Brew Day at Inland Empire Brewing Company

On friday July 6th, 2012, Los Angeles Ale Works’s first commercial beer, Gams-Bart, was born.  It has been a very long road up to this point, but it was all worth it.  John, Katie, Mike, and I all interned for the day at Inland Empire Brewing to witness and help out with the brewing process.  The day started at 5:30am when we woke up and ended at 4:30am when we laid our heads down on the pillow.  For a solid 23 hour shift, the day sure went by quickly.

Brewing prep started promptly at 8am, and we assisted in bottling IEBC’s new bottled version of their Hefe Weizen.  IEBC uses somewhat unconventional converted dairy equipment for brewing, but in terms of smaller and startup breweries it’s not uncommon for these types of used pieces to be in place.  I know of two other breweries off the top of my head that had a similar situation: the first brewery is Alesmith, which used converted milk tanks for a long while before it sold them to the second brewery Eagle Rock Brewery.  It’s common practice to use converted fermentation vessels as it cuts costs and you can eventually upgrade to standard equipment down the line.  This is exactly what IEBC is doing.  They just recently replaced their entire milk tank fermentation line with shiny, new, glycol-jacketed conicals, 4 to be exact, and one of those is now full of 15 BBLs of Gams-Bart.

Head Brewer, Paul, also uses a custom configured mash tun complete with a drilled copper pipe lauter and a milk pasteurizer for the boil kettle.  He explained that their beers tend to be heavier in caramelization which adds a unique house flavor to most of their current offerings.  A great example of this is one of their flagships, Victoria, which is an American strong ale made with fresh orange juice and honey.  This is definitely my favorite beer at IEBC, but a close second is a tie between their Hefe Weizen and Porter.  The Mash/Lauter tun is labor intensive, but it also reminded me a lot of my brew day with Eagle Rock Brewery a few years ago.  The best method for removing the spent grain after sparging is with serious elbow grease and a plastic shovel.  Who said brewing shouldn’t be a workout? Sort of evens out all those beer consumption calories, doesn’t it?

The brewing process at IEBC is nearly identical to home brewing with the exception of equipment size, ingredient amounts, and, Katie’s favorite, the forklift.  John, Mike, and I felt right at home helping out, but deferred to Paul’s expertise on his system each time we had a question.  Before we knew it, the first 7.5 BBL batch was done and on it was to batch number two.  The main worry with brewing this beer was the rye and the very real possibility of a stuck sparge.  Luckily, we ran into absolutely no issues, and before we knew it, the brew day was over.  The wort tasted fantastic and looked just right.  We pitched the classic Bavarian wheat yeast, and now we play the waiting game.

It’s important to understand the main risks involved in brewing a batch of this size.  Like cooking, you cannot simply double or triple the recipe and expect the same product.  Modifying a recipe from 10 gallons to 400 alters the basic chemistry, flavor profiles, and final beer.  It is for this reason that we consulted with the IEBC team to help us best size-up our batch for not only a higher volume, but also for their system.  Fermentation should be under way now, which means that the beer should be on its way to bars in early August.  John and I will be visiting IEBC at the end of the week to check on the beer’s progress.

Special thanks goes to Mike and Katie for their support and help on Friday.  Thanks also goes to Paul, Dave, and the rest of the IEBC team for allowing us to intern and interview them for the day.  Also, we would like to thank absolutely everyone that has helped us get to where we are today.  We still have a long way to go until we get our manufacturing brewery space, but with all of you here with us, we know we can do it.



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