Thursday, December 28, 2017

☸️ Ono Brewing, Chantilly

Scott, Cyndi, Neal and me at Ono Brewing CompanyWe took a brewery excursion this past week to Ono Brewing Company in Chantilly, Virginia. They have what’s now the second self-serve taproom I’ve experienced, so we served ourselves up a flight of all eight of their beers. Along the way we met the owners, the husband and wife team of Scott and Cyndi. Scott is head brewer at Ono, as well.

My Untappd ratings from this visit may be found here.

Ono is among the many breweries springing up in one-floor industrial parks around the country. The property is well-suited to their use. The front of house is devoted to a taproom in a long, el-shaped space with tables and chairs along two sides, and a row of taps and a cashier station along another. A calendar of events hangs next to the taps. At the back of the taproom is a wall of wood and glass that allows a sweeping view of the brewhouse. More on that later.

Scott and Cyndi lived a part of their lives in Hawaii, and have brought the flavor and patois of the islands to their brewery and beers.

Ono Brewing’s beer styles run from a pale wheat ale to a stout, including a couple of IPAs and a saison along the way. Each beer has a Hawaiian-themed name, and three of the beers are infused with fruit common to the islands.

A seasonal pumpkin ale was also on tap for our visit, and ranks in the top two I’ve had of this style. So many brewers overdo the pumpkin spices. Ono’s pumpkin ale was nicely balanced. I’m not enough a fan of flavored beers to order a pint of it, but I thoroughly enjoyed my sampler.

Of the eight beers I tasted, my favorite was their brown ale. A blend of five types of malt was used to produce this rich, satisfying ale. I don’t know the hop varieties employed, but the end result was close to a traditional English brown ale.

Ono’s most accessible and perhaps their most sessionable beer was their pale wheat ale. Wheat malt gave the beer a very light breadiness, while the hops brought just enough balance to the malt’s sweetness. Anyone coming to the brewery can enjoy this beer, including non-beer fans.

Ono uses the same beer delivery system as Draft Taphouse, which we visited last week. A previous article discusses how it works. In a nutshell you’ll provide a credit card to open a tab, and receive an RFID card in exchange. Place the card in a holder just above a tap, grab a clean glass from under the counter and rinse it on the provided glass rinser, and fill from the tap. Be sure to pull the tap all the way open to prevent foaming. Beer is metered by the ounce. Taps are disabled unless a card is present, and groups on one tab share a card.

When you’re done sampling, hand over the RFID card and pay your tab on the ubiquitous iPad-based Square register. Bonus: since you’re self-serving your beer and self-busing the table, Ono donates any tip added to your tab to a local charity. Cyndi told us they donated over $7000 last month.

Each of Ono’s beers has a unique flavor. Care has obviously been put into their production, as there’s something good to be said of each. The wide variety of styles available ensures you can find something pleasing to your palate when you visit.

The Ono brewhouse is equipped with a three-vessel brewing system, with a twist. “Three-vessel” refers to how many stainless steel tanks are used for turning barley malt, water, and hops into wort during the boil, as I’ve written about in a previous article. For many brewers, that’s a mash tun, boil kettle, and a hot liquor tank (HLT). The HLT contains clean, hot water used for sparging, or rinsing, residual sugar from the spent grain in the boil kettle after the boil is complete. The wort is then passed on to a fermentation tank. It’s important that during its passage from boil kettle to fermenter the wort is cooled enough for supporting yeast without killing it.

This is where Ono’s brewing system differs from others I’ve seen: theirs has two HLTs. The second is filled with cold water.

Heat is removed from the wort by passing it through a heat exchanger on its way to a fermenter. Often a glycol-based system circulates coolant through the exchanger in a separate line, causing heat to transfer from the hot wort to the cool glycol. Ono Brewing replaced the glycol and its associated chiller with cold water from their second HLT. While roughly equivalent in cost, the benefit of a water-based coolant is that in the event of a leak, the beer is mildly watered down. If glycol leaks, the beer is contaminated.

The now-hot cooling water is pumped up into the primary HLT, where it can be heated further and used to produce another batch of beer. In this way some of the energy used to heat the first batch of wort is preserved, rather than being radiated away.

Across the brewhouse floor sit four fermentation tanks and a brite tank. There’s plenty of room for expansion between the hot tanks on one side and the cooler fermenters and brite tank on the other, so they’re ready if and when Ono’s nascent distribution arrangements produce strong enough demand.

Ono Brewing Company’s Chantilly taproom is highly recommended for your beer tasting adventures.

(Photo courtesy Neal Emerald.)

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