Friday, May 19, 2017

Behind the Brew Day: Big Boots Brew 2017

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Every year, Pink Boots Society members come together to brew a beer to promote the education and furthering of women in the brewing industry. Last year, I was honored to be invited to help with the brew. Lineage Brewing hosted the 2016 brew day, and we brewed Mother of Summer, a delicious wheat beer with lemon peel, coriander, and black peppercorns. The brew day was a blast, and I learned a lot, both brewing in a brewery that I was not familiar with as well as learning from several local kickass women who are leading the craft beer revolution in central Ohio. Imagine my surprise when, back in early February, the emails started flying and I was once again invited to participate despite my then-unemployment. This year, Weasel Boy was hosting the brew day, and several other breweries and industry professionals were also invited to participate.

Pink Boots Society, as I mentioned above, is an organization dedicated to the education and empowerment of women who work in the brewing industry. The organization is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary in June, a pretty amazing accomplishment, if you ask me. Teri Fahrendorf founded Pink Boots Society and has engaged several other women who I admire to help their fellow brewsters. Every year, around March 8, International Women's Day, those of us who are local to one another get together to collaborate on a beer whose proceeds goes back to Pink Boots Society. This brew day is called Big Boots Brew, and Pink Boots will suggest a style as a base guideline, although it is by no means a requirement to brew that particular beer. This year, the style suggestion was Historic Ales (a broad category, for certain). We women in central Ohio decided to brew a grisette with local pawpaw fruit and spicebush berries. I'll delve more into what we brewed below.

This year March 8 happened to fall on a Wednesday. I awoke that morning extra early in order to drop off my child to school and head out to Zanesville, not quite an hour east of Columbus. If you aren't familiar with how collaboration brews work, the hosting brewery not only hosts brew day, but they also decide the beer to be brewed (while everyone contributes a bit to the recipe) and accommodate the fellow brewers and have to fit it into their brew and fermentation schedule amid the other beers they produce, as well as organize a release party. It is not a small feat. This year, in addition to the women of Weasel Boy and Lineage, women from Seventh Son and the head of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association agreed to participate. We had a stellar all-star cast to brew this year's beer. Have I mentioned how fortunate I am to be included in this? Oh, and by "women of Weasel Boy" I mean the incomparable Lori Wince. I'm a fangirl with no shame. Lori started Weasel Boy with her husband Jay nearly 10 years ago (their decade anniversary party is coming up in July, so make plans now to get your ass out there), effectively making her the grand dame of central Ohio breweries. She knows her shit, and she's one of the nicest people you will ever meet (although she's also tough as nails, so I wouldn't want to disappoint her. It would feel worse than disappointing your parents). 
Lori Wince of Weasel Boy and Mary MacDonald of Ohio Craft Brewers Association tending to the wort grant.
Brew day had started at 8:00am. I was unable to make it out there until much later that morning. When I got there, we were in the middle of the mash. Lori came right up to me and told me, "I have a job for you," and set me to helping monitor mash temp. Little did she realize that there is my weakness. I screw it up on pretty much every all-grain brew I do, somehow. Figure in that I'm on an unfamiliar system, and disaster seems certain. As the temperature crept toward 170, I got nervous. She had quickly shown me the hot and cold water valves, and I set into a staring match with the thermometer on the wall. We were hanging around a healthy range of 165-170. She ducked off to conduct some interviews, as there were a few media crews on hand. I stared at the thermometer. It stared back. Watching paint dry or grass grow seemed to be an interesting alternative. And then the temperature started to drop. I panicked, and Lori was talking to media people. I tossed a frantic look to Jess Byrne (of Lineage), who was monitoring the wort grant, a modified keg that recirculates the mash. Jess was also unfamiliar with the controls. "What the hell do I do?" I thought to myself as the temperature nose-dived. OK, it can't be that hard. Turn on the hot water to bring the temperature up, right? So I did just that. But then the temperature over-corrected and skyrocketed above the 170 ceiling we had discussed. So I turned on the cold water and the temperature nose-dived. This was a finicky system! Lori noticed the erratic temps a couple of times and came over to save me and the precious wort we were making. Thank goodness. 
 Mary MacDonald (OCBA) shoveling spent grain out of the mash tun
Once the mash was done (typically about an hour), we transferred it to the boil kettle. I also got to monitor that process. The fact that I was still allowed anywhere near the brew deck surprised the crap out of me, so I took this very seriously. Once the wort had been moved from the mash tun to the boil kettle, we broke for lunch. Pizzas and salads were offered. If you haven't had Weasel Boy's pizza, do yourself a favor and drive out to Zanesville for a couple of pints and a delicious pie. You won't be disappointed.
Liz Stout and Caitlin Davis, both of Seventh Son, cleaning out the mash tun.
After lunch, the wort approached a boil, and Nichole Endicott (then with Lineage, she announced her departure for BrewDog a week or so later) and Lori added the hops to the wort. A typical brew day fully within my comfort zone filled the rest of the afternoon: we hopped, we transferred, we cleaned, we loaded spent grain into a farmer's truck, we shot the breeze about everything under the sun. 

Nichole Endicott (Lineage) and Lori Wince (Weasel Boy) add the hops.

So, what was the beer that we produced, despite my apparent intentions to completely screw up this beer? Lori wanted to brew a grisette with locally sourced ingredients. Pawpaw and spicebush berries were added later to the beer, after fermentation was complete. A wheat malt from Haus Malts in Cleveland was procured. If you aren't familiar with a grisette, it's basically a table saison. Table meaning that it's rather sessionable, around 5% ABV or less. Saisons are a popular style currently. Most are rather light in color, and they can run the gamut from having all sorts of clove/banana/bubblegum flavors to being very neutral and almost champagne-like. They typically finish quite dry, and my favorites are rather refreshing on a hot summer day with subtle and restrained Belgian esters and phenols. Pawpaw and spicebush are Ohio native plants. None of us in the group were really familiar with spicebush, although a bit of research before brew day indicated that it is very similar to allspice. Lori had taken some of her blonde ale (a rather neutral beer) and had dosed it with a spicebush berry tincture so that we could all get an idea of the flavor. My palate detected that it was, indeed, very reminiscent of allspice berries. 
 Jess Byrne (Lineage), Jessica Page (Lineage), and Mary MacDonald (OCBA) share a laugh toward the end of brew day.

We also made plans that day for release parties, although without knowing precisely when the beer would be finished, final plans could not be made on brew day. Everyone departed as the taproom opened. Lori kept us all apprised as to the progress of fermentation throughout the process. She pureed and added the pawpaw once primary fermentation was complete, and added the spicebush berries to the brite tank, right before kegging the beer. 

      Nichole Endicott (then of Lineage, now with BrewDog) cleans the boil kettle at the end of brew day. 

One reason that I always really enjoy this brew day is because it's challenging to me. Thus far we have brewed beers that are outside my typical repertoire. I've only brewed one other wheat beer, and one saison. In fact, before this year's beer was released, I had only had a grisette one other time. And that grisette was completely different from the one that we brewed. I admire every woman in this brew crew, and every one of us brings a different skill set to the table. The camaraderie is also evident whenever we gather. 

 Nevertheless Persist, enjoyed on Weasel Boy's patio overlooking the Muskingum River

In mid-April, the beer was released. Mary MacDonald had suggested that we name it Nevertheless Persist and we all fell in love with the name. Lineage held their party first, and the following night several of us went out to Weasel Boy for the release party there. The final party was held at Seventh Son the following week, although Liz was busy working in the brewhouse throughout the party. 

Jess Byrne (Lineage) and Lori Wince (Weasel Boy) look on during the Nevertheless Resist release party at Lineage.

So, how was the beer, you ask? In a word, delicious. It ended up at 5.6% ABV. Hmm, maybe my messing up the mash temp worked in my favor, although Lori wanted it to end up below 5%. As you can see in the picture above, it was a lovely golden color with a fair amount of haze and cloudiness. There were plenty of esters and phenols, both from the yeast as well as from the pawpaw and spicebush berries. The pawpaw softened the beer a bit and lent its own unique flavor to the beer. The spicebush added so much interest, it was a really thoughtful addition, and I want to use it in another beer. This style and these ingredients are so outside my comfort zone, but I really enjoyed the finished product. Another thing that we all noted was how much the beer changed as it warmed. I preferred it, as I do most of my beers, a little warmer. The banana, bubblegum, and clove notes that were there became less harsh and mellowed out as the beer warmed up. The pawpaw and spicebush berries came to the forefront. Great mouthfeel and moderate carbonation made it tickle the tongue.

Jessica Page (Lineage) gets ready to transfer the beer to the fermenter. 

If you are worried that you may have missed out on this beer, it is still on tap at a few places around central Ohio. There is a little bit left in the taproom at Weasel Boy, and the following places still have a keg of it: 
  • Barrel and Bottle in the North Market
  • Prost in Reynoldsburg
  • Westend Ciderhouse in Athens
  • World of Beer at Easton  
So go get yourself a glass of it while you still can, before it is gone!