Piney River Brewing Company

Archive for October, 2011|Monthly archive page

The Microbrewery Keg Queen Gets Her Bells & Whistles & Levers & Knobs

In Start up on October 30, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Keg cleaning is an ongoing job in a brewery.  There are always kegs in various stages of cleanliness.

Kegs aren’t just to be cleaned either.  They also have to be sanitized.  And filled.  And they are emptied at an amazing rate which starts the cycle all over again.

When we first started home brewing, we used old soda or “corny” kegs because they were fairly simple to disassemble for cleaning.  As a microbrewery, we have a bunch of brand spankin’ new, shiny “Sanke” kegs that are waiting to be put into the brewery rotation.

Sanke kegs are not that simple to disassemble and clean.  A device known as  a “keg cleaner” is available for Sanke kegs.  Keg cleaners come in three basic styles–manual, semi-automatic and automatic.  When the brewer and the keg cleaner got their loan, the keg cleaner convinced the brewer that her time was money and AT LEAST a semi-automatic keg cleaner was in order.  A lovely one arrived from Premier Stainless several weeks ago.

Enter “Harvest Ale”, the first batch brewed on our 7-barrel brewhouse.  It’s an amber ale, not our “McKinneyEddy Amber Ale”, but still very good.  We’ve put some in corny kegs, and many of our customers have been enjoying pints and growlers of it.  It’s time to move the Harvest Ale to some of our new Sanke kegs so we can make room in the bright tank for McKinney Eddy Amber Ale and Missouri Mule India Pale Ale which are currently crash cooling in our fermentation vessels.

Over the past week, Brian ran air lines to a new, large compressor we’ve installed in the “farm room”.  The air is a necessary part of cleaning a keg, and it’s also needed for the our canning system which should be delivered any day now.  We also hooked the keg cleaner up to water which is also used in the cleaning process.

The keg cleaner has a reservoir which is filled with a high powered cleaning agent.  (Special thanks to the folks at Birko that have a special “brewing” person that provided us with all the information we needed to keep our stuff clean and sanitized.)  Sanitizer is also fed into the kegs from a bucket that is set off to the side of the machine.  The keg cleaner heats the water and the detergent going into the kegs, and a clean smelling steam fills the air around the machine when the kegs are being cleaned.

Instead of having to take the little parts of each keg apart, now I just hook the keg up to the machine, set it on top of the machine and turn levers and knobs on the machine to activate cleaner, water, sanitizer and CO2 for each keg.  There’s much less hands on time involved in cleaning and preparing a keg to be re-filled.  There’s less “back-breaking” labor, too because I’m not filling the kegs with water, detergent, sanitizer, dumping them, etc.  I don’t have to worry about losing some of the teeny, tiny parts that those corny kegs have in them.

Don’t get me wrong, I can see where the fully automatic keg cleaner will be an excellent addition to our brewery somewhere down the road–attach the kegs, push a button, wa-la!  No lever turning required.  Tonight, I’m quite the happy keg cleaning queen with my new machine.

Here’s to emptying those shiny new kegs!


What’s in a can? Not just any can…craft beer in a can.

In Start up on October 23, 2011 at 10:23 pm

If you would have been in the BARn at Piney River Brewing Company today you would have seen the brewer and his wife passing fittings and tools back and forth to each other, putting in lines to run the air compressor for our canning line.  Seven barrels of Missouri Mule India Pale Ale were glug-glugging happily in time with some tunes from the Drive-By Truckers.  Yes, this little microbrewery is getting ready to can our craft beer.

We are very proud of the fact that our little craft brewery will be the first microbrewery in the state of Missouri to can our beer on site.  Our customers and the retail package stores that we’ve visited are very excited about a locally made craft beer in cans.  How awesome is it going to be to have a “Piney pint” for your next float trip, hike, trail ride, camping trip?!

It hasn’t been the easiest thing to do, though.  Back when we were planning our packaging brewery, we were thinking logo and branding first, not, “How is our logo going to fit on an aluminum can?”

When it comes to colors and designs, a label to slap on a bottle is fairly limitless.  That’s probably what we had in mind when we started working on various designs with Brooke Hamilton of Grindstone Design Studio.  As our brewery plan became more clear, we knew that canned craft beer was going to come out of the BARn.  We had decisions to make.

First of all, the minimum can order is a half a semi-truck load, so we had to decide which of our beers would go into cans first.  Our customers helped us make the decision to can the McKinney Eddy Amber Ale and Missouri Mule India Pale Ale first.  It was about a two-month process, working with Brooke and an aluminum can design company, to turn our beautiful, full-color labels into six-color aluminum can labels.

If you are an aluminum can aficionado, you may have noticed that most cans have simple graphic designs and some only have two or three colors on the aluminum.  I’ll admit, when we started the process of turning our designs into aluminum cans, we debated on re-doing everything to make the cans simpler.  Brooke worked with a graphics company in Colorado that specializes in aluminum can graphics, and they were able to take our beautiful designs and keep the color and intricacy with six colors instead of the full palette.

In September, we received a small box of “sample” cans from Crown Packaging, an aluminum can making company.  They had successfully turned our can image into an actual aluminum can.  The images looked even better than we imagined they would!

Prototype cans

We had to sign these cans to show our approval and send them back to Crown.  After they were received, our salesperson set up a date for us to have our can manufactured at a Crown factory in Batesville, MS.

Brian arrived in Batesville late at night after Andy’s soccer game.  Our cans were going to be made first thing on the morning of Tue., Oct. 4th.  A representative from Crown sales met Brian at the plant.

Our one semi-truck load of cans was really just a blip in the production schedule at this facility that churns out billions of cans annually.

Here are a few stacks of cans ready to be moved.

Here's one of our "approved" prototypes that Crown was working off of.

This machine unrolls the aluminum to make the lids.

This is the beginning of an aluminum pint can...they are "pressed" into a longer shape.

Here is the employee overseeing the paint that colors the cans.

At times, our cans were visible on production lines all over the factory.

Every so often, cans would be pulled from the line to check for any flaws or problems during production.

Brian signed off his approval on can made at the factory, too.

We were impressed with our prototype cans, but the final product was actually more vivid in color with sharper images.

It actually took longer to change the plates from one PRBC can design to the other can design than it took to make the cans for our order.  The cans were placed on pallets–8-feet tall!

6,000+ pint cans fit on a pallet.

The pallets of cans were loaded into a trailer, and when the truck trailer was full, it was Texas County bound.  Brian had the privilege of unloading all of those cans the next morning.

A trailer being emptied of cans.

Cans waiting to be filled.

We are focusing our efforts on getting our beer recipes fine-tuned in our new 7-barrel system.  We are awaiting the arrival of our new canning line–MicroCan will actually deliver the machine and help install it, making sure it’s working properly before they leave our brewery.  Within the next couple of weeks and beginning in Texas County, Piney pints will soon be available to you.

When we started on the journey to putting our craft beer in cans, we never realized the many intricacies involved.  However, we are so excited about bringing craft beer in cans to the Ozarks–a place where craft beer should be well loved in our beautiful outdoors!

How Oktoberfest Went Down

In Beer Events on October 17, 2011 at 10:44 pm

Brian and I geared up for our first beer festival–Oktoberfest at The Public House in Rolla–by making sure that we had excellent beer to sample.  For this festival, we had a Missouri Mule India Pale Ale and an Old Tom Porter–five gallons of each–to share with festival attendees.  My beer, the Black Walnut Wheat, also tasted fabulously of fall, so we decided to take five gallons of it to the festival, too.

A very crafty girl that I work with, Brittney McNiell, was hired to carve a pumpkin with our logo in it (and she did a darn fine job on it, too!).  John McCarty of McCarty Signs painted a great logo banner for us.  Brooke Hamilton of Grindstone Studios helped us make some postcard size contact cards with our logo, a map to the brewery and other contact information.  I added some empty grain bags, black walnuts, wheat and fall leaves.  I don’t really consider myself to be a “decorator”, but I think our table turned out pretty well.

What do you think?

We also outfitted our jockey box (the modified cooler that we use to serve beer) with a couple of our new tap handles.  David Pepper with Firkin Taphandles in St. Louis is working on our tap handles which are made out of wood from the BARn.  That’s another blog post for another time, but here’s a sneak peek at them.

The Public House owners said that about 200 people came through the beer festival.  There were several beers from various breweries in Missouri to sample, and some local wineries also provided samples at the festival.

We were happy to see some of our “regular” customers come to Oktoberfest, and we’re pretty sure that we met some new regulars on Saturday, too.  We are proud to say that our Missouri Mule was the first keg to empty on Saturday–about 3 p.m.  The Old Tom keg emptied shortly after that, and my Black Walnut Wheat was done by 5.  Five hours into a six-hour beer festival, we were down to chatting with the festival attendees and sampling some beers and wines.  Not too shabby for a new brewery at their first festival!

If you were one of the festival attendees that tried our beer, thank you!  And if you were one of the festival attendees that drank several samples of one of our beers calling it “the best beer here”, thank you!  We love the way all of you love craft beer, especially locally made craft beer!

Brian and I were tickled by the different people that latched on to one of our beers, got their friends to try it, and called it “the best beer here”.  Based on their comments, we really can’t tell you which beer was their favorite.  But based on the empty kegs, they liked them all!

Oktoberfest went down well.  We’re looking forward to having some of our new Oktoberfest friends at the BARn very soon.

For those of you that are worried about the status of the Black Walnut Wheat and its availability in the brewery, do not fear.  When we realized that we crafted a very good beer, we brewed another batch.  It’s a limited edition seasonal brew, so it won’t be available for too long, but it will be available in the brewery this weekend.   We hope you can make it out on Saturday, October 22nd for a little taste of Oktoberfest at the BARn.

We’ll be open on Saturday from 12 to 5 p.m.  We’ll fill growlers and serve pints.  You’re welcome to bring a picnic or snacks.  Current forecasts predict a beautiful autumn day.  And you’re welcome to wear your St. Louis Cardinals gear and talk a little post season baseball while you sip some Black Walnut Wheat.


A Festive October at the Microbrewery

In Beer Events on October 9, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Saturday, October 8th provided Piney River Brewing Company the opportunity to bring a local charitable organization to the brewery.  We don’t offer food to our customers, but the Houston Education Foundation came out to the brewery and served up hot dogs and brats to raise funds for their group which supports the Houston schools.

Our customers don’t really need a reason to drink, but we offered up “pints with a purpose”, donating a portion of every pint sold at the brewery yesterday.  Thanks to our thirsty customers, we were pleased to make a $120.00 donation to the Houston Education Foundation.

To top off a beautiful Saturday afternoon in the Ozarks, the “Houston Class of 1976” (having a class reunion in Houston on Saturday) stopped in at the brewery about 5 p.m.  A friendly group hailing from various parts of the US, the Class of ’76 drank us out of BARn and brewery.  A busy Saturday turned into an extremely busy Saturday, and by the end of the day, a row of empty kegs was lined up along the brewery wall.

One of the members of the Class of ’76 was Shawn Byrd, now of Enid, OK.  Shawn found PRBC on Facebook a few months ago, and when he came to Houston on Saturday for his reunion, he stopped in to visit us.  Shawn is a member of “Enid Homebrew” a home brewing club in his area, and we were lucky enough to try an excellent cream ale that he brought to us–one of the best home brews that we’ve ever tried.  Thanks Shawn!

Shawn uses products from High Gravity in Tulsa, OK, a home brew store that we have purchased many brewing products and supplies from over the years.  He also utilizes Northern Brewer in Minneapolis which I blogged about earlier this year–another great store for home brewing and wine making supplies.  If you’re considering doing a little home brewing of your own, those are two great places that can get you started.

The only bad part about October 8th at PRBC is that Class of ’76 drank most of the beer we would have served up in the tap room on October 15th.  So, instead of being open with just a couple of beers on tap, we’re just going to keep the BARn closed on October 15th and invite you to join us at Oktoberfest in Rolla.  It will be the first festival where we pour our beer!

Our friends at the Public House Brewing Company in Rolla,MO are hosting Oktoberfest from 12 to 6 p.m. at 600 North Rolla Street.  There will be a tasting tent where you will receive a glass to taste beer from Piney River Brewing Company, the Public House Brewing Company, Prison Brews, Little Yeoman, O’Fallon & Boulevard and wines from Peaceful Bend, Wenwood Farms, Meremac and Three Squirrels.  There will German food, German music and even a pumpkin carving contest.

Here’s a link to purchase tickets in advance:

We hope you will be able to come out and support all of these local breweries and wineries next Saturday afternoon.  We will have our Missouri Mule India Pale Ale and our Old Tom Porter on tap, and we promise to make it fun for you.

So, please pass the word along that the BARn will be closed on Sat., Oct. 15th, but we will be back open on Sat., Oct 22nd from 12 to 6, and in addition to our usual brews, the highly anticipated Black Walnut Wheat will be on tap–Joleen’s first brew.

The sweet wort--Black Walnut Wheat


The Piney River Brewer’s Wife

In The Beer on October 2, 2011 at 6:51 pm

On our end of the river, this brewer’s wife is nanny, maid, cook, accountant, sensory panel, brewery hostess and the ever important keg cleaner.  This brewery’s wife also has an avid interest in craft beer; after all, I always said I didn’t like beer until (many years ago) I tasted a Fat Tire by  New Belgium and said, “Mmm…that’s good.”

The success of Piney River Brewing Company has been in large part to the fact that Brian and I are willing to work together side-by-side to do whatever needs to be done to make our dream of owning a microbrewery a reality.  That side-by-side work does not involve me doing the brewing.

This weekend found us without our six-year old son, and with most of the household chores behind us, I proposed that I brew up a seasonal beer we had discussed.  The beer included a key ingredient that was my idea.

Right now, every fermentation vessel we own is full of beer with the exception of one of our 15-barrel tanks.  If we were going to do this, it was going to be time to break out the old home brewing carboys.  No problem.  Brian was game.  In fact, he even mentioned that he would love for me to learn how to brew on the Sabco so we could brew side by side and relieve some of the beer demand pressure that he feels frequently as the sole brewer at Piney River Brewing.  I asked Brian who would serve as nanny, maid, banker, cook, etc. if I took on additional brewing duties. Since nobody really sprang to mind, my Sunday on the Sabco is probably going to happen about once in a harvest moon.

However, here’s how it went down….

I helped Brian measure the grain while the water for the brew heated.

Getting ready to add the grain.

Some of the grain going in.

Mashing in.

A heavenly smelling mash.

While the beer was in the boil kettle, I even had time to clean eight kegs.

We started brewing about 11 a.m., and I was shocked when I looked at the clock and saw that is was almost 2:30 p.m.  Time flew by!  Brian explained that when he’s brewing he’s always amazed at how quickly six hours can zip by in a flash.  Let me tell you, when you’re cooking and cleaning and banking, time doesn’t fly that fast!

I’m pleased to say that we hit our target gravity, and at the start of things, this brew appears to have a lot of great and interesting beer qualities.

I took special pride in feeding our girlfriends the grain from my brew.

The girls came running from the field when they heard the Ranger fire up.

Happy cow!

So, you may be wondering what kind of beer the brewer’s wife brewed up…well, that’s going to remain a secret for now.  We’re going to have a little fun on our Piney River Brewing Facebook page with this.  What I can tell you is that it’s a beer that has not been made at Piney River Brewing Company before.

We will have this specialty beer on tap at the BARn on Sat., Oct. 22nd.  And here I am with a photo of the sweet wort.