Stable Craft’s Brewing Process: A Labor of Love

Malted barley waiting for the mill.

Stable Craft Brewing just expanded its market by over 50% and can now be found in a local Virginia retailer near you. Take a look behind the scenes, as we talk about our brewing process.

Craft breweries are incredibly popular, especially in Virginia, but few may know the actual extent of what it takes to make beer. Fortunately, Chris Fann, head brewer at Stable Craft Brewing, possesses a wealth of knowledge and is willing to share it.

Fann has been the head brewer at Stable Craft for over a year, but his experience in the industry goes back almost five years. He started by cleaning kegs and worked his way up to brewing beer. Fann now makes all of the recipes for Stable Craft, which has 16 beers on tap in the brewery’s tasting room with a new small batch release every other week. These beers are also available in restaurants, bars and taverns and, just recently, in bottles at grocery and convenience stores.

Chris Fann starts the brewing process off by measuring out various malts and adding them to mill.

Chris Fann adding various malts to the mill.

I like tasting the nuisances in craft beer and then creating those nuisances myself, Fann said.

The brewing process starts at Stable Craft when Fann and Issac Peglow, assistant brewer, fill the mash tun, a device used to convert starches from crushed grains into sugars for fermentation, with water being added until the water level in the machine is above its false bottom. Once the false bottom is covered, Fann adds malt to the mill.

Malt is a germinated cereal grain that has been dried. The specific type of malt used in the brewery’s Appalachian Divide, an easy drinking ale, is sour malt.

The mash tun – hot water is added to the malts here.

As the malt enters the mash tun, it is sprayed with water via the mash hydrator. Fortunately, Stable Craft operates on well water and is not required to go through the extra steps city water requires, such as chloride filtration.

The mash rake, which looks like an enormous fork, rotates in a perfect circle to mix the grain evenly in the mash tun. The rake prevents “dough balls” that could otherwise form, Fann said.

Once mashing is finished, the brewer rests the product for 20 minutes before moving onto the next stage, known as vorlauf. Vorlauf is when the wort, or liquid extracted from mashing, is clarified. In practice, vorlauf simply looks like the mixture is recirculated with the mash rake.

After vorlauf, the next stage of brewing is sparging, and it takes about an hour and a half to sparge the beer. For sparging, water is added to the top of the grain bed, and, subsequently, the wort is gravity fed into the kettle. The brewer adds hops to the mash in the kettle.

Katherine Hensley taking notes on the brewing process.

Ten minutes before the boil is complete in the kettle, Fann also adds a yeast nutrient and Whirlfloc, an Irish moss blend, which acts as a kettle fining agent by pulling trub, or unwanted sediment, to the bottom of the kettle.

The mixture goes through a 10-minute whirlpool after boiling. This is when the Whirlfloc does its job and pulls unwanted materials to the bottom of the kettle. The mixture rests for 20 minutes after the whirlpool.

Between boiling and fermentation, Fann runs hot water to sanitize the heat exchanger. The fermentation tanks have already been sanitized beforehand and are ready to go. A blow-off tube is placed in a bucket filled with water beside the fermentation tank for the carbon dioxide given off by the yeast during the fermentation process.

The wort is pumped from the bottom of the kettle into the heat exchanger and then, lastly, into the fermentation tank. Fermentation takes about a week for Appalachian Divide. During this time, the yeast will convert the sugars in the wort to alcohol and carbon dioxide.

After fermentation, Appalachian Divide is filtered and moved into a bright beer tank where it stays for about a day. The level of carbon dioxide is adjusted in the bright beer tank with a carbonation stone.

The final step is bottling or kegging Appalachian Divide and distributing it to Virginia’s craft beer drinkers.

appalachian Divide

The finished product, ready to enjoy.