07 Jan 2011 @ 12:38 PM 

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been a little lazy about getting this post out. In my defense, not only was the Concise Course closely followed by Thanksgiving and then those squirrely winter holidays (whichever of them you celebrate, they’re all at the same damn time), plus there’s that whole “new brewery” thing.

However, since those two weeks in November and all of my posts, I’ve had a lot of questions posed here and elsewhere on the Internets that need to be addressed. So here are my answers:

Did you pass the Big Test?

Quite, yes. I don’t really want to go into details about this and color future classes, but suffice to say that if you don’t pass the Big Test you really shouldn’t be in the room.

The second question, and by far the more important one, I think is:

Would you recommend this course to others?

Absolutely… with caveats.

Let me say this in the most convoluted way possible: Had I know what the content and format of the course was ahead of time, I probably wouldn’t have spent the money on attending. However, I am extremely glad I did. I didn’t learn how to brew in this class. Turns out, as I had hoped and suspected, I already know how to brew. I did get a really nice overview of science, physics, and business considerations that I have already put to use in a number of ways, and I hope to be able to make future use of the contacts that I met there.

The staff and (99% of) the instructors were fantastic and I hope to run into them time and again in the future and catch up. I also plan on taking future courses at Siebel on more targeted topics. They know their stuff.

In addition, by passing the Big Test and receiving my Certificate of Attendance (yeah – I showed up!), Siebel agrees to refer and/or sponsor students to join the MBAA and ASBC (not that I think that you necessarily need said referral or sponsorship, but hey – nice!).

Here are the caveats:

If you know your way around a brewery, you’re going to bored for a good chunk of this class. There are some good pieces of information in here, but since you’re getting a broad overview of the process, there’s going to be a lot you already know.

If you don’t know your way around beer, this could be pretty challenging to keep up with. I think most homebrewers are probably up to the task, but I can tell you that 4 years ago – as a homebrewer and not as well-read as I am now – I would have been totally overwhelmed. Even a few days working in and around a brewery would probably give you enough information.

Lastly, experience is the best teacher. After two weeks in this course, you still won’t know how to do day-to-day tasks in the brewery, you’ll just have an overview of, probably, why they need to be done (which is good) and maybe some tips on how not to totally fuck them up (which is great).

So, my overall answers is: Yes, go to. But know what you’re getting and be ready for it.

Isn’t that the most general recommendation, ever? Here: I enjoyed it.

I’m also happy to answer any more questions people have about the course, in specific.

Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 09 Jan 2011 @ 09:20 AM

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 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.

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

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 10 Nov 2010 @ 11:41 PM 

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.

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.

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

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 09 Nov 2010 @ 12:10 AM 

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.

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

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