Last Wednesday after the SloWednesday Slow Food event at the Schlafly Bottleworks had ended, Stephen Hale (the chief brewer at Schlafly) mentioned that he needed to get home as he had a long day of bottling ahead of him. Me being the beer nerd and intrepid reporter than I am asked what they were bottling (expecting it to be one of their year-round offerings.) He told me that they were bottling the 2007 Wood-Aged Imperial Stout and then invited me to come on down and take some pictures.
Now I’ll make no bones about it, ever since I started homebrewing and taking the art of brewing seriously I’ve wanted to be a professional brewer. So when I got the invitation down to the Tap Room to me it was like a baseball fan being asked to play for the Cardinals for a game. But let me tell you I didn’t have any romantic notions about this process going in. Brewing for the most part is a pretty dirty job (though the bigger your brewery gets usually the cleaner you become.) You get wet, you get sweaty and sometimes you get sticky.
Let me quickly give you some specifics on this beer:
- Original Gravity – 1.099 (23.5 Plato)
- Final Gravity – 1.020 (5 Plato)
- 10.55% ABV
- 75 IBUs
- This was a quad-batch yielding about 60 barrels
- Originally brewed in April
- Sat just over one month in Jim Beam bourbon barrels
- They began bottling last week and will hopefully be finished this week.
Schlafly is bottling these beers in 750ml bottles just like last year.. When I arrived at about 1:00 PM on Thursday they had already bottled about 14 barrels of beer, 4 bottles at a time. If my math is correct, 60 barrels of beer will yield a little over 5200 750ml bottles.
|This is the tank holding the Stout, only 45 barrels left to bottle!|
The machine you see below takes the bottle, it twice purges it of any air and then fills the bottle with carbon dioxide. After the bottle has CO2 added it then fills the bottle to an appropriate amount. After it has finished filling the bottle moves forward and the machine then caps it. It’s now ready for it’s next step which is cleaning and drying.
The bottles are then deposited into a bucker of warm Iodophor (it’s a sanitizing agent) and then placed onto a wire rack for drying. As the bottling machine can be finicky at times this is also the quality control portion of the process. Any bottles that aren’t filled enough are placed on the bottom rack for *ahem* a taste quality control check.
After the bottles have been dried they are placed in their new home and then packaged up to ship off to the stores. Below you can see Stephen showing Brennan the finer points of boxing and packaging bottles. You can also see that Brennan doesn’t stay still enough for me to take pictures.
The interesting thing about a brewery is that if you stand around long enough they’re going to put you to work. First I was given the job of helping unpack bottles so the bottle filler would have a steady supply to fill. After they saw my skills at unpacking they gave me the job placing informational stickers on the outside of boxes. Everyone was once again amazed by how quickly I picked this up so the next thing you know if another promotion. I finally hit the big time, I had the job of drying the bottles and packing them into their individual boxes.
All told I was there about 3 hours and helped bottle and pack about 4 barrels of beer, over 300 bottles. By the end of the day I was sticky, sweaty and wet, but it was quite an experience and I appreciate everyone over at the Tap Room for letting me help out. As for the beer itself? It’s pretty fantastic. It’s a perfect winter/fall beer that is warming and roasty without being cloying. As you let it warm up you can really begin to get hints of bittersweet chocolate.
If you want to see more pictures from my time there, feel free to click the more button below.
|Stephen shows me that they’re another St. Louis brewery that loves beer.|
|Using the map printed on the box, Brennan shows Stephen where he once took a trip.|
|These tanks are holding the 2007 Barley Wine.|
|Guess who got to have a glass of the 2007 Barley Wine?|