There was a meeting with Click Distributing.
There was a meeting with a sports promoter.
There was a car blocking a delivery.
There was a lift gate breakage delaying keg delivery.
There was a staff training.
There was a beer brewed.
Typical Friday at Wingman Brewers in Tacoma?
Not really, especially since the beer was Bert Grant’s Perfect Porter recipe brewed by Peaks and Pints bottle shop, taproom and eatery in Tacoma.
Months and months before that sunny Friday morning in July, Wingman Brewers co-founder and head brewer Ken Thoburn approached me offering to brew Peaks and Pints bottle shop, taproom and eatery a house beer. He asked if I knew of Bert Grant and his Yakima Brewing and Malting Company in Yakima, Washington. Grant’s Perfect Porter recipe has been on Thoburn’s Brewing Do List.
“Yeah, I visited the Grant’s Brewery Pub while on a college ski outing at Mission Ridge,” I replied. “The Perfect Porter blew me away. It certainly wasn’t Löwenbräu Premium Dark.”
Thoburn’s internet search for the recipe bumped into the same inquiry from hundreds of homebrewers. He finally found “Jeff,” a former Yakima Brewing and Malting Company brewer.
“I didn’t write down the recipe,” said Jeff over the phone. “I didn’t need to write it down. It’s too simple to forget.” Jeff relayed the recipe in less than a minute. We believed him, ignoring the recipe floating around that adds Scottish Peated malt and Willamette as the primary hops. We also used whole vanilla bean instead of Vanilla Extract as Jeff instructed. Our Porter is perfect to us.
After U.S. Prohibition ended with the enactment of the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, only about 300 U.S. breweries emerged to renew their brewing. By time 1982 rolled around only 50 big breweries remained. That same year there was hope to balance the negative energy of dwindling big breweries and the Doobie Brothers splitting up — six “microbrewers” dotted the landscape, including the Yakima Brewing and Malting Company in Yakima. Bert Grant opened the independent brewery in an old opera house with Grant’s Pub occupying the building’s lobby. Grant knew the area and his clientele; he lived and worked in Yakima’s hops industry since the late ’60s. The native of Scotland was known to wear a kilt at his pub. A Claymore — a double-bladed broadsword — was within hand’s reach in case Grant needed to enforce his ban on smoking. A vial of hop oil was even closer, just a pocket reach to enliven the taste of a bland domestic.
Grant died at age 73 in 2001, six years after selling Yakima Brewing. The company eventually floundered and declared bankruptcy in 2004.
I don’t remember if Bert Grant donned his famous kilt when I dropped by his pub for a beer but I do remember the Perfect Porter. I remember the vanilla. And, as I write this recap, there’s a batch of Bert Grant’s Perfect Porter happily fermenting at Wingman Brewers, which will tap at Peaks and Pints’ opening in early October.
PERFECT PORTER BREW DAY
I had a bounce in my step as I entered Wingman Brewers. My business partners, Robby and Justin Peterson, and our cellarman, William Kane, waited as Wingman brewer Mike Dempster cleaned the mash tun.
It was my birthday. Thoburn remembered, presenting me with a Pliny The Elder as we waited. Everyone else was more than happy to drink Wingman brew.
Hundreds of options for malts exist compared to Grant’s Perfect Porter malt bill. The Petersons prepared the grist adding Pale and Chocolate malts according to Jeff’s recipe. Kane shouted, “The strike water reached 168 degrees!” We mashed in the grains, wishing the water would cool to 153, which it did.
Brewing is straightforward; the process requires care, but isn’t particularly stressful. Can you heat water? Then you can brew. Add malted grain to hot water. This process, called mashing, converts the grain’s starches to fermentable sugars; the resulting liquid is called wort. Strain the wort, add hops (a flower that acts as a bittering agent) and boil. Strain, cool and add yeast. After two weeks of fermentation, you have beer that is ready to be bottled or kegged.
This is a simplification, of course. Yet even within this basic recipe there exists daunting chemical complexity — and a seemingly limitless potential for improvisation.
For 45 minutes we spot-checked temperature in all quadrants of the mash-lauter tun making sure it didn’t rise and leach harsh-tasting tannins from the grain. We took turns stirring the mash. Dempster ran through the day’s agenda. We ate a little food. Drank more beer.
Next, we separated the sweet wort from the grain bed, which is called lautering. The initial runoff is cloudy and filled with draff — small solid grain particles. We clarified the wort by recirculating the runoff through the grain, preventing the grain bed from drying out until the “sparging” is complete. A lauter tun is essentially a strainer. Wort collects in the foundation space beneath the false bottom and exits through the valve, where it collects in the boiling kettle. The 35-year-old Dempster explained each step down to the minuscule detail. Dempster cut his teeth at Greenpoint Beer Works in New York followed by Buoy Brewing in Astoria, Oregon before helping launch Graff Brygghus in Norway. With his childhood memories firmly planted in Gig Harbor, Dempster caught wind of Wingman’s needs and voila! — he joined us in a round of “hot scotches” — our wort with bourbon.
When the sparge finished and the wort collected, we huddled around the hydrometer for our “Original Gravity” — unfermented wort’s density compared to water. A liquid with an Original Gravity of 1.064 is 1.064 times the density of water, which was our first reading — above our target gravity of 1.059. Measuring Specific Gravity (Original Gravity or Final Gravity) tells us how much of the soluble sugars were dissolved. Those sugars – maltose – come from malted grain. Since the measurement is taken fairly early in the brewing process, it’s possible to adjust the gravity by controlling the amount of grains being used. Final Gravity is the measurement after fermentation — after yeast ate much of the sugar in the fermenter. The difference between our OG and FG revealed how much sugar was converted into carbon dioxide and ethanol, which ended up 1.06 or 6.1% alcohol by volume, above our target. Oh, well.
Next, we transported the wort six feet to the kettle for the boil, which renders the wort free from any bacterial contamination. We tossed in 8 ounces of Cascade hops for bittering, moving around hot spots with a paddle. During the hour boil we removed the spent grain from the mash/lauter tun for future pick-up from a designated Puyallup pig farmer.
It was during this hour the craziness described in the beginnings of this tale went down, including Wingman unlocking the doors to the public. We tossed Tenang hops into the boil while Mike Bosold and Mick Wilcox of Click Wholesale Distributing tossed one-liners our way. We added vanilla bean at the end of the whirlpool as Morgan Alexander of Tacoma Brewing Co. borrowed bags of malt. As we cooled the wort for transfer to the fermenter a Click Distributing truck’s lift gate broke delaying Wingman’s kegs from reaching final destination. During Dempster’s examination of leftover kettle remnants and his announcing we’ll have a clean beer Thoburn trained new staff while the public drank. “Hey! We’re trying to brew here!” Brewers deal with distractions frequently.
Once our beer hit 70 degrees in the fermenter we pitched the British Pale yeast. After high-fives, and more beers, we pronounced the Peaks and Pints Perfect Proctor Porter process complete for the day.
A huge thanks to Ken Thoburn, Mike Dempster and the Wingman Brewers crew for brewing our first house beer — a delicious, vanilla British Porter.
The Peaks and Pints Perfect Proctor Porter will go on tap at our Tacoma Proctor neighborhood bottle shop, taproom and eatery when we open in early October.