Archive for September 2011

Day 23

September 29, 2011

In Sensory Evaluation, we poured six different beers today–but rather than taste or smell them, all we did was describe them. Specifically, Roger Mittag didn’t want to hear the words “yellow”, “red” or “brown”. Rather, he wanted us to increase our colour vocabulary by using descriptors that related to everyday items, descriptors that were, well, colourful, so that our listeners or readers could see in their mind’s eye what we were actually seeing.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Roger actually started the class by having us taste glasses of water that he had spiked with sugar, vinegar, salt, and bitters–that is to say, sweet, sour, salty and bitter. The trick was that we had to taste each sample while holding our noses, so that only our taste buds were involved. (It’s surprising how much your nose adds to taste. Don’t believe me? Try to tell the difference between the taste of an apple and a raw potato while holding your nose.) Roger wanted us to become aware of our own taste “landing pads”–the areas of our tongue that were most sensitive to each different taste category–and where they were located. Although there were similarities from person to person, it soon became apparent that no two tongues were alike. For instance, I was intrigued to discover that for bitter, most of my tongue is vaguely aware of it, but the area across the back of my tongue was very sensitive.

Then came the colour exercise. We started with Pabst Blue Ribbon, which ironically was the hardest of the five to describe, simply because there was not a lot of colour to work with.  Stella Legere (marginally more colour) and Steam Whistle (a darker gold) were not much better, but when we hit Great Lakes Red Leaf, then the class’s creative juices started to flow, using descriptors like copper, apple cider, honey amber, burnt orange, buckwheat honey, bourbon and golden amber. Likewise Black Oak Nut Brown elicited auburn, dark maple syrup, mocha notes and burnished walnut. Sleeman Porter was described as mahogany, reddish chestnut, dark rum, light molasses and root beer.

It was an enjoyable and creative exercise, and the first step for all of us in developing our own personal “palette” of colour descriptors that we will be able to pull out when needed.


Day 22

September 28, 2011

Another 3-hour shift in the Teaching Brewery, but no brewing for us today. Since we were on the early shift working on the small 50-litre pilot system two weeks ago, and on the late shift working on the large 5-hectolitre system last week, we worked the middle shift today, and it was our turn to do the non-brewing “joe jobs”. First up was attaching empty used kegs to the keg cleaner, two at a time, for a cycle of washing and sanitizing. Because the kegs are attached and detached to the keg cleaner under pressure, inevitably each of us at one time or another disconnected the wrong line at the wrong time and got sprayed by old beer. Good thing we wear old clothes. Once all the kegs had been cleaned and stored, we moved on to some used casks. We don’t have an automatic cask cleaner, so these we had to do by hand, a laborious task.

With the cleaning complete, it was time to apply labels to bottles. Unfortunately our automatic label applicator was broken, so we had to do the task manually, carefully applying labels (front and back) to each bottle.

At the end of our shift, Jon Dowling announced that we will no longer be working just 3-hour shifts in the Teaching Brewery. Starting next week, each team will come to the brewery once every three weeks for a full 9-hour work day.

I’m looking forward to the change!


Day 20

September 27, 2011

Today I was trapped in a giant confluence of testing–every instructor who could give us a test chose  to give us a test today.

First up was Ingredients. We’ve been given vast amounts of information in only two 3-hour lectures, and it seemed that my memory refused to cough up the right details during parts of the 6-page, 1-hour test. I will have to change my study regime for the next one.

After the test, we had time for a quick coffee before moving on to two hours about malt analysis, a very important topic for brewers. A malt analysis is simply a list of the properties of a batch of malt such as moisture content, colour, diastatic power (how many enzymes have been activated or synthesized) and viscosity. Those properties define how the malt will perform, and a wise brewer will be able to foresee brewing problems. If there is a problem, is it something we can fix with a bodge during the brewing process, or is the malt hopelessly compromised?

Next up was an on-line Computer Applications test. I find on-line tests like these annoying because the testing program has only been programmed to recognize one procedure. If you use a short-cut, you get an “Incorrect”. However, I passed. (The one advantage of on-line testing is that you know whether you passed or failed immediately.)

Then a test in Business Math on bill payments, discounts for early payments, and discounted credits for early partial payments.

That was the end of classes, but not the end of testing–I had an Intro to Brewing test waiting in my email Inbox when I got home.


Day 17

September 23, 2011

Business math this week has been all about cash discounts–how to calculate multiple discounts that might be offered on supplies and purchases, as well as the discount that we would need to offer a potential client in order to to match a competitor’s price. (Curse that interfering competitor!) Then there was the heavy-hearted business of calculating the payment due date of our bills, and how to calculate the discounts we might be offered in the unlikely event that we could pay our bills early.

In Introduction to Brewing, Gordo Slater continued with his multi-part look  the brewery. Last week was a close look at the mash tun. This week we considered the lautering tun (where the sweet runoff–the wort–is separated from the spent grain), the boil kettle (where the wort is boiled and hops are added), the whirlpool (where the discarded proteins and hops remnants–the “trub”–are removed), the heat exchanger (quickly drops the temperature of the wort from boiling to room temperature) and the fermenting tank (where the yeast starts to gobble up the sugars). Each component has various designs, and each design has advantages, issues, and inevitably some compromises.

At the end of Week 3, we are all starting to realize that we’d better have our game face on. We’ve only scratched the surface of many topics, and I’ve already emptied the ink cartridge of a new pen taking notes. We have a 1-hour test to complete this weekend, three more in-class tests on Monday, two major projects due later in the week, and three major projects on the horizon.

But it is Friday, so time for a glass of good beer and let the future stay in the future for a while longer…

Day 15

September 21, 2011

Back into the Teaching Brewery today. Last week our team was on the first shift, and got to see how everything got started. Today we were on the third shift, so we got to see how everything gets finished up. The sub-team of four that I’m on was assigned to the large system, where the wort was in the boil kettle. The previous shift had just finished boiling the wort and whirlpooling it. (Whirlpooling the wort gathers up all the hop detritus and denatured proteins–called “trub”–and deposits them on the bottom of the boil kettle in a neat tidy cone of gunk.)

Our first job was to move the hot wort from the boil kettle through a heat exchanger and oxygenate it on the way over to “Larry”. (The three fermenting tanks in the brewery are nicknamed “Larry”, Moe” and “Curly”. The bright tank is “Shemp”.) This involved hoses, pumps and valves, and lots of sanitizer sprayed on various parts as we used them. Keeping evil germs out of the wort is very important from this point on, since its sugary sweetness is a perfect growth medium. I was very impressed with the heat exchanger–a single pass through it on the way to Larry reduced the temperature of the near-boiling wort to 22C (71F). What was also impressive was that the heat exchanger water–now hot from all that energy that had been drawn from the wort–was pumped into a tank, where it will be held overnight and then pumped into the mash tun to make beer tomorrow. That is a very clever way to reduce the cost of heating hundreds of litres of water every day.

After the now room-temperature wort was safely inside “Larry”, it was time to pitch the yeast and get the fermentation show on the road. Jon Downing cautioned us never to look down into the fermenting tank while wearing a hat. Apparently there had been several incidents of hats falling in, and hats are not known for being sterile. One of our team–hatless–climbed a ladder to the top of Larry, carefully opened Larry’s top hatch and poured the yeast solution in.

After that, it was time to clean up. The wet, spent grain had to be shovelled from the mash tun into empty grain bags and moved outside, where a local farmer would pick it up later–he uses the protein-rich grain as cattle feed. The lautering screen had to be taken apart and rinsed, while the mash tun was scrubbed down and rinsed. The leftover cone of trub had to be rinsed out of the boil kettle, and then the interior of the boil kettle had to be scrubbed and rinsed until it shone.

And then it was time for a cold beer, if only to remind us that this is what the job was all about.

Day 13

September 19, 2011

In Ingredients today, we left the actual mechanics of malting behind and entered the world of barley, pulling up the hood so we could see what a grain of this stuff looks like inside. Of course that included the troubling business of memorizing all its components–who knew that a little grain of barley apparently could have more internal parts than my car’s engine? Then we made a start on examining the germination processes that occur inside the kernel. Now our first assignment: an exposition of  one of three enzymes and its role inside the barley kernel. But which one will capture my heart: alpha amylase, beta glucanase or protease?

Day 10

September 16, 2011

In business math today, while learning how to calculate prorated refunds, we were shown a rad function on our business calculators that automatically calculates the number of days that separate two dates. Turns out I am exactly 19,900 days old today. Maybe I’ll have to have a special celebration on December 23, when I turn 20,000.

In Basics of Brewing, Gordo Slater revealed our eventual class project: working in teams of four, we will design a brewery. The brewery can be set anywhere in the world (but we have to choose a definite location), and we also have to decide on a style of beer that the brewery will produce. It will be a fascinating project, since the things that Gordo is teaching will have to be factored into the brewery’s design.

For instance, we talked about malted barley today–how it can be shipped, where it can be stored at the brewery, the various ways it can be milled, and whereabouts in the brewery it can be milled. Will we be ordering malt in 25-kilo bags, in high capacity totes, or loose in a silo? If loose in a silo, where will the silo be located? What is the silo’s capacity, and does that capacity match both the needs of the brewery and the expected delivery schedule of malt? For instance, if we plan a brewery that will use 8 tonnes of malt a week, and we decide to build a silo that has a capacity of 10 tonnes, it seems we will have enough malt for the brewery’s needs as long as we can get delivery of malt every 7-10 days. If however, in the location we have chosen for our brewery, we can only get delivery of malt once a month, then we would have to design a much larger silo.

Likewise, should we mill the grain in a separate milling room, or mill out in the open space of the brewery? Milling in a separate room is an explosion hazard due to the dust, and we would have to put explosion controls in place such as a roof and windows that swing open. Milling in a much larger space such as inside the brewery cuts down on the explosion hazard, but  everything will get coated in barley dust.

We spent some time considering mash tun design. The mash tun is where milled barley is introduced to hot water in order to activate the enzymes in the barley, which will then convert the barley’s starches into sugars. If we are storing the malt in an unheated place (such as an outdoor silo), should we be installing a grain hydrator to preheat the grain with hot water as it enters the mash tun, so that in the winter, the frozen barley doesn’t cool down the hot water?

Will we be using a single infusion mash or a stepped infusion mash? Single infusion is where the brewer heats up the mash to one temperature for a specific amount of time. Stepped infusion is where the brewer raises the mash to a certain temperature for a few minutes, then raises it to a new temperature for a few more minutes, then raises the temperature again, and finally raises it a fourth time. The reason for the stepped infusion is that some enzymes operate best at lower temperatures and some operate best at higher temperatures. Although the single infusion method is easier and activates most of the enzymes, the stepped infusion method activates more enzymes because it pauses at various temperatures.

As we are starting to learn, ingredients, storage, delivery, milling and brewing methods will all have to be decided on before we can start to design the brewery.

My Post-Apocalyptic Life

The world has ended, but movies and games live on.

Married to Beer

Seeing the humour in a spouse who loves suds!

Ruminations of a Canadian Geek

The thoughts and ruminations of a university chemistry and roleplaying geek

Madly Off In All Directions

A blog about whatever strikes my fancy...

It's what's on tap...

Brewing, mostly.