We have plenty of pilots at the Cape May Airport. Dozens fly in and fly out each day, and we’ve got our very own pilot on staff — well, running the joint — if we need a quick lift somewhere.
Over the past few months, we’ve been assembling another kind of pilot: a new three-barrel pilot system!
Ryan, Hank, and Mop Man started Cape May Brewing Co. on a 12-gallon system, and we’ve slowly worked our way up to the 30-barrel brewhouse we now have. However, sometimes it makes some sense to take a step back. As we spend more time and energy tweaking our beers to within an iota of perfection, a smaller batch of each brew is going allow us to do that faster and cheaper.
“Now, we can fail early and fail small!” jokes Innovation Director Brian Hink. “Up until now, our research and development brewing was going all in on either a 15-barrel or a 30-barrel batch. For the one-off beers like Summa Down Unda, Beer Name: Eminently Drinkable, That Cranberry Good Good, they’re easy enough to go all in on a batch and get it within 90-95% of what we’re looking for.”
However, for something with the potential for becoming a year-round offering — like this week’s Cape May Lager — it’s beneficial to be able to brew on a smaller scale.
For example, for Cape May Lager, we brewed a total of 45 barrels in test batches over the span of about nine months. If we’d had the pilot system in place while running iterations of Cape May Lager, we could have done them over the course of three weeks at one-fifth the scale. And, as Brian will already have figured out whatever differences exist between the pilot system and our thirty-barrel system by already having brewed a “known” beer like Honey Porter, he’ll know how to properly scale it up to thirty barrels.
“We’ll be able to make tweaks much more frequently if needed,” Brian says, “and the scale is small enough that if we need to brew it, try it, and dump it to move on to the next version, we can do that without much heartache.”
Essentially, the pilot system is a souped-up homebrew system: like building a new DeLorean from a kit as opposed to finding an ‘81 DeLorean DMC-12 online for $150.
“There’s a mash tun, boil kettle, heat exchanger, and two three-barrel fermenters,” Brian says. “Eventually we’ll add another fermentation vessel or two, maybe a brite tank one day, but this is pretty much all we need for it. It’s a little closer to a really high-end homebrew setup than a commercial brewhouse at this point, but for the most part, it has the essentials covered.”
On the other hand, our 30-barrel system is the flux-capacitored DeLorean that Doc Brown used to accidentally send Marty McFly back to 1955.
“The pilot system definitely doesn’t have the bells and whistles of the main system — flow meters, temp probes giving digital readouts, multiple pumps running at the same time, hard piping, etc,” Brian says, “but it’s doing a fine job of making wort and that’s the main thing.”
We’ve got a long list of beers we’re wanting to run through the pilot system, and that’s pretty much what Brian has on his mind right now.
“The system needs to be dialed in a little more,” Brian says, “getting the efficiency locked in, nailing mash temps — simple brewing stuff really — so, I’m most looking forward to having a good workflow with consistent results. Eventually, we’ll be able to run some batches through it just for the fun of it, but it’ll be very purposeful and direct for a while.”
We’ve brewed two small batches on the pilot system: Lugnut — which we’ve brewed as a One-Off Wednesday each of the past three years.
“This is the fourth time brewing it,” Brian explains, “and every time we’ve cobbled together a small system to make it happen.”
Ultimately, this new system will allow us to bring you better beer, and, really, that’s why we’re here.
We’ll be bringing you news of new iterative batches brewed on the pilot system as well as larger one-off batches. Stay tuned!