Mitch Hamilton used a kelly green oar to stir up the contents of the approximate 620 gallon mash tun and hot liquor tank at Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton. As he stirred to prevent clumps, malted barley from the adjacent mill poured in, mixing with the hot water.
This was just one of the steps in a 16-hour day to create the fourth collaborative beer for the Brew Ridge Trail breweries. The Brew Ridge Trail is a marketing partnership among six breweries along the Blue Ridge Mountains in Nelson and Albemarle counties. People from all six breweries were on hand Monday afternoon as they brewed the “BRT Collaboration Black Tripel.”
“It’s a cool way for us to create something that we don’t usually have the time or room for on our own schedule, so we can do something wacky,” said Taylor Smack, the master brewer and co-owner of Blue Mountain Brewery and Blue Mountain Barrel House in Colleen.
About 1,000 gallons, or 60 kegs, will be made from this brew session. The beer will premier at the Top of the Hops festival on Sept. 22. It will also be sold in area restaurants and breweries for prices determined by each establishment.
“It usually gets swallowed up pretty well around Charlottesville because of the popularity of the breweries in the area,” Smack said.
The collaboration brews began about three years ago as a way for brewers to work together, experiment and create something unique. A different brewery has hosted it each time, beginning with Devil’s Backbone Brewing Co. in Roseland. A brewery will usually volunteer to host and there is no specific time between each collaborative brew, Smack said.
“We kind of felt it was our turn,” Smack said. “We sat back and enjoyed it at others.”
This is Blue Mountain Brewery’s fourth collaboration brew.
Everything from the recipe to the ingredients is a shared effort with the host brewery providing the equipment and basic ingredients and other breweries providing other special aspects. For this brew, Wild Wolf Brewing Co. in Nellysford contributed orange peels, Star Hill in Crozet provided candi sugar made from sugar beats and Blue Mountain Barrel House donated their bourbon oak barrels for part of the fermenting process. One of Devils Backbone Brewing Co.’s brewers suggested the recipe. South Street in Charlottesville also contributed.
Smack said they decided to do the recipe because it was a unique style that they believed had not been done before.
The brew is a very strong blonde ale with traces of fruit and spices. The residual bourbon and the char of the oak will add a vanilla and coconut flavor to it. Brewers added roasted malt to turn the color a dark brown, Smack said.
“It’s a weird twist on a classic,” Smack said.
Mary Wolf, the co-owner and operator of Wild Wolf Brewery, said participating in the collaborative brew was a no brainer because Wild Wolf was a member of the trail. This is the brewery’s third collaborative brew. It hosted the last one and was not established when the first one was held.
“It’s an amazing opportunity,” she said. “We wouldn’t miss it.”
Wild Wolf brewers even gave up brewing at their own facility for the day so they could be at Blue Mountain Brewery for the collaboration. Wild Wolf brews about 15 barrels, which is about 500 gallons, a day, Wolf said.
“I love that it brings everyone together,” she said. “We all compete, but by doing stuff like this it creates a sense of camaraderie and collaboration, which is nice.”
She added it was something not many businesses would do.
The collaborative brews also serve as a time for the brewers to get together and have fun. There is usually food and beer on hand for them to enjoy throughout the afternoon.
Smack’s day began at 5 a.m. so he could begin setting up and brewing. Hamilton, one of the brewers at Blue Mountain Brewery, will finish up the process around 10 p.m. including the cleaning.
The process begins by adding the malted barley, which is kept in the mill to break down, into the mash tun and hot liquor tank. Since the malt is broken down, it can be hydrated by the hot water in the tank. Brewers are able to add different things like salt to the water so that it mimics different water types around the world. While in this tank the grains’ enzymes activate, turning the starches into a sugar and creating a sugar water, or wort. The wort is boiled in the kettle while hops are added. This takes about eight to 10 hours, Hamilton said.
The Brew Ridge Trail brewers did this process twice so that it could have a full 30-barrel, or 930-gallon, fermentation tank where the wort becomes beer by reacting with the yeast over several weeks. It is then filtered, which takes about a day, and goes to the bright tank for packaging, Hamilton said.
Despite the long day, Smack said he appreciates the collaboration brews.
“All six of us together can make something cooler than each individual can make,” he said.