Building Aeronaut: Our mobile beer dispenser

As many new breweries are wont to do, we at Aeronaut have taken a page from the homebrewing world and incorporated it into our brewery. I’m talking about a movable draft fridge that had its beginnings as a sort of kegerator (or ‘keezer’ as they are sometimes called).

Back when we were prototyping around 12 recipes per month, we started to need lots of space for storage and dispense of those homebrews. This led to us building a cool fridge that would double as a bar. It was a modest amount of woodworking ,  but it came out really nice.

Frame for the beer fridge

Frame for the beer fridge

We started out with four taps, but that quickly increased to eight. The interior needed lots of organization, since we had eight draft lines, a CO2 tank and up to 12 gas lines installed.  The beer was flowing smoothly and it was excellent to have this all figured out.

Taps installed and flowing!

Taps installed and flowing!

The inner workings

The inner workings

Of course, maintaining 8 tap lines is no simple task, and aside from keeping the keg inventory moving, we needed to have a system in place for keeping the lines clean. That led to our home-grown line cleaning system! We used a nice centrifugal pump and split it up over the draft lines so that we could flush and clean four lines at a time (see our instructional post on draft line cleaning for more info).

Now that we are building out our tasting room, we are going to have a more permanent beer faucet setup. But what is to come of our loyal draft fridge? We are keeping it in the brewery and will take advantage of its size and mobility so that we can dispense beers for growler fills away from the main tasting bar. Also, as the Aeronaut Foods Hub fills out, we will often find reasons to tote the fridge 100 feet to the other side of the space so beer can flow right in the market.

Bringing the beer to the people!

Bringing the beer to the people!

The only thing missing now is a name for our good old draft fridge. We’re open to suggestions!

 

Make your own beer line cleaner!

As a brewery with a taproom, we have lots of draft lines and they need to stay clean for the beer to taste right. We have spent some time putting together a simple line cleaning system and we figured we’d share our efforts for the homebrewers among you who are wishing to maintain a similar level of quality on draft lines.

The basic idea here is to have caustic line cleaning solutions running through the draft lines continuously for 15 minutes or so,  in order to clean out any sticky stuff in the tubing or faucets. Then, a quick sanitary rinse leaves the lines good to go! To avoid having to clean each line separately (and take up several hours), we start with a decent centrifugal pump and use that to push the solutions through the lines.

The pump

The pump

For hardware, you’ll want to have a way to connect the pump outlet to a line splitter for as many draft lines as you’d like to hit (we chose 4).

Line splitter configuration

Line splitter configuration

Each line can then be attached to the end of the tubing you are using to carry beer from the kegs to the faucets. You’ll also need a tray to collect the liquid from the faucets, and return it back to your bucket of line cleaner (we poked a hole in ours so it drains into the bucket).

The setup

The setup

Once you’ve got this all in place, check that the pump flows through your lines without leaking (use water). The pump should be primed with water so it doesn’t cavitate, then pull into the pump from a bucket, run through all four lines (faucets open), and drain back into the bucket  in a loop. If this is getting stressful and complicated, relax and have a homebrew (props to Charlie Papazian)!

Getting the lines attached

Getting the lines attached

It’s a good idea to flush with hot water first, then move on to caustic. After a five minute flush, switch to a bucket of caustic solution and run for 15 minutes to clean the lines. I’d recommend using gloves and safety goggles for this, as these line cleaners can be dangerous.

Caustic is flowing

Water is flowing!

While this is happening, it’s a good idea to soak all of your fittings (e.g. keg connectors and accessories in contact with beer) in a cleaner such as PBW. For the line cleaner, we use BLC, which works very well.  Everything should be rinsed with water afterward. We do two thorough flushes with water for the lines and fittings before using them. A five minute run per water flush should do. Once you’re done, just reassemble and enjoy your clean, sparkling beer!

A collaborative Somerville maple beer

As maple season draws to a close, Aeronaut has teamed up with Groundwork Somerville to make a hyper-local beer using maple sap! We have been tapping trees for a few years now, and are very excited to have a beer to share with our community.

Ronn hammers in our maple taps

Ronn hammers in our maple taps

A few years ago, we started tapping trees in our front and backyards to make some homemade maple syrup. Of course, that was a small operation and we were so happy with the result that last year, we scaled up a  bit. Since we had already purchased some very large kettles for brewing, we figured we’d expand their use for making maple syrup.

Brew kettles on the way!

Brew kettles on the way!

Maple sap boils down at a ratio of 40:1, so even with these 60-gallon vessels, we could make about 1.5 gallons at a time. Still, that’s quite a bit of syrup for us and our friends.

The 2013 harvest

The 2013 harvest

This year, we had a different idea.  We teamed up with Groundwork Somerville to build a collaborative beer using maple sap collected from Tufts University.  First, we used our kettles to help with Groundwork’s annual maple boil.

Chris from Groundwork adds some sap to the kettles

Chris from Groundwork adds some sap to the kettles

Afterward, we used the late-season sap directly in our hoppy maple brown ale! No water was used in this beer–only sap. It smelled really good in the brewery as it was boiling. We liked the idea of using sap rather than maple syrup, because we wanted to keep more of the woody, maple-y volatile compounds in our beer and not lose them during the prolonged and vigorous maple boil.

Now, it’s fermenting in our tanks and we are all eagerly awaiting its debut.

The Aeronaut Team: Dan

This is the third post in a five-part series on the people who make up Aeronaut Brewing Company. Here, we introduce the quirky characters who envisioned this brewery and urban farmhouse, and are now making it a reality.

Many of my formative beer experiences took place in Seattle, where I interned as a software developer for a period during my college years. There, I was happily surprised to find myself immersed in a huge variety of exciting West Coast ales unlike anything I had tried at home in New York. I spent a copious amount of time frequenting Elysian, The Pike, Pyramid, Mac & Jack’s and other strongholds of brewing in the area. Colorado and California beers flowed plentiful, Fat Tire became my go-to sixpack, and I started becoming exposed to Belgian beers then too. Well, once I returned back east, I promptly started homebrewing with friends to try and relive a bit of the joy that came with trying freshly hopped beer right out of the…plastic bucket (I suppose, in our case). Little did I know how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Boadie and Dan are pals

Boadie and Dan are pals

I’ve always had a passion for beverages and try not to be caught without one in hand, as anyone who knows me could attest. The eternal question for me is, beer or tea? They can both lay claim to an important role in societies from ancient times to modern, and have been important in my life too to delve deeper into ideas and projects or simply to relax into their delicious qualities and spirited effects. Beer wins out today—and haven’t most people switched from tea to coffee anyway?

I moved from NYC to Somerville a couple years ago, partially on a hunch that exciting things were afoot. Now as a founder at Aeronaut, I’m the official clerk but take on a variety of roles beyond recordkeeping, including licensing, driving, shipping logistics, equipment acquisition, prototype brewing, title-holding in bowling and ping-pong, and turning the wireless router off and on again. While not brewing, you may find me climbing on the neighboring bouldering walls at BKBS, hacking on fun software projects, or somewhere out on a long-distance drive or short-distance run.

Dan stirs a heady brew

Dan stirs a heady brew

I’m excited that we’re finally making the transition to an operational brewery after more than a year of non-stop prep work. It’s been an awful lot of fun meeting our new neighbors and larger community here, and we hope that you’ll get to visit for a better look at what we’re up to, and for some of the exciting Spring events we have in the works!

-Dan Rassi

The Aeronaut Team: Mark

This is the second post in a five-part series on the people who make up Aeronaut Brewing Company. Here, we introduce the quirky characters who envisioned this brewery and urban farmhouse, and are now making it a reality.

Chemists make great…brewers! As a PhD with a long career in chemistry R&D, I’m living the dream as the Assistant Brewer on Aeronaut’s team. My life in the brew world began in high school. I cobbled together equipment from friends and relatives, found an old bottle-capper my grandfather used to brew beer for Al Capone during Prohibition (so I’ve been told!), bought some hop-flavored Blue Ribbon malt extract and baker’s yeast from the local grocery store, and made my first batch of home brew. It wasn’t Lowenbrau (my go-to brew during those under-age years), but it was a start.

Mark stands proudly over the first Aeronaut pilot brew

Mark stands proudly over the first Aeronaut pilot brew

After four years at Purdue I made my way west. At UC Berkeley, I casually mentioned to my lab mates that I had brewed beer in high school. Prove it, they said. My access to choice ingredients had improved considerably: I picked up some whole grains, fresh whole hops, and genuine ale yeast. We built the equipment we needed in the chemistry department’s machine shop and, from then on, every Sunday was brew day.

We had three sources of inspiration: Michael Jackson’s book The World Guide to Beer and two pioneering craft breweries in the Bay Area – Anchor Brewing and New Albion. One taste of Anchor’s Liberty Ale made me a hop-head forever. This beer may have been the first craft IPA made in the US with gobs of Cascade hops. Cascade became the signature flavor of our lab brew, too: we dry-hopped our ales to get that same citrusy, grapefruit aroma and flavor.

Applewood-smoked squash!

Applewood-smoked squash!

I completed my post-doc at Caltech and then it was on to Boston. My career and family took up much of my time for the next decade or so, but during a trip to the UK I was blown away by the soft mouth-feel and complexity of Real Ale served at cellar temperature with lower carbonation. These cask-conditioned ales catapulted me back into the beer world. I became active in CASC (Cask-conditioned Ale Support Campaign) and the New England Real Ale Exhibition (NERAX). Eventually I became CASC President and the festival organizer for NERAX.

Thanks to Aeronaut, I’ve repurposed my chemistry pedigree to focus professionally on the passion I’ve nurtured since high school. As a professional brewer I look forward to helping Aeronaut develop unusual farm-to-brew recipes, bring new craft flavors to the public, and advocate for local, cask-conditioned beer.

-Mark Bowers

NERAX cask ales heading to Aeronaut

We are thrilled to announce that Aeronaut will be hosting this year’s NERAX! For those of you not familiar, that’s the New England Real Ale eXhibition. It is an awesome festival that’s been put on in Somerville for the past 17 years, featuring cask-conditioned ales gathered one-at-a-time, from around the world.

NERAX is run by the Cask-conditioned Ale Support Campaign (CASC), which is a non-profit that is run entirely by a bunch of enthusiastic volunteers who are really into so-called ‘real ale’. What’s ‘real ale’, you say? Well, the way we think about it, it’s top-fermented ale in its native state, essentially just as it is after fermentation finishes, with a light carbonation that is created by the yeast. These beers are traditionally brewed, in the purest sense of the word, and are served directly out of lovingly cellared casks.

Casks on gravity tap

Casks on gravity tap

NERAX started back in 1997, when the first festival was held at Red Bones in Davis Square. That festival had a handful of casks and was so successful, that NERAX was moved to a larger venue the next year. After a dozen years at the Dilboy VFW (also in Davis Square), NERAX moved to the American Legion Hall near Union Square, where it was for the last two years. This year, due to things beyond their control, NERAX needed a new home. They wanted to keep true to the festival’s Somerville roots, so we offered them a new home and they happily accepted!

NERAX-goers among a multitude of casks

NERAX-goers among a multitude of casks

This year’s festival will be from March 26-29 at Aeronaut, and there will be 5 sessions total, with over 110 casks. If you’re new to cask beer or real ale, there is no better venue to learn about it. Get your tickets now!

Enjoying our NERAX shirts after the NERAX North festival

Enjoying our NERAX shirts after the NERAX North festival