Once in the park, visitors are transported back to the mid-19th century. Employees wear period costumes and all the labor is done by hand. There are no chainsaws here. Wood is split by hand by men swinging axes in blue overalls. That goes for the beer-making process as well — all done by the sweat of the brow (Photos: Carillon Brewing)
The Bonding Beverage
Planning a shul men’s social trip is never easy. A kehillah includes all kinds of personalities and interests, so the activity has to strike the right balance between light and serious, engaging and kosher. It also has to appeal to a wide range of ages, from a 70-year-old retiree to a 28-year-old straight out of kollel. Ideally, it will be the kind of activity where everyone walks away a little smarter.
So when the Ottensoser family of Congregation Zichron Eliezer in Cincinnati stumbled upon the Carillon Brewing Company in Dayton, Ohio, while researching a family trip for a friend, they hit the jackpot. Beer! A few weeks later, after we worked out certain kashrus issues with our shul rabbi, Rabbi Avrohom Weinrib, we were off on our brewing adventure.
People have been drinking beer for thousands of years. Ancient communities in the Far East and Middle East independently developed beer, which was enjoyed for its alcohol content as much as for its social-bonding properties. Beer, which is basically cereal grains and water that have undergone fermentation, was also safer to drink in many places than water, which was often contaminated. Since beer is boiled as part of the brewing process, many of the impurities are boiled out. Beer was often made at home, as part of the daily chores: feed the horses, fill the icebox, hang the laundry — and make the beer for the adults and children alike.
Beer has also been an important part of the American economy. There are currently more than 5,000 breweries in the United States that produce more than 200 million barrels every year.
The Carillon Brewing Company makes heirloom beer, brewed as it was made in 1850. It sits on the grounds of the Carillon Historical Park outside of Dayton, Ohio, whose most famous citizens were the Wright Brothers, the builders of the world’s first airplane. Their house has been moved to the park, where visitors can go back in time to see the inventors’ early days.
Once in the park, visitors are transported back to the mid-19th century. Employees wear period costumes and all the labor is done by hand. There are no chainsaws here. Wood is split by hand by men swinging axes in blue overalls. That goes for the beer-making process as well — all done by the sweat of the brow.
Making beer is a multistep process that includes milling the barley, drawing and heating the water, mashing the malt, boiling the mixture, adding hops, and then allowing the liquid to ferment. Our group met with the brewmaster and quickly got to work on the first step of the beer-making process — mashing. To condense brewing into the limited four hours of time our group had, Carillon had already milled the malted grain.
What is malted grain? It’s the product of a process that starts when brewers take cold, dry cereal grains (wheat, barley, rye) and cause them to sprout, releasing their enzymes. This is accomplished at the brewery by spreading the grain on the floor and soaking it with warm water over a two-week period. Brewers then dry that grain in an oven at a high temperature and use the resulting product for beer making.
Our first job was to take those crushed, malted grains, add them to a hot water kettle, and then break them apart by way of mashing. Carillon gave us big wooden paddles (the kind you might imagine were on row boats during World War II) and we started to stir the grain in large steel kettle pots that had been heated over a charcoal and wood fire. In fact, even the kettle pots were period products. Apparently, there’s a company in Williamsburg, Virginia, that still makes them the way they did 200 years ago.
Once the temperature was close to the boiling point, the mashing was ready to begin. Members of the group approached the pots and, using their paddles, made sure the grains did not clump together and form “dough balls.” (This is somewhat like smashing the remaining charred pieces of bread after bi’ur chometz.) Dough balls are dreaded by brewers because they don’t allow the enzymes and sugars in the grain to be released into the water mixture, which brewers call the “wort.” The art of the stirring was to break apart the dough balls while not splashing your friend with scalding water (no protective gear was provided — it was supposed to be 1850, after all).
Spice and Spirits
After mashing, we retreated to the large tap room for a tasting. The tap room was a simple space with wooden tables and high benches — the kind of place where the drafters of the Declaration of Independence might have sat, I imagined, beers in hand, debating their lofty document 240 years ago. We heard from the brewery team about Dayton’s history and how the beer-making process had evolved over the last 150 years or so.
The beer we had started that morning was an ale, one of the simplest beers to make. A home-brewing housewife back in the 19th century would have let sugar water mixed with malted grains sit out in the open for a couple of weeks until it fermented and turned into a brew. The beer we were making was a bit more complex, since the brewery also strains and reboils the beer after the initial step, then adds hops for flavoring, and leaves the beer in large rectangular basins for fermenting.
There are many kinds of beer, but today lagers are the most popular. The difference between an ale and a lager is that the latter requires cellaring and cold temperatures and takes longer to brew. Though Dayton breweries have been making lagers since 1852, Carillon only makes ales today. (That’s because recreating an 1852 lager would have required the brewery to dig under its historic building to build a cellar for the kind of cold temperatures needed.) The beer we had started was a spicy Rye Pale Ale, a combination of rye, barley, and wheat grains flavored with hops.
We sampled four beers that afternoon, all of which had been produced just that week. We started with coriander ale, a light pale ale with coriander seed and chili pepper, a concoction that was used as a medicinal beer 200 years ago. It was delicious and unique, the kick of the chili pepper lingering in the back of my throat for the duration of the visit.
After swishing our mouths clean with water, the brewery suggested we taste a Berliner Weisse, a tart wheat beer flavored with house-made raspberry syrup. At the mention of “raspberry syrup” all our ears perked up, since we knew that flavored beer can sometimes present kashrus issues. For help, we turned to Rabbi Weinrib (who in addition to being the shul rav, is also head of Cincinnati Kosher) and Rabbi Akiva Niehaus, who joined us for the day.
Rabbi Niehaus is a rabbinical coordinator at the Chicago Rabbinical Council (CRC) who specializes in the liquor industry. Prior to the tour, Rabbi Niehaus had researched how each Carillon beer is made and he peppered the beer makers with questions at the brewing site. At the end of the day, he gave us a fascinating shiur on kashrus issues that come up in the liquor industry. (He also provided an insight into the common minhag of saying “l’chayim” before drinking. According to some opinions, we do so because the forbidden fruit that Adam tasted was a grape. Since death was introduced into the world through Adam’s sin, we say “to life” before partaking of an alcoholic beverage.)
After asking the brewers some questions, Rabbi Weinrib and Rabbi Niehaus both decided the syrup was up to our standards. In the end, the Berliner Weisse had a very strong raspberry flavor, far stronger, for instance, than the popular Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat.
Next we tried a rye pale ale, the same kind we were making in our tour. It was complex and heavy, a cloudy brew that was a bit difficult to swallow.
We finished with the darkest beer offered, a porter. Roasted grain gives it a strong flavor, but this one was also sweet. Someone commented that it tasted like a dessert beer that would be great poured over ice cream.
Viking Hops Balance the Brew
We then trudged back to the working part of the brewery to complete our labor. Once the mashing is complete, the water mixture, or “wort,” is drained out of the with a strainer. Then the wort is placed into a new clean boil to be boiled again. During the boil, flavorings like herbs, spices, fruits, hops, coffee, chocolate, or artificial flavorings can be added. The purpose of boiling the water is to release some of the sugars, as fermenting without boiling first would result in a very sweet beer.
The Vikings discovered that using hops, a flower that grows on a tall vine, naturally flavors the beer. The bitterness of the hops balances out the sugar in the wort. There are hundreds of varieties of hops and in the 1800s brewers realized that hops also serve as a stabilizer that makes beer last longer — important at a time when no refrigeration existed. Indian Pale Ales “IPAs” — so named because they were sent on boats by the British to India — are so full of hops that they taste bitter to the palate.
Once our liquid was boiled and hops added, the mixture was cooled down by shoveling out the burning coals and wood underneath the . We helped shovel, which made us feel a bit like Kohanim in the Beis Hamikdash cleaning off the Mizbeiach for the next korban. After the beer hit room temperature, we put into fermentation barrels, where it would sit for two weeks before being bottled and sold.
That completed our “work” for the day, though some of the more eager men on the tour took the opportunity to help split logs for the next day’s group.
Not by Bread Alone
Remember those big s where we stirred and mashed the beer? The liquid was poured out but the grains remained behind. We now used some of that gooey mixture to make sourdough bread and crackers under the watchful eyes of Rabbi Weinrib and Rabbi Niehaus.
To start the bread-making process we took whole wheat flour, water, sourdough starter, and some leftover barley from the beer. The sourdough starter was made by the brewery 30 years ago by taking flour and water and allowing it to ferment over a matter of weeks. It has been “fed” with flour and water to keep it going since. Sourdough starters are treated with reverence by bakers and passed down in some families from generation to generation.
We added a few ounces of this natural starter to our whole–wheat-flour-and-water mixture, along with some of the barley that was used in the brewing process. Each participant took a turn in kneading the mixture to create a dough. Some of the men on the tour braided challah, making elaborate designs to impress their wives back home.
We placed the dough in an authentic brick oven heated by logs from trees that had been cut and split in the backyard of the brewery. Of course, the rabbis made sure that every step of the process would result in pas Yisrael. Once the wood was put into the oven, a long fire-starting blow straw was used to stoke the fire. Each half-loaf challah roll was then put on something that looked like a pole used for matzah baking and was placed in the oven, where it baked until it was ready to be cooled and brought home.
Although our lack of baking experience showed (the bread was hard and not so appetizing), it was the perfect way to end a long and productive day.
Yosef Zoimen is an attorney in private practice in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has been involved in the growth of the city’s Torah community. His previous article, “In the Footsteps of Greatness,” appeared in Mishpacha on August 9, 2017.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 699)
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