From Hops To Tabletops: How St. Louis’ Urban Chestnut Brewing Company Creates Zwickel
Great-tasting beer is the culmination of hard work and labor of love, and in the case of St. Louis’ Urban Chestnut Brewing Company (UCBC), diligently sourced German hops. Their flagship beer, Zwickel, is an unfiltered, Bavarian-style lager that pays homage to the brewmaster’s rich, German heritage in brewing.
UCBC’s Quality Assurance Manager, Kurt Driesner, states that brewers must pay attention to all of the ingredients, or the flavor of the hops can get lost. “Not everyone agrees with me on this, but I view hops like special effects in a movie,” he says. “They should help tell the story, but they shouldn’t be the story. You can have a hoppy beer or a light beer; it’s all about balance. There’s a time for plot-heavy independent film, and there’s a time to get blown away by CGI.”
Driesner oversees UCBC’s quality assurance operations and helps confirm when brews are meeting their highest potential, which isn’t as cut and dry as it may seem. Hence, film lends itself to a fitting analogy. “There’s time for pilsner, and there’s a time for a sour or a porter. That’s what makes beer great. There’s a taste for everyone, just like there are movies, music and food for everyone. But that’s where you run the difference: a good beer is what you like, but a quality beer is well-constructed.”
Driesner also says making great beer begins with something as simple as H2O. “Beer is mostly made out of water, so if the water doesn’t have the correct salt contents or proper pH important for the mash, you can have problems… if you taste it in the water, you will taste it in the beer,” he says. But the hops that go into the recipes are just as important.
When the malt for Zwickel is finalized, it is run through a mill that breaks down the grain for mashing and lautering, before being boiled, to sterilize the wort and the stabilize the flavor. The wort then enters the whirlpool before being cooled down, so that yeast can be added. The mixture is then transported into a fermenter, where it stays for two to three weeks before it’s ready to be finished, canned, bottled and kegged. “It’s hard to do, but we’ve got this process down, and we don’t want to release something that doesn’t meet our standards. There are certain things we do to make sure we’re getting closer to the right flavor. Whether it’s more extended cold time, cellaring or additional aging, we’re making those decisions in real time,” Driesner says.
With Driesner keeping a close eye on the stats, the brew process is focused on creating the highest quality of beer possible every single time, with a number of computer controls that lend themselves to that consistency. When a batch might be out of spec, Driesner can sometimes help the brewers make recipe adjustments on the fly to help brew a better beer. However, he has also resigned himself to a certain level of acceptance. “Beer is a living thing. You can’t fully control it,” he says.
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