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The Official Blog of Cape May Brewing Company
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Ryan and Chris on the Stow Away Series

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On a very busy day at CMBC — busier than a normal Monday, in fact — we had a chance to wrangle both Hank and Ryan in one room at the same time (for the most part) to talk about the upcoming Stow Away Series release.

It should be noted that during the discussion Ryan munched on some carrots and peanut butter, while Hank searched through copious emails and notes to find out exactly when the original pitch was delivered.

Why did we do this beer?

HANK: Well, [Head Brewer Brian Hink]’s been pushing us. Since he started, he’s always wanted to brew sour beers. I’m very interested in fermentations in general. Just different types of fermentation: not just beer, but vinegar, and lactic acid, and acetic acid. So, I’ve always wanted to do it, but we never had the time nor the capacity. Eventually, he wore away enough and we decided to go for it. I ordered a pitch called Bug County — East Coast Yeast Company.

RYAN: (entering, as Chris is pulled away by Nakeya) Hey, what’s up, man?

Yeah, we’re, uh… talking about where the idea came from, basically.

RYAN: For the Stow Away Series?

Yeah, for the Stow Away Series.

RYAN: Well, we always wanted to do something that was really different and fun. So, the whole genesis of of Cape May Brewery in general is to bring this really great craft beer that we see — especially out West — to New Jersey. So, doing that isn’t limited to just making craft beer. The interesting thing is exploring flavors. Because, ultimately, what are we? “We’re a beverage company,” is the least sexy way to say it. Carbonated alcoholic beverage. And let’s not just stick with the basic flavors anymore. Let’s see what different flavor compound possibilities exist.

So why did we want to do the Stow Away Series in particular?

RYAN: We wanted to do start doing some barrel-aging work with red wine barrels. A lot of breweries do stuff with bourbon barrels, which is great and all, but not too many people are working with red wine barrels. So, we wanted to explore that a little further.

HANK: (returning) East Coast Yeast. And they have a blend of bacteria and wild yeast called Bug County. Sounds delicious, doesn’t it?

Uh, yeah, it does…

Why did we choose to use 750ml bottles?

RYAN: Because we’re doing a bottle-conditioned beer.

HANK: Yeah, you can bottle-condition in any bottle, really, but those are definitely heartier, they can handle the pressure more. Also, it’s a specialty product. I think I related it more to a wine, and it’s priced like a wine, so it’s more of a specialty product with specialty packaging. It’s just premium.

Have we done 750s before?

RYAN: Once, a long time ago.

What did we bottle?

RYAN: Sawyer’s Swap and Devil’s Reach. We had to do it manually. We had a little hand-filler.

HANK: Oh, my gosh, yeah. That was our first bottling run.

RYAN: (With a mouth full of peanut butter) Mm hm.

How’d they go down? How were they received by the customers?

RYAN: It was received really well, but it was just grueling in terms of being efficient.

IMG_8204Have we gotten any more efficient this time around?

RYAN: (Peanut butter) Mm hm.

How so?

RYAN: We got a really nice filler. The whole production staff knows what they’re doing.

They didn’t before?

RYAN: It was me and Hank. I’d say no.

HANK: Say no more. (Finding it on his computer) December 16, 2013, is when Bug County shipped to us, the secondary fermentation run. It was a little bit of a while ago.

So, why did we want to do barrel-aging work? You said no one’s really doing it, so why did we want to do it?

HANK: Like I said before, I’m really interested in fermentations other than standard fermentations. And barrel’s a whole ‘nother level, because not only are we trying to get these other bacteria and yeast to ferment in this beer, but then the barrel itself is letting a little bit of oxygen in, which just changes up everything going on, the chemistry going on in this barrel. It’s just a very unique product. It’s something you can’t replicate, you can’t rush. Some wineries will use oak spirals to speed the process, but they’re looking for oak flavor. We’re looking for so much more than oak flavor. That aged flavor is just so unique. Plus the other fermentations going on over the two-and-a-half year period.

What does that do for the CMBC, getting those red wine barrels in?

HANK: Costs a lot of money. Money you’re not going to see back for two-and-a-half years.

RYAN: Mm hm. (The peanut butter, again)

You think it’ll pay off?

RYAN: I think it’s a great opportunity to show who we are. That we’re not just trying to make the cheapest beer possible. That we’re trying to make good shit.

HANK: That we’re more than IPAs, ales, lagers. As brewers we want to be creative. That’s who we are at heart, right? We started this company as brewers and we want to have fun designing beers, and we want to let the beers do whatever the hell they’re going to do. The scary part about a barrel: you can put beer in a barrel, you never know what you’re going to get. You could get vinegar. You could a really tasty sour beer. You could get nothing.

And that’s my next question. We’re taking a lot of the process out of our hands and handing it over to the customer in terms of cellaring and aging the beer. How do you guys feel about that? What should the customer expect?

RYAN: Well, we’re giving it to them with instructions.

HANK: In my opinion, I’m gonna drink it now. I can’t sit on beer like that.

RYAN: Yeah.

HANK: I have no patience. I do not have a cellar. I have zero patience to cellar beer. The only beers I’ve cellared were accidental.

You forgot about them?

HANK: Forgot about ’em. And the beer’s perfect to drink right now. You can cellar them and see what happens, and then you become part of the experiment. Because we’ve never cellared this beer before, we’ve never brewed this beer before, so you’re part of this. The consumer is PART OF THIS. If you go ahead and age it for two years, you’re gonna come back and tell us it was better… hopefully not worse… the same… who knows? So, I think that’s the pretty unique part of it. We’re all just learning together. The point where it gets into the consumer’s hands? Who knows. As an engineer, I hate leaving things up to chance. That’s probably one reason it took us so long to get into the barrel. I’d say Brian and the brewers are more like artists, but I have an engineering background, I like everything to be very stark. I like to be in control of the process. And when you throw beer in a barrel? You have zero control over what’s going on.

So, why are you guys excited for it?

RYAN: (Who had been answering emails while Hank spoke rather eloquently on risk) Why am I excited for White Caps?

Sure, we can talk about that if you want.

RYAN: I mean, The Keel? Because it’s unlike anything we’ve ever done. (Turning to Hank) You gotta do sound bites, Hank.

HANK: Make sure you tell everyone he was holding a pen in his hand while he said that.

What other barrel-aged beers have you guys tried? Have you gotten any inspiration from any of them?

HANK: We’ve visited so many breweries.

RYAN: The brewery in California.

HANK: Crooked Stave.

RYAN: B-R-U-E-R-Y. Crooked Stave.

HANK: Uh, Cascade? Barrel House? Is that’s what it’s called?

RYAN: Yep, Cascade Barrel House.

HANK: That was our big trip to the West Coast.

That was all in California?

HANK: Cascade Barrel House is Seattle? No, Portland. There’s a bunch of little Belgian breweries — well, they seem little. There’s a good amount out there, now.

Any of them stand out to you as saying, yeah, this one? Or did you take elements from a lot of them?

HANK: We didn’t know where to start. There’s so little documentation out there on how to do this, and when we started this two years ago, there was even less. A lot less than there is now. Now, Brian will tell you all about The Sour Hour, a podcast he listens to, and there’s books you can read. When we started, it was almost a mystery. You know, we’re getting some of the bacteria from this one company, but when to age it? How long to age it? It was all a mystery. This brewer says this, and this brewer says that, and they were completely different. The Keel was just a crap shoot that really turned out well. We tried to control it as much as possible, but it just turned out incredibly well.

The Keel will be released Saturday, June 25, at the Brewtique. For more information, call (609) 849-9933 or email [email protected]

Keg Washer: Complete

Remember when we outgrew our original, 12-gallon brewhouse, and we turned it into a keg washer? Well, it didn’t take long for us to outgrow that keg washer. This was a problem, because our kegs aren’t going to clean themselves. Thanks to Chris “Hank” Henke, our Chief Operating Officer/resident engineer, they don’t have to.

He’s been working all summer, in his spare time, on building a new and improved machine, complete with scrap parts and clever eBay purchases.

The process – which Hank says is loosely similar to that of a washing machine — works like this:

  1. Four kegs are mounted on the washer at one time.
  2. Compressed air is pushed through each in order to purge the containers of any lingering beer or yeast.
  3. The kegs are rinsed with hot water.
  4. Compressed air is pushed through each in order to purge this hot water.
  5. A non-caustic, alkaline brewery cleaner is run through all kegs.
  6. Compressed air is pushed through in order to purge this cleaner.
  7. The kegs are rinsed with hot water.
  8. Compressed air is pushed through again in order to purge this hot water.
  9. Sanitizer is pushed through.
  10. The kegs are purged again, but with CO2 – not air – this time.
  11. The kegs are pressurized with CO2. This way, oxygen is kept out of the containers, so that it won’t spoil the next batch of beer.

The fully-automated cycle lasts seven minutes. And in case you’re lucky enough to catch it in action on your next tour of the brewery (or even if you’re not), here’s your key, which will get larger if you click on it:

kw2

If You Mill It, They Will Come

New MillThe Hungarian Roppi 1100 has arrived! No, that’s not some weird piece of workout equipment for Richie and Justin to use between sales calls, it’s the mill that will grind 2,425 pounds of our grain per hour into a rough flour called grist. This is important because — for all of you newbies — that’s the first step in making beer.

“Think of it this way,” says CMBC Brew Master Brian Hink, “when you’re making coffee at home, you don’t just dump beans into a machine, because you’d get a little bit of flavor and a little bit of color to your coffee, but it would be weak. You have to use a grinder to crush them up first.”

Now, as for getting the Roppi set up… “Ryan buys the equipment and I read the manual,” says Chris.

What You Need In Order To Bottle Like CMBC

Part of our ongoing expansion is the incorporation of a bottling line that we’ve been putting together for two years, thanks in great part to the mad engineering skills of our guy Chris. First, he designed the line’s layout in a circa 1999 AutoCAD program (hey, it’s vintage), and then we purchased the system in retro parts. “We were so excited when we got it, because we got it for scrap value,” Chris says. “But then we realized why it’s that way. I’ve spent a lot of time repairing pieces, and figuring out how to connect them all.”Bottling Devil's Reach

When it’s totally complete and set up in HQ, the action-filled process will look like this:

Bottles start on a depalletizer, or a machine that removes layers of containers from a pallet. (Ours is a circa-1960s “tank.”) From there, they’ll move onto a conveyor belt, then to a labeler, then to a twist rinser (another old-school piece) that sanitizes and removes any cardboard dust, and then to an actual bottler from a now-defunct brewery in Ohio. Here, they’ll be filled, capped, rinsed and moved to another feeder where they’ll be distributed into six packs. The system will be manned by two men.

In the meantime, getting bottles from one station to the next is a manual job. So, until we’re fully up and running (watch this space for updates), here’s what you need in order to bottle like Cape May Brewing Co:

  1. Bathroom breaks, before the process begins. “It’s like road tripping,” says Chris. “You go before you start.”
  2. Six hours. That’s how long it takes to get through 4,400 bottles, which is usually around the target goal. (Although the most ever completed by us in one shot was 8,800.)
  3. Six men. Four with beards. Three with (visible) tattoos, all of them nautical.
  4. Meta clothing. Our guy Chris is sporting a tee-shirt with the image of a fallen bottle on the front. (It’s from Base Camp Brewing Company.) Brian is wearing a CMBC hat with a green and red puff on top, but that’s neither here nor there.
  5. Music. “The groovier and jammier the better,” says Brian. On Pandora today? Creedance Clearwater Revival. Fun fact: For their 1977 concert in Moscow before 80,000 fans, CCR sang all songs in Russian.
  6. Protective eyewear.
  7. A high tolerance for noise. The bottling machine’s actions (including pressing bottles with CO2 to keep air out) are loud, and the guys get to know them — and their order — very well. When something sounds off, “Duck!” says Bob.
  8. A high tolerance for aches and pains. “At the end of the day, your lower back is dead,” says Brian.
  9. A competitive spirit. Since bottles are currently being dried by hand, Andrew says: “I’m fastest. I keep track. I dry 11 bottles per case.” Brian counters with: “I only take 3.5 seconds per bottle!” Now, now, boys.
  10. Good conversation. “Doing this together all day is actually a good chance to catch up,” says Andrew.
  11. A sense of humor. “When the bottling line is complete, we’ll be able to lay off Jake,” says Chris. Twenty minutes later, Ryan enters and says. “When the bottling line is complete, we’ll be able to lay off Jake!” So we might need new material…

    Men Bottling
    It takes six hours, six men, and some serious stamina to bottle 4,400 bottles of Devil’s Reach

What Went Down At The Monday Meeting: 2/16/15

Every Monday is departmental meeting day at Cape May Brew Co, so each week, we’ll bring you the skinny on what went down, beginning with yesterday’s pre-snow powwow…

9:30: Production meeting begins! Co-owners Ryan Krill and Chris Henke are present, along with Brew Master Brian Hink and Marketing Guru Alicia Grasso. Chatter ensues about the weekend.

9:32: Brew schedule discussion commences. Up first is Honey Porter because we are “desperately low” in the tasting room, says Chris — news about the beer’s Jersey Fresh label must be getting out. After that, Coastal Evacuation is on deck. It all has to happen before Wednesday morning, because that’s when Brew Master Brian flies out for Colorado, where he’ll visit with his big brother tasting room exterior in icy conditions(who teaches “English, literature, new media studies or something way over my head” at the University of Colorado). He’ll also see rock band Dr Dog perform live in Boulder. Today, he is even sporting a Dr. Dog hat, complete with orange puff-ball on top.

9:34: If the snow is a-coming, as the forecasters predict, Brian says he is prepared to spend the night on the brewery couch. (But he wishes the blinds on the window overlooking said couch had not been removed. “They were bothering me,” says Chris.) Otherwise, he’ll shoot to arrive for work at 3am — a pretty typical clock-in time for a 14-hour day of double-batch brewing.

9:36: A UPS truck arrives to drop off a skid. “At a brewery, it’s like Christmas every day,” says Ryan.

9:39: Conversation jumps ahead to three weeks out, when we’ll be making Concrete Ship, a malt-forward” brew for the tasting room that will make a good “entry-level” beverage for craft beer scene newbies. Fun fact: Cape May’s own concrete ship — all 3,000 algae-covered, half-sunk tons of it — is the most famous World War I-era prototype of its kind. Although wind and swell have beaten down the barbs of its skeleton, a part of the stern is still visible from Sunset Beach at high tide.

9:40: New brew house update! Drum roll, please… it’s possible the whole system will be installed and up and running by April 1st – stay tuned.

9:42: It’s crunch time. Keg crunch time, that is. There’s a bit of a bottle-neck happening, explains Ryan, meaning we’ve got more beer than kegs to put it in. (Sometimes, people steal them to sell for scrap, since they’re made of stainless steal — tsk, tsk — or they keep them as a weird keepsake… it’s the reason leasing kegs is a hot new business; they cost $100 a piece.) Luckily, it’s been so busy at CMB, a lot of empty kegs came out of the tasting room last weekend alone. “But that was President’s Weekend, and it’s going to slow down now,” says Brian. “But we always joke about that and it never happens,” adds Chris, “It’s Going to Slow Down could be the title of our biography.” Case in point: the current production schedule is on par with summer-time numbers.

9:59: The beer for One-off Wednesday this week is Corrosion Lemondrop, says Brian, explaining that this is CMB’s Corrosion sour beer with lemonade shandy added to it. “It’s absolutely delicious.” And next week? Devil’s Gone Wild, a wine-like brew for which wild grapes are a main ingredient. Fair warning: the latter has an 8% ABV. “Any more than a couple of those, and you’re pretty sauced,” says Brian.

10:02: A discussion about the government-imposed rules for naming one-off beers ensues. “The system is not set up for fun,” says Chris.

10:03: Chris, who splits time between Cape May and Philadelphia on the weekends, voices displeasure over the fact that he has not been in the City of Brotherly Love since two bars in his Philly neighborhood started carrying CMB brews. Ryan says he’d like to crash at Chris’ city pad the night of February 23rd for Beats, Brews and BBQ at World Café Life. Still need your own tickets? Grab them here.

case of mondays10:31: Full staff meeting begins in the HQ conference room. Chris is late… again.

10:32: Sales Rep extraordinaires Richie Rallo and Justin Vitti update everyone on new accounts, including PJ Whelihan’s in Cherry Hill, which is now selling the Corrosion, and the Alden Café in Maple Shade, which is now carrying Devil’s Reach.

10:35: Logistics guy Andrew Ewing asks when we’ll be updating CMBC’s tap handles. The answer is “around June.” Fun fact: they’re handmade by our Chief Mop Man, Bob Krill.

10:39: Chris asks that he be told when taps in the tasting room are flowing too quickly. (No, fast beer flow doesn’t sound like a problem, but trust us.) Chris then gives the run-down of inventory, and what happened during today’s production meeting.

10:44: Richie updates everyone on past events. Last Friday’s Tap Takeover at Rio Station was “a pretty huge success,” with a sixtel of our Blonde being kicked by 9pm. Now, The Ugly Mug, “wants a piece of that action,” so look for a Tap Takeover there on March 12. Justin adds that our keg at Philadelphia’s Grey Lodge Pub for their Friday the Firkenteenth event was kicked in under an hour, and the Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill opening in Atlantic City went great, too. “There was a line for the bar by 8pm,” he says. Watch this space for info on upcoming events, including a collaborative Tap Takeover with Flying Fish at the “rustic-chic” alehouse called Bru in Center City on June 1st.

10:51: Bartender Jim Zolna updates everyone on the weekend at the tasting room, calling it a “pretty busy” couple of days, even on Valentine’s Day. “This is where the husbands who forgot to make reservations ended up,” jokes Chris. Taproom coordinator Ashley Sundstrom adds that CMBC mugs are selling quickly — buy ‘em up! — and that CMBC has made some new hires, including two event workers and a new tour guide.

10:54: Meeting dismissed. Cheers!

Regional Paper Shows CMBC Some Love

ac interview in HQ

Last Monday, veteran Press of Atlantic City reporter Rich Degener stopped by for a story on our ongoing expansion. He showed up in his signature unassuming dress —complete with a duct-tape chic jacket — and spent over an hour checking out our new setup. He tasted the product, scrawled copious albeit totally illegible notes, and told us that his daughter Elizabeth (who sells the delicious homemade bread on Sunset Boulevard) loves our tasting room, which is awesome, because we love her bread! You can see Rich’s article here. Just a couple of small corrections: the money spent on gutting and renovating our new space (called HQ for ‘headquarters’, until someone around here comes up with a name more clever) was actually closer to $1,000,000 than half a million, and our fearless leaders attended Villanova University, not Temple. No offense against the Owls – we’re all Philly proud!

ac press-dale gerhard, ryan krill
photo credit: Dale Gerhard, Courtesy Press of Atlantic City

 

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