Q&A With Brewmaster: Mark Stevens

by Shopify API

Mark Stevens is the co-owner and Head Brewer of Tar Banks Brewing, the first Craft Brewery in Louisburg, North Carolina. His journey with Novozymes enzymes began when he was looking for a way to optimize raw materials for maximum efficiency when brewing.

Interviewer: Can you tell me about your brewery?

Mark: So we opened the doors August 2nd, 2017. My business partner has another business where he renovates older buildings in downtown, and he’s always wanted to open a brewery. So, the building that he had there, he acquired it in 2008 and had been stagnant since then.

Me and two other guys that I work with started doing a fundraiser for the Franklin County Boys and Girls Club seven years ago. Basically, we're a bunch of guys that brew beer, and we came up with the idea of, “Hey, how about we brew beer, get some local chefs to plan food pairings, and then sell tickets and all of the proceeds go to the Boys and Girls club.”

There is a lady that is on the board for the Franklin County Boys and Girls club that was able to get all the legal work completed in order for the event to take place. We were able to get quite a few other brewers to come in and brew beer. And we hosted it at one of the town commissioner's house in Franklin County. We'd give tickets out for donation and people would come in.

This past year, we were able to get it where we can have craft breweries come into it, so it has kind of gone away from the home brewing scene. We still have pretty well-known restaurants around the triangle participate, that the chefs there do the dishes for the pairings. We have local farms that donate all the food or the produce, and people go through and pick what they want to make a dish with. It's a huge success every year. The first year we did this, we had a Franklin County Newspaper reporter come in and do an article around it. When my business partner was looking for a brewer, he reached out to his good friend, who was the paper reporter. The reporter said, “I know just the person you should talk to.”

So, he put him in touch with one of my colleagues, we got together and we all talked about it and I said, “Hey, great, let's open a brewery up.” But then life gets in the way; one guy that we worked with moved away, so then there were three of us. And then as we got into renovating, the other guy that I work with had a busy schedule with family and travel with work, so he had to get out of it. Then that left it up to me and my current business partner, and we followed through with it. It took us a good two years to renovate, and we've done all of the work ourselves.

We did have one guy come in to do work as a structural engineer, but other than that, we designed the inside of it; the bar, we built all of that. We opened the doors up in August of 2017. So that’s what kind of got us into it, the backside of it. And now it's all for the community that we have created in downtown Louisburg. We have a lot of locals within walking distance, and we were the first (legal) microbrewery in Franklin County to open our doors. We even have food trucks that we rotate out.

Our business plan was to start guest taps. So we have taps, we rotate them out quite frequently, and it was a work in progress trying to get a brewing system and go through the whole federal , local and state permits.

So we finally got all that in, and we found a system where we could budget it. Our brew system has been around other breweries that are popular now, actually. We ended up getting a two barrel system, and I had to go through and modify it to how I wanted to run it. We finally got up and running a year later, I think it was in 2018, late 2018. We finally got everything going. It took a good year and a half before we could get our system up and running.

Last year we had to reach out to another brewery with a 10 barrel system, and some of our beers that we consider staple beers have been brewing through a contract brewer, which now is closing down now because of COVID-19. It's been a tough, tough situation currently, and we're still not open. I don't know yet when we'll get to reopen, hopefully it's, soon. We've been doing curbside delivery for the past several months now, which has been great because the community is still supporting us and helping with that aspect of it.

Interviewer: What brewing/technical challenges were your brewery facing?

Mark: The challenge was, and still is getting the system to work, but I got all that done. With any system that you get, you have to optimize your system for the recipe. It's just like going through my contract brewer; we're going to have to sit down and go through it. The issue that I was having was that I would get stuck mashes with recipes that have a lot of wheat and oats, such as a Belgian Wit. It gets really sticky and causes the recirculation to get bound, and due to this the liquid on top of the mash bed would cause the bed to collapse. When I transferred into food and beverage and was able to get my hands on some of our Enzymes, even though I wasn't familiar with them at the time. So I talked with a scientist and got the UltraFlo® and tried it out and I did not get a stuck mash. Now I get really good runoff.

I would mill my malt to a medium/fine grist size that would be a cause for the stuck mashes, but also enables higher extraction. I will use Rice hulls to make up the malt hulls that were pulverized. When a stuck mash happens, it is because of this sugar extraction is not flowing well through the mash bed, and therefore causes the bed to compact down more. You will have to break this up in order to collect the runoff into the boil kettle. This was my biggest issue I was seeing and the Ultraflo® Max enabled me to achieve a better flow and ultimately a more concentrated extraction to runoff into the boil kettle. I was getting somewhere around 75% of that beer before using Ultraflo® Max.

Mark Stevens checking the mashing is going well.
(Testing Ultraflo® Max together with J.D. Angell - Head Brewer at White Street Brewing Co.)

When I brewed with Ultraflo® Max and I looked at my gravity, the sugar concentration at the end, I had roughly 15% higher extract out of the brew house. I was like, whoa. So now when I brew that beer, I've been cutting back my mash bill each time to fine tune this recipe. It's a small system, so I don't have a lot of the commercial functionality that some of these breweries have. I know some breweries have larger fermenters where they go in and double batch. They can run one batch and kind of see how it goes and fill up the fermenter depending on how the first one turned out.

They can manipulate the second one to blend it, or you can blend afterwards. But for me currently, I'm not set up to be able to do that. I have a two barrel RIMS system and utilizes the hot liquor tank to control the temperature of the mash. I'm just a single batch brewer right now, but I was hoping to get a bigger system; a seven barrel system. I think that would be perfect for my place. And then eventually buy a 15 barrel uni-tank so I can double batch. It may be at least another year before we can, we would see where this goes so I can maybe get a bigger system later.

Interviewer: What did you know about enzymes before using them?

Mark: I’ve been working with enzymes for about 13 years and I knew functions of enzymes, mostly in the human body due to nursing school, but never knew of the benefits in brewing until I started working more with the Novozymes brewing products.

Interviewer: What was the process like to incorporate enzymes into your existing brewing process?

Mark: The biggest thing for me to incorporate enzymes in my brewing at first was the dosing. The dosage is dependent on the grist weight on most of these products and deciding to dose low or high. I found out that its best to dose the high recommended dose in order to see the benefit, and then dial back as needed for the particular recipe. Another thing was the malt I was using. I used to run a single infusion mash due to malt being well modified and this single infusion would be where you would target a much higher temperature with strike water than your saccharification rest as you mash in. The grist as it is being added to the water will drop the temperature to the rest temp you are trying to target, and this will hold for the duration of your mash. The caveat here, is that a lot of the beneficial enzymes are being denatured at this temp and also you will have some loss of activity due to the high strike water temp. The native enzymes in malt is not as thermostable as exogenous enzymes. Even though you may have well modified malt, there are some factors that can affect the activities such as age and storage conditions. Depending on the recipe, the single infusion mash may be great, but some recipes may require a step mash to improve extraction. After learning more about the critical aspects of the mash and the enzyme dosages, the use of the products is fairly easy to understand.

The enzyme dosages are done in weight, so I will convert to volume by using the density and will use a syringe to dose the enzymes in the mash tun as it is being filled. Depending on the size of the batch/system, you can use the weight of the product to dose. The most important things are, enzymes save you time and money, while paying for itself.

Interviewer: What benefits have you seen as a result of using enzymes?

Mark: For me, the biggest benefit is that it saves me time. Typically I'm going in early and I'm getting prepared to work because I'm going to get a stuck mash. With the enzymes, I have reduced that chance to get a stuck mash and I've also increased my efficiency. Also, the runoff is much better, so I'm able to transfer those sugars out of the mash into the kettle. It doesn't take a lot of time mash out, and I don't have to do a lot sparging in there to do it because the runoff is so nice, that it saves time there. So overall, my biggest benefit so far out of the products that I've been using is the time savings. I love saving time, but I've also increased my efficiency as well.

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