Usually, the In Studio features on this site profile artists, but today we’re going inside the mind of a different type of creative thinker — a beer brewer.
Chris Anderson learned to make beer in the craft beer mecca of the Pacific Northwest. When he returned home to Fargo, he found the range of craft beers produced in the region to be a little underwhelming.
So Chris — along with his brother John Anderson and new friends Aaron Hill and Jared Hardy — founded Fargo Brewing Company in 2010 to change that.
The brain, the beard and the man behind Fargo Brewing Company’s beers, Chris Anderson.
Now Chris spends his days cleaning (a lot), tooling around the brewery on a scooter, heckling his partners and dreaming of, experimenting with and creating beer from scratch.
He’s part artist, part chemist, part mad scientist and (in his words) a glorified janitor. (It turns out that brewing beer is basically a giant science experiment and the brewhouse needs to be as spotless as any lab.)
Here’s a crash course in brewing from Chris Anderson, complete with a science lesson and a little German language trivia for good measure. Turns out that stuff you learned in science class has a practical application after all — and it’s freakin’ delicious.
For more details on tours, the public taproom Fargo Brewing Company in general, keep reading.
How does the fantasy of being a brewer compare with reality?
Well, we do more than drink beer all day! If you think about it, you really don’t want to be drinking beer at six in the morning when you show up to start brewing. If you do, you shouldn’t run a business and you really shouldn’t run a brewery, because you’re not gonna get anything done.
Is brewing an art or a science?
You can turn it into either one. I know guys who are incredibly technical and incredibly scientific about it. I know guys who wouldn’t know the first thing about your hop byproducts and fermentation but they don’t care –- they care about combining different flavors together and trying new things.
Generally, somebody who finds themselves in this type of position (in a packaging brewery), they’re more focused on science side of things, just because we have to make the same product every time.
Coming up with a great product is very important, but consistently making that great product is where the science comes in. That is what our mission is.
A 750 pound super sack of malted barley
And how does that work, exactly? Give us a crash course in making beer.
The quick and dirty version of how to brew beer is this; You get malted barley from a maltster, which has been transformed so that it has available sugars for fermentation. My job as a brewer is to mix that grain with hot water to convert those starches into sugars. That happens at a certain temperature and a certain pH.
(Editor’s Note: Chris says “there’s a whole lot of science” that he won’t get into here, but recommends taking a brewery tour or contacting the brewery if you really want to know the details. The info on both is listed at the bottom of the post.)
The Fargo Brewing Company brew deck controls
Once that’s done, I rinse the sugars off of the grain and I come up with this really sweet, concentrated liquid. It’s called wort, or unfermented beer.
Then I move it into a kettle where I boil it. Boiling serves a couple of purposes – it makes it biologiclaly stable so there’s nothing alive in there that could potentially spoil beer.
A handful of hops.
And then I also add hops. Hops do a couple of things. Hops bitter the beer and I can, as the brewer determine what I want, in terms of how much bitterness and what type of bitterness by playing with the variety of hops I use and when I use it in the boil. The other thing that hops do it provide flavor and aroma.
So you can think of malted grain as the backbone of beer and hops are like the spice that you put on top.
So once I’ve finished the beer through the boiling process, then I chill that down to about 65 degrees. Then I add yeast and that yeast does all of the hard work, all the fermentation, converting sugars into alcohol and a bunch of other by products.
After the yeast is done and it passes a few laboratory tests to make sure its where I want it to be, then I chill it down and I carbonate and we package it and then it goes out for you to consume.
Chris and his partners will lovingly point out which beer is in which tank
How long does it take to brew a beer?
The brew day — to convert the grains into the sugary liquid and then boil it and chill it down — takes between four and six hours, probably five hours is a good average.
Then fermentation can take anywhere between seven and 14 days depending on the beer, the yeast and all those factors. Carbonating only takes about 24 hours to do.
So you can have a beer in and out of the tank in about two weeks -– unless it’s a lager and then it takes a lot longer that that.
The Fargo Brewing Company now handles bottling operations on site.
Why is lager different?
Lager yeasts ferment at a much lower temperature than ale yeasts. Ale yeasts ferment between 60 to 70 degrees generally, depending on the yeast strain, and lagers ferment anywhere between 42 and 50 degrees and they go much slower.
And there’re slight genetic variations between lager yeast and ale yeast. Lager yeast can ferment one extra sugar that ale yeast cannot and that’s really the way you can tell them apart. The lager yeast, their metabolisms are slower than ale yeasts, if you want to think of it that way, so they’re going to go a little bit slower working through the fermentable sugars.
Lager yeasts actually benefit from a cold aging period, which is where the term lager comes from; Lagern is German for to cellar.
I could –- if I was working really fast –- doctor a lager in two and a half or three weeks. The longer it sits, though, generally the better it ends up being, especially if it’s a bigger beer. If it’s a lighter beer, then a two week aging period it fine.
Editors note: A larger refers to more than just a mellow, American style lager — Bock, Pilsner and Märzen are all lagers. There are also darker, more malty and complex lagers, such as Dunkel and Schwarzbier.
What else does a brewer need to know?
You want to know what your raw ingredients are, you want to know how your yeast behaves and then from there you can plan out whatever your production schedule is and you need know your sales too.
I’m the brewhouse production side, John’s all packaging and cellaring and Aaron’s sales and he works with our distributors and we need to all communicate really well together so I can know what distributors are looking for in two months so that I can order the raw ingredients and get that in the tank, John needs to know the splits so we can plan out our packaging so that everything is coming out of our place by the time the distributors need it.
It’s kind of a fine balancing act between all of us.
What’s the best part of your job?
I get to do what I love to do every day. Having the freedom to be my own boss. I have a wife and a small daughter and it’s flexible enough to be home when I need to be home and here when I need to do work.
It’s nice to be able to be your own boss and to do the things that you want to do. And being the brewer, I get to be creative, which is fantastic. I wanted to do this is because making beer is fun and it’s interesting to me. And I like the challenge to see if I can do it well and continue to do it well. So every day I come in and focus on that and it’s a lot of fun.
Fargo Brewing Company
610 N University Drive
Bus: 13, 13U, 33
Tuesday – Friday: 4 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Saturdays: Noon – 10 p.m.