Next comes the mash, or l’empattage as they say in French. It takes a bit over an hour for the mash to get up to temperature. Meanwhile, we clean all the pipes that the beer will go through in order to get the filtration tank (cuve de filtration). For this, we use the Clean-in-place system, which involves hoses, water, and an acid cleaner.
There’s rarely a dull moment in the brewery. Today, during the mash, I was talking with Bastien about school when all of a sudden the power went out. Since the brewing system is somewhat automated, we rely on readings given on the electronic screen to indicate the progress of the brew. Nicolas, Bastien, and Florence engaged in a rapid conversation in French while Peter and I stood in anticipation of what to do next. When Nicolas excused himself to make some phone calls, Florence explained to me that everything will be all right...probably. Since the beer was at a high temperature, and that the tanks are well insulated, the beer could sit for about an hour or so without any negative side effects. At this point, there was nothing we could do but wait.
When Nicolas returned, he informed us that a fallen tree had caused the power outage, and that power should be restored in an hour. As a skeptical Californian who’s experienced a fair amount of power outages, I was dubious of this prediction of a one-hour power restoration. Thankfully, Couthuin’s predictions are more reliable than what I am used to, and power was restored to the brewery within the next hour.
We continued the brewing process with filtration. During this time, I was trying to become acquainted with the couple-dozen valves used to control the brewing system. It’s pretty daunting to look at and know that one wrong quarter-turn could result in you spraying boiling water on your leg or pumping cleaning fluid into the wort.
Another reason why strength is important in brewing: the stainless-steel filtration plates that are placed inside of the lauter tun are large and heavy. Bastien picks up each plate in such a nonchalant manner that I didn’t realize how unwieldy they are until I assisted Florence during installation.
At the end of filtration, the spent grains are removed from the lauter tun and given to a neighboring farmer who uses them for animal feed and compost. As a curious foodie, I always have wondered what spent grain tastes like. After all, Sierra Nevada serves bread made with their spent grains at their restaurant and Fieldwork (formerly) baked crackers with their spent grains to accompany their cheese boards. I asked Florence and Bastien if they had ever tried spent grain, and they gave me a confused smile, probably hoping they misunderstood my English. I smiled back, took a piece of steaming grain coming out of the lauter tun, and put it in my mouth. I then looked at them and smiled and said, “it’s not bad!” and it really wasn’t. The taste reminds me of crunchy oatmeal. In my opinion, wort (or the sugar-water before the fermentation) is much less palatable. (Note: If you’re curious what wort tastes like, go on a Sierra Nevada tour - they give all their guests a little taste).
At this point, all the tanks, floors, and pipes must be cleaned. This process takes about an hour and involves lots of water. At one point, Peter compared some of the trub (the layer of protein, solid hop material, and entrained wort) to split-pea soup. Thanks, Pete, for that lovely image.
Yesterday, and today, we were at the brewery for 10 hours. (And today Bastian and Florence allowed us to leave early to pack and plan our weekend excursion to Brussels). Over our evening meal of a charcuterie and cheese, Peter asked me what was the most unexpected thing I have learned thus far in the brewery. I struggled to think of just one answer, so I narrowed it down to three:
This upcoming Monday, August 15th, is a holiday for Belgium. I can definitely use a three-day weekend to catch up on some sleep. Every day since we’ve been in Belgium, our alarm has gone off at 7am, which is 10pm California time. Next Tuesday, we will filter the beer, and Wednesday and Thursday, we will bottle and brew.
I look forward to visiting Brussels, and other larger towns this weekend. Peter and I plan on visiting some Belgian breweries to taste some other Belgian beers. I also plan on indulging in some Belgian chocolate and moules-frites.
I almost forgot... Today we received a visit from a journalist at the local Belgium Newspaper, LaMeuse, who had heard that there are Californian brewers interning at Brasserie de Marsinne and wanted to take pictures of us! We posed for several pictures with the entire brewery team in front of the brewing system. Stay tuned for the article and pictures!
Cheers to the weekend.