It had to be the first brew day ever interrupted by a radar repair. Midway through our mash on the deck of the 1924 wooden tall ship Schooner Zodiac in mid-October, crew member and homebrewer Jeff Carson needed to climb the rigging to work on a marine radar system mounted high up on one of the masts. “You don’t see that every time you make beer,” Jeff said after coming down. “This could be the most expensive batch of homebrew made if the cost of a new radar is factored in.”
By the time we were boiling after the radar work and one mooring change later, bad weather had set in with wind and rain hitting the San Juan Islands in Washington. Foul weather gear met beer during the nighttime 60-minute boil. You can forget that other Pacific Northwest ocean-based reality television series. We were homebrew heroes battling Mother Nature on board a ship at sea brewing “The Deadliest Batch” (or at least that’s what it felt like in my mind being just a land-locked guy from Vermont.)
Making an IPA on the deck of the 127-foot Zodiac based out of Bellingham, Washington, is a truly unique homebrewing experience. The on-deck brewing was part of the Zodiac’s four-day brewery cruise through the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound where we sailed to different brewpubs each day and also had on-board beer tastings and seminars led by two Seattle-area commercial breweries. You sleep right on board in bunks, work hauling lines to raise the sails and are rewarded with a great hands-on sailing and beer experience on a beautifully restored classic tall ship.
The four days were a fun mix of beer and sailing. Along with almost 40 other people on the trip I learned how to read nautical charts, haul and then coil plenty of line and in an incredible leap of faith on the crew’s part actually man the helm and successfully avoided steering into one of the many islands dotting the area. I also had every beer lover’s dream of spending four days touring and tasting at new breweries, sampling beers with the brewers who made them and talking beer and brewing all day long. There was plenty of homebrew on board to try as well as some special limited release Pike Brewing offerings brought by Pike brewer Kelly Wiese, who was one of the passengers. Even the ship’s cook added to the overall beer experience baking bread in the galley from scratch using the spent grain from the brewing session and using beer regularly as a cooking ingredient for the meals. “How can you not love the idea of being on this schooner drinking great beer for four days?” Kelly Wiese said pint glass in hand as we spotted a seal playing off the side of Zodiac.
The idea for this new brewery cruise came about simply enough because most of the crew really likes beer. “A lot of us are homebrewers and here we are sailing a beautiful schooner in a beautiful part of the world, but also in a region that has become world renowned for beer,” Chris Wallace explained. “Plus, this gave us a really good excuse to brew on board during a trip.”
And the crew’s beer recipe for this trip lived up to all stereotypes about hop-heavy Pacific Northwest beers – an IPA that brought a mouthpuckering 123 IBU rating on a brewing calculator with a blend of Green Bullet, Chinook, Centennial and Willamette hop varieties. “We live in the Pacific Northwest. We like hops,” Chris said smiling in the understatement of the trip.
After battling the elements during the boil, the wort was allowed to cool before being brought down below deck in a carboy to the large wooden table in the main bunk lounge. And it was here that another lesson was learned from my first time brewing on a ship – the rocking motion of being on the water must aerate the wort pretty well. It wasn’t long after the British Ale yeast was added in the bunkroom that a strong fementation started up. It was fun to check the carboy for the rest of the trip while walking past the galley seeing the IPA bubble away nestled in a large milk crate.
I received a follow-up phone call from the crew as they had a first taste of that IPA we made during the trip. “It’s really good,” Chris said while sipping it on the Zodiac’s deck a few feet from where it was brewed one month earlier. “But I think it could use some more hops.”
Schooner Rat IPA
(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG =1.057 FG = 1.015
IBU = 123 (remember – it was brewed in the Pacific Northwest)
SRM = 29 ABV = 5.5%
8 lb. (3.63 kg) Briess 2-Row Pale Malt
2 lb. (91 kg) Crystal 60° Malt
2 lb. (91 kg) Caramunich Malt
1 New Radar System
26.4 AAU Green Bullet hops (2 oz./57 g at 13.2% alpha acids) (60 min)
13.1 AAU Chinook hops (1 oz./28 g at 13.1 % alpha acids) (15 min)
9.4 AAU Centennial hops (1 oz./28 g at 9.4% alpha acids) (0 min)
4.0 AAU Williamette hops (1 oz./28 g at 4% alpha acids) (0 min)
Wyeast 1098 British Ale yeast
Step by Step
Bring water to 145 °F (63 °C) and slowly stir in grains. Raise temperature to 150° F (66 °C) and hold for 30 minutes. Raise temperature to 160 °F (71 °C) and hold for 35 minutes or until you have enough time to climb the rigging up the mast and work on the radar system. Finally raise temperature to 170 °F (77 °C) for 20 minutes. Begin runoff and sparge. After runoff is complete, hoist the anchor and change schooner’s mooring location to quieter bay and bring to a boil. Add Green Bullet hops at start of the 60 minute boil. Put on foul weather gear as rain and wind pick up. Add Chinook hops with 15 minutes left. At end of boil, remove from heat and add Centennial and Willamette hops. Cool and aerate with a rolling wave-like motion. Add yeast and ferment at 70 °F (21 °C). Bottle with 3⁄4 cup corn sugar or keg.