Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Willimantic Brew Day

Secreted away at The Willimantic Brewing Company, in Willimantic, CT, David Wollner carries on a nearly 30 year affair with the Humulus Lupus. David has built a reputation as a hopcentric brewer who regularly has 3 or 4 variations on his IPA oeuvre on tap (what we like to call the Wollner Variations). Through constant experimentation he seems to have evolved an extra sensory sensitivity to hop profiling. Being the owner and brewer gives him absolute freedom to brew whatever strikes his fancy, the only constant on his beer board is his flagship Certified Gold.

Willimantic Brewing Company is located in the historic old Willimantic Post Office in the center of town that had sat vacant for close to 3 decades before David and his wife renovated it. They painstakingly restored and have maintained the structure and the postal theme. The other driving theme at Willimantic are the frogs you see all over the place that reference the local tale of "The Battle of Frog Pond".

David was waiting for us on an overcast Wednesday morning at 8:15AM with sacks of milled grain to brew his Summer S.A.S.E., a session ale brewed exclusively with Sybilla hops from Poland. David is a real stand up guy with an easy-zen-humor that puts you immediately at ease and the 7 barrel brewhouse is second nature to him. Within minutes we were up on the platform taking turns dumping sacks of grain in the mash/lauter tun and canoe paddling the thickening mash. We hit our mash temperature dead-on.

When David deemed the mash lump free, we trooped out across the parking lot to the local diner for breakfast sandwiches on Texas toast and got straight into a thoughtful interview that wound in and around the brew day.

When we got back to the brew house we were ready to sparge the mash and collect wort for the boil kettle. We grabbed a few garbage bins from the basement for the spent grain, where we snuck a peak at his Dickel bourbon barrels in which he has aging a double IPA, souring an Imperial Porter and propagating a solera-mother-funk-barrel that he adds whatever he deems worthy to. Next up was raking out the spent grain into the bins to be picked up by a local farmer.

While we waited on the kettle to fill with wort and then come to a boil, we ran the numbers on the Sybilla hops, which David had never used before, to determine our hopping schedule.

Next up was the boil and hop additions...

at the end of the boil, we whirlpooled and ran sanitizer through the fermenter.

When we had transferred all the boiled wort from the kettle it was boots on ...

for hopping in and scouring the inside of the kettle, it’s a sweaty but vital job. Lastly we harvested fresh yeast from the bottom of one of the fermentors and pitched it into the cooled wort.

Everything we sampled throughout the brew day demonstrated David’s assured experience and hop sensitivity: including a super dry, spicy saison fresh from the tank, a crisp Imperial Pilsner ale, and 2IPA, a lush, fruity hop bomb. What really floored us was his huge funky blend of intentionally soured Imperial Porter, vintage Willi Whammer barleywine and some of his solera funk that made for this really ponderous chocolate, oaky, lactic masterpiece.

Among other brewing memorabilia David has on prominent display in the brewhouse is a big picture of the 3 Stooges, stooging out with bottles of beer. The Stooge spirit seemed to increasingly pervade the brew day with everyone naturally adopting their respective personae (Nathan>Larry, Mike>Curly, David>Moe).

Thanks Moe.

We'll be posting a video tour, interview and recipe shortly.


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