By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
There are hundreds of different breweries in the U.S. alone, most of which feature a unique version of the IPA. Many also have a number of other hoppy beers that employ different techniques to get the most out of the hops that are added. The methods used by a commercial brewery may seem out of reach for the average homebrewer, but the equipment can always be scaled down. A hop back is one of these pieces of equipment that seems like it will only work on a larger scale, but with a little ingenuity you can build one either by using equipment you already have or by purchasing the pieces to make one.
What is a Hop Back?
A hop back is a vessel, usually made from stainless steel, that has a false bottom. It comes into play right after the boil and before the wort is chilled. When the wort is done boiling, the liquid goes through the hop back, which has been filled with hops. This process is like adding hops to the end of your boil, but instead of the hops just sitting there and losing their aroma you are quickly adding the aroma and then chilling it rapidly. This gives you the largest amount of hop aroma in your finished product. You can build your own hop back or buy one. There are few hop backs available either online or at your local homebrew shop.
What You’ll Need
To build a hop back, you’ll need a small kettle with either a false bottom or kettle screen and a weldless ball valve. If you can, modify one of your existing kettles in order to save some money. The biggest hurdle is making sure that you can chill the wort as fast as possible. If you are using an immersion chiller, you want to make sure that it’s sanitized and in the vessel you are running your wort into after you use the hop back. You want the wort to have good contact with the hops, so as you slowly drain out of the hop back you can have it go directly into your primary bucket. You should then be able to chill it down to pitching temps without the wort getting too hot in the fermenter. If you’re using a counter-flow or plate chiller, you just need to put the chiller on the outbound of the hop back and drain as normal. If you’re using a pump, you want to gravity feed your boil kettle into your hop back and then pump the hot wort through your wort chiller into the fermenter. Using the hop back can give all of your brews that extra level of hop. This added kick can help you create the perfect IPA.
Champions Ale [AG]
Champions Ale [Extract]
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Steve Braun just needed another $3,500.
In the two days leading up to March 9, the Old Growth Ales (OGA) co-founder had much to be both excited and worried about. With their “botanic ales” available only at private events, OGA had received enough positive feedback to convince them it was time to upgrade to commercial brewing. Now 42 hours away from the deadline of an all-or-nothing Kickstarter campaign, the Springfield-based brewing startup was $3,500 shy of a $20,000 goal.
But if they fell short, they’d get nothing.
With 10 hours remaining, they needed $1,287.
Then, with 100 minutes left, the final backers put Old Growth Ales over the finish line. Armed with $20,361 from 158 backers, one of Lane County’s most iconoclastic startups was ready to take some big next steps.
Old Growth Ales plans to upgrade its "Little Maker," which is a biodiesel P30 Chevy step van used for private events. To meet Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau rules, no fermentation occurs in Little Maker. It's only for education, catering and wort production. Photo by Trav Williams, Broken Banjo Photography
Botanic Ales: Old is New Again
What’s curious about Old Growth Ales is, as Braun explains, “We don't make much beer.” At least, not in the way we think of modern beer: a concoction of malt and hops. OGA wants to return the spotlight to herbs and other botanicals that comprise millennia of brewing tradition.
“We come across a huge range of understanding about the history of brewing,” says Braun. “Some people seem especially knowledgeable about brewing having a ‘lineage’ passed down from herbalists, alchemists, doctors and shamans. Other folks are completely unaware of the history,” particularly when it comes to hops. “Folks are usually amazed to hear that hops were not always ‘king.’ I often share that yarrow was once referred to as ‘field hops’ as a more common herb for bittering than hops. Non-hop bittering agents were outlawed in England in the 1700s.”
OGA wants to bring back yarrow and other brewing herbs and plants, for what they call “botanic ales:” gruits (herb mixtures for flavoring and bittering beer), metheglins (mead with herbs or spices added) and country wines (made with flowers, herbs, spices and/or fruits other than grapes). “Some people very much want an alternative to hop and barley ales that are not sweet ciders,” says Braun. “Most folks come to our product with curiosity… They want to learn more about botanic ales and are super excited to try our variety.”
Driving this interest is more than a quirky niche in a packed marketplace. Braun considers it “a question of values. We value the ecology of the Cascadia bioregion, the Northwest. We want to connect people to their environment, which in environmental education we call ‘nurturing a sense of place.’ I am an environmental scientist and environmental educator. The practices of Old Growth Ales are a direct extension of that.”
The initial spark for the idea of a bioregion-focused, eco-aware, beyond-malt-and-hops brewery came six years ago. While cross-country skiing near Willamette Pass, Braun and brewing partner Charlie Shepley began discussing different ways to brew. From there, they began working with business incubators to procure small business individual development accounts and learn the business side of brewing.
Over time, co-founders Braun and Shipley found the right people to be part of OGA. Brewer Emily Ryan provides support as a health and wellness consultant. Rebecca Roebber’s marketing and green business development expertise guides OGA. With herbalist and nutritional therapist Amanda Helser, Braun explains, “The brewery really focused on botanic ales.”
“We make an herbal coffee stout — with no coffee — and we are working on a hop-free IPA analog,” says Braun. In addition to “a lambic with alternative bittering to hops,” OGA brews gruits such as Summer Gruit, “a unique blend of bitter and slightly sour/floral characteristics, resulting from mugwort and yarrow for bitterness, and from elderflower and St. John’s wort for floral, musky and sour notes.”
A hibiscus wine, a spice brew with ginger, and a sahti, or juniper ale, are also in the works. Braun notes that Achillea millefolium, or common yarrow, will be a common element across OGA beverages.
“I am especially drawn to yarrow,” Braun says. “Yarrow can provide a range of great flavors and aromas from wintergreen to bitter to slightly sour.”
Braun expects five primary distribution channels: select Willamette Valley taphouses, special events such as weddings and reunions, direct sales at public events and festivals, dock sales, and a CSA, or “Community Supported Ales,” where “folks buy a share and get regular bottles.”
During the next two years OGA expects to have established commercial production and distribution. A 1- to 3-barrel brewhouse is planned initially, with next-phase plans including a tasting room and 3- to 7-barrel system expansion. They also want to develop a farmhouse brewery, with capacity to hold private events. Photos by Trav Williams, Broken Banjo Photography
The Little Maker That Could
With the Kickstarter goal met, celebration has given way to the hard work of next steps. In addition to preparing rewards for backers, OGA is finalizing licensure, which is expected by autumn, and evaluating locations.
“One space we are excited about is north of Coburg, down the street from Agrarian Ales,” says Braun. “There seems an opportunity for synergy.”
While tending to operational brass tacks, OGA is working on their biggest challenge: remaining true to their environmental and social ethics while meeting business demands. “We wild-harvest plants locally for our ales,” Braun explains. “We cannot over-harvest these plant stands. Therefore, we have a limit to the quantity of some of the ales we produce.”
OGA will also upgrade the “Little Maker” that began it all: a biodiesel P30 Chevy step van for private events. To meet Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau rules, no fermentation occurs in Little Maker. It’s only for education, catering and wort production.
“We have installed four taps on the side, added solar panels, and created a breezy A-frame cloth hut on top for relaxing.” Braun says. “This summer we will add a waxed canvas awning for ambiance as well as sun and rain protection. Plus we are installing a sink, getting a new paint job, and improving the sound system.”
Over the next two years OGA expects to have established commercial production and distribution. A 1- to 3-barrel brewhouse is planned initially, with next-phase plans including a tasting room and 3- to 7-barrel system expansion. Braun says they want to develop “a farmhouse brewery, with capacity to do private special events: music, camping, rustic cabins.”
And starting now, thanks to 158 backers from the Internet, Old Growth Ales is on its way.
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
From Vancouver, British Columbia, to San Diego, Calif., in 2014, Eugene-based Ninkasi Brewing Company donated 120,000 pints of Ninkasi beer, worth approximately $150,000, to causes throughout its distribution area. Donations were managed through the company’s Beer is Love program, established in 2012.
“Beer is Love is a core piece to Ninkasi’s company culture, value system and method of business,” says Nicole Nelson, Beer is Love Northwest program manager. “It is beyond worthwhile to make positive steps toward a better community and offer support in any way we can.”
During 2014, Beer is Love supported more than 500 organizations. Through 90 “Pints for a Cause” nights, the program also raised $22,456 for nonprofit and community organizations in the Eugene/Springfield area.
“We look for sustained meaningful partnerships and general alignment with our own beliefs about community partnership,” Nelson explains. “We support organizations primarily through in-kind product donation and volunteer hours. We have open conversations with our partners about how to best work together and create the best situation possible for each donation and event.”
Nelson recalls one of Ninkasi’s early donations: contributing beer to downtown Eugene’s New Zone Gallery in 2009. Though Ninkasi’s efforts have grown substantially since those first kegs, Ninkasi still donates to New Zone monthly for Eugene’s First Friday Art Walk.
As more requests came in and more support went out, Ninkasi realized they needed a formal program and an organized process to manage donations and relationships with community organizations. It also helped them manage expectations on what projects they could and could not support. Today, the expansive program is part of Ninkasi’s entire distribution area, encompassing events at the Eugene tasting room, national sales, and point-of-purchase programs. “We are looking to contribute to causes in every way possible,” Nelson says.
The company also allows employees to use paid work days to support local causes of their choice. Ninkasi employees have created literacy kits for United Way, assembled mailers for the School Garden Project and The Service Board, walked dogs at Luvable Dog Rescue, volunteered in their children’s elementary schools, and planted native species for the McKenzie River Trust and Berggren Demonstration Farm.
Ninkasi has also had an evolving relationship with Springfield/Eugene Habitat for Humanity. “Habitat affiliates turned out to be wonderfully reciprocal enthusiastic partners,” Nelson explains, “and Ninkasi became more and more involved with the cause. Eugene/Springfield is our local affiliate and Jean Stover, the resource development coordinator there, has become part of the Ninkasi family.”
As part of their most recent assistance, Ninkasi has sponsored construction of a Habitat house in Springfield. “We contributed financially to the project,” says Nelson, “and also are sending teams to help build, probably 12 employees total so far.”
As of press time, Ninkasi did not yet have projections for its 2015 Beer is Love donations, but they expect the program to continue serving more causes. “We believe in community and working together for positive results,” says Nelson. “As our regions grow, so does the program.”
By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The bottom blew out of the carboy the first time Brandon and Greg Neldner made beer. When Brandon got home from work, the doomed brew was dripping through the dining room floor and coming close to splashing into a fish tank in the basement. After mopping up, Brandon’s understanding wife Brandie agreed to let them try again.
It’s a couple of years later and now the Neldners have picked up some partners and are laying out plans to open a brewery housed in a small walled-in carport in the backyard of their Oregon City home.
“Honestly, it kinda started as almost a gag,” is the way Brandon starts to explain how this brewery got started. “For Christmas, Greg got a Mr. Beer kit. And we’re like, we both like beer; let’s go ahead and make the beer. We made it. We tried it. We said, this is really bad. We can do better than this.” They used Craigslist to find used carboys and borrowed a pot. “We did liquid malt with the help of local homebrew shops helping us with recipes. From there we very quickly moved on to partial mash,” Greg says.
Deciding how good those first, and subsequent, batches were was a task that fell to the tongue of Ryan Jeske. Sitting next to Brandon at the dining room table, Ryan is wearing a tight-lipped grin and a comfortable T-shirt labeled “John Beere.” He nods his head when someone describes him as a beer sommelier. He works for an HVAC company with Greg and Brandon and helped the brothers build a 50-square-foot walk-in cooler in the basement.
Casey Elstab is sitting next to Ryan. Brandon and Greg call him the yeast wrangler. Brandon met Casey when he was on a service call at Casey’s home. Brandon noticed some carboys and began talking fermentation with the transplanted Texan. “Yeast is what you have to perfect,” Casey says. “I got a lot of lab equipment and set up a little lab and started culturing yeast — pitching very precise yeast counts with every batch of beer.”
Casey’s precision will be tested in the next several months. Brandon is filing the federal and state paperwork to open a brewery. Growth will follow. Greg says that means “moving up to a 1-barrel system. We’ve got to convert all our recipes because going from a sixth barrel to a full barrel, you don’t just get to multiply by six. It’s not that easy. Recipes don’t perfectly ratio out that way. You have to tweak it out.”
Those recipes should be interesting. “We like IPAs but right now we’re tending a little toward the German-malty beers,” Greg says before Brandon adds, “We’ve got some pretty off-the-wall recipes that I think fit right in with the Oregon atmosphere.”
One beer he says he can tell us about was brewed with Oregon-grown strawberries and rhubarbs. An independent sipping confirms it tastes like a sour ale. They will also have a berry twist on a honey beer and a third beer they will only identify after asking for a vow of secrecy. (I can only tell you it has a nice smoky flavor.)
When the brewery first opens, they plan to brew twice a week on Saturdays and Sundays. They want to concentrate on keg sales initially. Having a bottling line might overtax a tight budget. But the partners think they will be able to grow a client base and show a bank a bottom line that will earn them a loan.
If you go to the Oregon Secretary of State’s corporation files, you’ll find this brewery listed as “Shattered Oak Brewing.” Brandon begins to tell the tale behind the name: “We do a lot of hunting and one night there was a big storm and the next day we were walking out and saw a big tree…”
“Lightning had hit and destroyed it. It broke off the top of it and left branches scattered all over,” Brandie Neldner continues.
Thinking back to that first batch when Brandon recalls how the airlock got stuck and the bottom of the carboy blew out, I ask whether he ever wakes up in the middle of the night worrying about what could go wrong.
“No. There’s been some definite thought of, ‘Are we capable of doing this?’ And then it’s you just gotta talk to each other and have the support in each other. Obviously, if you’re gonna be partners you’d better.”
Shattered Oak wants to be legal and selling beer by the end of the year.
By Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
For some it's what’s not in their beer that matters most. If you are or have friends and family that are vegan, then a lack of animal products in your beer is important. Many commercially-brewed beers are vegan, and most brewers are happy to tell you if theirs are, especially in Portland where the status of a product being vegan is an often-asked one. However, if you're interested in making your own vegan beer it may be easier than you think.
The main component that generally keeps a beer from being vegan is the use of an animal-based fining/clarifying agent. Isinglass, made from the air bladders of fish, is the most common fining agent although gelatin, made from cow and horse hooves, is also sometimes used. Both are available at homebrewing shops and from online retailers, as are two vegan options that are equally effective.
One option is Biofine Clear, a liquid made from silicic acid, and another is Polyclar, a powdered, insoluble plastic polymer. Both will cause yeast and other haze-causing particles to drop out and won't add significant cost to your beer. Additionally, homebrewers may opt to skip the use of a fining agent and rely on racking and cold crashing to achieve the desired level of clarity.
On the topic of clarity, the style of beer that you choose to make will have an impact on whether clarity is important. Making a pilsner? Then you'll be looking for a very clear finished product. Making a hefeweizen? Here you might get some skeptical looks unless your beer is slightly hazy. Unless you're planning to enter your beer in a competition, make it the way you like it. That's the great thing about making your own beer; personal preference trumps just about anything else.
Another area of consideration to note is that there are a couple of non-vegan ingredients that are called for in some recipes. Those can easily be avoided by keeping them in mind during your recipe selection or formulation. The first is lactose, which provides both sweetness and mouthfeel in beers such as milk or sweet stouts. Honey is another ingredient you'd want to avoid, but keep in mind that many beers with honey in their name may not contain actual honey. The name may simply be referring to the malt used and/or the color of the beer.
Finally, a discussion about vegan beer wouldn't be complete without addressing the fact that yeast is required in the making of beer, just as it is required in the making of other fermented products like kombucha. Back in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, before people had a full understanding of the process of making beer and yeast was not known about, spontaneous fermentation "just happened" due to wild yeasts in the air. These days there are a wide variety of yeast strains available. And while some may consider products made with yeast to be non-vegan, perhaps their role in helping you make beer can be seen as divine providence. By brewing beer you are providing the yeast with a happy home and plenty of food in exchange for its labor -- turning wort into beer.
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