With the Co-Hops Beer Festival coming up on September 6th, we have decided to visit a couple of breweries here in the triad to feature their unique brewing styles on the blog and get to know the faces behind the beer.
Our first stop was Natty Greene's Brewing Company
Natty Greene’s brewery is located at 1918 W. Lee St. in Greensboro and offers public tours every Friday from 5-9 (they also have a brewhouse on Elm Street). The brewery opened in 2006 and their production facility expanded four years later due to increasing demand for their delicious craft beer. Natty Greene’s is America’s 30th fastest growing craft beer brand and the facility uses 20,000+ barrel capacity for brewing! One batch of beer at Natty Greene’s consists of 525 gallons and the brewery produces 16,000 barrels every year.
Meet Joe Pawelek, the Lead Brewer at Natty Greene’s (side note: he also used to work here at the co-op).Joe has been working at Natty Greene’s for two years and knows all there is to know about brewing from start to finish. I had no idea the complex process involved in brewing beer, especially in bulk quantities. And at the same time, the main ingredients are rather simple and basic: malted barley, hop flowers, yeast and water. With those four ingredients (and many variations of grains and hops), brewers can brew dozens of different kinds of beers with very different flavors and after tastes. Craft brewing truly is an art!
Just the process of creating malted barley is very involved. You start by soaking the grain, which then sprouts and is dried in a kiln (at varying temperatures depending on the lightness or darkness of the malts).
The next process is hydrolysis where water is added to the cracked barley.
“You bring in the warm water with the grain and you actually awaken these enzymes,” said Joe. “They start to breakdown and convert long-chained sugars into shorter chained sugars that the yeast is going to digest just a few hours after we brew it.”
Joe explained that there are two enzymes they’re enabling: alpha amylase and beta amylase. These enzymes create maltose and sucrose to break down the longer chains into fermentable sugars.
“In the Buckshot Amber [Natty Greene’s most popular beer], we’ve got maltodextrins which are unfermentable by brewer’s yeast which means that’s going to be the body of the beer,” explained Joe. “So if you drink a beer or you have something like a cider or a champagne that’s really dry, those are all simple-chain sugars (fructose), which are all fermented, so your beer is going to be really dry. The thing about barley is that when you caramelize the malt and roast the malt, you have residual sugars that end up being the body of the beer.”
After mashing, the temperatures are increased and the mixture is drained slowly (like a coffee filter). Next, the mixture goes into the kettle where it is boiled for 90 minutes. This is when hops is added. Joe explained that there are many varieties of hops used for different purposes.
“There’s hops for bittering, for flavoring, for aroma and the point at which you add them during the brewing process depicts what they are going to do,” said Joe. Natty Greene’s uses Chinook Hops, which are used for bittering and flavoring (and some for aroma depending on the style).
During the kettle process, the beer is sterilized and polyphenols and undesirable compounds are evaporated. The next step is the whirlpool followed by transferring the mixture (called wort) to stainless steel tanks for fermentation. For this phase, the brewer’s yeast is added, which feeds on the sugar created during the mashing process, which creates alcohol and CO2. To determine the power of the beer, it is measured by taking a reading using a hydrometer or refractometer that measures the percentage of sugar in solution.
“As we track it throughout fermentation we can see that, one, fermentation is actually happening,” said Joe. “And two, we need it to get down to a certain degree of plato. We use math to figure out the percentage of alcohol.”
The last step is carbonation. Before beer is packaged, there are multiple tests to make sure the taste, carbonation and oxygen-levels are consistent and meet all the necessary standards. After that, the beers are bottled, kegged, packaged and shipped directly from Natty Greene’s brewery.
It’s lot of work to get just one batch of beer, but it’s definitely worth it. The result is a perfectly-crafted, artfully-brewed and delicious product with many different variations that appeal to many different pallets.
We hope you’ll participate in this year’s annual Co-Hops Beer Festival on September 6th and learn more for yourself about Natty Greene’s.