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Making beer is as fun as drinking

Melissa Topey • Oct 28, 2013 at 11:36 AM

I normally don’t schedule an “On The Job” assignment for 8 a.m.

But I was in the parking lot of Catawba Island Brewing Co. at that precise time, not one minute later.

I was ready to make some beer.

Catawba Island Brewing is operated by native Catawba Island Township resident Mike Roder and longtime islanders Shad and Cindy Gunderson.

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Mike Reynolds, head brewer, and Shad Gunderson, also the fermentologist, taught me everything I would need to know to craft an excellent beverage. I could become quite popular with my colleagues in the newsroom.

Reynolds likes to brew because, even though the work is very precise, it allows him to be creative.

It’s also satisfying when customers like the beer he makes.    

I was about to find out about the precision required for craft beer brewing.

We were going to make a small batch of their Test Fire Triple.

We were aiming for a 9 or 10 percent alcohol content.

Because this was a small batch, we would do most of the work ourselves. A normal batch is much larger and is more automated. But where’s the fun in that?

I measured out a heap of malted barley. I can’t tell you amounts —that would be giving away the recipe — but I can tell you it is a pale ale base with two other types of barley.

Alongside Matt Ritter, the assistant brewer, I set about cracking a lot of grain. I poured small amounts of the mix repeatedly into a small mill while Ritter operated it with a drill.

The final cracked barley is grist, Ritter said. The grain is cracked so that when it’s steeped in water, the flavors and sugars are more readily released.

Reynolds and I moved to the next process. He added 162-degree water while I used a paddle to stir the grist into a mash.

“Have you ever rowed a boat?” Reynolds asked.

“No,” I said.

“That makes sense. Your paddling is eclectic,” he teased.

All I know is the step will make your shoulders hurt quickly.

“Shad, do you have a bowl? This smells like oatmeal. Just give me some butter,” I said.

“I know, right,” Gunderson said.

The smell filled the brewing room. The mixture sat for an hour before being transferred on to steps with names like vourlauf and brightening, and then on to the fermentation tanks.

It will take weeks to finish the brew and taste the rewards of my work.

I will be back, guys. Save me a pint.

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