28 Oct 2009 @ 11:24 AM 

And by potatoes in your beer, I mean before fermentation. Not after. I like potatoes – they might be the closest thing I have to a cultural food item – but I have my limits.
You say potato, I say potato.
So what brought this on was this wacky idea I had for a rye-potato beer. I’m not sure why or where I got the idea, but once I got it I had to act on it. I have some nice saison yeast that I cultured out of a bottle earlier this year, and plated by a friend of mine at a biology lab this summer, so I had to go for it.

Now the reason that I say that these are new thoughts on potatoes in your beer is because I approached them a little differently than I’ve read about others doing so. Recipes I’ve seen call for enormous amounts of mashed potatoes and instructions note that the potatoes need to be boiled ahead of time. I took a different tack.

I did a little reading and, mind you, these are internet resources. I’m not sure I would use some of them if I were writing a paper on this topic, but this is a blog, and it’s experimentation in my backyard right now, so we’ll have to deal with my less-than-perfect scientific research.

First, I found that potatoes stored under 45°F will being to develop a sweet taste as some of the starches in the potatoes are turned into sugars.

Perfect! Since the end goal is to convert starches into sugars, I figured I’d get a head start. I started keeping my potatoes in the refrigerator at 40°F.

I found that the starches in potatoes gelatinize between 52.5°C and 72.0°C (126°F – 162°F). And at least one article that I found (that I am having a hard time re-finding) cites 150°F specifically. And hey! That’s great! That’s about the same temperature as barley.

Three other items of information that I’m having a hard time re-locating:

1) Most of the protein content in a potato is located in a small layer directly under the skin.
2) Cooling after cooking potatoes increases the amount of complex starches within the potato.
3) MOST of the starches found in potatoes are very, very complex. From a nutritional level, they act – to humans – very much like fiber.

All of this made me think: Why are people boiling their potatoes and then throwing the mashed potatoes into the mash?

You know how vodka is made? You cook the crap out of potatoes, toss the actual potatoes out and work with the leftover water, where all the starches and sugars are. Why are we working with only the potatoes and throwing out all of the good stuff?

Here’s what I did for a process:

The night before I brewed, I peeled my cold potatoes. I wanted to avoid most of the skins, since I’m not sure of the flavor I was going to get from them. I think an earthiness would be nice, but my experience from cooked potato skins, even though I love the flavor, is a certain green bitterness that I didn’t want to translate overpoweringly into the beer. So they went.

Then I sliced and diced them really, really thin and small. I originally wanted to use a food processor, but I felt like the slices were too thick. I figure that, like hops and barley, a lot of surface contact with water is a good thing. Water is the substrate for all of our chemical reactions here. I didn’t want anything to have to fight its way out from the middle of a potato.

I cooked them at a low temperature: 150F. At no time did I ever boil my potatoes. I simmered them at 150F for an hour. In the end, I had a bunch of crunchy, slightly sweet potatoes, in creamy looking water.

Then I threw the whole thing in the refrigerator overnight. Cooling, I was hoping, would help the development of some of those other complex starches.

The next morning, I used the water – with the potatoes in it – as the basis of my infusion water for the first step of my mash. Both the potatoes and the starchy water were in my mash right from the beginning. I did a protein rest. It’s not something I usually do, but since 70% of my grist was either rye or potatoes I wanted to make sure that I had as easy a time as possible with conversion.

After an hour in protein rest, I stepped up to a low mash temperature of 148F, and I let it mash for 2 hours. I wanted to give those enzymes plenty of time to work. From there, normal sparge, boil, etc. There were absolutely no problems with gumminess or a stuck mash or anything.

At the end of the mash, I dug through the grain a bit to find a piece of potato left over. It was still slightly crunchy, maybe a little rubbery, and absolutely lifeless.

As for sugars? My estimated OG with just pilsener malt and rye was 1.041. My OG after the potatoes was 1.052. I felt that was a fairly significant increase in sugar content.

What’s left? Well, I need to find the math I need to use to estimate potential extract from these potatoes so that I can attempt this again with an estimate in place to see if I can repeat it in the future.

Anybody know that?

And finally, I suppose it’ll make a difference if the beer tastes good. I’d love to hear thoughts.

Tags Tags: ,
Categories: homebrew
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 28 Oct 2009 @ 07 12 PM

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 22 Oct 2009 @ 9:03 AM 

I can’t help but think I’m going to be a little bit of a wet blanket, but I’ve been thinking a bunch about all of this.
Victory for Vermonster.
Aside from my original post on this a couple of weeks ago, while I was in the midst of an awesome head cold, I’ve been pretty quiet about the Monster v. Vermonster thing. A little bit of that has been in knee-jerk reaction to the intense outpouring of — well… noise — that happened around the internet in general right around the same time I posted my piece. A little bit of it was because the whole thing played out in a way that really kind of surprised me.

Social media is a measurement of fads. Not to say that social media, itself, is a fad (I think it’s here to stay) or that this case was somehow illegitimate and doesn’t deserve the attention it received, but the push that this particular story received via social media feels like a fad, and the notion that Tweeters somehow saved this beer feels like even more of group hallucination. I still think that Monster acted rashly and irresponsibly through this entire process and that the whole thing should have been a quick and quiet conversation between lawyers. Maybe hindsight is 20/20, but at the same time, if you’re running a publicly traded corporate entity, you should be good enough to respond to bumps in the road without making bizarre mistakes. There will be a lot of lessons learned out of this, mostly by large companies and lawyers.

Anyway.. fads and social media.

If you want to see an interesting social phenomenon, keep an eye out on the Twitter Trending Topics. It’s that list just below the search box. (Twitter users: Note how many of those are hash tags and quit already. You don’t need to hash tag every damn post.) Trending topics are a sociology dissertation waiting to happen. They represent the most popular current topics on Twitter. They range from popular news items to celebrities to funny hash tags (yes, okay). It’s like a snapshot of pop culture.

As far as I know, Rock Art and/or Boycott Monster were never in the Twitter Trending Topics list, but it didn’t matter. The noise generated by different aspects of social media – a dedicated Facebook group (15,000 members), a Care2 Petition (1,300 signatures), and shit-ton of Twitter traffic – was enough to get noticed by a few national media outlets at which point Hansen’s felt like there was undue pressure, primarily because it was damaging the reputation of their company and their product.

So, did social media save Vermonster? In a sense. My opinion is that Rock Art saved Vermonster; I’ll get to that in a sec. It’s my feeling that social media got the attention of larger parties (the national media and, eventually, Bernie Sanders (I-VT)) to get the issue resolved in a much faster, but much messier, way than I believe it would have been originally resolved.

To that end, go social media! Good work. Kudos to you. You texted like champs.

Now, I’m not party to everything that went on, nor am I any sort of lawyer – trademark, or otherwise – but I think this whole thing got blown way – and I mean WAY – out of proportion:

To my understanding, Rock Art was issued a Cease and Desist letter from attorneys hired by Hansen’s Beverage, namely one Continental Enterprises.

It’s a standard tactic used to protect your trademarks. Basically, if you have filed for a trademark and somebody else is doing something that could cause confusion of that trademark, it is your obligation as the trademark holder to ask them to stop. If you do not, and do not continually file statements of use, the trademark may be considered abandoned and you run the risk of losing it. Basically, a trademark is as good as your branding initiative and your team of lawyers. If you suck at keeping your brand, you risk losing the right to exclusively use said trademark. So what do you do? You send letters to people who may be infringing upon your trademark and you ask them to stop doing so.

Of course, this only works when somebody is actually doing something that is similar to your trademark. The trademark for an energy drink in no way resembles the trademark for a fermented beverage. There’s a really nice rundown of many of the trademarks involved at PJ’s blog Starting a Brewery.

This particular company – CE – apparently has a reputation for aggressively stretching the boundaries of trademark law. They’ve previously acted, for other companies, in pretty much exactly the same way they did in this instance. In case you missed it, C&D letters were also issued to BevReview.com (for posting an image of a Monster Energy Drink in a review in their forums), as well as actor Trygve Lode for being photographed with a Monster Energy Drink, whilst in costume as a monster (seen to the left). I wish I was making this up, but I’m not.

The actions are akin – to me, anyway – to those troll debt collection agencies. The ones that buy up a bunch of debt from companies at a significant discount and then attempt to collect on the full value of said debt, regardless of the fact that it may have been paid already, non-existant, held by dead people, whatever. They’re the kind of people that send you sternly worded letters with items in it that say things like, “Failure to respond to this request in writing within 30 days constitutes your agreement that you are liable for this debt.” It’s kind of slimy, but it picks off the low-hanging fruit and makes them money.

Similarly, these types of C&D letters are meant to stop the people who don’t want to bother arguing and will just comply immediately because it’s easier to stop using a name somewhere than it is to pay your lawyer a few hundred dollars to draft a response letter saying, “Your trademark and my product are entirely dissimilar. Please go away.” but in really official lawyery terms. A Cease and Desist Letter is not a lawsuit. It is a letter saying, “please stop doing this or we will consider taking you to court.”

The good folks at Rock Art, completely understandably, got scared. They’re a small company getting what appears, at least on the surface, to be a threat from a multi-billion dollar company. Further complicating the matters, they attempted to use the telephone to take care of the matter. CE stood up for themselves because – hey, they were just doing what their client hired them to do, back off man! The people at Hansen’s probably had no idea what CE was even up to, because that’s why you hire other companies – so you don’t have to worry about what they’re up to. Rock Art felt like they weren’t getting due response from these companies that he was calling – and he probably wasn’t – got frustrated, and dealt with the issue the only way he could think of.

Where everything gets bizarre, to me, is where social media starts to pick up on it. Once the wave of sympathy started moving for Rock Art the flood gates kind of opened up. Matt, at Rock Art, made a video with a couple of friends of his pleading his case – and quite compellingly, I might add (heck, I posted it, he really plead his ‘little guy’ case quite well) – and it went viral. All of a sudden, you’ve got this really compelling David v. Goliath story making the rounds and it’s centered around a couple of great topics: small business (the hard working American) vs. big business (faceless corporation) and it all had to do with everybody’s favorite working-class-beverage (I hate that, even if it’s true): beer!

Then somebody brought up the word boycott. Consumers think boycotts are fun, because it reminds them that they actually hold power over corporations. Indeed! Stop buying goods from a company and they will (eventually) do poorly. The reason consumers like boycotts is because they aren’t working for a company that’s being boycotted, but I digress.

I have a hard time believing that a 2 – 3 week boycott by Vermont distributors and random craft beer drinkers around the country did anything to hurt Hansen’s bottom line. Much more likely, they were worried about their reputation being tarnished in the long run. Too late, Hansen’s. Too late.

From what I understand, once things started getting pushed around on social media and local news outlets, Matt Nadeau at Rock Art started hearing from people in the chain of command at Hansen’s who, I’m sure, let him know that they weren’t actually trying to put him out of business, that this was standard business practice and that, yes, we can settle this out of court, let’s just draft some language to make it official.

And then this crazy thing happened where somebody at Hansen’s – Mark Hall, President of Monster Beverage – decided to respond to a letter by just.. some person who wrote in. Unsurprisingly, it was posted on Facebook. In it, Mr. Hall accuses Matt Nadeau and Rock Art of orchestrating this entire PR campaign revolving around this C&D letter. It’s actually a pretty brilliant accusation, but it’s a tough pill to swallow. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, this letter of accusation of Machiavellian scheming is where Monster does far more damage to itself than anything else. (Here Matt’s passionate response, as well.) But he makes a really good point:

When we reach an accommodation with RA which we will no doubt do in the next day or so how will we undo the damage to our brand and reputation? Who will have really won? Will you be as passionate about telling our side? My guess is no one will hear about the resolution because it is not nearly as sexy a story.

Nobody. Why? Because everyone wants to see the little guy win. And he has. Beer and confetti all around! From everything I’ve seen so far, he has retained the right to brew Vermonster so long as he promises to not get into the energy drink market. But was that ever the question? Like… at all?

As Andy Crouch brought up this morning, what has he actually won? Was his ability to continue to manufacture Vermonster ever really in doubt? Or has he actually won an enormous — and FREE — PR campaign on the backs of the quick fingers of fad-driven social media fans? How much more Vermonster will Rock Art sell this year? I’m willing to bet a lot.

I don’t think that’s bad, but it sure is interesting!

As a kind of postscript, I have a hard time feeling bad for Hansen’s in all of this. They hired a firm with a bad reputation to do unpleasant work poorly. Something like this was going to rear up and bite them in the ass eventually.

I also can’t help feel that the real lesson out of all of this is going to be obscured by the frantic re-Tweeting of “OMGZ WE WON!!11!”: Trademark law needs a good overhaul and companies like this one (CE, not Hansen’s) need to have their business practices reviewed on a regular basis for bullying – because this is exactly what this action was. The backbone of this country’s economy is small businesses, and these kinds of actions threaten small businesses.

Vermonster was never a threat to Monster Energy drink, and while it could have been (and maybe should have been) a quiet conversation between lawyers, the real story is that the C&D letter should never have been sent in the first place.

 21 Oct 2009 @ 2:00 PM 

The post in which way say goodbye to the ever-dwindling remains of my free time.

Earlier this week, I took the reins of ncbeer.org, the website of the North Carolina Brewers Guild. I’m an enormous nerd and I like to promote local beer, so it was a no-brainer on my part. Why they agreed to allow me to help, we may never know.
NC Brewers Guild
Of course, this means that my attention is going to be split between here and ncbeer until their website is a little bit more robust with content and useful functions for member breweries. I’m still going to be shooting for two entries here, per week. (Yes, this counts as one. I’m not stupid.)

In the meantime, if you’re in North Carolina (and even if you’re not) make sure you head on over to the site, bookmark it, and subscribe to the RSS feed. It’s a little light on content right now, but based on the amount of e-mail I’ve received today it’s not going to stay that way for long. If you’ve got ideas of the kinds of things you’d like to see about local beer and breweries as a beer enthusiast, let me know. What’s more, keep an eye out for information on how to become a member of the guild.

Join the club! They have beer.

Tags Tags: ,
Categories: industry, marketing, media
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 21 Oct 2009 @ 02 00 PM

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 19 Oct 2009 @ 5:49 PM 

Presumably, if you have received this ad in your e-mail, it is because you are a member of either the American Homebrewers Association or the Brewers Association (or both). It is for Teach a Friend to Homebrew Day which, I think, is one of the coolest ideas for an event that AHA has thought up.

Teach a friend to AAAGGHHH!

Maybe it’s just me, but this is about the creepiest damn ad for this target demographic I can think of. Wow! Can I do it without this kind of “incentive?”

I hope nobody thinks this counts as targeting to school-aged children!

Tags Tags: ,
Categories: American Homebrewers Association, Brewers Association, marketing
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 19 Oct 2009 @ 05 49 PM

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 16 Oct 2009 @ 9:23 AM 

The title of this post is one of the questions that keeps me awake at night.

I know this sounds like a really basically fundamental question that I should be well past as I’m working on a business plan. But I also don’t know where I’m going to be, and that has a lot to do with the answer to that question. Let me explain:

As I recently revealed in discussion over at THFB, my lovely wife is working on finishing an advanced degree. Said advanced degree is most likely going to get her a job teaching at a college or university… somewhere. Where? Well, like every other industry, it’s hard to find a job teaching college, right now. Could be anywhere. Her search currently covers something like 63 states. I bet you didn’t even know we had 63 states.

Every time she mentions a different state to me, I start writing a new section of my business plan in my head. It’s a conglomeration of: What does the craft beer scene look like in this state? What are the established breweries that I know something about? What kind of beer do they make? Will I be near them? Are they mostly brewpubs or packaging breweries? Can I co-exist without directly competing? What are the distribution laws like? Will I be able to self-distribute my own stuff?

The brewpub/packaging brewery question kills me. Deep, deep down, I don’t want to open a restaurant. I would really love to just have a little space by myself where I can make beer and give it to somebody else to serve, hopefully while I’m somewhere near by to talk about it. It’s almost definitely the more difficult way to go. Brewpubs outnumber packaging breweries almost 2-to-1. (962-to-456) and a part of me says: Hey! There’s a reason for that! Then the rest of me says, “Screw it. Do what makes you happy.” which is pretty much my mantra in life.

Here are a few of the considerations I take myself through:

Packaging Brewery Brewpub
I can go it alone for a while. Saves money on staff. Need other people involved at start; almost definitely saves on sanity.
Lower startup costs, brewing and kegging equipment can probably get me going. Serving tanks, barstools, napkins, silverware, table cloths, oh.. and food. Lots of food. Big ol’ initial investment.
Limited interaction with the consumer unless I’m really good with getting into public, long feedback loop. Immediate touch with customers and immediate feedback.
Nothing to drive customers away except crappy beer. People will come for the beer, but come back for the food. If the food isn’t awesome, people won’t drink my beer.
I want to make beer. I have no desire to make food for people.
Have to deal with some sort of distribution scheme or distributor right out of the gate. No need to distribute until your customer base is well established.
I will miss having people around and am likely to become some sort of crazy hermit before I relent and hire someone to help me. Some days people-in-general really, and I mean REALLY, piss me off.

In the end, unless I find somebody who is really excited to run the restaurant end of a brewpub that shares my vision of what a brewpub should be like, I will almost definitely start a packaging brewery. (Maybe down the road I’ll expand it to having some sort of bar or cafe.) But that doesn’t mean I don’t question: Is that the right decision?

I’d love to hear from others.

People who have started/are starting – what’s your plan? Brewpub? Packaging? Why? What’s driving your decision?

Beer drinkers: If you heard there was a new brewery opening locally would you be more excited to try it if it were a brewpub or a packaging brewery? Would you feel differently about one vs. the other?

Oh Wisdom of the Internet, pour into my discussion section!

Tags Categories: brewery, brewpub, startup Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 16 Oct 2009 @ 01 19 PM

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