As a home brewer, I jumped at the opportunity last week to take part in a Shipyard Brewing vacation at Federal Jack’s in Kennebunk, the birthplace of Shipyard. And when I found out we were going to be brewing Old Thumper, my favorite Shipyard beer, I was especially pleased.

I skipped most of the vacation part but spent from 6 a.m. to about 2 p.m. with head brewer Mike Haley and assistant brewer Mike Boulerice. Andrew Hatch and Julie Cooke, co-owners of Lotions ‘n Potions in Concord, N.H., were taking the brewing vacation as part of a 50th birthday present for Hatch and agreed to let me join the brewing part of their trip.

The first shock was that the brewing day began at 6 a.m., mostly because Haley has day-care pickup duty Wednesdays and wants the brewing to be done by 3:30 p.m. But the work had actually begun the previous evening.

Federal Jack’s operates a seven-barrel brewing system, Haley said, which means it can create 215 gallons of beer per batch. The night before, he began heating 290 gallons of Kennebunk town water to 175 degrees and added gypsum and salts to replicate the water of Ringwood, England, where the original Old Thumper was created.

He also mixed the 360 pounds of grain that would be needed. It was mostly pale barley malt but also included smaller parts of crystal malt, a half pound of chocolate malt (mostly for color) and a few pounds malted wheat for head retention in the final beer. The pale malt tasted quite good on its own, sort of like Grape Nuts cereal, but the others were harder to chew and tasted a bit burnt.

The first step in the morning was to create a hop tea. Alan Pugsley, Shipyard’s cofounder and head brewer, uses a system in which leaf hops — used for aroma — steep in about 5 gallons of hot water while the rest of the beer is prepared and finally is pumped into the fermenting vessel when the wort (unfermented beer) is completed.

The grain is gently milled and sent to a mash tun, where a few inches of the heated water had been transferred. Haley and the guest brewers make sure the grains remain level in the tun. Once all the grain is in the mash tun, heated water is sprayed over the grains until 210 gallons is transferred to the copper whirlpool boiler.

Haley tries to give the brewing vacationers tasks. “If they are just watching me, it gets boring,” he said.

And a lot of the work involves cleaning — making sure things are sterile where the beer is made.

“The job of brewer is pretty much working as a janitor while liquid is being moved around,” Haley said.

Once 210 gallons of water had been sparged through the grain, Hatch, Cooke, Haley and I shoveled it out of the mash tuns and into the original grain bags. The used grain is given to hog and goat farmers for use as a high-protein food.

The wort then boiled for an hour, with Hatch and Cooke adding hop pellets used for bittering at the appropriate times.

After the boil, the beer rests in the boiler for an hour. That’s when Hatch, Cooke and I went upstairs to Federal Jack’s for lunch. I tasted the Taint Town Pale Ale and the Nitro Pale Ale, which you can’t get anywhere but Federal Jack’s.

When we got back down to the brewer, the beer was pumped through a cooler to a fermenting vessel. The water that cools the beer warms up as it goes through the cooler and is stored warm for the next day’s batch of beer, saving energy costs to heat the water.

Haley weighed out 5 pounds of yeast saved from a previous batch of beer to add to the fermenting vessel, and the process of turning sugar into alcohol began. I left then, not wanting to wait the six days until the beer moved to the conditioning tank.

Haley said that on most brewing days, he almost never talks. He and Boulerice know what they are supposed to do, and they do it. On days he has guests, he goes home with a sore throat from talking so much.

Hatch and Cooke were the first people to take a Shipyard Brewing vacation, although Haley often takes guests through a day’s brewing process. The vacations are offered only January through May — Tuesday through Thursday or Wednesday through Friday — when the brewery is less busy.

The package costs $800 per couple, $600 per single and $300 for a single, not including lodging. The lodging for two nights is at King’s Port Inn, walking distance from Federal Jack’s in Kennebunk Lower Village.

The tour also includes a welcoming dinner at Federal Jack’s the first night, lunch at Federal Jack’s during the brew day, a tour of the Shipyard Brewery in Portland and a lunch at Sea Dog Brewing Co. in South Portland.

It sounds like heaven for beer geeks.

NEW BEERS

Several new beers have hit the Maine market in the past week.

Baxter Brewing Co. in Lewiston canned its first beers about a week ago, selling them first at the company store. At about 9 p.m. Monday, Baxter said on its Facebook page that RSVP on Forest Avenue in Portland was selling the Baxter’s Pomola Xtra Pale Ale before it was supposed to.

I had stopped by RSVP at 5 p.m. Monday looking for beer from Wisconsin, western Pennsylvania and Texas for a Super Bowl story and also looked for the Baxter but didn’t find it. So I guess I was a little early. I’ll have to go back.

To help us through this cold and snowy winter, Sebago Brewing Co. has put out its Full Throttle Double IPA, an unfiltered deep amber ale. Haven’t tasted it yet this year but will soon.

Samuel Adams has brought back its Noble Pils, the winner of last year’s Beer Lover’s Choice contest, a great beer. It also has this year’s winner, Revolutionary Rye, but only in its American Originals 12-pack.

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at

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