So you want to be a brewmaster: Making beer in Vandalia

Every beer drinker knows someone who claims to be a brewmaster. Some of us have even fantasized about making a beer so universally loved, we’re considered innovators of suds sorcery.

It all sounds exciting, but the truth of the matter is there’s a lot of work and waiting involved in the process. So I went out to Hairless Hare Brewery in Vandialia to learn how to brew their refreshing American Ale.

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7:00 a.m.

I arrive in front of Hairless Hare on a snowy Vandalia morning. Brewmaster Tony Dawes is waiting with a giant cup of coffee and a bag of Jim’s Donuts. He’s alert and ready to work. I am not.

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“I do more cleaning than anything else,” Dawes explains.

He takes me on a tour of the facility, which is tantamount to a restaurant kitchen (which it once was), as the water heats up. We start by adding crushed barley. It’s at this point I’m made aware that I will not be just an observer.

“We’re going to put you to work today,” Dawes warns.

So there I am, pouring and stirring the grains -- in a tank large enough to hide a body or two -- to begin the mashing process. As the process continues, it begins to produce a liquid called “wort.”

7:30 a.m.

While it’s still dark outside, we begin sorting out the hops -- two kinds, mind you. They contain alpha acids -- chemical compounds found in the resin of hop plants -- that determine bitterness.

“The longer you leave them into a brew, the more bitter they will be,” Dawes explains. “You put them (in) at the end of a boil, you’re going to get more of the aroma and fragrance coming off the hops.”

Meanwhile, fellow brewer Michael Muncy is preparing the fermenting tank by pasteurizing and sanitizing it.

During this time, I note some of the beers and their great names, like “Rye The Hell Knot.” Dawes explains how they create the fun, and sometimes suggestive, names.

“We get together,” he starts. “Just the other day (Muncy and I) were cutting up talking. We all get together and just start throwing names out at each other. Someone could just be kidding around, and all of a sudden, ‘Whoa! What’d you say?’”

8:25 a.m.

The mashout process begins. Dawes raises the temperature, which stops enzyme activity, making the wort more fluid.

We made the American Ale, a refreshing beer that has received positive reviews from craft beer enthusiasts. (Jim Ingram)

8:51 a.m.

Dawes starts showering the mash with more water in a process called “sparging.”

“All the grains in there, they’ve got these good sugars on them. So now we’re giving them a shower and washing all the sugars off the grains,” he says.

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9:41 a.m.

At Dawes’ command, I turn on heat to the 110-gallon boiling kettle, where the concoction is transferred. This is when it gets less fun. 

While we’re waiting for the kettle to come to a boil, we’re cleaning...and cleaning...and cleaning. Both Dawes and I climb a step ladder and begin digging out the grains from the original vat. It’s murder on the back, but it has to be done. The tank is then hand washed inside and out and sanitized. 

10:08 a.m.

Boiling point has been reached.

10:16 a.m.

It’s time to add the hops. Now, in my mind, I had always envisioned this moment involving a glorious light shining from the kettle as the hops hit the brew, with a choir of angels singing on high. In reality, it’s much less exciting...but no less important. This will take an hour.

11:22 a.m.

We begin transferring to the fermenter while Dawes checks the wort’s pH level.

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This edition of American Ale is Hairless Hare's 372nd beer brewed. (Jim Ingram)

12:03 p.m.

The wort has finally made its way to the fermenter, where Dawes makes one final touch.

“We add the yeast to our fermenter. It makes two byproducts. One is carbon dioxide, which is coming down the flow-off tube. And the other is alcohol, what we drink,” says Dawes. 

After seven days in the fermenter, the beer is transferred to what are called “bright tanks” in a walk-in cooler.

“We cool the beer down. That helps clarify the beer, so when you hold your beer up, you can see through (it),” he adds. “Coldness, if you start putting gas to it, it carbonates the beer.” 


This was Hairless Hare’s 372nd batch of beer created. Dawes estimates customers will begin consuming it towards the end of January into February.

Be sure to taste a sample and let me know how it is. I, of course, am biased, but it just may be the greatest beer ever created (by me).

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