Six months after opening, Sean Burke is finally filling hundreds of oak barrels full of beer for a long slumber. Burke, who cut his teeth on farmhouse and wild fermentations at the late lamented The Commons Brewery, is now christening his first coolship at Von Ebert Brewing’s Eastside brewpub, where he will develop an oak-heavy sour beer program and refined German-style lagers. Earlier this week, on a cool crisp night, Burke and company launched the “SS Rad Boat” on its maiden voyage, and I was there to witness this sink or swim, all-night operation first hand.
The first voyage of the Von Ebert coolship (nicknamed the SS Rad Boat) was a pretty traditional Lambic-style wort for sour beer fermentation (though don’t call it Lambic, since it’s not from Belgium). The malt bill was made up of 60% Mecca Grade Gateway Malt and 40% Mecca Grade Raw White Wheat. It went through a multi-step turbid step mash and the wort was twice taken out of the primary mash to be held at 190°F in Von Ebert East’s new “cooker” to de-nature the enzymes.
“This was then added back to the mash to raise the temperature for a mash-out at the end. We sparged with 190°F water, then boiled for 3 hours,” says brewmaster Sean Burke. One element of traditional lambic production that did not quite pan out was properly well-aged hops; the brewery is just too young to have them, so instead they used de-bittered hops at a rate of .52lbs per barrel.
Boiling hot wort fills the coolship at Von Ebert Brewing East
The coolship–which holds about 10 barrels of beer–is on wheels, and the brewers rolled it over to the loading dock doors as they filled the steel horizontal vessel around 7pm in the evening. The late brew day and winter start is beneficial for spontaneous fermentation, since the coolship is filled with boiling hot wort that will cool naturally in the chilly nighttime temps. Burke left the garage doors open halfway to let the air in, but still make it a little more difficult for someone to just walk in off the street. The cooling process even in those temperatures would likely take around 14 hours, so Burke and his team camped overnight in the brewery to monitor the process. In that timeframe, and with the green outdoorsy location at Glendoveer Golf Course, Burke is hopeful that enough micro-flora/native yeasts will float in through the air to homogenize with the wort (rather than just the surface) to create a mixed culture fermentation of wild yeasts and bacteria.
After inoculation and signs of fermentation, the fermenting wort will be moved into Von Ebert East’s new 500 L puncheons where they will slowly ferment and age. A puncheon is a short, fat, upright oak cask used for fermentation, often in the production of wine and sour or mixed culture ales. Along with the larger oak foeders, Burke and the team at Von Ebert Brewing Eastside have just begun filling them and had already completed six beers as of earlier this week. The first of those was a Northern German-style Pils called Taufe Pils. “In German, Taufe means christening or baptism. It seemed fitting for the first beer,” says Burke. They brewed a double batch of the Pils over two days so they could dial in their grain mill gap, and if the first brew needed some tweaking they could make changes on the second batch and later blend them together.
After the initial “clean” beer, Burke and crew got into the farmhouse ales with two heritage beers that both ended up in shallow open top foeders. “We fermented in these with two different saccharomyces strains for 4 days then moved them to stainless to finish up. These will get blended to taste but also be used to start filling 500L puncheons,” says Burke.
Von Ebert Brewing East is a very different beast than the older westside Von Ebert location in the Pearl District. There fellow Commons Brewery alum Sam Pecoraro is the head brewer and focuses on clean beers and more American, classical, and new school styles. Pecoraro and Burke share notes and collaborate, so each brewery is separate but part of a larger picture. At Von Ebert west, Pecoraro has a much larger brewhouse and production for more mainstream ales and lagers, while Burke is now brewing on a 7bbl JVNW system.
“It has what we call 3.5 vessels,” says Burke, describing his brewhouse on the eastside. “The mash mixer and kettle are the same vessel, there is a separate lauter tun and a separate whirlpool. We also have a smaller steam jacketed “cooker” which is where the .5 comes from. This vessel allows us to do turbid mashes, decoctions, cereal cooking, etc. We can also use it as a CIP tank.”
foeders and barrels at Von Ebert Brewing East
While the single batch production at Von Ebert East is not huge, the amount of oak for fermentation and aging is much more substantial. “The goal was to have a variety of sources to pull from for blending,” says Burke. “For example, we may blend a spontaneous fermented beer with a mixed culture beer, etc. We are not bound to any one way of making these types of beers.”
Burke is joined now by Jason Hansen, formerly of Sante Adairius Rustic Ales in Santa Cruz and recently worked at the new Garden Path Fermentation in Washington. Between Burke, Pecoraro and Hansen, an all-star team and collaborative working environment seem primed to create the regions next great versatile brewery with a mastery of many distinct styles from spontaneous fermented coolship beers to rustic German-style lagers and everything in-between.
Von Ebert Brewing – East
14021 NE Glisan St, Portland, OR 97230
Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding.