Wort’s Weird Journey: Beer’s Sometimes Unpredictable Path From Grain to Glass

 A pipeline carries Industrial Art’s wort across Minisceongo Creek to be fermented. | Photo by Matt Coats

A pipeline carries Industrial Art’s wort across Minisceongo Creek to be fermented. | Photo by Matt Coats

Last year, I visited the Hudson Valley's Industrial Arts brewery and noticed something strange: no fermentation tanks in the brewery. Instead, a pipeline took the wort to fermentation tanks far, far away, in another building. This made me think about all the other strange journeys wort took to get to its final destination, leading to this BeerAdvocate magazine feature. 

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New York State’s scenic Hudson Valley has a deep manufacturing background, freckled with relics like the Garnerville Arts and Industrial Complex in Rockland County. The pre–Civil War compound contained a colossal textile firm that uniformed both the Union Army and World War II soldiers, before the clothing trade unraveled and light industry and artists set up shop.

Drop by the repurposed campus and you’ll spot woodworkers and soap makers, photographers and jewelers, set builders and, inside the smokestack-topped structure, a new brewery. The aptly named Industrial Arts Brewing is anointed with tiled floors, brick archways, and ceilings soaring high enough for pigeon racing. Order Tools of the Trade, a grapefruit-y Extra Pale Ale, or the rotating State of the Art IPA and eyeball the gleaming brewhouse, a custom-built looker courtesy of Germany’s BrauKon. It’s the brewery’s centerpiece, overshadowing what’s omitted: fermentation tanks.

“Nearly every brewer I’ve walked around the site with has looked at me and asked me what the fuck I was doing,” founder Jeff “Chief” O’Neil says, laughing. From his 25-hectoliter system, a skinny silver pipeline snakes some 328 feet, crossing the Minisceongo Creek, terminating in a separate building studded with fermentation tanks. The tube conveys wort, beer’s sugar-rich precursor, to the vessels, a roundabout journey that, although unorthodox, works like a liquid dream. “The most common question we face is, ‘Is it going to freeze?’” O’Neil says. “When we pump wort from the brewhouse, it’s room temperature and moving at a barrel a minute. A creek doesn’t freeze as fast as a pond.”