There’s a beer nirvana in Pennsylvania, and it’s in a shed. The HammerSmith Ale House and Brewery, a slice of heaven near the Delaware River, was designed by Chris Bowen — a beer enthusiast, beer historian and certified beer judge. Bowen always loved cooking for friends. Eight years ago, he tried his hand at making beer and soon got hooked. “Brewing is an addictive hobby,” he said.
Bowen was fermenting and bottling in his basement before he decided to purchase an acre of land in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, which contained an old 6.7m x 4.3m Amish-built shed. He remodelled the structure, which now houses his yeast laboratory, four refrigerators, two sinks, and a sophisticated microbrewery system he designed and built from scratch. With this setup, he can replicate water from almost anywhere in the world to churn out 38-litre batches of specific styles of beer. That’s right: Bowen can reproduce the world’s water, matching the mineral content on tap in over 70 countries. Here are some lab notes gathered from experiments with his proprietary reverse osmosis process:
Calcium(Ca): 75.0 ppm
Magnesium(Mg): 20.0 ppm
Sodium(Na): 10.0 ppm
Sulfate(SO4): 10.0 ppm
Chloride (Cl): 2.0 ppm
Bicarbonate(HCO3): 200.0 ppm
PH: 7.6 PH
High carbonate levels for low hopping rates and dark colours in Dunkels and Bocks.
Calcium(Ca): 200.0 ppm
Magnesium(Mg): 60.0 ppm
Sodium(Na): 8.0 ppm
Sulfate(SO4): 125.0 ppm
Chloride (Cl): 12.0 ppm
Bicarbonate(HCO3): 120.0 ppm
PH: 8.2 PH
High water hardness, but low sodium and chloride levels. Amber, malty lagers.
Calcium(Ca): 120.0 ppm
Magnesium(Mg): 25.0 ppm
Sodium(Na): 55.0 ppm
Sulfate(SO4): 140.0 ppm
Chloride (Cl): 20.0 ppm
Bicarbonate(HCO3): 225.0 ppm
PH: 7.75 PH
Used for dark, malty Brown ales with low bitterness.
Logging the data on the software program BeerSmith, Bowen has recreated beer recipes from the 1800s, won over 50 beer awards and created over 300 different beer recipes. “One of my favourites is the Toast Master General,” he said. “It’s a brown ale that I had toasted from malt to get the colour and flavours of chocolate and caramel.”
The lab itself is set up in a work triangle. The stove, refrigerator and sink are all within arm’s reach. “The brew system is at the centre, to the left is the wash sink and the ingredients — malt for flavour, hops for booze — and to the right is all the gear for fermentation and filtering.” A convenient floor drain makes cleanup simple.
When it comes time to have a toast, guests belly up to the bar Bowen built himself, and enjoy a handful of mouthwatering concoctions on tap. The shed has Wi-Fi, air conditioning, a sweet sound system and a flatscreen with cable. On nice days, Bowen and his guests have a pint by the fire pit on the stone patio out back.
It sounds perfect, but there’s a catch. HammerSmith ales will not be found at your local beer authority. Bowen refuses to go commercial, which he claims would take the fun out of brewing. Besides, the brewmaster is too busy travelling and researching, anyway. In mid 2010, Bowen travelled to the Canadian Arctic to make 380 litres of Allsopp’s Arctic Ale, an English brew from 1852. Mr Bowen, your dedication is an inspiration to us all.
Name: Chris Bowen
Location: Bethlehem, Pennnsylvania
Money Invested: $US3500
Prized Possession: The Savant brewery system, which Bowen designed and built himself. It’s only five years old and has already churned out over 300 batches of beer.
Theft Deterrent: A standard ADT alarm system and a neighbourhood watch. “It’s sort of old-fashioned,” said Bowen. “I have a lot of friends that go over there and keep an eye on things.”
On the Wish List: A 1.8m x 3m walk-in cooler that Bowen will design, build and use for yeast fermentation and ageing of the beers. What else does this brewery need?
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