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As the warm weather settles in, the pace of construction at our Mills River brewery is hitting a fever pitch. We’re reaching new milestones weekly, and it’s starting to look more and more like a working brewery every day.
Our most recent milestone is as symbolic as it is significant. For months, large crates holding the brewhouse vessels have been stored on site. But now, the tanks are set in place where they belong and we’re prepping them for brewing.
The brewhouse is the heart of the brewery; it is where every drop of beer first starts its life. The brewhouse is that place where the magic of brewing begins, where kernels of malted barley mix with water, and the unseen transformation— equal parts artistry, chemistry, and blind faith—creates sweet wort, the building block of beer.
Our brewhouse configuration in Chico is comprised of a mash tun in which grains are steeped in hot water and the conversion from starch to sugar begins; a lauter tun, which separates sweet wort from the solid barley husks; a kettle for boiling and concentrating wort, and for adding the bitter hops whose flavor and aroma balance the sweetness of the wort; and, lastly, a whirlpool to collect heavy proteins and solids while the hot liquid moves on to fermentation.
The brewhouse at our new Mills River brewery is a six-vessel system. In addition to the components described above, it also has a wort receiver, which allows the continuation of mashing and collection of sweet wort while the previous batch is in the kettle and a hop-back, which infuses even more hop flavor and aroma into our already hop-forward brews with an addition of hops after the boiling process. This is a large system, similar to the main brewhouse at our home in Chico and supplied by the same manufacturer. This 200-barrel workhorse will handle the bulk of our production in North Carolina for decades to come.
Because so much depends on the brewhouse, it has to be perfect. The building that holds it was built to exacting specifications and the awkward vessels were moved with pinpoint precision. The lauter tun alone is more than 20 feet in diameter and was swung in place by a crane and team of spotters working with stringent choreography to ensure a perfect fit. Only the tops of the tanks are visible at ground level because much of the work happens below in the brewhouse basement. There, the tanks are supported high off the floor to accommodate the web of pipes, pumps, motors and steam lines dedicated to moving the precious liquid the tanks will produce.
A brewery cannot exist without a brewhouse, so as the vessels are installed the mood at the Mills River site has changed. The brewhouse is a symbol that “beer is made here” and a reminder to everyone that this is what all of the hard work is for. Excitement is building and everyone is redoubling their efforts to see it come to life. Now that the heart of the brewery is in place, we are one step closer to making beer in North Carolina.