Pilot Batches

What's Brewing... Part 3

While things are getting more and more busy around here working with contractors, engineers and equipment manufacturers, I have still found time to be brewing each week; and we’ve had a fairly good mix of experimental beers possibly destined for our 5bbl Pilot Brewhouse and many batches of our planned year round beers.

On the more technical side of things, now that we have our building settled it’s been time to focus on the water chemistry there, so recently we sent a sample out to an independent lab for analysis. I had been brewing test batches from a different water source, so it’s been important to re-brew all of our beers using the water that I’ll be using on a production scale for The Virginia Beer Co. beers. Our water at 401 is actually pretty well suited for brewing- for paler beers it does take a little tweaking to get the alkalinity under control, but nothing drastic, and it is pretty much perfectly suited for brewing darker beers with their more acidic grists, which naturally neutralize some of that alkalinity. It’s definitely been a chore collecting water for brewing ahead of time, but it’s worth the effort to be able to understand the needs of our brewing water prior to our opening!

Brewing of course is part science and part art, so let’s move on to the more interesting artistic side of what’s been brewing in Williamsburg. One particularly fun beer actually came about through conversations with the good folks over at the restaurant, Silt, here in Williamsburg. The VBC team went over there one afternoon to meet their team, and naturally I got to talking with Chef Nelson Miller about beer and food pairings. He mentioned that he had always thought that peppadews (a sweet, red pepper) would make a great beer ingredient, and I was intrigued by the idea. Of course Nelson sent me off with a huge jar of peppadews and I started planning an Imperial Peppadew Porter with the idea that the chocolate malt flavor would balance and complement the sweet, mild heat of the peppers nicely. And of course as I looked more into the peppers, I realized they were pickled… Vinegar and Imperial Porter didn’t seem like such a great idea, but I was happy with the base beer recipe I had written, so I headed to a local market to try to find fresh peppadews, but had no such luck. While wandering around the market looking for something interesting to add to the Imperial Porter I had designed, I came across Goji berries. Known as a bit of a super-fruit for their high nutritional value, Goji berries are a small red berry native to China that have a mildly tart and somewhat bittersweet berry flavor. They seemed like a perfect match for the chocolate forward beer I had planned! On the brewday I packed the hopback vessel full of the dried berries and ran the hot wort through the vessel extracting the berry flavor (and a bit of their red hue) just prior to cooling the wort on it’s way to the fermentation vessel. The beer was a total experiment, and the results were quite nice. Goji Porter clocked in around 8.6% ABV with a nice tart and slightly sweet Goji note in the background and beautiful red highlights in the glass. It may not have been the beer Nelson and I initially envisioned, but without that collaborative conversation, the beer never would have come into being… And I hear he’s working on sourcing some fresh peppadews, so fingers crossed for that!

Another more experimental and collaborative beer came through the taps recently. One of our main hop suppliers,47 Hops, sent me some samples of a new hop variety called Pekko (pronounced “peek-o”) to try out. Having never used the variety before, I was very excited to see what they were all about, so I devised a fairly straight forward malt-bill in order to let the hops shine. The finished beer had a very distinct peach aroma and flavor from the hops that was quite pleasant! A perfect example of a beer that would fit in one of our planned taproom series of beers, a line we’re calling Single Hop Sessions. It should be a great way for taproom drinkers to explore the wide variety of hops available on the market!

One other intriguing beer that I’ve been quite pleased with of late is another iteration of our rotating Saison Tournante series. Our citrus peels supplier sent us some dried tangerine peel a couple months ago, and the aroma of tangerine just begged for warmer weather and a saison! As soon as the spring started to come about I propagated saison yeast that I had saved from the fall and got to brewing. In addition to the tangerine peel, I also used Australian Galaxy hops, which have a distinct tropical fruit aroma and flavor. The resulting beer pours a hazy orange and has an intoxicating tropical tangerine flavor and aroma that are perfect for drinking outdoors on a beautiful day.

That’s all for now… It's been an adventure brewing full time with The Virginia Beer Company, through our first collaboration with Twain's, along with all the 20+ (and counting) styles and recipes we continue to develop and refine. And the adventure continues:  time to head to the building to filter and collect water for Monday’s India Pale Ale brewday!

What's Brewing...

This first month and a half in Virginia has been a whirlwind of pilot batching, and even with the challenges of brewing on a small scale, it's been quite fun. One of the things that drew me to The Virginia Beer Company over other projects was the emphasis placed on having a variety of beers. While we will certainly have our core, year round beers (more on those later), we want every visit to our taproom to offer beer lovers something new to try. My early pilot batch brewing has definitely been reflective of this philosophy, and it has been a fun change of pace from my more regimented production brewery background. 

At two private parties we have served our Citrus Wheat and IPA; along with the first iteration of our rotating Saison series, Saison Tournant Galaxy/Amarillo; and a Wet-Hopped Cascade Harvest Red (brewed with Virginia-grown hops). The response has been incredibly positive across the board, not only for the individual beers, but for the variety of beers we are presenting. 

There's more variety to come, as well! Currently fermenting I have an Oatmeal Stout and Hoppy Rye Amber, along with more Citrus Wheat and IPA (including a small batch of IPA fermented solely with the wild yeast, Brettanomyces). We'll have to wait a bit for that one, but I'm excited for the combination of flavors and aroma brought about by Brettanomyces and Pacific Northwest hops. 

This week will bring a new iteration of Saison Tournant featuring various peppercorns, so I have been hard at work propagating more of our Saison yeast strain! 

To small batches and variety. Cheers! 


Clockwise from top left:  Citrus Wheat with grapefruit & orange peel, IPA with Azacca hops, Wet-hopped Cascade Harvest Red, and Oatmeal Stout