Like Minds Make Great Beer
Like Minds Make Great Beer.
It wasn’t exactly a typical day for the Donnelly Group management team last Thursday. 5am is typically a time where a lot of us are getting home from work, not meeting outside Library Square to pile into two SUVs to drive to the ferry. It was definitely a different type of Thursday – It was Brew Day.
Cut to two weeks earlier, I find myself in downtown Victoria judging a cocktail competition for the Canadian Professional Bartenders Association. Given I don’t get over to the rock very often I of course took the opportunity to pop by and see my friends at Phillips Brewery. A quick tour of what’s new and happening at the brewery with Simon produced and idea and a date: Bring a small crew of key staff to Victoria and collaborate on a brand new beer for us to sell. The date was March 12.
Fast-forward to 7 blurry-eyed bartenders, managers and marketing execs on a boat in the dark eating scoops of eggs in the coastal Café headed to Victoria on the 7am ferry. Excitement was in the air – a few of these kids had never even seen the inside of a brewery.
Coffee Porter in hand a 10am we gathered in the Phillips Tasting room waiting for our instructor D.B. t finish a couple items on his to-do list. While ‘Deebs’ got the final details of our brew sorted, we did a quick tour of the facility with Simon Myttenar where we saw all the projects Phillips has on the go.
-A new concrete bed for 8 more 24000L tanks adding even more brewing capacity
-The framework for a grain malting facility to do their own malting of all their grain.
-Creating a CO2 reclamation system to capture that natural creation of CO2 from fermentation and repurpose it to be reused to push beer from tank to tank and essentially run the brewery.
-A pot still & column still for production of their new ‘Stump’ foraged gin. There were even a couple of whisky barrels on a stand holding some British Columbia Single Malt whisky (malting facility makes a lot of sense now).
That’s a lot to take in when you’re running on a few hours sleep and a couple of Americano coffees. Back in the tasting room I see a wall painted behind the growler fill station: “Innovation through Fermentation.” How about “Innovation through Engineering” instead? The steps Matt Phillips is taking to reduce his footprint and increase sustainability makes me even more excited to brew this beer.
Over in the brew house we’re now up on the platform looking at the mash tun, a “massive” stainless pot-like structure over on one side. I use the quotes as it is fairly big, but pales in comparison to the ones on the other side of the brewery. We’re brewing only about 32-36 kegs at this time compared to the how they normally brew on this system and producing hundreds to a batch: mash, boil, transfer, repeat. Our mash will be a 90-10 split of two row pale malt barley and wheat. The simple push of a button starts the process of mashing in. A shallow 2” layer of water on the bottom of the tun and then a grain and warm water mix get pumped in from the top. Steam fills the tank and after a bit you can’t really see anything, but the whole room smells like sweet barley-flavored tea. Our first temperature rest had us sitting at 66 degrees C for about 45 minutes.
How does one kill 45 minutes in a brewery? You take another brewery tour of course. This one led by the head brewer himself. We got the low-down on all the equipment we’d seen before and got the information on their upcoming gin release and even got a once over of the pot still and column stills they put in last year.
Temp rest complete it was time to transfer the mixture now called wort over from the mash tun to the lauter tun. Here’s a vessel that looks pretty much identical to the first one, but with a false bottom. The Lauter tun is where they create a grain bed and start the sparge. Spraying hot water onto the grain to pull off as much fermentable sugar from the grain as possible. Basically separating all the sugar we want to ferment from the spent grain that has no more use to us. At this point all we had seen is a lot of water used in this process. We asked about their usage versus wastage in a brewery this size. We weren’t surprised to learn that they conduct internal audits on themselves to track their usage and reduce whatever they can. Phillips runs an average of about 3.2L water for every 1L beer produced. It seems like it’s a lot, but they are lower than the industry standard – a lot lower. Even the high-tech macro facilities run about 3.4-3.6. Other micros are well over 4.
Next stop the kettle to start the boil. While we sorted that out we weighed out the other ingredients for our brew. Some Galena hops for bitterness (added at the start of the boil), Galaxy hops for aroma added near the end. Just over 2kg of dried orange peel and 400g of ground coriander seed. Both of those were put into little tea bags and added right at the end of the boil for flavor.
The decision process of beer style was pretty easy – their Belgian wit yeast had just arrived and they had recently tanked up the season’s first batch of Electric Unicorn White IPA – the only other beer for which this yeast is used. One of our main goals in this collaboration was to create a beer that Phillips had never made, but stay consistent within their style of brewing. We were dead set on a Belgian Wit with a little PNW twist so that was the recipe we developed.
Marketing time. A few beers and a bottle of gin around the table we sat down at got to work on the name of this strange brew.
We had already tossed around a few names on the way over to the island. Wit Noise, Bear Witness (obviously a polar bear on the label) and a few more. The round table brainstorm was a lot of fun, a lot of laughs and we have a bank of potential beer names ready to go down the road if needed. Most were puns and alliteration – my two biggest enemies when naming events or products.
The final product ready to pour the first week of April, while supplies last:
Voltergeist Belgian Wit
A ghostly white cousin to the Electric Unicorn white IPA.
Coming in just over 5% and relatively low ibu. Flavors of orange peel & coriander with an unfiltered cloudiness and a bright white frothy head.