It takes big men to make Ska Brewing's Big Shikes Orange Blossom Imperial Pilsner

Categories: Beer Man

Ska Brewing is set in beautiful Durango.
Before we could start, though, we had to wait.

Larsen and company had started brewing two batches of Ska's Ten Pin Porter that morning, and the process -- which relies on timing, expertise and the intimate knowledge of a bazillion knobs, levers and hoses -- was backed up.

The quality control team.
So, while we waited for the mashtun to become available for our brew, we drank -- of course. That's what brewers do. First I tried a couple of tasters, one of Ska's One-Eyed Monster, a black IPA on draught in the taproom, and another of Nefartiti's Fugly Nibs, a firkin of Ska's Nefarious Ten Pin which had been cask conditioned with coco nibs.

Later in the day, we tried some more beer, this time at a brief meeting of the quality control committee, which includes whoever is around and wants to compare batches of each beer to see whether they have held their flavor and consistency. We sampled four different batches of Modus Hoperendi and four of True Blonde.

When it was finally time to brew, things went quickly. The grain is poured, bag by bag, into a massive crusher, which then transports it the the mashtun. From there, hot water is added in a complex, well-controlled fashion. Once tha'ts done, the wort is transferred to another giant kettle where the hops are added at various intervals to the boiling mixture.

After several hours, the beer was finally ready to be transferred to a fermenter where the yeast was added. I would have seen its first few bubbles, but by then I was out drinking at Lady Falconburgh's Barley Exchange, a Durango beer bar -- a fitting end to the day.

The next day, Thibodeau and Larsen discussed the yeast (it had only just begun) and whether the beer should have more sugar, which would increase its alcohol content.

Larsen wanted to be careful since pilsners are delicate beers that magnify any added ingredients, like big hops or orange blossom honey. Thibodeau just wanted a big, bold beer, a double pilsner that was worthy of the Ska name.

When it was all said and done, the beer took twice as long to ferment as expected, but the alcohol content is up there at 8.7 percent, about twice as much as the normal pilsner. So you can bet that Big Shikes will put Big Shikes on his ass before it is all over.

Follow Westword's Beer Man on Twitter at @ColoBeerMan.

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This is awesome Jonathan. Looks like I'll be visiting Old Chicago soon.

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