It’s a mix of art, science, love and hops.
Here at New Helvetia, we make beer in a unique way. We are a collection of tinkers, mechanics, hot-rodders and experimenters, and our brewery reflects that. Our brewery is simultaneously true to the ancient heritage of the process, yet also steeped in modernity. And just a little bit quirky, to accommodate our historic building and individual flair.
Our brewhouse is a assembled from a collection of scrap; old dairy equipment, cast-offs from other breweries, and a few bits ‘liberated’ from local wineries all held together with baling wire, duct tape, bubble gum and zip ties. Through sheer force of will, our brewery team is able to keep this contraption running. It’s a minor miracle that it works at all, let alone that they use it to make such excellent beers.
To begin the brewing process, the malted barley is milled and transported into the brewhouse by our trusty electric forklift (You’ll be seeing a lot more of it later). The crushed grain is mixed with hot water in our custom build mash tun, creating a slurry called a mash, which activates the naturally present enzymes in the malted grain, allowing the conversion of the starch to sugars and the breakdown of complex proteins into simpler amino acids.
The sugary solution, now called wort, is washed out of the grain and sent to our direct fired kettle, where it is heated by a 400,000 BTU flamethrower (that’s .422 Gigajoules, or enough energy to send Marty Mcfly back to the future every 2.5 hours). The heat from the kettle caramelizes sugars, giving the beer more color and complexity. It’s in the kettle where the hops, often described as the ‘Soul of the beer’ are added. The boiling liquid extracts all manner of delicious flavors, and gives beer much of its characteristic flavors and aromas.
While the beer is boiling, we take the opportunity to dispose of the grain; while much of the sugar and protein has been washed out into the beer, the spent grain is still a rich source of fiber and is much vaunted food source for pigs, cattle and chickens. Our grain is emptied using a unique custom mash basket, the brainchild of our founder, Dave Gull. Our friend, the forklift comes into play once again, as the entire vessel is lifted and a trap door is released, dropping the spent grain into a waiting bin.
Once the beer is finished boiling, it’s cooled and pumped over to our waiting 7 barrel fermenters (that’s 14 kegs, or 1730 pints, or 1/30050 of an Olympic sized swimming pool) where it meets up with the yeast. It’s the yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae that really does all the hard work of making beer by converting the sweet grain juice into alcohol, and producing a wide range of delicious flavor compounds as the same time. In a few short weeks, the yeast has done its job, and the beer is ready to serve.