#42: Check Out One of CVille’s Breweries

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For this post I decided to go to Starr Hill Brewery, located in neighboring Crozet. I took one of their brewery tours and learned a lot! (They offer them Saturdays and Sundays at 1pm, 2pm, 3pm and 4pm.) The first thing I noticed when I walked in was how much it resembled a factory. It kind of took me by surprise, but to be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. Here is a picture of where the magic happens:

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I was running about 5 minutes late (as always), so I missed the beginning shpiel about the history or the brewery and, most importantly, the tour guide’s name! He was really nice and knew a lot about Starr Hill beer. During the tour everyone in my group got to take a small beer with them about this size:

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There are four main ingredients to all beer: water, barley, hops, and yeast. So, with that in mind, here’s the basic run-down on the beer process.

1. Barley

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The barley (and it’s a LOT of barley) is put into those big containers the guide is touching. The barley is transferred, mixed with water, and mashed up. We got to smell and eat two barley grains to get an idea of how they work into the beer.

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(The lighter colored barley is used for making a golden beer, like a pilsner, while the darker type is for a stout.)

2. Hops

Next, the barley/water mashed mix is transferred to a different container, where they add the hops.

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Have you ever seen the Miller Lite commercial, where they boast about having “triple hopped beer?” Well, it turns out that that’s nothing special. Pretty much all beer is triple hopped. In fact, Starr Hill’s Norther Lights IPA beer is hopped SIX times. The reason is they can get different characteristics, like aroma, bitterness, and taste, out of different hops.

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(The hops on the right is called Centennial. They use it in their Double Platinum IPA. And the hops on the left is called Hallertau. They use this type of hops in their Starr Pilsner.)

After this process, the brewers are only interested in the liquid, not the barley mash. Local farmers come to the brewery and pick up this mix to feed to their cows and Starr Hill doesn’t have to pay for “garbage” disposal. It’s a win-win situation.

3. Yeast

The next and most important step in the process is the yeast, which allows for fermentation. The beer is transferred to this large tank, where yeast can start eating the sugars to produce alcohol:

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In addition to alcohol, the yeast also produces carbon dioxide (CO2). The CO2 is released into that high-tech red bucket filled with water, which makes the water bubble.

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You know the beer is finished fermenting when the bubbles stop. Then the beer is transferred to another big tank where it sits for a certain amount of time depending on the beer. The next step is bottling. The glass bottles are transferred along a line, where they are sanitized and cleaned with hot water. Then the bottling machine (pictured below) fills the bottles bottom up.

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Finally, the bottles are labeled and shipped soon after. The most any beer will sit in the factory is a week. After the tour we all hung out at the bar and tried a bunch of their flights. They’ve got some cool Starr Hill apparel at the factory too:

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All in all, it was a great experience and I highly recommend going. Over the past few years, Starr Hill has gotten more popular and has increased it’s distribution immensely so it’s pretty cool that such a big East Coast brewery is right here in U.Va’s backyard.

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