On a bright brisk morning , the Lady Ellamie and Liquor Claus are headed East into the foothills, just past Placerville, CA in a town called Camino, where a brew day is starting. Not an ordinary brew day, but one open to a select few visitor-participants. Jack Russell Farm Brewery opened its doors to friends of The Brewmeister, a home brew shop in Folsom. The crunchy gravel begs you to drive slowly up the black berry lined path, and the long open green was just being set up for the Corn Hole tournament.
Inside, the brewer was explaining how the grain, freshly milled and hefted out of 50 pound bags, was being conveyed via an auger shaft into the mash tun.
The hot liquor tank was set to start wetting down the grain as all 850
pounds of base malt was dumped into the tun. The hot liquor (water destined to become beer) was in the mid 160 range. At this brewery the mash tun has no means of being heated, and the brewer must determine the temperature of the liquor in order to hit the target mash temp, after fully soaking the grist. If you miss your mash in temp, you risk a less controlled beer. During the mash, many magical things are happening. One of which is the production of Alpha and Beta Amylase. These enzymes convert starch to sugar. Sugar is what the yeast will gobble up and turn into alcohol and CO2, so you can imagine the importance of these enzymes! Their proportions vary, depending on the temperature. A higher temperature range will yield Alpha amylase, which is a predictable starch cleaver. It is selective about where the long carbon chain is broken up into more simple sugars and tends to leave shorter more fermentable carbon chains, resulting in more fully digested sugars and a drier beer. The beta amylase, present at lower temps, chops the chain more randomly, leaving short as well as long chains which require much more time to break down. It is these less digestible chains which are harder to predict and add more (sometimes unwanted) flavors and body to the beer. If you miss your target temp, you may have a drinkable beer, but it may not be what you were expecting.
The mash is then held at temperature for 45-90 minutes, depending on the style and pH. At this time, all the sugars have been pulled out of the grain and into the wort. This denser liquid gets pushed down towards the bottom as the sparge water is applied. The sparge, or rinse water, continues to pull sugars out of the grain. A clarifying recirculation technique, called vorlauf, takes the wort from the base of the tun and pumps it into a cylinder. It is then carefully pumped back into the tun. The grains and husks now act as a clarifying filter. After vorlauf, it is transferred via pump into the kettle. The brewer, who had an impressive CV, had once brewed for Anheiser Busch in Germany. There, he exclaimed, vorlauf continues until the wort is so clear “you could read a book through it”.
It is then transferred to one of the uni-tanks which serve as fermenters and brite tanks which hold the beer until they are ready for kegs or bottles.
Their Italian bottling line was outdated, and required ingenuity on the part of local craftsmen to create the missing parts so they could convert to bottling 22 oz.
As the boil started we had ample time to take a break and check out the brewery and grounds. Sitting on 5 acres, Jack Russel has a host of berries planted including raspberry, blackberry, boysenberry and enormous blueberries! Do yourself a favor: buy a plastic basket at the bar and pick your berries by the handful. One of the laws of the lands in these parts ensures that breweries and wineries use the crops that they grow.
In addition to beer, they conjure up mead, cider, cyser, melomels, wine and every conceivable blend of the fruit grown on site. In the back there is a hand stucco’ed cave, with an artful bar which was at constant hustle, pouring samples of all 9 creations.
The tap room hosted 13 styles, with tasters, pint sizes and my new favorite, the 8 oz pour.
As you look out past their property and on to the neighbors pasture, you can watch llama and sheep frolic and bleat for hours. Or you can watch the locals cheer each other on in Corn Hole, a game of bean bags toss where the objective is to get it onto the platform and slide it right up into the hole. The names of the types of points awarded are hilarious, and people take this seriously.
Overall, Jack Russell is a fun trip to make. Families are encouraged and food and music are not uncommon, but always check their facebook page for details of the on-goings. Bring a picnic, pick a basket of berries, and try some new beverages! They have locally based juices in the tap room as well.
Thank you to Liquor Claus for photos and company!