Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Big Push

There has been quite a bit of activity at The Commons Brewery as of late. Over the past few months we have been on a mission to
A) Get into a full production mode and
B) Get the tasting room opened up.

After returning from GABF my friend Jay who I went to Siebel with and his fiance came to town for a visit. They had just finished up the season working for the 49th State Brewing Company and were on their way back to New York for a few months. Jay is the brewer there and seems to be settling in nicely. He and I had decided we wanted to do a collaboration beer and had been emailing back and forth about exactly what it would be. Our main instructor for the Doemens part of our course is the brewmaster of the Uerige Brauerei, so we decided on a Sticke which is a slightly stronger alt beer brewed only a few times a year. We brewed a small batch together and after fermentation I let it lager for 4 weeks. The resulting beer is wonderful. It will be a fairly regular beer for the brewery.
We got in a bunch of new barrels and racks so I cleaned those up and got them ready for filling.


 We finally got all of our ducks in a row and decided to fire up the big system. The first beer we brewed is called Flemish Kiss. It is a pretty simple pale ale recipe which is fermented with an ale yeast at higher temperatures to bring out the fruity esters in primary then has brettanomyces bruxellensis added in the secondary. The beer sits for about 5 weeks to just get a hint of the brett. Of course over time the brett. character will develop more if it is in the right conditions. We will see how this beer acts once it is bottled.

Having a brand new brewhouse, with a brand new three roller mill poses some problems when it comes to efficiency. We pretty much had to guess for the first batch then compile data as we went along. We ran into some burner problems with the first two batches but have since dialed it in.
The Flemish Kiss fermented out nicely and was transferred to neutral Sirah wine barrels where the brett. was added. The hope was the O2 exchange from the barrels would help the brett. to do it's thing, and in the end it really did help. The flavor was perfect for this beer at about 4 weeks in.
The next batch we brewed is Little Brother which is a nice malt forward Belgian Dark Strong. In an earlier post I mentioned how I had brewed a few small batches of this that went into a Heaven Hill bourbon barrel. The idea for the last batch was to eventually blend most of it with the bourbon barrel batch to get a nice smooth, malty beer with a balanced bourbon note to it. Again we had burner issues with the kettle but called in a tech and finally figured out what we needed to do. The beer fermented out eventually but never had the right taste to it. When we did the blending session to figure out the ratio we were happy that the bourbon aged addition really covered up anything were unhappy with. The resulting blend was destined for the Holiday Ale Fest.
Deciding on ratio's

For the third brew on the new system we finally got around to brewing a big batch of Urban Farmhouse Ale which is one of our main year round beers and all was good, although it was  a little finicky in the fermentation and didn't want to clear up when crashed.
With everything starting to look more consistent and knowing we would have some beer to sell  we decided to start thinking about opening up the tasting room. Right around this time we added a third member to the team. Josh Grgas is now in charge of sales and the tasting room. Josh is a very knowledgeable guy about beer (and other things) and has great taste and a great palate. The three of us set a date for the opening and decided I should make a special beer for it. I wanted to do something pretty involved and went with a culmination of a few idea's that I had been wanting to try. I knew I wanted it to be dark, but not taste dark. I knew I wanted to do a farmhouse ale, I knew I wanted to use malted spelt, I knew I wanted to do a sour wort to get the beer slightly tart, and I knew that instead of doing a late hop addition in the kettle I would use flowers instead. The resulting beer is now called Fleur De Ferme.
I started a few days ahead of of time by mashing some pilsener malt in a cooler old school style.
I then ran that off into another cooler and added a handful of crushed malt. The idea is to basically incubate it at a certain temp. for a few days to stimulate the growth of the lactobacillus that is on the husks of the grain I threw in there. I then covered that in plastic wrap to keep the O2 out. I let it incubate for two days. In that time it went from 122 down to 96 which is the perfect range. I filtered out the grain and rain off the liquid. Upon smelling and tasting it it was a nice clean lactic sourness.

I used 26% malted spelt from Germany in the grist bill. The spelt malt smelled amazing. It was like fresh baked bread. The darkness came from de-husked carafa added at the end of the mash. I also added some cane sugar to help dry it out a bit. When the mash and sparge were done I added the sour wort into the kettle along with other wort. At the end of the boil I added the flowers I had chosen which were chamomile, hibiscus and lavender. It smelled heavenly in the brewery for a little while.
Spelt malt
Flower power
The beer fermented out nicely but of course I would change a few things if I brew it again. The tartness isn't as pronounced as I would like it to be and I added a bit more sugar then I should have so the beer was a bit stronger than desired. As for the sourness I will just let the wort sour a bit longer next time and really get this thing tart. All in all though the beer is really good. There are a lot of things happening that all go together nicely.
The weeks leading up to the opening of the tasting room were pretty busy, though we did manage to have some big things happen for us at the brewery. One major step forward was having a plumber fix our floor drain. The existing floor drain was a large catch basin that would really get ripe after a few days and was just too much of a risk micro-biologically. He was able to fill it in and add a new p-trap and floor grate all in a day. 
We were ecstatic. 

We also got a brand new jacketed brite tank from Colin at Practical Fusion. He is the guy who built our system and is quite the fabricator.
Loading in.
I also started to get the lab set up a bit more. Really I just got the microscope dialed in and took a peak at one of our house yeasts.
Trying to focus on year round beers I began the process of dialing in our Pils recipe. I first made a small batch with ingredients we had in stock. At first I wasn't too sure about it after tasting through the fermentation but this beer keeps getting better with age. When all is said and done, this will be a nice bitter, dry Pils, with a good nobile hop finish, what more could I want? Well I am going to do one more small batch and will be changing a few things. One of the big change's in the yeast. I would like our house lager yeast to be the same as Ayinger's. I really love that yeast and think it brings out the base malt a little more which is really what will add what is is needed to this beer. We will see.Another change will be the flavor/aroma hop. Not sure if it is a good move but time will tell. It will be cool to have them side by side to compare. One of these is ultimately going to the World Beer Cup competition, so I really need to dial it in. I am also excited about doing more lagers. That is something not a lot of breweries in Portland are doing, and after studying in Germany, something I know quite a bit about.
The week before the opening ended up being a crazy one. I did a lot of work getting the bar ready and putting some of my woodworking skills to use. I made a nice counter top for behind the bar out of some myrtle wood, built a cabinet, refurbished a cabinet, built a chalkboard, wired in lights did trim work and installed a sink. We also got our new tasting room glasses in and they are perfect. I also went and picked up a bunch of new kegs...phew.
Keg washing

We picked a Saturday to do the opening, but also really needed to brew that day. Josh has been doing such a great job selling the beer that we need to keep it flowing. The day ended up being about 16 hrs all the way through. Though the last part was more socializing and beer drinking on my part. All the beers were well received and I got some nice compliments on the Fleur De Ferme and the Sticke. It really felt like the past year of my life had been building up to that moment and I am happy with where I am at. A good number of people showed up including quite a few of my friends. I feel very blessed to be surrounded by such great people who are willing to show their support. I truly am humbled.
The next few months are going to be pretty busy, but I am excited and am lucky to be where I am at. Even on the long days it doesn't feel like work and at the end of the day there is some good beer waiting for me..



  1. So excited for this new venture! And I loved the Fleur de Ferme. More please. MG

  2. Good stuff Sean. I visited the tasting room last week and enjoyed everything. The sticke and little brother were exceptional! The fact that the 5 somewhat rube's I was with couldn't find the whiskey barrel aged beer in the tasting is proof of a subtle hand. strong work!