Steve and Deb Long showcase their third act.
Steve Long, co-owner and brewmaster at Woodbury’s 3rd Act Brewery, likens brewing beer to playing chess. “It’s easy to learn the rules,” he says. “But it’s hard to get good at it.”
Long has been brewing beer, whether privately or professionally, since 1980. The retired chemical engineer is a graduate of the Dakota County Technical College’s brewing and beer steward technology program.
“I’m good at science, and I’m good at creativity,” Long says. “To be a good brewmaster, you need to be good at both.”
Long’s 3rd Act Brewery beers start with Woodbury water. A reverse osmosis process clears the water of its chemicals and impurities. From there, Long will reconstitute the chemicals, matching the water’s chemical profile with water from a part of the world he’s hoping to duplicate.
Long is a traditionalist. If he’s making 3rd Act Brewery’s London IPA, for example, he’ll use a recipe that dates back to the 1890s. He’ll match London’s water profile, and he’ll buy hops and malt from businesses that not only operated during the turn of the 18th century, but operate now. “Yes, you can do that,” he says.
Does being that genuine matter? Long thinks so.
He notes that 3rd Act Brewery is one of the few breweries in the state that runs its taps directly off its “bright tanks”—this means that the beer has never been kegged, bottled or tapped. One end of the tap line is connected to a brewery tank; the other end pours beer into a glass. (A normal tap beer would go into a keg, not into bright tanks.)
Care to guess what makes for a bad beer? “Oxygen ages beer, and light gives it a skunky taste,” Long says. “Fresh beer is the best beer.”
Yeast is a beer maker’s friend—and enemy.
“Ale yeast needs warm temperatures, and the process moves fast,” Long says. “Lager yeast needs cold temperatures, and the process is slow. IPAs need clean yeast.”
Temperatures in the heat exchanger, where hop breakdowns take place, can run from as hot as 212 degrees F to as cool as 55 degrees F. Controls are as precise as 0.1 degree F.
Grapefruit, pine and citrus flavors come from the hops. Banana and clove flavors come from the yeast.
“Brewers know what a beer is going to taste like before they make it,” Long says.
And? “Crazy doesn’t work,” he says. Unless, however, you’re craving a classic IPA infused with blood oranges.
As for the toughest beer to perfect? “The hardest beer to make is a really good pilsner, and I’m not the only one to think so,” Long says.
Glossary of Beer
ABV: A measurement of the alcohol content of a solution (The higher the ABV, the stronger the beer.)
ABW: A measurement of the alcohol content of a solution
Ale: A beer fermented with top-fermenting-yeast (Warmer temperatures accompany the fermenting process. Ales are typically served at warmer temperatures than other beers.)
Astringency: The beer’s dryness or roughness
Body: A beer’s thickness
Fermentation: The process of converting sugar to alcohol
Hops: Green cone-shaped flowers of the hop (Humulus lupulus) plant and the source of a beer’s bitterness, aroma and flavor
IPA: (India Pale Ale) a style of beer that is typically hop forward in flavor and aroma
IBU: (International Bitterness Unit) a measurement of a beer’s hop bitterness (Beer with IBU numbers of 50 or greater is considered “hoppy.”)
Lager: Fermented with bottom-fermenting yeast (Lagers are crisper tasting beers.)
Pilsner: An offshoot of a lager (It’s distinguished by its water and tends to be dry tasting. Pilsners are popular summer beers.)
Sour: An old style of ale known to be tart or tangy tasting
Stout: Dark roasted ales that can be bitter tasting
All in the Name
The 3rd Act Brewery name is purposeful. Long started his chemical engineering career at Abbott Laboratories, followed by working at 3M. His wife, Deb, shares that three-step progression; she worked as a sales manager and then started her own printing brokerage business. Now, they work in a brewery—their brewery. For both of them, this is their third act.
All of 3rd Act Brewery’s beers are named after signature movie lines, which fits with the brewery’s theatrical name. “Brew it and They Will Come” is an American style lager. “Oh, That’s a Bingo” is a German dark wheat ale. “The Stuff Dreams are Made Of” is a Double IPA.