Archive for August 2012

Day 357

August 29, 2012

A collaboration brew happens when two (or more) brewmasters from different breweries get together and brew up a beer. It happens more often than you would think, especially here in southern Ontario. There’s even a shorthand blackboard code used by bars to indicate a collaboration beer: Toronto Brewing X Guelph Brewing Wheat Beer indicates a collaboration wheat beer made by (the fictional) Toronto and Guelph breweries.

Today I visited House Ales in Toronto to help brew up a collaboration beer. The day began with recipe ideas being bandied back and forth. I had suggested a wheat beer using malted wheat, pilsner malt, and enough Vienna malt to give it some colour, but that was only the starting point for some real haggling: how much grain, and in what proportions? The mash regime was another point of discussion. Would we hold the mash at a single temperature, say 65°C, or would we start low and raise the mash temperature to a series of intermediate steps?

All those points being settled, we mashed in. And this is when I discovered a great truth: When you visit another brewery, it’s like being a dinner guest–sure, you can help cut up carrot sticks before dinner and wash dishes afterwards, but basically you’re not expected to do any work not related to the dinner. Your dinner host wouldn’t ask you to do a load of laundry, for instance. Likewise, the host brewer didn’t have anything for me to do that was not directly related to our brew. No sweeping, no cleaning, no sanitizing. Nothing to do except to think up a name for our beer. (Because we were using Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand, I suggested Antipodean Wheat, which stuck. Ask for it by name.)

I wonder if there is a position somewhere called “Permanent Guest Brewer”.

Day 350

August 20, 2012

I was once again drawn back to thoughts of school a few weeks early–well, actually, not thoughts of school, but thoughts of hops. Specifically, I received an invitation to Mike Driscoll’s annual Harvest Hop on the afternoon of Saturday, September 8.

This was a lot of fun last year, and had the added benefit of being quite educational, as well as a good opportunity to meet many of the hop growers in Ontario. However, attendance by 1st-year Brewmaster students was quite low–understandable, since we only found out about it three days before the event.

If you are an incoming 1st-year Brewmaster student reading this, mark the date in your calendar and pass the news on to any other 1st-year students you might know.

Day 339

August 15, 2012

When I was recently given the task of coming up with a new recipe for a cask ale, I realized there would be several challenges.

The first challenge would be to think up a new flavour concept. Sometimes this means trolling grocery stores for ideas. Or sometimes asking your spouse for new ideas works just as well. (I liked my wife’s suggestion about ginger and mango. I drew the line at a strawberry and rhubarb beer. There are just some things beer shouldn’t be asked to do.)

Then I would have to decide if the idea is going to work out. Often this means adding small quantities of your chosen ingredients to a glass of beer, then asking innocent passersby in the brewery to taste it. (Generally, if they spit the beer on the floor, I move on to the next idea.)

Based on those tests, the next challenge would be to come up with some sort of recipe. How much of your ingredients will enhance the flavour of the beer, and how much will overwhelm it? Does the cask need priming sugar, or is there something in your ingredients that will supply yeast with the simple sugars it needs to trigger a secondary fermentation? Will dry-hopping enhance the new flavours, or mask them?

Of course, once I had created the new cask of ale, I would be faced with the greatest challenge of all: giving the beer a name.

There are two schools of thought on naming cask ales. The first school opts for the simple “what kind of beer is it?” So if you’ve just made a cask ale with pale ale, ginger and mango, what should appear on the bar’s blackboard is “Ginger & Mango Pale Ale”. There can be no question in the mind of the bar patron about what will be in the pint glass when it arrives.

The second school of beer naming goes for the clever, fun and creative label. My favourite is “I’ll Have What the Gentleman on the Floor Is Having”, a very strong barleywine made by McGuire’s Irish Pub in Penascola, Florida. The name is clever and humourous, and more importantly, describes what the beer is all about.

However, creative names can sometimes run into problems when they fail to describe what is inside the cask. For instance, calling your ginger and mango cask “Stuff That I Found in the Grocery Store Produce Section Pale Ale” probably fails to make the necessary connections in the bar patron’s mind.

This debate about names was running though my mind as I created a cask using shredded ginger root and chunks of ripe mango. In the end, I went with the less descriptive but more creative moniker, “Ginger Was Hotter Than Mary Ann”.

No, the mango isn’t mentioned, but I thought the allusion to the tropical setting of Gilligan’s Island would suffice.

And hey, it might also re-trigger the old Ginger vs. Mary Ann debate.

Day 337

August 7, 2012

One of the main reasons for getting a summer job at a brewery–other than earning some money–is to learn all the practical details that were not mentioned in class. One of those practical details that never came up is exactly how to stack 84 cases of beer on a pallet in seven layers that remain stable. It’s not just a matter of piling cases on top of each other–putting five or six cases directly on top of each other will result in an unstable “tower” that will lean out as you move your skid and come crashing down.

First layer of a pallet

The first layer “T” — the six cases are all aligned north-south. The next step is to place three cases on each side that are oriented east-west.

How to build a stable pallet turns out to be quite simple. For your first layer, you take six cases and build a “T”, with the long axis of the cases running north-south. You then put three cases on each side of the “T” oriented east-west. This completes the first layer of 12 cases.

For the second layer, you do exactly the same thing–but you reverse the direction of the T–that is, if the long end of your first-layer T was at the north end of the skid, then the long end of your second-layer T will be at the south end. This staggers the placement of the cases enough that you never get a case aligned directly with the case underneath it.

It’s a simple yet ingenious system that results in a very sturdy and stable skid of beer.

Actually, there is one place where the cases are stacked directly on top of each other. If you take a pencil and piece of paper and draw the first and second layers–seriously, do this, I’ll wait for you to finish–you will discover that the cases at the very centre of the skid exactly align with each other, making a central “tower”. However, because this “tower” is surrounded by all the other cases, there’s no chance for it to fall over.

I mentioned this to the brewmaster, and he told me that sometimes during bottling, he builds the central “tower” first, then builds the rest of the pallet around it. The only problem was that another employee of the brewery–let’s call him Jasper–refused to believe that building a pallet this way was the same as building a pallet layer by layer. If Jasper happened by before the pallet was complete, he would insist on taking the pallet apart and rebuilding it “properly”.

Semi-built pallet

The central tower, seven layers high, slowly disappearing as the rest of the pallet is built up around it.

Bottling, being comprised of several hours of doing the same thing over and over again, is not an exciting process. One day, assigned to put the cases of beer on a pallet, I decided to break the routine a bit by testing the Jasper story.

I first built a central tower of seven cases, then started to build the rest of the pallet around it. It was actually fairly interesting work, and I got the pallet about half-finished before Jasper came by. With a horrified look and a quick admonition about “doing the job properly”, he took apart my entire skid and and carefully rebuilt it layer by layer.

I wasn’t sure whether to be amused that the brewmaster’s story was true, or disappointed that I was back to building the pallet “properly”.

Day 332

August 5, 2012

Although it is still another month until classes start, our minds were drawn away from our summer jobs and back to school, if only for a few minutes: today we were able to log in to see what our fall semester timetable looks like.

Last year, most of our first semester classes were crammed into Mondays and Fridays. This year, we only have one class on Mondays, and no classes on Fridays–instead, most of our classes are crammed into Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Go figure.

However, before I could really get a sense of my timetable, I had to pick my elective and fit it into my timetable. Yes, in the second year of the Brewmaster program, we have our choice of one course in the fall semester, and another in the winter semester. In order to stretch our minds and apparently provide us with a more well-rounded education, the course can’t be related to the Brewmaster program–no business, biology, or chemistry. That pretty well means choices drawn from liberal arts, sociology, kinesiology, psychology, etc.

However, unlike larger universities, where hundreds of courses are available, the college’s options are much more limited; and even those choices are further constrained because the course has to fit in with my pre-existing Brewmaster timetable. In the end, it turned out that the only electives I could choose from were either scheduled for 8:30 am on Tuesday mornings–making an already long day even longer–or were on-line courses:

  • Canada Through Film (Tues morning)
  • Shredding, Ripping and Wailing: Rhythm and Solo Guitar (Tues morning)
  • History of Jazz  (On-line)
  • History of Rock and Roll (Tues morning)
  • Da Vinci Code Mysteries (On-line)
  • Comparative World Religions (On-line)
  • Vegas- Understanding the Odds (Tues morning)
  • Journey to Great Health and Fitness (Tues morning)
  • Social Deviance (Tues morning)

The immediate impulse is, of course, to take an on-line course, which can be completed in the comfort of your own home while wearing pyjamas and drinking frozen margaritas. However, perhaps in a move to quell such thoughts, the college charges an additional $47 fee to take an on-line course. As a knee-jerk reaction against such obvious profiteering by an educational institution, I decide to take one of the Tuesday morning courses, and select History of Rock & Roll, which sounds like a bit of fun.

Hopefully I can bring in my original Beatles LPs for extra credit.

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.