We at Valiant Brewing Company are thrilled to offer one of our flagship beers, our Jericho Imperial IPA, in bottles! We are thrilled because Jericho is a terrific seasonal brew – it’s an Imperial IPA, full of hops with an aroma of orange, tangerine and a citrus flower bouquet that heightens the senses, allowing the sweet malty bitterness to develop slowly and linger for a few minutes. At a 10.8% alcohol content, it’s a great craft brew for the winter months.
But that’s not the only reason we’re so excited to offer this gem in 750ml bottles! We’re also excited because it almost didn’t happen. At least not on schedule. We had a deadline of November 16th to release our Jericho Imperial IPA bottles, but like Murphy’s Law dictates, “What can go wrong, will go wrong.” That was almost the case for Jericho’s bottling process. Luckily, with some help from all of our staff, a few of our neighboring breweries and the support of all of our patrons – our Jericho IPA has been bottled and is currently in distribution!
Brian, Valiant’s owner and founder, said of the whole experience, “It was cutting it really close.”
The mayhem began with a call from the company that manufactures our labeling machine. It turns out our brand new machine, which we were expecting to be shipped to us well in advance of our impending November 16th release date, would be at least two months late to arrive. Brian flew into action, calling around to find any brewery that would let him borrow a labeler. Evan Weinberg, of Cismontane Brewing Company, stepped up to the plate and offered to help out. Evan offered us Cismontane’s labeling machine and before Brian could take it over to Valiant to label our bottles, he spent several hours working with the crew at Cismontane.
“I appreciate their friendship, their openness,” Brian said. “I definitely thank them so much for their hospitality and their time to show us their process, and I could learn from their mistakes.”
Hurdle number one was successfully jumped, but then came the challenge of actually filling the bottles with Valiant’s new Maheen bottling machine, which had been purchased but never used. It was Friday, November 15th, the day before the bottles were going to be released. Brian arrived at Valiant bright and early, around 4:30 in the morning. A small crew of Valiant’s brewery and tasting room staff arrived around 6:30 A.M. to get the bottling underway.
“We were like five of us, we all had our stations,” Brian said. “We didn’t know what we were getting into but I kind of remembered from going back to Cismontane, their set up and how they got in a groove over there. So, I was somewhat prepared for the outcome but what I wasn’t prepared for the learning curve of the Maheen system and bottling machine.”
Right away Brian could tell the parameter settings on the machine were off because the bottles were only being filled halfway, or were coming out half full of foam. Hours of adjusting and readjusting the ratio, dealing with bottles crashing on the ground and making frustrated calls to the manufacturer and other breweries seemed to have gotten them nowhere. Finally, Brian got through to Eagle Rock Brewery and was able to get some help. But it was another call to the manufacturer that triggered the lightbulb in Brian’s head and allowed his engineering background to kick in and save the day.
“Once I started understanding the units, which weren’t published anywhere, then I understood exactly what those functions were doing,” Brian explained. “So, I got off the phone with him and I said, ‘Oh, OK. I understand now. I believe this is our situation.’ I adjusted the parameters, fired the machine up and guess what? We were bottling.”
Once he solved the problem, they were back in business. Unfortunately, by that time it was already 3 O’Clock in the afternoon. We only had two hours until the tasting room opened. Frantically they brainstormed ideas for what to do, because the bottling set up was smack dab in the center of the Valiant tasting room. They didn’t have enough time to alert everyone on social media that the brewery was going to be closed and frankly, we couldn’t afford the losses from a day’s closure. Finally they decided to section the bottling station off from the rest of the tasting room, using chairs. We were able to open at our normal business hours. For those of you who were at Valiant that day, you’ll remember that the staff juggled bottling with taking turns serving behind the bar. In the end, it actually ended up offering everyone who came to Valiant that day a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes of the Valiant Brewing Company.
“It was kind of neat in a way, because we were like the show and people were taking pictures,” Brian laughed. “But it was kind of rewarding because people could see ‘Oh! That’s my product you bottled.’”
The gang stayed late into the night until the job was done. Out of all that, we ended up bottling 320 cases, or nearly 4,000 bottles of Jericho Imperial IPA! These bottles are already in distribution in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego. It never would have happened without all the help and support from our new friends at Cismontane Brewing Company, Eagle Rock Brewery and all of you! So yes, we are especially thrilled to offer our Jericho IPA in big bottles. Our next challenge will be getting the Jericho in 22 oz. bottles, which we promise we’ll tackle soon! After that, we plan to bottle four more core beers: Crescendo (our bold 6.5% Blonde Lager), Alpha Drive (an 8.8% Double IPA, great for hop heads), Axiom (a delicious graham cracker and malty Trappist Ale at 10.5%) and our Criterion Belgian Amber Ale (A floral but spicy Honey Rye at 5.6%). Keep checking in for updates on when those will be available in Valiant bottles.
The newest addition to our brewery… also represents the history of Valiant.
Way back when we realized we wanted to go pro with craft beer, there was still one big unknown: would we be a contract brewery? A nano brewery? A micro brewery?
Brian designed a system, the manufacturer’s price was right, and we took the plunge. The day we went out to pick up the equipment was huge! We were hauling a trailer of all this brewery equipment down the freeway, with people honking at us and waving.
That was when we started to feel really official!
Next step: Brian had to figure out how to hook up all the equipment. He started searching for parts on eBay, and even got a huge heat exchanger (since the Blichmann he had for his original homebrewing equipment was too inefficient for this 80-gallon system).
We set up in the garage. As we fine-tuned the business plan for our brewery, Brian got very familiar with his new system. And eventually, the business plan took a turn and we realized we were going to go big—very big!—with our brewery.
Back to the drawing board: Brian designed a new system (the one you see in the tasting room today), incorporating many of the parts we’d already gathered. And the rest is history!
Now that history has come full circle. Our smaller system is part of the big picture, allowing us to brew small batches of experimental beers (and—just as important, though slightly less exciting—to propagate yeast for our brews). Stonewall Jackson 5 was brewed on this system.
Before we set up the Pico system last month, it had been two years since Brian had brewed on it! It might be going overboard to say it felt like a homecoming… but we will admit that it’s awesome to have the flexibility to make sure our beer is the absolute best it can be, going out the door.
So next time you’re in the tasting room, admiring all the shiny equipment, make sure you spare a glance for our Pico. After all, it’s where Valiant got its start.
Announcing Valiant’s Grand Opening!
Feb. 9, noon-9 p.m.
2294 N. Batavia, Unit C, Orange 92865
See you there!
Those of you who have been following Valiant know that we’ve overcome our share of obstacles on the way to opening up the brewery (of course, anyone who’s ever dealt with permitting and inspections knows that building/ remodeling/ opening a business is never a completely smooth road!). But in late December, we were hit pretty hard.
With the gas turned on and all the equipment finally installed and connected, we were ready to brew… or so we thought. We struggled to get the boiler working, and finally made it—only to discover a bunch of other things that actually didn’t work. We couldn’t get to a boil! The controls on the boiler were—um—less than ideal, so Brian had to design a new controller to get things working right.
As if that wasn’t disappointing enough, we finally were able to use the pumps (in our steam loop) since we had steam— but in doing so we discovered that the plumbing was done wrong: the pumps were burning up!
Even before we made these dreadful discoveries, we’d had some worries on our minds—particularly with our bottling line. We had expected to receive and install everything weeks ago, but our contractor seemed to be struggling. So Brian made a whirlwind trip to Canada in between Christmas and New Year’s, only to find out that the contractor had been taking us for a ride. Considering the amount of money—and time—we’d invested in a bottling line that we now knew was never going to materialize, we were devastated. Right now we’re trying our best to come to a resolution—and we’re sure the situation will be resolved! It’s just going to take a little more time than we’d hoped to get our bottling line up and running.
All this—and then at the very end of the year, hackers attacked our website. (Where’s the Calgon when you need it?)
But you can’t keep a good brewery down, right? So, feeling more than a little depressed, we kept forging ahead with the things we could take care of—like passivating the brewhouse. With a highly acidic solution (a pH of about 1.2), we coated the stainless steel; the solution strips the outer layer of the stainless and, once washed off and dried, forms an oxidized layer to protect the equipment until the next passivization (a process undertaken about three times a year).
Brian also got to work transferring all the lab equipment from home to the brewery, and we focused on keeping our yeast alive (a couple thousand dollars’ worth in our walk-in!).
And now, barely a week into the new year, we’re already looking back on an amazing 2013 memory: our first brew day. Next stops: fermentation, more brewing, building the bar, and—Grand Opening!
Warning – this is a monster post. Go grab a beer to sip on while reading this.
It wouldn’t be fair for us not to share the experience of our first brew day. Yes, we are opening a production facility and beer brewing will be occurring over and over again—but just how many times will we get to brew a near-perfect beer on the first go, using a professional brewing system that’s a huge step up from homebrewing, in a brewery that Brian designed, with equipment that we own, surrounded by friends and family? Never again! This is one major milestone in our lives, we can assure you.
The week leading up to our first brew day, however, is one we hope to forget. For the first time in Brian’s life, he slept maybe a total of 11 hours over the course of five days. The only way he made it through was knowing the rewards waiting for him!
The morning of the brew day started with Brian waking up at the brewery frozen (he spent the night there to try to get more precious sleep). Sleep in shorts without a blanket wasn’t a great idea (the office temperature was around 50° F!). Between the chill factor and our neighbor’s exterior building light blazing into the Valiant office, Brian was awake by 3am. He stumbled around trying to figure out where his shoes were, still half asleep (after having gone to bed around 12:30 a.m.). Grabbed his brewing boots—which hadn’t been worn for some time!—started the coffee, grabbed the recipe for the day’s brew, and stared at the mounds of malt bags that needed to be moved in order to find the ones needed for Veranda. Well, moving 55 lb. sacks of grain around at 3 in the morning is one way to wake up! Brian continued the search until he found all the required specialty grains and placed them over by the grist case along with about 1,400 lbs. of base malt.
As time passed, Brian did everything he could to get ready for guest brewer David Meadows, who works for Premier Stainless System (and as part of Premier’s service, provides customer assistance during the first brew sessions). David has over 30 years’ experience brewing, and that was experience that we didn’t want to pass up! Brian hoped to pull off a dual batch for the day, so he was going the extra mile making sure he had everything ready: hot liquor tank full (about 1,500 gallons) and at 204° F, grains loaded in the grist case, hops, yeast, cleaning supplies, oxygen all ready.
At 5:30 a.m. brewer assistant Jack showed up to help make sure things were organized as well, finishing up the grain handling situation. Right on time, at 6 a.m., David arrived. Brian quickly gave him the rundown: everything was a go except one major thing. The glycol unit had shut down sometime during the night (that’s not good!). David and Brian talked about this problem a little bit, trying to figure out what to. It was too early to call the manufacturer, but moving forward with brewing wouldn’t be smart since the glycol was needed to keep fermentation at the desired temperature. The guys continued troubleshooting until Brian realized that the pumps running on the recirculating reservoir didn’t appear to match what should have been running. David agreed that could be the problem, so up on the roof Brian went to swap pump circuits. He moved the control wires around and fired up the chiller. Everything worked! Just as they were getting ready to move forward, our good friend Rick Belcher showed up to lend us another hand. (Rick has been so devoted helping Valiant get off the ground, it simply wouldn’t have been right to brew the first batch without him!)
Up next, we needed to run some foundation water through the mash tun to pre-heat it. No problem, with 1,500 gallons of 204°F water ready! Switched the pump on, opened the solenoid valve to divert the hot water to the grist hydrator, pressure gauge increased, butterfly valve open, water started entering the mash tun and the in-line temperature started to rise. It was so awesome to see everything working! The mash tun needed to be pre-heated to a water temperature of 163°F. The in-line temperature was rising—and completely passed the 163° mark! No problem: mix cold water in with the mixing valve—right? Well, no. Opened that cold mixing valve full bore… only to get an incoming water temperature of 187°F, which is way too hot for mashing. The only thing Brian could do was throttle back the hot water coming in, but he’d have to sacrifice the amount of time to dough-in since now way too little would be flowing to fully hydrate my mash. Finally got the flow low enough to obtain the desired temperature… but noticed that the temperature was surging up and down 7 or 8 °F. Brian glanced down at the RO supply water pressure gauge and found the pressure varying from 35psi – 70psi. Oh no—had to adjust the boost pressure switch, which is located on the RO station. After about 30 minutes of messing around with this pressure switch, the best we could do was a 30psi dead band—which meant having to back down the incoming dough-in (also called Strike) water flow rate even more. The end result was a flow rate of around 7gpm that would now take, per Brian’s calculations, 43 minutes to dough-in. But at least we had a plan! So we moved forward, locked in the flow rate and temperature, and hit the auger button to shuttle the 1,500 lbs. of grain over to the grist hydrator.
This was it—no turning back once the malt and water mixed together! Quickly the facility was starting to smell like a brewery—finally! (Personally, Brian loves the smell of hydrated grains! Guess he thinks of the outcome when he starts smelling that mash.) The flow rate was adjusted so low that we were having trouble modulating the incoming flow of the grains since it was on a fixed speed device. We had to start and stop the auger several times to kind of modulate the flow of grains coming into the mash tun. There was a point during this process that our breaker tripped for the auger, so we increased that set point a little since the load on the system is a little higher than normal because of starting and stopping the auger all the time.
Finally the mash tun received all the grains and proper amount of water. Checked the temperature of the mash—a little low, but all in all acceptable. Mash racks were active and helping us slowly stir the grain bed of the mash, ensuring total heat conformity. Time for a recap of the things that didn’t work quite right up to that point. Brian had to bust out another list of parts that we need to order (man, it feels like this part of the project never ends!).
After about 30 minutes, it was time for recirculating the wort through the mash tun to help set the grain bed. With a quick throw of this valve and that valve, we had wort flowing into our grant. We turned the recirculating pump on to move the runoff back to the top of the mash tun. Perfect, everything working as it should—or so it seemed. But after about five minutes we noticed we were having trouble keeping the level high enough inside the grant (that means the flow of wort going into the vessel was reducing). Checking the manometers on the side of the mash tun, we opened the runoff valve some more. That’s when we noticed that we were starting to pull a vacuum on the runoff —not a good sign. Another 10 or 15 minutes messing around with the low flow problem only to realize that we officially had a stuck mash!!!! Noooooo! We were all in shock, but going back and thinking about it, the grains were crushed almost to the point of flour. Word of advice: don’t ever over-crush your grains.
We spent the next seven hours dealing with a stuck mash and it took that long to run off 24 bbl’s of wort over to the boil kettle. This was a mind-numbing experience (and David made it worse by indicating that this almost never happens!). We decided to break for lunch while the wort SLOWLY drained into the kettle. Finally, around 3 p.m., we had filled our boil kettle to the correct volume and the rest of the brew occurred without any more gotcha’s (believe it or not!).
It was truly amazing to peer into the boil kettle and actually see 24 bbls of wort! For Brian, this was big time. Even though he’s been brewing on his homemade 1.5 bbl system for around four years now, that extra 22.5 bbls is an eye-shocking view. Thinking about heat transfer, the steam boiler was already fired up and ready for action so the steam valves were all opened to the boil kettle (this took place actually just before reaching our final boil kettle volume) and we listened to the rush of 1,200 lb/hr steam running through the jackets of the kettle. Within almost 15 minutes of reaching our boil kettle volume, we had our first view of protein break trying to jump out of the manway of the kettle. I saw David jump for the hose at the same time, turning off the steam jackets. At least we have the power to boil! We’ve heard stories of breweries not having enough power, so getting to a boil takes a couple of hours. After the excitement of seeing off our massive protein break foam blob, a nice rolling boil started and we set all the timers. All that was left was adding hops and some protein coagulator (aka whirlfloc).
By this time, Brian was celebrating—but in an odd way. Another thing that he’s been waiting for was smelling the fumes and seeing the moisture coming from our boil kettle exhaust stack. So back on the roof he went and simply stood right in the foggy atmosphere, enjoying the vapor cloud of goodness. Yes, totally odd—but again, visiting breweries, nothing cranks in the senses for Brian more than smelling the brewing process out in the parking lot before he even gets to the door. Satisfied with his experience, he jumped back down to the brewhouse and joined the team as we prepared for the end of the boiling process.
Time does move quickly when you’re having fun. Before we knew it, we needed to add our hops and other kettle additions. Almost 20 lbs of Strisselspalt hops entered the boil kettle and that alone set off another round of amazing aromas (we could get used to this kind of thing!). While the hops were isomerizing (we think that’s a word!), Brian began sanitizing the heat exchanger and targeted fermenter. One thing is for sure: if you’re ever going to open a brewery, sanitization is a must and should be conducted to ensure your beer is how you wanted with its known yeast. Kind of a cool thing in our brewery setup—we can use the HLT boost pump to perform the sanitation step without needing a portable pump; everything is integrated. This integration was the base of Brian’s design for the brewery. He didn’t want to waste time connecting things when he could be watching over the beer the entire time.
Our 90-minute boil finally came to an end, and we set the remaining wort into a whirlpool to help us clear that wort as much as possible. It only takes about 10 minutes, which is amazing to think about since in the homebrewing world, Brian always did a 15-minute whirlpool. Any case, whirlpool finished, everything on the cold side (that is all the parts downstream of the heat exchanger to the fermenter) sanitized and ready. Again, a push of that button, a turn of that valve, oxygen flowing, bingo – 68° F wort entering the fermenter. Brian was amazing to realize the process was almost easier than homebrewing (but in a totally different way). We watched the cooled wort pass through the site glass, and while admiring all our hard work busted out a celebration beer. What a perfect time, Brian was thinking. This is how he thought it would be: a lot of hard work and dedication, and here he was in our brewery having a toast with the guys who helped us build our dream.
The fermenter filled almost in 30 minutes, about what Brian’s calculations had led him to expect. Guess the heat exchanger was sized correctly! To make things even better, Brian never turned the glycol on to our heat exchanger! He has it set up so that we can cool wort down for doing larger beers (that’s soon to come!). With just two more steps to take, Brian finished one more by taking our final gravity out of the newly filled fermenter—1.071, which was exactly what his recipe called for! That just sealed the deal, if you know what we mean. Talk about happy! After having a stuck mash, we nailed the starting gravity. We finished the process up by adding our unique blend of yeast to the wort, installing our blow-off tube, and setting the tank temperature where we wanted it. The rest of the work was cleaning (the not-so-glorified part of the job! But it makes up almost 60% of the total work done in a brewery). Brian likes things clean, organized, and maintained—it’s just his nature.
We finally finished the entire job up around 11:40 p.m. that day. I guess an 18-hour brew day wasn’t too bad for the first go—but we hope we don’t have that kind of duration on the next batch. Brian is excited to understand each of our brews and how each particular beer wants to be brewed. These beers have their own character and understanding these characters is important for the creator—but, more importantly, for the consumer.
Well, we told you this would be a long post. We hope you enjoyed reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it! This experience just had needed to be shared with our fans. We truly want Valiant Brewing to be a family business and within healthy families, you have to communicate. This blog is one way we communicate with you—but we have to be honest: we’re looking forward to communicating with you over this beer once it’s finished! Give us about three weeks and we should be ready to open our doors to the public.
It is hard to believe that, after all this time, we are finally about to really become Valiant Brewing Co.
I know this may sound odd, but look at it from our point of view. Up to this point, VBC has not really been recognized as a brewery—after all, we don’t sell beer yet!
But this blog post is the turning point for VBC. Tomorrow, 1/5/13, we will be producing beer (and finally leaving the construction phase behind us!). This is a major milestone for VBC, and we wanted to immortalize it here!
As our loyal fans know, we have been keeping everyone updated on our brewery build, issues, successes, difficulties, equipment arrival, installation, and beer lineup. We hope this info has been useful for those who are thinking about walking the same path to brewery ownership—but also for those of you who just love to drink a great craft beer. We’d like you to understand the sheer amount of dedication required to endure the pain of opening a brewery!
Sure, opening in another city, state, or county might have been easier—but then again, it might have been harder! And besides, Orange is really at the root of who Valiant Brewing is. As we have stated, our mission is to bring a breath of freshness to Orange’s brewing scene. Don’t misunderstand us—we know we have much to learn and understand about the brewing industry; but we do have goals for VBC, and freshness really is top priority.
Yes, for the first time in about six months we feel relaxed, confident, and excited all at the same time. Knowing that we’re about to make our first batch of beer is beyond anything we can express to our fans.
And what will that first brew be? Our Biere De Garde, Veranda—for many reasons. This beer encompasses our entire philosophy: it’s a very complex beer, yet simple, balanced, and completely drinkable. (It’s also nice knowing that it comes in at 8.5% ABV.)
From this point on, our days working at the brewery will only get longer and more challenging, but at least we’ll be doing what we set out to do so long ago: brewing great beer for people who love it.
We are blessed to be able to have such a chance to operate and own a craft brewery as a family endeavor. We are now that much closer in sharing our passion and pride with you. Our next move once our fermenters are filled is to tackle our tasting room bar (oh, you guys have something special coming your way!).
Well, here is to history! Thank you for following us.
What a week!
And it’s only Friday! To round out this whirlwind week, there’s really only one thing left to do.
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to pour everything you’ve got into something that you truly feel is important? Well we are sure going through that right now! We recently met with an engineer to help us sign off our local city and health plans. We had a rough idea of what we needed, like tanks, plumbing, chiller, walk-in cooler, and things like that but then comes the book of building code requirements. Wait I simply need to pause….
OK that was enough continue… the price more than TRIPLES! We are not talking about the triple that you and I know, Belgian triple, but dollar sign, everything has tripled in cost to get up and running. We are somewhat educated in the world of construction, but local and federal requirements are another thing that we just hadn’t considered much. But now we are! We’re sure those who are open right now as operating breweries understand.
We are so excited to be where we are at, everything that we’ve set our focus on since the beginning is finally happening. Valiant Brewing will be opening soon. However it is important not to underestimate the remaining inspections, permits, build outs, etc that we need to finish in order to open our doors. We are so close to presenting to the public when we might be open but we still need about one more month in order to gain the scope of remaining work. For example, we are presenting our brewery layout to the health department and the city building department next week. This is seriously the big leap we’ve been working with the health department, since the very beginning, with understanding their requirements, incorporating their requests and building the rest out to local building codes.
As a mile stone, we like to post a simple yet meaningful picture of the beginning life of Valiant Brewing Company. It took so long to find it and it is awesome, we are nearing the end of five months now, we were given an estimated 6months for our CUP. So this is where everything starts and this helps us remember the beginning times and lets us look forward to another family brewery that aims to be unique, diverse, creative, challenge your taste buds and simply provide our customers an experience like one they never, ever have had. We’ve also been taking this “down” time to explore with pilot batches for our comprehensive line up of beers, making sure we’ve got them mastered.
We have rounded the corner, hang in there we really cannot wait to meet each and every one of you in person at our tasting room inside the brewery. Located by the yellow pole will be the area for our tasting room!
Also another shot for all you tech heads and beer geeks, that’s right we’ve got one big operation planned to service our customers.
One step at a time, one penny at a time, one step closer to opening!
Brian & Kelly Schroepfer