Ever since moving to San Luis Obispo to work for Firestone Walker, there has been a big change in my brewing habits. Yes, I now make batches somewhere in the realm of 200 barrels or more, but on the other side of the coin, I completely stopped homebrewing. This might not seem like a big deal if I were at a brewpub and active in making new beers on a regular basis. But this is Firestone Walker we are talking here. Working at a 100K bbl/year production brewery is a whole different ball-game. We have a regular line of beers that we brew pretty much every week, and then another set of seasonal and special release beers. Velvet Merlin is now in season and we do about a batch a week, which is either 150 or 200 barrels. Besides that, it’s usually DBA, Pale, Nectar IPA, Blond, Hemp Ale, Union Jack, and Double Jack. A little less often we brew Reserve Porter, Red Nectar, and Hefeweizen. Then come the “big dumb beers” as we call them: Parabola, Bravo, and the most frequent of late due to a bottle release, Double Double Barrel Ale. We’re actually doing some Hell Dorado this week, which is a first since I’ve been at the brewery. They did one batch before I came on, and the result found it’s way into the XV blend. It’s a really nice blond barley wine and might be my favorite of our big dumb beers.

So that’s the essence of production brewing–keep the regulars on the schedule and sprinkle in the limited releases when you can. What I really miss though, is the ground-up creative process. No restrictions, just picking ingredients that you are interested and going for it. We don’t have a pilot brewery, so every batch has to be carefully planned out before we commit to a full batch, and the investment deters any really crazy ideas. Then you have to take into account the restrictions of our process. Using new yeast strains is a huge pain for starters, as are different base malts, though we do go with German pils and vienna for Oaktoberfest and Pivo Pilz (a one-off pilsner we did late this summer).

I drove up to my parents house in Santa Cruz this past week for Thanksgiving and my dad surprised me upon my arrival by suggesting we do a homebrew batch before I went back to work. This was something that I had been thinking about for the last few months. I had some ideas for beers that could never happen at work, and figured I might as well take this opportunity to bang one out.

I feel bad for my dad sometimes. When it comes to our homebrew collaborations, I always ask him what he wants to do and then shoot him down to pursue my latest obsession. He was thinking a spiced winter beer and I quickly convinced him to go for a hoppy session beer. I have been forming some pretty strong ideas about an organic west coast style of brewing, and hoppy session beer has been a part of that. Plus, the chances of making a spiced beer that you have one of and then get sick of is way too high, am I right? Then a hoppy rye pale ale morphed into a hoppy saison because saison yeast is just better to use if you don’t have temp control. Then English pale ale malt turned into german pils and munich, which turned into pils and vienna when the shop didn’t have German munich. Then I wanted to use hops from New Zealand because I never have at home and we don’t use any at work. So what does this look like?

Dad recirculating the mash

We ended up doing an 11 degree Plato (target) saison with Wyeast’s 3711 French Saison Yeast, and about 25% flaked rye. The rest of the grist was Weyermann Pils, Vienna, and a dash of Caramunich I. Everything was organic and purchased as Seven Bridges in Santa Cruz. For hops we went with 6oz of Nelson Sauvin, with half after turning off the kettle, and the rest at 5, 15, 30, and a token few grams at 90 to get the foam down. We mashed at 149 and I honestly forgot to take any gravity readings so I have no idea if we hit our target, despite writing up an elaborate brew-sheet modeled on what we use at work in the hope of helping my dad out. Brewday was a lot of fun. We hung out and drank a couple beers that I had picked up at Russian River a couple days before (It Takes A Lot Of Great Beer To Make Great Wine, a golden ale), and I tried to get my dad up to speed so he can brew all-grain without me. Not sure if I did a very good job.

The latest reports are that the saison (yet to be named) is already done fermenting and he’ll probably bottle it next weekend. We should have a nicely hoppy, 5%-ish saison in time for Christmas Eve if the 3711 does its typicall freak attenuation and gets down to 1P or so. We left it to ferment at ambient temp in their spare bathroom’s shower, which stays in the 60s this time of year, so hopefully the fermentation profile stays relatively clean.