Connecting with our roots: Take a peek into our small-batch brewing experience

Sunday, August 31, 2014

One of the many things that drew me to Dogfish as a beer fan was the vision of Sam standing in front of a SABCO Brew Magic in 1995 brewing the entire volume of beer for the brewpub in Rehoboth Beach. 

As a home brewer, it brought the idea of quality commercial brewing into a sphere I could understand and relate to. It gave me the sense that the process of brewing in my backyard was connected to the larger craft beer movement and that while my beers sadly never quite matched the deliciousness of the beer I was picking up from my favorite breweries, the process bred a sense of connection and kindred spiritship. 

Now that I'm a Dogfish Head coworker, and the brewery has grown a bit since 1995, it's quite a rush to have the opportunity to brew on the same system (albeit, a more recent iteration) as part of our Small Batch Brewing program and take it back full circle to that original vision that got me stoked on Dogfish beer in the first place. 

Thankfully, I had sufficiently hidden some of my past homebrewing missteps (dropped glass carboys, cantaloupe ale that tasted of band-aids, pantyhose as a lauter tun, etc.) from my coworkers and Micah, Jon and Janelle agreed to let me brew with them. 

Here's a peek into our small-batch experience:

  • 1. We all met to discuss the type of beer we would be concocting. In honor of the hop harvest going down in August and September, we decided on a harvest ale with a hearty mouthfeel and an ABV around 7 or 8%. Because we're music dorks, we named our beer Neil the Younger. I found a high school picture of Neil Young while Jon and Micah did the hard work of putting together the recipe.
  • 2. About a week later we were ready to brew (Not because it took Jon and Micah that long to make the recipe, mind you.) We milled in loads of pale malt, flaked rye, oats, flaked corn and other sundry goodies. 
  • milling


  • 3. We wheeled the SABCO outside for one of the most beautiful days of the year and began to mash in. We each took turns stirring the mash, keeping an eye on the temperature, and restraining me lest I ruin the beer. Some of those jobs were easier than others.



  • 4. Janelle and Jon got the run-off into the kettle going while Micah and I held hops in our hands … the way you do. Hands cupped, lifting towards nose. 


  • 5. As the boil got to a steady roll, we got an incredible surprise from Jon - to fully make this a legit harvest ale, Jon harvested 2 mongo bags of Cascade and Columbus hops from his backyard. The hops were beautiful and fresh and had an incredible aroma. We tried to give Jon a hug. We were very lucky to have him on our team. Again, we held the hops in our hands … as you do. We stopped posing and got to adding these flavor bombs to our boil.


  • 6. With the boil finished, and the wort sufficiently cooled, we transferred into our glass carboy (that we did not drop) and pitched the yeast. Here goes Micah with our baby, off to ferment. 


We're keeping an eye on the beer throughout this week and next and might even hit it with a second dose of Jon's sweet sweet hops. We're hoping to serve this to our coworkers by the end of September, where we'll be judged as part of the ongoing Small Batch Brewing competition. 

Here's hoping this one rocks as hard as the godfather of grunge and we find ourselves brewing this at the brewpub at the end of the quarter. Wish us luck.