Archive for November 2012

Day 450

November 29, 2012

In Business Ethics, we completed our last in-class case study worth yet another 5% by watching two videos by a late American economist calling for an end to welfare and social security, and then responding to it.

In Sensory Evaluation, it was our last class of wine and food, so it was fitting that today’s class dealt with the end of the meal: desserts accompanied by fortified wines or dessert wines.

There are several paths one can take to arrive at dessert wines:

  • Late harvest wines: Leave the grapes on the vines longer. The longer the grapes are on the vine, the more sugar is produced inside the grapes.
  • Dry the grapes: Pick the grapes, then hang them or lay them on straw and let them completely dry out until they are raisinated, concentrating the sugar in the dried grape.
  • Deliberately leave the grapes on the vines too long, then cross your fingers that a) it will rain b) the wet grapes will get attacked by a mold called botrytis cinera (aka “noble rot”), and c) the weather will turn dry afterwards. If all these things happen, the botrytis will punch small holes in the grape’s skin through which water can escape, concentrating the sugars in the grape. Make wine from these (yes, mold and all–yecch!) and it will be very sweet. However, it’s a gamble: if the weather stays dry all fall, the botrytis will stay away; and if the weather doesn’t dry up after wetting the grapes, your harvest will turn into a squishy rotting mess. In Hungary, such botrytis afffected wines are called Tokaji, and the sweetness of the wine is measured by the number of baskets of grapes (puttonyos) it takes to fill the grape press. The more water that has been lost, the smaller and sweeter the grapes will be; therefore, the higher the number of puttonyos, the sweeter the wine.
  • The ice wine method: leave the grapes on the vine to face winter. When the temperature drops to -8°C (17°F), most of the water inside the grapes will freeze into ice, leaving just a small amount of sugary syrup still unfrozen. Harvest these grapes and immediately press them, resulting in a very concentrated, sweet wine. There’s only a few wine regions in the world where it gets cold enough to do this, including Germany and the Niagara region of Ontario.
  • Or take a high sugar wine that is fermenting, and add spirits to it. The higher alcohol kills the yeast, halting the fermentation prematurely, while there are still residual sugars in the wine. The end result is a sweet “fortified wine” known as port in Portugal, or vin doux natural in France.
  • Or if you are in Spain, add the spirits after the fermentation is complete to make sherry.
dessert wines

Dessert wines: (L to R) Hungarian tokaji (4 puttonyos), Niagara icewine, 2007 vintage port, 10-year-old tawny port, sweet sherry

In the case of port, you also have to decide whether to barrel age it or bottle age it. Bottle aging results in ruby port, which can last for decades, or even centuries. Barrel aging results in tawny port, which doesn’t age as well.

Regardless of how the dessert wine is produced, the rule of thumb is that the wine should always be sweeter than the food. (If the food is sweeter, it makes the the wine taste sour and acidic.)

With that theory out of the way, it was time to bring out some dessert wines and pair them up with pecan tarts, dried fruits, brownies, fruit cake, and fruit flan.

Life is sweet.


Day 449

November 28, 2012

Commuting 65 km (40 mi) to the college has its disadvantages, of course: weather and road conditions, early mornings, late evenings… and if a class is cancelled, you can’t just head back home, watch some TV and then return to campus for your next class. Which is what happened yesterday morning–I arrived at 8:30 am to discover that our Brewhouse Calculations class had been cancelled due to teacher illness. Rather than waiting six hours until History of Beer, I decided to drive home and stay there to work on outstanding papers and projects for the rest of the day. So yes, I skipped class for the first time since high school. (But instead of hanging out at the Bar-Head Tavern like I might have done in high school, I actually got a lot of work done. <Sigh> Irresponsible youth was a lot more fun, I must say.)

Today, in History of Rock & Roll it was on to the terrible Eighties–the “Me Decade” of musical drivel that foisted Phil Collins, Madonna, Milli Vanilli and rap music on us. Oh yes, there were a few bright spots, such as AC/DC’s Back in Black, Metallica’s Master of Puppets and Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms. But mainly it was just a bad time for rock. (The premiere of MTV didn’t help either–since they were in desperate need of music videos in the early days, a lot of bad bands with bad hair (such as A Flock of Seagulls) got a lot of airplay.)

On to Business Ethics for Round 2 of student-versus-student debate.

Beer cocktail

Our beer cocktail. Tune in next week for the recipe.

In between classes, it was time for more gin tasting as my partner and I strove to find a new recipe for a beer cocktail. This week, we came up with the perfect formulation that also looks very cool. Beer cocktail presentation day in Sensory Evaluation is next Wednesday, so I won’t let the cat out of the bag yet regarding the recipe, but I will give you a sneak peek.

On to FCF, where we finished up the semester with a look at waste management strategies, and an in-depth look at brewing with Brettanomyces  [pronounced breh-TAN-no-MY-sees], a rogue yeast that for most of the 20th century was greatly feared and loathed by all brewmasters.

There were several reasons for this emnity. Firstly, unlike your friendly neighbourhood Saccharomyces brewing yeasts, it is able to eat up all sugars, no matter how large or long the glucose chain. (Saccharomyces chokes on anything larger than maltotriose, a short string of three glucose molecules.) This means a beer infected with Brett becomes a very dry beer with a thin mouthfeel, because the Brett has eaten all the sugars, even the long chain sugars that contribute to fuller mouthfeel. The alcohol content can also climb, since Brett is able to convert all sugars into CO2 and alcohol.

Secondly, Brett will throw odd flavours into the beer: depending on which strain of Brett, this could be sourness, strong fruity esters, and what can only be charitably be described as barnyard aromas.

Once Brett has entered your brewery, he almost never leaves without a fight. Brett is extremely hardy, and extremely difficult to eradicate.

Lastly, Brett is not domesticated like Saccharomyces, so when you let it off its leash, you are never sure what it is going to do. Even the flavours and esters it throws off can vary depending on the types of sugar it digests.

Nevertheless, more and more craft brewers are adding Brett to their beer, especially for bottle- or cask-conditioning, to give their beers more complexity. This is nothing new of course. For many years, Guinness added Brettanomyces A to Guinness to dry it out. For centuries, Belgian lambic brewers threw open their windows and invited Brett L into their beers for the resultant complex sourness, extreme dryness, higher alcohol and yes, barnyard aromas.

Don’t know if I’ll ever brew with Brett, but it is fascinating to see a part of the industry wholeheartedly embracing what the rest of the industry sees as the brewing equivalent of the cockroach.

Day 443

November 24, 2012

In Business Ethics, it is debate time. Each of us has been randomly assigned to support one side or the other of an ethical dilemma. The resolution I will support is that it is ethical for celebrities to endorse products that they do not use or even like.

Luckily my debate is not for another two weeks, so I have time to to scratch my head and think up some arguments. Suggestions are welcome. Is it unethical to ask you for ideas?

In Sensory Evaluation, we covered white wines two weeks ago and red wines last week, so it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that we would be tasting sparkling wines today. As you probably know, “champagne” legally only refers to sparkling wines made in the Champagne region of France. Everything else is a sparkling wine (or a “sparkler”), and is probably way cheaper than champagne. In France, a sparkler made outside of Champagne is often called Crémant. In Spain it is Cava, and Italians make Prosecco. Here in Canada, we just say sparkling wine. (Technically, here in Canada we say “sparkling wine, eh?”)

The bubbles are made by adding yeast and sugar to still wine, setting off a secondary fermentation that produces carbon dioxide. You can take the traditional route–the Methode Champenoise–by adding yeast and sugar to each individual bottle. Or you can use the newer charmat method: add the yeast and sugar to a whole tank of wine and then bottle the result. Bottle fermentation produces a yeastier, toastier tasting wine, from the contact with the dead yeast cells. (Another difference from beer: we call that taste “autolysis”, and try to avoid it.) Tank fermentation produces a fruitier taste and aroma.

(In Champagne, you must use the Methode Champenoise to make champagne. In Italy, you must use the charmat method to make Prosecco. Huh.)

Sparkling wines

Seven varieties of sparkling wine, including champagne (far left) and sparkling ice wine (far right).

Another differentiation is dryness. Curiously, “dry” means it is actually sweet, not dry. Even “extra dry” isn’t dry.  “Brut” doesn’t have the word “dry” in it, but it means dry. I have no idea why “dry” doesn’t mean dry. One of those weird French things, I guess.

As you may have guessed, the theory was followed by a tasting of seven types of sparkling wines, including a sparkling ice wine from Peller Estates of the Niagara region. Oh, and food: oysters, olives, French toast, and potato chips.

An odd mix of flavours, but I did not leave the classroom hungry.

Day 442

November 23, 2012

And now, sadly, History of Rock & Roll moves into the late seventies: disco, with its thumping 120-beats-per-minute bass line; disco’s angry nemesis, punk; and punk’s safe and sanitized version, New Wave.

In FCF, we looked at how dissolved oxygen negatively affects beer. There is always a small amount of oxygen in the headspace of a storage tank, keg or bottle. What I hadn’t realized before was how fast oxygen reacts with stuff inside beer, and how this instantaneous reaction then draws more oxygen into the beer.

Of course, good old Henry’s Law states that a gas in the headspace will dissolve into the beer until the partial pressure of the gas reaches equilibrium in both the headspace and the beer. But oxygen is highly reactive, so as soon as it enters beer, poof! it latches onto something, meaning that there is no more free oxygen in the beer. This invites more oxygen from the headspace to dissolve into the beer. That oxygen instantly binds to something, making room for more oxygen… and so on.

The really bad part is that when oxygen bonds to something, it is bonded for good–there is no practical way to remove the oxygen. Now this wouldn’t be a problem, except that oxygen messes with compounds that change the flavour of the beer, giving it a cardboard or papery taste.

Oxygen in beer is just bad news.

This segued into preservatives that were used in beers, and how they worked by mopping up free radical oxygen. (Not too many craft bewers use preservatives, but it’s always good to know about them.) This naturally (or artificially) led us to a quick overview of natural and artificial flavours.

Speaking of added flavours, apparently a Toronto bar would like to get a cask of Call of Brew-ty: Black Hops, the intensely hot and spicy smoked chipotle schwarzbier that had people crying with joy (okay, crying with pain) at Cask Days.

When I got the text from the brewery today, my first thought was, “Seriously?”


Day 441

November 20, 2012

You know you’re getting deep into the semester in Brewhouse Calculations when it takes you a solid hour just to review last week’s class. Finished with review, we moved on to some basic fluid mechanics. Liquids and semi-solids are moved all around the brewery in pipes, so an understanding of flow rates and turbulence would seem to be fairly important.

First, we learned that (in the metric world), a force of one newton pressing on one square metre equals a pressure of one pascal. That’s not much pressure, by the way–typical barometric pressure on a nice day is about 101,325 pascals (or about 101.3 kilopascals).

(Isaac Newton, by the way, was an English mathemetician who undoubtedly put many newtons of pressure on the seat of his chair when he sat down despite the fact that he was only one Newton. Blaise Pascal was a French mathemetician, which just goes to show that if you want something named after you, become a mathemetician. But I digress…)

We reviewed the various types of pressure gauges, then moved on to flow meters–the instruments that measure how fast fluid is moving through a pipe.

Due to friction with the pipe walls, fluid near the walls always moves slowest, while fluid in the middle of the pipe always moves fastest. If there is a gradual gradient between the two extremes and little in the way of eddying and break-up, then the flow is said to be smooth or “laminar”. If there is a lot of eddying and mixing of the liquid, the flow is turbulent. This is represented by something called a “Reynolds number”, and the formula for calcualting it is

Re = pud/µ


  • Re = the Reynolds number: less than 2100 is laminar, more than 4000 is turbulent, somewhere in between is transitional
  • p =  density of fluid (kg/m3)
  • u = velocity of the liquid (metres per second)
  • d = diameter of the pipe (metres)
  • µ = fluid dynamnic viscosity (kg per metre-second)

If you want to determine the minimum diameter pipe you need to ensure laminar flow, or conversely, the maximum diameter needed for turbulent flow, you can rearrange this formula:

d = (Re µ) / (p u)

For instance, if you want to move some wort that has a density of 1034 kg/m3 and a dynamic viscosity of 5 x 10-3 kg/ms, and your pump is going to move the wort at 5 m/s, then to ensure laminar flow (a Reynolds number of 2100):

d = (2100 x 5 x 103) / (5 x 1034) = 0.002 m = 2 millimetres

So to ensure laminar flow, your pipe can be no smaller than 2 mm in diameter. Since most pipes carrying wort are much larger than 2 mm, it seems you won’t have any trouble maintaining a laminar flow with this particular wort.

In History of Beer, it was more student presentations, including a history of glassware, brewing in Ontario, and the Aztec production and use of pulque, an intoxicating spirit made from the agave plant.

Instructor Bill White also covered brewing in North America in the 20th century (although at times I felt like it was Bill’s history of Labbatt’s in the 20th century.)

Day 436

November 16, 2012

What would Business Ethics be without another in-class case study? Today, was it ethical for General Motors–a company that had deliberately turned its back on hybrid technology in favour of profitable SUVs–to ask the U.S. federal government for a bail-out when the SUV market crashed?

On to Sensory Evaluation. Last week we had covered white wines, so today it was the other side of the coin, red wines. We learned–much to my surprise–that an Ontario VQA red is almost always a blend of various grapes and even various vintages, even if only one grape variety and vintage is listed on the label; according to the wine industry rules, only 85% of the main grape variety and/or 85% of the listed vintage has to be what it says on the label. Huh.

Likewise, I always thought that decanting wines was just a snooty thing to do, but in the case of older wines, a quiet decanting serves to leave the bitter sediment in the bottle; in younger wines, vigourously pouring it into a wide-mouth pitcher and letting it sit for an hour oxidates the wine, enhancing its flavours.

We covered some of the main varieties of grapes, and the wines that are made from them. Then we poured out seven reds. Two of those were a 5-year-old and a 10-year-old Merlot from the same winery. It was interesting to see how age had softened the tannins and subtly changed the colour of the older wine.

Red wines

Seven reds and a variety of foods. It was a good day to be a student of beer.

Although I had thought of red wines as all very tannic and astringent, and only suitable to be served with red meats, we learned from our seven samples that red wine can cover a lot of territory, from light and fruity to bold and tannic to aged and delicate. Yes, the bigger, bolder, more tannic reds like Australian Shiraz and Italian Borolo paired well with roast beef. However, a lighter Cabernet Franc paired well with mushroom risotto, a dish that I would have thought was white wine territory. Likewise, pairing a tannic red wine with salmon results in an unpleasant metallic note, but the salmon actually matched very well with a less tannic, fruitier pinot noir. And the more alcoholic wines–the Shiraz (15.9%) and an Italian Amarone della Valpolicella (15.4%) really made the spices in an otherwise pedestrian barbecued rib really pop.

Here endeth the lesson on wines. Admittedly we only scratched the surface–wine students at the college spend an entire semester on white wines, and another semester on red wines–but it did make us brewmaster students a bit more aware of the potential versatility of wine, even if the tastes and component flavours cover a much narrower spectrum compared to the world of beer.

Day 435

November 13, 2012

We’re up to the early 1970s in History of Rock & Roll. Yep, bell bottom jeans, platform shoes, polyester leisure suits, big hair. How did the period 1970-75 produce so much good music (Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Steely Dan, Queen), so much bad clothing, and so much REALLY BAD music? (The Bay City Rollers, Tony Orlando & Dawn, and The Captain & Tennille, who some day will have to answer for inflicting “Muskrat Love” on the world.) But if the bad music was really so bad, how did it prosper?

Although I lived through this period, I didn’t think at the time about why the good music/bad music dichotomy had happened–it just happened. So it’s very interesting to sit in a class and hear the reasons about why. (However, there was no theory about what had caused the bad clothes. And I will  continue to deny that I ever wore them.)

My head filled with “Bohemian Rhapsody”, it was off to Business Ethics, where we argued the pros and cons of child labour. I was on the “Pro” side of the argument, and I am pleased to report that by the time our side was finished, child labour  not only seemed viable but indeed necessary for the economic vitality of our country.

All of this was to prime us for our next major in-class activity which starts next week: one-on-one debates. We have already been assigned a debate opponent, and our topic. In my case, I will be arguing that it is ethical for celebrities to endorse products that they don’t actually use or like.  Hrm, have to think about that one.

We had a couple of hours between classes, so I drank gin cocktails. Well, sort of. We have this project coming up in Sensory Evaluation where we have to present a beer cocktail to the class. My partner and I have an idea that mixing Belgian wit and gin will work, but the devil is in the details, so this afternoon we  tried mixing them together with varying amounts of other ingredients. Results were encouraging, but we still feel there’s room for improvement. More experimentation is obviously called for.

Following that, I had the strangest urge to have a nap in FCF. Huh. And it was such an interesting topic: centrifugation; that is, using a centrifuge to remove solids such as yeast or trub  from your wort or beer. These machines have many benefits compared to filters–high throughput, very efficient, little chance of clogging, no expensive or unhealthy filter media to buy and store, etc. However, because they are relatively expensive, they are largely unknown in the craft beer world. Large brewers who can afford them use them extensively for everything from recovering as much wort as possible from spent grains to removing all but the smallest particles from finished beer just before sterile filtering.

We also took a quick look at pasteurization systems. Again, these are usually not found in craft breweries, firstly because they are expensive, and also because many craft brewers believe that pasteurization alters the taste of the beer in unacceptable ways. Pasteurization isn’t meant to sterilize the beer–the temperatures involved would render the beer undrinkable–but only to kill most microorganisms and make any remaining almost unviable. Each minute the beer is raised to 60°C is rated as 1 Pasteur Unit (PU); brewers generally want to apply about 10-15 PUs to their beer, the exact amount depending on the brewer. How the heat is applied is also up to the brewer–a slow gentle rise in temperature and holding it just at 60°C for a longer period of time will affect the flavour one way, suddenly heating the beer to much higher than 60°C for a shorter period of time will affect the flavour very differently.

There are two main types of pasteurizers in breweries:

  • tunnel pasteurizers: the already bottled beer is sent into a rather large machine. As the bottles advance on a conveyor belt, they move under water nozzles that spray hot water until the beer’s temperature rises above 60°C; the bottles then pass under cooler sprays which quickly chill the bottles.
  • flash pasteurizers: the unbottled beer is sent through a steel tube. Heat, in the form of steam or hot water, is applied to the outside of the tube, instantly raising the beer’s temperature above 60°C as it passes by.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each system–the tunnel pasteurizer is the size of a room, the flash pasteurizer is the size of an office desk, etc.

Now, time to hunt up some more ingredients for our gin & wit cocktail.


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.