This is one in an occasional series of 7 Sips interviews, where we sit down for a pint and seven questions with someone active in the local craft beer community. Today we catch up with Tom Applegate, a former Army EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) specialist who opened Mad Bomber Brewing in Hayden in November 2013 along with his wife, Stephanie, and two bomb squad buddies. After soldiering through with a makeshift 1-barrel system, including plastic fermenters with little temperature control, he recently upgraded to a shiny new 7-barrel brewhouse and began distributing beer around the Coeur d’Alene area.
Q: The new system is up and running. How much of a difference has that made?
A: It’s dramatically improved the quality of the beer. I think it’s cleaner, with more well-defined flavors. Consistency we don’t know yet, because we’ve only done, out of the 23 batches (so far), I think we’ve only had maybe three repeats. … Just having real equipment, getting a real boil, knocking it out into stainless steel (fermenters), where you can actually clean them – our fermenters are air-tight now, which I’ve heard is really important to brewing, and temperature control, that’s a big one. So we’re back to having the homebrew level of control, where we started (before opening the brewery), where you’ve got your tiny little batch that you just love and take care of. More of that’s in our control now, so now we can take the recipes and manipulate them to the beers that they should be. Before, you would make a batch and it would turn out however it turned out. You could try to replicate it, but you didn’t know if a good batch was the wild card, or if that’s how the beer was supposed to taste. So the quality of the beer has improved a lot, and consistency, I’m sure we’ll get there, probably.
We’re still learning a lot, because the first time any of us worked on commercial equipment is when it showed up at the brewery. So we’re learning how to be professional brewers instead of homebrewers brewing commercially, that’s a much different thing. It’s removed a little bit of the spontaneity of it, and that’s one thing I miss. We used to have a stockpile of grains, and it was, what do you feel like brewing? On a seven-barrel, it’s not, oh, I’m going to use 20 pounds of this, it’s I need 120 pounds of this, and you usually don’t have it lying around. So now I know what we’re brewing next week, I know what we’re brewing tomorrow. That’s not how we’re used to brewing.
Q: Part of the charm of Mad Bomber has always been the steady stream of new beers. Is that going to change now with the larger system?
A: Beers are still going to rotate, though it’s almost impossible to rotate with the same frequency. It takes folks in the taproom a long time to drink seven barrels, when there’s eight beers on tap. (With the old system) you would come in two weeks after your first visit and there would be a whole new lineup on the board. … The idea to keep things rotating quickly is to keep them rotating on the distribution side. So we can continue to brew new beers, and just keep pushing them out – we’ll keep two kegs for the taproom, and send the rest out the door. That way, a week later, that one’s gone and we rotate another one in. (And) we should be adding more taps soon. We’re going to add eight more taps, so we might not rotate as often, but the goal is we’ll have a root beer, a cider, and 14 of our beers on. So they might not rotate as often, but there will be more variety.
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