Continuing the dream sequence, addled as it was by mania-inducing amounts of caffeine and callow hope, should be on the docket for the blog today, but we’re too excited about our new brew-house. So bear with us while we write it out of our system.
The modern brewhouse may look like a marvel of engineering cast in stainless steel, but for all its ports, hoses, tubes, and manifolds, the bones of the modern brewing system haven’t changed all that much since the satanic mills of the Industrial Revolution were belching coal across otherwise-merry ol' England. Sure, we no longer mash in wooden vessels and, thanks to the rise of consumer electronics and the concomitant rise in the price of copper, the brauhaus kettles of Bamberg, with their burnished curves and rising stacks, are out of reach of most small breweries.
Modern brewing, which is to say brewing post-Pasteur and the microbiological revolution he inspired, is largely an industrial phenomenon that aims for consistency and repeatability. Modern brewing equipment reflects those industrial values: brewers dial in their systems so that they can reproduce the same beer again and again. Say what you will about macro-beer, but one has to marvel at the incredible consistency of mass-market lagers that taste exactly the same whether they're brewed in Van Nuys, California or Harbin, China.
By comparison to the macro breweries, Armistice is a nano brewery. Our small, three-barrel Premier Stainless system will allow us to brew 90 gallons of beer per batch, which is the equivalent of six full-sized (i.e., half-barrel or half’ls) kegs. That’s pretty tiny, but it still represents 18-fold growth over our homebrew batches. But size ain’t a thing. In fact, we’re stoked on our small brewhouse because it means that we’ll be brewing new beers each week. And that means that you get enjoy different beers each time you come in, and you can be sure that it's the freshest beer possible, right from the source!
Walk with me in the weeds: from a business perspective, a larger brewhouse makes more dollars and sense because it cuts down on labor costs. Cool story, Adam Smith! But why not leverage economies of scale? Because brewing beer is a labor of love, and it’s a labor that we love. We got into this because we like brewing beer, so the idea of brewing more frequently sounds, well, awesome. And sure, you might save labor by brewing yuge batches of beer, but it also takes longer to sell all that beer, and it takes a lot more labor, energy, and money to distribute all that beer. For styles with short shelf-lives -- such as the IPA, which (true to its colonial roots) is still conquering the markets around the world -- the longer it takes to get that beer into your glass the worse it will be.
That being said, beer drinkers are smart. Consumers are getting wise to the perishability of beer and some breweries are making a point of highlighting perishability. Stone, for instance, has released an entire "Enjoy By" series that highlights the date and encourages consumers to pay attention to how old their beer is, while dis-incentivizing retailers from trying to sell old beer. These are promising steps toward mitigating one of the biggest abusers of beer in the distribution chain: time. Temperature is another great degrader of beer, but we'll get into that later.
We’re obsessed with blisteringly fresh beer, and obviously the best way to enjoy fresh beer is to drink it at the source. At Armistice, we want to make sure our hoppy beers are served within weeks of brewing at most. We’ve worked jobs where management made us serve beer that was passed its prime and the hops were turning fruity and flabby, and a little bit of us died each time. We know the work that goes into brewing beer, and we want to respect the labor of the brewers and the palates of our customers by getting our beer to you as fresh as possible.
We got into this because we love brewing and drinking a diverse array of styles, and the idea of getting stuck brewing a handful of flagship beers sounded about as exciting as having a self-declared beer geek mansplain the difference between an ale and a lager to us while drinking our Kolsch (free fodder for a think-piece: can men mansplain to each other?). We’re down with consistency, and if and when we re-brew a recipe, you can bet it will taste just like the previous batch. A smaller system allows us to be consistent and to brew creative, one-off beers using ingredients that are grown locally with heart and ingredients that scarcity makes precious.
We scoured the classifieds for months, hoping that some used equipment would come on the market. We wanted to give some perfectly good brewhouse a second life because not all brewhouses go to heaven and re-using equipment is the green thing to do. But the market for used equipment is hot, and most used brewhouses are sold in private deals that never see the light of day. We were preparing to pony up the money to transport used equipment from anywhere in the lower forty-eight when the EXACT system we were hoping for came on the market in little ol’ Richmond (City of Pride and Purpose). We were able to cut out the economic and ecological costs of shipping, which made us feel greener in all the right ways. We scored a great deal, we recycled a lot of stainless, and we didn’t have to truck across America. In the words of philosopher-king Michael Scott: win-win-win.
Our little three-barrel system comes with a storied pedigree. It was the workhorse behind Mill Valley Beerworks, which is just on the other side of the Richmond (City of Pride and Purpose) Bridge. Like Armistice, Mill Valley Beerworks is a sibling-owned operation. That project propelled the Catalana brothers to their next project, Fort Point Beer Company. In addition to brewing great beer, they also have some of the most elegantly packaged cans on the market. There is something so satisfying in those modern symmetries. Many thanks to Justin Catalana for his help in making this deal happen. By the looks of it, this little engine’s got pluck and gumption, and we’re really excited to have it. And of course, a(n) YUGE shout-out to Anthony Lopez, our old friend and one-time rec-league basketball coach, for helping us move the equipment from Richmond to...Richmond (City of Pride and Purpose).