Hangin’ out at Harpoon!

18 May

Look out, Vermont… The Hops Honey has invaded!!!!

Hops Honey Log: Tuesday, March 30th
Brewcation Stop #1: Harpoon Brewery — Windsor, VT

So my home base for this vacation was in Wilmington, VT which is about 15 minutes Northwest of Brattleboro, in the Southeastern corner of Vermont.  My game plan was to make the trek out to Windsor to arrive by 4pm, when Patrick would be starting the last batch of his shift.  Patrick, by the way, is one of the brewers at Harpoon’s Windsor location, and we share the same alma mater, Hartwick College! While Pat & I didn’t attend Hartwick at the same time, we had a mutual friend who put us in touch, and Pat was super gracious in inviting me up to spend the day with him while he worked!

Two rockstar Hartwick graduates!

I have to say that I have been DYING to do this for a while now but didn’t know who I’d be able to hoodwink into letting me tag along… and POOF! Here’s Patrick… my own little brewing hero! 🙂  I’m the kind of person who really needs to SEE something to understand it… you can explain it to me 10 different times—or in my case, you could take me on 20 different brewery tours—but until I see the process in action, I’m not really going to get it.

Wilmington,VT to Windsor, VT... home to Harpoon Brewery

So, how’d the day go?  Lets get to it!  When I arrived at the Brewery, Patrick was all about “first things, first…”… Was he going to lay down the rules for the day? Remind me not to touch anything? Make me wear really awful & unflattering safety glasses?  Nope… first thing? “How ’bout we get you a beer?!” 🙂  Oh, Patrick… we’re going to have a GREAT time today 🙂

So once I had my IPA in hand, it was off we went to make the beer!

The day I was there was an IPA brewing day, and when I got there, Pat was in the middle of batch #4.  They are a 50 barrel (bbl) brewhouse with 250 bbl fermenters, so they’ll do 5 batches of the same beer in a day, all of which will go into one big fermenter.

Quick note: if someone says they’re running a 50 bbl brewhouse, it means that’s how much beer they can actually make (cook!) at one time.

** Brewers don’t really talk about how much beer they make in terms of gallons or ounces or anything like that – it’s always in terms of barrels.  And, in case you’re wondering, 1 bbl = 31 gallons… which means that Patrick is doing almost 1,600 gallons per batch!

First up: For just one batch of the IPA, it takes 3,050 pounds of malted barley!  Pat adds barley into the top of the grist mill & turns that baby on to start eating up the barley!  The bottom of the mill is on a scale, so Patrick is able to monitor how much barley he’s got, & how close he’s getting to the 3,050 pounds he needs.  He’ll start with any specialty malts he might be using, since there’ll be a smaller quantity of those – that way he can see that he’s got, lets say… 500 pounds of the specialty malt, & then from there he can let the base malts pour in from the silo outside until he’s at his total weight of 3,050 pounds!

Pouring in the specialty malts

Milling the grain





Next, the barley is transported up from the mill via an auger,
& over to the mash tun.

I have a short (accidentally sideways…) video
to show what it looks like when the auger is in action, here!






Grain going up the auger!





From the auger, the grain is dumped into the mash tun…
& then water is added to the mix… this is called mashing in!

Click here for a short video showing the water
coming in to the mash tun to mix with the grain!





Mashing in!




In this first picture, you can see how the consistency of the mash is very watery,
as the grain has not yet fully absorbed all of the water…



Watery mash...




In this second picture, you can see that the mash is looking more like oatmeal,
after it has absorbed a lot more of the water!






Oatmeal-y mash!





The mashing process for this IPA took about 15 minutes, and it’s during this part of the process that the enzymes in the malt begin to break down the starch in the grain into sugars.  In the picture below, you can see a horizontal pipe, which actually has paddles extending down from it that constantly rotate during mashing to continuously mix the mash.







Cooking the mash!




There’s usually a false bottom in the mash tun, so once the mashing is done,
the liquid is drained from the mash tun via the false bottom.
The liquid that is collected is called wort, and it is carried through hoses to the kettle…




Running off the wort to the kettle - see how it's coming in via the little pipe in the side of the kettle?




Within the kettle the calandria helps to heat up the wort…




The calandria helping to heat up the wort!





During the boil is the first time when hops are added –
these are the hops that help to give beer its bitterness,
to balance out the sugary maltiness of the wort –
& I even got to add some of the hops in! 🙂




Hey look! That's me, pouring hops into the boil!




Now, while the boil is… well, boiling… Patrick has to deal with the grain that was leftover from the mash.  Since the wort was drained out & transferred to the kettle, we’re left with the grain.  That grain is pumped via another auger out to a container outside the brewery, where it is picked up by local farms, to be used as feed for their livestock!






Spent grain getting pumped out for local farmers!





Once the boil is done, the liquid is transferred to the whirlpool,
where aroma hops can be added…
& where any residual solids are collected in the center of the tank,
due to the centrifugal nature of the whirlpool.


It was at this point during the process that Patrick happened to
walk out of the brewhouse and yelled over his shoulder to me…
“hey, can you throw the hops into the whirlpool?”


um… ok?!?  Yesssss!!! Solo brewing 🙂 lol


Once the whirlpool stage is complete, the wort is run through
a heat exchanger to help bring the temperature down.
Since the next stage involves yeast,
the temperature has to be dramatically reduced,
otherwise the temperature would kill the yeast.





The heat exchanger - cold water runs through one side while the hot wort runs through the other to ultimately lower the temperature of the wort in a efficient and controlled manner.




After it’s gone through the heat exchanger,
it’s knocked out to the fermenter…
this just means that the wort is run through hoses
to the fermenting tank where it has yeast added
to start the process of fermentation.





Knocking out into the fermenter!




At this point, we’re almost done!
Almost… one of the most important things in a brewery
is cleanliness, and every single piece of equipment
requires thorough cleaning & sterilization…
even (especially!) the inside of the mash tun…
Patrick did a great job cleaning up
(I’m just glad he didn’t ask me to help out with this part! lol)




Here's Pat cleaning the mash tun! Don't worry, it gets sanitized after : )

I have to say, I had THE BEST time hanging out with Patrick at Harpoon… I couldn’t have imagined how great it would be to get to see the whole process in action from start to finish!!!  I even got to spend some time in the lab with James… but that’s a story for a whole separate post 🙂

After Patrick was done cleaning up, we did some tasting… & when Patrick asked what I wanted I told him I loved their Big Bohemian Pilsner, from their Leviathan series, but he said nope… they didn’t have any on tap for tasting… BUT… I could taste it right out of the tank!! YESSSSS!!!!

Here's Pat pouring me some Big Bohemian Pils straight from the tank!


My last takeaway from the day in terms of seeing the brewing process in action was how much of a science it really all is… Obviously there are a whole series of chemical reactions taking place to turn barley, hops, water & yeast into delicious beer, so that’s the obvious science… but the brewer’s job, beyond the recipe for each beer, is also an amazing science… the timing of each step in the process was a real eye-opener for me!

I owe a HUGE “Thank You!!!!” to Patrick for giving me such an awesome behind-the-scenes look at the brewing process at Harpoon – it was a super amazing way to start out my VT Brewcation!

Last licks: I have to toot Patrick’s horn for him ’cause he won’t do it himself… anyone tried Harpoon’s new Belgian Pale Ale? Pretty tasty, right?  Well…. that delicious brew (one of the first new ‘standard rotation’ beers that Harpoon’s introduced in a while!) is courtesy of none other than Mr. Patrick Morse!!! Awesome job, Pat! 🙂

Up next is my visit to Long Trail Brewing Co!

7 Responses to “Hangin’ out at Harpoon!”

  1. Bill May 18, 2010 at 9:20 AM #

    Converted the blog to pdf for later reading. Great photos and I’m looking forward to the commentary.

    • thehopshoney May 18, 2010 at 11:04 AM #

      Thanks so much, Bill! It was an amazing way to kick-off my 9 days in VT 🙂

  2. Tanya May 19, 2010 at 1:13 PM #

    Wow……that’s awesome. Wish I could’ve done that when we were visiting Harpoon last time! I was thinking of doing another beer tour this summer…we’ll see. Hey…I wore my Long Trail t-shirt yesterday….looking forward to your next post!

    • thehopshoney May 19, 2010 at 6:07 PM #

      You should definitely do another beer tour, Tanya… got any locales in mind? Long Trail post should be up Friday or Saturday… almost done! 🙂 (Btw, I’m doing a trip out to CO in Sept – can’t wait!!!)

  3. Ilya Feynberg July 14, 2010 at 2:46 PM #

    Ok ok…I know I’m REALLY late on this post…but I just found the blog! 🙂

    I LOVE Harpoon IPA (actually find it better in bottle than on tap) and I’ve wanted to visit this brewery for a long time now. I haven’t been to Vermont yet, but from everything I see and know, it’s so damn beautiful up there. It’s really good to see a brewery take this responsibility upon themselves, actually do it and make it work, and to NOT be doing it just as a means of PR or media recognition. You wouldn’t see this from a big corporate brewer…at least not in nearly the same way.

    Those are some really cool pictures, I would love to spend a month or two up (would need far more though) up in the New England area…so many great beer spots and so many great breweries.


    • thehopshoney July 16, 2010 at 1:41 PM #


      Vermont is, in a word, A.MA.ZING. Period. My grandparents lived up there so we visited a lot when I was a kid and I’ve always just felt really at home & at peace there… and ya gotta love a small state that’s really cranking out some great craft beer!!!

      If you want to plan a New England beer trip, PLEASE let me know!! I’d love to help in any way I can 🙂


  4. Ilya Feynberg July 16, 2010 at 4:46 PM #

    And Gen…you can’t forget the maple syrup….THE MAPLE SYRUP!! 😉

    Vermont is incredible I’m sure, I’ve been really close to border and I know New England well enough to know that it will not disappoint. It seems that with that environment you can’t help but be inspired to create some seriously good craft beers made with the passion that it takes to make craft beer.

    Gen, thanks sooooo much for the offer. You should know by now that I shall accept and you WILL be made aware when I’ll be up there which should be rather soon I’m hoping. Maybe I could even organize a group up there that you could run (in your area not in Vermont) and we could make a small event and trip up there all of us. That would be awesome! It would also leave us with oh so much to talk about on our blogs the following days…

    And I hope you remember of course, that anytime you find yourself in Texas, let me know and you shall visit some amazing craft breweries and have some fantastic craft beer that we’re just down right famous for! (will include some driving around the state though!)


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