Enter Russ Klisch and Lakefront Brewery, one of Milwaukee’s earliest producers and purveyors of craft beer. When I contacted UWM’s Chief Sustainability Officer Kate Nelson in 2015 about the Fermentation Studies Program the College of Letters & Science was in the process of developing and asked whether she might be interested in being part of an effort to grow ingredients for pre-hops beverage plant additives on campus she was immediately enthusiastic. She also had a suggestion for a course that could be taught in the School of Architecture and Urban Planning by Cindy Anderson, who had interests in both gardening and brewing and turned out to be the perfect collaborator on the Brew Garden project. A location in the Honors College was the next step, courtesy of Director Peter Sands, and by the end of the Spring 2016 semester SARUP course, four student teams had drawn up plans for a full-scale garden for growing the ingredients for all kinds of historically and archaeologically attested beverages.
The winning design “Round Table Brew Garden” (Jessica Larsen and Katlyn Pluer) still needs funding to be realized, but we were given permission to use several beds surrounding a small sunken courtyard outside the Honors College buildings (which will eventually be part of the completed Brew Garden) to plant a starter version. Cindy brought Russ Klisch to campus for the SARUP class and he presented the students with an introduction to the science behind the brewing process while Anthropology PhD candidate Josh Driscoll and I provided the archaeological and historical background on the evidence for fermented beverages and their plant-based ingredients.
Russ was kind enough to offer to produce an experimental version of what we were calling “Keltenbräu #2” at Lakefront so on August 19, 2016 Josh and I headed down to the brewery to spend about four hours with Lakefront’s Lead Cellarman Chad Sheridan, an enthusiastic home brewer of mead. (Interesting factoid: mead is considered a wine rather than a beer so a different permit is required to brew it, which means that the beverage we produced with Chad and his assistant for the day, Mike Vergolina, couldn’t currently be offered for sale at Lakefront—assuming it turns out to be drinkable.)
We harvested a couple of handfuls of the mint we are growing in the Honors College Brew Garden and brought along a few ounces of meadow sweet (the whole plant is harvested, dried and chopped into small pieces) to be used as the bittering agent in place of hops. (Russ Klisch joked that adding meadow sweet to beer was like drinking the remedy for the next day’s hangover together with the beer—the plant is also used medicinally as a pain reliever because it contains salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin.) Chad had brought along 7 lbs of Kallas honey as well as 2 lbs of Weyerman Smoked malt (to provide the slightly burned flavor most prehistoric grain used in brewing would have had because of the less controlled conditions under which the sprouted grain was parched) and 7 lbs of Warminster Floor Malted Maris Otter, an English 2-row varietal barley well-suited to the production of ales (both courtesy of Northern Brewer). We used a small batch system of two barrels, one for the hot water and one for the wort, as well as a counterflow wort chiller to cool the wort before decanting it into the plastic carboys. Thanks to Russ for lending Chad to us and to Chad and Mike for taking the time to get the system working and to dedicate a day to making this test batch with us.
Keltenbräu #2 Brew – Lakefront Brewery (August 19, 2016)
Chad and Mike poured the grains into a mesh bag (initially reserving about half of the smoked malt), tied a knot into the top and lowered it into the mash tun where the hot water was already at about 145 degrees F. Initially the gas burner was directly heating only the water in the left hand barrel, which was then piped into the mash tun using the pump but the temperature in the mash tun needed to get up to 160 degrees F so the gas burner under the mash tun was also turned on for a while during the initial boil. The pump ensured that the hot water was circulating through the grain in the mesh bag, which was also periodically prodded using a long-handled paddle. The temperature was raised to about 180 degrees F for about 20 minutes and then the grain was mashed at about 150 degrees F for a total mash time of about an hour.
Here you can see Chad checking the sugar content of the wort using a Brix refractometer, a device that, like a hydrometer, measures the specific gravity of beer or wort by sampling a small amount of liquid and looking at it optically. The higher the sugar content, the more the light will bend/refract. The reading has to be converted to provide an indication of what the eventual alcohol content will be assuming the yeast does its job and turns all the sugar into alcohol (which the honey in this batch might make a bit more complicated).
Based on the initial refractometer reading as well as a taste test, Chad decided to add the rest of the Weyerman Smoked malt and we brought the mash to 150 degree F again.
The grain bag was removed and placed in a plastic bucket to drain; the liquid that collected in the bucket was periodically emptied back into the wort barrel. Once all the wort had been extracted the spent grain was dumped into the barrel for recycling.
Hot water was added from the left hand barrel to bring the amount of wort to about 6.5 gallons, which was boiled at 180 degrees F for about an hour. Around this time Chad’s mentor and “beer guru” Johnny O’Brien dropped by, so we got a chance to meet him as well—he’s the one in the bandanna in the photo.
The first 5 lbs of honey were added to the boil; Mike poured the honey SLOWLY into the barrel as Chad stirred the wort using the plastic paddle. About 1 oz. of the meadow sweet was placed in a small plastic mesh bag with a knot tied into the top and dropped into the wort like a large tea bag; the string was passed through a hole in the top of the barrel.
The remaining 2 lbs of honey were added and the “tea bag” was removed from the wort, opened and about three handfuls of fresh mint, stems, flowers and leaves, were added. The bag was drawn shut and dropped back into the wort where it steeped for another 15 minutes.
The wort was cooled to 76 degrees F using a counterflow wort chiller.
400 ml of already active yeast (Wyeast California ale yeast) was decanted straight from one of Lakefront’s huge stainless steel tanks into a plastic beaker and then into the carboy—not something the average homebrewer can do! (Chad’s mantra: “No yeast left behind.”) About 4.5 gallons of wort were poured into the carboy and Mike spent several minutes vigorously rocking it back and forth to aerate the mixture. The remaining 1.5 gallons were decanted into a smaller carboy with about 100 ml of live yeast and aerated. The remaining wort was again tested using the refractometer and if all goes well the resulting braggot should have an ABV of between 6.5 and 7.0.
The lids of the carboys were loosely screwed on to allow for gases to escape and mesh bags were placed over the tops to protect the contents. Fermentation should take about two weeks—we’ll be back with an update!