Sunday, May 9, 2010

Butternuts Beer and Ale: A brewery like that in A Deadly Draught: Interview with Chuck Williamson

The brick clad vessel you see at the top is where the wort is boiled. The other pictures are taken outrside the brewery to give you a picture of what a farm house microbrewery looks like. Although these photos are of Butternuts Beer and Ale, this is the picture I have in mind of Hera's microbrewery.
Today we welcome Chuck Williamson, the master brewer of Butternuts Beer and Ale located in Garrettsville, NY. This is the microbrewery where I buy most of my microbrews, not only because it's right down the road from me, but because of the quality of their products.
I'm glad we got you on the blog, Chuck. Welcome.
Chuck was one of the brewers who helped me with background for my book A Deadly Draught. He has an interesting background in brewing, so I wanted him to share his experience and knowledge with you.

Tell us what your background is in brewing, what training, where you have brewed.

Chuck: I started my professional brewing career at the age of 21 in a brewpub in Long Island, NY. At the time I was a homebrewer (I started that a little young) and had been buying my brewing supplies from a gentleman who owned a homebrew store and was the consultant and to be head brewer at the now defunct Long Island Brewing Company in Jericho, L.I. Due to my persistance he agreed to hire me as his assistant and that is where the doors blew open. My professional training is mainly hands-on. Through the years I have been involved in industry-related courses and read my share of technical brewing material. After LIBC closed in June of 1999 I did some brewing in Brooklyn and Manhattan before looking into the possibility of opening my own brewery.

You have an interesting set-up. Your brewery is right down the road from where I now live in the Butternut Valley. How did you decide to brew where you are?

Chuck: While brewing in NYC I began to realize I had an interest in creating a farm-style brewery. Also being a city boy who had experienced many a family vacation camping and traveling I had started developing an interest in moving to the country. The catalyst was the events of September 11th. I had been brewing and warehousing malt for a small wholesale distribution business in Red Hook, Brooklyn. At the tip of Red Hook you can practically reach out and grab lower Manhattan and shake Miss. Liberty's hand. Post-disaster I began to actively search for property in upper New York State. Price was a consideration and at that time it was the peak of the real estate bubble so I began to go further north in search of an affordable piece of property. Other factors were an issue in selecting the property as well so when I had arrived at the location I am in now I felt it had a piece of everything I had needed for this project.

Folks have to come visit your place to appreciate how interesting and unique it is. You’re growing hops, aren’t you and that’s something we’ve not seen grown in upstate in years. What made you decide to do that? Do you use these hops in your brews? Are there other hops you use?

Chuck: I do have a small hop field growing. NYS was the hop capital of the world and in 1850 Otsego county was the number one producer of hops. As with any industry there were technological advancements which began pushing the hop industry west, and the final blow was the onset of prohabition. Without breweries there was no commercial need for hops and so away went an industry. One of the projects I had in mind when deciding to develop a farm brewery was to begin some agricultural projects such as growing hops. It is not feasible for me to grow hops for my year-round production brands but I do have some seasonal beers that I use the hops in. As I progress with the project at large it is my interest to expand the hop project and offer organic hops for sale to other brewers.

When you walk into your brewery, you’ll notice an interesting vessel in front of
you. It is clad in brick. What is that?

Chuck: The brick clad vessel is the kettle. This is where the wort (pronounced wert) is boiled. Wort is the liquid sugar extract that is removed from the malt after a mashing program to convert starches into sugar.

Take us on a quick tour of your place. What can we expect to see and what is happening with in each of the large vessels?

Chuck: As you enter the front of the building you will be in the Brewhouse. This is where the process for the day’s brewing begins. There are four vessels in this space each lending to the production process. The first is the mash tun. This is where cracked malt is mixed with tempid water to convert starches into sugar. After a certain process, taking about three hours, the grain is rinsed with more tempid water and collected into the kettle. At this point the solution is sweet wort because it has yet to be hopped. After the volume is collected and hops are added, the wort is boiled for a duration for hop extraction and stability. Post-boil the wort is moved to a whirlpool tank to allow the solids to settle. Once the wort is settled it is pumped through a heat exchanger into a fermentation tank where yeast is added and the fermentation process begins. At this point I lock all the doors in the brewery and make sure there is no one in the building so I do not get trapped in the fermentation room. After about 5 days the beer is cooled and ready to be transfered to the conditioning room in the back. The beer is processed for packaging and either canned or kegged.

Another fascinating aspect of your place is that you don’t bottle your brews. You can them. I’ve read that this preserves the flavor better than a bottle. Is that true?

Chuck: Canning does lend certain benefits to the beer. The package is solid so light cannot come in contact with the beer which can degrade the flavors. It is a better seal than a bottle so there is less oxygen damage.

Would you tell us the story behind the name of one of your ales, “Porkslap”? Do all of your brews have such interesting names?

Chuck: Porkslap is a play on the name Park Slope, Brooklyn.

We’ll get back to Chuck at a later date to ask him more about the farmhouse ales he brews. Meantime, the spring weather lends itself to finding a local brewery for a tour and a tasting. Enjoy with a good book like A Deadly Draught.

1 comment:

  1. Well, thanks. Now I'm thirsty with no microbrewery in sight.