[This is the second installment of an ongoing series by Adam Draeger, an experienced homebrewer and engineer transitioning to the world of professional brewing through coursework at the Siebel Institute of Brewing Technology.]
Has it only been a week? I already know all of my 40 classmates and half of them more than others; part of me feels like I’ve known them for months! The Packers winning the Superbowl seems like it was eons ago as well. (Go, Pack!) Anyway, the class has 1 female from Madison, Wisconsin; 1 guy from Cairo, Egypt (Heineken); 1 guy from Belize; 1 guy from England; 1 from Canada; and the rest from around the nation (AK, CA, KY, ID, IA, NY, NC, WI, IN, PA, OR, WA, NJ, MD just to name a few). We spend time together all day and even get together to study a lot in the evenings; we spend a lot of time together and have become pretty good friends just after one week. My new homebrewing club, so to speak. Except for the Egyptian and the guy from Belize, we are all homebrewers, and surprisingly to me, none (maybe one) is a BJCP judge. The ages range from 21 to 50 but we average around 25-35 years of age.
Commuting to school takes longer than I expected. Even though I’m only 1.5 blocks from a train station and less than 4 miles away from school, it takes me 35-50 minutes each way (depending on how long I wait for buses and trains). That is like traveling 3.9-5.5 mph. The positive part is that there are breweries, brewpubs and beer bars all within a very close proximity…I’m not bored yet. Goose Island Brewpub is across the street from Siebel and we get a discount due to being enrolled at Siebel!
Erin and the girls came with me on Friday–Sunday last weekend to drop me off and settle me in my new pad (pictured, right) (apprx location), and on Saturday I started coming down with something…turns out I’ve been fighting a head cold all week now. It isn’t painful, but it is uncomfortable and makes it harder to focus on the content that we are learning. They recommend that we study about two hours each night; I averaged about one hour because I didn’t have the healthy stamina that I hoped. I also haven’t been sleeping well at night; I toss and turn a lot, which must be the bed because I’m usually out when my head hits the pillow…another mild inconvenience.
Due to this blog’s audience I won’t get into too much beer details of what we are learning (like what deoxynivalenol is?) but can give you generals. Our first instructor was Rebecca from Rahr Malting inShakopee, Minn., and she taught us about barley and barley malt for three days. We learned in great detail about the growing, diseases, geography, steeping, germination, kilning, bio-chemical changes, etc., which is all required for grain before it even gets ordered by a brewer for use. We learned from Mike on day four about water chemistry and brewing/filtrations processes. This was my favorite, and I wish we had more lectures on water–good stuff! We had a six-page quiz on Friday on these chapters, and I overstudied; it was pretty easy therefore. After the quiz we had Brian teach us about hops, hops and hops. Brian and Mike are both from a company in Michigan called Kalsec that makes hop oils and extracts.
What some more of you might rather know is what kind of hands-on training are we receiving. Well, our beerstube (pictured, right) offers two beers on tap at all times. Even though we are discouraged to drink throughout the day, many guys have a beer at lunch and a couple after the day is over. We’ve already finished off the first two kegs and are on the next two.
We had our first sensory training with Lynn Kruger, the President of Siebel, on Wednesday afternoon. We got to taste Bud that was spiked with flaws at three times the normal threshold of detection. This was fun, and we were quite rambunctious at the end of this exercise. Some of the compounds we tasted were: salty, mineraly, grainy, DMS, hoppy and skunky.
On the day we studied water, we tasted Ice Mountain compared to Evian and I had my bottle of Nestle water for another comparison. Wow, I never did a side-by-side of water before–eye-opening! (The Evian has a very dry mouth feel…)
On Friday we had some hop and hop extract (hoppy drops) evaluations. We did the traditional hop rub in our palms and smelled them. We also added hoppy drops to Coors Light and contrasted the results. I didn’t like the hoppy drops by themself, but could see how a hoppy beer could benefit from a balance of both.
I went out with a large percentage of the class on Tuesday night, and five guys and a girl on Thursday night for a quiz study session and then on Friday I hung out with a completely different crowd from class, hitting Piece Brewery for beers and pizza (in Chicago? really?). The big thing was when I suggested to Mark (from Chicago) that we hit 3 Floyds in Munster, Ind., just outside of Chicago. He coordinated for us to meet at Flossmoor Station Brewpub and then we carpooled to 3 Floyds on Saturday for a 3 p.m. lunch and beer (there was a line standing outside the brewpub for while). We did the 4 p.m. tour and headed back to Flossmoor for a private tour and tasting with the brewer, Brian. Beautiful brewpub and good beers. On top of the 12 beers they have on tap, he took us into the cellars for the reserve collection of 4 bottles of unique one-off’s; it was a good experience…we kept joking that we should get extra credit from Siebel for this!
Next week we go on two field trips, so you can look forward to my reports about that.
Adam “Basscat” Draeger