Sunday, December 23, 2018

Balzy Blackberry Blast

At Pals Brewing Company we love to make fruit beers. My buddy Nick and I used to brew them regularly back in the homebrew days. In fact the Explosive Raspberry-O got most of its name from a fermentation "blast" that happened one fateful night while Nick was sleeping. He was going to college at Western Michigan in Kalamazoo living in a rental apartment. He and I were home brewing beers about every weekend during the summer. At that time we didn't have very good temperature control and we had brewed up a fruit beer base and we each had 2 glass carboys of fermented beer awaiting the fruit. Nick added a can or two of Oregon Fruit Products raspberry puree to one of the fermenters and then headed off to bed. The next morning, he was surprised to awake to a red mess all over the apartment. The raspberry had set off a renewed fermentation of epic proportions, foam and raspberry puree had entered the airlock, clogging it, and pressure had quickly built up to explosive proportions. As I recall the apartment was a loft with a super high ceiling. A round red mark on the ceiling bore evidence to just how much pressure had built up and the beer exploded all the way to the ceiling. Explosive fruit indeed!

This is the second time we've brewed a blackberry beer at Pals. The great thing about craft beer is the almost unlimited variation of different flavors you one can create. Sometimes we do that by changing conditions of the mash, for example, raising the mash temperature will result in the creation of more dextrins in the wort that are not fermentable by yeast. This can result in a fuller flavored beer or one that tastes maltier. Sort of the polar opposite of what we do with the Jerry Light where we are trying to chop up all the Dextrin molecules to leave simple sugars the yeast can ferment resulting in a very dry beer. Changing the fermentation temperature will alter the types and amounts of the various fermentation byproducts produced by the yeast. For example, higher temperatures may produce more esters that have fruity aromas and flavors. Other times we change the types and amount of ingredients added to the beer to achieve different flavor profiles. For the previous blackberry beer we added about 1.33 pound of fruit per gallon. The blackberry flavor was subtle and in balance with the base beer. Some of the feedback was that the blackberry was a bit too subtle. So.....

This go around we decided to create a beer that has a completely different feel. Enter the Balzy Blackberry Blast! We doubled the amount of blackberry fruit to 2.66 pounds of fruit per gallon to slap you in the face with blackberry flavor. It's basically a fruit bomb (sorry for the explosive pun) that explodes in your mouth. To be honest I'm not even sure it's beer. Inky purple in color it looks like something Barney would drink. Before sipping this beer for the first time, be sure to take a moment to inhale the beautiful blackberry aromas. When you first sip this fruity concoction the blackberry fruit is immediately evident with that acidic taste you get from bramble fruit. The aftertaste allows the wheat base beer to come through a bit before the aftertaste. That's the part I enjoy the most about this beer. Let it sit for a full minute. How does it feel? Does it feel like you just ate a real piece of blackberry fruit? Does it call you back for another sip? That's how it feels for me.

Last but not least, we all had some fun with the naming of this beer. I think it was Zac and Amy that finally coined the official name. Zac had recommended Blackberry Blast and Amy wanted something more fun. Some brainstorming went on, over a few sips of course, and then they had it along with a few laughs. It's a fun little tongue twister. Try saying it out loud three times fast if you want to have a few laughs with your server or your friends and family. After all it's the Christmas season and this time of year should be all about having fun with friends and family. We hope you enjoy our latest beer offering as much as Tom, Zac, and I enjoyed making it (and naming it!).

Finally from all of us here at the brewery, we want to wish a Merry Christmas to you and yours and thank you for being one of our Pals.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

One year later… Giving Thanks and a toast to pursuing Ones Dream!

Almost exactly one year ago today, while playing a Ten Point Pitch card game and sitting around the family table following a Thanksgiving meal, the Oettingers decided to quit talking about opening a brewery and finally make it happen.

Meet the brothers Paul and Mark and their wives Amy (that's me in the back left) and Mendy (aka the Oettingers).  It started with planning the work and working the plan including a lot of education, experimentation and climbing uphill while turning corners. As if someone was propelling us from above (Grandpa Tom), things began to fall into place.
Just a stone’s throw from the southern Sandhills, the past year has been about laying the ground work for that dream to become reality.  Fast forward a year and Pals Brewing Company is in full construction while we await our federal brewers permit. Talk to anyone who has ever started up a brewery and they will tell you the process goes something like this:  take 2 steps forward and then 1 step backward; Save $1, and spend $3. And while it is not an easy endeavor it sure is a worthy endeavor indeed!  One that is not just for us the dreamers,  but for everyone who lives or passes through the North Platte community and deserves to have a place to call a home away from home.
Every day as Paul and I meet new people, it gives us such incredible energy to see the excitement folks seem to have for the brewery to open! We are asked multiple times a day, “Oh Is that the building going up on Buffalo Bill”? Yes.. “Are you going to brew the beer right there on site? How many beers will you have on tap”? Yes, maybe 9 to 12 or so. “When are you opening?” With a painful, agonizing look we explain how it is not up to us. We are waiting for the TTB (whoever that is?) to issue our license which can take anywhere from a half to a full year! Based on our application date we are hoping to start serving tasty beers sometime between January and March. “Will you serve food”? Yes, we will have specialty pizzas and some appetizers. "I don’t drink beer will you have anything to drink that isn’t beer?” Yes, we will have limited mixed drinks and wine, as well as Pals specialty sodas. “Can we have our wedding at the Brewery”? Perhaps. We are working out the details of how to host these type of events on our beautiful 4 acres with views of the sunset. We hope it will be an outdoor space like no other. It will be something special with games, picnic tables, beautiful landscaping, and space for tents to host all those family gatherings. We even have space for beer tasting events and a huge outdoor patio and quiet nooks for stargazing. Finally, people in the community have been wondering, “when will you be hiring”? We plan to start the interview process a month or two before opening. Soon we will have a website up and running with all the details.
We can’t wait to share our vision of North Platte’s first microbrewery including a taproom to enjoy Paul’s (aka Pals) quality craft brews, and a warm and comfy atmosphere to share memories and laughter with your friends and families. We want to be the place you take your family who is in town next Thanksgiving. We want to be the place you meet your friends after work to unwind from your long day. We want to be the place you bring your sweetie to listen to live musicians and kick back on a Friday night. We want to be the place you cheer on the Huskers with a red beer while enjoying some outdoor games in our garden oasis.  We want to be the place where you feel welcomed and happy.  But most importantly, we want to be the place where you learn all about craft beers giving your taste buds an experience like no other. Year after year, your palate will change and all you light beer drinkers may eventually find out that in addition to Jerry Light you love a Christmas Stout! It happens to the best of us! You’re always at home with PALS! And now for a word from our sponsor....
Attention North Platte beer lovers. As you patiently wait for us to get our ducks in a row and licensing to come through, why not show some support for North Platte’s first microbrewery by buying one of these magnificent Pals T-shirts.  What an awesome Christmas gift!  Check out those beauties!

Women’s sizes include S, M, L, XL, XXL, in black or teal blue. Men’s sizes include black M, L, XL, XXL, 3XL, 4L, 5XL and Sandstone L, XL, XXL. Cost is $30 (hey that’s a lot of colors to print on that fabulous logo!). Email with your name, address, size and color and we will send you an invoice through your email. Now back to the blog...

At this time of thanks as I sit and reflect about how far we’ve come and where we hope to be, I can’t help but remember that day one year ago when all we had was a dream during a card game. We can't tell you how thankful all of us at Pals are for all the people who have helped move our dream closer to reality. Our close friends and family members. All those who voiced their support of the site zoning changes. Attorneys and Accountants, Bankers and Insurance Agents. Thanks to all the contractors creating that beautiful building with the copper roof. 

From Plumbers to Electricians, to Landscapers, Cement Scapers and Earth Movers. From architects and engineers to screen printers and POS system developers. Builders, sign makers and problem solving HVAC guys. And I forgot our neighbors who Paul forces to taste every test batch giving in return only empty glasses and honest feedback!  It has taken many thinkers to solve each of the problems that have come with us along the way. So on this Thanksgiving, us Oettingers say "Thank You" to each and every one of you who has helped us on this journey so far. And I can't help wondering as you sit around your family table this Thanksgiving… what dreams are you dreaming? Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving from Pals to all of you!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Pals Brewing Company Brewers Day

I’ve officially designated today, August 17th, as Pals Brewing Company Brewers Day which means every August 17th me and any other brewers get to do whatever we want. Personally I think it should also be a National Holiday. Today I've decided to buy some brewing ingredients and enjoy the incredible Rocky Mountain views.

A quick update on brewery progress for Pals. Our Federal application for a brewers permit has been submitted! Unfortunately the review by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau can take 3-4 months to complete. Brewery planning and construction activities are ramping up as anyone who has driven by the brewery site recently has seen. The building  pad is staked out and the parking lot area is shaping up. We’re waiting for our final stamped engineering drawings to be completed so we can get approval to proceed with pouring the building footers. Concrete work will commence shortly thereafter. Amy, Paul, Jack and Daisy Duke have also completed our move from Sun Prairie to North Platte. We’re officially Nebraskans (but fortunately still Badger fans). Amy is absolutely loving the weather and our new covered patio at the little rental house we found. On our first morning in town I rode my bike down to the brewery site. That 15 minute bike ride over the Platte River and down the Buffalo Bill bike path on my baby blue Trek bicycle is quite a refreshing change from my former car commute of 40 minutes each way. The birds and crickets aren’t nearly as obnoxious as the Madison beltline drivers.

On the brewing side I spent the past 6 days at the World Brewing Congress in Denver trying to learn how to scale up from homebrewer to pro brewer. Some of it is let’s just say complicated. Who knew there was so much science behind the art of brewing? On the surface it’s always seemed pretty simple. Convert the starch in the malted barley to sugar, strain and rinse the grains to collect the sweet liquid, boil with hops, and pitch the yeast. Add a little carbonation and you have beer. People have been doing it for thousands of years without fancy stainless steel vessels or expensive analytical toys. My homebrewing reference shelf contains at least 30 books and I’ve read all of them. Still none of those books prepared me for how complex the science of malting, hopping, and fermenting has become.

Warning: The rest of this post is pretty geeky. You’ve been warned….

On the recipe side it’s no sweat. There are a few differences between 20 gallons and 330 gallons (as an example hops extract better at larger scale so you have to cut back a bit to keep from making grapefruit cactus juice) but all in all it’s the same. It is consistency and quality that really separates the successful professional brewer from the home brewer. As a homebrewer, I only care if the finished beer tastes delicious. That’s it. On to the next batch and if it tastes a little different so what. As a pro brewer, it also has to be the same style of delicious as the last batch and free of competing microorganisms. Imagine if every time you picked up your favorite six-pack from the store it tasted different or it tasted funny. You would probably pick a new brand and never go back.

One major variable that impacts this consistency is the amount of yeast pitched. As pro brewers, we can’t afford to buy new yeast for every batch as yeast is very expensive so we collect clean yeast from a previous fermentation and repitch it into new batches. This can be done for 5 to 10 batches. That’s why every batch has to be kept free of contamination by wild yeast and bacteria. To be consistent, we not only need immaculate cleaning and sanitization procedures but we also need a method to calculate the amount of yeast to pitch. Homebrewers don’t do this. One of the courses I took this past weekend was about counting yeast and determining their viability. Essentially you put a defined amount of diluted yeast slurry containing a blue dye on a microscope slide which has intersecting lines on it. You count the live yeast cells which don’t take up the dye under the microscope within the lines and multiply times the dilution factor to obtain the live cell count. Then you can pitch the appropriate volume of yeast based on the strength of beer you are brewing. Stronger beer requires more yeast to get the job done efficiently. Not that complicated right?

Contrast that with the aroma compounds that hops add to beer. These compounds consist of various terpenes and polyphenol compounds that are highly volatile meaning they are easily boiled away at high temperatures. These compounds are generally thought to reside in the oils of the lupulin glands of the hop cone.

These hop aroma compounds have flavor thresholds in the parts per billion range and there are likely more than 1,000 of these compounds in the hop cone! With names like myrcene, linalool, α-humulene, and β-damascenone the science of hop aroma basically reads like a doctorate course in organic chemistry. These compounds have been isolated by scientists using very sophisticated analytical chemistry methods with alphabet soup acronyms like GC-MS (Gas Chromatography- Mass Spec), GC-FID, and HS-SPME (Head Space-Solid Phase Micro Extraction). Each hop variety has its own aroma fingerprint of these compounds at various concentrations and it is the various combinations of these molecules in the finished beer that make one India Pale Ale taste different from another. Talk about complicated. And that’s just hop aroma. The bittering properties of hops are a completely different organic chemistry textbook.

It was a great conference and I met so many other helpful brewers and quality professionals who were happy to offer assistance and answer my never-ending questions. And there was always some kind of beer being served which didn’t hurt the proceedings any.

Enough theory! Now it’s time to put some of that new knowledge to work with a few test batches. Look for some beer on tap in North Platte in 3-4 weeks! Sorry but that’s how long it takes. Thanks for the support on this incredible journey.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Resigned to a Wisconsin Summer Like No Other

As the temperatures blister to nearly 100 degrees out in North Platte, Mark and Mendy are busily putting the final plans in place with the various contractors and other professionals who are working to bring Pals Brewing Company's future site to life. In the past week the brewery building order was placed, the plumbing drawings were completed and sent out for bids, site dirt work began in preparation for concrete work (which can't start until the proper permits are obtained), and full time jobs were somehow still worked. Hopefully they got some sleep somewhere in there and found some time for Kadin and Keegan.

Meanwhile over 700 miles east, Amy and I have hit a few minor milestones as well since my last update. We accepted an offer on our house in Sun Prairie and just yesterday cleared the inspection contingency!

Amy helping me put in the garden circa 2008.

The first beans and tomatoes appeared in the garden. I'm really looking forward to canning up some salsa, pickles, and of course dilly beans before I have to say goodbye to it for the last time. We put this garden in what seems like an eternity ago and of course this year it finally looks like a garden should right before I hand it over to a new family. Check out those photos of this year's crop! Hopefully the new family gets as much enjoyment out of the garden as we have.

I also ordered a 30 Barrel fermenter for the Brewery to round out the initial fermentation equipment. Oh and did I mention we both gave our two week notice to resign from our jobs? That one made everything pretty real for me. Nothing stressful though right, just your average summer of leaving one life and moving to another...

We've also spent a fair amount of time searching for a place to live out in North Platte without much luck. So if anyone out there in North Platte has a nice 3 bedroom rental they want to lease to our family which includes a 70 lb dog please let us know.

On the beer front last week, I kegged off the very first batch made on that beautiful pilot system, a Blueberry Wheat Ale. Given the scorching temperatures and a prompt by my fellow co-brewer Jeff Scanlan, I decided to concoct a Blueberry Radler by mixing some in a glass with about 25% Simply Lemonade. After about the 3rd pint in an hour, I decided those Germans across the pond were definitely on to something! Good thing I have a few more gallons out in the Keezer, which for all of you non-brewers is my chest freezer converted to a kegerator. Unfortunately for you North Platte readers there is about as much chance of that blueberry keg making it through the move to North Platte as the Milwaukee Brewers making a playoff run this year. Don't worry though, I've had two people ask to brew with me yet before I leave town so there could be a few fresh kegs tucked inside the moving truck in case you happen to be there to help us unload (hint, hint).

The next week is going to be filled up tight with finalizing the application for our Federal Brewers Permit and beginning the daunting task of packing for the move. We'll also get started on our farewell gatherings with local friends and family while Mark waits on the mountain of permits to break ground on the Brewery. Endings and new beginnings. A summer in Wisconsin like no other.

Thanks to everyone for your support on this incredible journey.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Pilot System Arrives aka Winning the Lottery for a Homebrewer

Pals Brewing Company's New Pilot System
I can think of maybe three things in the lifetime of a homebrewer that can make you feel like you've won the lottery and gone straight to heaven. And up until today I would say I was pretty much a pauper living homeless on the street with regards to these homebrewing treasures.