Brewing Black Butte anniversary beers requires a bit more than malt, hops, water and yeast. Here, the brew house is staged for Black Butte XXIV brewing.
It was rare to see a blender at our weekly brewer's meeting. Usually, several bombers of barley soda make the trip from the brew master's private fridge to provide us inspiration for our next big idea. Margaritas? Definitely not.
Instead, Assistant Brewmaster Sean Garvin had brought in some of our specially propagated sour wort and a handful each of Medjool dates and Mission figs. It was an attempt to find a way to quickly and safely pump the figs and dates into the brew kettle for this year's Black Butte Anniversary beer.
He tossed them all into the blender and clicked the highest setting possible. A frothy maroon colored puree whipped up. He shut it off, pulled the pitcher out and drank heartily. A sly smile crept slowly across his face and as the sour fruit medley made its way around the table we laughed at the simplicity and marveled at the flavor of our time saving concoction. Surely this soupy blend would run through our pumps! We then proclaimed ourselves geniuses. It was premature.
Flash back to last year...
With our state of the art Huppmann brew house, brewing is usually a one man job. However, that's never the case with Black Butte Anniversary beers and unfortunately, the addition of figs and dates to Black Butte XXIV (a portion of this year's beer was brewed last year for barrel aging) didn't go very well. Almost 600 pounds per brew of figs and dates were diced up and tossed into several 55 gallon plastic buckets. When it came time to dump them in the kettle it required three brewers just to lift the buckets.
If it had ended there we wouldn't have had to break the blender out at the brewer's meeting. However, as the lucky three were holding the bucket over the kettle door they quickly realized the fruit had no intentions of leaving. It was like getting an enormous can of refried beans to slide out of the can into a pot.
As the couple hundred pound fruit wad crept towards the end of the bucket, brewer John "Abe" Abraham, straining against the weight of the bucket, realized to his horror that when this tasty mass finally dropped into the boil kettle it was going to splash boiling wort back up. It was like a giant cannonball waiting to drop! He also realized his back hurt and this was only the first of 10 buckets.
He warned the other brewers involved with pushing the limits of human fruit lifting and they all got ready to run once the figs and dates dropped. As the wad splashed down everyone ran different directions and Abe tripped over the floor drain, falling to the tile floor injuring his knee. The safety department got involved, paperwork was filed, a new plan was needed.
Back to this year...
The dates and figs were staged and mixed with the sour wort in large buckets the night before brewing.
Then on the next day brewer Owen Woods, specialty ingredient and facial hair guru, mixed the goods with the immersion blender. (Owen only enjoyed this for the first two buckets...)
A pump and transfer lines were set up in the brew house, ready to pump the mixture into the kettle. Nothing left to do now but simply turn on the pump...
Not exactly. After pumping a mere half bucket of puree, the pump began clogging up with partially blended fruit chunks. The inlet hose collapsed from the suction, genius status was revoked.
With seven and a half buckets left to toss the summer interns were quickly summoned! However, this year a special metal grate was hung inside the kettle door to prevent giant fruit blobs from splashing boiling wort into the faces of well meaning brewers...and interns. The remaining buckets were hoisted and dumped onto the grate which did its job...a little too well. See photo below:
Intern Kyle Spencer thinks this mess is funny.
Though lengthier than hoped for, the improvised method worked safely, no interns were hurt and the brewers didn't have to work very hard.
With the figs and dates added the rest was easy! A dash of Theo chocolate nibs (ok, so a few hundred pounds) and a pinch of date sugar (over 200 pounds) and we're knocking out to the fermenter!
Oh, except I forgot to mention the mash. Apparently, our mash tun wasn't designed to handle over 12,000 pounds of malt! Towards the end of each mash in, a huge pile of milled grain would rise up in the back of the mash tun requiring extensive spraying and agitation to knock down. Again, Black Butte XXIV proved no single brewer was capable of handling the creation of this annual libation alone.
Brewer Scott Birdwell battles the malt mound with inferior weaponry.
Even though our idea for adding the figs and dates did not go as planned and brew house limits were exceeded, the overall concept of this year's Black Butte anniversary beer came together nicely. The barrel aged portion tasted amazing, proper gravities and volumes were hit and the chicory spice and cubeb berries melded perfectly with the richness of the chocolate and fruit additions. When all the components were finally combined together and tasted, we felt like geniuses again. But that's for you to decide.