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Cold War Brewing at Zymurgy Brew Works & Tasting Room

On Wednesday evening, Tanya and I headed over to Zymurgy Brew Works & Tasting Room where we met up with co-founder Bill Baker to try out their new Do-It-Yourself craft brewery which is slated to begin their soft-open on September 10, 2016. My brew would not only add some beer to my collection, but it would give Zymurgy an opportunity to dial in their system and it would provide samples for future brewers to enjoy during subsequent brews. I opted to brew a recipe my son has for his Sochi to Stanley Stout; a delicious Russian Imperial Stout. The reason for this was primarily because I did not want to power drink five gallons of an IPA; I would much rather open one bomber every few months and this beer would be just perfect for that.

I had sent the recipe to Baker ahead of time in order to ensure that all the ingredients or applicable substitutes were available. One substitute was replacing the pound of Special B malt with a pound a Crystal 120 which was presented to me as C-120; I thought that sounded like an explosive so I changed the name of the beer to Cold War Russian Imperial Stout. Homebrewers will acknowledge that a Russian Imperial Stout is a pretty ambitious beer for the average homebrewer; Zymurgy was excited to do it as it was a pretty safe bet that this would be one of the biggest beers they will brew there.

As we headed there I wondered how hot it might get inside the store; after all, this is Torrance and air-conditioning that isn’t usually found in older buildings. Plus we have been dealing with higher than what we are accustomed temperatures. Since most of my brewing experience is with my son, out in the Inland Empire when it is usually at least 100 degrees, I had a feeling it would be a little cooler. It was actually quite pleasant as air conditioning had recently been installed and there is a vent over each kettle to suck heat up and out.

When I say this is a big beer, I do not mean just in the ABV which was expected to finish at around 10% (1.099), but the grain bill itself was 42 pounds for the 10 gallon batch we would brew. Since it does take 42 pounds of grain, when we arrived, Zymurgy brewing assistant John Garcia was already seated by the small grain mill getting the grain preparation started to save time. Tanya finished it up with the drill motor they provide. I was not expecting that the experience would begin at such a basic point, but it is part of the educational aspect that Zymurgy stresses. Milling the grain makes it almost like flour which will help the yeast make beer out of it later in the process.

As one might imagine, with 42 pounds of grain, there is a lot of stirring in the beginning to make sure everything is smooth and there are no clumps. As a kid I had to make oatmeal for the family five days a week and I hated clumps so I took pleasure in taking the extra effort to make sure there were none in my beer.

Adding the buckets of grain is a two-person operation, so let me offer a bit of advice. Whoever does the stirring should use their stepladder. You can do it standing on the floor, but you will get better leverage and see what you are doing better with some elevation.

There is a lot of dead time because pots do not boil any faster whether they are being watched or not, so after preparing assorted hop baskets with their various hops or other additions, like anise for this brew, brewers are invited to enjoy the game room they set up, sample previous brews or even go next door for some food. The Korean barbecue place next door has promised all meals are completed faster than the one hour your grains are going to mash. As I was also using the experience to write a second article about DoorDash, we used the time to talk and enjoy the King Harbor Brewing beers that I had delivered to Zymurgy.

After all the brewing was done, it was time to cold-crash the wort. This means bringing the temperature down from around 150 to about 65 degrees; this was done quite efficiently using a Plate-Pro which instantly accomplished the task. You could feel the difference through the hoses; I was pretty impressed.

After the wort is chilled it is put in big restaurant/industrial grade plastic bags where the yeast is added and the wort begins its journey to becoming beer. Usually, in two weeks the beer is ready to be bottled or kegged, but we are going to let this set a few months longer than that.

As I stated at the beginning, part of the reason I was brewing was to help Zymurgy become readily familiar with their system as well as the process of brewing various beers. Mission accomplished in that we found a slight issue.

We had been aiming for a 10% beer which meant the OG should have been around 1.099, mine came out at 1.064, so instead of a 10% beer it will probably be closer to 8%. I tasted it and it will be delicious, but why were we so off? I started asking professional and home brewers alike and came up with a couple of possibilities but Zymurgy figured it out rather quickly.

They need to compensate for a dead-space below the mash tun and they over compensated, in other words, there was too much water and that diluted the final result. From what I gather it truly was a rookie mistake because if they had more time on the kettle they would have probably notice that the wort level was too high, then it could have boiled off a little longer. Oh well, I guess we will call this Cold War Russian Stout. Zymurgy is going to do the brew again, with less water; that can be the Cold War Russian Imperial Stout.

All in all, it was a fun experience and took just about as long as expected; at around 3.5 hours. The best part of it had to be the clean up factor and how that was a non-issue; it was sure easier than the brew I did in my kitchen.

Zymurgy Brew Works & Tasting Room is located at 22755 Hawthorne Boulevard in Torrance. They will begin their soft open on September 10 with all batches receiving a 15% discount. If you have ever been interested in homebrewing but did not have the space or equipment to do it, this is a great way to try it out. Visit ZymurgyBrewWorks.com to get more information and reserve your kettle.

Thanks to Zymurgy Brew Works for the opportunity and to Bill Baker and John Garcia for the assistance in the brew. Cheers!

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