Bow & Arrow gets to have a little experimental fun on its pilot system

This little three-vessel, 1-barrel pilot system is doing important work at Bow & Arrow Brewing.

Even amid a tight production schedule, it is always nice for brewers to take a short break and indulge their inner mad scientists when creating something new and different.

The brewers at Bow & Arrow Brewing have had that chance over the last couple months, as they have been able to take full advantage of a small pilot system that has been tucked away in the brewery for quite some time, but never used to its full potential.

“We’ve always had the Ruby Street 1-barrel pilot system,” head brewer Ted O’Hanlan said. “I used it for yeast propagation for years. I used that in our production fermenters. We got to the point where we were canning enough beers and having enough SKUs coming out all the time, we felt like it would probably be best for us to invest in a 1-barrel uni-tank that we could use for experimental batches. Anytime that you’re adjuncting a beer it’s always very difficult to get the ingredient levels correct on the first go-around. We felt the pilot tank would be good for that.”

The other reason the pilot system was not being used to make beer was the lack of a properly sized fermenter in which to put any brewed beer.

“They were out of stock for a long time,” O’Hanlan said. “We (finally) got an SS Brew Tech tank that’s really nice. I would say that came in like May, probably, and then immediately our glycol chiller that we have took a nosedive on us. It took me, with everything I do in the brewery, in my free time a couple months to fix the glycol chiller. So we really got it into (brewing) about eight weeks ago or so.”

The first few batches on the pilot system were less about experimentation and more about just working out any and all kinks.

“We did a hefe trial batch, a grodziskie trial batch, we did a kolsch, pretty simple stuff to begin with as we’re dialing in the efficiencies on it,” O’Hanlan said. “We just now have our first really experimental beer that’s finishing up fermentation right now, which is a paleta-inspired sour (with) watermelon, lime, and chile. It’s great because we can our work on our adjuncting levels, but also we can take chances with some other souring agents or yeast that we don’t normally use on our production system.”

Fun new beers will be fermenting in this little guy.

All right, put your science hats on, and have Google at the ready, because this is where a brewer really geeks out about yeast.

“We’re in the middle of trialing right now yeast that’s sour in primary fermentation,” O’Hanlan said. “Lallemand has put two out in the market recently, one is a wild yeast that’s (called) Philly Sour, and we’re trialing that. And then, we’re going to trial Sourvisiae, which is their genetically modified (yeast). It’s a saccharomyces (where) there’s a gene that inhibits the pH dropping below a certain amount, so they just turned that gene off, so it just sours like a lactobacillus would, but it’s still a saccharomyces and you just clean it with your regular cleaning regimen. I’ve been talking to some other brewers who use it and trying to figure out pitching rates and reuse, things that you think about in a commercial environment. This will be the first trial on that. I’m really excited. It’s about done.”

O’Hanlan said no one should be worried about GMO yeast, as it is nothing like GMO crops or anything of that sort.

“I think the idea of GMO is misunderstood,” he said. “They think of Monsanto and farmers losing their corn crop. It’s not how GMO typically works. We’ve been modifying things for centuries.”

These new yeast strains will be able to modify the malts and hops, and are already proving to be quite popular among brewers across the country. Having a pilot system will help Bow & Arrow figure out which to use in future beers that could go to market via the main production brewhouse.

“We’re excited for it,” O’Hanlan said. “That’s the series of beers that are coming out of the tank are called Beer League. We’ll see how the series evolves over time. We discussed not only doing experimental, for the sake of learning about stuff, but also doing some really small-scale speciality beers that we can offer exclusively to members, like a mug club. We’ve also talked about doing a bottle subscription club, exclusive bottles just for members as well. We’re trying to figure out where that fits into our regular production. We’re still just trying to scrape by on the skin of our teeth right now while waiting for our new tanks to get here.”

As for those new tanks, well, that it is a story for another day, specifically this coming Monday. In the meantime, we thank Ted for the interview, and look forward to seeing just what he and his staff can create in small batches in the weeks and months ahead.

Keep supporting local!

— Stoutmeister

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