This weekend, Sarah and I joined our friends Thom and Amanda in a very Oregon adventure: homebrewing a Northwest IPA on Oregon’s Metolius River. The headwaters of the Metolius are about 10 miles East of Sisters, Oregon and about a 3-hour drive from Portland.
As the sign in the parking lot says, “Down this path, a full-sized river, the Metolius, flows ice cold from huge springs. The springs appear to originate from beneath Black Butte. However, geologists say this is misleading, and believe the springs have their origins in the Cascade Mountains to the West. The unusual fault which created Green Ridge is thought to have brought the springs to the surface, thus releasing the beautiful Metolius River.”
The headwaters are actually on private property, so we headed a little farther downstream to set up our temporary brewery and find someplace to pitch our tents for the night.
Thom and I brought all the equipment we’d need – the same sort of stuff you need when brewing in a kitchen, plus a large propane tank and burner (from the Bayou Classic turkey fryer) with which to boil and sterilize the water. And yes, we were car camping. I can’t even imagine how much all this would weigh if you were backpacking. It took 4 of us a couple trips each to lug it all down to the water’s edge. Perhaps REI could be induced to develop a titanium kit for $1500 or so.
We drew all the water for the brew directly from the icy waters. It was crystal clear, having just emerged from its underground source, but we boiled it anyway, lest we end up brewing Giardia Pale Ale. As river-brewer Tom Petty once said, “the wading is the hardest part.” Not only was it extremely cold, but the bottom of the river was covered in sharp rocks whose pain required a significant quantity of alcohol to ease.
We began the brew by steeping some grain @ 150 degrees for an hour. We used 1 pound of organic Crystal Malt, and another 1/2 pound of chocolate malt from Steinbart’s in Portland.
While we waited, Sarah filtered some water with which to sterilize the carboy we’d be filling with our river wort. Thom uses a no-rinse sterilizer for his brewing, which was nice given the work required to filter water. Well, it seemed like a lot of work to me, but you’d have to ask Sarah.
Jasper was a good source of entertainment (and a wealth of brewing trivia) as the river and the afternoon rolled on.
Once the grain had steeped for an hour, we pulled it, sparged (rinsed) it, and began adding organic dried light malt extract (DME).
We used a lot of malt, which required a fair amount of stirring to work it all in.
A little more extract brought the total to eight pounds, and we cranked up the heat. This beer is going to have a kick.
Once the wort was boiling (and done foaming over), we added about 1.5 oz. boiling hops, some Fuggles from Nicole and Tyler’s backyard, supplemented with Dave’s Special Backyard Blend of Cascade and Mt. Hood.
I’ve been harvesting about half a grocery sack-ful from the pergola almost every night for the last two weeks, and these hops smell as good as they look.
We added about 2 oz. more of Dave’s Blend for the final 10 minutes of boiling, and another 2 oz. in the last minute. Did I mention I like hops?
Apparently, Amanda does, too.
With the last dose of hops, the wort was done. We quickly rinsed the hops of the wort they’d absorbed in the boil (mustn’t waste wort), and carried the pot to the river to cool it quickly. The Metolius was about 55 degrees, and cooled the wort quickly.
We had already put the carboy (already partway-full of pre-boiled water) in the river for cooling.
Once the wort had cooled, we combined it with the water in the carboy by straining it through a funnel to remove any debris (hops, barley hulls, fish eggs).
The combined wort now in the 6.5 gallon carboy, Thom and Amanda returned the container to the Metolius to rest overnight.
The next morning, after packing up the cars, Thom and I returned one last time to the frigid waters to retrieve the carboy.
Jasper led Thom and I back to the cars, the two carriers pausing often to curse the weight of 6.5 gallons of proto-beer heavy on our river-lacerated feet.
Finally, we reached the road and buckled the wort in for a long ride in Thom and Amanda’s Volvo, up and over the 4800-foot high Metolius Pass. Seat belts are required by Oregon law.
As it turned out, it was a good thing we buckled the beer in. Thom pulled away quickly, leaving Sarah, Jasper and I in the dust on the drive back to Portland. Thom’s lead foot would lead to a run-in with the State Police on the way back, drawing a $140 ticket for going 78mph in a 55.
Still, I think Thom would say it was all worth it. I know I would. As we brewed and drank Oregon beer in a postcard setting, we imagined all the other Oregon rivers we could brew in. I’m sure this wasn’t our last riverside brew.
Epilogue: Monday night, I pitched 2 smack packs of Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale Yeast. I doubled up just in case a stray bacteria or three made it into the wort en route to my basement. The introduction of 200 billion competitors should give any volunteer yeast a run for their malt.
Original Gravity: 1.054 @ 70 degrees F
Sweet, nicely bittered wort with a little floral hop aroma and slighly oily mouthfeel. This should be a very interesting beer.