Girl Meets Hops Investigates: The Cellar
By Marguerite Washut, BBBC Marketing & Events Coordinator
New year, new Girl Meets Hops! This year, I’m putting on my investigative cap and reporting from behind-the-scenes to see what really goes on behind the buzz, specifically at Bale Breaker. Follow along with me as I shed light on the ins and outs of the brewery, the processes, and the people who make the magic happen.
First up: solving the mystery that is the cellar. We asked, you answered via our Instagram poll, and I couldn’t agree with you more: the cellar is definitely the biggest unknown of the brewery to me, too. Fear not, I sat down with Bale Breaker’s Cellar Manager, Alex Dahlin, to answer all of our hard-hitting questions:
GMH: Let’s start with the basic question: What is the cellar?
- AD: The cellar is where the vast majority of our tanks are in the brewery and is responsible for fermentation, maturation, and creating the character of each beer.
GMH: Diving deeper, why is the cellar so important to the brewing process?
- AD: It’s where all the fermentation and maturation of the beer happens; everything from when the sugar water (wort) goes into the tanks with yeast, the production of alcohol, the addition of flavor characteristics (i.e. hops, coffee, mango, etc.), carbonation, clarification, quality control, water waste management to the point of it being transferred for packaging, all happens in the cellar. It’s also where you can mess up a beer quickly if you do things wrong.
GMH: No pressure! So basically, what the cellar is to the brewer is what the stylist is to the designer? Meaning, the brewer designs the blueprint of the beer determining the overall style and aesthetic, hands the recipe to the brewhouse for execution (i.e. the tailor), but ultimately relies on the cellar to accessorize the recipe for overall flavor and quality?
- AD: I’d say that’s a pretty fair analogy.
GMH: Alright, so now that we have a general idea of what the cellar does, let’s get into the specifics. What methods do you use to help finetune the beer into the final product?
- AD: The first step, and probably the most crucial step in terms of overall flavor and shelf life longevity, is to keep oxygen levels low from after fermentation and maintained low all the way through to the packaging line.
In the case of the beers we make at Bale Breaker, which are very heavily dry-hopped beers, hops do not do well with oxygen. That’s the main thing: the oils in hops are very volatile. If you expose hops to oxygen you start losing aroma, flavor, and all the compounds you’re trying to keep in there from the hops and it starts to immediately age the beer. What you’re left with is the taste you get from a lot of beers when they have been left on shelves for three or four months and don’t have a lot of hop character anymore. They’re just kind of bitter, malty, and there’s not much else. If you are able to keep the oxygen levels low, then that’s how you can keep beers tasting fresher longer.
GMH: In addition to being known for fresh-tasting and heavily dry-hopped beers, Bale Breaker is also known for clear and bright IPAs. Can you elaborate on how we achieve that consistent trademark look through the cellar process?
- AD: For us, we have clarifying agents we use in the brewing process, right before we are going to transfer the beer when it’s still cold. We also have extended crash time where the beer sits cold because the colder the beer is, the better the particles settle out. Then we put the beer through a centrifuge which is essentially just a giant G-Force maker that spins out small sediments even more, expediting the overall process from two weeks to a matter of seconds.
GMH: Impressive. It was also brought to my attention that the cellar plays a pivotal role in helping Bale Breaker not only save money but to minimize its overall impact on the environment. Can you elaborate on that?
- AD: To make beer, we need a lot of water and CO2, a greenhouse gas used for carbonation. Obviously using too much of either is a detriment to our environment – which is something we at Bale Breaker try hard to preserve as best we can. That said, we installed a Corosys, an in-line carbonation system, to inject CO2 directly into the beer as it is being transferred allowing the gas to dissolve in the beer before it hits the tank. Whereas if you tried to carbonate the beer in the bright tank using a carbstone, a stainless steel or porcelain tube with fine holes in it, a lot of the CO2 gets released into the air until you get the beer to where you want it to be, carbonation-wise. So, the Corosys does a good job of dissolving the CO2 so we’re not wasting a ton.
As for water use, our brewery is not only passionate about preserving the environment, but another main priority for us is cleanliness. We clean a lot of tanks, we clean a lot of hoses, which requires a lot of water. Finding ways to heat up tanks quickly by using bursts of water vs. constantly running water or finding ways to quickly rinse tanks and get the hops out after transfer requires us to get strategic in water waste management.
GMH: And thus, save money. What a multifaceted job! You’ve been with Bale Breaker for five years now, essentially the majority of the time Bale Breaker has been in business, so you’ve helped oversee a lot of these new processes be implemented. Tell us more about you. How did you land yourself as the Cellar Manager of Bale Breaker?
- AD: I’m from the valley, grew up in Zillah, and was raised on a fruit farm. I went to Central Washington University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Math and received my brewing and science certificate through there as well. When I first started at Bale Breaker, we were so small we didn’t really have anyone running the cellar department. There were six or seven people, and everyone contributed in all steps of the brewing process. However, as the brewery was growing, it was a spot in the brewery that needed more organization. The cellar is a department that isn’t really flashy, but it requires consistency and that appeals to me. I’m pretty OCD when it comes to things being done right so I liked that aspect about it. I brewed for a while, but I really liked the day-to-day changes that happened in the cellar. Every day is a little different, and as we grow, we keep experimenting with new things like figuring out how to make nitrogen beer or how to make a beer hazy but stable so it will look the same two months from now as it did day one. The cellar requires creativity and consistency – two things I’m passionate about.
And there you have it, folks. While the cellar may not get the same level of recognition as the brewhouse, the team is responsible for putting all the bells and whistles on that cold 16oz. pint o’beer so it tastes just right when it hits your lips. So next time you meet a cellarhand, be sure to tip your hat to them and buy them a beer or two.
Until next month,
Girl Meets Hops: A monthly column highlighting what really goes on behind the buzz at Bale Breaker
Posted January 31, 2020