Archive for March 2014

Chocolate Decadence

March 23, 2014

A few weeks ago the college had a “Chocolate Decadence” festival. This event is mostly a chance for the culinary department to show off — chocolate, after all, is the theme. However, the organizers also wanted to offer a 1-hour seminar that would focus on chocolate-based foods and the college-brewed beers that could be paired with them, and a similar seminar pairing chocolate with college-made wines. I was asked to lead the seminar on beer and chocolate, and my counterpart in the wine education program, Britnie Bazylewski, was asked to handle the wine seminar.

Shortly after receiving our Decadence seminar assignments, Britnie and I had a brilliant idea while we were munching on Skittles. (Britnie keeps a supply of Skittles on her desk, which I have to eat if I feel like Skittles, because even if I had a supply of Skittles on my desk, I’d never find them under all the papers.) The brilliant idea, undoubtedly fuelled by Skittles sugar, was that it would be much cooler if we joined forces and offer two identical seminars that would pair both beer and wine with various chocolate dishes. If that wasn’t enough, we also decided that it would be way more fun to present chocolate-based foods rather than straight chocolate.

cocloco1During the weeks leading up to the event, Brewmaster students created six beers to pair with the food. Working with the culinary department, we developed a menu of chocolate-based foods that were perhaps outside the usual range of what you might think as chocolate. And that was the gist of our seminars as well — we knew everyone was going to go home from the festival bursting with chocolate-y ideas of what to serve to guests next weekend, but inevitably it was going to be either chocolate fondue or chocolate cake. We titled our seminars “Going Coco Loco”, and as the name suggests, we wanted people to think outside the box when it came to both chocolate and the wines and beers to serve with them.

Ancho Chili Soup with Cocoa

Ancho Chili Soup with Cocoa

Our first course was Chili Ancho Sopa de Chocolate — a smooth spicy Mexican soup made with blackened ancho chili peppers and enriched with semisweet chocolate. I think a lot of people in the seminar were expecting Britnie to present an icewine — it’s the usual suspect when eating chocolate-based foods; but Britnie instead pulled out a 2012 College Rosé. The sweetness of the Rosé’s residual sugar helped disperse the heat of the spices, and its light body contrasted well with the thick soup. On the beer side, in the first seminar I chose to pair the spicy soup with a Vanilla Cream Ale that had been devised by Teaching Brewery Brewmaster Jon Downing and made by a group of 1st-year Brewmaster students. Like the wine, this beer was on the sweet side, which tamped down the heat of the soup, and the vanilla flavour went well with the cocoa notes like vanilla and chocolate ice cream in the same bowl. In the second seminar, I used the same reasoning but with a bit more oomph, pairing the soup with a Russian Imperial Stout devised and created by 2nd-year student Graham McMullen.

Pulled chicken sliders with Mole Negro

Pulled chicken sliders with Mole Negro

The second course was Pulled Chicken Sliders with Mole Negro — spiced with three types of chili peppers, some garlic, a bit of canela, some almonds and sesame seeds, and of course , some chocolate. For the wine, Britnie picked a 2010 Dean’s List Meritage, a Bordeaux-style with enough body to match the blackened spices. For the first seminar, I chose Chocolate Cherry Schwartzbier, again one of Jon Downing’s recipes that was created by 1st-year students. This sweet beer is normally paired with black forest cake, but I wanted to try it against the black mole sauce, and I think it worked well. For the second seminar, I paired the chicken sliders with 2nd-year student Mark Lewis’s modern take on an ancient Aztec beer recipe, something he calls “Xocolotl”. This big (10%) beer has both sweetness and some fairly significant spicy heat, so matched both the blackened spices and the cocoa in the sliders.

Cocoa-Rubbed Baby Back Ribs

Cocoa-Rubbed Baby Back Ribs

The third course was Cocoa-Rubbed Baby Back Ribs — just what it sounds like: ribs rubbed with a combination of cocoa powder, brown sugar, ancho chili powder, and some spices. Mmmmm! Britnie’s wine was a 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon with lots of tannins for the meaty ribs. My choice of beer at both seminars was 2nd-year student Tanner Hinrichsen’s “Spicy Orange Ale”. Tanner confessed that he is not really a fan of chocolate, so he set out to make a beer that would pair well with chocolate without using chocolate or dark malts. The result is a light amber ale with strong citrussy orange notes and a bit of heat. This and the ribs made for a great combination.

Baba Ghannouj with White Chocolate

Baba Ghannouj with White Chocolate

Our final course was White Chocolate Baba Ghannouj with Spent Grain Crisps — a fairly standard baba ghannouj with the rather unusual addition of some white chocolate. Britnie chose the 2011 Niagara College Semi-Dry Riesling, which had enough acidity to cut through the thick body of the baba ghannouj. I chose another of Jon Downing’s recipes, French Coffee Porter. Although this has very noticeable coffee flavours, those actually come from one of the grains used, French Coffee Press malt. I thought the coffee and white chocolate made a good combination.

Britnie & I going coco-loco.

Britnie & I going coco-loco.

Perhaps the best part of the seminars was that the college was fortunate enough to receive a generous sponsorship from nearby Inniskillin Wines that allowed us to offer the seminars for no cost. Yep, free food and drinks, woo-hoo! Everything tastes better when it’s free.

In the end, everyone went home with some ideas for a chocolate-based dinner that will hopefully colour outside the lines, and Britnie & I were left with the task of coming up with some more great recipe ideas for next year.

If you would like a copy of the recipes for the four dishes served at our seminars, contact me at


MBAC 100th Anniversary Conference: Part 4

March 2, 2014

The second day of the MBAC Technical Conference continued with presentations about malt enzymes — pretty much a review of Kevin Somerville’s 1st-year Ingredients class, so I won’t get into it — and an overview of brewing automation. However, it was the next two presentations I found interesting.

Barrel Dwellers (Karl Ockert, MBAA Technical Director)

Karl Ockert, while brewmaster at Bridgeport Brewing in Portland, Orgeon, was in the vanguard of the barrel-aging movement. However, one of the problems with using wooden barrels is beer spoilage due to bacterial infection. Karl gave us the low-down on how to keep beer-spoiling bacteria “in check”. His thesis was that you may not be able to sterilize wood, so you can never get rid of all the exotic fauna growing in your barrel; but you can keep the nasty critters in check.

The one saving grace we brewers have is that beer is a very hostile environment for most microbes. Many bacteria rely on oxygen and thrive in an alkaline environment, around pH 8; however, beer is a fairly acidic liquid, around pH 4.2, and contains little or no oxygen. So there are only a few beer-spoiling microbes that can live in that environment:

  • acetobacter: Produces beer-souring acetic acid in an oxygen-rich environment, but can also survive with little oxygen, although it produces acetaldehydes under those conditions
  • lactobacillus: the same bug that sours milk by producing lactic and acetic acid. It is anaerobic (doesn’t require oxygen) and actually prefers a very low pH of 3.5, so it is quite happy in beer.
  • pediococcus: another anaerobic bug, this one produces lactic acid, diacetyl (butterscotch flavours), as well as ropiness and slime, so when it spoils beer, it really goes all out.
  • Brettanomyces: There are four strains of this wild yeast that all produce a hodge-podge of complex flavours (according to Karl: phenols, odours of rancid cheese, goat and baby vomit — and those are just the flavours and aromas that some brewers desire. Under the right conditions, Brett. can produce a whole host of “undesirable” flavours as well, such as mouse or rabbit urine. Don’t ask me how rancid cheese, goat and baby vomit made it onto the “desirable” list.) Under ordinary conditions, the usual yeast we use, Cerevisae, will outcompete Brett. for the simple sugars like glucose, sucrose and maltose. However, Brett. is very cunning — it simply waits until the Cerevisae has finished up all the simple sugars, then swings into action, devouring all the remaining complex sugars that the Cerevisae left behind. Brett. can actually digest cellobiose, the sugar found in wood cells, which is why once your barrel has Brett., it’s there to stay — it simply hides out in the wood until the barrel is refilled with wort.

So, how do we keep the beer spoilers in check? (Unless we want them in the beer. Yes, some brewers deliberately “inoculate” their wort with some of the above.) First Karl suggested a cleaning regime:

  1. Rinse the barrel with warm water after use
  2. Clean the barrel with a weak alkaline solution
  3. Steam the barrel or fill with hot (80C) water for 20 minutes to give a good penetration of heat deep into the wood.

Barrel maintenance includes:

  • keep the barrel continuously filled — don’t let it dry out, since the staves will shrink, allowing seams to open up
  • when you fill it, top with an inert gas to reduce oxygen content in the barrel
  • keep the bung area clean
  • if you can’t refill the barrel right away, store it wet with a solution of sulphur dioxide or citric acid
  • track each individual barrel: number of uses, and any issues that you had with it

Avoid cross-contaminatioon with other beer operations in your brewery:

  • assign specific hoses, gaskets and clamps to barrel operations, and isolate them from other equipment.
  • run barrel operations AFTER non-barrel operations, then clean and sanitize
  • use a flash pasteurizer before beer gets to the bright tank to avoid cross-contamination in the packaging line.

Karl also took a question about using whiskey barrels. Many brewers want to use these barrels to add the flavour of the whiskey to the beer. However, if the first step is to rinse out the barrel, won’t this remove most of the residual whiskey flavour? Karl replied that because whiskey barrels are probably sterile due to the whiskey’s high alcohol content, don’t rinse them the first time you use them. They are probably good for 3-4 uses before the whiskey characteristic is used up, so for subsequent uses, rinse and then refill immediately. If you want to add an extra measure againt beer spoilage, increase the number of IBUs in the beer — high hop bitterness discourages bacterial growth.

Washing Yeast with Chlorine Dioxide (George Agius, Sealed Air, and Andrew Goulds, Goulds Consulting)

Your yeast slurry can become contaminated with some of the beer spoiling bacteria mentioned above. If that happens, there are four traditional responses:

  1. Throw out the yeast and start with a fresh batch.
  2. Rinse the yeast with cold distilled water, wait for the yeast to settle, then decant off the water, which in theory will carry away the bacteria and dead yeast cells. However this method requires a lot of water and a lot of time.
  3. “Acid wash” the yeast with a low concentration of phosphoric acid. This temporarily lowers the pH of the yeast slurry to around pH 2.3, which will kill off most aerobic bacteria. However anaerobic bacteria will be more resistant, and wild yeast such as Brettanomyces will be unaffected. There is a common belief amongst brewers that once you acid wash a batch of yeast, it subsequently becomes more liable to infection; so if yeast has been acid washed once, it has to be acid washed every time.
  4. “Acid wash” the yeast as above, but add a 0.75% solution of ammonium persulphate. This will kill even low-pH resistant bacteria, but will kill off or weaken some of your yeast as well.

All of these methods have fairly large downsides, so the two authors of this paper decided to try washing the yeast with chlorine dioxide (ClO2).

Theoretically, there are some significant pros:

  • ClO2 is effective over a wide pH range (2-10)
  • unlike many other chemicals, it doesn’t attack or break down tannins in the beer, so won’t affect head retention
  • unlike simple chlorine, it does not produce carcinogenic trihalomethanes

However, there are also some significant downsides to chlorine dioxide:

  • You can’t just run down to the chemical store and buy a bottle — ClO2 has to be manufactured in situ with specialized equipment, usually requiring a strong acid such as hydrochloric acid and sodium chlorite.
  • Both ingredients are dangerous, and the chlorine dioxide, if it escapes, is toxic.

Research conducted by Agius and Goulds indicated that washing yeast with a solution of 100 ppm of ClO2 for 90 minutes resulted in bacterial counts of zero (both aerobic and anaerobic varieties), which is highly effective. However, yeast viability was reduced by 10-15% as well. The process seemed to require much less time than traditional acid washing to achieve a greater effect.

They concluded that further research was needed to determine an optimal concentration of ClO2. They also acknowledged that since 50-75 ppm of ClO2 is toxic if handled improperly, more research was needed in order  to develop a safe process.


There was one more technical presentation about using double-seat valves in a fermentation tank pipe net, and a presentation by Michael “Pinball” Clemons, former CFL all-star; but with Toronto’s infamous rush hour traffic already ramping up, most of the delegates hit the road.




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