I met Blane and Natalie White at least four years ago now. I know that number because the first time I ever met Blane was in his garage in Manteno brewing beer while my wife, Sam, was pregnant with our daughter Penelope.
Penny is turning 4 this month so the math is pretty easy here. Blane was a homebrewer, member of the homebrew club Brewers of the South Suburbs (B.O.S.S.) and an IT guy at a bank. Homebrewing was a passion for Blane, Natalie explained in her first email with me, and someday Blane wanted to open his own brewery.
Brewing in his garage that evening made the dream seem real to me but very far away in my estimation. Surprise, the dream became a reality, Steam Hollow was born, and I had no idea how wrong I was then. That first night, I joined Blane homebrewing a few other times after this, Blane brewed a classic pale ale in the vein of a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or as Blane would claim a Deschutes Mirror Pond because of his deep love for his home state of Oregon.
As we were wrapping up this late-night brew session, he invited me back to taste the beer once it was brewed. I asked him when the beer would be ready, this being in early September, and he said a few weeks – maybe Sept. 25 or so. I told him then that Sam was pregnant and our baby was due around that time so I might be a little busy.
He was floored and asked what we were going to name her. I told Blane then that we were planning on naming our daughter Penelope. “Penelope’s Pale Ale” was the first thing out of his mouth then, and it stuck. The beer then was named Penelope’s Pale Ale when he would brew it in his garage.
He has brewed it one other time on his professional grade equipment at Steam Hollow Brewing, shortening the name to simply Pale Ale as there are numerous beers you can find on Untappd named the same thing. But we all know what beer that is.
So, in honor of this first year’s venture, Blane invited me back to brew with him actually on my birthday this year Sept. 19 to brew a beer formerly known as Penelope’s Pale Ale again. What a difference that experience has been between the homebrew set up in his garage and a full-scale brewing operation they have going on Spruce Street.
Blane brews all of the beer at Steam Hollow on a 10-barrel brewhouse system. One barrel of beer is two kegs (1/2 barrels). So, when he gets done with one batch, he will have 20 kegs of beer. Each keg (1/2 barrel) comes out to be 165 12-ounce beers, so 20 kegs is over 3,000 beers.
So, on Oct. 19 for our beer release party we are throwing at Steam Hollow Brewing, there will be 3,000 beers ready to drink in honor of the anniversary of this long friendship.
I showed up at 5 a.m. on a Tuesday and Blane was already in the shop preheating the hot liquor tank. In order to get 10 barrels of water up to temp, you have plan ahead. We loaded up a pallet of a mixture of malts like 2-row and 120 Caramel malt.
We grabbed a box of hops from the cooler, all cascade which is our shared favorite hop and something we bonded over that first brew session and got to work. I didn’t realize until I was standing on the platform that I had “brewed” with Brickstone before many, many times. Just standing on the brew house floor while brewing is happening is synonymous with “brewing” it is just that at the Brickstone production facility level there is a lot of buttons to push and less brew paddles and ripping open grain bags.
I helped Blane lift up 55 pounds of grain bags, I don’t remember how many, maybe 10 or 11 for this brew. We ripped them open and poured them in the mash ton and had to stir this strange concoction in order to break up the clumps of malt as they steeped in 150-degree water.
Once we were done with that process we let this batch brew for 60 minutes. I had done this process a number of times at the homebrewer — extract level, and helped Blane at the all-grain garage homebrewer level so it all made sense as we were going along.
The rest of the morning we talked about beer and the brewing business, styles he wants to brew and new topics that have come up for them along the way. At times when we were waiting for the tank to fill or the temperature to rise, there were crickets chirping in the early morning of the industrial park where Steam Hollow sits.
Blane showed me how he had rigged up the A/C at Steam Hollow to run off of glycol, the chemical commonly used in brewing to chill fermenters. He also showed me different parts of the brewing equipment that they had to figure out once they got the equipment in the space and had to makeshift a solution for.
Watching Blane work was like watching a wind-up soldier plod mechanically through his tasks, flipping values open and closed, and preparing for the next phases. We sat and chatted for a few minutes while we waited for some next phase of the process to kick in. He’d jump up all the solid and go check some metric or temperature was still correct. He set a timer to remind him of some crucial transition phase, but he could feel the time slip by in his bones and probably didn’t need the timer at all.
The process seems new to him in a way that this is a bigger stage to grapple with, but he seemed at home in the brew deck watching the numbers click past and monitoring it all with a watchful eye. There is a sort of peace in knowing this person cares deeply about what he is doing and has at least this phase of the game firmly in hand. I think it’ll be a good beer. I can’t wait to try it.
Pale Ale from Steam Hollow Brewing
Style: Pale Ale – American
Notes: Cascade is the star of this show with a depth of bitterness and character that really lets this workhorse of a hop shine with notes of pine and citrus that remind what a pale ale is supposed to taste like.
Where to Buy: You can only buy this at the taproom at this point, there is some talk of canning this beer which I will confirm for you when the event approaches. You can try this beer on Oct. 19 at the release party starting at 7 pm. You can get it in 16-ounce pours for $6. There will be a taco food truck there and a live band, Anthem, starting music at 8 pm. There is no cover fee for this event. I will be on hand to talk about the beer, help pour someone a beer, cheers someone a beer, eat some tacos, and listen some great music. I hope to see you there.