How Is A Coolship Beer Brewed? (Detailed PHOTOS)

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When drinking beer and being awestruck at the brewing process, nobody ever wants to imagine the random chance at foreign organisms bombarding the brew. But when the wort’s kicking it in a koelschip (coolship), it’s bound to happen.

And the Portland, Maine, Allagash Brewery outfit are no strangers to such obscene occurrences—they do around 10 koelschips ales a year. It’s not like this wort cooling can be done anytime—a small spot during winter. To succeed at this suds, the temperature has to be so low a brew isn’t beckoning microbes and wild yeast to drop by.

[MONDAY, 8 a.m.: Allagash Brewhouse Manager Branch Rothschild about to do a mash-in for coolship brew. Hot water’s added to crushed, malted barley and raw wheat to convert complex starches to simple sugars for fermentation. His “step-mas” approach (introduction of many infusions of increasingly hot water between pauses) extracts the commonly unwanted starches, tannins and polyphenols in beer. In this technique, such compounds are a food source for microbes. | Photo: Ethan Fixell]
If done correctly, artisan alers would bask in about 300 barrels of either Belgian-inspired lambic or the even-more-specific gueuze-style blend (up-to-three-year-old lambics). With those fond foams in mind, only one American brewery can toot trail-blazer status—again, Allagash. Their cherry-aged Coolship Cerise and Coolship Resurgam are quite the koel concepts.

It was 2008 when Allagash was enacted as the first, American, commercial crafters to burgeon a koelschip. A trek to Belgium was in the cards for those who craved this style in earlier years. Brussels’ Brasserie Cantillon is certainly among Belgian brewers who’ve been stewing up suds in exposed vats for hundreds of years (Cantillon Est. 1900).

Upon Allagash and Belgian brewmasters tailoring the tradition to American mouthpieces, around 24 breweries have jumped on the koelschip bandwagon. Now, this trend’s taking the US by storm—American-coolship style.

Kicking off #drinkitnow with a Coolship Resurgam. Todd first got this 2011 bottle when he started here at Allagash. Cheers!

A post shared by Allagash Brewing Company (@allagashbrewing) on

[Source: Instagram/Allagash Brewery]

“Many brewers are interested in beers that are uniquely tied to time and place, and 100-percent spontaneous fermentation is a great way to go about this,” Jester King Brewery Founder Jeffrey Stuffing explained in an interview. His Austin-based brewery is infamous for wild ales and comes in first in terms of a large flow of US coolship-brewed beer.

Oxford’s OEC Brewing Assistant Brewer Dave Linari concurred. “It adds to our house terroir,” Linari said about their coolship—part of a winemaker’s repertoire and normally reserved for referencing the climate, soil and other elements that go into flavor and aroma. “Wild fermentation also allows for more creativity than clean-fermentation techniques and opens up a world of flavors and aromas,” he added. The coolship process enables beer to acquire complexities while aging, grabbing flavors from the barrel’s remnants of previous liquids, merging with microorganisms in the wood, oxidizing at a slow rate.

Coolships are rather easy implementations—cleaning’s quick too—but this process requires much time and tending to. (Air+beer can equal bad news.) However, it’s all worth it in terms of personal achievement for coolshippers. Believe it or not, many gravitate toward this technique over the quick-and-penny-pinching kettle souring. “In my experience, there’s just no shortcut when it comes to creating the complexity you get from spontaneous fermentation with wild yeast and bacteria,” Stuffings elaborated. “The difference in flavor, aroma, mouthfeel is night and day.”

If interested or a proponent of this beer, check out the step-by-step journey at Allagash. Their team immerses themselves into a system of combining and heating grain—from mash to the point of beer barreled for aging.

[8:15 a.m.: All Allagash coolships start with around 1,050 pound of grain (60-percent pilsner-base malt and 40 percent white, un-malted wheat) are carefully put into the mash tun. Unlike other mash-tun temps. (150 degrees), this mash goes for 115. Because it’s a thicker-than-normal mash, the mix paddle’s really having to work. | Photo: Ethan Fixell]
[8:41 a.m.: Brewmaster Jason Perkins adds the first infusion of water (195 degrees). This is done every 15 minutes with increasingly hotter water. This increases the mixture’s temperature’s entirety. Pauses are needed to stabilize specific levels of acid, protein and saccharification. | Photo: Ethan Fixell]
[9:38 a.m.: About three-quarters of the now-liquid mash is transferred to the lauter tun (a grain-from-liquid separator) where it will rest at 150 degrees to hold enzymes. The remaining amount (about a quarter) is decocted (raise the temp. to extract more from the mash). | Photo: Ethan Fixell]
[10:15 a.m.: The last quarter is transferred from the mash-mixer vessel to the lauter tun. The now-empty mash-mixer vessel is rinsed with hot water to be used as the last infusion to bring the mash to 212 degrees. For the mash to be sparged (hydration) and lautered (dehydration), it takes about two hours. Therein will be the wort to be fermented and turned into beer. | Photo: Ethan Fixell]
[11 a.m.: Forty-five minutes into the sparging and lautering, Perkins weighs out some aged hops and buckets them. | Photo: Ethan Fixell]
[12:28 p.m.: Once the wort has been completely lautered and drained from the tun, it goes into a brew kettle to be heated once more. Add hops to the wort and leave it all to boil for a good while—three-and-a-half hours. The heavy time is needed to boil the cheesy odor from the aged hops, which are being used only as a preservative. | Photo: Ethan Fixell]
[4:15 p.m.: The boiled wort is finally ready to cool off in the koelschip. Here, it is pumped through pipes into the open vessel, which sits in an outdoor shack. When the cold temperature meets the hot-liquid vapor, a intense fog emerges as the koelschip is filled—a 45-minute process. | Photo: Ethan Fixell]
[Tuesday, 7:45 a.m.: In this instance, the outside temperature dropped lower than expected, the koelschip will need to be emptied earlier than planned—or the temp. could drop too low. | Photo: Ethan Fixell]
[8:40 a.m.: Senior Brewer Evan Culver takes the cooled wort’s temperature. In this instance, it’s at 66 degrees, which is a bit too cool for Allagash, but it’s still within the safe range (64-70 degrees) that’s considered appropriate when emptying a koeschip. | Photo: Ethan Fixell]
[8:45 a.m.: In order to completely drain the koelschip’s contents into a holding tank, Culver hooks up a hose… | Photo: Ethan Fixell]
[9:30 a.m.: After the koelschip was drained, Culver took a sample to the lab. The gravity (sugar content) read at 11-degrees Plato—i.e., six-percent ABV when fermentation is complete (bingo). | Photo: Ethan Fixell]
[9:45 a.m.: Culver transfers the liquid into neutral, wine barrels that have been steamed and rinsed. In one-to-three years…enjoyment! | Photo: Ethan Fixell]
[Tuesday, 10:30 a.m.: While waiting, there’s always the previous year’s stash, ha! | Photo: Ethan Fixell]


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