We Tried That: Brewing beer at Caledonia Brewing in Dunedin

Published August 15 2017
Updated August 16 2017

The craft beer trend has been steadily gaining ground in Dunedin. Home to breweries like Dunedin Brewery and Soggy Bottom, the area has earned a reputation as a craft beer destination, and the scene is still growing. 7venth Sun Brewery, on Broadway Avenue, is opening a second location in Tampa in August. Caledonia Brewing opened its doors just a few months ago, in April.

"You can hit all seven [breweries] and not even walk a mile," said Jeff Parker, who owns Caledonia with his wife, Hollie, and brewer Dave Dally and Dally's parents Dave and Claudia.

Twenty-five taps, 16 of which are devoted to Caledonia brews like Rat Arsed Scotch Ale, Udderly Delish Nitro Milk Stout and Hoptacular IPA, are hooked up in an old building that used to house the Dunedin Times, which stopped printing in 2000. Exposed brick and bright blue growler light fixtures over the bar give the 4,000-square-foot space, named for what the Romans first called Scotland, a homey vibe.

Parker and Dally make you feel welcome, too.

Both home brewers originally, Parker working in construction and Dally in stained glass, the two guys opened the brewery for a very simple, very relatable reason: " 'Cause we like beer a lot," Parker said.

I was curious about the actual process of brewing beer in a brewery. So they agreed to let me watch them make a batch of their Classic Jeff Pale Ale.

How it went

I wasn't wearing the right shoes.

It was a minor handicap, but it spoke to the level of attention Dally pays to brewing beer. He had me change into close-toed rubber boots, don an apron and put on safety glasses before I could even get close to, let alone peer into, the metal drums of Caledonia's tri-kettle, 3 1/2-barrel brewing system.

Dally was meticulous as he talked me through the process: Heat water to 164 degrees in the first kettle, the hot liquor tank. Pump water into the second tank, the mash tun, where grains are added and steeped for an hour to create mash. Then, time to sparge — run hot water over the grains to catch any residual sugars.

The resulting liquid, known as sweet wort, is then pumped into a third tank, the boil kettle, where hops are added and steeped. After an hour, the wort is strained and run through a heat exchange device to cool it before it's pumped into a fermentation tank, where yeast is added and the batch ferments over the next several days.

I was furiously jotting down technical terms, checking for clarification and double-checking spelling.

When it came time to actually working through the process, Dally was teaching, tinkering and sanitizing, all at once. He checked temperatures to the exact degree and showed me how to check the quality of the batch. When we added malted barley to the heated water in the mash tun, making the whole room smell like oatmeal, he let me stir the mix with a large paddle to break up any dough balls formed in the grain.

He showed me how to check the alcohol content of the beer with a refractometer. Using two or three drops of the sweet wort, he dripped the liquid onto the tip of the device and held it up to the light to ensure it contained proper density levels; it didn't, so he added more hot water to the batch.

He even let me dump in the hops.

I couldn't help but feel like I was back in high school chemistry with the safety getup, the furious note-taking and the double- and triple-checking of each step. Chemistry was not my strongest subject. But both Dally and Parker were patient and helpful, offering tidbits about the brewery — like the fact that it's decorated with unicorns, some of which were gifts from guests, because that's the national animal of Scotland — along the way.

The verdict

On my way out the door, Dally commented that, while brewing beer is fun, it also involves a lot of waiting, tinkering and cleaning, and I had to agree. While Dally tinkered and cleaned, I did a lot of waiting.

Like how a watched pot never boils, I felt like a watched mash tun never steeps. (And I didn't want to even think about how some beers take two to three weeks to ferment.)

I'm currently on the Whole30 diet, so I wasn't able to try the finished products Caledonia has on tap. I resisted every temptation, including a cherry wheat and dark chocolate oatmeal stout that I was desperate to try. But, in a way, it was a blessing in disguise, because I know I'll be making the drive to Dunedin in the very near future.

To drink the beer, not to brew it.

Carlynn Crosby can be reached at carlynncrosby@yahoo.com.

       
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