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Saturday Fermentations and Barrel Matriculations

It’s Saturday and the doors at Port Brewing don’t open for another hour and a half. It’s quiet in the brewery except for Fermenter # 6 which is bubbling along in the blow off bucket. It’s a lager fermentation. It sounds a bit different than what I’m used to hearing. I’d say it’s peaceful, but I don’t feel like waxing poetically this morning.

I knew that I was going to blog this morning as my schedule has cleared up a bit and we’re finally back to having most of our packaged beer inventory at decent enough levels that I ‘get’ to write. It’s a good feeling for sure. I’m always surprised at how many of you out there read my blogs given how infrequently I write them. It’s something I am trying to do more of.

Today, I figure I should post a brief update on things around the brewery. In my last post, we welcomed the monkeys to Port Brewing. Mike just completed his third week here at The Lost Abbey and it couldn’t have come at a better time. We’re in the midst of a serious expansion here. I just got word that the two used 120 bbl Fermenters we bought from Bert Grant’s old brewery are on a truck in Portland and should be here tomorrow. Of course, this is Sunday and Sunday’s are supposed to be family day. Let’s hope that they don’t mind waiting until Monday to be unloaded.

We purchased these tanks to go along with our new (albeit used) bottling line. The guys spent all day Monday cleaning this hunk of stainless and we’re hoping to have it up and running around March 1st. It will be such a huge boost in our production to get this piece of equipment up and running. We have out grown our little bottling ‘system’ and very much need to get better with this part of our operations.

Lately, I have receieved numerous emails and complaints about some of our bottles and the ‘lack’ of fizz. It’s probably one of my least favorite things to do but answering emails and complaints about our beers is something that comes with the territory. I tend to take it harder than I should but at the same time, I cringe when I read about flat beer. It’s our job to ensure that they aren’t lifeless. The challenge is that I can’t taste every bottle and ‘guarantee’ that they are good to go. That part sucks.

As a process, we are committed to bottle conditioning and the flavor gains that come with it. It just sucks when the process doesn’t go as well as planned and there is deviation. I for one am hoping that our new packaging line and our new head brewer can help us find stability in this area. We have to get better at this. We’re growing and looking to expand markets. As such, we need to be better.

As part of our new packaging operations, I met with a label company this week about purchasing a new labeler. We’re hoping this will make us much more efficient and cut down on our waste. We discussed some options for the labeler and it would appear at this time that we’ll be intsalling some sort of coding system for the bottles as well. In an ideal world, we would have coded our bottles from day one but that just wasn’t part of the system we’ve been running.

But, as we’re expanding and upgrading our capacity and infrastructure, we most assuredly will look to start coding our bottles so that we know exactly which batch they came from. It is our hope that we will be better able to deal with bottle to bottle variations and refermentations with this information at our disposal. I sincerely believe that we’re maturing our operations and this new equipment will make our beers that much better.

Speaking of better beers, we are starting to package a ton of barrel aged beers and I thought we should share with you some of the upcoming releases. We’ll kick off the 2009 barrel aged releases with Red Poppy at the end of January. We’ll chase this into February with the much anticipated release of the Brandy Barrel Aged Angel’s Share. I am super excited about this as we’ll be packaging almost 45 oak barrels worth of beer. This will allow us to get a measure of beer to all of our distributors AND more importantly, we’ll be able to keep enough on hand at the brewery to ensure visitors can purchase Angel’s Share in the future.

For the February release of The Angel’s Share, we’ll be packaging the beer in both 375 ml and 750 ml for the first time. The 375 ml format will only be available at the brewery. 750 ml bottles will be available at the brewery and for the retail market. When we’re finished packaging this beer, we will turn our attention to Older Viscosity for a March release as well. Most likely, we’ll skip an April release so that we can double up on a May release.

Look for an announcement about our Anniversary Party in May to include Cuvee de Tomme and Bourbon Angel’s to coincide with our stupendous party. If all goes well, we hope to release Duck, Duck Gooze in June and envision an extra special Christmas in July with the release of Barrel Aged Santa’s Little Helper. I haven’t sampled the Imperial Stout since it went into barrels in September. Today might just be the day to do so.

On February 3rd, we’re expecting our latest shipment of barrels to head our way. We have ordered 100 more bourbon barrels. If you’ve been by the brewery lately, you know that we don’t have room for these. But, we’re just going to have to find the room. We know the demand for these beers is out there and we’re going to keep making them. It might even be time to finally start the discussions about a bigger warehouse for our barrels. For those keeping score at home, we now have over 330 barrels of beer. Really fun beer no less!

Lastly, Draft Magazine just released their January/February 2009 issue and inside recounted the top 25 beers from 2008. Lost Abbey landed two beers on the list- Isabelle Proximus and The Angel’s Share. We were the only brewery to place two beers on the list. It would appear that we’re doing something right here in San Marcos! For 2009, we think we have even better beer on the horizon. Those of you who have sampled the newest Red Poppy may agree with us. If not, you’ll get a chance to taste for yourself on Saturday January 31st. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go check on some bottle carbonation levels’

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