How To Brew Craft Beer

So what goes into the craft beer you enjoy? Follow along as we take you through the process of making Farhand Frank blonde stout, our collaboration beer with Brookeville Beer Farm.

Christian outside of Brookevilke Beer Farm, a farm brewery in Brookeville, Maryland.

It started as a conversation between Christian and Kenny, the head brewer at Brookeville Beer Farm. It turned out that we’re both fans of each others’ work, and when Kenny asked about doing a collaboration beer, we jumped at the opportunity to work with such a talented brewer.

Christian (left), and Kenny Borkmann (right) the brewmaster at Brookeville Beer Farm.

The first step was to sit down (over a beer, of course), determine what type of beer we wanted to make, and brainstorm ideas.
After some discussion, we decided to make a blonde stout – still a rarity in the craft beer world (only a few have made it to commercial production). Think of it as everything that’s great about a stout, but with a gold color.

Christian outside of Mayorga Organics’ facility in Rockville, Maryland.

One of the first flavors we wanted to add is coffee. Since we’re infusing coffee into the stout, we made an appointment to meet with our friends at Mayorga Organic Coffee, located near Rockville, MD.


Mayorga was chosen not only because of their GREAT coffee, but because they’re a local business that supports responsible, sustainable farming throughout Latin America and Africa.

The dark (top left) and medium roasts (top right) are from Honduras. The light roast (bottom) is Peruvian.

Since part of the beer brewing process includes cold-brewing the coffee, Mayorga cold-brewed three variants of beans and roasts for us to sample.

In the end, we ordered almost 30 pounds of their hand-roasted coffee beans in various roasts and origins, and we’ll start doing some small-batch coffee brewing and experimenting to see what proportions will work best. 


About a week later, and we’re back at Brookeville Beer Farm to do some taste-testing with the Mayorga coffee. Since the blonde stout hasn’t been produced yet, we used a fairly neutral beer, California Common, as the base. The brewery staff carefully measured out coffee into each glass (fractions of a gram, here), and cold-brewed it using the beer itself since that’s how we’ll have to do it on the larger scale production.


So how many variations did we have to make? 53. Yes, we tasted 53 variations of coffee/beer mixes. It’s as exhausting as you think it is. It took us over two hours, and our palates were completely wrecked by the end.


This was taken about halfway through the tasting process – you can see the fatigue on Christian’s face already.


In the end, we settled on batch #27, which was 25% Honduras light roast coffee and 75% Peruvian light roast, both hand-roasted by the good folks at Mayorga Organics.


Brew Day finally came on Friday, May 26th. We started at 6am opening 55-pound bags of malted grains and prepping them for brewing.


The malt is actually grains that are roasted. These are light (since we’re making a blonde stout), but if we were making a darker beer (like a stout or porter), these would be roasted longer and turn out much darker. At this point, they actually have a nice flavor that is similar to eating sunflower seeds.


The bags of malted grains get poured into this mechanical grinder that will crush and grind a 55-pound bag of malt in about 5 minutes.


And here’s what 55 pounds of malt looks like in the hopper of the crusher.


Once it is pulverized by the grinder, it looks like this. This will help release the flavors and sugars during the initial boiling process.


Each one of these aluminum tubs holds 55 pounds of crushed malt (there are 9 of them), along with 22 pounds of a darker, more heavily roasted malt for added flavor. 

As a point of interest, if we had been making a traditional stout, we’d be using twice this amount. 

The yield is 10 barrels, which equates to about 310 gallons of beer.

The next step is to pour all 500 pounds of grain into a large kettle (about 6 feet in diameter, and about 4 feet deep) with several hundred gallons of boiling water. The white you see is foam. 

We cooked it for about an hour, stirring at pre-determined intervals. Stirring is interesting – imagine stirring pudding with a canoe paddle. There’s lots of upper body work going on here, but it gets easier with each progressive stirring.


Once the initial cooking is done, the beer is transferred to a larger tank for a long boil. Since we just want the liquid, and not the grain, it gets pumped out of the tank into this filter, which then pumps it to the boil tank.


Along the way to the boil kettle, it goes through quite a bit of stainless steel plumbing, including a couple sight glass sections so you can check the beer’s color. We were really happy with the color this recipe created.


Once all the liquid has been transferred to the boiling kettle, the temperature is set and carefully regulated. The white bubbles you see are foam caused by natural enzymes in the grain that will eventually die down. 

From here, it will cook for another hour or more. We’ll also add some hops grown at the farm, as well as others sourced locally. This will give the beer some mild, additional flavor, and will also help make the beer more sterile (due to hops’ natural antibacterial properties) and the yeast happier later during fermentation.


With all the liquid now boiling in another pot, we need to clean out the spent grain from the initial tank. That’s about 2 feet of compacted mess that needs to be scooped out by hand.


The spent grain, in this case, gets put into a front-end-loader (we did about 7 wheelbarrows full) and taken elsewhere on the farm where it is carefully spread and dried. It will become organic, nutrient-rich fertilizer in about a year. 

In case you’re wondering, it is devoid of any real taste at this point because all the sugar and pulp have been cooked out of it.


After a couple hours of cooking, careful observation and ingredient-adding, the beer is ready to be transferred to a fermenter (across the room). However, it can’t be hot since it would kill the yeast, so it needs to be cooled down to room temperature – the quicker the better. 

To do this, the hot beer is pumped through this cool contraption, which is an industrial heat exchanger. The hose closest to us is pushing cold water into it, and the hot beer runs through a separate system in the unit that cools it from near boiling down to about 67* in about 30 seconds.


The hose on the left is pumping beer to the fermenter, while the right hose, pump, and vertically curved hose are pushing water into the heat exchanger.


Now that the beer has started to fill the fermenter, it’s time to add the yeast that will eat all the sugar and create the alcohol.


We also took the opportunity to get some of the wort (un-fermented beer) to check the flavor and gravity of the beer. 

Wort is really pretty unpleasant – it’s very sweet, and very thick. You REALLY don’t want much to drink. But it’s thrilling to be able to take the first sip of what will become Farmhand Frank blonde stout.

For the brewing nerds, the gravity was 10.34.

Before we sealed up the fermenter, we had some fun.

One of our fans recently told us about a tradition among Norweigian brewers of yelling at the beer. 

During the brewing process, the brewers will shout or yell at the beer, which not only makes the beer stronger, but also makes it more enjoyable to those who will drink it. So we all took turns yelling at the beer.

And scaring the office staff, who we forgot to warn.


And there it is, fermenting away for the next week or so. 

Once it’s done, we’ll add the other ingredients including the cold-pressed Mayorga coffee, some raisins and prunes to help balance the bitterness of the coffee, a little cardamom, and some chocolate.


About a week later, the yeast fermentation is done, and we get to taste the first, drinkable version of Farmhand Frank. Its very light, with a little bit of a bready taste, and a mild spice flavor. It’s about 6% ABV.

We’ll add the coffee, fruit, and chocolate this week but, for now, this is REALLY good. 


A few days later, we cold-brewed 12 pounds of coffee and added it to the beer. The next day, it was transferred to a “bright tank” where we added the raisins, prunes, chocolate and cardamom.

After a few days of aging, we tasted the final product, and carbonated the beer. This is actually done by pressurizing the tank with carbon dioxide, which gets absorbed into the beer.

So how does it taste? WOW, is this something really special.

It’s a light, very drinkable beer that is seriously unlike anything we’ve ever had. Subtle coffee, mellowed nicely with dark fruit, chocolate and spices. Even if we didn’t have a hand in brewing it, we’d comment on its mind-blowing tendencies.

The best part? It impressed a few other, well-respected brewers who heard about this beer, and stopped by to try it. 

So the next time you take a sip of your favorite beer, let yourself enjoy it just a bit more. Because friends, there’s a lot of love and hard work that’s poured into that glass.

Cheers!

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