Gear­head: Beach­wood’s Cool­ship

The funky and com­plex lam­bics of Bel­gium’s Senne Val­ley are the fa­vorites of Gabe Gor­don, founder of Beach­wood BBQ and Brew­ing. He built the Blen­dery with the sin­gle-minded fo­cus to re-cre­ate a true lam­bic-style beer in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, and at the ce

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Contents - By John M. Verive

“Wel­come my son, wel­come to the ma­chine.”

PINK FLOYD’S 1975 SYNTH-ANDEFFECTS

heavy dirge of dis­il­lu­sion­ment re­ver­ber­ates among the stacks of oak bar­rels filled with slum­ber­ing beer. There is al­ways mu­sic play­ing in the cli­mate­con­trolled bar­rel room at the Beach­wood Blen­dery in Long Beach, Cal­i­for­nia. Even when there are no brew­ers or cel­lar­men around, the bar­rels and the bugs serve as au­di­ence for a days-long playlist of clas­sic rock and blue­grass as­sem­bled by Head Brewer and Blender Ryan Fields. “There’s a spir­i­tual as­pect of mak­ing beer, and you [have to] have the right mu­sic,” Fields says.

The mu­sic is one (near-tan­gi­ble) ex­am­ple of how he im­bues the brews with part of his per­son­al­ity. The idea of fill­ing the space with melodic vi­bra­tions came from New Bel­gium Brew­ing’s famed “wood­cel­lar su­per­vi­sor” Eric Salazar. “Eric sug­gested that it’s im­por­tant to have mu­sic for the beer, so we in­stalled speak­ers in the Blen­dery be­fore we did our first brew,” says Gabe Gor­don, founder of Beach­wood BBQ and Brew­ing.

A spin-off of the lauded Beach­wood brew­pub in down­town Long Beach, the Blen­dery is the head­quar­ters for the quixotic pur­suit of per­fec­tion in the most ro­man­tic genre of fer­men­ta­tion: the lam­bics of Bel­gium’s Senne Val­ley. Those funky and com­plex Old World bières are the fa­vorites of Gor­don. He built the Blen­dery with the sin­gle-minded fo­cus

to re-cre­ate a true lam­bic-style beer 5,000 miles away in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, and at the cen­ter of the ef­fort is one crit­i­cal piece of the lam­bic puz­zle: the cool­ship.

True Bel­gian lam­bic bière is more alchemy than sci­ence. In the Ox­ford Com­pan­ion to Beer, Bill Tay­lor calls lam­bic “among the most in­ter­est­ing and com­plex drinks ever cre­ated,” and many dis­tinc­tive el­e­ments must work in har­mony to pro­duce the sour wheat ales. The lam­bic brew­ing process be­gins with a grist heavy in un­malted wheat and an in­tri­cate mash reg­i­men. A long boil with well-aged hops fol­lows, and the beer will spend many months slowly fer­ment­ing and con­di­tion­ing in oak bar­rels. In be­tween the boil and the bar­rels, the lam­bic wort is pro­cessed in a large flat pan where it cools overnight while ex­posed to the nat­u­ral mi­croflora of the Bel­gian coun­try­side. No yeast is pitched—the fer­men­ta­tion kicks off spon­ta­neously thanks to the once mys­te­ri­ous wild yeasts and bac­te­ria that col­o­nize the cool­ing wort, and the re­sults are lay­ers of funk, acid, and ester that give lam­bic its sig­na­ture char­ac­ter.

“Breathe, breathe in the air / Don’t be afraid to care.”

Maybe it’s con­fir­ma­tion bias or maybe it’s syn­chronic­ity, but the mu­sic in the bar­rel room seems to re­flect the work as it hap­pens. More Pink Floyd plays as pip­ing hot wort is trans­ferred into the cus­tom-built cool­ship. There’s no brew ket­tle or mash tun at the Blen­dery. Wort des­tined for the cool­ship and the bar­rels is brewed a few hun­dred feet away on the 10-bar­rel brew­house at the Beach­wood brew­pub. Hot wort is then pumped from the ket­tle into a mo­bile stain­less steel ves­sel that is dragged via mo­tor­ized pal­let jack through the park­ing garage and al­ley­way to the bar­rel room. In­side the Blen­dery, hun­dreds of bar­rels are stacked four-high,

At many tra­di­tional Bel­gian lam­bic brew­eries, the cool­ship is lo­cated in the at­tic of the build­ing, and win­dows are left open so the night air can flow into the brew­ery and over the cool­ing wort. In Long Beach, the cool­ship is mounted twelve feet above the floor and un­der the out­let of ded­i­cated duct­work that pulls air from the roof of the build­ing.

and oaken foed­ers hold hun­dreds more gal­lons of beer. The space is hu­mid­i­fied and cooled to repli­cate the cli­mate of Bel­gium, and wort des­tined for the cool­ship and spon­ta­neous fer­men­ta­tion is brewed only a few months of the year (typ­i­cally, Septem­ber through April).

At many tra­di­tional Bel­gian lam­bic brew­eries, the cool­ship is lo­cated in the at­tic of the build­ing, and win­dows are left open so the night air can flow into the brew­ery and over the cool­ing wort. In Long Beach, the cool­ship is mounted twelve feet above the floor and un­der the out­let of ded­i­cated duct­work that pulls air from the roof of the build­ing.

Gor­don first wanted to have a cop­per cool­ship built, but none of the fab­ri­ca­tors he spoke to would take on the large project. In mid-2015, with con­struc­tion of the Blen­dery com­plete and the lam­bic-brew­ing sea­son quickly ap­proach­ing, Gor­don turned to his com­mer­cial-kitchen sup­plier for a stain­less-steel cool­ship. “The de­signs went back and forth, and we had to con­sider how that much steel would re­act go­ing from room tem­per­a­ture to 212°F (100°C) and back to room tem­per­a­ture,” Gor­don says. The fin­ished cool­ship cost be­tween six and seven thou­sand dol­lars, is dou­bly re­in­forced, and holds a lit­tle more than twelve bar­rels of wort.

Lam­bic brew days are long, with a multi-step mash, a slow and care­ful lauter, and a three-hour boil. By early af­ter­noon, the wort is moved into the bar­rel room and is pumped from the trans­porta­tion ves­sel into the cool­ship, which groans and sput­ters as ther­mal ex­pan­sion flexes the steel against its welds. Fields mon­i­tors the flow of wort first from a perch atop a lad­der leaned against a tower of bar­rels and then from a more se­cure spot on the bar­rel-room floor. The wort will cool overnight to pick up a med­ley of mi­crobes from the air flow­ing in­land off the Pa­cific. More mi­crobes float down from the wooden ceil­ing beams and a wooden

The Blen­dery team brews seven batches a month, and dur­ing the cooler months one or two are a spon­ta­neous fer­men­ta­tion. Fer­men­ta­tion times vary but av­er­age about four­teen months in a bar­rel, and a recipe tweak or process vari­a­tion can’t be tasted un­til a fin­ished bot­tle is popped. “Noth­ing is quick,” says Gor­don. “Every de­ci­sion we make takes a year or more to see re­sults.”

lat­tice mounted above the cool­ship that were sprayed with house cul­ture be­fore the ini­tial spon­ta­neous fermentations.

The Blen­dery re­leases other beers be­sides the straight lam­bic style that’s the project’s endgame, but they’re all made in ser­vice to Gor­don’s ul­ti­mate goal of cre­at­ing tra­di­tional blended gueuze that ri­vals ex­am­ples from Bel­gian pro­duc­ers. Each beer gives the brew­ers more ex­pe­ri­ence and more data that in­flu­ences each crit­i­cal de­ci­sion. The Blen­dery is a brew­ing lab­o­ra­tory where the myths and traditions are in­ves­ti­gated and an­a­lyzed to iden­tify which vari­ables are most im­por­tant for mak­ing lam­bic-style beers that stand up to the Old World pro­duc­ers. The cool­ship is a cru­cial tool in this ex­plo­ration, but the ex­per­i­men­ta­tion is time con­sum­ing and the re­sults come slowly.

“Every year is get­ting shorter, never seem to find the time.”

The Blen­dery team brews seven batches a month, and dur­ing the cooler months one or two are a spon­ta­neous fer­men­ta­tion. Fer­men­ta­tion times vary but av­er­age about four­teen months in a bar­rel be­fore a bot­tle con­di­tion­ing that lasts an­other cou­ple of months, and a recipe tweak or process vari­a­tion can’t be tasted un­til a fin­ished bot­tle is popped. “Noth­ing is quick,” says Gor­don. “Every de­ci­sion we make takes a year or more to see re­sults.” But in­stead of be­ing a frus­tra­tion, the lan­guor of lam­bic brew­ing is a re­fresh­ing slow­down for Gor­don. “It’s cool to par­tic­i­pate in cre­at­ing a tra­di­tional and sea­sonal prod­uct,” he says. The un­hur­ried pace gives the team time to con­sider each step and each de­ci­sion. There’s a more in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion when mak­ing clean beer—in three weeks, you’re drink­ing that new IPA. Gor­don, who was a fine-din­ing chef be­fore open­ing the orig­i­nal Beach­wood BBQ restau­rant and beer bar in Seal Beach, Cal­i­for­nia, says the pace in the kitchen is even more im­me­di­ate, “Every seven min­utes you ei­ther do a good job or you don’t. If you screw some­thing up, make ad­just­ments and do it again.”

While the spon­ta­neously fer­mented beer is an im­por­tant blend­ing com­po­nent in many of the Beach­wood Blen­dery re­leases—it pro­vides a dis­tinc­tive back­ground funk that the house cul­ture has yet to de­velop—the first all-spon­ta­neous fer­men­ta­tion beer wasn’t re­leased un­til June 2017. The cool­ship was first used for six batches in the winter of 2015, and “one batch came out re­ally in­ter­est­ing,” Fields says. “It showed us that the cool­ship works, and that it is an im­por­tant as­pect of the fla­vors we’re af­ter.” Half of that batch was bot­tled as Cool­ship Chaos and re­leased at an elab­o­rate party held in the Blen­dery tast­ing room and among the bar­rels. At­ten­dees en­joyed sam­ples poured right from se­lect bar­rels and glasses of draft spe­cial­ties fea­tur­ing trop­i­cal fruits, ex­otic bar­berry, and some of the world’s most sought-af­ter cof­fee, and ev­ery­one walked away with a pair of Cool­shop Chaos bot­tles.

“We’re a cou­ple of years closer to our goal,” Gor­don says af­ter the Cool­ship Chaos re­lease, adding, “Maybe we’ll have [a gueuze-style blend] in eight years.” As for the quest for un­der­stand­ing the in­tri­ca­cies of Bel­gian lam­bic, that may take even longer. There’s a cer­tain ro­mance in lam­bic brew­ing—a mys­tique that brew­ers re­spect and chase. “Amer­i­can brew­ers have been all about anal­y­sis and ap­ply­ing sci­ence to brew­ing, but when we talk about lam­bic brew­ing, we still talk about ‘pixie dust,’” Gor­don says. “Is there more to beer than sci­ence? I hope that the mu­sic Ryan [Fields] plays for the bar­rels makes the beer bet­ter, but I’m okay if it just makes win­ters in the bar­rel room less mis­er­able for him. I don’t need the se­cret of lam­bic to be magic, but I’m okay if it is. We have no agenda be­sides mak­ing great lam­bic-style beers.” “And af­ter a while, you can work on points for style.”

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