Day 142

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.

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2 Comments on “Day 142”

  1. Mark Murphy Says:

    The talk right after lunch on a new type of industrially made DE was fascinating. It seemed like a new miracle filter aid, I’m interested to hear if the bigger breweries adopt it.

    (also, Rickard’s White is a belgian style wheat, with it’s intense sweet orange aroma).

    • Alan Brown Says:

      Thanks for the correction on Rickard’s White. Re less interest in the afternoon sessions, perhaps I should have said “after several lunch-time beers, a 3-course lunch, and a darkened room with relatively comfy chairs, I found my attention drifting away to a pleasant warm place.” Probably would have been the case regardless of subject matter.

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