Thursday 11 February 2016

A-very impressive brewery tour

Part 3 of my Boulder breweries and brewpubs tour back in October last year. Part 2 is here.

A recent reminder that the new brewery site at Avery Brewing Co in Boulder, Colorado, is about to celebrate its first anniversary reminded me that I really ought to get on with writing about my visit there last Autumn.

The building is very impressive – partly because it was designed to be, but also because of the sheer scale and ambition of it. From Avery's cramped former home in a row of industrial units downtown, the plan was to think big. Its new flagship is still on an industrial estate, but this one is set in rolling lawns in the suburbs.

That's a lot of taps
It's not just a brewery, too – as well as a large bar or taproom with dozens of beers on draught, there is an artisanal restaurant and a giftshop selling beers and Avery-branded merchandise. On top of that, the whole thing has been designed with visitors in mind, as well as brewers. There are overhead viewing gantries in the brewhouse, and large glass windows onto many of the other workspaces, such as the barrel-ageing storeroom.

You can wander around by yourself (the visitor areas are separated off from the actual working space of course) or join one of the free daily guided tours – I did the latter. I have to admit I was a bit surprised when our guide reminded us that the brewery was already 21 years old in 2014, when 15-odd years of continued growth meant that they simply had to move somewhere bigger. “Our plan called for $45 million, the bank laughed us out, but we got $28 million,” he said.

The new building opened in February 2015. They decided to move the old brewkit over, which meant no brewing while that happened, plus they installed lots more shiny stainless steel gear. “Our German engineers said our hopback was too large,” laughed our guide. “But we have a 102 IBU* beer – the hopback was not big enough!” Its standard brewlength is now 100 hectolitres, or about 80 barrels, while its biggest fermenters (the outdoor ones you can see in the photo above) hold 800hl each.

They now have 30 different beers on draught at a time, plus many specials and seasonals. They vary from an Imperial (strong) lager that takes 57 days to ferment and mature, through a wide range of IPAs and spiced and fruit beers, to Hog Heaven, the 9.2% double-hopped Barleywine that fired Avery's growth in the late 1990s. Then there's all the barrel-aged (BA) beers: Avery has a huge programme pulling in used barrels from all over – from wineries, whisk(e)y distillers, rum, Madeira, tequila and more.

The BA facility is very impressive, with racks of slumbering barrels and forklifts to move them around. There's no foeders yet – those are the big wooden vats used in producing Belgian Lambics – but this could change!

A lot of blending goes on between BA beers to produce the desired results. Avery is also working on a series of wine-beer hybrids, some using wine yeast to ferment beer. Mostly though it uses the barrels either to flavour beers directly or to create sour and wild ales by adding bacteria and wild yeasts; these then live in the wood and produce fascinating flavours by working on sugars in the beer that normally wouldn't be fermentable.

The centrifuge refuge from above
Talking of which, the brewery has its own quality assurance and yeast propagation labs – indeed, it claims it has one of the best lab facilities anywhere in the world for a brewery of its size, with six microbiologists, chemists and analysts on staff.

On top of that, when I visited they were waiting for their new canning line to arrive. Their existing top-of-the-range microcanning line from Cask of Canada could do 50 to 60 cans a minute, but the new German line can run at over 300 cans a minute when needed. On top of that, there's keg and bottling lines of course, and for filtering beer before packaging there's a big centrifuge – this lives in its own strongroom, in case of accidents!

Like many brewers today, Avery's also working to reduce its environmental footprint. It's working with a neighbour company, New Sky Energy, on carbon dioxide scrubbing technology, with the aim of turning its surplus CO2 – and fermentation produces a lot of this – into useful soda ash. Spent water is treated to regulate its pH, and spent grain goes to local farmers as animal feed – brewers were afraid that the US government's FDA (Food & Drug Administration) would block the latter, but this seems to have been sorted out now.

Back to the bar...
After a fascinating and enjoyable tour, I wrapped up my visit by returning to the Avery taproom for a tasting flight covering a good spread of its products (I'd already has a pint of Old Jube, the winter ale). Oddly, the only one that didn't impress was White Rascal, the Witbier that they make quite a lot of. The others – including Semplice, a farmhouse ale with Lemondrop hops, a passionfruit Witbier called Liliko’i Kepolo, and a SMaSH (single malt, single hop) pale ale with Galaxy hops – more than made up for it though!

If you're in the area, they're having an anniversary party next Tuesday, February 16th. I wish I could be there!

*International Bittering Units – a seriously bitter IPA might hit 65 or 75 IBU. 

Apologies to our excellent tour guide, whose name has totally vanished from my notes! :(

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