Archive for November 2011

Day 83

November 30, 2011

Yesterday, during Kevin Somerville’s Ingredients class, he announced that there was a special “colleges of Ontario” event the next day at Queen’s Park in Toronto, home of the provincial legislature. While a half dozen colleges with culinary programs would be providing the food, Niagara College, as the only college with both winemaking and beer-making courses, was supplying student-made booze.  Therefore Niagara was looking for a Brewmaster student to chat up the virtues of the program while pouring beer. There was a buzz of interest from our class. Then  Kevin added, “You’ll need to wear a suit and tie.”

The silence was deafening.

Steve Gill, manager of Niagara’s Wine and Viticulture course, shared this story with me: Steve is a veteran of many, many wine festivals, so when he went to last year’s Great American Beer Festival in Denver, he wore his usual wine festival outfit–a business suit and tie. As soon as he walked through the doors of GABF, he realized he was overdressed. Even after discarding his jacket and tie, he was still way overdressed by several orders of magnitude.

Typical beer geek’s bedroom closet:

  • brewery logo t-shirts: check
  • beer festival logo t-shirts: check
  • plain black t-shirts (for formal occasions): check
  • jeans with holes: check
  • jeans without holes (for formal occasions): check
  • suit jacket, tie, dress pants: whuh?

As I have mentioned previously, I am a bit older than my classmates. I wear a watch. I don’t have a Twitter account. I own a suit.

In the deafening silence mentioned above, I raised my hand.

Thus it was that I found myself at Queen’s Park today in suit and tie, pouring beer for the attorney general while telling him about Niagara’s Brewmaster program.

Downside: the room was crowded, hot and noisy.

Upside: Imagine culinary arts students from half a dozen colleges showing off. The munchies were fantastic! Smoked morsels of salmon and venison, roasted red pepper mashed potatoes, salted caramel in bitter chocolate. (And although I didn’t drink any, I was assured many times that the beer was great, too.)

Day 82

November 28, 2011

Hops has been the central focus of Ingredients for the past few weeks; today was nasty hop problems that continually beset our precious crop, things like as downy mildew, cone tip blight and the evil two-spotted spider mite. (“Evil” is not part of its name.) Then a quick listing of some of the major hop growing regions of the world. Canada isn’t, but apparently China is an up-and-comer in the hop world–it may not be too long until we are trading in our Saaz and Fuggles for Tsingdao and Toyomidori.

But we mustn’t tarry. With only three weeks until exams, it’s time to spend our last few classes learning about water–where we get it, and what we have to do with it before we use it. Warning: there might be some of that chemistry talk.

In business math, the text book examples of annuities are just plain crazy talk: “Gil & Sarah have decided to put $10,000 a year into an annuity for 25 years, starting today. They then want to receive monthly payments that last for 15 years. How much will these monthly payments be, assuming they can get 8.5% compounded monthly for the next 40 years?”

$10,000 per year? An 8.5% return for 40 years? Obviously the textbook author has veered into science fiction.

Day 78

November 24, 2011

There’s some things you just have to grit your teeth and get through, knowing that it’s good for you and it will help you in the future. For instance, sex ed classes: not nearly as enjoyable as sex, sometimes off-putting or even unpleasant; but once you were finished them, you could again enjoy getting messy with an agreeable partner while saying, “Gosh, I’m glad those classes are finished.” (Well, I’m sure that was the gist of what you might have said.)

It was the same with Sensory Evaluation today. Tasting beer at 8:30 am is supposed to be an enjoyable exercise, but not when Roger Mittag spikes jugs of perfectly good beer with off-flavours. We had to smell and taste each one (and take notes) so that we would know what was wrong with our beer if we ever smelled or tasted that flavour again.

Diacetyl: smells like the butter that is used on popcorn, or at higher levels like butterscotch. You have a fermentation problem–either a bacterial infection, or fermentation ended prematurely.

Oxidation: wet cardboard or paper. Air got into your beer during bottling.

Dimethyl sulphate (DMS): most of the class said the aroma was creamed corn, but it was tomato sauce to me and several others. Regardless, DMS should evaporate off during the boil phase of brewing, so either your boil wasn’t vigorous enough, you didn’t boil for long enough, or you didn’t take the top off the kettle to allow the steam to vent.

Metallic: ’nuff said. I didn’t smell this in the aroma, but geccchh the taste of coppery rust. Gecchhh! Check your brewing set-up for places where copper or iron could be entering the beer stream.

Ethyl hexanoate: anise or black licorice or red apple skins at low concentrations. In higher concentrations, pink eraser or overwhelming licorice. Produced by all yeast, so in lower concentrations, a good thing, especially in dark beers. If it gets to the overwhelming stage, check your yeast.

Mercaptan: sulphurous. Again not so much in the nose, but it left a horrible flat chalky sharp aftertaste. Gnnnk! You’ve got a yeast problem.

Isovaleric: Most people said it smelled like rank locker room. I smelled cat urine, and decided to forgo a taste–I’m pretty sure I’ll recognize the smell again. The result of using old or degraded hops.

Isobutyric: Cheese. A taste that should be found between two slices of bread, not in your beer. Throw out those old stale hops and get a fresh supply.

Infection: Lactic or vinegary sourness. Bacteria got into your wort after the boil. Unless this was deliberate (there is a market for deliberately soured beers), pour the entire batch down the drain, check your sanitation protocols and start again.

Not a pleasant class, but necessary. Unfortunately, it’s put me completely off beer for the rest of the day… I think.

Day 76

November 23, 2011

So there we were, about eight of us, spending some time in the student pub before Business Math.

“Is it time for class?” someone asked.

I, being somewhat older than the others, looked at my watch. Everyone else leaned back in their chairs, arched their backs, pulled their cellphones out of their pockets and turned them on to check the time.

I looked around the table. Sure enough, I was the only one wearing a watch.

“Do you ever wear a watch?” I asked them.

Everyone shook their heads. “No.”


Day 75

November 21, 2011

You already know how I feel about tests at 8:30 in the morning, so let’s just skip the first 90 minutes of Ingredients and move on to learning more about hops. Today, the effect of hops on beer colour. Yes, hops do have some effect on colour. Due to a small oversight, we didn’t actually learn about this until after we had to answer a question about it on the test this morning.

Oh right, I wasn’t going to mention that test, was I?

Back to hops. Hops and and its effect on beer foam. The preservative and bacteriostatic effects of hops. Growing and harvesting hops. Instructor Kevin Somerville has actually grown his own Centennial hops for the past two summers, and what I found very fascinating is that he managed to convince a friend to allow him to dig 4-foot-deep trenches in the friend’s backyard, refill the trenches with alluvial soil, plant some hops in the soil, erect a trellis and then watch 12-foot long bines of hops climb all over the trellis. Given that I have no room for 12-foot hop plants in my backyard, I’ve got to find me a friend like that.

Day 72

November 18, 2011

I love to start Friday mornings with a business math test at 8:30 a.m.

I’m lying. You probably already knew that.

It’s not that I don’t like math tests. As tests go, math tests are fairly easy if you’ve done your homework. No combing through the memory banks, no “compare and contrast” essay-type questions, no multiple choice dilemmas. Just read the question and figure out the answer.

But tests first thing in the morning get my adrenaline going. My heart rate climbs. I feel hyper-focussed. Then the test is over and… now what? The adrenaline is still going. I feel twitchy and hyper. I should go down to the fitness centre and burn off some serious calories.

Instead, I sit in Gordo Slater’s Intro to Brewing class and listen to some more dream brewery presentations. Last week, all the presentations were set in Ontario. This week, the breweries are set further afield. The first is set in Hawaii. The second in Dorval, Quebec. And the third–my team’s effort–is in Cumberland, B.C., on Vancouver Island.

(Why Cumberland? Because the town water supply comes from a glacial lake, and is just about as pure as distilled water. Why does that matter? Dissolved minerals are essential for brewing, and the amount of various minerals in your water defines what kind of beer you will make. Hard water makes for a good bitter pale ale; soft water makes an excellent pilsner. So starting with pure water means you must add brewer’s salts to make any type of beer. However, starting with pure water also means that your choice of beer styles is unlimited–you can “build” any water profile you want using the right brewer’s salts.)

They gave us a standing ovation.

Yes, I’m lying again. (Must be the left-over adrenaline.)

After our presentation, the class entered the world of packaging–that is, bottling the beer. As Gordo put it, the beer sitting in the bright tank waiting to be bottled is (hopefully) the epitome of your art. After it leaves the bright tank, all you can do is screw it up somehow. Let oxygen get into the bottle. Don’t fill the bottle enough. Use a chipped bottle. Are your crowns rusty? Is your label crooked or torn?

Your last line of defence against these problems is the guy sitting on the bottling line. So remember, if I get a job this summer as a lowly bottler, simply refer to me as a guardian facing down the forces of Chaos.

Day 71

November 17, 2011

Another hard day at the office.

(“How was your day, dear?” “I had to taste beer all morning — AGAIN!”)

Today in Sensory Evaluation was our last day sampling the various beer styles. (Well, to a point. Over three weeks we tasted about two dozen different beers that covered the major classes of beers. However, further subdivisions within those classes mean there are actually about about 80 different recognized beer styles. Admittedly the differences between some of those sub-styles–Baltic porter versus robust porter, for instance–are sometimes a bit indistinct.)

We started with wheat beers (kristal weizen, hefeweizen, dunkel weizen and weizen bock) with their complex, spicy, sometimes medicinal or herbal aromas and astringent yet effervescent taste of bananas and cloves .

Then we moved back to ales and tried the darker ones: dark ale, porter, stout and imperial stout. From the many and varied descriptors used by the class–dark fruit, chocolate, coffee, roasty, toasty, biscuity, bready–obviously many felt called to the Dark Side.

And that’s it for stylistic tastings. On to the blind tastings! Let’s see if the visual, aromatic and taste clues we are given will help us to unmask the hidden beer.

(“Mes amis, you are doubtless wondairing why I ‘ave called you all ‘ere to zee drawing room where Colonel Mustaird was murdaired. I ‘ave to confess, I was puzzled in zee begeening. But zee ‘aziness, zee bountiful white ‘ead, zee delicate scent of coriander, zee herbal taste–yes, it is you, Monsieur Belgian Witbier, who murdaired Colonel Mustaird avec zee  lead peep!”)


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