As you might imagine, I love homebrewing, enjoy drinking good beer, and spend a lot of time with like-minded people. A few years ago one homebrewing buddy used his beer making expertise to land a sweet gig as the head brewer at a new brewpub. The Pennsylvania-based brewpub that occupies a former bank is appropriately named Vault Brewing Company and is complete with an actual working vault (below, right) currently used as a keg conditioning room. Recently I had the opportunity to take a road trip from South Carolina to Yardley Pennsylvania and spent two days at Vault Brewing Company immersing myself in the daily routine of a successful brewpub assisting my friend turned professional ale architect, Mark Thomas.
Our brew day began bright and early at 7:30 am and started with milling almost 700 lbs. of grain. Luckily we had an electric drill to help with milling. As the new guy I eagerly carried more than my fair share of 50 lb. bags of milled grain down to the brewhouse. While we were milling grain, hundreds of gallons of mash water were sitting in a hot liquor tank ready to relieve the grains of their fermentables. Smartly, Mark always fills this vessel the night before to save time on brewday. Before we mashed in Mark asked me to raise the alkalinity of the mash water by adding a measured amount of baking soda. This step was interesting to me because although I do check the pH of my mash and I know it is roughly in the appropriate range, I have never paid too much attention to changes in water chemistry with various styles. He explained that slight changes in water chemistry can have a dramatic effect on how the mash is affected by various grains and can alter mash efficiency and mouthfeel. This is very important at a professional scale as a decrease in efficiency equals an increase in cost per batch and more importantly may lead to an unwanted change in the finished beer.
Our day continued much like a homebrew day with a few exceptions. Probrewers replace their tubing with tri clover fittings, which are much easier to clean and last longer than rubber tubing. Mark also frequently checked and documented pH, temperature, and gravity as well as general brewing notes. Note taking is one aspect of pro brewing all of us homebrewers probably neglect the most (myself included), but as head brewer it is Mark's job to make sure each of his beers tastes great and can be reproduced. The latter is a lot harder than it sounds. Our non-stop brew day continued with similar detail until 5 pm when our finished product, a robust porter, was cooled, transferred to a fermenter, and the yeast was pitched.