Archive for January 2012

Day 146

January 31, 2012

Brewing Equipment. A quick quiz about pumps before we learned more about pumps. Choosing the right size and power of pumps. Pumps and head height. Keeping proper maintenance records about pumps. Pump problems. Troubleshooting pumps. Taking apart pumps. Putting pumps back together. Pumps that are addicted to Skyrim. Pumps that listen to dubstep.


Day 145

January 30, 2012

In Strategic Communications, we continued our exploration of the various parts of the media kit that you send to the local media to publicize a special event or announcement.

Last week we discussed the media release, the heart and soul of the Big Announcement. This week we looked at what is called a “backgrounder”–a quick one-page summary of your brewery. This might include a bit of its history–why did it start and when did it start? Has the brewery evolved? What makes it distinct from its competitors?

It’s always a good idea to organize the page a bit, using either a Frequently Asked Questions or Q & A format, or perhaps a narrative style delineated by headings. The tone of your writing is important: can you give a sense of your brewery’s personality through the style of your writing? Do you want to give th impression that it’s a quirky place with quirky beers? Save the whales eco-friendly? Humourous and light-hearted?

We again split up into groups to examine actual backgrounders of various breweries. These were, almost without exception, not very well done. Although some managed to get across an idea of the brewery’s personality, most were missing vital info about the brewery–where it was, when it was founded, the key personalities–and a few were rambling pointless quagmires of trivial information.

Our next assignment is to create a backgrounder for our fictional brewery. Hopefully we will not emulate the “professional” examples we saw today.

Day 142

January 27, 2012

The Master Brewers Association of Canada (MBAC)–which is also the Ontario wing of the Master Brewers Association of the Americas (MBAA)–was formed to promote, advance, and improve the professional interest of brew and malt house production and technical personnel. For that reason, the MBAC holds an annual technical conference, and student members of the MBAC (such as myself and several other Brewmaster students) got in for the bargain basement rate of only $20, a pretty good deal considering it included six seminars, an open beer bar and a three-course lunch.

Admittedly, the three seminars in the morning were of more interest to us students: three brewers of wheat beers took to the stage to explain how they make their beer, and the challenges that brewing with wheat poses.

Although wheat beers still use barley, the grain bill can be up to 60% wheat. There are surprising differences between the two grains in terms of brewing.

Barley is a very brew-friendly type of grain, with a nice husk wrapped around its starchy interior. Before we brew with it, the barley is scrunched between two rollers to separate the husk from the starch. This “milling” has two purposes–it exposes the starch so it can be converted to fermentable sugars, and the husks will later form a grain bed through which the sugary wort will slowly filter, removing many particles from the wort as it is pumped over to the next vat.

In contrast, the problem with using wheat in your mash is twofold:

  • Firstly, wheat is a “naked” grain. It does not have a husk, meaning that the wheat will contribute nothing to the grain bed, which will be less thick as a result, and therefore much less efficient at filtering the wort as it leaves the lautering tun.
  • Secondly, wheat has a much higher percentage of protein than barley, and although some will be broken down in the mash tun, a fair proportion will remain in its original form. This has some positive effects–better head retention in the finished beer, for instance–but it also creates a host of problems. Large clumps of proteins can form a glutinous porridge-like blanket on top of the grain bed, bringing lautering to a complete halt. Because nitrogen needed by the yeast is still bound up in the wheat’s protein, there can be problems with the fermentation. And so on…

First up to describe his experiences with brewing wheat beers was Jerry Vietz of Unibroue, south of Montreal. Jerry took us through the history of Belgian “wit” beers–wheat beers made using unmalted wheat, coriander and curaçao–then some of the challenges he has faced, including stuck lautering and over-production of 4-vinyl-guaiacol (a chemical produced by Belgian ale yeast that in small quantities gives a Belgian wit a typical aroma of cloves, but in large quantities can be an offensive pungent aroma).

Next up was Jonathan Lowes of Molson, who took us through a rather technical talk about production of Molson’s Rickard’s White, also a Belgian wit. Unlike Jerry Vietz’s talk, where he freely talked about brewing methods used to produce various Unibroue beers, Lowes did not delve into actual production methods, possibly due to fears of disclosure of ingredients and production methods. One of the Niagara College Brewmaster instructors confided to me that much of the Molson segment was culled from standard texts on the topic.

The final morning session was Michael Hancock of Dennison’s Brewing, currently contract brewing Dennison’s Weissbier at Cool Brewing of Toronto. Michael gave us a brief history of his experiences with wheat beers, and some of the problems he had run into, particularly moving from a smaller system to Cool Brewing’s large brewing capacity.

Then the three brewmasters got together and led us in a tasting of all three of their products. Unibroue’s Blanche de Chambly was my favourite, the most aromatic and spiced of the three. Rickard’s White came in a surprising second in my books, mainly because Dennison’s Weissbier had dropped all its beautiful wheat haze, was as clear and bright as a regular beer, and lacked much of the taste and body associated with the protein haze. Michael Hancock admitted that in recent months, he has had trouble with the haze dropping out of solution after bottling, and was trying to find out why.

With the end of the morning sessions, the beer bar opened, and then lunch was served.

The three sessions after lunch were a bit less compelling to me:

  • the use of a new additive to diatomaceous earth (DE) filters in place of silica gels to improve filtering performance
  • more eco-friendly use of cleansers and sanitizers
  • setting up approved food-safety systems in the brewery

All in all, an interesting day, and much more comfortable chairs than found in the college’s classrooms.

Day 141

January 26, 2012

No Microbiology lab today–which we only found out when we arrived, so a bit of an annoyance. On the other hand, it gave us more time to rescan our notes for Packaging, since it was time for Doug Pengelly’s “Fun Quiz #1” today. The quiz actually turned out to be a fair reflection of what we have learned over two classes, and the fun part was that we got to mark someone else’s quiz.

Then it was back to learning. Today we continued with carbonation, which not only gives beer its friendly foam head and sparkling bubbles, but also protects the beer from exposure to air after fermentation by forming a layer of gas on top of the beer. Let evil air get into your beer and it can produce stale oxidized flavours in a matter of hours. And there are many ways air can get into the beer: during transfer from the fermenter to other tanks, during filtration, during bottling or kegging, putting a badly fitting cap on the bottle…

We talked about the concept of equilibrium: in a closed container such as a bright beer tank, the pressure of CO2 in the space above the beer and the pressure of the CO2 in the beer will gradually equalize; how long that takes depends on a number of factors, including the surface area of the beer (a smaller surface area will slow down the movement of CO2), temperature, the pressure differential between the two areas, and whether the container is being agitated.

How much CO2 is in your beer? In North America, we talk about “volumes of beer”, as in “there are 2.5 volumes of CO2 in that pale ale” (meaning there is 2.5 times as much CO2 in that bottle as there is beer). Just to make things confusing, Europeans measure CO2 content by mass (grams of CO2 per litre of beer) instead of volume. So just in case sometime during our brewing career we decide to get on the phone and talk to someone in Europe about how much CO2 is in our beer, we derived the formula for conversion from volume to mass. I won’t go through the whole derivation. The short answer is:

 x ( m/V) =  y

x = number of litres of CO2 per 1 L of beer (North American measure)
m =mass of 1 mole of CO2 = 44.0 g
V = volume of 1 mole of CO2 at 20°C = 22.414 L
y = number of grams of CO2 per litre of beer (European measure)

So if I want to tell Hans in Germany that my new stout has 2.5 volumes of CO2, I would quickly calculate:

2.5 x 44.0 g/22.414 L = 4.91 g/L

and tells Hans my new stout has 4.91 g/L of CO2.

We also looked at a couple of pieces of brewery testing equipment: the carbonation tester, which as its name suggests, tells you how much gas is in your beer; and the air tester, which finds out how much evil air has snuck into your beer.

The air tester actually utilizes a chemical reaction that we first heard about last week when we learned the Bad Thing that might occur if you are cleaning a tank that is still filled with CO2: apparently the CO2 will instantly combine with the water in the caustic solution to form carbonic acid. The carbonic acid will then react with the caustic soda to form sodium carbonate, a solid. Poof! What was a large amount of gas inside the tank is suddenly transformed into a few grams of powder on the bottom of the tank. Bang! The resultant vacuum inside the tank will literally cause the tank to implode. Haul that twisted piece of metal out of the brewery and getcherself a new tank.

The air tester uses the same reaction, only on a much smaller scale and without the implosion: you basically fill the glass tester with caustic solution, then vent the gas from a bottle of beer into it. The CO2 will react with the caustic and precipitate out. If there is any air (i.e. nitrogen and oxygen)  in the bottle, it will not react with the caustic, but will simply bubble through the caustic and collect in the top of the tester for you to see. Hopefully you don’t see any air. If there is air, you then take samples from beer along your production line to pinpoint where and how air is entering the beer.

No classes tomorrow. Instead, we’re all off to the Master Brewers Association of Canada (MBAC) annual conference. Includes lunch, and rumour has it that there might be samples of beer at the seminars. If so, it could be the Best. Conference. Ever.

Day 140

January 25, 2012

Brew day in the Teaching Brewery, and I was everybody’s assistant, moving from job to job as required. Some of the students were making a cherry chocolate stout on the small (50-litre) pilot systems–that was  about the only station at which I didn’t work.

First up was helping to add 100 kilos of pale ale malt, 25 kilos of Maris Otter malt and 5 kilos of Caramalt 60 to the large system’s mash tun to start a batch of 1st Draft Ale.

Bottle labeller

Bottle labeller

Next I was put on the bottle labeller: Place an empty bottle between three rollers. Wait for the rollers to apply labels to the front and back of the bottle. Remove the bottle and replace it with another. Repeat one thousand times. (No, seriously, a thousand times: 45 cases x 24 bottles = 1,080 bottles.)

By the time the final bottle emerged from the machine, I felt like Charlie Chaplin on the assembly line in Modern Times

Next was the bottle capper: place a bottle crown in the magnetic holder, place a filled bottle underneath the crown, press two buttons simultaneously (to make sure you keep your hands out of the way) and a hydraulic press crimps the cap to the bottle. Put the capped bottle in a case. Repeat for next bottle. Every time you fill six cases, move them to the brewery cooler.

Keg Washer

Keg Washer

I only capped a few hundred bottles because I was pulled into the brewery office to add labels to more bottles. These bottle were “bombers” (650 mL) that didn’t fit into the bottle labeller, so I had to stick them on by hand, one at a time.

Just as I was getting rolling on that, I was sent to the keg washer. Lock the bayonet-mount heads onto two kegs. Turn each of them upside down and lift them onto the machine. Hit the “Start” button. During the 6-minute automatic empty-rinse-wash-rinse-pressurize cycle, wash off the outside of the kegs, then return to the office to stick on three or four more labels. Head back to the keg washer as the cycle ends, remove the kegs from the machine and stack them in the brewery cooler.

With a stack of kegs freshly washed and stacked, I returned to the bottle line to pre-sanitize empty bottles so they could be filled with beer.

Several hundred sanitized bottles later, it was time to fill nine 50-litre kegs from the bright tank and move them to the brewery cooler. A filled keg weighs 60 kilos (118 lbs). Thankfully some of the other students moved the filled kegs for me.

And that was it. Excuse me while I—


Day 139

January 24, 2012

In Brewing Equipment, it was nuthin’ but pumps for three hours: peristaltic, centrifugal, progressive cavity, diaphragm, rotary globe, hydraulic, and many more. Their various advantages and disadvantages. Where in a brewery you would use each type–and where you wouldn’t. If you like mechanical stuff, it was interesting. If you plan to open your own brewery and will have to buy equipment, it was tolerable. Otherwise… thud. Sorry, did I drift off?

On to Chemistry Lab, where we first measured the pH (acidity/alkalinity) of various things like fermenting wort, finished beer, caustic cleanser and sanitizing solution. Pretty Grade 9 stuff, but it’s a good way to get our lab tech on before getting more complicated assignments.

We also took a look at our microbiology samples taken last Thursday from a “clean” table at one of the college lunch counters. As could be predicted, our three petri dishes were all growing a variety of things, including several large patches of green mould, many small hemispherical shiny bumps–likely wild yeast–and several small red, pink and white dots–probably various staphylococci or other bacteria.

And now I shall always see visions of those petri dishes every time I sit down at one of those lunch tables.

Day 138

January 23, 2012

Today in Strategic Communications we started to explore the relationship that a small business tries to develop with the local media via the “media kit”.

Advertising costs money–a lot of money. In addition, sometimes the very act of advertising can turn off your target audience. For instance, if you are selling locally produced, eco-friendly, save the whales beer, your audience is probably younger très cool “hipsters”; this audience may consider traditional advertising through print or TV–and therefore any product advertised through those media–as uncool.

However, if you can get the local media to mention your business in a story and it attracts the attention of the same hipster, it’s possible that the hipster will believe that he or she “discovered” you. Your product will be free of the taint of crass advertising. In addition to producing another consumer of your product, this can possibly also generate “buzz”  about your company as the hipsters tells a bunch of friends about this new “discovery”. And best of all, the publicity generated by a media kit is free. All you did is supply the media with the information.

So today we explored the heart and soul of the media kit: the “media release”,  known in the last century as a press release. Although the name has changed, the principle remains the same: you have a new event or product, and you are trying alert the local media in the hopes that someone will run a story about it.

Journalists, with their next deadline perpetually just around the corner, are always on the lookout for a story idea that will quickly write itself. In a perfect world, a responsible journalist will use the contacts you provide to double-check the details of the story, and then rewrite the article completely. Thankfully we do not live in a perfect world, and you can hope that your overworked and underpaid journalist will simply read your media release, decide to create a story about your event or product, and then copy and paste vast tracts of your carefully crafted words into the article. (Well, you can dream, right?)

We reviewed some simple rules about writing media releases, then split up into groups to examine some actual examples. Considering that some of these were produced by fairly major companies–or even professional PR firms–several of the media releases we examined were poor examples of the craft: poorly written, vague, lacking essential information.



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