It's been about a year since Engine 15 first opened its doors, bringing its signature high-brow craft and import beer paired with delectably high calorie pub food to Jacksonville Beach. While we've been by a handful of times, I didn't want to write a post until I got the full Engine 15 experience. See, Engine 15 isn't your typical bar. Ignoring the 35 high-quality beers on tap and food with the right balance of proteins, fats, and carbs to complement an evening of alcohol fueled merriment, there is one thing that sets Engine 15 apart from all of the other gastropubs, brewpubs, and beer bars for hundreds of miles: you can become a brewer for a day and make your own beer on the premises.
Earlier this year I suggested to my boss that we should have a team brewing session at Engine 15 to celebrate a few recent milestones. Having a number of beer snobs on the team, the suggestion was well received and we made an appointment a couple months out. Due to demand, a lead time of a month or more is to be expected but, for anyone who's ever toyed with the idea of brewing their own beer, it's worth the wait.
Before I start rambling about our experiences making beer, let's make a quick detour for those not particularly interested in the brew-on-premises offerings from Engine 15. If you're just looking for a good drink or bar food then there's plenty at Engine 15 to be excited about. The beers are all top notch, spanning favorites from our local Jacksonville and Florida microbreweries through a myriad of craft brews from the Left Coast and all the way to ales made by Trappist Monks in Belgium. To help fend of any of the ill effects associated with the consumption of such beverages, Engine 15 offers a variety of appetizers, soups, and sandwiches. I'd suggest going with the beer brats or chili brats. Very few things complement a second beer better than a big juicy sausage. And trust me, you're going to want a second beer.
The consumption of beer is not required during the brewing process but is highly advised. Not only does it serve as a great motivator, it also helps take the edge of some of the drudgery. The first thing to keep in mind is cleanliness. The second thing to keep in mind is cleanliness. Everything is sanitized. After all, when your recipe involves encouraging a colony of microorganisms to multiply and consume the concoction you've prepared for them, you better be sure you haven't introduced any unfriendly competition.
Disclaimer: everything that follows is merely a brief recantation of our experience brewing beer at Engine 15 with some very simplistic explanations of the process. There are many good resources online detailing the history and process of brewing. To any experienced brewers reading this, please forgive me.
For the sake of time and convenience, many amateur home brewers use malt extract to make their beer. Malt is dried germinated grains. Malt extract is a thick syrup consisting of the sugars extracted from malted grains. At Engine 15 they employ a hybrid approach. First we ground up some malt, wrapped it in cheesecloth, and stuck it in the boiling waters of the brew kettle.
This part of the process is called mashing. The starches in the grain are broken down into sugars by the heat and the enzymes created during the malting process. What you end up with is a liquid called wort which is later filtered out of the mash. Since we didn't use a particularly large amount of actual malt, we supplemented our wort with the malt extract. To put it in crude terms, the wort is to beer what grape juice is to wine. It is the fermentable fuel upon which your carefully chosen strand of yeast is going to feast; converting sugars into ethanol.
The next part of the process calls for the addition of hops to the mix. Hops are the flower cones from the female Common hop (Humulus lupus) plant. Hops are used as a buttering agent to balance out the sweetness of the wort (which can still be a bit sweet even after fermentation) and for its antibiotic properties. There are many varieties of hops and they can be added to the wort at different times throughout the boiling process in order to impart different aromas and flavors.
Once the boiling process is complete, the wort is filtered, cooled, and transferred to a fermentation vessel. If I remember correctly, the yeast is added at this point and the vessel is sealed, not to be opened for three weeks or more as the yeast works on converting as many of the sugars in the wort into ethanol before dying of acute alcohol intoxication.
When the the fermentation process is complete, you must return to Engine 15 to bottle your brew. Again, cleanliness is key and everything is sanitized. Drinking beer while bottling is not required but is strongly recommended. Now I understand why some microbreweries don't bottle their beer. It's incredibly repetitive work but can be an enjoyable experience when armed with a pint and the knowledge that you're not going to be doing it very often (if ever again).
So here they are, the finished products: Ping Pong Pale Ale and Mess You Up Wheat. Both brews were pretty good and their character changed over the weeks they aged in the bottles.
Conclusion: do it. Overall it was a great experience, ideal for small teams if you have a group of interested friends or an employer who doesn't object to such activities. But even if you can't be bothered, you can always just head to Engine 15 for a good sausage and a great beer.
Engine 15 Brewing Company
1500 Beach Blvd. #217
Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250