Taming Bigfoot in the Brewhouse

The wort swells and thrashes in our open fermenters as though Bigfoot himself rages below the surface.

When we call our 31-year-old barleywine style ale a beast, we’re referring to more than the aroma and flavor uppercut that rises from your snifter. From its sheer volume of ingredients to our weary brewers shouldering its extra effort, Bigfoot is an animal of an undertaking. But oh, how mystifying the liquid is, which inspires us to endure the labor year after year.

Year after year, too, Bigfoot ages with grace in your cellar thanks to its strength, high hop character and roasted malts.

Our barleywine is an American (read: hoppy) take on its English predecessor, which was made to match wine’s alcohol strength and character. Barleywine, however, is indeed a beer! Crudely rounding, Bigfoot requires twice as much malted barley and whole-cone hops, as well as 30 percent more yeast, than our Pale Ale—for just two-thirds the yield. Today we brew Bigfoot in our 100-barrel East Side Brewhouse, and from each batch we’re able to bottle about 65 barrels; from absorbent barley and hops to our scrupulous filters, we just can’t avoid losing liquid. The first few years of Bigfoot—brewed in our original hand-built kettle and open-fermented in salvaged dairy tanks—were especially grueling. Cleaning the kettle meant primitive tools (i.e. a bread pan and a bucket) to collect swollen, dripping hops and protein deposits whose density recalled tofu. The brewer who waded through that mixture earned a few extra pity dollars.

While we don’t have to jump in our newer kettles, our open fermenters, also greatly improved since the ‘80s, still won’t clean themselves.

“You’re pretty much locked in [the open fermentation room] for four to six hours,” to scrub and hose down the four 100-barrel tanks properly, said our head brewer Steve Dresler, who started with the brewery during Bigfoot’s inaugural year.

Dresler doesn’t seem to miss his cleaning days.

“I wonder if I could still get my ass outta those things,” he said.

Bigfoot also gets a wallop of dry hops: Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook. From the open fermentation tanks, the beer heads to our 200-barrel dish-bottom fermenters for secondary fermentation, and during that time each tank holds 22 dry hop bags at eight pounds each. (One of our longtime restaurant team members sews custom bags for this very purpose!) After 21 days suspended in beer, the hop bags emerge heavy and sopping, no doubt a bear for one of our brewers to remove and send to our composter.

Once our brewers shed their boots, gloves and aprons and crack open a Bigfoot, though, the brewing pains are put into tasty perspective. We cherish this beer, and we’re flattered to know vintages are stacked in many of your cellars. Here’s to many more winters with this warmer.

January 16, 2014 - 8:52am