I apologize about the long hiatus. I’ve been working incredibly hard trying to get ready for Brewlab at the end of this month (I leave February 24th). Interning at a start-up brewery has been one of my many learning experiences.
After applying to over 15 different breweries in New York and beyond, I was lucky enough to get an internship at Port Jeff Brewing Co., a brand new brewery (the Grand Opening was October 15th, 2011) located on Long Island, NY in Port Jefferson. I had never worked in an industrial environment before so I knew there would be an adjustment period but the people I worked with were supportive and willing to show me how to be comfortable in a brewery.
A lot of people are under the impression that working in a brewery is nonstop fun all day long, and to some extent it is really, how bad can it be making beer all day? But breweries are businesses and they still need to operate on an efficient and consistent basis. This was something I learned immediately.
Although it took me some time to get comfortable and get my “brewing legs”, it was a great experience for me to see what goes into making beer on a commercial scale. I woke up around 6each morning to make sure I got to Port Jeff by 8am. The drive definitely wasn’t the most fun part of my experience. From the moment I got there to the time I left, I was working. I did everything from milling the grain to mashing in to filling kegs to even hopping in the boil kettle to scrub it out (something I did my first day). I remember being greeted at the door on my first day and quickly asked whether or not I was claustrophobic. I should have answered “yes” because after that I was given a bucket of iodine solution and a sponge and sent into the kettle. That was more or less my right of passage.
Port Jeff brews on a 7-barrel system (technically a nano-brewery) and has 4 fermenters and 1 Bright Tank used to carbonate the beer. Two of the fermenters are 14-barrel and allow for double batches, while the other 2 are smaller 7-barrel fermenters allowing for only one batch of beer at a time
I worked closely with Mike Philbrick, the founder and head brewer and his brewer Jeff, who handled the day-to-day management. Port Jeff brews many different beers but most notable (and popular) are the Schooner Ale (a hoppy Pale Ale with nice citrus flavors and a malty finish), the Runaway Ferry IPA (Mike was going for double digit alcohol percentage and triple digit IBU‘s; this is one major hop bomb with a dose of hops during the mash-in and pounds of Warrior hops) and my personal favorite, the Port Jeff Porter (a very traditional porter that is smooth and has a bit of lingering sweetness at the end from natural, local honey added during fermentation).
Working at Port Jeff allowed me to see all aspects of brewing from milling, mashing in, boiling, transferring and cleaning (to name a few). The thing that was so great about Port Jeff, was its size (or lack thereof). I was able to see how everything connected and worked together. The brewery works very similar to an assembly line (brewing, fermenting, clearing, carbonating, kegging and storing) and the beer simply moves down the line and out for consumption at local bars and restaurants.
Port Jeff Brewing relies heavily on it’s local community that has embraced it fully. There was no shortage of people wandering in from the apartments upstairs to “check-in” or visitors that come to sample beers in the tasting room.
Although a lot of Port Jeff’s beers appear basic compared to the wildly experimental brews coming out of Dogfish Head or Lagunitas, Mike and Jeff make high quality beers and I’m proud to say I was able to brew with them for about 4 months. Port Jeff has only begun to scratch the surface of its potential and will be expanding its operation to increase the number of fermentation tanks, bottling capacity and will begin to barrel age many of their beers. I’m looking forward to watching their progress.