Brewing on the Ruby

A few weeks ago Jim Mollohan of Ruby Street Brewing asked me to come up with a recipe for today’s American Homebrewers Association Learn to Brew Day.  What I came up with was a ten-gallon batch of Kottbusser, an extinct German wheat ale I’ve wanted to brew for some time.  First to the beer.  Basically it was a victim of the Reinheitsgebot and of Pilsner’s takeover of the German beer palate.  Ron Pattinson, a beer historian living in the Netherlands, has written about the style and has translated an old text that the enterprising homebrewer can use to generate a new version of this beer fossil.  Grimm Brothers Brewing in Loveland, Colorado brews a version of the beer but to my palate it’s too sweet and cloying to have been a German beer in the mid Nineteenth Century when water in Europe generally would kill you.  So my goal was drier, more drinkable, more refreshing.  I can post the recipe on request.

So I got to brew it on this:


This is Ruby Street’s prototype of a new brew rig.  Left to right are the hot liquor tanks, the mash tun and the boil kettle.  There are two pumps attached to the rack, both remote controlled and on the far left is a digital controller that is the essence of simplicity.  It works like the thermostat in your house, temperature up, temperature down.  This was her maiden voyage, so far all the guys had done was boil water in her.  Operation was semi-automated, requiring movement of hoses and valves by hand to achieve flow rates and boil rates desired.  We put it through its paces.  The mash schedule was a protein rest at 122 degrees F, saccarification at 152 degrees F, mash out and sparge at 170 degrees.

Stepping up used the pump to recirculate mash from underneath the false bottom of the mash tun where the heat was being applied to the top.  There was a lot of wheat in the mash and I made a pretty dumb mistake, forgetting to put the rice hulls in or before the grain.  The stuff set up like glue but we still got the wort out mostly clear.  At one point we lost a pump, surprising, but the guys had a replacement on hand and had the rig back up and running soon.  It was a windy day and I came to love the auto-relight features of the burners.  Once we had the boil going, the mash tun became the cleanup basin a little PBW and hot water got the false bottom pieces cleaned up quickly.

Some of the changes they’ve made over their previous rigs were the burner grates, now including heat shielding to protect the hammered, powder-coating finish.  It’s surprisingly small for a ten-gallon brewery.  I like the semi-automation better than the idea of a fully automated system requiring programming but then I’m a manual brewer.  The rig hasn’t been priced but it’s estimated to run about $3,200 without digital control, which costs an additional $2,000.

I enjoyed the day working on the rig with Brian Mollohan, Jim’s son and one of the chief designers.  All in all, it’s easy to run, everything makes sense and, barring the failed pump, pretty solid.  We got about 10.5 gallons of wort, divided so we each can run our separate fermentation profiles on it.  I’m not sure the “set and forget” option is right for me, there’s something about starting the mash and going to mow the lawn that seems to interfere with my brew day but don’t let my Luddite tendencies get in your way.  This is a nice rig to brew on.

Finally, the results of the day:


Will keep you posted as the beer progresses.

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