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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I’m glad I’m already familiar with craft breweries, because if I wasn’t I wouldn’t be getting nearly as much out of this course.

This was, by far, my favorite day of the course so far. A lot of that has to do with the fact that we talked about math and brewing calculations and, like a true nerd, I really like math. It was fun. But on top of that, being familiar with the industry and with local startups has given me a perspective that I wouldn’t have had just coming into this course as a homebrewer.

For example, one of the calculations that we went over is hop utilization. For one thing, it was nice to have hop utilization calculations defined for me. Basically, as a rule of thumb (though it changes in a small way per brew system) you can expect roughly 32% hop utilization from any given hop addition per batch of beer. It’s good to know because when you’re formulating recipes, you want to know, say, how many hops to use to achieve a certain level of bitterness.

For example, let’s assume you’re making a 10hL batch of 45 IBU pale ale. (And for the purpose of this example, not only will we work in metric, but we’ll also assume one hop addition of 5.5% alpha acid Cascade hops.)

1 IBU = 1 ppm isomerized alpha acids = 1 mg/L isomerized alpha acids

So that means that in 10hL, we want 45g of alpha acids.

10hL = 1000L
1 IBU in 10hL = 1000mg (= 1g)
45 IBU in 10hL = 45000mg (= 45g)

Of course, that 45g represents what’s left in the beer. Assuming a 32% utilization rate, you need to actually put in 140.625g of isomerized alpha acids.

(45g / 0.32 = 140.625g)

Of course, the actual amount of alpha acids in the hops are just a small percentage of the dry weight of the hops, in the case of the Cascades that we’re talking about in this example: 5.5%. So if we’re looking for 140.625g of alpha acids we need 2556.82g of hops which is probably easier to think about as 2.6kg or roughly 5.6lbs.

(140.625 /.055 = 2556.82)

(Boy, I hope all that math is right. I’m working on the fly, here)

So, here’s the thing that I really took away: That hop utilization rate is assumed for every hop addition.

10 years of homebrewing experience tells me that – what the hell? If I put hops in right at the end of the boil I don’t get any bitterness from them – 32% utilization rate? Hah!

But – says the instructor – in a homebrew environment, I can cool things really quickly. A few minutes after I make my last hop addition, I’ve got my wort chiller going and I’m making a significant change to the temperature of my beer. In a commercial environment, I’m probably whirlpooling and, in fact, those hops that I put in will probably be in the wort for another half hour to an hour… isomerizing. Sure, the boil is over and I’m probably not driving off any more aromatics or flavor compounds, but alpha acids isomerize at a temperature well below boiling point. They are still contributing bitterness.

And all of a sudden it became clear to me why people have a hard time ramping hoppy recipes up from homebrew to a commercial environment. You’ll get better utilization rates on a bigger system, certainly, but that’s easy math. But how often will people take into account the fact that the alpha acids in their aroma hops will continue to isomerize post-boil? I would never have thought about it.

The other thing that came up that gave me a lot to think about was our discussion of brewing adjuncts. It was specifically built as a discussion about cereal cookers, but what I took away was a discussion about gelatinizing starches in adjuncts. It really made me think about my good friends at Fullsteam and their sweet potato beer.

I think it’s common knowledge that Fullsteam is using bags of sweet potato slurry in their mash (I say I think because I’ve seen 32 tweet about it, and I’m pretty sure that Brooks would be happy to launch into a diatribe about how much it gums up the mash at any given opportunity). What made me think about it was the discussion of retrogradation of starch.

To sum up: After starch is gelatinized, it is free for enzymes to be able to work through and break those starches down into sugars. But if the adjunct is allowed to cool (or, said our instructor, if it is over-boiled), the starches can re-form their original complex matrix, and in some cases even crystallize to a MORE complex matrix, and be much more difficult or even impossible for enzymes to break down.

So, this makes me wonder: How much retrogradation has taken place in that sweet potato slurry? I mean – they’re still getting fermentables out of it, clearly, so it’s definitely working. But could they save themselves a gummy mash by using a different, less processed, form of sweet potato? Who knows? These are the things I think about during the class.

I should also talk about why this post is so late. Well.. actually, instead of talking about it, I’m just going to post this:

That really should say it all.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 05 Nov 2010 @ 03 26 PM

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There’s this mindset — I don’t know how to explain it. At some point, when you’re in the process of doing something, it kind of sets in that you’re doing it. Sitting down this morning for the 3rd consecutive set of 8-hour days talking about very specific technical topics about beer, well – that’s when it hit that: hey, we’re only 1/3 of the way into this and there’s a WHOLE lot of information flying by. It was a halfway, “Neat!” feeling and halfway, “Oh dear god!” feeling.

Today, we picked up from where we left off from yesterday’s “Enzymes in Barley” and launched straight into a detailed discussion of malting, malt houses, malting equipment, and exactly what goes on inside of barley when you malt it so that we, as brewers, can get a good idea of what we’re looking for in terms of malt. So, again, we hit into a lot of biochemistry, a smattering of botany, a little bit of mechanical engineering and – when discussing malt analyses – just a pinch of voodoo.

We talked about specialty malts, and the type of kilning that was used to create specific specialty malts. This I found particularly interesting because, unsurprisingly, malts that I consider to fall into certain “taste families” (this is just how I think about things) all happen to be malted/kilned in the same way – like Victory and Biscuit malts or Munich and Aromatic malts. Things that aren’t necessarily quite closely related in either use or immediate characteristics that I always felt had similarities. It turns out, they do. It was nice to have a confirmation that they were all actually related somehow.

From there, we talked about milling: milling practices, exactly what’s going on in a 2-roller mill vs. 4-, 5-, or 6-roller and exactly what we should be looking for in a well-milled grist.

We finished the day with a discussion of styles and another, much more pleasing, tasting. We covered a smattering of English and American styles, as you can see from the photo to the left here, notably:

Classic English-Style Pale Ale (Batemans XXXB Pale Ale)
English-Style Extra Special Bitter (Fuller’s ESB)
English-Style IPA (Sam Smith’s India Ale)
Dry Irish Stout (Porterhouse Oyster Stout – made with real oysters! Really!)
California Common Beer (Anchor Steam)
American-Style Amber/Red (Eel River Organic Amber)
American Pale Ale (Napa Smith Pale Ale)
American IPA (Avery IPA – by far the star of the pale ales on the day)
Imperial/Double IPA (Anderson Valley Imperial IPA)
Wood and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer (Goose Island Bourbon County Stout)

While it was definitely a pleasure to go through these (which are some of my favorite) styles, it was also a light tour through a few off-flavors, as well. Many of the imported beers were old and oxidized, most of the highly hopped beers were full of isovaleric acid (from oxidized hops). The beers that, I thought, were of best quality were the Avery and the Goose Island. They were both fantastic. The others all had… flaws. In any given bar environment I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about it, but here, in the classroom, after spending all day thinking about it, the flaws stood out like a sore thumb.

The other thing worth bringing up, I think, and this is a slight criticism of the course, really, is that there seems to be a steady discrepancy between slides that have been included in our book/binder for our study and the slides being presented to us by the instructor (and one in particular). Sometimes they’re not in the same order, sometimes they’re entirely different slides and, thus, entirely different pieces of presented information. I don’t know if this is just a matter of the instructor having old slides, but it’s a shame.

From a value standpoint – sure, I’m not spending tens of thousands of dollars for the full diploma course, but I am spending somewhere on the order of $5,000 for this course plus room and board over the next two weeks, and that’s a lot of money to me. I think I’d like it if I felt like it was a little more polished, especially coming from a 130-year-old (y’know.. ish.. with a few breaks) brewing school, concise course or not.

(And the tech geek in me says: You printed how many Powerpoint presentations and gave them to me in a binder? You couldn’t have burned that onto CD and saved a few trees?)

Still, in the grand scheme of things, the info is there, and I’m still getting more into my head than was there before and filling in the gaps of my knowledge, which was my objective here. So, onward and upward.

Tomorrow? Mashing. Lots of math and mashing. Awesome.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 03 Nov 2010 @ 10 40 PM

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This is more like it.

Introductions are over. Today we started to get into a decent amount of information. We covered hop history, cultivation, biochemistry, types of extracts (and other products), how they’re made, and how they’re used. We talked about hop schedules, hop aromas and flavors, and how to get them, including an interesting little discussion about first-wort hopping.

We talked about barley cultivation and biochemistry and brushed the edge of the topic of malting science by going into an in-depth discussion on enzymes in brewing. Yeah, baby. This is the kind of science I’ve been looking for.

Unfortunately, this is, without a doubt, a concise course. We gloss over topics, we generalize, and we definitely breeze through explanations that could, under better (more expensive) circumstances go much more in-depth.

The part of the day that I was particularly pleased with today was the Sensory panel at the end of the day. Because we spent the day hearing from Ray Daniels, the mastermind behind the Cicerone program, I assumed we were going to get the off-flavors tasting from Ray.

I have taken the off-flavors tasting course with Ray, and I wasn’t really looking forward to doing it again: I don’t like tasting bad beer. I know what crap tastes like, and I don’t like crap.

I was surprised when Ray packed up his stuff at the beginning of the Sensory Panel session. We got what promises to be a much more in-depth tasting. I mis-understood, you see. It wasn’t an off-flavors tasting. It was a sensory calibration. This was one of many sensory panels we will have.

Today we covered sweet (just added sugar), sour (acetic acid), salty (added salt), bitter (+25 BUs), DMS, grainy (I forget what was added to achieve this), geraniol (one of the many hop oils), isovaleric acid (oxidized hops), and skunked/lightstruck. More are coming, I’m told.

Lyn Kruger, the President of Siebel ran the tastings and I was kind of blown away. I’ve had most of these before, and I feel like I have a pretty good palate. Grainy kind of took me by surprise – I just don’t think I’ve ever experienced quite that flavor in beer before – at least not to that extent. These spikings are meant to be something like 5-times the normal taste threshhold. To say that they are obvious is a bit of an understatement. I could even pick up the some of the things that Lyn noted we shouldn’t have been able to smell because they were not volatile (sugar and salt notably). Isovaleric acid – which I’ve definitely tasted “in the wild” – was gaggingly foul. Have you ever had beer that was decidedly cheesy? You don’t want to. Trust me.

What really blew my mind, though, was skunked beer, and here’s why: I’ve never really been able to detect skunked beer unless it’s REALLY skunked – I can normally get a little bit of flavor, but I almost never pick it up by aroma. Lyn said something today that completely defined it for me, though. She’s South African, you see, and she noted to the class in general that South Africa does not have any skunks. So when she was first on sensory panels, she didn’t know what “skunked” meant, either. She always thought of it as “coffee, toffeeish flavor.” And then the whole thing sort of fit into place for me.

Yes! I don’t smell or taste skunk at all. I know what a damn skunk smells like, my dog was sprayed by one once when I was a kid. The smell hung around my house for weeks, permeating every piece of soft material in the place. NOTHING in beer has ever smelled like a skunk to me. But lightstruck? It smells and tastes like an acidic coffee, and – to me, anyway – it’s fairly faint. And thus, I have another flavor I can recognize in my palate. Awesome.

One of the other interesting things that she noted about skunky beer is that it a lot of breweries apparently do it on purpose on importing into the U.S. – and while that might sound ludicrous, she offered this explanation: Clear bottles and green bottles are sexy, but they almost instantly skunk your beer. However, most American drinkers consider that skunky flavor to be “the flavor of imported beer.” They pay good money – extra money! – for that flavor, and if it were to go away, they might think that something is wrong. She noted that, in the Netherlands, Heineken is sold in a brown bottle.

Food for thought. I’m looking forward to the other sensory panels.

This evening I got the opportunity to hang out with good friends Jon “@beerinator” Surratt and his lovely wife Robin “@beerprincess“. A lovelier beer-drinking couple you will be hard-pressed to find. Unless, of course, you’re hanging with me and my wife. I’m pretty sure we could put up a good fight. We just may have to challenge them to a duel.

Tomorrow we cover malting, milling, and beer styles. I’m looking forward to it. I need to remember to take some photos to spice up these posts. Count on it.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 03 Nov 2010 @ 12 01 AM

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 01 Nov 2010 @ 11:43 PM 

This morning at the bright and early hour of 8:00-ish AM, I wove my way through a cup of coffee and into the Siebel Institute for the start of the Concise Course of Brewing Technology.

It was really an introductory day in pretty much all ways. Introduce the course to us, introduce us to the course teachers, introduce Siebel and Goose Island and the restaurants in the area. We got a course overview and an overview of the brewing process, etc., etc., and anon.

The class is comprised of a bunch of people who are interested in starting a brewery, a handful of people who are working in breweries, a bunch of homebrewers looking to expand their craft, a few people who want to break into the industry somehow, and a group of large industry people (including a group from Mexico/Groupo Modelo/Pacifico) who are here to expand their knowledge set: analytical chemists, marketing guys, that kind of thing. It’s a pretty diverse and interesting group.

The first week of the course this time around (because I understand it changes) is being taught by Kirk Annand, an industry veteran, consultant, and long time many-things-around-the-brewery-guy for Moosehead Brewery (incidentally: my first ever beer was a Moosehead Ale.) and Ray Daniels, an industry veteran, esteemed writer, and founder of the Cicerone Program. As far as I’m concerned, it looks to be a great week.

As a precursor of what, I hope, is things to come, Ray gave us an overview of water and water chemistry that was much simpler for me to understand than what I’ve read previously in many books. I’m willing to believe that part of that is just that I learn better by listening than almost any other medium; I think just having somebody conversationally tell me about the effects of calcium chloride in your brewing water sticks with me better than a myriad of biochemistry texts have.

This evening, after sharing a beer with some fellow students at the Siebel Bierstube, I went and found myself a place to play some volleyball and get some exercise in (based on an excellent recommendation from Twitter. It’d be a long two weeks with no exercise.

Tomorrow we spend half the day talking about hops, and end the day with a sensory panel. Stay tuned!

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 02 Nov 2010 @ 05 49 AM

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