Brew Day at Beer Camp

The second batch...

We were back at the brewery at 8am on Friday for brew day. We actually had the option to show up at 6am to help get the first batch started but only one intrepid camper, Bruce, took advantage of that opportunity.

The pilot brewery mimics the big brewhouses, just on a smaller scale. In our case, two 10 barrel batches were going to be combined into a 20 barrel fermenter. When we arrived at quarter past eight, the first batch was being sparged. Scott Jennings immediately put us to work.

Selecting only the finest Hallertau Magnums

The first task was to run the specialty malts for batch #2 through the malt mill. This involved emptying 55lb bags of Pilsner and Munich malt into what was basically a giant vacuum that sucked the grain into the mill. After hydrating and crushing, the malt was sucked up into the mash tun.

About that same time, batch #1 was almost ready for the hops. We quickly dashed off to the hop storage room to weigh out our hops for both batches. In our meeting the previous day, we decided on two varieties of hops for the brew kettle. The first, as an homage to Sierra Nevada, was Cascade. The second was Hallertau Magnums, a variety that had special significance to Merideth and me. When we were in the Hallertau this past September we saw Magnums being harvested. It was cool to think that MAYBE hops we saw harvested in September were actually going into our brew.

Adding the second dose of hops to the brew

Once everything was weighed out and batch #2 was in the mash tun, we sat around and waited until it was time to add hops to the brew kettle.

Nuthin’ in Common was quadruple hopped with the Cascades and Magnums.  I know that sounds crazy since Miller Lite is triple hopped, but we had to up the ante.

On top of that, Sierra Nevada also employs a hopback, something we had never seen before. A hopback is a chamber that is loaded with hops. The wort passes through it before being chilled. Our brew was dosed with more Cascades and Magnums on its way to the fermenter. By mid afternoon, batch #2 was being transferred to the fermenter.

Sierra Nevada's rail spur

With  Nuthin’ in Common safely in the fermenter and the yeast pitched, it was time for a field trip to Sierra Nevada’s rail spur (think of a spur as a railroad station for rail cars). To save on grain transportation costs, Sierra Nevada built a rail spur, the first in Northern California since the 1950s, a few miles from the brewery. Instead of being trucked up from Stockton, their malt arrives on rail cars which are left at the spur.  From the spur, the malt is trucked to the brewery on a daily basis.

The just harvested barley field

A side benefit of the rail spur project was that Sierra Nevada ended up with a large piece of land to grow barley. If I remember the figure correctly, they planted 23 acres. Unfortunately, the barley was harvested the week before Beer Camp, so we missed the acres of grain waving in the breeze.

As a fan of Sierra Nevada’s estate beers, I am really looking forward to their first 100% estate harvest this coming fall; a first for the craft brewing industry.

Except for dinner at the brewery pub and hitting downtown Chico on Friday night, Beer Camp was pretty much over.  We went into Beer Camp Sierra Nevada fans. There was no need to convert us. Even so, we were impressed by what we saw and learned. It was an amazing experience. Thanks go out to all of our fellow campers and the Sierra Nevada staff that took time with us. You helped make it a memorable two days.

Nuthin' in Common is ready for the fermenter

Dry-hopping of Nuthin’ In Common began  several days after the beer went in the fermenters. For that, we chose Southern Cross, a New Zealand variety used in Sierra Nevada’s Southern Hemisphere Harvest and Hop 393, an experimental hop that was also used by a previous Beer Camp. We will be pouring Nuthin’ in Common at Ol’ Factory Cafe in Sand City, City Beer in San Francisco and Sacramento Brewing sometime this summer. We hope you come by and try it.

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