WHALES Stein Bier Project 2009 w/Video

The WHALES steinbier (Stone Beer) project was conceived (stolen) when a few of the WHALES visited the Chico Hombrew Club's booth at NHC 2009 during club night. They had a nice steinbier on tap to go with a video showing their project. The WHALES in attendance immediately brainstormed for a future copy cat project. Certainly this is nothing new. In fact, Tomme Arthur of Pizza Port/Lost Abbey brewing spoke about his steinbier project, Hot Rocks Lager, later in the conference and many people are aware of Dogfishhead's Sah'tea beer. Check out the quick sips video and "Sam getting his Rocks off" for Sah'tea on this site.  We all loved watching the forklift hit the ceiling before the bucket of hot rocks cleared the boil kettle. Good for a laugh anyway.

Further research brought us to several other sources of info such as brewing magazine articles, books  and podcasts. Randy Mosher's Radical Brewing book comes to mind though it doesn't specifically mention boiling wort with rocks but rather as a way to heat water and mash. On of the most entertaining podcasts is Craft Beer Radio though you'll have to sift through the descriptions to find the episodes that apply to stein beer. These guys went through a lot of different attempts to perfect the method.

In the spirit of friendly brew club oneupsmanship, the WHALES wanted to go big. Most homebrew steinbier projects are limited to maybe a 10 gallon boil. We boiled 35 gallons (out of an overall 50 gallon preboil volume). Larger commercial attempts (see dogfish above) tend to limit the stone exposure to a very small portion of the overall wort volume and we think it's sorta cheating. If you want to be a purist, the intent is to replicate the circumstance of not being able to boil wort in any other fashion. To that end, we also decided to boil wort directly in an oak vat. Yes, yes, we cheated too. Don't pay any attention to the propane burners, modern plastics and stainless steel. We even have an electronic thermometer stuck through the barrel. It's very difficult to jetison modern conveniences for nostalgia.

For more description, a full video, and some advice for those thinking about stein brewing, click "READ MORE"


So you want to steinbrew?

If you want to make it easier on yourself, you can cheat a bit by dunking stones directly into your boil kettle when the wort was just about to boil anyway. You can get away with smaller rocks and fewer of them because the wort won't take too much heat before it wants to boil over at that point.

If you want to be like the WHALES and boil wort in wood, you have to get a little more aggressive. Although we preheated the wort on propane to boiling, by the time it went into the cold barrel, the 35 gallons of wort was down to 191F. It was going to take quite a bit of rock heat to boil it. In fact, for every ~20 pounds of hot granite (that's about one full belgium block) moved from the coals to the wort, the overall temp rose only 1-2 degrees F. Once we stepped up the additions to about 3 full blocks at a time in both the basket and direct dunking, things started happening quickly. We let the rocks soak for only a few minutes and then swapped them for others that were still in the hot coals. It doesn't take very long to get the heat into the rocks. If you need welding gloves and safety glasses to get close enough to the fire with tongs, you know it's hot enough. If we ever do this again, we'll go straight to using two baskets that we alternate, perhaps even leaving the rocks in the basket directly in the fire.

This project was a ton of fun. Thanks to Dave and his family for letting us crash the yard and for providing food. We also appreciate the folks who showed up to hang out and ultimately lended a hang when called on. Bill C took some great data on how many rocks added how much heat, etc.