“Expedition Brewing, Himalayan Style”
by Joel Attaway
Forty Below Ltd and International Mountain Guides Summer 1996
Location: Mountain Cho Oyu 26,900′ Himalayas, Ra Chhu Valley, Near Nangpa La, using spring melt water from the GYABRAG Glacier.
On Site Brewers: Eric Simonson, John Race, International Mountain Guides, Pemba Sherpa. Development and Technical Support: Joel Attaway, Forty Below, Ltd.
1996 Expedition Brewing: Mountain: Cho Oyu, 26,900 ft. Himalayas
One of the most appreciated toasts is for the accomplishment of a personally significant mountaineering summit! Expeditions that last a few months require that you take everything you need. Making beer on these long expeditions may be the only choice you have to be able to enjoy this luxury! This is especially appreciated when the country or location visiting is remote.
In 1996 Eric Simonson of International Mountain Guides (IMG) based in Ashford, Washington and I had a discussion about home brew making beer, and some thought about making beer on a climbing expedition was fast becoming a possible solution to a particular old problem. Eric was developing plans for a climbing expedition to climb the world’s 6th highest peak, Cho Oyu elevation 26,900 ft. located in Tibet, China. Beer is a very rare commodity and difficult to bring along. Usually a locally made fermented drink called “Chang” is made by the Nepalese, is made of a combination of barley, corn, rice and millet, and while unique and high alcohol, just doesn’t hold a candle to the brew we are used to!
Cho Oyu near Mt. Everest
Map of Cho Oyu and surrounding Himalayas.
The setup had to come together to make beer on a long wilderness trip, in a foreign country, at altitude, and, most of all, had to fit on the back of a Yak! Yes, the beast of burden for many high altitude trips in the Himalayas is the Yak! The last part of the big haul to the base camps are by the Yak. Each yak can carry about 200 pounds, and has to carry the load over rough rocky terrain, fording rivers and snow-clad glaciers.
Yaks carry loads for expeditions, including brewing supplies!
We envisioned using a beer ingredient kit of liquid malt , strong yeast, and “bottle” in the Quoin Party Pig Kegs. Boiling water from a glacier snowmelt stream in one of the big cook kettles. Fermentation in a strong plastic barrel, and bottled in the 2.5 gallon plastic Party Pig, of course with the Forty Below Pig Parka on to help keep it just the right temperature!
Eric and Pemba Sherpa prepare to brew!
The Cooking (Brewing) Tent!
Base camp is established at 15,500 feet elevation just below the terminus of the Gyabragg Glacier. A big cook tent is erected, and the water for the beer is collected from small meltwater pools on top of the glacier ice. The water coming from the river at the end of a glacier is full of what is full of glacier silt, from the grinding of the glacier ice on the bedrock it sits on. This silty water is not functional to drink, or use in making beer. The clear water from the meltwater pools is brought to a boil, and the can of malt is warmed in some warm water to help it pour easier in the cold temperature of camp.
We used an EDME Brand Strong Ale Kit.
Pouring into the cook pot.
Here is the Boil. Pretty nice looking at 15,500 feet!
The malt and hot water is brought to a boil, hop pellets added, then, the wort is cooled in the nearby handy ice of the glacier. The yeast is added, and the bucket is covered by a Forty Below® Carboy Parka™ and inserted into an insulated barrel.
Cooling the wort in the glacier stream
Putting the bucket of beer into a Forty Below Carboy Parka,
then into a sleeping bag insulated drum to help
hold the fermenting temperature.
Fermentation takes hold and lasted about 2 weeks. The brew is transferred to another bucket and allowed to settle for a few days. For the bottling, the self pressurizing Quoin Party Pig worked great as it uses a self expanding pouch inside the plastic “Pig” and this allows for safe storage, and keeps the beer at perfect pressure. The spring loaded nozzle makes for easy dispensing.
Sanitizing the equipment.
Adding the bottling sugar.
Filling the Quoin Party Pig.
Filling the flip lid bottle to bring home.
The team successfully summited the peak, and upon return to basecamp really appreciated the “Fresh Gyabrag Glacier Beer” that helped them celebrate their success. A small bottle with a flip close lid was brought home for us to share. It was a nice dark color, and had good body, and was quite refreshing. One of the first comments from the returning party was “how can we make more next time!” A true “summit” in expedition high altitude brewing!
The following is an ingredient list and Method outline:
Overview of project:
- To brew beer at the Basecamp of Cho Oyu! Expedition Brewing by Forty Below Ltd and Eric Simonson’s International Mountain Guides Expedition! If this test shows that the brewing process can be successful, we can then have fresh brew on future expeditions.
Name of Beer: “High Altitude Ale”
1 High Altitude Basecamp.
1 group of interested beer drinkers
1 Quoin Party Pig keg.
1 Forty Below® Pig Parka
1 Forty Below® Carboy Parka
1 can malt syrup
1/3 cup bottling sugar
1 yeast packet
1 large 1-2 gallon cook kettle
can opener or Swiss army knife
Long handled stir spoon
1 5 Gallon bucket with lid, food grade.
Note: mark on the outside a line where 2 1/2 gallon comes up to.
Bleach, or strong soap.
Plenty of towels for use to set tools on, cleaning, etc.
Camera for pictures to record steps. Slides and prints.
Stable hot stove that can be burning on high heats for an hour. Propane camp stove (Coleman) works great.
Log book to keep a journal of the steps as you did them.
Allow 1-2 hours for this project.
1. Clean all tools with bleach or strong soap and rinse well.
2. Define a good cooking area. Preferably in a tent, sheltered from the wind.
3. Use a small pot of water to boil with the can (unopened) to help liquefy the malt syrup. It will come out of the can easier when warmed.
4. Using the large kettle add 3 quarts of clean (filtered if possible) water to boil. Add the malt syrup and stir well to dissolve. Bring back up to boil and hold at a boil for 15 minutes.
5. Add 3 quarts filtered water to the 5 gallon bucket
6. Add the hot malt to the bucket and stir well.
7. Add water to 2 1/2 gallon mark on bucket.
8. Let cool to approx. 60-70 F.
9. Add the yeast packet and stir gently
10. Cover the bucket with the Forty Below Carboy Parka and set in a warm out of the way place. A good spot may be hanging or out of the wind and traffic area.
1. Let fermenting beer sit for about 1 week. It will take about 24 hours for the yeast to activate and another 24 hours to really get going. The active yeast culture will bubble on the surface and buildup a foamy material. It will be off gassing carbon dioxide in small amounts. It is important to keep the fermentation between 40 and 75 F. The Carboy Parka will keep out light, and stabilize the temperature fluctuations; Beer likes stable temps, and does not like light at all.
2. The left over yeast in the bottom of the bucket could be reused after you siphon the beer of (see Bottling below). The yeast is still live at this point and could be dumped in to a just brewed batch, and continue the cycle.
1. Dissolve the bottling sugar in 1 pint of boiling water.
2. When dissolved and mixed well, add to the cleaned Party Pig.
3. Siphon the fermented beer into the Party Pig, and into one of the special green bottles with the flip lid. Try to avoid picking up any of the yeast that is on the bottom of the bucket.
4. Insert the pressure pouch into the Pig.
5. Put on gasket and screw on black cap.
6. Activate the pressure pouch by inserting the hand pump into the spout, and pump air into the beer until the pouch activates and begins to expand.
7. Hold the Pig upright, and let as much of the air out of the Pig as possible
8. Put the Forty Below Pig Parka on the Pig and set in a warm place for 1 week.
9. Allow the beer to sit for 2 more weeks (I know its hard!).
At this point the beer can be chilled, and then…
1. Cool the beer in the Party Pig down to 45 F, or whatever you prefer. A beer drank at the temp of 45- 55 F will exhibit the full range of tastes and features of the beer. This High Altitude Ale is probably best drunk in the cool range.
2. You can put snow between the Pig and the Forty Below® Pig Parka™ to chill down the beer and keep it cold.
3. Press the red button and the beer will dispense like a normal keg tap.
4. Beer is best served in a clear glass that has been well cleaned and rinsed. A clean glass enhances Head retention.
1. Please take pictures to document this process. A small handbook for future guidance will be compiled, and photos would look great.
2. Keep a log of each step of the process, as you do them.
3. Bring home the bottle of beer for Joel to sample!
The Team did bring back the bottle of beer, and we opened it in Ashford, and it was delicious! It has good color and a nice head. Full flavored, and a good clean finish! What a great experience!
End of article.