Monday, August 16, 2010


Warning: this post is not about crafts or babies or law school.  It is, instead, about beer.

This weekend we went to Lewes beach in Delaware and stayed in a bed and breakfast/super old, 99%-full-of-chotchkies house named after John Penrose Virden, a guy whose grave you could see across the street while eating a ridiculous five course breakfast on the front porch.  Yum…

Since it was raining, we went to the Dogfish Head Brewery.  The brewery folks were quick to tell us that Dogfish Head is a craft brewery meaning that they have to brew less than two million barrels (a barrel is 31 gallons) of beer each year.  Dogfish Head brewed 97 thousand last year and is aiming for 140 thousand this year.  The biggest craft brewery in the US is Sam Adams, but they are apparently set to brew over 2 million barrels this year.  They were responsible for getting the designation moved from one million barrels to two million barrels in the first place and are now in the process of trying to get the number raised again.  

We went on a tour of the brewery, the details of which I know I am going to mess up.  But you can go on the Dogfish Head Brewery website to do a little fact-checking if you think anything I say sounds wrong.

The story I was told (by this way perky lady tour guide who I expect to see keg-standing at the next house party I attend…she was soooo excited about beer) claims that English major (they made a big deal out of the fact he was an English major) Sam Calagione decided in 1995 that he wanted to brew beer instead of use his degree (although, have we ever known an English major other than Garrison Keilor who ever used their degree???).  His high school sweetheart/partner wanted to live in Delaware, so that’s where they built his first brewery (it obviously had nothing to do with the lack of sales tax or easy incorporation laws).  His first brewery consisted of two ten-gallon kegs and three dudes who helped him do the bottling.  Apparently, until he started up his operation, there had never been a brewery in DE and he had to go petition the state to make it legal for him to set up shop.  Now they have a big-ass factory in Milton, DE.

They took us back into the factory itself.  First they show you Sam’s old equipment, including the first thing he used to add hops to beer continuously (instead of just at the beginning and the end like most brewers do).  
Old equipment.  Decapitated perky tour guide.

Then they showed us the current-day equipment.  There is the place where they grind up the barley. Regular brewers make a twenty-pound-per-barrel mixture of barley, corn, rice, etc to provide sugar for the beer.  Craft brewers are not allowed to use a mixture and instead have to use pure barley.  Dogfish uses 70 pounds of barley per barrel.... this is a number that everyone around me seemed very impressed about. 

Where they grind the barley
Then they add water and brew the barley down into a mash.  They strain out the mash (which is then sold to farmers for cow feed…someone who knows farm animals: is barley good for cows?) and then cool the liquid down to 68 degrees for ale.  People seemed to know that ale should be brewed at 68 degrees…they either did their homework before they came (brown-nosers), or I am painful under-informed about my beer.  I believe they said that this was a six-hour process.
Where they boil the mash

Fun fact: They have a second, smaller (five barrel) system in the back where this dude (named Brian) spends all his time inventing crazy concoctions, brewing them and then letting people taste them to see if they are good.  How does one get a job like that?  What skills are necessary for that job?  Chemistry?  Can you get a degree in beer (other than the undergraduate certificate that anyone who goes to college automatically gets after their first frat party)?

Then they move it to the fermentation room.  Here they put it in big tanks according to what kind of beer they want to make.  There are metal tanks and wooden tanks. They said the wooden tanks were the largest wooden fermentation tanks since prohibition.  Apparently the wooden tanks are not held together with anything other than the pressure of the liquid inside and metal bands on the outside.  If they removed the beer and let them dry out, they would fall apart.  Another fun/sad fact they told us: every now and then something goes wrong with a batch of beer and they have to let it all go.  This month they had a batch of beer in which the yeast didn't do its job right and they had to let go of $150,000 worth of less-than-yeasty beer.  Ouch.
Fermentation barrels, both metal and wooden.

After the fermentation room, we got to go to “the bar” and taste-test four of their beers.  Here is where you will be disappointed in me, because I could honestly care less about beer (which I think is kinda ewie and a waste of calories that could be devoted to chocolate cake) and can’t even remember the names of what I tried.  One was very hoppy, the second was something I could tolerate, the third one tasted like cloves, and the fourth one tasted like a really intense, clove-y Guinness (chewing my beer….mmmm) that someone told me may have a ridiculously high alcohol content.  I’m told the Dogfish 120 Minute has an 18% alcohol content.  They did not give us that one…No frying the tourists’ brains at 11am.

Testing the beer to make sure it tastes good.  Note: the smile is fake.  I do not like beer.
Found a knitting store in Lewes.  

Ha ha, slipped in some knitting at the end there.  

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