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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lee's Adventure at Beer Camp

**On Wednesday, September 1st we're debuting the Ghidorah Double IPA from Beer Camp at 5 pm. First 45 people get a keeper glass. The following is Lee's account of making the Ghidorah at Sierra.**

So a few weeks back, I was invited to the Sierra Nevada Brewery to make a batch of beer on their Ultra-High-Tech Small brewhouse. Not knowing all the details, and considering it for...oh...less than 1 second, I caved in to the pressure and said "Hell YES! Absolutely!"

I have a huge amount of respect for Sierra Nevada. Not only for their consistently delicious beers, but a few of my classmates from UC Davis Brewing Science school went to work there right out of school, and relayed their stories of how cool it was to work there.

About a year ago, Sierra Nevada started doing a thing called "Beer Camp" where people can come participate in the beer-making process on their small-but-sophisticated pilot brewhouse, making 10 barrels at a time. They spent an insane amount of money on this Pilot brewhouse, adding all the bells and whistles of a large, automated brewery in order to get the most valid information from the process. This allows them to experiment with the goal of accurately replicating a pilot batch on their larger 200 barrel brewhouse. Genius, right!? Of course. What a great opportunity to see some cool engineering, make some tasty beer, and generally shuck-and-jive with some seriously smart, passionate people.

So, I packed up my tent, a few changes of clothes, my skate board, a couple of technical brewing resources, and headed off to camp!

Upon arrival, our host, Steve Grossman says "What hotel do you have?" Hotel? I thought this was beer camp! And I seriously hoped to test out the CAMP part of the adventure. I mentioned that, being summer in Chico, with warm nights, and plenty of open space, I was prepared to camp. Steve is the brother of the owner of Sierra Nevada, Ken Grossman, so they discussed the camping option. They thought the idea was reasonable enough--they looked at each other and said "That sounds fun. We know a place where you can camp..." and gave me directions.

The next day our crew focused on the recipe, with a lot of emphasis on Hop variety. While we toured the facilities, getting familiar with the brewery grounds by bike-car (equipped with a keg of beer and a tap), we were able to discuss all of the aspects of their production--from Growing barley and hops (they have about 30 acres of barley, and about 9 acres of hops), to treating wastewater, and developing energy from Photovoltaic (solar) and waste-water-developed methane to power hydrogen fuel cells.

On the final day, we set out to brew the Ghidorah Double IPA. But before brewing it, we crossed paths with Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing Co. He was, of course, near the hop storage area, so we discussed some ideas for hopping this batch of beer. Why not get as much info as possible... and if anyone is an authority on hoppy beers, he certainly qualifies.

Once we had the recipe, the brewing process was fairly hands-off. We had the opportunity to add the hops, check out the pipe paths, test gravities, etc. And of course, taste the beer along the way.It would be a few weeks until we heard how the beer was coming along. But it was in safe hands.

Flash forward to September and here we are: we have the final product in-house at Blind Lady. A big 8.2% Double IPA. We are anxious to get familiar with it, and hope you have a chance to as well.