Strange woman hangs out in front of Tennessee Brew Works asking for a free beer, Nah, , it’s my wife Millie!
By Ken Carman
Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay, Clarksville Carboys and Music City Homebrewers, who has been interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast for over 15 years.
809 Ewing Ave
Nashville, TN 37203
Just telling some folks how Garr brews might make someone who teaches others how to homebrew cringe and a traditional German brewer go, “Gelsobin die augamanchkin haufen mist!”
OK, I made up some of those words except the last, which I was told by my German teacher in my first high
school meant “hay,” but also a not so polite way to say there’s something disgusting in the hay. As to the rest, why would I make up… words? Just lazy I guess, and no need in offending those who, like I, mostly remember just the curse words.
Part of the great planning at Tennessee Brew Works would be an upper level, eagle nest-like, perch that includes a second bar, where patrons can watch the brewery from up high.
Let me start by saying that all the thought, the planning and inventiveness that went into making the dream that became Tennessee Brew Works come true, is beyond impressive. Garr Schwartz and Christian Spears did their homework and beyond.
Garr was raised in Donelson, Tennessee, but he lived in New York City area for a while and worked on Wall Street: Lehman. Yup, that “Lehman.” This is what he went to college for: business and finance. He was selling hedge funds, investments.
Not the most exciting business to be in these days. It’s contracting. And the skill set I had was not appreciated.”
What’s so unusual about how Garr brews? Well to mention just two; severely crushed grains: pulverized applies, I would think, and a filter system that essentially does what us homebrewers are told not to do… squeeze grain hard. Similar to squeezing grain bags, sort of, only more high tech. Oh, here’s another example: sparge at very hot temperatures.
At least by my palate, it works. Now I’m not going to claim every beer is perfect, or I might find no faults, but so much of what I’ve had at TBW delightful.
I was also delighted when, during a meeting for Music City Brewers, Garr swung by and handed me a card so we could set up an interview. I was LESS than delighted when, after a great interview, I listened to the recording device I was depending on and found the omni mic had taken in so much background noise more than half of what was recorded was pretty much inaudible. Sigh.
Master brewer Garr, bright twinkle in his eye, talked about how they had had the whole system designed around the massive mash filter. After a visit to Belgium a Belgian brewer visited and helped them set it up, make it all work as it should ,and help with brewing: especially advice.
The system is so efficient Garr was able to take a 25 barrel system and brew 29.
The mash filter, seen on the next page, is massive. As the mash flows through due to a bladder and pneumatic tubes, on the way out of the tun, into the mash filter, the mash is squeezed to get “every last sugar out of the grain.” He said they have about 98% plus efficiency.
“We certainly ‘squeeze the bag here!” referring back to his homebrew days and squeezing the grain bag. I told him, even though it’s considered wrong in homebrew books, I’ve never had a problem with that either.
Garr sparges at high temps: another no no, like when he’d sparge at 200F as a homebrewer. His hop bed would help disperse that high temp.
Garr said while quality craft beer was, of course, the focus, the less water, the faster and more efficient they can make it, was also one of the goals.
Another method he uses is to brew a high grav wort and then bring it down to the right gravity.
“That makes it easy to hit the mark.”
I talked with Garr about the floor. One of the biggest design mistakes mentioned to me by brewers I’ve interviewed over the years is drainage. Retrofitted buildings can be a big problem, especially brewpubs where one must merge the two very different businesses and make them work well together. Not only did it look like they had plenty of drains but the flooring is that special material, composite-like, that’s often poured onto a solid surface. This was the more expensive version, according to Garr.
You would think the grain mill would be dust heaven, but there’s far less than some other breweries. In part this is because TBW gets their malts premixed: another way to speed up the brewing.
One brew technique one wouldn’t expect that has definitely increased speed and efficiency, according to Garr, is using a beta glucanase rest.
We start at 45c, saccharification rest at 72 and then then mash out as high as 80c.”
One of the reasons Garr started to use the rest is he did a 100% wheat beer. Garr found the beta rest increased efficiency, conversion and even decreased how long it takes to brew. Another reason is he uses a lot or rye in his recipes, overall, There’s even some rye in the Stout, and some wheat. Garr enjoys working with both, but especially rye.
He explained that he has always been a big believer in natural carbonation. As a homebrewer he went to Granger and bought a pressure release Valve. He had worked out, essentially, a closed system where the brew could naturally carbonate. Garr said he would get some wort, put it in the fridge, and then, when he went to keg, use that wort to naturally carbonate.
You won’t see a bright tank here anywhere.”
In the huge brew house, between the giant fermenters and the mash tun, you could see several former homebrew carboys: you know the clear ones like glass but made from plastic… but now filled with yeast. Garr explained they did harvest yeast and had four strains they work with.
Two of them are an English yeast and Chico… the last used for their Cutaway IPA.
I was asked not to mention specifics, but they take their yeast VERY seriously here at TBW and Garr said there would be even more focus on yeast in the future.
The mash filter press is, of course, tech that’s been around for a long time, as Garr explained. They’ve had visitors who would recognize it because it’s used in many applications like juice, oil (I suspect olive oil would be one application.), separating fine rock out of a slurry.
But, as Garr explained, one of the greatest applications in brewing is having a very clean beer.
90% of all beer in Belgium comes out a mash presses, including Rodenbach.”
He mentioned how the usage of the mash filter increased and was perfected over the years, especially in the 90s, how the Germans have used them.
With German focus on “clean” lagers, and ”clean” in general, I’m not surprised.
When it comes to hops, ”I used to be a great proponent of whole hops. I didn’t like pellets as a homebrewer,” …because they would clog up his bazooka screen.” (Let me guess, very fine mesh?) So he would take “whole hop cones,” like Cascade, and dry hop his fermenter.
“You can’t get any better than that.”
“More efficient warp factor, Captain Garr!” Despite LOOKING like a warp drive from “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” “Spaceballs” or “Galaxy Quest,” this is the massive mash filter the brewery was partially designed around.
The hops would settle around the bazooka and act as a natural filter. He explained he even grows hops at his house: that’s why he loves whole hops so much.
But (as a homebrewer)I’d go dump out my fermenter and the hops in the hop bed would look still intact, so I started to tear them apart: so much of the lupulin was still there, the beer hadn’t penetrated, with pellets it disperses so much better.”
He showed me the automated system: part of what was designed around the mash filter press and the rest of the system that would pre-load recipes, and explained how it meant he didn’t have to keep turning a valve here, there…
Garr said one of the biggest headaches was real estate: finding the right place. It was harder than they imagined. In fact where they are had already been sold, except the buyer balked at the price, so after assessing the situation, explaining to the buyer their interest, it was agreed they would purchase it.
Garr talked a bit about the barrels he had for an event the next Saturday and trouble he had transferring into them. He researched different methods, looking for something that was gentle, yet efficient, and discovered The Bulldog. It was originally made for wine but he thought if it was good enough for wine it certainly was good enough for beer.
Most of the equipment is brand new, though some is refurbished like the keg filler, and the van had many miles on it. He felt they had hit the mark when it came to designing the actual brewing system but, ”You can’t plan for everything.”
Like they under estimated the cost of the boiler. Also not thinking maybe if you are going to be moving a lot of heavy things on pallets you might need a fork lift.
Everything was a discovery process and being over your head can be a daily experience.”
Garr said that a lot of new breweries start too small then, essentially, race to keep up with demand. That’s why they went as big as they did, and of course the drive to get more out of the equipment led the way.
Garr’s advice for homebrewers was simple, “Don’t ever make brewing at home so complicated that you never want to do it again.” He said if that ever happens go do another batch, make it simple, even extract.
Then there are the surprises you can’t plan for, like a cleanser that had been shipped to them that he was advised to move onto a pallet that wasn’t made of wood, ”Because it could explode if shipped that way.” Problem being: that’s how it was shipped to them by those giving the advice.
What a way to start your day with a bang, eh?
That’s how we first met the day I visited, him carefully moving a non-wooden pallet with the barrel balanced delicately on it’s new pallet.
As we stood on the resin flooring, and said goodbyes, I looked around and thought…
One hell of a good start.”
Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing and commenting on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer. Essentially, all things “beer.”
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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