12 Nov 2010 @ 12:13 PM 

Another late post, this one due entirely to laziness.

Today, as predicted, was pretty awful to sit through for the most part.

At some point pretty early, I actually started to feel a little sorry for our poor befuddled instructor, though. It became quite clear over the course of the day that he was definitely a fill-in and, mainly, just not comfortable with teaching. In the morning, I was irritated. By the afternoon, I just felt sorry for him and I kept thinking about how glad he would be when this ordeal was finally over. As painful as it was for us, it must have been much worse for him.

To be fair, he also got saddled with some of the most dry topics of the course: post-fermentation product handing. CIP, Lab Reports, QC, Draught Systems, and Kegging. It’s just not exciting stuff, and it’s difficult to make it interesting. Still, a little more explanation of terms and more assertive information handling would have been nice.

The big part of the day – what everybody was most nervous about and focused on all day was The Big Test. We had extra break time, we had a long lunch. People were up all night going over the enormous amount of information we’ve received over the past 8 days. We were told: You need to get 70% right to pass.

See the picture above? That was lunch time. People were studying in the classroom instead of actually going anywhere for lunch.

Test time was in the afternoon. 59 questions. 57 questions? 50-something questions. You can get 16 wrong. The test was some multiple choice, mostly short-answer.

I don’t want to talk too much about the test. On the off-chance that somebody is reading this blog as a part of getting ready to take the course, I don’t want to scare them about the test or give the impression that it’s not worth studying for.

Here’s what I’ll say: If you know your stuff, you won’t have a problem.

For my part, let’s just say that I enjoyed celebrating at The Map Room with good friends, and even got some birthday cake for Woody’s birthday. Good times.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 12 Nov 2010 @ 03 52 PM

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Often, when I am wandering around in a city that I’m unfamiliar with I wish I was more familiar with the neighborhoods. Is this street totally empty because people haven’t gotten home from work yet? Is it because this is normally a business district and people have left for the day? Or am I about to get shot?

I’ll never know. Except that I haven’t been shot, yet.

I am procrastinating by writing what should be an incredibly short blog post, due to the fact that our Big Test is tomorrow. It also helps that the wireless in this hostel is really pretty terrible and I just can’t get online right now. So I’m really procrastinating and writing this in notepad.

Good times.

Today we started our post-fermentation education. Filtration, maturation, carbonation, etc. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed. The course up to this point has been flat out awesome. This morning we started off with the brewer from Siebel’s experimental station who seems to know more about filtration than is healthy for most people. He was a wizard. What followed was… well… I don’t want to say terrible. He’s not terrible. But lackluster probably isn’t far from the truth. He’s a fill-in. He’s got to be. He’s not listed on the Siebel faculty, he doesn’t really seem all that comfortable with teaching, he’s not familiar with the slides or their content, and he doesn’t present the material well, or even, indeed, at all, sometimes.

Tomorrow’s going to be a long day. 5 hours of listening to him lecture on things that we’re going to get tested on (along with many, many, many other things) in the afternoon. It doesn’t seem very fair.

You win some, you lose some, I guess.

This afternoon we also did the nastiest off-flavor tasting ever, just to put a cap on the day. We smelled/tasted:

Lactic acid (sour)
Butynic acid (vomit, rotting grain)
“Earthy” (mold, dirt, unclean – I was so sensitive of this that I actually smelled it when I pour the beer, much less brought it anywhere near my face. I could taste it for hours afterward.)
Indole (plastic, medicinal, diaper, death – there were only a handful of people in the class that could actually smell this and I was one of the “lucky” ones that could. As Keith said, “It tastes like a baby took a shit in your head.”)
Caprylic acid (waxy, candles, crayons)
Oxidization (paper, wet cardboard)
Bready/Heat Stress (lightly papery, a little sweet, flat, and lifeless)
“Infection”: a heady cocktail of lactic acid and diacetyl blended to simulate a lactobacillus infection. (rancid butter, sour cream)

All in all good times. I was forced to go to the Hopleaf to drive all of the flavors out of my face. And now, I must to study, for reals. More update tomorrow, post-test.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 11 Nov 2010 @ 09 50 AM

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 10 Nov 2010 @ 1:17 AM 

We continued with our cold-side education today, finishing up yesterday’s yeast discussions and talking about fermentation control, good fermentation practices, cask conditioning, and control of fermentation flavors.

Today was also the last day that we received instruction from Kirk Annand who, I must say, has been fantastic. His are probably my overall favorite sections, thus far. His teaching style is very forthright, he has a clear grasp on a vast array of topics and apparently enjoys imparting that knowledge. I sincerely hope that I cross paths with Kirk again in my career in the brewing industry – and I hope I can get up to Nova Scotia sometime to sample some of his beer.

The information today was a clearinghouse of information about yeast and fermentation management, primarily focused around flavor control. It was part, “Don’t do X, Y, and Z so you avoid off-flavors.” and part, “If you happen to have off-flavors, you can control them by doing A, B, and C.” This is everything from yeast pitching rates to fermentation temperatures to proper yeast management, how esters are formed in your beer, when the most effective time to do a diacetyl rest is, how to measure glycogen levels and easy tips on how to measure the (rough) viability of your yeast without using a microscope.

The cask conditioning section was a treat, showing various different implements used in cask-conditioning beer which turns out isn’t any more complicated than:

a) it looks
b) it does when I did it a few weeks ago

If anything, I learned that I may have aged my beer too long and that most cask conditioned ales will condition in just a few days which, from a homebrew perspective, I just wouldn’t have assumed.

By 4:00, when we started our tasting, my brain felt full.

Tasting today was a damn sight better than off-flavor tasting yesterday. We did German and Belgian styles today and went through the following examples:

Bitburger Pils (German-style Pilsener)
Flensburger Dunkel (European-Style Dark)
Paulaner Hefe Weissbier (South German-Style Hefeweizen)
Franziskaner Hefe Weissbier Dunkel (German-Style Dark Wheat Ale)
Uerige Alt (Dusseldorf-Style Altbier)
Wittekerke Wit Bier (Belgian-Style White Ale)
Duvel (Belgian-Style Pale Strong Ale)
Bourgogne Des Flanders (Belgian-Style Flanders/Oud Bruin)
Chimay Cinq Cents (Belgian-Style Tripel)

Aside from the Uerige which was amazingly off, this was a really fantastic way to end the day. My only complaint (complaint? really?) is that I got a little tipsy while tasting them.

I know. It’s a hardship.

Tomorrow we start in post-fermentation: Filtration, QC, and Carbonation. We also get our last sensory panel in which I imagine we’ll get fantastic things like that wonderful aroma when you have chlorine somewhere in your beer: band-aids. Yum.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 10 Nov 2010 @ 01 17 AM

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Let me introduce today by putting it like this:

Last week, I took about a page of notes, all told. Easily half of them were ideas or things to check out once I got back to North Carolina.

Today, I took 3 pages of notes.

I’m not even sure where to begin with the wealth of information today. What our schedule says we were going to cover was:

The Nature of Yeast (this is essentially an introduction to cell biology)
Yeast Growth and Fermentation
Biological Control (not yeast, but close)
Brewery Effluent (so that Lyn could get a break, I think)
Yeast Maintenance and Propogation
Yeast Management

and that was all before we got to our sensory panel for the day. We almost made it through the entire schedule. We probably have about a half a “lesson” left. With the number of amazing tangents that Lyn went on today, that’s probably looking like at least an hour maybe more.

So why all the notes? Because there was so much supplementary material that wasn’t presented in the slides – good, useful, practical, supplementary material. Things like types of media used to grow lactic bacterial cultures in (to check to see if they’re in your beer, you see), what they’re called and their different levels of usefulness. Or the best method for pulling yeast for pitching out of a conical fermenter (and why to do it that way). Or how to get a single colony off of a streak plate. Or the easy way to do a Catalase test. Or how many bacterial colonies per mL of wort you need in order to actually have flavor change, and how many times you can expect a bacterial colony to multiply in an average wort (thereby giving you the lower limit at which you can allow bacteria in your beer … which should be zero unless you put it there on purpose). Just tons of good, practical information.

Same goes for brewery effluence, too, actually. Herein lay a bunch of actual practical, “This is the kind of thing that people who run sewage treatment plants don’t like…” kind of information. Just awesome.

This afternoon we had another sensory panel – technically off-flavors, though “flavors” is probably most accurate. In a Budweiser control we had:

Alcohol (+5% alcohol, thereby creating 10% alcohol Bud)
Acetaldehyde (tastes like green apple, unripened banana, mown grass)
Diacetyl (the thing I am probably most sensitive to, tastes like butterscotch)
Isoamyl acetate (a common ester, especially in hefeweizen, tastes like banana)
Ethyl acetate (a common ester, normally below flavor threshhold in beer, tastes like fingernail polish remover, airplane glue)
Ethyl hexanoate (a common ester, tastes like anise)
Eugenol (and stand-in for 4-ethyl guaiacol, ie – clove flavor)
And a mixture of isoamyl acetate and eugenol to create a “hefeweizen” flavored Bud.

All in all not a terrible tasting, but I am so sensitive to diacetyl that it actually stayed with me for the entire walk back after I tried all of those other flavors and everything. Yick.

Tomorrow, we get another fun-filled day with Cleaning and Sanitizing, Fermentation Practices (woo!), Cask Conditioning (double woo!), Control of Fermentation Flavors, and our other “Styles” tasting.

Cold side is a lot more fun than hot side.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 09 Nov 2010 @ 07 53 AM

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 07 Nov 2010 @ 3:11 PM 

I think it is safe to say that by the time Day 5 came around, there was a lot of fatigue around the course both on the side of the students as well as the instructors. The instructors were spending the day sucking on lozenges as they were at the back end of basically talking for 40+ hours and the students all pretty much looked like they were getting ready for summer vacation.

There’s a lot of information presented in really short format in this course. I find myself wondering what the diploma course is like – in many ways I wonder if it might be a little easier to assimilate the information since there’s more time to do it in. Although, at the same time, you’re going so much more in-depth in each topic it’s hard to imagine not being even more overwhelmed with information.

I can’t imagine that the guys who are coming into this course as homebrewers aren’t getting completely bowled over by some of this content. So much of it is going to be easier to understand if you have even basic familiarity with commercial brewery equipment.

Day 5 finished our hot-side education. We talked about Mash Filters (essentially really high efficiency lauter tuns where cloth/polypropylene filters are used to filter wort instead of a grain bed), tasting panels, recipe formulation, wort boiling, wort clarification, and finally cooling and aeration/oxygenation.

We also got our books – which are just collections of Powerpoint presentations – for next week, which includes our schedule. Next week is all cold side, packing, and post-packaging. One of the things that I’m looking forward to the most is the discussion on yeast. Yeast handling is, by far, the part of brewing that I find most interesting and I can’t wait to hear more detail on it. Almost the entirety of Monday is based around yeast.

Each day this week also ends in either a sensory panel, another discussion of styles, or a quiz (for which there are two hours blocked on Thursday). Good times.

When I first signed up for the Siebel Concise Course, I was lucky enough to have been tipped off about the fact that this weekend also included FOBAB: The 8th Annual Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers, so I bought a ticket.

I’m not sure I can adequately describe all of the great beer I got to try over the course of the day. There were a lot of good bourbon-aged beers and then.. the sours.. oh the sours. A 2-year aged lambic from Fitger’s Brewhouse, an INCREDIBLE framboise from Destihl, even a wild fermented ale from AC Golden. Yeah. And it was great. There was oodles of beer from Goose Island, Lost Abbey, oh! And a barrel-aged saison from Firestone Walker called Lil Opal that was my absolute favorite beer of the day.

Among other highlights on the day were hanging out with @beerinator and star-studded pals, and getting drinks, an awesome cheese plate, dinner, and a brief private tour of the brewery, new fermentation tanks, and “barrel room” at Revolution Brewing.

All in all, a great Saturday, even if it meant that I passed out face-down, exhausted, at 10 PM. Well-worth it. I’ll study today.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 07 Nov 2010 @ 03 11 PM

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