As Kate, Randy, and I were walking past Iron Hill to get some lunch at Salad Works, I saw a couple of silver kegs lying on their side in Iron Hill’s window. The kegs had rubber, uh… well, I guess, rubber bungs in them. Hoses threaded out through the bungs, with the other end submerged in a plastic pail. Bubbles occasionally popped up through the water.
It looked a little bit like the setup we used to make jug wine in college (and in prison, of course.)
Just then, a fellow walked by holding a pair of long green rubber gloves; I asked him if he was making beer, and he said “Yes! This one (pointing to the keg) is with a pretty weird, funky yeast, so we’re trying a small batch. It has… farmyard notes.” He gestured to the enormous silver tanks filling up the rest of the long, tiled room on the other side of the window. “We don’t want to try making THAT much beer with this yeast.”
It turns out that I was talking to Jean, one of the full-time brewmasters at Iron Hill. We asked if he would show us the inside, and he was happy to take us in. Inside was like a cross between a swimming-pool pump room (with all the big flexible hoses), a sailing ship’s tweendecks (with the ladders going up and down), and a production bakery (with the big sacks of grain.) We got to see pressure casks for holding yeast, the great big filters (pictured) for straining sediment, lots of various banjo valves for removing beer and drawing off yeast starter, and ladders leading up to great big enormous copper kettles where the beer (wort? tun?) is cooked until it’s ready to ferment.
We asked about the big smokestack coming off the copper kettles, leading through the roof — did that make the funky smells that we sometimes get at the corner of Gay and High? Yes! And he pointed out that a lot of people get concerned because “it smells so nasty” — but actually that’s a good thing, because what you’re smelling is what’s LEAVING the beer. There’s an important life lesson there, somewhere.
I had never really given too much thought to the great big kettles in Iron Hill’s window, but now I’m totally motivated to go DRINK SOME BEER! It was really cool meeting guys whose job it is to turn sacks of grain, batches of yeast, and big sixty-gallon bottles of oxygen into the beer you can drink just five feet away. You also can see Larry and Jean and more Beer Science on Iron Hill West Chester’s blog
Previous reasons why you should move to West Chester: