Brewer’s notes: Raw materials

I love getting compliments for the beers we make here at Gotahold. The other day, a woman was talking with someone on the phone and telling this person that the aroma and flavor (I think she was drinking Oktoberfest) was so good that she could probably bathe in the beer. While it feels great to hear that all the work we do on the beers is being appreciated, I have to say I’m grateful and really depend on the expert work and passion of the folks who supply us with the raw materials we use to make the beer. These folks are unsung heroes; without their efforts, making great beer would be impossible.

 

Malts

Malting is a process that takes grain (predominantly barley) and transforms it into malt. The grain is soaked until it starts to sprout, then allowed to grow for a few days, and then dried. This develops enzymes that can break the starches of the grain into sugars, which is key to our ability to make beer. The grain can also be roasted in various was, creating colors that vary from yellow-straw to espresso black, with flavors to match. Malting and roasting malt are as demanding as brewing. If a batch of grain is out of specification (too dark, for example) the beer will be off as well. We absolutely depend on the exacting standards of the maltster; we just can’t make good beer without good malt.

 

Hops

Humulus Lupus, the Latin name for the hop plant, is a crop that is difficult to grow and process, and there is literally no other use for hops but for making beer. The vines are 20 feet tall and require a lot of water and sun. Picking hops requires expensive processing equipment that is used for one month out of the year. There are machines that cut loose the vines, special trucks which catch the long vines to transport them back to the picker, and large picking machines that pull the hop flowers off the vines and separate them from the leaves and other things which get picked at the same time. Oasthouses are enormous drying machines which dry the hop flowers. The hops are then baled and typically pelletized before reaching us at the brewery. All of this specialized equipment sits idle for 11 months out of the year, and then runs 24 hours a day for the month of September. Around the clock crews are needed to help with this work that are hired seasonally. It’s a crazy business, frankly, and we’re fortunate that hop growers not only do this great work, but also are constantly trying to grow new varieties with interesting flavors and aromas.

 

Yeast

We like using yeasts appropriate to the style we’re making. Lager yeasts for lager beers, Ale Yeasts for IPAs and Stouts, Belgian Yeasts for Belgian beers, and funky ‘wild’ yeasts for esoteric sours. Nowadays, there are multiple labs that will propagate and overnight ship us refrigerated  shipments of whatever yeast we need to do the make truly great beer. Hallelujah.

 

There are other suppliers that make my life easier – barrel merchants who find various wine and spirit barrels that we can use to age the beer. Suppliers of fruit and spices. There are folks who sell chemicals to the brewing industry who are as passionate about helping us get things clean as we are. Not to mention the folks who make and sell the amazing variety of equipment now available to the modern craft brewer. I just wanted to give these folks a shout out. I can’t do what I do without them, and they don’t often get the positive reinforcement I get in our taproom, when someone really connects with one of our beers.

 

 

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