic City. And he was saddled with overseeing our attempt to scale up our 1.5 barrel homebrew recipe to 5.5 barrels at the Tun.

Terry Leary and Sal Emma at Tun Tavern, Atlantic City
We won the Tun’s annual homebrew contest. We entered three beers: Bruges Blonde, a Belgian-style golden; Old Coot, a British old ale and Black Hole Porter, a big, hoppy, robust porter. The Black Hole took first, which earned us the privilege of brewing it at Tun. (The Bruges took third, which didn’t win us anything – but it’s kinda cool.)

Picture the scene. After five years on the job, Tim knows every tic and burp of this aging Newlands brewery. He gets it – and routinely churns out delicious varieties in spite of a few bad motors, bum thermocouples and other bits of busted gear. At 15, the brewery is starting to show its age. Tim works it like a musician – and makes it sing.

Into that well-oiled orchestration toss three ogle-eyed homebrewers, all gung-ho to get their boots wet in a real brewery: yours truly; Terry Leary, a retired letter carrier from Marmora; and Terry’s nephew,  Brian Hutchings, an I.T. man from Somers Point.

For days before our scheduled brew, I was fretting over how our romp through Tim's brewery might affect him. Imagine trying to get a day’s work done with a bunch of photo-snapping tourists at your elbow. What a pain in the neck! I had little to worry about. Tim was an amazing host and teacher. I think this can be credited directly to the fact that he started out as a homebrewer. He knows the neurosis from which we suffer, first hand.

It was clear from the minute we walked in that we were the day’s brewers. Tim supervised – to keep us from ruining the beer and destroying ourselves. After that realization, Terry asked, “So, if the beer sucks, it’s our fault?” Tim’s response. “Absolutely.” One of many great laughs throughout the day.

Brewmaster Tim Kelly and apprentice Brian Hutchings
Tim had all the numbers crunched before we arrived, adapting our recipe to his brewhouse. And he let us do just about everything, within the safety margin. We monkeyed with the pump manifold, dipped into a furiously boiling brewpot for a test sample, hoisted 50-lb. sacks of malt, raked out the spent grains, weighed out the hops … the whole nine.

There’s a bit of voodoo in the process. Scaling up a recipe for a different brewhouse is not straightforward. A lot of judgment calls and creative decisions – substituting hops, settling on the various temperatures, for example. But, by day’s end, we had produced a beautifully hopped, rich and roasty brew that was delicious, even unfermented. We could taste potential there.

Now we wait, as it bubbles in Tim’s fermentation room. After dry-hopping and conditioning, it will occupy a tap at Tun in June. And we’ll serve it on the Battleship New Jersey at the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild’s Annual Beer Festival, June 23.

Update: Tim will tap our beer at the Tun the same day as the beer festival, Saturday, June 23. Get yours while it lasts.