Gearing Up For Brewing

I feel like a broken record when talking to people about the brewery lately. It seems like for the past month, we’ve been “getting ready to brew our first batch in the next week or two”. But there are certain things that we absolutely must have before we can start brewing. Power and water are two of those things that we currently do not have yet.

But we have been working hard in preparation for the utilities to be connected so that when they are, we are ready to get going. Our tanks and brewhouse are now set in place and are getting final connections for glycol and utilities this week. Once the fermenters and serving tanks are hooked up to a functional chiller, they will be ready to accept the first batches of beer.

Our pilot system will be functional first, because it is all electric and does not need a gas source, unlike the main brewhouse, which is heated with natural gas. The gas connection is another week or so away from being connected. Water lines will be run inside the building next week, and assuming the power gets turned on by Dominion in time, we plan on brewing our first pilot batch next Thursday.

In other exciting news, the patio was poured last week and looks awesome! The exterior of the building is finishing up, and the parking lot repaving is also nearing completion. Paint is going up inside, our biergarten bench is being built from 100+ year old wood flooring reclaimed from a house that was demolished in Nelson County, and the framing for the bar is in place awaiting the concrete top to be poured in place. The space actually looks like a brewery now! All that’s left is to make some beer, which “should happen in the next week or two”!

Still too far out for an opening date, but keep your weekends at the end of August into the beginning of September clear!

Easy to envision picnic tables, corn hole, and lots of beer drinking on this patio


Kevin simulating beer consumption on the built in benches


There should be no lack of seating in the tasting room!


Published in: on June 30, 2016 at 8:50 AM  Leave a Comment  

My last post…

Sort of.

I will be moving to a new blog, one which will chronicle my transition into professional brewing and business ownership.  Random Row Brewing Co. is a reality and we are working towards an opening in the Spring of next year.  To learn more about us and follow our progress, visit our new blog! The link can be found at our new website,

Here are a few pics of the building we will be converting into Charlottesville’s newest local brewery!

this will be the main entrance, the back of the building will face the main street

this will be the main entrance, the back of the building will face the main street

view of the back of the building from across the main street, Preston Ave.

view of the back of the building from across the main street, Preston Ave.

taken before Moxie completely moved out, the former tenant was a hair salon, they moved into a new building right behind us

taken before Moxie completely moved out, the former tenant was a hair salon, they moved into a new building right behind us

this picture was taken where the actual brewery will be, from behind the bar, looking out into the tasting room

this picture was taken where the actual brewery will be, from behind the bar, looking out into the tasting room

also from the brewery, the big hole in the wall will become outside space, our patio being just outside of the opening

also from the brewery, turn 90 degrees to the right from the last picture; a wall will be built from the left side of the new opening to where this picture was taken, creating new outside space,  our patio being just in front of the opening

Published in: on November 12, 2015 at 7:51 PM  Leave a Comment  

Random Row Brewing Co. Has a Home!

This week, we signed a lease for the brewery!  We will be taking over 608 Preston Ave. in Charlottesville, VA, the current home of Moxie Hair Salon.  Moxie is moving in November to a new space directly behind where they are now.

After Moxie moves, several renovations will be completed on the space, including new aluminum facing, new roofing, and a breezeway cut between our building and the brick King Lumber Building that it is currently attached to.  New patio space will be created that we will have access to for our outdoor space.

We are currently in the process of looking at several equipment manufacturers to place an order as soon as possible, as lead times for equipment is in the 18-26 week range. We are still hoping to be able to open in the Spring of 2016!

Here are some outside pictures of the building we will be in.



main entrance at rear of building


main entrance at rear of building


front of building facing Preston Ave.

Published in: on September 29, 2015 at 11:10 AM  Comments (2)  

Brewing Lager in Summer

Along with the warm weather summer brings, comes the desire to drink refreshing, crisp, clean lager beer.  Unfortunately, summer is the worst time to brew any type of beer, let alone lager.

After the boil is complete, the wort is cooled to fermentation temperatures before pitching the yeast.  For an ale, this is typically around 65-70F.  For a lager, around 50F.  Ground water temps in Virginia reach 70F in the summer, and its difficult to cool the wort into ale temps without adding a pre-chiller into your system, impossible to cool to lager temps.

But, if you fail to set your brewing schedule months in advance to have plenty of lager ready for the summer like I do, there are a few ways around it.  I decided to brew a German Festbier and a Vienna Lager in July and August, and although it did run me an extra $9 for 40 lbs of ice for each 5 gallon batch, I was able to run a fairly smooth brewday each time, keeping the total brewday under 5 hours.


Unrelated to brewing in summer, I decided to try something new, when I realized that the 5 gallon nylon paint strainers I use for a hop bag would fit around the kettle.  I realized as soon as the wort began to boil that this wasn’t going to work.  the bag just rose to the top of the wort when it began to boil, the hops would just float right on top.  So it went back onto the hop spider I had made.  I’ve mostly gone away from using the hop spider since discovering the whirlpool technique, but because of the two phase chilling process I was using for the lager, I used the hop bag. I’ll get to my way around that as well.

Method 1.  This is what I did for both the Festbier and the Vienna Lager.  Using a pre chiller immersion coil chiller, I ran the ground water through a bucket of ice water before sending it to the plate chiller.  I recirculated the wort back into the kettle so that I could use the least amount of cooling water up front. So I had the wort pump open at full speed recirculating through the plate chiller and back into the kettle, and ran the ice cold water slowly through the plate chiller (Don’t use your hand to test how hot the water is coming out of the plate chiller, its about 200F, I know from experience).  Once the wort in the kettle reached 120F, I disconnected the wort outflow of the plate chiller from the kettle and ran it into a fermenter at 50-60F.  I had the fermenter in an ice bucket to keep if cool, since it was 85F outside.  I used a hop bag because typically when I whirlpool, the plate chiller is not in line.  The hops would clog it up pretty quickly. Method 2 takes the hop bag away.  This method worked pretty good as far as a can tell, the Festbier began fermenting at 50F in <12 hours with 3 packs of Saflager S-23 and tastes pretty clean after 3 weeks of primary and one week of lagering.  I’ll give it a couple more weeks to clarify though.


Method 2.  Probably next time I brew a lager in August (if ever, but I say this every year), I’ll modify my method a little bit.  I like being able to whirlpool because it really gets the hops in a nice cone for transfer, but I think you get a lot more out of the hops with them freely swimming around in the kettle.  Even with a 5 gallon hop bag, I think you’re not getting a good extraction from them, as they always seem to be in a big clump.  I then find myself obsessively agitating the bag to get them to come in better contact with the wort.  So, what I plan on doing is setting up my normal whirlpool, with the plate chiller not in the circuit, and using the immersion chiller as it was originally designed, to chill the wort down to 120F or so while whirlpooling.  This method is commonly used by homebrewers without a plate chiller, and the whirlpool effect also helps to move the wort around and chill it faster.  But it will only get you so far with ground water at 70F+.  The next step would be to take the immersion chiller out, drop it in a bucket of ice water, hook it up to the plate chiller, and transfer into the fermenter.


It helps to have an assistant brewer agitating the prechiller apparatus.

Keep an eye out for Random Row Brewing Co. updates, we are close to finalizing a location! and like us on Facebook and Instagram to stay in the loop!

Published in: on August 11, 2015 at 9:17 PM  Comments (1)  

Random Row Brewing Co., Charlottesville VA


Keep an eye out for Charlottesville’s newest brewery!

After a year of planning, we are close to making a dream reality, and opening our own brewery!  Random Row Brewing is targeting a Spring 2016 opening and will be located in the heart of Charlottesville.  We will update our progress through Instagram and Facebook, so sign up to follow us!

Published in: on July 14, 2015 at 10:26 AM  Comments (1)  

Virginia Craft Brews Spring 2015 Edition

Check out the Va Craft Brews latest edition.  I’m finally an actual published writer! I admit, I’m not the best writer, but I enjoyed writing up this article about Fifth Season Gardening, my go to spot for all my homebrew supplies.  And credit goes to my buddy Tim Brooks for the cover photo.  We had fun taking a bunch of photos at Three Notch’d the other day.  Enjoy!


Published in: on May 3, 2015 at 3:44 PM  Comments (1)  

IPA Brewday

Earlier this past week I brewed an IPA for a special event that is scheduled to occur in June.  I’m not at liberty to discuss the details yet, but I will be putting four of my beers on tap at this event.  The first will be the Eisbock that I brewed about a month ago, which I just freeze distilled and will have a separate post on.  The IPA will be the second, and I have planned brewdays for a Dry Stout and an American Wheat.  Back to the IPA.

Starch conversion test

Starch conversion test

I decided to take something I learned from the recent brewing class I took at the local community college and put it to use.  The starch conversion test is an easy way to determine if your mash has converted and is ready for the next step.  Most people will mash for at least an hour, but I have learned that usually 45 minutes is enough to convert all the sugars.  The top half of the above picture shows what happens when you add a drop of Iodine into a sample of the wort drawn from the mash too early.  This was only about 20 minutes after starting the mash, and indicates an incomplete starch conversion. The bottom half was a sample taken after about 45 minutes of starting the mash, and you can see that the Iodine did not turn dark purple, indicating that starch conversion is complete, and you are ready to start lautering/sparging.

First Wort Hops

First Wort Hops

I decided to go with First Wort Hops for bittering this IPA.  I’ve used this method a few times, as it is said to give the beer a smoother bitterness than traditional additions at the beginning of the boil.  I used Columbus hops for bittering, and Galaxy hops for the late additions.  I also used the whirlpool method for my late addition hops.  I skipped using the hop spider and made a few changes to how I executed this method from the first time.  This was the second time I tried the whirlpool method, the first time I had issues because I left my plate chiller in line with the whirlpool setup, and it got pretty clogged up with hops.  So here’s how I did it this time around.

I did my mash and sparge water the same, with the pump and plate chiller set up, I ran the hot water through the plate chiller to sanitize it.  For the sparge water, I heat up the water to near boiling, then recirculate through the pump and plate chiller, back into the kettle for about 10 minutes before sending it up to the cooler.  After the sparge water was transferred, I took the plate chiller out of the loop and sealed it off and set it aside.  After the boil was complete, I cut off the flame, added my whirlpool hops, and started my pump, recirculating the wort through the pump and back into my whirlpool inlet.  Here’s what the whirlpool looks like.

This is a method commonly used by commercial breweries.  I wanted to see if I could get my system as close to a commercial breweries as possible in the homebrew setting.  I let the whirlpool go for about 10 minutes before cutting it off.  Next, you need to let everything settle.  I allowed a 20 minute rest, which gives the hops time to form a nice cone in the center of the kettle, so that when transferring the wort out of the kettle, the hops are left behind.

Hop cone formed by whirlpooling

Hop cone formed by whirlpooling

The elbow on the left is the recirculation/whirlpool port I use for my whirlpooling.  I was very happy with the clarity of the wort during transfer.  Not sure I will need to use a hop spider for any of my beers anymore, I may just whirlpool every batch, in exchange for adding 30 minutes to the end of the process.  But since I’ve decreased my mash time by 15 minutes, its not so bad.

Wort transfer

Wort transfer

As the weather starts to warm up, my transfer times start to increase.  It was in the 50s-60s for todays brew, and I was able to get the 5+ gallons cooled in 14 minutes with the Blichmann Therminator plate chiller.  I will start thinking about getting a prechiller set up for the upcoming brews to decrease that cooling time and the amount of water used.

I used a third generation American West Coast ale yeast that I harvested from the AleGBT beer back in March.  I did a 1L starter the day before and pitched the whole starter.  Fermentation was going within 6 hours of pitching.  This will ferment at 66F.  Here’s the recipe:


9 lbs 2-Row base malt

1 lb Caramel 20L

1 lb Munich 10L


1 oz Columbus 15.6%AA, First Wort hops (52 minutes of wort contact before boil started)

1 oz Columbus, 10 minutes

3 oz Galaxy 15.0%AA, 0 minutes

10 minute post boil whirlpool (194F after whirlpool), 20 minute rest (185F after rest)


Danstar American West Coast Ale, third generation, 1L starter

WATER additions (filtered Albemarle County water)

1.5 tsp Gypsum to 4.25 gal mash water, 1.5 tsp Gypsum to 4.5 gal sparge water

1 tsp CaCl to mash water, 1 tsp CaCl to sparge water

Guest Post, AleGBT Brewday

Today we brewed AleGBT, a blonde ale for our good friends’ Megan and Jenna’s wedding in May. They agreed to write up a guest post after helping me out with the brewing, so here it goes!…

Brewing is  . . .

Part Science
Part Art
As a wedding gift to us, our dear friends, Kevin and Shannon McElroy-#McElroybrewingco, offered to make us a keg for our wedding.  Last year Kevin brewed two amazing ales-Crystal Blonde and my favorite of the year, Freedom Blonde.  He used his experience from these two ales and Smooth as a Baby’s Butt (see previous blog posts) to create the recipe for our wedding keg.  We are grateful that on our two year anniversary of our first date, that the McElroys would welcome us into their home and help us create wedding beer.  Our beer will be called AleGBT.
I should tell you Jenna and I love to drink good beer, but don’t know much about homebrewing.  Here’s what we learned today:
1) There are many steps.  
Attention to detail is key; timing, precision, and knowing what you are doing makes all the difference.  There was lots of precise measuring and exact temperatures.  Science! Thanks Kevin for taking the lead on all these important details.  See previous blog posts for more info on “the steps.”
2)  There is a lot of gear.
Tubing, hoses, coolers, a siphon, nozzles, refractometer, carboy, pot, propane, and a custom hop spider.  Kevin, being the Renaissance man that he is, has modified much of his equipment to help him brew efficiently.  Art! 
3)  Be Prepared!
Make sure everything is easily accessible between the gear, water, and the ingredients.  Everything was close at hand and was easy to grab quickly when we needed.  Example:  Even though a piece of tubing broke off in the middle of brewing, Kevin was completely calm and solved the problem quickly by trimming of the broken end and reattaching it to a nozzle.  Thank goodness the scissors were near by!   
4) Weather be damned!  We will still brew in your slushy, icy rain.  
Even though it was chilly outside, brewing was great fun between the beer (We tried the 10 point IPA-YUMM and Kevin’s Porter-Yum X Yum), the kids, homemade soup, and wedding strategy, the four hour brewing time flew by. 
Thanks Shannon and Kevin for all your love, support, friendship and well wishes for the wedding.  We know our guest will enjoy AleGBT.  #grateful
A beer story . . . 



dumping the spent grains

Published in: on March 1, 2015 at 7:52 PM  Comments (1)  

Dale’s Pale Ale Brewday, and the No Chill Brewing Method

I decided to squeeze in a brewday to brew a Dale’s Pale Ale clone for our family trip to the Outer Banks in April.  I recently met the Head of Brewing Operations of Oskar Blue’s while spending some time at Three Notch’d Brewing Co., and he was nice enough to give me the recipe for Dale’s Pale Ale.  Now, it was for a 1900 gallon batch, so I had to do some work to scale it down to 5 gallons, but I think I got it pretty close.

I stayed inside as much as I could

I stayed inside as much as I could

Its been downright cold here in Charlottesville the past week or so.  The low yesterday morning was around 0F, and when I fired up the burner to get started, it was only 15F.  Not an ideal night for brewing, but when you work full time and have 2 small children, you brew when you can brew.  I probably won’t brew again when it gets this cold though.

The brewday was running very smoothly up until the end of the boil.  I was using a new whirlpool method to keep the hops out of the fermenter, rather than my usual hop spider, to try and increase my hop utilization and get a better hop aroma and flavor from the late additions.  I used a total of 6.5 oz of hops in the boil, 4 oz of that at flameout.  Instead of cutting off the burner and chilling immediately, I planned on starting the whirlpool pump, chilling down to around 180F, then cutting off the chiller to allow the hops to steep while recirculating for 20-30 minutes.  This method allows for aroma extraction without increasing IBU’s from steeping in near boiling wort.  Then, after cutting off the pump and allowing the hops to settle in a cone at the middle of the kettle, transferring the wort through the chiller into the fermenter, leaving the hop particles behind.  As a note, this only works with pellet hops, since they can pass through a plate chiller, while leaf hops will clog your pump and chiller. After an initial shot of hop particles, I got a nice, clear wort into the fermenter.


hop cone


The issue came when I went to turn on the water for the plate chiller and nothing happened.  I guess it turns out that the faucet had frozen, and I couldn’t get a drop of water to come out.  Enter panic mode.

I had no way of chilling the wort down quickly.  Before trying to turn on the water, I had cut off the burner, dropped in the final hop addition, and starting recirculating with my pump.  So this was running while I pondered what to do next.  I ran inside, poured a pitcher of hot water, and poured it over the faucet, thinking that would do something.  But the water inside the pipe was frozen, and I had no way of fixing that.  I went back to look at the temp of the wort, and in 5 minutes it had already dropped below 200F.  Maybe I wasn’t completely screwed after all.  In only 14 minutes the wort had dropped down to 180F, which meant that my IBU wouldn’t be effected too much, and DMS production was of little concern as well.  I went inside and looked at my plastic carboy, it read “do not exceed 140F”.  So, after 40 minutes of recirculating, I was down to 140F.  I decided to get it in the carboy, drop it in the refrigerator, and let it finish cooling to 65F before pitching my yeast starter.

After transferring and cleaning up, the wort was already at 105F

After transferring and cleaning up, the wort was already at 105F

After getting up at 345 and 545 am to check on the temperature, I pitched the yeast at 715, about 8 hours after the boil finished into the wort at 68F.  Long night.  But I am pretty confident that the beer will turn out just fine.  After doing some research and finding this ARTICLE ON NO CHILL BREWING I was able to relax a little.  This method was developed more for areas that are too hot, not too cold, but I guess the same principles apply to my situation.

Here’s the recipe:

My Dale’s Pale Ale (5.5 gal)

Efficiency – 85%

OG -1.062

FG – 1.013

ABV – 6.5%

IBU – 68


9 lbs Pale 2-Row

1.2 lbs Munich 10L

0.9 lbs Caramel 20L

0.2 lbs Caramel 90L


0.5 oz Columbus (15.6 AA) First Wort Hops

1 oz Cascade (6.2 AA) 30 minutes

1 oz Columbus, 10 minutes

4 oz Centennial (9 AA), whirlpool for 30 minutes at 180F (read above)

(notice there are no dry hops in Dale’s Pale Ale)


Danstar West Coast Ale Yeast, 2L starter


Mash at 152F with 4.25 gal

Sparge at >170F with 4.7 gal

I added 1.5 tsp gypsum (CaSO4) and 1 tsp CaCl to both the mash and sparge water, since we are low in calcium and sulfates in Charlottesville.  See my post on WATER ANALYSIS for more info.

60 minute boil

Baby J turned 5 months old this week!

Baby J turned 5 months old this week!

Keags and her "snow gloves"

Keags and her “snow gloves”






Published in: on February 21, 2015 at 2:39 PM  Comments (1)  
Tags: ,

Adjusting Your Brewing Water in Charlottesville

I’ve recently become more aware of the importance water has on brewing beer.  I’ve been brewing for four years now and have never really thought twice about the water I’ve been using and its effect on the final product.  As it turns out, water quality and profile has just as big a part in making good beer as quality malt and hops.  I’m going to leave yeast out of that statement, because I still think that yeast is the most important ingredient to making great beer.

First thing to do is get a water report from your local water company.  Ours posts a report online each year and can be found here

But after looking through the report, and reading about different profiles and minerals here

I was still thoroughly confused.  I couldn’t find the Calcium levels.  Or the sulfate levels.  Or anything really that I could plug into my BeerSmith program to figure out what kind of water I had coming out of the tap.  So, I sent an email to the water company asking these questions.  They were happy to help me out, and had all the specific levels I was looking for.  So if you can’t work your way through your water report, try giving them a call or email, and hopefully they will be as helpful as they were to me.

For those of you in Charlottesville (Albemarle county in particular), here are the numbers I was given for the 2014 report, which is due to come out online in a few weeks.

Calcium – 15.6 ppm – brewing range 50-150.  So adding calcium is recommended for our water, especially if you are brewing all grain, as it helps with enzymatic activity during the mash.  But it also plays roles in clarity during the boil and yeast activity as well.  Use Gypsum (CaSO4) or CaCl (if water is low in chloride) to adjust.

Sulfate – 28.9 ppm – brewing range 50-350.  Sulfate is what lends bitter beers the crisp hop bitterness.  I feel that my bitter beers have always lacked that, and am excited to see how adjusting this changes those beers.  The more bitter your beer, the higher sulfate level you want.  But above 350 and you will be flirting with harshly bitter flavors.  Use Gypsum or Epsom Salt (MgSO4) to increase levels.

Magnesium – 1.7 ppm – brewing range 10-30. Similar to Calcium, also a yeast nutrient.  I don’t plan on adjusting this right now.

Sodium – 7.9 ppm – brewing range 0-150. In high levels can cause beer to taste salty.

Chloride – 8.7 ppm – brewing range 0-150.  Accentuates flavor and fullness in the beer.  In high amounts can lend medicinal flavor to the beer.

HCO3 – 17.0 ppm – brewing range 0-250 (low end for pale beers, high end for dark beers) The concern here is more for brewing pale beers with high levels of carbonate, which we don’t have to worry about here.  The higher the carbonate level, the higher the pH.  Dark malts are more acidic than pale malts, so the darker beers can tolerate higher pH water.

I have only just started studying brewing water, so please do your research to figure out what your water needs.  I plan on using gypsum (CaSO4) and CaCl to adjust my calcium and sulfate levels.  I could use just gypsum, but I would end up with pretty high levels of SO4, and since our water is low in chloride, I can also use CaCl to get the Ca levels up even more.  I will add it to both the mash and sparge water to reach my targeted levels.  In commercial brewing, it is all added to the mash, since most often the sparge water comes directly from a hot liquor tank.

I’d like to hear any suggestions that might increase my knowledge of brewing water, so please add any comments!

Keagan loves riding the free trolley around town!

Keagan loves riding the free trolley around town!

Jameson hanging out in his favorite shirt

Jameson hanging out in his favorite shirt

Published in: on February 12, 2015 at 2:11 PM  Comments (3)