Fresh craft brewed beer is a science and an art.
Beer making is arguably one of the oldest professions known to man. There are beer recipes in existence that date back to ancient Babylonian times. In fact some archeologists argue that people settled into cities in order to make beer! That may be a little hard to swallow, but it is sure that beer making is older than the written word, and that is very old indeed!
Beer is made from four basic ingredients: barley malt, hops, water and yeast. Each of these ingredients give beer a certain character. In the end, what a beer is depends not only on upon the combination of these ingredients, but also where it is made and who makes it.
With water being the most plentiful ingredient in beer, it should not be surprising to learn that the local water can affect the beer’s flavor. Sackets Harbor Brewing Company’s beer is made from the fresh clear water of Lake Ontario, with its unique mineral content that is partly responsible for part of the unique flavor of the beers they brew at Sackets Harbor Brewing Company. The hardness and alkalinity of water are measures of the dissolved salts in water. The salts and carbonates found in water can cause the beer to be astringent. This is not a “flavor,” but it does affect your enjoyment of the beer. If you have ever noticed a dry mouth feeling you sometimes get from tea, that is astringency. They filter and soften the water before using it, to remove excess hardness and eliminate the astringency.
The second major ingredient is barley malt. Like all grains, barley contains starches. Starches are converted to sugar which feeds the yeast, which actually makes the beer. But the brewer needs more than just starch, and that is where barley excels above all other grains. The yeast also needs protein to grow, and the brewer needs proteins to create a head on the beer. Barley has more protein than any other grain besides wheat. Wheat cannot be used in large quantities because wheat contains glutens. Glutens are gummy carbohydrates that work great for making bread but are nasty when it comes to making beer.
Malt is another word for a sprouted grain. Bean sprouts are really bean malt. The brewer uses barley malt instead of barley grains because he wants the grain to do some of the work for him. Barley is a seed like all other grains. It contains starches and proteins stored away for the young plant to use when it starts growing. The brewer wants these in his beer, but broken down for the yeast to eat. Yeast are like babies in that they need simple food. When a barley grain sprouts it sets up the machinery for stored nutrient breakdown. Once this has happened the brewer wants the sprouting process to stop so he will slowly kiln it until it is dry. The brewer will use this machinery later in the brew to finish the breakdown without having allowed the barley to use anything to grow. In effect the brewer steals nutrients from the baby barley and feeds it to his baby yeast.
There are also specialty barley malts available to the brewer that make some unusual and delicious flavors possible. These malts are roasted after the malting process to whatever degree you wish. Some, like Munich malt, are just dried at a warmer temperature after sprouting and have a bready flavor. Others are kilned to a deep brown color, like chocolate malt, to get a roasty flavor, like coffee.
Hops are a vine which grows wild in this area (and in most parts of the world). Hops are also specially cultivated for the beer industry. It is the closest living relative of Cannabis sativa, but it is not a drug. Brewers use the flower in beer to provide aroma and bitterness. Most people will agree that bitterness is not a flavor we all want, but there is a reason for it to be in beer. In the old days, brewers needed to add something to the beer to prevent it from growing sour. They used all sorts of spices, including ginger, cloves, cinnamon and even garlic and onions. (At Sackets Harbor Brewing Company they make some spice beers as seasonal offerings, but they’ll probably avoid the use of garlic and onions!) The tradition of adding such spices was superseded when brewers discovered that the flowers from local wild vines worked better and offered a classier aroma. The bitterness also counterbalanced the sweetness of the beer (at the time beer was rather sweet) so people would drink more. It became so popular that there are few beers indeed that do not use hops, even though the original reasons for using them are long past. They will be growing hop vines right here on our patio at the Sackets Harbor Brewing Company.
The Yeast is the backbone of the whole brewing operation. Yeast are living organism that turn the sugary water that the brewer prepares into beer. Sackets Harbor Brewing Company Brewmaster likes to take credit for the beer he produces, but it is really the yeast that does most of the work.
Yeast is a term that biologists apply to single-celled fungi. There are many types of yeast in the world, some good, some bad. The brewer uses a distinct type of yeast and is very particular about its care and feeding. Brewer’s yeast is different, but closely related to the yeast that is used in wine making and bread making.
When a yeast grows in a beer it is converting sugar into carbon dioxide and water and generating energy. When the oxygen runs out, yeast change gears and start to ferment.
We all have a certain capacity to “ferment.” When we humans exercise strenuously we sometimes get a burning sensation in our muscles. This sensation is from our muscle cells switching gears when there isn’t enough oxygen. In our case, the product is lactic acid. When a yeast runs out of oxygen it produces ethanol, and thus beer. Yeast add more than ethanol to the beer. Every yeast also has its own characteristic flavors. Some are fruity and some are spicy. The yeast that we use in an ale is rather fruity and bready in flavor. It’s called the Whitbread ale yeast for the British brewery that used it originally. This is a top fermenting yeast, which means it floats on top of the beer as it ferments.
Lager beer is different in that it is produced with a yeast that ferments on the bottom of the brew. Lager yeast can grow at a lower temperature than ale yeast and by its nature produces a very smooth clean and crisp tasting beer. Most domestic beers in the United States are lagers. They take longer to ferment and require some aging. For this reason you’ll find that most brewpubs do not make lagers. They just take up too much equipment and generally take over a month to complete.
Ale yeasts, on the other hand, prefer a warmer temperature and ferment more rapidly, usually completing their work in 7 to 10 days. They also add other fruity and spicy flavors to the beer. Some ale strains will make the beer taste like there are bananas or cloves in it. That is because the yeast create some of the same chemicals that are found in bananas or cloves. A German Wheat beer is one such example that has a distinct banana flavor in spite of the fact that at no time does the beer contact a banana. It is all in the yeast. Other ale yeasts may create apple, strawberry, or pineapple flavors.
The Brewing Process
Sackets Harbor Brewing Company produce their own beers entirely on site with their own recipes. The machinery they use in their brewhouse has been manufactured by Diversified Metal Engineering on Prince Edward Island in Canada. They make their beer in 7 barrel batches. In contrast, Budweiser’s plant in Newark, New Jersey brews in 4,200 barrel batches. Their small scale, however, gives them a tremendous advantage. they can craft their brews differently, tailoring them to the local taste or the brewer’s fancy, hopefully both. Each of their several brews have a very distinct flavor.
Brewing day at Sackets Harbor begins by mashing in. The “mash” is where the barley malt is mixed with water at the proper temperature so that the starch is converted to sugar. When you make oatmeal you heat it up to make it gooey. With barley malt you do the same thing, but it is not boiled. At first it is gooey, but then, as the malt’s machinery starts breaking the starch into sugar it becomes loose, like a bowl of bran cereal. This part of the process is done in a “mash tun” (a tun is a large container).
After the mash is complete the brewer drains the sugary water from the mash tun into the kettle. This sugary water is called the “wort.”
The kettle uses steam to heat the brew. As the wort drains into the kettle the grains are rinsed with hot water until almost all of the sugar is extracted. The spent grain is then recovered and set aside for our baker’s use in making the bread Sackets Harbor Brewing Company serve in their restaurant. (This is some of the most spectacular bread you’ve ever tasted.) The hot water is stored in a stainless steel vessel next to the kettle, while the wort is boiled in the kettle for at least an hour. This is when the hops are added.
When the boil is finished the hot wort is whirlpooled in the kettle so that all of the hops and the coagulated proteins settle in the center and clear wort can be transferred to the fermenter. The wort is chilled in a heat exchanger (which sits beside the kettle) to a temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit, the perfect temperature for ale yeast.
As the wort moves into the fermenter the yeast are added. Then they wait for the yeast to complete the work of making beer. The fermenters are cooled with glycol which runs through the walls of the tanks.
The beer ferments for about three days and then is aged a few more days and cooled to near freezing. It can then be cold filtered. The filtration is done in their cold room downstairs under the pub. This room is maintained at 35° Fahrenheit.
Sackets Harbor Brewing Company beer is served directly from this cold storage facility through taps in the pub upstairs, avoiding the kegging or bottling process that burdens their commercial cousins. Beer served this way is thus fresher than can be offered by the big brewers. It just can’t get any fresher!
Sackets Harbor Brewing Company create beers which are richer in flavor than the major national brands. Breaking down the basic flavors, you’ll find a few in beer. Sweet and bitter will be there in every brew, although the sweetness will be at a low level. Salty and sour are not necessarily overt, but are noticeable more when they are absent (in a well made beer, that is). How about hop flavors? Floral aromas and bitter flavors are there every time, but different hops will add some other flavors as well. Sackets Harbor Brewing Company use Cascade hops in their Grant’s Golden. One of the flavors they add is almost like a grapefruit rind. They also use Northern Brewer hops in our Pale ale, Red ale, and India Pale Ale, a specialty brew we offer occasionally. Northern Brewer hops give a black currant flavor to the beer. Fuggle hops give a more woody or spicy kind of aroma, and is found in the Red and Pale ales as well.
The malts contribute flavors identified by such terms as bready, caramel, and husky. Different specialty malts which are used in each beer contribute different flavors. For example, biscuit malt adds a flavor that is very reminiscent of burnt biscuit bottoms. Chocolate malt adds a roasty, almost Columbian coffee-like flavor. Chocolate malt is the color of chocolate, and when the beer is still sweet, before fermenting, can taste a bit like chocolate.
Some refer to it as “gourmet beer.” Sackets Harbor Brewing Company like the term, but the industry prefers to refer to it as hand crafted ales. Now it is up to you to decide. The flavor of their brews defy description – you simply have to experience each of them for yourself.