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June 23, 2009

My Day at Chelsea Brewing Company

This past Friday, thanks to fellow blogger Ian Phillips and Ambassador at Chelsea Brewing Company, I was able to spend the whole day shadowing and helping head brewer Chris Sheehan and assistant brewer Mark Szmaida. The day began with my arrival to the brewery at 7:30am (which was quite difficult considering what I was doing the night before) and Chris immediately put me to work washing kegs. He said it was to be a busy day because they would be brewing AND cleaning and refilling multiple kegs to redistribute to various bars in the area (they had recently numbered all their kegs and they were up to 200).

After finishing cleaning about 20-25 kegs, Chris & Mark started the brew. For the most part I just followed them around as they went through the steps of making their flagship beer, Chelsea Checker Cab Blonde Ale, occasionally lending a hand here and there. Imagine my surprise when they asked me to climb INTO the mash tun and clean it out after the mash had been transferred to the hot liquor tank to be brought to a boil. So I got in with a hose and started working my way around clearing out the excess spent grain, thinking to myself, "I'M INSIDE A MASH TUN!". Nerdgasm. Cut to 25 minutes later, and I'm climbing out of the tank soaked with my back killing me. It made me realize that if my dream to become a brewer came true, it would still be hard work. But much more rewarding than anything I've done before (or am doing, don't tell my boss that I wasn't actually sick on Friday).

Once I was done with that, the boil had begun, so Mark let me add the 3 lbs of pellet hops. Awesome. Sounds stupid, I know, but it's fun to think I actually had a hand in making beer that will be sold to thirsty costumers at both the brewery and other bars in NYC. In between all of this, they let me do a fair amount of sampling from the taps from behind the bar. Man, to constantly have beer YOU MADE on tap right there every day would be wonderful. I definitely only had a liquid lunch.

I finished up by helping with the hopback (seen above - a running of the wort through whole leaf hops and then into the fermenting tank, didn't know that before Friday) and then assisting with the cleanup process. We were done by about 3:30pm, about a 7 hour day. Not bad! Although, I think if I had my own brewery, I'd probably make my hours a little later...I'd have trouble getting up at 6am every morning.

Big thanks again to the brewers, Chris & Mark and to Ambassador Ian. It was great to get an idea of what operating a commercial brewery would be like. Hopefully someday I can be as helpful to the curious homebrewing community as they were to me.


  1. dude, that is awesome....

  2. Dude I did the same thing last week! Good times, those guys are really cool. I had the same realization about the physical labor involved in commercial brewing. Certainly I knew it intellectually beforehand, but the experience drilled it home. My back was feeling it after cleaning the mash tun, too. But it was, of course, awesome. And I certainly slept well that night.

    Awesome blog. Just found it today while searching for a picture of Chelsea's mash tun to better explain to a friend about cleaning it.

  3. Whoa, nice! How did you find out about their kindness? Was it through Ian Phillips? I definitely wish I had taken some pics, especially of myself in the mash tun.

    Glad you like the blog!

  4. I don't believe I'm met Ian, though I've heard his name bandied about in various circles.

    I'd been wondering about volunteering in local breweries so when I saw that Chelsea was doing a tasting at Bierkraft a few weeks ago, I made sure to be there. I just talked to Chris and Mark and they were totally cool with the idea.

    Yeah I wanted some pics too but wasn't sure if my camera would survive the venture, so I left it home. Maybe next time! I plan to spend another day there as soon as I can find the time.