Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bitter & Esters

Thanks to Clara for snapping this photo!
Bitter & Esters is a new shop in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn which does three distinctly different but connected things. It is:

1. a homebrew supply shop;
2. a brew on premises business;
3. a classroom, teaching people how to make beer, and other things that ferment.

We met John and Douglas at their shop located at 700 Washington Ave. in Brooklyn to check out the store, their equipment and ask them some questions. Because there is so much information, we broke the podcast up into six different mini-podcasts. The title header of each is a link to the podcast concerning that topic.

Their bright, airy, friendly shop is in an up-and-coming neighborhood, very close to the C-train and 2/3-train, not too far from the G-train, and very close to Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Museum.
View from back to front.

There are some interesting looking bars in this cozy little area, and a beer retailer/wholesaler, Brooklyn Beer and Soda at 648 Washington Ave., with an incredible selection! It's no New Beer, but still worth checking out.
These were the hops for the brew
that they were making that day.
On the wall there's a list of about 40 different hop varieties for sale -- mainly whole flower -- including 10 different organic hops.They boast an impressive list of yeast strains, including 2 different strains of Brettanomyces. Their malt selection is quite extensive, as well. Chances are -- whatever you want to brew, they can sort you out!

Just some of the specialty grains they offer.

And the shop is well appointed with a multitude of homebrewing accessories and necessities, as one would expect.

One of the cool things that they offer for the urban homebrewer is a compact kit which is simple enough for a first time brewer and small enough for the studio apartment braumeister. The 2.5 gallon kit fits in a cooler and makes a case of beer.

In addition to providing all the materials one requires for homebrewing, they also take to heart their role as assistants, consultants and advisers to their customers. When asked, they'll even create a custom recipe for you, if you have an idea for what kind of beer that you want to brew, but you're not certain about how to do it.

View from front to back.

Bitter & Esters offers classes on both extract (twice a month) and all-grain brewing (once a month). The classes are $55 each, and are capped at 12 participants. They last between 2 and 2 1/2 hours, feature a powerpoint presentation on everything about homebrewing, a question & answer session, a homebrew tasting portion, and, on top of all of that, the entire class participates in brewing a batch of beer during the session! They also offer classes on wine making and other fermentative materials. Additionally, they're planning on organizing tasting classes in the future.

 And now the thing that really got us interested in Bitter & Esters -- THE BREWING! John and Douglas told us that theirs is the first ever brew-on-premises (BOP) business in New York... not just NYC, but NY STATE! Whoa! I can't believe that nobody else gave it a try until now! If you're not familiar with the concept, a BOP is a business that has everything that you need to brew your own beer. Typically, you make an appointment to brew, give the shop your recipe needs, come in, brew your beer with their equipment, then come back at a later date to bottle or keg it, leaving all the cleaning, maintenance, equipment storage, etc., for the shop to worry about. SWEET!

Bitter & Esters use a brand new system custom made by The Electric Brewery. It's similar to a three-tier RIMS system, but it's 100% electric and is called a HERMS system, because the wort doesn't come in direct contact with the heating element during mashing. There are three 30-gallon stainless steel kettles, each with built in thermometers, sensors and valves, all connected via a closed system of specialized tubing and utilizing magnetic drive pumps.
L-R: boil kettle, mash/lauter tun, hot liquor tank, John.
The kettle at the far right is the hot liquor tank. It's used to heat the strike-water for mashing-in and for controlling the temperature of the re-circulating wort during mashing. The middle kettle is the mash/lauter tun. Once you've mashed in, the wort is circulated through a section of coiled metal tubing in the hot liquor tank (HLT), and the temperature is adjusted to increase the temperature of the mash to whatever levels you need for whatever lengths of time required for your conversion steps.

The brewing brain! Not as complicated as it looks.
There is a controller that manages the temperature of the HLT and the boil kettle, and allows the brewer to set the target temperature and see the target and actual temperatures side by side. Adjusting the temperature up or down is as simple as tapping a button. And the brewer can also set a timer, which will sound an alarm when it's time to step up the temperature, mash out, etc.  John and Douglas say that it can hit the target temperature and hold it, within 2 degrees.

Once you've mashed out, then water that's about 170-degrees is pumped from the HLT into the lauter tun/mash tun, with its screened/false bottom, to sparge the sugars off the grains, as the wort is simultaneously pumped into the boil kettle. You have the option, while mashing, to recirculate the wort through the mash, or divert it directly to the boil kettle.
Boil kettle.
Once all the wort has been pumped into the boil kettle, the boil can begin. The controller is set to 220-degrees and the timer set to remind the brewer when to make the first and additional hop additions, as well as when to end the boil. Douglas said that they can go from mash-out temperature to a boil in half an hour! The kettle has a massive screen to keep solid material out when drawing the wort out of the kettle.

Then the finished wort is pumped through a plate chiller, bringing the temperature of the wort down to around 72-degrees in a very short time before it's further pumped down to the temperature-controlled fermenting room in the basement, into a large food-grade plastic fermentation tank, getting some aeration as it enters the fermenter. The yeast is pitched, and the magic begins!

After primary fermentation is complete, the beer is pumped into a stainless steel Sanke keg for carbonating and bottling or kegging. The beer can be put in corked bottles, too, if so desired. By the way, at all times when being transferred from kettle to kettle, through the chiller, to the fermenter and into the Sanke kegs, the beer is in a closed system of tubing, keeping it protected from infection.
What they were brewing when we visited.
The grain mill.

Whether it's an all grain batch or an extract brew, Douglas or John are there throughout the whole brewing session to assist and advise the brewer, and to make sure that the equipment is working correctly.

Eventually, the shop plans on having two different extract brewing stations, so up to three different people/groups could be brewing at the same time, with two different sessions each day.

It should be noted, too, that all the spent grain is either composted or sent to a local farm to be used as feed.

If all of that isn't amazing enough, Bitter & Esters is planning on hosting a number of "Brew With the Pros" events, where customers can sit in during brew sessions set up by well known craft breweries! Tickets will be limited, and will cost around $65. Though I doubt that he's on the short list to participate, I'd happily pay double that amount to brew next to Jean Van Roy!
John and Douglas were generous enough to let us try a few beers that they made with their enviable brewing set up. Find out what we thought about their creations in a bonus podcast! Can they brew? Let's just say that I compared their Pale Ale to Smutty Nose Star Island Single.

We've already decided that a future Beer Hear! podcast is going to be a brewing session at Bitter & Esters, and we hope to brew there on a regular basis. We'll try to arrange a tasting party for whatever it is we end up making (if it ends up being drinkable, that is!), so PLEASE let us know what style you'd like to see us make in the comments section below, and perhaps you'll be sampling it in a few months! Maybe you'll even show up to help us brew it!
L-R: John, B.R., Bob, Douglas.
Oct. 29, 2011 is the date of the Victory Prima Pils night, when they'll be brewing that beer with the recipe and ingredients provided by the brewery's head brewer, and with Victory rep Sean on hand during the brew.

The beer that the boys were brewing throughout the podcast (you could hear the whir of the beer pumps throughout the podcast) will be served at an art opening for Emma Cotter on Nov. 16, 2011 starting at 7:30pm. She makes some very cool art from beer bottle caps.

Bitter & Ester's grand opening is on 11/11/11 at 7pm.

Eat Art New York -- on Sunday Nov. 20, 2011 they'll have an event starting at the Brooklyn Museum, then at 4pm it moves to the shop where John and Douglas with give a presentation on brewing, and then commence with brewing a batch of beer based on a recipe by Colorado artist Eric Steen, who, we believe, is in town for some other beer related activities.

All the events, and means by which to acquire tickets, can be found at their website: Bitters & Esters.


  1. we're thinking about brewing a BIERE DE GARDE, fermenting some of it with lager yeast and some with ale yeast.

  2. That HERMS system is crazy amazing!