[This is the fifth 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.]
We learned mostly about filtration, quality, bacterial infections, and how to guard against these nemesi (or in the case of Russian River <http://www.russianriverbrewing.com/> and Lost Abbey <http://www.lostabbey.com/> ….embrace them). After shadowing Peace Tree, visiting Three Floyds, and being taught by John from Bell’s (all three breweries do not filter their beers), it is hard to understand the need for craft brewers to filter their beer. But, we have to remember that Siebel has been in business for over 120 years supporting brewers from mostly “big beer” backgrounds and for A-B, Miller, Coors, and German brewers like Paulner, Spaten, and Ayinger, it is unfathomable to think of selling unfiltered beers. So, I studied and understand the content and reasons for doing it, but in a local brewery or a brewpub setting, I don’t see myself embracing it. Clarifying agents and whirlpool seem to do a pretty good job with cold conditioning for what Americans seem to be looking for in a craft beer. I can see bigger places like New Glarus filtering their beers.
Learning about the bacteria and wild yeast contaminants was sort of fun. I’ve had some beers with off flavors and never really knew what or why, I can see the importance in doing full CIP and extensive sanitization, especially for beers that will be in bottles and on the shelf for a while. We learned about lactobacilli, pediococcus, megaspherea, pectinatis, brettanomyces, and even some strains of sacchromyces that aren’t good for brewers like sacchromyces diastaticus. Many others as well and what they look like, how they behave, what conditions they like, what off-flavors they produce (Megaspherea produces a “vomit-like” aroma), and physical imperfections they make like haze or ropiness.
On Tuesday we had the opportunity to taste some of these off-flavors like diacetyl (buttered popcorn), ethyl acetate (nail polish/solvent), acetic acid (sour/vinegar), 4-Vinyl Guaiacol (clove), and iso-amyl acetate (banana or circus peanuts).
What is really interesting is the fact that they give these to us at three times the flavor threshold for these particular chemicals and they were still very subtle to me. The diacetyl tasted about 1/3 what I remember from the flavor of my first lager and the beers at the Lion’s Head Pub in Chicago. My lager had diacetyl due fermentation temperatures whereas the Lion’s Head tap lines are probably just dirty and have a variety of bacteria that are causing their off-flavors. Prime example of knowing all the causes for some of these off-flavors so somebody can troubleshoot their origins.
Tuesday evening I visited the Pumping Station One <http://pumpingstationone.org/> which is a hackerspace in Chicago. They were featured in MAKE magazine <http://makezine.com/> and are a good bunch of a guys and gals that like electronics, crafts, and do-it-yourself like stuff (imagine Big Bang Theory meets Tim “the tool man” Taylor). Anywho…I brought some of my Ichabod IPA (with homegrown Cascade dryhops) for sharing and it was imbibed quited quickly.
Thursday I studied at Goose Island Clybourn because I heard the Chicago Beer Society <http://chibeer.org/> was holding a meeting there that night. Randy Mosher <http://www.radicalbrewing.com/rbauthr.html> spoke about his beer traveling experiences this last summer and brought candy, sugar, chocolate, and beer to share from the experiences as well.
I also bumped into Mark and Tom from class and we studied together for an hour. The photo at left shows our “flash cards” that most of the students make up for themselves for studying. I haven’t really had the need to since I have all the questions/answers in my notebook, but the flash cards are definitely a more social way to study in a pub.
Friday we had my toughest quiz yet. I still probably did well, but I was stumped on several questions because I was studying “next” to the answers instead of what they were looking for. After the quiz we had a module on taste panels followed by an interactive demonstration. In a triangle test you are given three unlabeled beers and two are the same and one is different and you are instructed to find the odd one out. This isn’t as easy telling Guinness from Harp, these beers were “close.” After we had time to sample our tin-foil-covered beer bottles, we voted. This is an exercise to prove there is a difference or if statistically we were just “guessing.” Beer A had 16 votes, beer B had 11 votes and beer C had 14 votes. This means that “statistically” the beers that we tasted were identical. I voted for “A” because I could smell it had less of acetaldehyde aroma and it was bit drier in mouthfeel, but darn close. “A” was Bud Light, and the other two were “Budweiser.” It was cool that guessed it correctly, but also shocking to find out from the instructor that even a panel of professional brewers has a hard time telling these two beers apart.
After lunch we had our German beer style tasting (with a Czech and Austrian beer thrown in).
We also had an afternoon field trip to Metropolitan Brewery <http://www.metrobrewing.com/>, which is a 15 barrel brewery that has been open for about three years on the north side. Doug, who is also a Siebel grad, his wife, and other business partner gave us samples and answered “big boy” questions for us wanna-be brewers. Afterwards some of us walked a couple blocks down the street to the Hop Leaf <http://www.hopleaf.com/> , which is a beer bar and restaurant with a pretty good menu (beer and food). I tried a Belgian trippel and the beef cheeks (I’ve always heard this was a tender cut of meat and so I seized the opportunity to try them….and good they were)
Earlier in the day on Friday, Erin had a phone interview with DCS in Lexington Park, MD, and at 10 a.m., I had a text saying that she found plane tickets to DC from O’Hare for $139/each so we could check out the area. So we got to the airport at 8 p.m.-ish and were in DC that night at midnight. Since Erin has already been out to this region many times, this trip was really to see if it would be good for our family and if the beer scene could support another brewer. So we visited a few brewpubs in the area including: Hops, Port City Brewing, (2) Capital City’s, Mad Fox, Ruddy Duck and Rock Bottom. These were all in the DC metro area except for Ruddy Duck <http://ruddyduckbrewery.com/>, which was across the bridge from Lexington Park. This brewpub was my favorite of the places we visited due to the atmosphere and the excellent beer (their award-winning Marzen was worthy). We also stumbled upon a Dogfish Head Alehouse….but quickly realized they didn’t brew here and just served their beers. We later found out from our waiter that this place has to buy their DFH beers from a distributor just like the other bars in the area. Sort of a tied house, but not related in anyway to DFH except that they have licensed the name, logo, etc. The food and beer prices were actually quite reasonable (compared to Chicago) and the atmosphere was still wicked cool. The place was really busy and probably made a good business decision; especially after the Discovery Channel’s Brewmasters show and all the publicity advertising it produced.
So are we moving to Colorado or Maryland? I don’t know yet. Given a choice between the two areas, Colorado is still a better “beer” fit, but considering the opportunities for a systems engineer that works on aircraft systems, like my wife, this area is the Silicon Valley equivalent. We’ve been discussing it a lot and are trying to stay open to all these opportunities that are presented to us…it seems surreal that with an accepted job offer we might be uprooting our family to the far east or semi-far west.
Until the next update, Prost!
Adam “Basscat” Draeger