Archive for April 2012

Day 230: A Look Back at Second Semester

April 30, 2012

Took the weekend off to deal with an outbreak of dandelions, but now it is time for a look back at the second semester of the Brewmaster course at Niagara College:

Practical Brewing (Jon Downing): My comments from first semester still hold true–the enjoyable and busy days we spend in the Teaching Brewery are central to this course. However, one day every three weeks is not enough.

Microbiology lectures (Mark Benzaquen): Lots of valuable information, but way too much to be absorbed in one semester. Towards the end of the semester, Mark was fitting in extra lectures during lab times and even the day before the exam. This is a course that should be two semesters long.

Chemistry lectures (Mark Benzaquen): Another course with a lot of valuable info, but again, students would learn the concepts better if they could explore them over two semesters.

Microbiology and Chemistry labs: These were designed to be every other week. I would have preferred it if we had labs every week, and had done most experiments twice, or taken some of the experiments farther over a two-week period. I would have especially liked more lab work with yeast–propogation, acid washing, etc.–techniques we heard about during Microbiology lectures, but didn’t cover during the labs. Since there wasn’t enough lab equipment, we usually worked in groups of 5 or 6, meaning that 1 or 2 students would do the lab work while the others watched.

Packaging (Doug Pengelly): An enormously important class–safety, stability of product and setting up draught lines will be an issue with anyone who goes into brewing. However, some of the other students didn’t grok Doug: no PowerPoint slides, just lectures that included some diagrams on the board, requiring us to listen closely and take pages of notes. I totally got this style of presentation, mainly because this was the way I was taught from kindergarten to university. Doug also has a dry sense of humour that I enjoyed, but again, that may be a generational thing. I’m not sure why this class took place in a lab instead of a standard classroom–the toughest thing about this course was sitting on lab stools for three hours.In any case, I enjoyed the class and learned the concepts well (I hope).

Equipment (Gord Slater): Again, a lot of valuable information here, but I believe that sometimes Gord’s teaching style does not help him get his message across. He is most effective when he simply writes on the board and talks to the class, rather than using PowerPoint slides. I didn’t like the mid-term exam that was projected onto the classroom screen.

Sensory Evaluation (Mark Benzaquen): I really enjoyed Roger Mittag’s Sensory Evaluation course in the fall, and this class picked up from there. Absolutely must-know info here, everything from setting up a tasting panel to how various beer taints actually taste.

Strategic Communications (Sandra Merk): A class that not only taught how to put together a media kit and a business plan, but also forced us to start considering the hard concept of starting up a small business: The world will not beat a path to our door just because we brew the best beer in the world. How will we market our company, who will we market it to, who is our competition, and how do we reach our target audience? A brilliant, professionally taught, well-structured class.

Tomorrow: My overall thoughts about the first year of Brewmaster school.


Day 226: End of First Year

April 27, 2012

Last day. Last exam. 8:30 a.m.

Two of these things are good. The other is not.

After yesterday’s adventures in the brewery coupled with a late-night exam, this morning’s Chemistry exam was completed in something of a haze. (One of those “I passed but did not do magnificently” hazes.)

Afterwards, we spontaneously gathered for a few minutes to say goodbye and wish each other well before everyone heads off in different directions for the summer. Two left right after the exam for breweries out west–as I write this, their car is already on the Trans-Canada Highway to Edmonton and Saskatoon. Others are staying in the area, a few are working in Toronto, and some are off to breweries in Halifax and Charlottetown.

Once the diaspora had dispersed, that was it for the school year. Halfway to the finish line, scholastically speaking.

Tomorrow, a summary of my thoughts on the second-semester courses, as well as the first year of the Brewmaster program.


Day 225

April 26, 2012

The second-last day of first year was a long, long day.

Thursdays are usually the day that the second-year students are in the Teaching Brewery, but this being an exam week, the call went out to any interested Brewmaster students to help brew a Belgian-style spiced beer.

I figured, hey, we’re Brewmaster students–we’re supposed to be brewing beer, right? So, up at the crack of dawn I got, drove down to the campus and discovered that I was the only first-year student who had responded to the call, along with a second-year student. Everyone else apparently was studying. (Which technically, I suppose I was also supposed to be doing.)

Everything went well in the brewery until the lautering (removing the water from the mash and rinsing the grain with more water to remove all the residual sugars). Then things just stopped. The grain bed clumped into one impermeable mass and refused to let any water drain through it. This is what is known as a “stuck mash” or “stuck lauter”, and it is not a happy time. We tried the usual strategies for getting things going: running water up underneath the mash to float the grain bed and let it resettle into a looser bed. Cutting the bed with a paddle to let water flow through. Shaking our fists at the heavens and cursing the intransigent gods of brewing. (Worked as well as the other two strategies.)

By mid-afternoon, things were still stuck, and I had to leave for a Chemistry review class. Which consisted of two hours of learning what I had failed to learn the first time. At least now I know what I know (not a lot, apparently) and know what I don’t know (what I need to study). Tomorrow I will find out if I didn’t know what I didn’t know (what I didn’t study) and what I didn’t know that I knew (the answers to questions that I knew even though I didn’t study them.)

Back to the brewery to find out how things were going, but by that time, the lautering problems had been solved, the wort had been boiled and was now safe in a fermenting tank.

End of a long day, right? But wait, there’s more!

I then received the Equipment exam via email. Type type type type type. Hit Send, and the finished exam went flying back through the ether.

That out of the way, I could finally study for Chemistry, which will start at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow.

I would just like to say if that I was President of the World, it would be illegal to schedule any exam before noon.


Day 224

April 25, 2012

Today was “Hump Day”: completing exams two and three out of five means we’re over the hump and heading downhill.

First up was Packaging. When the first of us arrived at the tasting lab–not that we needed the tasting lab for this exam, it just happened to be our scheduled exam room for Packaging–we discovered that Doug Pengelly had just finished proctoring an exam for the 2nd-year students. In honour of their graduation in two days, he had served them zweites Frühstück (literally “second breakfast”, a traditional Bavarian breakfast of veal sausage, pretzels and wheat beer), and lo! there was some left. OM NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM!

Frühstück: the civilized way to write a morning exam

Zweites Frühstück: the civilized way to write a morning exam

I have to say, noshing on zweites Frühstück while writing an exam is extremely civilized. Can’t think of the answer? Well, let me just have a sip of wheat beer while I think about this. And another sip. Oh, perhaps one more sip. Now where was I? Oh, am I still working on that question? I’d better have a sip of wheat beer and think about it. And perhaps another sip…

Yes, I did finish the exam within the time allotted–probably because I had emptied my beer glass.

Alas, no beer during the Microbiology exam this afternoon. Given the amount of studying I had done, it was an easy exam to pass (I think). However, given the amount of information we had processed over the past four months, it was a difficult exam to get a really good mark on (I think).

Next up is a review session for Chemistry tomorrow afternoon, then an Equipment exam tomorrow night.

Study study study study.

Day 223

April 24, 2012

First exam (of five): Sensory Evaluation.

The exam started with three samples of beer–we had to identify the defect in two of them, and identify which beer was ordinary non-tainted beer. Of course, I got all of them right, then changed my mind, erased my answers and wrote in wrong answers. “But wait, Alan,” I hear you saying,. “You did exactly the same thing a few weeks ago on the original tasting tests. Didn’t you decide you were going to go with first impressions next time?”

Um, yeah.

Then some multiple choice, some true & false, some fill in the blanks, and some short answer. I may have mentioned that I dislike exams–never done well at them, never will–but I really personally loathe “fill in the blank” questions. I’m never in the same head space as the examiner.

“In the absence of oxygen,  ______________ will make  ________________ unnecessary when applied to _________________.”

Clearly, transporters will make space travel unnecessary when applied to humans. Right? Oh wait, this is Sensory Evaluation, not Star Trek Evaluation. Dang, might have missed that question.

Back to the books. Not one, but two exams tomorrow.

Study study study study.

Day 222

April 23, 2012

Exam Week: Starting tomorrow, five final exams in four days.

This being a study day, Mark Benzaquen took the opportunity to review the Sensory Evaluation curriculum, and then did the same for Microbiology. No wait, for Microbiology, first he presented one final lecture. Yes, despite all the extra lectures during the semester, he still had another lesson:  planning a three-step hygiene quality control troubleshooting program (investigation, analysis, and implementation).

With the Microbiology curriculum finally finished, Mark ran through a quick review of what could appear on the Microbiology final exam. The list of topics alone filled two pages of my notebook.

Study study study study.

Day 219

April 20, 2012

And so, it has come to this: The Last Day of First-Year Classes.

Duh duh duhhhhh!

And yet, it was a pretty typical Friday: lectures, lectures and more lectures, all from Mark Benzaquen.

First up was the final Sensory Evaluation class. The topic was evaluation of our raw ingredients: water, malt, hops, yeasts and gases.

I thought sensory evaluation of water was a bit odd, but of course, the brewmaster always wants to make sure that the water coming into the brewhouse is clear, free of floaty bits and sediment, has no odours, and doesn’t taste like iron or sulphur (common for water drawn from wells and other ground sources), or have tangy or sour tastes that could indicate microbiological contamination.

Malts can be examined for colour and appearance. Cracking a kernel open with your front teeth indicates good friability–an unmalted kernel of barley is extremely tough and would probably break your teeth if you persisted. Once open, you can examine the internal appearance as well–a bright white kernel indicates a well-modified grain, a greyer colour may indicate undermodification during malting. And of course, you can chew the grain to get an idea of its flavour. Overall, your bag of malt should be free of other grains such as rye, and of course, there should be a complete absence of insects or evidence of mouse depradations.

Hops can be rubbed between your hands and then “nosed” to get an idea of the flavours they will be adding. You can also make hop teas using hot water–which we did.

Even oxygen and carbon dioxide can be smelled (carefully) for off-aromas. Carbon dioxide can have traces of sulphur dioxide (rotten eggs) left over from its manufacture, and oxygen can be contaminated with aerobic bacteria, neither of which you want in your beer.

On to the final Microbiology lecture, where we picked up from yesterday’s lecture about cleaning. Today we continued with CIP (Cleaning In Place), talking about the proper techniques for cleaning, line cleaning, how to avoid problems in line cleaning when designing your brewery plumbing, and the final step to cleaning: sanitation.

With cleaning out of the way, we learned how to take proper samples for microbiological testing, the various methods to see if the sample is contaminated (immediate detection, predictive testing, direct plating and membrane filtration). We also looked at some of the more popular growth media you can use, including some that encourage certain types of microorganisms to grow, others that discriminate against certain types, and still others that neither encourage or discriminate, but do differentiate what is growing via colour changes, or clear/hazy appearance.

All of these take normally take 5-7 days to allow colonies to become visible, but if you are in a rush, you can try to hurry the process, either examining your plates under a microscope before colonies become visible to the naked eye, or by the use of optical brighteners that fluoresce in the presence of certain microroganisms before the colonies are visible to the naked eye.

End of Microbiology. Whew!

On to the final Chemistry class, where Mark had a few words–okay, a lot of words–to say about the chemistry of filtration.

Then on to the types of tests we can run on beer in the bright tank (calculated original extract, real extract, % alcohol, clarity/turbidity, colour, oxygen content, CO2 content, foam stability, bitterness level and beer haze stability, and levels of diacetyl and other flavour-active compounds).

And that was all she wrote for first year. Up next: five exams.

To the books!

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