Archive for the ‘brewing’ Category

barrel sampling

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015


one important task in the barrel house involves the maintenance of barreled beer, which includes airlock, bung, and barrel upkeep as well as periodic sampling of barreled product.  although the image of a group of guys with clipboards standing around sampling dozens of labeled beer glasses sounds fun, in actuality it gets pretty labor intensive.

  • first off, there is the challenge of finding barrels to be sampled.  even though we initiated a cloud-based shared barrel log that is continually updated with new product, barrels are moved constantly as different beers are selected to be kegged, bottled, fruited, and blended.  as a result, BL, DI, and myself are always seen shimmying between barrel stacks with a flashlight for a good portion of our QA time.  when you do find the barrel, it is inevitably on the top of a stack, so access requires a little bit of acrobatics and/or forklift maneuvering.
  • once the barrel is sourced, we have to schlep over a bucket of sanitizer with a thief and spare airlock/bung parts for sampling.  although I use the “vinnie nail” sampling system in my basement barrel, we at phantom carriage we sample using a wine thief.  although this undoubtedly results in more exposure during sampling, my though process is that making sampling more difficult (by having to clean and sanitize a thief) reduces sampling frequency and eliminates meddling by curious passersby.  I personally try to minimize interaction with developing beer, dipping into barrels only when absolutely necessary.
  • once the beer is sampled, we label the glass/cup with the barrel identifier and move on until we have a sufficient amount of samples to compare.  I usually try to sample similar styles together to make it easier to pick up different nuances between barrels or to see how fruit additions add to the overall complexity of a finished beer.  there are various objectives during QA sampling – we can be checking a maturity level of a batch, seeing how bright a fruit addition is in the barrel, and/or picking out flavor and aroma components for an upcoming blend or collaboration.
  • no matter what the objective is, the tools stay the same – a clipboard or notebook for detailed tasting notes, plenty of bread and water (I prefer sparkling) to cleanse the palate, a diverse group of tasters to get a wide spectrum of opinions, a dump bucket or floor drain for handling heavy pours, and a clean glass with some rinse water.  limiting discussion of each sample to a few minutes ensures that the tasting doesn’t unravel, and after a few hours of analysis everyone’s tongues are shot and most people are jonesing for a full pour of a nice pils or session IPA.
  • after filling and sampling from hundreds of unique wine barrels (and a slowly increasing number of spirit barrels), I am happy to report that we have a bunch of fun releases on the horizon, both on draft and in bottles. be sure to check out the phantom carriage website for updates!



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bottling barrel aged wild beers

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015


wow, has it really been a year since my last post? these past twelve months have flown by as the phantom carriage has grown and expanded.  we took on a head brewer, an assistant brewer, a bar manager, and a graphic designer, and our employee count is now in the double digits.  since we have a great team in place, I feel comfortable jumping back into blogging and plan on monthly updates that focus on different wild beer production implementation aspects.

  • specifically, I hope to highlight instances where our team was able to apply a DIY homebrewing approach to the professional arena to achieve one or more benefits (e.g., improved quality, money savings, etc.).
  • for example, one of our team’s recent goals has been the bottling of our beers.  however, off-the-shelf bottling solutions easily run thousands of dollars, and appear to use a trough system that seems to expose beer to oxygen during the bottling process.
  • luckily, commercial brewers utilize a forum similar to  while researching bottling implementations I came across a post describing a home built rig capable of counter pressure bottle filling (which minimizes oxygen exposure) which cost a fraction of the pre-fab systems.  the next week BL and I put our rig together with a morebeer order, a sawzall, a drill, and some elbow grease (morebeer sells a similar rig for a pretty steep markup here).
  • after some successful practice runs, we got the team together and ran more than a thousand bottles of non-barrel aged beer through the system.  once we had our setup dialed I started tinkering with our barrel aged offerings, which require a little more care to bottle condition.
  • more specifically, the high gravity and significant age of our barrel aged wild beers necessitate the addition of yeast during bottling to ensure adequate carbonation.  I have done this successfully many times in the past at home, and slightly tweaked my implementation to give even our double-digit ABV beers the best chance of carbing up in the bottle.
  • before bottling day I whipped up a large yeast starter and calculated my priming sugar amounts to achieve my target volume.  since we currently only bottle one oak barrel worth of beer at a time, I primed a half barrel sanke keg with the sugar solution, filled the keg halfway with beer, added a portion of my yeast starter, and topped off the keg with beer.  once the keg was full, we hooked it up to our bottling line, bottled and capped, and refilled once the keg was empty (the keg was only refilled two more times).  keg filling can even be performed in parallel with bottling to save time, although once you start getting into higher volumes it becomes more prudent to bottle straight off of a brite tank.
  • building our own bottling line has really simplified the bottling process while maximizing the quality of the beer in the bottle.  I only wish I had one of these suckers when I was bottling at home, especially since a two-head system will only run you a couple hundred bucks!

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catching up

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

sorry for the lack up updates recently!  here’s a summary of some beer-related happenings that are in the works on my end:


I watched the phantom carriage brew area go from this:


to this:



I watched my first new crop of cascades go from this:


to this:



I made another pilgrimage to the stuffed sandwich to check out some ancient bottles:


and I kept busy prototyping a bunch of beers for the brewery (rest assured, many are pretty experimental/wild):



I also managed to sweep the sour category at the pacific brewer’s cup, which had a record number of entries this year:



we are on the final push with the brewery build-out and should be brewing/serving beer in the near future.  I will post our opening date once it has been determined.  hope to see some of you there!  in the meantime, you can feed your need for content by following my instagram page, which gets updated more frequently with on-the-spot beer (and surf) shots.


brett pale ale variations

Saturday, February 1st, 2014


as you may have guessed from my earlier posts, I have a thing for pale ales that have brettanomyces added in secondary.

  • as a result, I was motivated to create something in the same vein as beers like orval, rayon vert, brux, etc.
    – beers that are somewhat sessionable yet earthy and spicy, with a rocky head and a funk that grows over time in the bottle/keg.
  • I was also intrigued by beers such as the historic ballantine IPA that was supposedly aged for a year in oak and aroma hopped with hop extract, and wanted to incorporate some of those unique characteristics as well to create a unique “wood aged brett pale.”
  • I ended up going with a grain bill of maris otter, vienna, crystal 80 and 40, and wheat for a solid malt backbone, with a starting gravity of 1.062.  I bittered with columbus and added late aroma additions of chinook and simcoe for layered pine notes and a smooth bitterness (~55 IBU).
  • for fermentation purposes, I split the batch between ECY17 burton union and WLP510 bastogne.  I had originally planned to go with ECY10 old newark (one of the original ballantine strains) but my starter was so violently active (after less than six hours) the majority of top cropping yeast blew out of my erlenmeyer flask and my leftover pitch didn’t go anywhere.  east coast yeast is the only provider whose vials I will directly pitch into wort without stepping up (the ECY17 vial took off in only an hour or two after pitching).
  • after two weeks in primary at a controlled 65F, the WLP510 fermentor was at 1.01 and the ECY17 fermentor was at 1.013.  I racked both into corny kegs, primed with 2.5oz. sugar, and pitched orval bottle dregs into each.  I was planning on adding an american oak cube to each keg as well, but didn’t have any lying around.  I am also tossing around the idea of dry hopping them before serving (which might be challenging now that I primed the kegs).
  • I’m planning on tapping the kegs after three months and seeing which version works better with brett.  the base beers both tasted great during kegging, so hopefully they’ll keep improving!

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happy new year!

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

happy new year!

2013 was full of memorable events:

2014 should be even more exciting – for starters, the phantom carriage brewery/blendery/cafe will be opening in carson, hopefully sooner than later (and with plenty of goodies in store).  hopefully all you blog readers can come check out the facility!

have a great new year!


phantom carriage muis, vizcaino bottling, beer paper LA

Monday, May 20th, 2013

     vizcaino II

time for some overdue professional, homebrew, and beer scene updates!

  • a couple of weekends ago the phantom carriage’s first release, muis, made an appearance at the tour of long beach’s craft beer garden.  inspired by my all-brett blonde experiment, muis is an all-brett belgian blonde with terrific mouthfeel, a smooth backing bitterness, and a great earthy tropical fruit aroma.  this batch was keg conditioned instead of being force carbonated, which results in a fine effervescence and great fluffy head.  stay tuned for mainstream release information – this beer will be on LA south bay taps soon!
  • last weekend I kegged and bottled vizcaino II, the latest iteration of my golden strong wild ale.  while my other pipeline wild beers were inspired by commercial brews, vizcaino’s recipe was formulated from scratch, and my first stab at it left me a little disappointed.  however, after reworking the recipe and mash schedule based on my pipeline experience and racking the batch onto a mess of raspberry puree, I ended up with what I can only describe as an “imperial framboise” – a 10.23% (finished at 1.005) brilliant red brew with an intense yet smooth acidity that transitions seamlessly into some serious raspberry flavors.  I can’t wait until this carbs up.
  • on a final note, I want to congratulate beer paper LA on the release of their first physical publication.  I stopped by their release party at beachwood BBQ long beach and was filled with pride for the ever-evolving LA beer scene (kip at bierkast has a great writeup that I completely resonate with).  it’s never been a better time to be a beer drinker in LA!  

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custom tap handles, kegging

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

shaping on the lathe

with a phantom carriage draft release on the horizon, the need for tap handles to go with the beer was imminent.

  • although my previous experiences with tap handles were both successful, plain branch segments weren’t going to cut it for TPC’s purposes.  we needed something easily recognizable and slick, but also easily repeatable in quantity  and low in cost.
  • after mulling it over a bit I decided to pick up a mini lathe and try my hand at shaping some inexpensive 2″ diameter dowels into mini-barrels.  luckily, the design and process in my head translated seamlessly to reality, and after a few hours of shaping, sanding, and staining I ended up with around twenty tap handles ready to serve up phantom carriage creations.  I’m planning on further customizing the barrels with one or more of a branded logo, splatter paint design, and wax dipping in the near future.  be sure to keep an eye out for one of these in the tap lineup soon!

another challenge posed by the draft release was getting the beer carbonated and in kegs.

  • TPC purchased a mess of stainless sixtels, but a brite tank wasn’t available to force carbonate and fill them.  as a result, each keg was individually primed with sugar after cleaning and filled directly from the fermentor using an awesome manual keg filler (after dropping the trub/yeast).  this way, the beer will undergo a secondary fermentation in the keg and will carbonate itself, creating a keg-conditioned beer with a fine, soft carbonation.  the wait is almost over!

detail work

before staining

finished product

kegging               kegs ready to go


lambic brewday, teaser video

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013


as you might have guessed, the majority of my available brew time over the last few months has been spent working on the phantom carriage project.

  • instead of filling this year’s sour beer pipeline in my basement, I have been starting another, more substantial pipeline by helping develop an ever-growing barrel collection over in torrance based on my own wild lineup.
  • the latest batch destined for the barrel racks was also the first one completed using the phantom carriage’s 3bbl nano system.  although a simple lambic-style recipe (60/40 pils/wheat, low alpha bittering) and a single infusion mash schedule promised a straightforward brew day, snags such as a missing mill, thermometer discrepancies, a wonky burner, and a flawed kettle whirlpool design resulted in long hours and headache for everyone involved.  on the positive side, the mash and sparge went down without a hitch, system efficiency was terrific, and all the other hiccups can easily be addressed during the next brew day.
  • on another note, the phantom carriage facebook page is live – check it out!  MS and I have been working on delivering a steady stream of content for the page, including details on upcoming releases and events.  for example, check out the teaser video I tossed up yesterday, featuring production and a soundtrack by yours truly.  more great developments are on the horizon – stay tuned!

sparge               rolling boil


phantom carriage: barreling batch 4 and brewing batch 5

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013


over the past week a lot has been happening over at the phantom carriage.

  • first, a full batch of brett saison (french saison yeast with a brett trois/drie kicker in primary) crept below 1.01 in the conicals, so it was time to rack it into barrels.  the brett accentuated the saison yeast nicely and gave it a nice earthy tropical fruit kick.  hopefully three months in barrels will round out the beer even more (I got some baking spice, vanilla, and sweet vinous notes from the barrels as they were being filled).  I can also see some dry-hopping in the cards…
  • next, it was time to fill the void left by the saison with another wild creation.  this time, 14bbls of blonde ale based on my all-brett blonde experiment hit the stainless and was introduced to a sizable pitch of the brett trois strain (which I selected from the three trial strains due to its great aroma and flavor contributions as well as its strong and relatively rapid fermentation).  this batch was special – it will be the phantom carriage’s first release!  more info is imminent, so keep an eye out for updates!

trying out the sparge arm               churning away

the stack keeps growing...

bottling cabrillo II

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

draining the fermentor

last sunday, after delabeling and rinsing a case of bottles, I finally got around to bottling cabrillo II.

  • ten months of exposure to cherries and french oak were very kind to the beer – it has an amazing sour cherry and slightly oaky aroma.  the fruit came through nicely in the beer’s flavor, complementing smooth vanilla notes and an intense overall acidity. 
  • the beer finished at 10 brix (1.009) on the dot, for an ABV of 10.67%.  I mashed a little higher for this second iteration, which resulted in a little more body for an improved overall balance.  I also saved three pints of slurry for a future phantom carriage brew.  I’m really excited for this one to carb up!

in the bottling bucket               slurry