The Carl Online

Beer, Science, Sustainability: A Look at the Hill of Three Oaks Brewing Company by carlmagazine
October 12, 2010, 12:18 pm
Filed under: Campus, Food | Tags: , , , , , , ,

By Rachel Feinberg

Beer is central to the social life of many a Carl. It is served in all sorts of social settings from large school-wide events such as Rottblatt, to small dorm room chill sessions. Usually this beer is purchased at Northfield Liquor, Firehouse, or on occasion, somewhere in the Cities. However, there has been a growing movement of students who are opting to make their own beer instead. While most of these operations are rather low key and occur in individual rooms, but, there is one group that brews outside the dorms doing so with creativity and a strong sense of community.

The Three Oaks Brewery started four years ago. Jake Kring (‘10) Travis Drake (‘10) and Colin Bottles (‘09) managed to work out a deal with some upperclassmen living on 4th and College (formerly Otter House), to use their kitchen to brew beer and their pantry to ferment it. Kring says, “the arrangement worked out swimmingly for both parties involved,” as the freshmen had a place to develop their brewing skills and the upperclassmen received free beer in return.

Last year, Kring had the “cockamamie idea” of applying for school funding his venture. After a successful petition, the Three Oaks Brewery entered its current, more official status of operation, including about $900 of funding, a charter, and a page on the school website. ( The charter called for a number of different leadership positions that were filled by new brewers, and several students Kring had personally brought on board. These young men are still at Carleton and have successfully kept things running since his departure.

One of these brewers is Alex Heid (‘11) who is currently the brewery’s chief engineer and secretary. As Chief Engineer Heid is in charge of “the physical brewery and its function and development.” As Secretary he is in charge of the budget and works with the Brew Master on programming.

The current Brew Master is Joe Decker (‘12), who like Heid, first became a part of the Three Oaks Brewery last year. He brings a good deal of previous brewing experience and exposure to the table. His father brews beer, and Decker claims, “I’ve been into beer since I had my memory.” (Which was before he ever even sampled this beer.) Decker is also a native of St. Louis, the home of Budweiser, and “has a soft spot for the Clydesdales,” but admits that he prefers darker beers like stouts and porters. These are the kinds of beer that Decker and the rest of the Hill of Three Oaks team make and in the process they combine elements science and sustainability.


Before the foam of a cool brew reaches your lips or even its final container, a number of scientific processes must first take place. To oversee these processes, Three Oaks Brewery has its own chemist, Cody Finke (’12). Kring approached Finke last spring because he is a Chemistry major and the brewers were in need of someone who could “care for their yeast”. Coincidentally Finke worked in a yeast genetics lab and happily accepted their offer. Cody took several 5mL samples from Kring’s beer during spring term.  He plated 100 microliters on a plate and let them grow for 2 days at 30 degrees Celsius.  He picked a pure colony from the dish and re-suspended it in 5mL of YEPD broth (a complete medium for yeast growth).  Next, he collected the yeast, analyzed it under a microscope to check for purity, and froze it at -80° C in glycerol. Two days before the yeast is ready, Cody uses a sterile toothpick to pluck a small amount from his freezer stock. He then streaks it on a YEPD plate to re-check for purity and to grow it in a large culture in liquid 2X YEPD media. He grows about 500mL of highly concentrated yeast.  The yeast used for beer is called PACMAN which is less alcohol tolerant than yeasts for wine or cider, but also very fast. With Cody on board, the “brewery will never have to buy new yeast saving money and will be keeping it local!”

Even though he is admittedly not a huge beer drinker himself, Finke explains, “My favorite thing is the science behind the brewing. I like understanding why natural processes work.”


The yeast, grown in Hulings, is not the only local ingredient used by the brewers. Satchel Kaplan-Allen, the brewery’s Local Ambassador, is in charge of relations with the Carleton and greater Northfield community. He points out how this fall’s High Water Pumpkin Ale was made with pumpkins from a local patch. Last spring’s Rottblatt Campfire Ale used juniper berries and spruce tips from outside of Nourse.

The brewers have plans to become even more self-sustainable and intensify their focus on local produce even more. On the horizon is an Iron Chef event, which is an opportunity for such initiatives. At this event the Pumpkin Ale will be unveiled and chefs will be challenged to prepare a meal that successfully compliments it. Kaplan-Allen wants to see if the event can “get sponsored by local growers providing meat, eggs, etc. If every ingredient came from 50 miles from Carleton, that would be something to be proud of.” There are not only possibilities of local growers getting more involved in the brewery but also possibilities of the brewers getting more involved in growing. Brew Master Decker hopes to plant hops in the spring making the brewery more self-sustainable.


The Three Oaks Brewery team tries to come together twice a term to “make full bodied tasty ales, match seasons abd local produce and to catch student interest.” This autumns’ beer was the “High Water Pumpkin Ale,” brewed at 4th and College, the original home of Three Oaks Brewery. Decker explains that the house provides all the physical essentials of brewing: “Sink, faucet and preferably a kitchen.” This past Fall, the actual brewing took place on the back porch of the house. Decker acknowledges that the cold Minnesota winter brings challenges because they “have to get water and wort to certain temperatures, 170° and then boiling,” during the brewing process.

The brewers provide the four essentials of beer: water, grains, hops and yeast, as well as other produce and seasonings. The Rotblatt Campfire Ale used spruce tips and juniper berries. Kring says that it “tasted like the Hill of Three Oaks.” Another beer, Decker’s favorite thus far, was last year’s Chocolate Pear Stout. Most flavoring does not come into play until the very end of the brewing process. After the more scientific elements comes what Decker sees as the most glorious part of the brewing experience. “The last five minutes of the boil is when you get to customize your beer. You add the spices and the aroma hops- the specific flavors of your beer, picking different grains and venturing away from recipes by making your own.”

The Three Oaks Brewery team has an appreciation for this process beyond just the science and steps. Kaplan-Allen loves how, “Brewing is a great way to set aside an entire day to be lazy, but be entirely productive at the same time.” Brewing combines elements of science and creativity for a purely non-academic, fun, and delectable product. Taste is the sense tickled once the beer in completed, but Kring (who plans to continue on brewing in California where he now lives) simply cites “the smell” of brewing as his favorite part. Here, Kring is getting at something that often is forgotten about the process. Amid all the complexity of flavoring and science behind it, the final ends are libations with aromas and flavors for the most basic of senses to relish within.