He nods, satisfied.
“I’m real pleased with how that turned out.”
Turner, brewmaster at Maize Valley Brewery, had transferred the beer, a brandy-barrel-aged old stock ale, out of the aforementioned barrels a few days earlier.
The ale—a “big strong beer for wintertime” boasting a 12.5 percent ABV—was finishing up in a brite tank, waiting to be bottled and sent to judges at the Great American Beer Festival (October 5-7 in Denver).
Last year, Maize Valley won a silver medal at the prestigious competition for Monk in Public, a Belgian-style dark strong ale. The medal is draped over a chalkboard sign listing the beer in the taproom.
All of Maize Valley’s beers—from medal-winning favorites to seasonal one-offs—are born in a low white barn at the back of the parking lot.
Turner welcomed About magazine to the brewery in August to see how the magic is made.
At around 8:30 a.m. on a Thursday morning, Turner is hustling.
“The very beginning of the day is pretty hectic,” he said, alternating between checking a computer monitor, moving components on the brew pump system and climbing a short but steep staircase on a platform to access large giant steel tanks.
The barn is split between the brewing operation and storage for Maize Valley Winery. Tanks of different shapes and sizes line the walls on either side. A cart outfitted with hanging rods stores tubes, gaskets and pieces of steel and plastic—like a mobile tool shop pegboard.
A drain trench runs down the middle of the room. Beer is a wet, messy business.
Right now, Turner can make one 15-barrel batch (about 4,500 pints) at a time. The brewery is designed so production can be expanded in the future.
When we visited, Turner was crafting a batch of German Style Pilsner, one of the brewery’s most popular beers.
Beer has four main ingredients: water, malt, hops and yeast.
Different styles of beer use different types and amounts of those ingredients or include the addition of extras, such as lactose in milk stouts.
In production, malts (malted grains, such as barley) come first.
Turner typically uses malts imported from Germany for his German Pilsner. For the first time, this batch will feature farm-grown malts from Maize Valley.
“I’m curious to see how this one goes,” he said. “ I’m sure it’ll be fine. The malts are going great for us.”
At the start of the process, malts are prepared for brewing, a process called milling. Turner then adds the malts to the mash tun—one of the stainless steel tanks—where it combines with hot water to create mash. The enzymes in the grains break down into fermentable sugars, creating sweet wort that will go on to become beer, he explained.
With the computer system, Turner monitors the vitals of the beer. Factors such as temperature play a huge role in creating a great beer. In this stage of brewing, temperatures range between 140 to 160 degrees. A lower temperature results in a drier beer, while a higher temperature creates a beer that’s sweeter and more full-
At Maize Valley, tanks are temperature-controlled by a heating and cooling system that runs through jackets outside of the tanks, as well as an internal heating element called a calandria.
It’s not long before the mash is ready for the next step.
Lautering is where the spent grain is separated from the wort. It’s a multipart process. Some breweries transfer liquid to another vessel during this process, but Maize Valley uses a combination mash/lauter tun.
The first part of lautering is typically the mashout, where the temperature of the mixture is raised to stop the mash-to-wort reaction.
That’s followed by the vorlauf: wort is recirculated from the bottom of the tun back on top of the mash to set a grain bed, which acts as a filter to clarify the wort.
Turner crouches under the tanks and, using his phone as a makeshift flashlight, watches liquid circulate through the sight glass—basically a window into one of the pipes. He’s waiting for the wort to flow relatively clear, free of chunks of grains.
Folks think that brewers just develop recipes and drink beer all day. While that’s part of the job, brewers joke that “we’re just glorified janitors. Cleaning all day long and trying not to get burnt by boiling hot wort.” -Jake Turner
When Turner sees what he’s looking for, it’s time for the wort to run off from the tun to the boil kettle. As the liquid flows between the two containers, water is sprayed on to the grains in a rinsing process called sparging.
Sparging is done to collect the rest of the sugars from the malts. It continues until the liquid in the boil kettle has reached the right volume. As the kettle fills up, Turner periodically takes what looks like a plastic cup attached to a long stick and dips it into the wort.
He transfers a drop of wort onto a refractometer—it looks like a small black spyglass—and checks the sugar content. In essence, the more sugar in the wort, the higher the alcohol content of the beer when it’s finished, Turner explained.
The Pilsner will boil for 90 minutes. A typical beer boils for an hour, but Turner gives Pilsners an extra half-hour “more out of superstition than science at this point.”
He explained that brewers used to believe that Pilsners needed that extra boiling time. Research now shows it isn’t necessary.
“I’m funny like that. I shun a lot of the old methods of brewing that are completely unnecessary, but I still hold on to some of the traditional things,” he said.
Boiling sanitizes and concentrates the wort and is the part of the process where Turner adds hops. He measures pelleted hops, stored in a chest cooler, into a container using an electric scale and adds them throughout the boil process. A Pilsner requires far less hops than something such as an IPA. And when the hops are added in the process determines the characteristics of the beer.
Brew days are a mix of nonstop action and occasional reprieves. While the wort is boiling, Turner turns to cleaning the spent grain from the tun.
With the help of a hand cart, Turner positions a large blue bin under the opening of the tun. As he opens the door, pounds of spent grain come pouring out. It takes some finagling, and the help of a hose, to clear out the tun.
Maize Valley uses some of the spent grain to bake bread. The rest goes to a farmer who uses it as animal feed.
Cleaning and sanitation are a big part of Turner’s day. While the beer is doing its thing, Turner is sanitizing tanks and filters and squeegeeing the floor.
Folks think that brewers just develop recipes and drink beer all day. While that’s part of the job, brewers joke that “we’re just glorified janitors,” Turner laughed. “Cleaning all day long and trying not to get burnt by boiling hot wort.”
When the boil process is finished, the wort is transferred to a whirlpool where any remaining solids will be removed from the wort.
The wort is then immediately cooled down. Using a long section of hose, it’s transferred to fermenting tanks.
From there, Turner pitches (or adds) yeast. Like many breweries, Maize Valley often reuses yeast in several batches—this Pilsner uses yeast from a batch of Oktoberfest.
Over time, the wort will ferment and become beer. The spent yeast will drop in the lower section of the tank and Turner will transfer the Pilsner to brite tanks where the beer will continue to condition until it’s perfect.
Through the entire process, the temperature of the tanks is closely monitored. Small details like that make or break a beer.
Brewing is an exact science. It requires a lot of discipline—one reason why veterans like Turner are well-suited for the job, he said.
The beers at Maize Valley start, as many craft beers, with a recipe Turner creates using a brewing software.
He decides on a style of beer he’d like to brew, then researches that style exhaustively. He looks into the history and the typical ingredients and process that go into a style. He takes into consideration things such as water pH—Maize Valley’s water is hard, similar to the water in Munich, Germany—and tries to find beers in that style he enjoys. Then he puts his own twist on that style.
“Brewing very much is a mixture of chemistry and microbiology and art,” Turner said.
“I typically say that the guys you see working in a brew house are nerds. You have to really be interested in this and be really technical about this to do this job,” he said. “Most of the brewers I know are like me, they’re Star Wars geeks and nerds. Just guys that are obsessed with this.”
Big breweries can rely on marketing gimmicks and advertising budgets, but craft breweries have to be obsessed with quality.
“We’re here to make a high quality product that’s flavorful and delicious” that will keep consumers coming back to your brewery, Turner said.
“It’s an art, really. You’re taking my interpretation of this beer style and making my own and putting it out on the market, and hopefully you enjoy it.”