It’s well-known that many of today’s commercial craft brewers discovered their brewing talents at home. In kitchens, basements and garages, these determined brewers refined their brewing techniques while developing recipes that, in some cases, became the barometer by which their breweries are now judged.
Starting a commercial brewery or brewpub, while enticing and perhaps the goal of many a homebrewer, is a serious and risky undertaking that is out of reach for many. Yet, three former homebrewers — Peter Ausenhus of Worth Brewing Company in Northwood, Iowa, Hank Sanford of Hank is Wiser Brewery in Cheney, Kansas, and Patrick Dakin from Jasper Murdock’s Ale House at the Norwich Inn in Norwich, Vermont — now operate commercial brewing establishments that keep their genesis close to home. They aren’t based in the home any longer, but they aren’t far from it as each brewer simply expanded their homebrewing knowledge to 10-gallon (38-L), 15.5-gallon (59-L) and 150-gallon (568-L) systems, respectively. (By comparison, a 7-barrel brewery — the size of many small brewpubs — produces roughly 220 gallons (830 L) or more per session). In this way, these three have been able to operate small-scale brewpubs and offer a wide variety of beers — even in limited runs — for their faithful customers.
Of course, opening a commercial brewery requires more than the ability to homebrew. You need a good business plan, some capital, a good location . . . and a little luck. The trials and tribulations of getting a brewery started are stories unto themselves. But, given the scale these guys brew at, and their backgrounds in homebrewing, we thought they might have some valuable insight into brewing at a scale relevant to homebrewers.
The three brewers took a little time out of their busy brewing schedules — you brew more frequently when you make smaller batches! — to share some brewing tips and time-tested secrets that they’ve uncovered for increasing their consistency and ease of brewing.
Is it Worth Brewing?
Ausenhus, who has been homebrewing since 1987, brewed professionally with Summit Brewing Company (St. Paul, Minnesota), is a certified BJCP National Beer Judge, and opened Worth Brewing in March 2007. (The name comes from the fact that Northwood, Iowa is located in Worth County.) The brewery’s motto is, “If it’s not hand crafted, it’s not Worth Brewing.”
At Worth, Ausenhus brews 10-gallon (38-L) batches using equipment that many homebrewers would find familiar. He crushes his grain with a Schmidling Maltmill, produces his wort with a Sabco Brew-Magic system, ferments in 27-gallon (100-L) Blichmann conical fermenters (two brews to a fermenter) and serves his beer from 5.0-gallon (19-L) Cornelius kegs.
Ausenhus notes that following regular brewing procedures is essential for turning out quality brews on a consistent basis. Professional brewers generally follow strict guidelines with each beer to ensure each batch is up to par. While homebrewing allows for a lot more variables to effect the nature of the beer, following a regular routine will cut down on potential errors that can lead to a bad batch or missing personal brewing goals.
“Brewing good beer is very much about procedure — I’m not talking about following rigid guidelines in materials or beer styles, but in the mechanics of brewing, from mashing to sanitizing to fermenting and packaging,” Ausenhus explains. “Find a routine that results in clean beers that hit your criteria and stick to it.”
Hank is Wiser
“We’re on our 300th batch now,” says Sanford, who retired early from his manufacturing sales manager position to open his “dream job” brewery in 2005, filled with his collection of brewery memorabilia from around the world. “We’re continually finding ways to make everything run smoother, easier and go better.”
The Hank is Wiser brewery is located in a historic building in downtown Cheney, Kansas (near Wichita). In the brewhouse, Sanford makes 15.5-gallon (59 L) batches on a Sabco Brew-Magic system, ferments in converted Sanke kegs and serves his beer from 5-gallon (19-L) Cornelius kegs.
Sanford likes to toss about the term “repeatability.” As a commercial brewer, even a small one open three days a week, he says it’s critical that his beers are the same time and time again. For this reason he takes careful notes of each batch run, including, mashing times and temperatures, length of boil, hops additions, pitching temperatures, etc.
“In our first year in business we did a lot of experimenting, so recipe to recipe the beer might change in some aspects,” Sanford said. “(But) when you are selling beer you have to achieve repeatability. In all my years as homebrewer, it was one of the things I had difficulty with because we didn’t control the total brewing process, mainly the fermentation. When you are a homebrewer, if you brew the same recipe in the winter versus the summer you’re likely to have a different taste in the beer.”
One way these small brewers combat temperature shifts during fermentation is with special coolers with high temperature thermostats that allow them to dial in and control exact fermentation temperatures. While that might not be a cost efficient option for many homebrewers, even a dorm or smaller refrigerator can work. Make sure it either has a temperature gauge, or do some experimenting (with warm wort-filled carboys if possible) to find the appropriate temperature gradients. A glass front can be useful (though coolers like this can be difficult to find) as well to monitor fermentation times.
The Brewer is Inn
Another option is the food-grade glycol jackets that Dakin uses on his fermenters at Jasper Murdock’s Alehouse. Jasper Murdock’s is located in the Norwich Inn, which was established in 1797. In 1993, the brewery opened and the began brewing English ales, brewed in 5-gallon (19-L) carboys. The brewery uses English malts and supplements their English hops with those from their own hopyard. In 1995, they upgraded to a new 4-barrel brewhouse … which brings us back to the jacketed fermenters. These jackets measure the fermentation temperature and circulate liquid coolant as needed to maintain that temperature. They cannot heat the fermenter (he pitches at a slightly higher temperature because of this), but can cool it to the determined goal. In Dakin’s case, this is 64 °F (18 °C).
Consistency and the Cold Side
“Consistency is a very important goal for our four year-round beers (pale ale, Slim Jim — a clean ale, brown ale and oatmeal stout),” says Ausenhus. “I have a 4-by-8-foot fermentation room that holds fermenters at ale fermentation temps year-round. I do lagers in a separate lagering chest freezer.”
Sanford follows a similar procedure, but at this point has not yet invested in a lagering cooler.
“We purchased a special walk-in cooler with a high temperature thermostat to maintain roughly 68–70 °F (20–21 °C) degrees in that environment and maintain consistent fermentation temperatures,” Sanford adds. “That is probably the one biggest single factor that has allowed us to achieve repeatability.”
By contrast, Dakin, who’s been homebrewing since “Sam Adams was considered exotic” is less concerned with exactly duplicating beer after beer. For one thing, he’s not sure your average customer can identify subtle variations that might occur from batch to batch. For another, he believes the most important thing uncovered as a homebrewer was that if the beer is high quality, people will enjoy drinking it. And if it is close enough to the style expectation, such as the Ale House’s year-round offering, Whistling Pig Red Ale, then it’s a job well done.
“I’m not sure you necessarily have to have things exactly the same,” Dakin says. “I think that’s part of the charm of brewing on (a smaller) scale. I know each batch is going to be slightly different. I follow the same recipe and attempt to use the same process, but there are differences. If the beer’s within a certain range and people are going to recognize it for what it is and it tastes pretty much as they expect, and even if it’s slightly different, I think that’s okay.”
While Sanford says he enjoys the chance to experiment — that’s part of what homebrewing is all about — with his seasonal offerings, he doesn’t subscribe to Dakin’s thinking. He believes the six regular house brews offered should, for the sake of customers, rarely waver in consistency.
“Once you get people who like it, you don’t want it to change,” he says. “Not even a small amount.”
Homebrewers who brew a different beer each session may question if consistency is an important goal. However, even if you’re brewing a pale ale one day and a porter several weeks later, consistency in your brewing can pay off. By using the same protocols, within the confines of your changing recipes, you are more likely to achieve consistent extract efficiencies and boil-off rates — things that will help you hit your target original gravity and volume. Likewise consistent yeast-handling procedures should yield fermentations that start reliably and always reach a reasonable final gravity.
Plan Your Work. Work Your Plan.
Another important step for these brewers is planning. In giving proper thought to what will be brewed and when, these brewers have learned to save both time, energy and money — three things homebrewers appreciate.
Sanford explains that at Hank is Wiser, he will often brew back to back to back batches of beer. While this might prove more of a challenge for homebrewers, the main advantage in consecutive batches is decreasing total cleanup. A quick clean is sufficient, he says, between batches while the equipment is hot and in constant use. Once brewing is finished, of course, the usual deep cleaning is in order.
Sanford adds that another time saving technique employed at Hank is Wiser is doing a longer single fermentation to avoid racking to a secondary. Reasons for racking include increasing beer clarity, but also preventing off flavors from dead yeast. Sanford doesn’t believe this is necessary, whether at the homebrewing level, or something larger.
“A lot of times that secondary is not necessary,” he says. “It’s designed to give you clearer beer. We condition in one fermentation cycle, but we make it long enough that it goes right into the second fermentation cycle.
“If you read about the actual process of making beer, it can be in that same container,” he continues. “The fermentation slows down enough, and if it goes through the fermentation cycle and the secondary in the same container, it saves a lot of time and clean up. If you’re brewing on a small batch like we are, you try to keep things as simple as possible.”
When it comes to saving money, often a factor for the homebrewing population, producing similarly styled beers close together, usually within one to two weeks, can take advantage of repitched yeast. Pulling healthy yeast from the middle of a slurry can provide an active culture ready to go to work. Of course, this saves any time spent waiting for a yeast starter to peak, as well as the money spent on fresh yeast.
“I always repitch from one of my pale beers after one week of fermentation. I have a conical bottom fermenter and try to take about a half-cup of clean slurry from the middle of the dump,” Ausenhus says, who adds that he’s not used a new yeast culture in more than a year. “I’m sure there is some mutating, but again, consistent procedure seems to produce a clean, consistent product.”
Another planning aspect that is equally as important for homebrewers without a fermentation cooler that can regulate temperatures is making sure the beer you want to make won’t suffer from the heat or cold in the room where it might be fermenting.
“Don’t fight mother nature by brewing a double bock in July and expecting the basement to provide lagering temps,” Ausenhus cautions. “Schedule beers to ferment at appropriate ambient temperatures.”
One heartening thing about these brewers is that they prove you can make commercially viable beer on homebrewing equipment. (Not that we ever doubted that.) And, the brewers have some equipment-related advice.
Sanford has two other recommendations for homebrewers, both involving equipment he didn’t have when homebrewing, but considers vital in his current operation: a wort chiller and an oxygen tank. Sanford says he, like most homebrewers, used to wildly shake his carboys for aeration. Certainly, he can’t do that with his 15.5-gallon (59-L) batches, so he uses an oxygen tank for aeration. Discovering the simplicity of this, he now wishes he had one when homebrewing.
As for the wort chiller, well, he’d have taken that “toy” over the tank in a second.
“If I were back to being a homebrewer, I’d get a wort chiller,” he says with a laugh. “Got to have a wort chiller. Back then sometimes it was difficult to get your wort chilled. I remember sticking the kettle into an ice bucket and running water over it to cool it as fast as possible. A wort chiller does a heck of a job cooling it down, and does it consistently. It helps with repeatability too.”
Each of these brewers works on different systems with different batch sizes, and with different expectations of results. That is not unlike homebrewers, who range from beginning stovetop extract brewers to experienced all-grain brewers (who may be brewing on a Sabco, just like Ausenhus and Sanford). Dakin says whatever the system, understand how it works, determine its limitations, and then work within that structure to make good beer.
“Every system has a box, or set of parameters, and there is a lot of wiggle room within those lines,” Dakin says. “Even if it’s something you’ve never tried before, if you stay within the system and know where there’s flexibility and understand those concepts about your system, as long as you stay within the lines the batch is going to be drinkable.”
One thing that the results from homebrew contests have shown is that you can make award-winning beer by any of the common homebrewing methods — extract, partial mash or all-grain. Brewing great beer is not about having the fanciest brewery, it’s about getting the most from your brewery.
The Big Picture
At the end of the day, it all comes down to the same goal, producing quality, drinkable beers. And while these brewers differ in varying degrees in approach, expectations and ideals, it’s not unlike the different homebrewer expectations. Some strive for exact duplication of favorite recipes, while others throw caution to the wind and wait with anticipation to “discover” what they made.
In that vein, Dakin notes that homebrewing has a lot fewer headaches than brewing on a large scale, even with his sometimes casual approach to beer making.
“I’ve come to learn that . . . there’s probably a little more tolerance in the brewing process than many of us will allow ourselves to think,” he says with a laugh. “This is certainly true on the smaller scale side. I get away with doing stuff a bigger brewery wouldn’t even think of trying.”
While all these tips are useful to anyone brewing, and Dakin makes it clear not to stress over making beer, Ausenhus offers one final reminder of why we began homebrewing in the first place: “To enjoy and respect all aspects of good brew and the relationships they engender.”
Worth Brewing Belgian Grand Cru
(5 gallon/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.059 FG = 1.010
IBU = 31 SRM = 8 ABV = 6.3%
Iowa has a 5% alcohol by weight (ABW) limit — this works out to just over 6% alcohol by volume — for native brewers, so Belgian ales are a challenge. Here is a favorite that hits the limit but isn’t quite as strong as most Belgian ales. — Peter Ausenhus
10 lbs. (4.5 kg) Belgian 2-row Pilsner malt
0.50 lb. (0.23 kg) Belgian Carapils malt
2.0 oz. (57 g) Special B malt
0.50 lb. (0.23 kg) candi sugar (light to dark, depending on the color you desire) (add toward end of boil)
0.50 lb. (0.23 kg) honey (0 mins) (Worth Brewing collects their own)
6 AAU Vanguard hops (60 mins) (1.2 oz./35 g of 5% alpha acids)
2.5 AAU Vanguard hops (45 mins) (0.5 oz./14 g of 5% alpha acids)
Wyeast 1214 (Belgian Ale) yeast
Step by Step
Protein rest at 137 °F (58 °C) for 10 minutes. Saccharification rest at 151 °F (66 °C) for 50 minutes. Dextrin rest at 158 °F (70 °C) for 10 minutes. Ferment starting at 65 °F (18 °C), but let temperature rise to 75 °F (24 °C).
Extract with grains option:
Reduce Pilsner malt to 1 lb. 6 oz. (0.62 kg) and add 1.5 lbs. (0.68 kg) light dried malt extract plus 4 lb. 6 oz. (2.0 kg) light liquid malt extract. Steep crushed grains in 3 qt. (~ 3 L) of water at 151 °F (66 °C) for 60 minutes. Add water to make at least 3 gallons (11 L) in brewpot. Add dried malt extract and bring wort to a boil, adding hops at the times indicated in the ingredient list. Boil for 60 minutes. Add sugar for final 15 minutes of the boil. At end of boil, stir in honey and liquid malt extract and let steep for 15 minutes (with the lid on). Cool wort, transfer to fermenter and top up to 5.0 gallons (19 L). Aerate wort and pitch yeast.
Hank is Wiser Brewery’s Porter Potty Porter
(5 gallons, extract with grains)
OG = 1.050 FG = 1.012
IBU = 48 SRM = 34 ABV = 5%
6.6 lbs. (3.0 kg) amber liquid malt extract
10 oz. (0.28 kg) crystal malt (60 °L)
5.0 oz. (0.14 kg) chocolate malt
3.0 oz. (85 g) black patent malt
12 AAU Cluster hops (60 mins) (1.5 oz./43 g of 7.9% alpha acids)
4.6 AAU Willamette hops (5 mins) (1 oz./28 g of 4.6% alpha acids)
0.5 tsp. Irish moss
1 tsp. Wyeast nutrients
Wyeast 1084 (Irish Ale) yeast
Step by Step
Pour 3.0 gallons (11 L) of water into a large pot. Heat water to 155 °F (68 °C). Put hops into bags and place crushed grain into three 6-oz. cloth bags. Place bags of grain into 155 °F (68 °C) water and hold temp for 20 minutes. Raise temp to 165 °F (74 °C) and hold temp for an additional 10 minutes. Remove bags (do not rinse grain bags) and add 1-gallon (3.8-L) of water to pot. Raise temp to start boil.
When wort is boiling, cut off heat and stir in amber malt extract. Resume heat and watch carefully. When wort starts to boil over, cut off heat and skim off top of wort until foam is gone. Resume heat and add Cluster hops and boil for a total of 60 minutes. Add Irish moss and yeast nutrients 15 minutes before end of boil. Add Willamette hops for 5 minutes before end of boil. Cut off heat and remove hop bags. Top off pot with 2.0 gallons (7.6 L) of cold water. Adjust transfer wort flow through counter flow heat exchanger to achieve 70 °F (21 °C). Add yeast when fermenter is half full. When done transferring wort, take aerating stone and oxygenate for 3 minutes at 10 PSI. Ferment at 68 °F (20 °C) for one week. Keg and force carbonate then let beer condition for one week at 36 °F(2.2 °C).
Replace malt extract with 9.0 lbs. (4.1 kg) of 2-row pale ale malt. Mash at 152 °F (67 °C).
Jasper Murdock’s Alehouse Whistling
Pig Red Ale
(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.050 FG = 1.013
IBU = 36 SRM = 19 ABV = 4.8%
8 lb. 15 oz. (4.1 kg) pale malt
13 oz. (0.37 kg) wheat malt
10 oz. (0.28 kg) crystal malt (60 °L)
2 oz. (57 g) roasted barley
9.6 AAU UK Target whole hops (75 mins) (0.96 oz./27 g of 10 alpha acids)
2.6 AAU UK Fuggle hops (10 mins) (0.64 oz/18 g of 4% alpha acids)
4.8 AAU East Kent Goldings hops (hopback, or at 0 mins) (0.96 oz./27 g of 5% alpha acids)
Fermentis S-33 ale yeast
Step by Step
Single infusion mash at 151–154 °F (66–68 °C) for one hour. Sparge at 160 °F (71 °C) or higher. Boil for 75 minutes. Pitch Fermentis S-33 ale yeast and ferment at 64 °F (18 °C).
Extract with grains option:
Reduce pale malt to 0.5 lb. (0.23 kg) and add 2.0 lbs. (0.91 kg) light dried malt extract plus 3.3 lbs. (1.5 kg) light liquid malt extract. Steep grains at 152 °F (67 °C). Add liquid malt extract for final 15 minutes of boil.