Peak Performance: Brewing on top of Mt. Whitney

I joined the MoreBeer! crew in August of 1998 (back then it was called Beer, Beer & More Beer) and I moved down to San Francisco, California (Bay Area) the same weekend my new business partners were set to climb and brew on Mt. Whitney. Mt. Whitney is not only the tallest peak in California at 14,505 feet (4,421 m), but it’s the highest point in the lower 48 states. I didn’t really think twice about it as I wasn’t on the trip, but they did it and had great tales that soon became a distant memory as we embarked on growing our tiny company over the next 25 years.

So I started to research the hike itself to prepare. As I’m not a hiker, I came to realize this isn’t a half-day or even a one-day type hike, especially if we were going to brew on top. In planning, we were looking at a one day up, camp, next day to the summit where we brew; then either head all the way back to the trailhead or camp on the way back.

MoreBeer! partners, Olin Schultz (left) and Chris Graham (right), brew a beer on top of Mt. Whitney to celebrate the company’s 25th anniversary. Photo courtesy of MoreBeer!

Fast-forward to April 1st, 2020 and we started brainstorming fun things to do to celebrate the company’s 25th anniversary. One of the partners, Olin Schultz, came up with, “We should brew on Mt. Whitney again.” I asked what’s involved and he made it sound super easy, but that we couldn’t do it until the following year due to the need for a wilderness permit. “Sure,” I replied, how hard could it be? I promptly forgot that I had signed up for the adventure. But several months later Olin comes into my office saying, “We got the permit in the lotto. We are set for end of July.”

We had backpacks brimming with gear for living outdoors, brewing, and now fishing.

A few months before the hike I started thinking about what we were going to brew and quickly decided we would need to do a brew-in-a-bag (BIAB) as we wanted to do an all-grain batch. After several trips to outdoor supply shops I had pieced together a system to do a 1-gallon (3.8-L) brew and proceeded to do a test batch in our brew room here at work. The brew went well and I thought I had a solid plan.

A month or so before the hike, we were checking on everything and it seemed there was a problem with the permit . . . we had never confirmed our plans. But we learned there were alternate permits we could put in for cancellations. Unfortunately, these alternate permits were not for the original trail, now called “easy way,” but for the backcountry John Muir Trail that gets you up to the summit in four days. Turns out it was a blessing in disguise as it gave us another month or so to train and plan.

The new permit also opened another opportunity: The California Golden Trout. Olin and I both fly fish and we’d only read about them. They live only in high elevation mountain lakes and streams in the Sierra Nevada . . . right where we would be hiking through! So instead of training, I spent countless hours at night on odd websites and forums learning how and where people caught them. We had backpacks brimming with gear for living outdoors, brewing, and now fishing. The first thing we did was weigh our bags and, whoops, both were well over 50 lbs. (23+ kg) . . . oh well.

Onto the brew. We got to the top of Mt. Whitney around 8:30 a.m. after hiking since 4 a.m. and it’s in the 40s °F (upper single digits °C) and windy. Needless to say none of my numbers held true for strike water temperature, holding mash temperature, time to get to boil, etc. So we improvised. We ended up doing decoctions to get the mash up, which in hindsight was pretty cool. The beer was super hoppy as I started with a 1-gallon (3.8-L) recipe, but on night three of camping cut it to 1⁄2 gal. (1.9 L) after revisiting how much water would be needed to brew with. Check out the video:

Issue: September 2022