Moving beyond packaged recipes and pre-configured systems when home brewing in Summit County
So you think you can home brew.
You’ve mastered following recipe instructions on grain packages and dialing in the components on your closet brewing system.
You haven’t ruined a batch in a while due to oxidation, sanitation issues or forgetting a key ingredient — you’re ready to increase production to get that many more ounces of fermented goodness from kettle to taste buds.
The next step is investing in a larger-scale home-brewing system, such as the setup local home brewers Steve Prosise and Kris Carlsted have created at a shared warehouse space in Silverthorne.
Passion for beer
“I used to work at Coors Brewing Co. as a microbiologist, and I’ve since moved up to the mountains and don’t have time to play with beer as much as I used to,” Prosise said. “So I decided to partner up with Kris and get into a larger scale home brew operation.”
The joint venture is Carlsted’s first stab at brewing beer.
“I’ve loved beer as long as I can remember, and I was sitting around one Saturday afternoon listening to NPR and listening to an interview about a guy who had a nanobrewery, a super small-scale operation that he did out of his garage,” Carlsted said. “I sent Steve a message and said, ‘Yeah, let’s open a nanobrewery.’ So we figured we’d start with some large-scale home brew and go from there.”
The two brewers spent about $3,000 to create a 15-gallon RIMS brewing system. RIMS stands for recirculating inversion mash system, which means the mash tun is equipped with a hose configuration that cycles the liquid from the bottom of the tank back to the top. This keeps the water moving through the mash to rinse the grains of their sugars and starches. The temperature of the mash is controlled with a digital temperature probe and heating element in the hose system.
“We’ll do this for this particular batch, which is a bourbon-barrel IPA, for about an hour until we’re reaching the numbers we’re looking for, and then we’ll go to the boil kettle,” Prosise said. “This is where everything needs to get real sanitary, and this is where you do all your hop additions and your final beer is created. That usually takes about an hour or two, depending on how long it’ll take you to hit your original gravity that you’re looking for.”
Deliciousness in the details
Testing the beer for its specific gravity, or relative density compared to that of plain water, helps the brewers determine the amount of alcohol that will be present in the final brew. The higher the density, the more “stuff” the yeast has to feed on to turn into alcohol. The pre-boil gravity refers to the mark before the hops and other boiled ingredients are added. The original gravity is the name for the density the wort reaches after it’s boiled and before it’s put into carboys for fermenting. The length of the process depends on whether the brewers hit their gravity marks right away.
“When you pull it out of the mash, the original batch of wort is highly concentrated, so it’ll be higher than what we’re shooting for,” Carlsted said. “We’ll rinse it and dilute it until we get our pre-boil gravity, and throughout the boil process, it’ll concentrate it back down.”
Once the wort is at the desired pre-boil gravity, the hops are added, along with any other ingredients that are desired. Carlsted and Prosise use a combination of loose-leaf hops and pellet hops, depending on the style of the beer.
Dialing in the recipes
The two brewers are perfecting their favorite recipes; the bourbon-barrel IPA they were brewing the day we caught up with them contains Cascade, Centennial and Chinook hops and will age on oak chips soaked in Breckenridge Bourbon.
“Black IPA — we’ve done that several times,” Carlsted said. “We’ve done a Belgian farmhouse ale with a pound of grapes in it, which was quite interesting, kind of a wine-y fruit flavor. We’ve done a few different IPA recipes.”
They also made a beer that was inspired by mountain biking with Denver friends.
“Everyone always showed up hungover, and someone would always forget something and someone would always be putting their brakes on in the parking lot or something,” Prosise said. “We brewed a beer off a recipe and realized that we didn’t have what we wanted, so we threw everything in there that we had left over from other recipes and put in double the hops.”
The result was Team Thursday beer, an homage to being unprepared and a beer that has excellent complexity, aroma and flavor. Don’t worry — they saved the recipe. Prosise said that with every batch the two brew, the beer gets better and more interesting.
“Every single batch we’ve done we’ve figured out more tricks,” Carlsted said. “Every batch has gotten closer to what we’re shooting for.”
Brewing takes time and patience, and each batch on the 15-gallon system costs about $40 to $60 to create, but both Carlsted and Prosise wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Steve’s been restoring a Toyota and I build bike frames, and it’s about making it yourself, that’s the attraction,” Carlsted said. “That freedom of expression, that artistic quality to make something unique — you’re doing it yourself, you can pick the ingredients that you’re putting in.”
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