Peak(s):  Mt. Bierstadt  -  14,060 feet
Date Posted:  08/13/2006
Modified:  08/17/2006
Date Climbed:   08/12/2006
Author:  chancock

 Brewing on Mt Bierstadt  

A few friends and I brewed 4 gallons of beer yesterday on top of Mt. Bierstadt. Heres a trip report for those interested:

Homebrewing at 14,060ft above sea level - Mt Bierstadt
August 12, 2006
Chuck Hancock, Steve Jones, Terry James, Brian Thompson, Sara Thompson
Members of Liquid Poets, Fort Collins, CO

We arrived at the parking lot for the Bierstadt trailhead around 8:30 Friday evening to find Terry, who had been up the day before camping by himself, quite happy to see other humans to talk to. Unfortunately, he forgot to clean up the evidence of his previous consumption, and we found a crushed can of Coors Original on the ground near his tent. -1 homebrewer point for Terry! After sharing a few homebrews, we all retired to our tents for a few hours of sleep before our epic journey. At 5:00am, several cell phone alarms rang and our day began. After breaking down camp and eating some breakfast, we divided up the water, hops, and equipment and began our trip at 6:15am: 3.5 miles to the top with 2,850 feet of elevation gain.

The climb up the trail was slow going, with brewing equipment, stoves, fuel, 5.25 gallons of brewing water, grains, and personal water, food, clothes, and celebration brews. After realizing that he had enough equipment in his pack to get started, Chuck pushed on and reached the summit first at about 9:05am. A small rock platform was established and the Whisperlite stove began heating water for the mash. Steve arrived about 10 minutes later with some more water and the grains, but there was no sign of the rest of the crew. Given the weather patterns at 14,000 ft, we decided we needed to get started with what we had. We were going to mash in a 5 gallon Gott cooler with false bottom, but it had not arrived on the summit yet, so when the water heated up to 163, we shut off the flame and threw the grains in the pot. They grain dropped the mash temp to 147, so we added some more heat and stirred with a broken piece of wood we found near by (the spoon had not arrived yet either). The mash temperature was raised to 154 and it stayed there for the entire 30 min mash. Even without insulation and 48 degree ambient temps!

While we were mashing, we stated heating what water we had for the sparge. About 20 minutes into the mash, the rest of the crew arrived on the summit. They were greeted and congratulated on their success, and then we got down to business. We added the rest of the sparge water to the the pot and heated to about 165. It was taking a long time, so we figured that was close enough to 168. We built a new rock ring big enough for 3 stoves, and we put all three stoves (butane, propane, and white gas) under the boil pot. Once the water was ready, we vorlaufed until the runnings were clear, then opened up the drain and let it all run out. We added the entire 3 gallons of sparge water, stirred, and let sit for about 5 minutes, then repeated the vorlauf and let those runnings drain out as well. We ended up with first runnings at 20 Brix (about 1.080) and collected 4+ gallons of wort with pre-boil gravity of about 1.040. .75oz of East Kent Goldings to the first runnings. As the second batch sparge was taking place, we started up the 3 camp stoves (some of us losing eyebrows) and started heating the wort. It took a while to reach boiling temps, even though at 14,060ft it boiled at about 182 degrees! We added hops at the start of boil, and the last 5 min and flame out. Our plan was to boil for 30 minutes, so we had increased hop amounts to counter the lower utilization. We did not expect to have lower evaporation, so we ended up with about 4 gallons of wort (plan was a 3 gallon batch) at the end of the boil. We forgot the whirlfloc tablet, but believe it or not that was the only thing we forgot, despite the rushing and chaotic planning and packing that took place. With our boil underway, we finally took a moment to relax and we all celebrated our pending success with bottles of homebrew!

While up on the summit, rain sprinkled on us, but never looked threatening enough to pack up. Besides, we liked the idea of having true Bierstadt rain in our Bierstadt Brown! None the less, we wanted down ASAP. We wanted to cool with snow (nobody wanted to haul up extra water for a chiller), but the summit was nothing but rocks. We had noticed a small snowfield at the base of the rock scramble to the summit, so we decided to try to carry the hot pot back down to the snowfield. Steve and Chuck each took a handle and began slowly carrying the hot wort down the boulders to the snow. Luckily, the process was successful, with only one major splash of hot wort on the hands! We cooled the wort to 86 degrees by putting it in a pile of snow and stirring often. Then we transferred it back to the gallon jugs the water came in, filtering out hop material with a funnel with a screen in it. Terry entertained us by scooping the hop material from the funnel screen with the spoon, the flinging it behind him over the edge of a cliff "like a monkey flinging poo!" The brewing process now complete, we started back down the mountain at 1:15pm. A total of 4 hours of brewing at 14,000 feet! The rain showers were getting darker and thunder was booming in the distance, so Steve and I decided that being above tree line in a lightning storm with big metal pots strapped to our back was not the smartest idea, so we made haste back to the parking lot. We still got drenched on the way down, but dry clothes and cool beers made it all better when we arrived back at the car.

Once the rest of the crew made it back, we combined the 4 gallon jugs into a 5 gallon carboy and checked the gravity. Turned out to be only 0.006 under our target gravity coming in at 11.4 Brix (1.045) even though we collected a gallon more than we were supposed to. It looks like we ended up with a overall efficiency of 73.7%, despite the extreme circumstances under which we brewed. The yeast was pitched, and the airlock was attached, and the carboy was loaded up in the car, and we pulled out about 4:00pm. We decided no further aeration was required, given that they were shaken well on the way down the mountain and then more in the carboy as Steve tried to hit every pothole he could on the torn up mountain road.

While we have not yet tasted our product, it is currently happily fermenting away, and I have no doubts that the environment in which it was brewed all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into making this beer will combine to make a truly unrepeatable brew that could quite possibly be the best ever produced! It was a truly memorable experience. Everyone on the mountain came to know about "those brewing guys" and we were congratulated, given high fives, told we were awesome, and were even told we became someones new heroes. There are at least two dozen pictures of us brewing on random people's cameras. Most people that we met were treated to an education on how beer is made, as we explained to process to anyone who asked in the four hours we were up there. At least a few people we met needed no explanation: a couple of fellow homebrewers, a lady who worked for Coors (who took a picture to share with people back at work), and a fellow who offered us a sample of a delicious IPA that came from Golden City Brewery in Golden, CO (Golden's Second Largest Brewery). He denied making it, but then later on that day a random man asked us if we had met Charlie Sturdavant, head brewer for Golden City Brewery. It was a damn good IPA Charlie! I wish we would have known!

Thanks to everyone we met on the mountain who offered encouragement, and thanks to everyone in the brewing party! It was a hell of a lot of work, but a day and a beer never to forget!


Trip Report by Chuck Hancock, based on notes on a napkin transcribed by Sara as we all tried to recall what we just did the last 12 hours on the ride home.

Out of curiousity, does anyone know if anyone else has brewed on Mt Bierstadt before? I know people have done it on Mt Whitney and Mt Elbert, so I know we're not the highest, but if anyone else knows of anyone doing it on this mountain before please let me know. I'd really like to know if we were the first to brew up there or not. Thanks!

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