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Brew Day at Thirsty Bear Brewing Co.

San Francisco is home to a thriving beer culture.  Between specialty stores, beer tours, and craft breweries, the city has plenty to offer the beer aficionado.  One of our favorite beer Meccas is Thirsty Bear Brewing Co.

Located in San Francisco’s SOMA District, and certified organic, Thirsty Bear’s menu has a beer and/or Spanish inspired dish for everyone’s taste.  This year marks the brewpub’s 15th anniversary and to celebrate brewmaster Brenden Dobel decided to whip up a special single release batch.

The Hapa’s crew are regulars of Thirsty Bear so we were ecstatic when Brenden agreed to let us help brew their 15th anniversary batch.  Not sure what to expect and nervous that homebrew skills wouldn’t translate to a commercial brewery, we showed up ready to contribute in any way and learn from the masters.

For this limited edition beer, Brenden decided to think outside the style guideline and brew something new.  The recipe called for 1,100 pounds of pilsner and pale malt with additions of turbinado sugar and Belgian candi syrup.  This added sugars will kick up the alcohol content and added a nice coppery brown coloring.  This being harvest season, fresh wet hops were also used at the end of the boil.  The end result of this brew will be a well balanced beer with a hoppy backbone and amble ABV.

The first order of business was to change into some appropriate footwear.  Galoshes are a brewers best friend as things tend to get wet when you’re dealing with nearly 500 gallons of beer. 


Functional AND stylish

Next, we opened the grain bags and turned on the mill and auger.  Grain was fed into the mill and transferred to the mash tunwhere it was mixed with water at 170 degrees.  The brewery filled with the familiar sweet smells that permeate the kitchen on homebrew days.  This was a single infusion mash at 150 degrees. 

     
The mill and grain bags            Doughing in                                                         The mash

After mashing for an hour wort was recirculated until it cleared and was pumped to the kettle.  The sparge sprinkler was turned on and the grain bed rinsed of every last bit of sugar. 

As the kettle filled and wort brought to a boil, I had chance to speak with Brenden about brewing and beer.  Very interesting to get the opinions of someone who lives beer.  When asked about the future of craft brewing he was amazed with how far the industry has come since the 80s and excited to see where it will go. The boom in barrel aging and souring is just the tip of the iceberg.  He foresees more experimentation small breweries pop up nationwide.  It certainly is a good time to be a beer lover.

With a rolling boil in the kettle, the first addition of Magnum hops was added.  These will impart much of the flavor to this beer and are known for their clean bitterness.  The next addition was beautiful citrus smelling Cluster hops at 30 minutes.  Turbinado sugar also went into the kettle at 30 minutes followed by the Belgian candi syrup 45 minutes into the boil.  The last ingredient added was the fresh hops which were packed into nylon mesh bags and stuffed into the kettle.


Cluster hop addition                                   Fresh hops                                               Looking like a proud father

The wort was whirlpooled and allowed to settle making it easier to transfer sediment free liquid to the heat exchanger and fermentation tank.  Glycol and cold water were used in the heat exchanger to rapidly chill the hot wort.   We had previously pitched the yeast so all that was left to do was clean up.

1,100 pounds of grain doesn’t throw itself into compost bins, so it was up to us to clean out the mash tun.  Using a rake and old fashioned elbow grease the spent barley was scooped out and sent to the city for composting.

 
Spent grains                                                                        Scooping out all that barley

And so now we play the waiting game.  Two weeks from now Thirsty Bear will celebrate their anniversary and pour this beer.  Of course we’ll be there and hope that you’ll join us!

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