epic level homebrewing

I was the very particular kind of tired, bordering on exhaustion, where I felt dizzy, disoriented, a little nauseous, and clumsy. It was like being drunk without any of the fun.

I stumbled from my bedroom to my kitchen in the predawn darkness, and somehow made myself a cup of coffee. I stood at the back patio door and watched the glow of the sunrise begin to touch the eastern sky, sipping my mug of wake-up-Wil-it’s-going-to-be-a-long-day juice.

I’m sure normal people get up before dawn every day. I’m sure normal people sleep less than five hours a night all the time. It turns out that I am not a normal person, and after less than ten hours of sleep over the previous 48 hours, as well as back-to-back 18 hour work days, I was a little sideways.

It would all be worth it, though. I was up so early because Anne and I were heading down to San Diego to make a special beer with my friends at Stone Brewing’s Liberty Station.

We drove to Union Station to catch our 6am train. We got there so early, the parking lots hadn’t even opened up yet. That seems like something Amtrak may want to look at.

Once we were in the station, we noticed that it has been vastly improved since we were last there, about a year ago. It’s clean, it’s well lit, and there were a number of good food options that had never been there before.

We found our train, boarded it, and I fell asleep before it even left the station. During the nearly three hour trip, I woke up a couple times when my head did that “fall down onto your chest and wake you up” thing, and when we got to San Diego around 9am, I was delirious and had a sore neck. Awesome.

Our friend Tyler, who works for Stone, picked us up and took us to Liberty Station, where I was introduced to Kris Ketcham, who is the head brewer there. Liberty Station is a little different from the main brewery in Escondido. It’s a smaller, 10 barrel system, and Kris can create and brew beers that are quite different from the things Stone is typically known for releasing. Later this month, we’re having a beer celebration at Liberty Station called Hop Con, and in addition to releasing w00tstout 2.0 there, we’re also releasing three special collaboration beers that Kris made with Rileah Vanderbilt, Bobak Ferdowsi, and me. I can’t say with Rileah and Bobak made, but I made a white sage IPA, inspired by Craftsman Brewing’s legendary Triple White Sage.

While Kris prepared some of the things we’d be using, I drank approximately sixty-one gallons of coffee, and ate a little breakfast. The caffeine, food energy, and overwhelming excitement I felt about brewing gave me access to an energy reserve that I didn’t know I had, and I didn’t feel even a little bit tired, once we started milling our grains.

When I’ve brewed at the Escondido brewhouse, it’s been really fun, and brewing on such a large scale is vastly different from what I do when I make beer at my house. I’m not as intimately involved, because I don’t need to be; computers and the equipment handle most of the work. But at Liberty Station, we worked on a 10 barrel system (that’s about 3500 bottles of beer if I did the math right) that was much more like epic level homebrewing.

Kris and I hauled something like sixteen 55 pound sacks of grain up some stairs and poured them into the mill so we could mash them. Then we collected all the various hops we’d be using, and weighed them out by hand. Finally, while we were mashing in (adding hot water and milled grains to the mash tun, where we turn water and grains into beer wort), I got to use a giant mash paddle to stir it all around. One of the things I love about brewing is how little the process has changed in hundreds of years, and I genuinely loved standing over a big kettle, stirring water and grains the same way a brewmaster would have in the eighteenth century. I was also grateful to not have to worry about that century’s infectious diseases.

Over the course of the day, I made beer with Kris exactly the same way I make beer by myself or with friends on my patio, but instead of making 5 gallons of beer, I made several hundred gallons of beer. The experience was really awesome, even though it was physically tiring to move so much heavy equipment and ingredients around.

When we were done cleaning up everything, we sat outside and had a celebratory beer with a light dinner. About halfway through our meal, my lack of sleep and days of intense work caught up with me, and I felt like I was going to fall asleep at the table. Kris drove us back to the train station, and I again fell asleep before the train even began to move.

I’m very lucky that I get to do the things that I do, and I’m grateful that all the hard work I’ve put into my life allows me to do these super fun and awesome things.


22 thoughts on “epic level homebrewing”

  1. Hey Wil Next Time you Go down too San Diego Let me know i will Go Down with you and if you ever Take Amtrak up Too santa barbara your more welcome To stop By my place Pally just Let me know when.

  2. Sounds like a blast!

    About to head to bed now for an insanely early wake-up too, but in my case it’s so I can go on holiday to France – and even better, it’s to a place we’ve been before. Which means that I don’t have to put up with Heineken and maybe Kronenbourg on our campsite (the default in most French campsites), because despite being southwest of Marseille, our resort has a Belgian bar-brasserie, five minutes walk from our campsite and across the road from the Mediterranean. After a tough year, I can’t wait for this break.

    I’m also on a promise that if w00tstout 2.0 should hit liquor stores by the end of the month, I’m getting a couple of bottle brought home to Ireland from the US, one of which will again go to the Gaelcon charity auction…

  3. Here’s a tip for early morning parking at Union Station. The underground lot at the Pastorias Transit Center is open 24/7 and is cheaper ($6/day)! You enter the lot from Vignes.

  4. Would love to brew on a level like that. Have been homebrewing for a couple years (all grain) and have followed some of your twitter walk throughs. Thanks for blogging about your fun beer exploits!

  5. Awesome! A beer post! Sounds like great fun, I wish I could go to a brewery and help make some beer. I’ll have to ask Texas Big Beer up the road from me if I can come “help,” and maybe St. Arnold’s in Houston offers something like that too. The American Homebrewer’s Association had a rally at St. Arnold’s a few months ago and it was great fun.

    I’ve brewed about 8 summer beers in the past few months and I’m drinking them so fast that I’m having trouble keeping enough on hand – got two going today.

    If you are going to make some mead, I encourage you to get some Olallieberries from Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville. Made a melomel back in February and it is one of the best I’ve made. The berries are a hybrid of raspberries, blackberries, and Texas dewberries and only grow in Central California.

    On another note, with your love of brewing and healthy eating, you might try (if you aren’t already doing so) making artisan bread. I’ve just gotten into this and I have four different sour dough cultures to play with. Probably one of the best bread makers around is in San Fransisco and he has published three books: Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery. Great resources to have.

  6. If you’re nauseated you’re about to throw up, if you’re nauseous, you’re a toxic funk and you’re going to make someone else puke.
    Nauseated is how you feel after eating funnel cake and riding the tilt-a-whirl, when you’re two months pregnant, or any other time you need a vomit bag.
    Nauseous, on the other hand, should be reserved to mean causing that feeling, not having it.
    Therefore, I believe you meant “Nauseated”.


  7. Paul & I are home brewers, too, and make wines with local wild berries. This year looks to be a berry good year!

  8. I’m looking forward to this beer and the one you are brewing with Aisha Tyler and Drew Curtis. I’m flying out from Minnesota for Hop-Con 2.0 , W00tStock 6.0, and for the San Diego Zoo. It”s gonna be a busy 3 days but its going to be great.

  9. “Normal people” are just a matter of perspective. This “normal person” is really looking forward to opening a bottle of W00tstout 2.0 considering how good the first release (1.0?) was. I got to spend my Monday morning on 3 hours of getting ready to head out on a business trip myself. Probably not nearly as cool as yours, but at least I can say I work on rockets for a living. Maybe one day one of them will actually move from paper to the launch pad…

  10. Living in Scotland, I love visiting whisky distilleries. Not only do you get to try a wee dram at the end, you also see the equipment which has remained largely unchanged over the years. The strange juxtaposition of a computer next to a contraption made of wood, copper and glass pleases me greatly.

  11. > I genuinely loved standing over a big kettle, stirring water and grains the same way a brewmaster would have in the eighteenth century.

    My man, they sell beer in bottles, cans, and kegs. You can just go right to the store and buy them.

  12. And not one single picture. GLOOM

    Next time…you, in a magician’s hat, stirring vat of medieval potion of stupification.


  13. A little brew master tidbit for you.
    When you have to taste several brews but don’t want to get drunk, eat yeast, approx 1 tbl spoon per beer you plan on drinking.
    The yeast breaks down the alcohol in your belly before it enters your blood stream…does the job of your liver before your liver knows your drinking.

  14. That is how I feel about amateur radio.

    Always remember and enjoy life’s awesome moments for life’s awesome moments enjoy having you be a part of it.

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