Friday, December 12, 2008

Its xmas time again (and a new seasonal beer!)

Wow, apparently I've kept this blog up for more than three years now. Often times (like these last few months) its been very sparse in posts, but I think there is some good content over the years. In fact, I know there is some good content since I still get emails and comments from people for several of my posts over the years.

Anyway, I only have one bit of news I suppose. Last Friday I brewed the new seasonal beer at Alley Kat, which will be an English dark mild of about 3.5% abv. From the test batches, it should have lots of crystal & chocolate malt flavours with just enough hop bitterness to balance the sweetness. I love the mild style, and I think we should be drinking it more in North America. When I was in Scotland it was great to go to the pub and drink pints of real ale that was often below 4% abv. You could drink good tasting beer and not get trashed. Unless you drank a lot of it... but even then you were far less hungover in the morning.
In any case, I can't wait for the final product.

In other news... I've gone crazy buying safety equipment for my new car. I can't wait to get stuck in a remote wilderness location so I can use my fire-staring equipment and blankets. Or find a new car accident so I can use my first aid kit. Or pull up to someone on the side of the road who just happens to need a 1/16" nut driver... anyway, yeah I went a little crazy at Canadinan Tire. I love going there.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Yep, a whole month.

So its been an entire month since I've posted a blog entry. But that's the way it goes I suppose...

Being a head brewer has been a learning experience so far. I'm good at brewing and working on my own, I just have to get good at getting other people to do what I want them to. Also, going from sitting on my fattening ass being a student to going back directly to hard physical work for 8+ hours a day is very tiring.

Anyway, some cool beers coming up in the next few months, more notes on that later. The nice thing about being the head brewer is that I pretty much brew all the "interesting" stuff. The normal day-to-day stuff the other guys can do.

So thats the quick and boring update.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

One more thing I love about Canada... the CBC.

Frankly, I love the CBC. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Well, the radio at least. I was just thinking that I seem to listen to CBC radio almost all weekend (commercial free of course). Quirks & Quarks, Vinyl Cafe, Rex Murphy, Wiretap, Michael Enright, DNTO, C'est la vie, Dispatches, Search Engine... and more.

I love that we as Canadians can get this excellent content, and even more that most of it is available for free whenever you want to listen to it as a podcast. The CBC is part of my cultural identity... part of our cultural identity.

When I was (much) younger I used to think of the CBC as some annoying thing that my parents listened to; except for the Vinyl Cafe, I always loved that. And Quirks & Quarks. Oh, and several other shows... I'm not really sure what turned me off CBC when I was young. Maybe it was just that I wouldn't be caught dead listening to it in front of my friends. But I know I would listen to it when nobody else would be able to judge me. So maybe I've really always loved the CBC. Especially the Vinyl Cafe with Stuart McLean. I've always loved the Dave & Morly stories.

In any case, I now officially proclaim my love for the CBC. I think that we, as Canadians, should listen more. I think that we, as Canadians, should be proud that we have such privilege to have access to such content.

That is all.


Friday, August 22, 2008


Well, I've submitted my dissertation. "Effects of dark specialty malts on the growth of common brewing bacteria". I'm tired... a couple of beers, then I think I'll go to sleep early. I'm drinking a Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted and eating Ritz crackers... the combination of the two leaves the taste of chineese food in my mouth. Weird!

Anyway, some good beer-drinking tomorrow night then on Monday morning bright and early I begin the trip back to Canada. As much as I like Scotland, I think being away makes me know why I love Canada.

See (some of you) soon!


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What happened to my iTunes -> amarok script?

Hm, I've got a couple of comments on a post about a script I made a couple of years ago that converts all of your iTunes data into the Linux amarok db format. Unfortunately I have no idea where it went. I must have accidentally deleted it at some point.

Oh well. I got several emails back in the day telling me people found it useful, but doing a quick google suggests that somebody else has made a much better solution than my quickly hacked together perl script did. Plus I'm sure both have changed their data formats slightly enough to break my script.

Ah, to be breifly fameous to 10 people.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Half Cycle Off

I woke up at 8:00 today. Unfortunately it was the wrong 8:00 and the sun is just heading down. My sleep schedule has been so messed up lately. I lasted until noon today before I had to go to bed, maybe tomorrow I'll last until 2 or 3 pm and wake up even later. Its easy to mess up your sleep schedule when you don't have any place to be at any time.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Hatin' on 0844

So, last month the university residence people here (Heriot-Watt) upgraded the phone system to a VOIP carrier with much cheaper rates. However, they neglected one thing: they didn't check to see if international incoming calls worked. I can't receive calls from Canada. Apparently, according to the tech support guy, and some information held on the second page of a googling, not all service providers in all countries allow calls to 0844 numbers in the UK. Carriers of particular to note: ones in Canada and Australia. Hm. Crap.

Now this may seem surprising at first, but this is more common that it seems. No UK service provider I have have had access to seems to allow me to call 1-800/866/etc numbers in North America. Presumably, this is because they can't collect their money for the collect calls. Apparently if I call the international operator I can do the 1-800 calls but at great expense to the receiver. If they accept the call. But what chance is there of that on the computer automated system on my bank. So I make due by paying the cost out of my own pocket the few times I've needed to call.

But back to the 0844 issue... what possible reason is there not to allow a call to such a number? And who's problem is it? Is it my new UK service provider (Freewire)? Or is it my girlfriend's calling-card company and my parents provider (Telus)? Or is it all Canadian carriers? Or is it the UK phone system? Or is it my university's residence manager who decided to change to the cheaper system without proper due diligence? From my perspective, even though my call rate is cheaper, the service provided to me is technically worse.

Every provider I've emailed has either not got back to me, or just said that the problem is with the provider in the other country. Can this seriously be a problem that hasn't been widely considered int he telephone-o-sphere?? Seriously?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


My floor these days

So this is what my floor looks like these days. I've started in again on writing my MSc dissertation again. Its going alright... we finally received a notice from the faculty about what they are expecting, and its not as much as I thought. Its important to be straightforward and concise about the research done and literature review. So the length isn't as important as the fact that you say what you did, give the results, and back it up with prior literature. I had written a lot of the literature review a few months back, and I think I was trying to write too much. Like I don't need to go over all the basics as they are... well, basic. I can assume, for example, that my audience actually knows what barley is; I don't need to tell them!

Anyway, in writing this I am actually procrastinating from writing again. But thats ok. I'm staying up alllll night long tonight and all day tomorrow as I'm trying to break my recent sleep schedule of going to bed at 5 am and waking up at 2 pm.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Slave to bacteria

My MSc project deals with Lactobacilus brevis, a common beer spoilage bacteria. For some tests I'm doing, I need to sample every 6 hours (or less...) in order to get some decent results.

This doesn't bode well for my sleep... I've already done two (6pm and 12am) and I pretty much stayed awake all night to do the 6 am sampling... not that I intended to, but I think I drank too much strong coffee before going in for the 12 am sampling so I wasn't able to sleep.

Anyway... I'm not looking forward to this time tomorrow (5 am) as I may be going out of my skull by then. Unless I can force myself to sleep in the middle of the day for a couple of hours.

Damn bacteria.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Scheduling Software for a Small Brewery

In the past few months I've been contemplating and working on a wee software solution to a problem that I've seen at many small craft breweries that I've visited:

A lot of breweries I've been to have scheduling methods that work for them just fine... but usually involve a pencil and some paper. Maybe and excel spreadsheet if they're lucky. Existing production management software can be too expensive for a small business, and there is no guarantee that the investment will pay itself off. These software packages are bloated with more features than are needed for a brewery, since they are for "any" production environment. As well, they often require the software be installed on a Windows computer... ONE Windows computer per license.

What I'm working on is a schedule
helper for the small brewery. The schedule is to run off a webserver, with a database back end. This has the advantage in that no additional software needs to be installed by the client, and it doesn't matter weather the client is on Mac, Windows, Linux, etc. In theory, the software could be accessed from anywhere in the world (of course, significant security measures would have to be employed!)
This also means that schedule information can be viewed and modified on, say, an iPhone :).

I have broken it down into several separate modules:
1. Scheduler - Books batches of beer on resources (fermenters, conditioning tanks, humans, etc). Displays output in a graphical format, so that the schedule can be visualized for any conflicts or problems. An example schedule ought to look something like this (click for larger view):

The basic scheduler has no data for recipe, volumes, etc etc. I'd also like to have it possible to enter a matrix of dependencies, and provide an "auto schedule" algorithm. But thats way off in the future.

2. Recipe data - As a separate module that can be added in if needed. Basically, this module can handle what goes into each batch of beer, as well as record volumes throughout the process. I've designed it is such a way that the client can add almost an infinite number of ingredients.

3. Consumables management - of course, if you have ingredients, you ought to be able to manage them. This should be able to keep track of ingredients and help plan when to order more supply. This isn't limited to ingredients, this can include bottles... cleaning supplies... boxes... etc.

4. Quality control - This is very important to the brewer. This module can handle data from quality control checks, as defined by the client.

5. Sales & Customer Database - I've not programmed or planned anything around this section. However, it would definitely be useful if this software is ever to be a complete solution for the small brewer (for now its just a helper!).

Timeline: when do I see this being produced? Since I'm working a full time job, I'll be doing it on my own time, don't expect anything public for quite some time! In theory, I'll using it to help with my job at a small craft brewery (more on that news later)... it could be years before I feel comfortable releasing it.

Of course, for now I should be finishing my MSc thesis...


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Leave your bag at the front counter, please.


On the surface, such a request seems innocent enough. But it also implies that I might be a criminal. I don't like being made to feel like a suspected criminal while I intend to buy something at your store. Besides, what if somebody steals my bag? Or the punk behind the counter rifles through it?

As such, I refuse to shop at any store that requires me to remove my bag.

Society these days seems willing to put up with an awful lot of little inconveniences for other people's security and peace of mind. Are we ok with being treated as guilty until proven innocent? I think most people would say no. But we allow it every day.

We put up with it at a much larger scale too. Apparently now there is over a million names on the US terror watch list. One million names. Added with secret criteria, and impossible to remove. If you are unlucky enough to have a similar name as somebody who may have possibly had a connection to something that might have maybe been a possible terrorist action, your flying days will become very difficult. You can't defend yourself against the accusations (since you don't know what they are) and you can't fight the label (unless you have a lot of money for some lawyers). Guilty until proven innocent... but you can't prove innocence.

Being a shoplifting suspect and being a terror suspect are certainly several orders of magnitude different. But they follow the same principle: give up your rights for the peace of mind of somebody else.

Are you willing to be treated like a shoplifting suspect for the peace of mind of the shop owner?
Are you willing to be treated like a terrorist suspect for the peace of mind of a country?


Monday, July 07, 2008

Back from Belgium

Yes, I went to Belgium last week. Just 5 days for a quick vacation... and "research".

I managed to do some very good "research" mostly on the under-appreciated lambic (sour) beer style, as well as some of my old favorite Belgian Trappist and Abby beers. As well as an excellent visit to the Affligem brewery. I'll write more in due course, as I've just got back and have a heck of a lot of work to do in the next day or two.

Best part: Sitting in an off-the-tourist-path cafe terrace under trees in Graanmarkt in Burssels, sipping on beer, people watching, and reading all afternoon on Sunday.

Worst part: Spending too damn much... everything else was pretty good, really.

I love Belgium!

Cheers for now

Thursday, June 26, 2008

No visit to Canada :(

I can't come back to Canada in July for a visit. I just can't afford it.

This is due to the fact that I'm pretty much out of money and can't afford another return flight to Edinburgh (I already have a flight back to Calgary). In retrospect, it was a little naive of me to think that I could do it.

The bad side is, of course, that I won't be there for Brier's wedding, won't see my girlfriend, won't see friends who are only in town from abroad then, won't be able to have fun (drink) at Bruce's lake cabin, and won't be able to do the job interviews I had semi-planned.

But the good side is that I can therefore come home much earlier (I just moved my flight to August 25th). This is more than 3 weeks earlier than I had initially planned. Which means I'll be home before my girlfriend moves to our place in Edmonton. Then I spend a month visiting people, doing job interviews (in theory)... OH, and spending a lot of time doing the write up for my thesis before the 20th. Can't forget that last one...


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Short Loop Parade

Nothing beerish this time, just posting a wee mix I made. Its called "The Short Loop Parade", and the name suggests what it is. Its basically a mix of several short loops. Download it, perhaps even enjoy it. Let me know what you think... Download it here. Its only 28 minutes long, but has about 1.5 hours worth of music mixed together! Woo!

Here is the list of samples, in order of appearance:
Slyandro.mod - From the classic game Starcontrol II
Idioteque - Radiohead
Circles Blurring - Minus 8
Jah - The Playing Orchestra
American Life - Primus
Da Funk - Daft Punk
Looking down the barrel of a gun - Beastie Boys
The Battery - Boys Noize
White Rabbit - Jefferson Airplane
Blood Runs Cold - Jedi Mind Tricks
Summertime (UFO remix) - Sarah Vaughan
Kinetic - Radiohead
Noctuary - Bonobo
Difficult score - Marco Carola
Underwater - Elkysia
...then... - Black Era
Adn poubelle - David Aubrun
Turn Deaf - Modeselektor
Dead by Dawn - Future Forces
Thunder - Christian Smith & John Selway
Medusa's Path (cry on my console mix) - Prodigy
The Key - Tosca
Make me fly - Makingthenoise (Miximal)
Why do fools fall in love - Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers
Mango pickle down river - M.I.A.
Croissance dans le mur - David Aubrun
Synthetic Rhythms - Ghislain Poirier
Come as you are - Nirvana
Galang - M.I.A.
Sea Lion Woman - Fiest
Girl - The Beatles
Flim Flam (David Alvarado Remix) - Yellow Sox
Sly (underdog mix) - Nicolette
Fast Track - Radiohead
Credits - Amon Tobin
Marine Machines - Amon Tobin
Chocolate Elvis - Amon Tobin
There is a war going on for your mind - Flobots
Credits - Amon Tobin


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Exploding Kegs and Bob McKenzie

Sorry for the lack of posts of late, my brain has been occupied with researchy stuff.
All I feel like posting today is this link to a story on exploding beer kegs that stopped traffic. The most interesting part? The driver was a guy named Bob McKenzie.

On a more technical note, why did the kegs explode? The police said "carbon dioxide in the kegs"... well that doesn't help, all beer ought to have carbon dioxide in it. Kegs are rated to take more than 60 psig in pressure, but a filled keg really ought to not have more than 30 psig pressure, even in hot weather. Unless, of course, the temperature was very very hot. Or the beer was very over carbonated. Seems weird... the only time I've heard of kegs exploding are from drunken idiots throwing them on the fire or somebody hooking up an un-regulated beergas line to the gas-in (which would be like 2000-8000 psi instantly).

Anyway, that was a lame post. Cheers!

Friday, June 13, 2008

America not for sale anymore

Just saw a funny quote in a story covering the possible InBev purchase of AB:
"Go home, InBev, and keep your money in your pocket. America isn't for sale any more."

America was for sale... not anymore though. Maybe its just funny to me.

The bigger point, I think, is that AB has the American market wound up so much with its marketing that they've made Budweiser synonymous with America.


Fight the Candadian DMCA

For years our poor American brethren to the South have been subject to a horrid beast, tearing the heads off of file-sharing youth and breathing fire on fair-use. This beast has been known as the DMCA, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. While the name sounds great, is misses the point. Big media realized that technology had changed such that they no longer had control over the media. So rather than change their business plan to take advantage of this new era of technology, they lobbied to create the DMCA.

And now, its coming to Canada. With more restrictions on consumers. Who is this law for? We're the citizens... why are corporate ties dictating what laws should be? This law is worse... FAR worse for the consumer than what we have now. It limits what you can do with what you own. It limits what you can try to do with things that you own but are supposed to be "locked" (like cellphones and out-of-region DVDs). This all benefits the media corporations.

Here is my point... why are we making laws that benefit corporate citizens? Mostly AMERICAN corporate citizens. We are the actual citizens of Canada... fuck them. We want to copy stuff. We want to be able to use our technology. We want a world without these restrictions imposed for the benefit of corporate profit. Big media needs to realize that technology has changed... the ability to create media is at the hands of almost all of us. They're not going to make as much money as they used to....

Who will? People who have figured it out. Like, for example. Free music, from the artists. Pay a donation, or go see them live. The big media method of spending millions on marketing to get us to think that we actually like band X isn't going to work anymore. Big media requires so much money to pay for the marketing and the execs in the middle. When you pay for music by traditional methods you don't pay very much to the artist, after all.

Anyway, read this criticism on the bill, and contact your MP. Luckily we're in a minority government, so there is a chance that it won't pass.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

InBev to buy Anheuser-Busch?

According to this press release that just fell into my inbox, InBev is offering to buy Anheuser-Busch.

This is interesting. InBev is the global supergiant. AB is also a supergiant, with about 45% of the American market last time I checked. If it goes through then most of the beer in the world will be produced by a ridiculously large company. Although to be fair, most of the world's beer already is produced by ridiculously large companies.

Will AB accept? If they do they won't be an "American" brewery anymore. In fact, none of the superbrewers will be American anymore... Coors became Molson-Coors (Molson being Canadian, of course). Miller became SAB-Miller (South African Breweries). AB played up a lot of marketing that they were the "only" real American brewer. Of course, that ignores the many many small American breweries.

So if AB takes the offer (it sounds like an easy retirement for the already wealthy board of AB), then the only way to get a true American beer will be to head to your local craft brewer. At least thats a good marketing angle for the craft brewers ;)


Black Malt Tea

I've started looking into lab work for my thesis project (more on that some other time). Basically my work involves specialty brewing grains - those brewer's among you know that this includes crystal malt, black malt, chocolate malt, and roast barley. Depending on the grain, they are roasted in a coffee-like roasting drum at high temperatures. Some grains, like black malt and roast barley, are basically burnt.

So these special malts have a lot of flavour. I'll have to do 100% extracts of these (usually they are used in <15%>

Here is what I did:
  • Crushed two tablespoons of the grain (crystal, black, or roast barley)
  • Placed it in a small French coffee press.
  • Added about 200 mL of boiling water
  • let it sit for 10 min
  • pressed the plunger down, poured off the liquid
Drinking it was interesting...
  • Crystal (140 EBC) had exactly what you'd expect - a massive aroma of sweet malt. The flavour was very weak though, but still pretty sweet. It was dark pale in colour.
  • The black malt of course created a dead black liquid. The blackness had a red hue, though. Sweet aroma with some burnt notes. Didn't taste too bad actually... it was a little sweet with some astringency.
  • Roast barley was similar to the black malt, except the colour hue was much more yellow than red. As well, the flavour was much drier compared to the black malt.
I suggest people do this with any malt they purchase, you really need to taste the product in some water to get an idea of how what flavour it may add to your beer.


Monday, June 09, 2008

Beer Stories

In the last few days I've added a Google Blogs search for "beer" RSS feed to my Google Reader aggregator. The search is actually quite good, and I get lots of interesting blog postings. Some from proclaimed beer bloggers, some from "normal people" who just happen to be writing about beer. The most interesting thing I've found is that there are very few beer reviews, or at least the beer review isn't the central point of the posting. I've found that most people tell a story, and somewhere in the story is something about beer, perhaps a beer review.

I like this because I've generally enjoyed the stories I've read. I honestly pass over most straight-up beer review postings quick scan for history or some interesting brewing fact. A story to a beer review makes it much more interesting, certainly.

Anyway, just a shout out to the blagosphere, keep up the good work.


Saturday, June 07, 2008

How I Judge Beer

I've had this in the back of my head for awhile... I've given up on the 'traditional' beer-nerd style of judging a beer. I've also given up on judging a beer 'to style', but thats a different story.

I'm not good with the fluffy verbiage. I can pick out certain things, I know what they are in my head... I can name a lot of key flavours and aromas just from sheer repetition, but I just can't write more than a few sentences about any beer. People like Michael Jackson, Rodger Prost and Rob Millichamp are good at that. I don't like trying to name flavours, or write descriptions, honestly.

I have one overall judging parameter for beer I drink: quality. Quality is, basically, does it meet (or exceed) my expectations as a consumer? Getting into the details is a bit harder certainly as my expectations can chance based on my mood, what I've eaten, what I've drank, what music I'm listening to, etc. But all other things being equal... there are two things I look for in a beer:
  • Technical quality: Do I like it, and is there any "flaws"? This is very tricky... what is bad for one style of beer is perfection for another. This is where the expectation comes in... eg, if I order an English bitter and it tastes sour and acetic, it fails my expectations. Its technically flawed. Colour, clarity, taste, aroma, malt sweetness, bitterness, off-flavours, etc. But I also include in this category the ultimate question - do I like it? This last question is really the most important one. Usually, one spends the most time considering this category.
  • Uniqueness: This is the bane of most brewers, I think. A beer can be technically perfect... a great beer. I can like it. I can even love it. The problem with tasting so many beers is that you seem to taste a lot of the same thing. I'm always looking for something different. Its few and far between. It seems to me that a lot of brewers, even small craft brewers, don't often like to stray too far from the mainstream of their market. Of course, there is "good" unique and "bad" unique. Bad unique probably results from a significant technical flaw.
Of course, there is a balance between these two. I've had beers that are technically great beers that I really like but just aren't unique - these end up as good stand by beers. I've also had unique beers that were technically well done but I didn't really like. Of course, I've also had technically horrible beers that were unique -- the bad kind. Most beers I try I think about the technical quality, and make a note of any uniqueness.

So this concept isn't all that ground-breaking, but it is how my head works when I taste a beer. Its also why I've pretty much stopped reviewing beers on this blog. I only ever write a couple of sentences and thats just not interesting to the reader!

But, I did have a bottle of Bacchus Kriekenbier today as I mentioned on my last post. I can say it was technically quite well done - good balance of flavours between the acidity of the beer and the sweet/sour of the cherries. Quite refreshing and made me glad I'm heading to Belgium at the end of the month. I liked the beer, probably 7/10 if I had to quantify. Uniqueness? Hm, well I know I've tasted similar krieks, perhaps this had a bit more robustness to it, to put it difficultly. Overall, it met my quality expectations!

Damn that sounds boring... So I'll post a photo to reward you for reading to the end. Its from the Heriot-Watt beerfest which I never got around to blogging about:
Beerfest - Heriot Watt 2008 -  034.jpg

Friday, June 06, 2008

I'm going to Belgium

First, some of you with keen eyesight may notice that I've re-branded my blog. The Beer of Brian sounds slightly less lame than Brian's Beer Blog. I'm trying to think of a better name, but for now this is all I have.

Anyway, in regards to the title... yes, I am going to Belgium. My friend Mike is doing some traveling to Europe. So we'll spend a few days sampling the local product here in Edinburgh, then onward to Belgium July 1st-ish.

When I was in Lisbon I was very kindly offered a place to visit/stay in Ghent by some fellow tourists, so that ought to be on my list to see. Hopefully I can get access to some "inside tours" at some breweries. After all I'm a pro-brewer, and just finishing off my MSc in brewing, so hopefully that pulls some weight when contacting breweries. Its nice to talk to the actual brewers, after all. Maybe I'll get some hints on brewing methods ;). When I was working at the craft brewery I enjoyed other brewers coming by, after all. Perhaps somebody else will feel the same. Otherwise I'll have to settle for the usual touristy tours that explain all the basics. Bah.

So I'll update when I know more. In celebration, I drank Bacchus Kriekenbier which is from a family-owned brewery in Belgium. Not too sour, not too sweet. Good amount of cherry, certainly not overdone. I quite like it, I'd say its quite well rounded and I like the slight sour bite. Its been awhile since I've had a decent sour beer (other than at Mather's the other night, but that wasn't supposed to be sour...)


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Something amiss at Mather's

Last Monday was our last day of exams for our MSc Brewing course, and naturally we went out drinking. We stopped for a pint at Mather's Bar, a relatively famous pub in Edinburgh. Four of our group grabbed pints of Batemans XB Bitter... and we each independently and immediately thought "this is off". The beer was clearly acetic (acidic character often a sign of an older cask). So we sent them back and got something else. The bar staff was very grumpy about this, as they all claimed it was fine when they tasted it (as well by some bloke at the bar drinking Foster's... clearly a man of fine taste). It was clearly off... I don't mind acidic beers, but if I buy a bitter I expect a bitter not a lambic.

To make matters worse, I tasted somebody else's Theakston Old Peculiar as I heard them say "wow, this beer tastes like apples!"... since I know this beer well I knew that wasn't right. I judged it was full of acetaldehyde (green apple character) which can be a sign of infection too or bad brewing practice. I assumed the former. I didn't tell them to send it back as I think I was in enough trouble with the bar staff and my friend seemed to be enjoying his beer regardless.

To make matters even worse, a couple of months ago we had the former brewing students dinner and the pub crawl stopped there for a few pints. I met an older gentleman who was sending back his pint as he said it was acetic. Turns out he was a retired brewer of 30 years.

My point is that there is a pattern of unkempt beers at Mather's. The only bad pints I've had in Edinburgh were there. Cask ales are alive need attention and proper cellarmanship. Bar staff needs training on off flavours. But perhaps if they're tasting the off beer regularly, and nobody complains, then they'll think everything is fine.

Otherwise, Mather's is a great little traditional pub with great beer selection. Its a shame that I'll unlikely go back there.


Monday, June 02, 2008

Expensive Scotch Drinking

Last Friday the student Whisky Society here at Heriot-Watt got together for our 'expensive' drinking night. Well damn, it was good. Below is the four bottles we drank, which totaled almost 300 quid in value! I've added a brief tasting note for each of them, but very short.
Whisky Society May 30  017.jpg
  • Redbreast Irish Whiskey 12 yr 40% v/v- This was a good start to the night as it was a fairly clean, smooth, and easy drinking spirit with strong vanilla notes. Irish Whiskey are (usually) triple distilled to obtain this smoothness. This retailed for about £28.
  • Glenfarclas 21 yr 43% v/v- I very much liked this one. Very complex nose and flavour. A little burn on the mouth. Heavily sherried. Retails for approximately £50.
  • St. Magdelin 32 yr ?% v/v- This distillery has apparently been closed for quite some time, which of course makes the value skyrocket. 32 years is pretty damn old too. Not that 32 years automatically means its good, of course. It was smoother than the Glenfarclas, but with a distinct bite of some kind. I hadn't much to say about it. I liked the Glenfarclas much better personally. This just seemed a little odd to me... don't get me wrong it was a good scotch, but I've had spirits I liked a more that cost a lot less... this retails for approximately £110, apparently.
  • And finally, the big hit of the night... Ardbeg Lord of the Isles 25 yr 46% v/v - Well I have to admit this was a pretty damn good scotch, and it better be for the price. At the distillery it costs £200, but a shop in town here sells it for £170. Still pretty damned expensive for 0.7 l of fluid. Anyway, usually Ardbeg is a very peaty (smoky) scotch. This was peaty, but not too over the top. It was very well balanced between the harsher flavours and the smoother flavours. Brillant!
Lord of the Isles Box
So, obviously a pretty damn good night. Followed by a few pints of fresh cask Deuchar's IPA down at the Riccarton Arms. Click here for photos from the night.

As for brewing school... I have one more exam left. Its today at 14:00... then all I have to do is research my thesis and try to have fun!


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

29th Birthday

I actually had to be reminded this morning that I am 29 years of age today. Not the most exciting birthday... one more year and I'm no longer a twenty-something. In the past couple of years I've already began to notice some key indicators of an aging body & mind:
  • I don't care as much about what other people think anymore. That goes for what people think about me or what people think about in general. Its really a waste of time.
  • I can't drink as much in one sitting as I used to be able to. Or I just have no desire to... hard to say which. Not that getting drunk doesn't happen once and awhile. But more often than not I find after a couple of beers I don't feel like drinking anymore.
  • I've been reading a lot more in the last year. But that may be because I don't have a TV here in residence at school (although the internet is pretty bad for taking up my time). In any case, I think when I move back to Canada I'm going to get rid of the cable TV.
  • I can't stay up as late as I used to be able to. I've tried to pull a couple of all-nighters here at school, but I end up feeling absolutely horrible by about 5 am. Maybe I just need more practice.
  • I can't stand hangovers anymore. I used to be able to go out the night before work, get in at 3 am or something, get up and be at work at 8 am(ish). And I'd feel ok. Now the times I do get drunk it just kills my next day. Maybe thats another reason why I don't get drunk much anymore. Although "much" is a relative term.
  • I feel like cooking good food. Although that could be my girlfriend rubbing off on me.
  • I might be lazier than I used to be... not sure about this one. The brewing program here doesn't push me very hard, so I don't feel like I'm working hard. Maybe I still have hard work ability in me, but I just need a good reason to do it.
Anyway, thats my birthday thoughts for now. Unfortunately I have an exam at 9:30 tomorrow morning, so any celebration will be delayed until after that event. Speaking of which... I should probably be studying for that.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

SAVOR Craft Beer & Food Experience Coverage

I'd just like to point everybody to Craft Beer Radio's coverage of the Savor Craft Beer & Food Experience in Washington DC last week. I've listened to a few of the sessions, and they are very informative on the nuances of tasting good beer with good food. I highly recommend listening to the sessions given by some of the most knowledgeable people in the industry. If you haven't yet been converted to the fact that beer is better with food than wine yet, listening to these sessions will help.

I've vowed to start cooking with beer as well as pairing beer with food... I'm working on something right now, I'll post the results later tonight ;)


Monday, May 19, 2008

The Cyclic Nature of Beer CO2

I was asked the other day why more breweries don't recover their CO2 from fermentation. After all, quite a bit of CO2 is produced in the process, and a lot of that gets vented to the atmosphere. So I thought I'd address this briefly.

First of all, CO2 recovery is not easy. You don't just attach a hose to the top of a fermenter and send it to a tank. You need compressors, scrubbers, distillation columns, and more compressors. It takes quite a bit of energy to recover and purify CO2 from brewing sources. So when you balance the CO2 'saved' from being emitted to the atmosphere you need to subtract the CO2 generated from power plant to make the energy to recover the CO2. That being said, it seems that this process usually works out positively for larger breweries who can afford the huge capital cost of a recovery system.

The main point I'd like to make though is this: beer production has a natural CO2 recovery system. Beer is made from malted barley. The sugars that the yeast break down into CO2 come from the barley grains. The barley grains produce their sugar with -- yep, CO2 from the atmosphere. There is a cycle there.

In theory, the barley needs to take in more CO2 than we are releasing to the atmosphere during fermentation, as not all the sugars are fermented completely. But perhaps thats an oversimplification. For 'carbon neutrality', we'd also need to consider the CO2 from transport, malting, energy needed for brewing, more transport, etc etc etc. So I'm in no way arguing that beer is carbon neurtal, but that there has been a natural recovery system already in place for many hundreds of years.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Fine Scottish Walk

I've been meaning to do more walking around the rural area near where I live on campus just South of Edinburgh. So I went for a decent 3 hour walk today, towards the Pentland hills. I brought along my iPod and caught up on podcasts from Quirks & Quarks, the science show from CBC back home.
hike - May 18  005 Currie Fields Perfect Sunday Lunch
So those are a few photos from the relatively short hike. I ate some food by a reservoir, it was rather peaceful, although it started to get pretty chilly. Sometime this week I think I'll try to hike right into the pentland hills, which could be an 6-8 hour round trip depending on how many photos I take...

(click on photos for a larger image)


Friday, May 16, 2008

Brew Dog vs the Nanny State

According to this article in todays Scotsman, Brew Dog Craft Brewery faces a threat of a boycott action by advertising watchdog the Portman group. I'm not going to re-write the article here, you can read the article yourself as its not very long. I just have three points I want to make about this issue:

1. I think that some people live in fear that other people will make bad decisions. Its a control issue for them. Its a beer label. Certainly, no label on any product should boast something that isn't true (eg, if you buy our beer women will want have sex with you). The debate gets into implied product effects in marketing, though. Luckily the nanny state is there to protect the most weak-minded of us, who would be convinced by aggressive marketing tactics. Personally, I find it an insult to my intelligence that the Portman group thinks Brew Dog's marketing slogans are too aggressive for my obviously weak mind.

2. Brew Dog makes some DAMN good beers... I'm a professional in the industry, and I've tasted a hell of a lot of 'average' beers. These guys aren't selling beer because of their marketing, they're selling it because they have an artistic talent that makes their beer far better than most beers. Big breweries rely heavily on their marketing, as associating their brand with different footy clubs seems to be the only way to tell the difference between the brands in the 'uninteresting yellow fizz' market.

3. That being said, the big guys and the little guys still ought to play by the same rules for marketing. Of course, the Portman group has only suggested that Brew Dogs marketing might violate their rules. And all they can do is initiate a boycott, apparently. But I think people would still buy the beer.

I say Brew Dog keeps marketing the same way they've always done, keep doing a damn fine job making their beers, and I'll keep drinking them (when I can find them, that is). If they get more pressure from this Portman group, thats some pretty good publicity and scores high with the 'stickin it to the man' type people.

Anyway, you ought to read Brew Dog's response on their website, its pretty funny and unprofessional. Its a nice change from the PR crap we're used to. These guys know how to sell beer to me... I'll seek out a pint tomorrow.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Low bit rave

Ok I know I'm way behind in posts... I have a beer festival to review, and some metaphysics to comment on, but I just have to take this brief moment to post an album my friend Mike Verdone made called "Low Bit Rave" that is pretty cool. Just listening to the first few tracks myself... its my kind of music!

I demand you enjoy it.

Or at least download it.


Saturday, May 03, 2008

The next step

I've done a lot of reading of beer and beer related books over the last several years. One thing I've never really touched on, however, was beer and food. I know that there are some great beer-food pairings, and some great recipes, but I've never really read too much about the subject.

So I figure its time to rectify that. I just received "The Brewmaster's Table" by Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver, as well as "He said beer, she said wine" by Sam Calagione (of Dogfish head fame) and Marnie Old. Obviously I haven't read them yet, but I can say what I expect. The former is a lot thicker than I expected and its very in-depth on the beer styles, pairings, and history. The second is an interesting presentation of the debate between beer and wine for food pairings, with Sam defending beer and Marnie defending wine. So from that I ought to learn a little more about wine pairings, as well as some good talking points for debating wine snobs on the merits of beer with food.

In fact, I think I'll read some of these right now.


Who is the next big beer writer?

Michael Jackson is unfortunately dead. Roger Protz is getting on in years. Who is the next beer writer for the people?

My vote goes towards Robert Millichamp. Rob is a classmate of mine in my brewing program here at Heriot-Watt university, and he knows his beer reviewing. He is religious about taking notes on every single beer he tries. EVERY beer. I like to think that I rate beer, but he takes it to the next level.

Rob has his own blog of late, too, where you can read some of his comments on beer and brewing. I like to read what he has to say, I think he has an articulate nature that many people lack.

Rob published a post on the types of beer drinkers in the UK, read it here, its quite interesting in my humble opinion. Read his other posts from that link.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Where have I been?

Perhaps you have noticed that I haven't updated this blog in a few weeks. Well there is a good explanation for that. I was away traveling for two weeks with my girlfriend in continental Europe. Then when I returned I had class and two papers due, whilst my girlfriend and parents were in town too. As such, I have had very little expendable time.

On a beer note we visited the Tennent's canning line in Glasgow yesterday. I brought my camera on the bus but then wussed out at the last second on bringing it in. Why? I have no idea, I just did. But the canning line is pretty cool. 2000 cans per minute, I can't believe how fast the machine can run. Unfortunately there were having all kinds of technical problems that day and the machines kept crashing. But it was cool to see anyway. Last week we saw a glass bottle factory (also pretty cool). Next week we head to Belhaven brewery. OH, and one day we get to go to a BOX FACTORY!!

I'll have more time for updating and such in a week or so, perhaps I'll even write something about beer for once...


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Quick to sell out?

In a very recent post of mine, I bled my heart out about how I want to continue work in a small craft brewery after finishing my MSc in brewing, and that working at a large brewery would not suit me very well.

I just sent off a resume to a huge brewery (Labatt) and a regional brewery (Big Rock). So was that too quick to sell out? Ha. I did some thinking though that led to these actions...

First, when I get back I'm attempting to stay in Edmonton, Alberta to be with my girlfriend. I can't exactaly be picky with the job I want right out of brewing school now can I? Maybe after 5 years of experience I can be pickey.

Second, I need a job when I get back, as I'll have no money. If I can't get a brewing job then I'll have to suck it up and find something else. I ought to be starting somewhere Oct 1, as I won't be able to afford to wait around for the "perfect job" for too long.

Labatt's Edmonton brewery is the very definition of huge industrial brewery. If I did get a job there, however, I'm sure I would gain a lot of valuable knowledge on how big breweries work of course. I can always do homebrewing on my own time to satisfy my creative needs.

Big Rock's Calgary brewery is actually a good size. Its not too big, not too small. I think I would learn a great deal working at a place like this, and I do like Big Rock beers. Only problem is that its in Calgary... and my girlfriend will be in Edmonton. Its only a 3 hr drive to Edmonton... but still, I'd like to live with her.

Anyway, my priority goes 1) craft beer job in Edmonton, 2) industrial beer job in Edmonton, 3) craft/regional brew job in Calgary, 4) non-brewing job in Edmonton, 5) unemployed alcoholic bum.

Unless I can get some sort of craft brewery consultation thing going on where I can travel around out of Edmonton, that is.

Ok, well thats what going on with me these days. I'm also writing a big literature review. Fun.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Importance of a Full Wort Boil

Wort boiling is a critical control point in brewing. In the past before taking this brewing course I wasn't fully aware of how important it really is. So much so, that I'll write an entire blog post about it. I’m concentrating on evaporation and protein removal for the most part, as I think these are the least understood part of the process.

First, what is a full boil? It seems to be accepted that a boil of at least 60 minutes is required for the following actions to sufficiently occur. I know some brewers only do 45 minute boils and I would recommend against this, as it can affect flavour in the final beer as I will describe in detail. As well, the wort must actually be fully boiling a "rolling boil" with two-phase nucleate boiling where steam bubbles pass through the wort.
A summary of the achievements of wort boiling:

Requirement: Dependant Conditions
Wort sterilization: Time & Temperature
Isomerisation of hops: Time & Temperature
Protein denaturation & enzyme inactivation: Time & Temperature
Protein coagulation: Turbulence, boil vigour & time
Formation of colour & flavour components: Time & Temperature
Removal of unwanted volatiles: Time, Temperature & Evaporation
Formation of reducing agents: Time & Temperature
Wort concentration by evaporation: Time, Temperature & Evaporation
Adapted from reference J. Andrews, Brewer Distiller Int. 2008 (ref 2)

A lot of brewers measure the amount of boil by the amount of evaporation that has occurred. This is a fairly easy metric, as one just needs to measure the volume of the kettle before and after the boil. However, evaporating water into steam is very energetically expensive. We cannot, however, drive off unwanted volatile components without a certain amount of evaporation. What we want to evaporate is volatile off-flavour components such as DMS and aldehydes.

Dimethyl sulphide (DMS), an off flavour component that forms during the boil from S-methylmethionine (SMM), is quite volatile at wort boiling temperatures. Given enough time, say 60 minutes of boiling, DMS should be formed and driven off enough to bring it below the detectable flavour threshold. During boiling we're basically distilling the DMS out, as it is more volatile than water. However, you must evaporate some water in order to do this. The amount of water needed to evaporate is dependent on the concentration of DMS that you need to get rid of. The more DMS in the wort, the more water you need to evaporate. There is a minimum amount of water that you need to get rid of certain concentration of DMS, regardless of what type of wort boiling system you are using [ref 1].

In the “perfect boiling system”, the boil would run at the optimal liquid-vapour equilibrium to have as little water evaporated possible for the maximal volatile removal. This would save energy. Boiling systems do not run at this optimal point, of course… but imagine the energy savings over a year if you could reduce your evaporation by a few percentage points? It would be very significant [see ref 2 for a good read on this].

Luckily, most malts stored properly and mashed with proper procedures don't create too much DMS to require extra boil lengths. The potential for DMS formation occurs in the malting process, and is generally higher for lager malts. Breweries these days are operating on evaporation rates of 4-8%, which should be enough to drive off 'normal' amounts of DMS. If you have problems with DMS in the brewery, you might need a slightly longer boil (careful, though - microbial infection can lead to DMS problems downstream too).

Wort concentration – what of this then? It would seem that if it were possible to boil wort with less evaporation, you could save a lot of money. You could re-calculate your mash recipe to have less-dilute wort being passed to the kettle. But don’t mistake what I’m saying here as an excuse to turn down your steam jacket and let the wort simmer. To get extremely low evaporation rates with good volatile removal plus hot break formation, you need a more expensive boiling system or even a wort stripping system. For your little kettle, you need as vigorous a boil as possible, and I’ll tell you why…

Hot-break Formation
One of the most important reactions that occurs in the wort boil is the formation of "hot break". Hot break is the coagulation of proteins, formation of protein-polyphenol complexes, and reaction with hop compounds to create larger particles that will sediment out in the whirlpool at the end of the boil. These reactions occur at higher rates at higher temperatures and more agitation. This is why your wort boil must be full and rolling... the more vigorous and turbulent the boil, the more of these compounds form over time. This process maximizes around two hours.

Protein/nitrogenous compounds are required for fermentation, but there must be a balance. Too few and the fermentation will become stuck, too many and several changes in flavour will be noted. In particular, in the presence of excessive protein content can lead to higher levels of esters and higher (fusel) alcohols. This occurs when the yeast metabolizes the excess amino acids to form higher alcohols (eg propanol, butanol), which then can be further converted to various esters (eg ethyl acetate, isoamyl acetate). Higher alcohols give the beer a slight warming feeling (and seem to give me a bit of a headache), and esters are known for their fruity/floral contributions to beer. This can be good if this is what you want in the beer style you are making, but if your Czech pilsner tastes like a fruity English ale you might want to check your boil vigour.

As well, removal of protein-polyphenol complexes is important for colloidal stability over time (known as chill haze). Improperly stabilized beer can find reduced shelf-life as it can go cloudy when stored cold due to these complexes. Most of this should happen while the beer is in cold conditioning. While some will form in hot-break, the key here is that we are removing lots of protein from the equation. Less protein means less possibility to complex with polyphenols in the chilled beer.

Stability, Colour, Flavour
In a full boil, any microbe interested in living in beer will be killed. Several organisms can actually survive the mashing process, so the wort must be sterilized before fermentation.

Usually when mashing the temperature is raised at the end of the mash to 75-78 C in order to make the wort less viscous and stop the amylase enzymes from working. However, some enzymes are not fully denatured until the boil. As well, the many chemical reactions that occur during the boil will lower the pH. Maillard reaction products form between the wort sugars and amino acids when heated in the boil. These reactions contribute to flavours as well as darken the wort slightly.

Hop Isomerisation
A lot of attention is given to the isomerisation of hop alpha-acids in wort, and you can find much better information than my little blurb here.

Alpha-acid oils in hops need to be heated to isomerise, which causes them to be soluble in wort and creates the bitter flavour we love in beer. In a ‘typical’ boil, one cannot expect to get much more than 35% by weight iso-alpha-acid extraction from even pellet hops over 90 minutes. Often, this can be less depending on wort concentration, pH, and wort boiling temperature (ambient air pressure can change wort boiling temp quite significantly, eg due to altitude).

You will note that this is a time/temperature reaction… there seems to me to be a prevailing idea in the homebrewing community that as soon as you stop the boil the hop isomerisation stops. Not so… these will continue as long as the wort is hot, however at a lower reaction rate depending on the resting temp.

Hops also contain a great deal of volatile flavour and aroma compounds. The longer the hops are boiled for, of course, the more of these components are boiled off. Thus, adding the hops at the end of the boil will result in more of these volatiles being present. Remember, of course, that just because the wort may not be currently boiling does not mean volatiles are not being driven off. If the wort is hot, the volatiles will still be vaporizing slowly.

---References & Further Reading---
[1] Sommer, K. & Hertel, M. Engineering fundamentals of the wort boiling process. 31st Congress of the EBC, Venice.

[2] Andrews, J. Evaporating the Myths. Brewer & Distiller International (vol 4, #3, March 2008)

Bamforth, C.W. Wort composition and beer quality. In: Brewing Yeast Fermentation Performance. Ed: K. Smart. Blackwell Science, 2003.

Barnes, Z.C. Brewing Process Control, In: Handbook of Brewing, 2nd Ed. Eds: FG Priest & GG Stewart. Taylor & Francis, 2006.

O’Rourke, T. The funcation of wort boiling. The Brewer International, Feb 2002.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Scotch fermented over peat, eh...

One of the things that a geek of any discipline loves to sometimes do is get annoyed when they read something that is completely wrong, and then complain about the ignorance to fact on their low-readership blog to make themselves feel smart (or to waste time when they should be doing real work)...
All of that is true of this post I am writing. The geek topic? Distilling. The thing I read that caused me to divert my productivity? An articles that appeared in The Capital Times of Madison, Wisconsin entitled Heres what sets Irish Whiskeys apart.

In particular, this statement by local pub manager and whiskey expert David Drake, quoted from the article:
"Scotch whiskys are fermented over peat fires in open-top casks, which enables the peat smoke to permeate the liquid," says Drake. "Irish whiskeys, most of which are blends, are always distilled in closed containers. This keeps out the flavor of smoke, and a triple-distillation process adds greater smoothness and refinement to Irish whiskeys."
Its unclear weather maybe he was misquoted or if hes just misinformed, but the statement just doesn't make any sense. Lets review the distilling process to see why that is:

1) Malted barley is produced from barley (obviously). Traditionally, in Scotland anyway, the malted barley is dried by heating the air with fires of burning peat moss. The malt retains the highly flavour-active compounds from the burning peat, which will eventually carry through to the final spirit after distillation. In modern production, small amounts of malt are peated in this way, but a lot of malt is dried with gas furnaces.

2) The malted barley is ground up and mixed with hot water in whats called a mash. Just like in brewing, the purpose of the mash is to use the natural enzymatic power of the malt to break down starch to fermentable sugar for yeast to convert to alcohol.

3) Wort produced from the mash is cooled and yeast added, and the fermentation begins. Yeast convert the sugar to alcohol. This is done in large vats (and there are no fired burning under them).

4) After the fermentation, the 'wash' (as it is now called after fermentation) is distilled in pot or column stills depending on what type of product is being produced (malt Scotch is done in double pot stills).

Ok, now back to the problem with the statement. The first problem is that he claims during scotch fermentation peat fires burning under casks add the peaty flavours. That's just not true, you don't burn a fire under a fermentation, that's ridiculous. So, that means that perhaps the author wrote fermentation when he should have written distillation. So the claim in that case would then be that Scotch whisky is distilled using burning peat fires for heat. Unfortunately most distilleries use steam jackets/coils to heat their stills. So no smoke during distillation. Even if the heat was supplied by peat fires to the stills, there would be no permeation into the liquid, as all stills are in fact closed.

So perhaps I'm being a little picky, and I'm unsure if the expert is wrong or if the article author just wrote it wrong... but in any case the only thing I really want to point out is where the peat character comes from in peaty Scotches:
It comes from the malt production, which happens before fermentation, before distillation, and before aging in oak. Not in distillation, not in fermentation, and not in aging.

There were some other false statements in the article, but nothing I'm going to bother writing about... I should probably get back to work...


Monday, March 17, 2008

Why I want to work in the craft beer industry

Theres always a little debate going on with me and my fellow classmates here in the MSc program here sometimes. On one side, I hear a lot of advice telling me that I should try to get a job with a large brewery like Labatt back home. On the other side, I hear a lot of advice telling me I should stick to my desires to work for a small craft brewery or in the small craft industry in some way. I think I have this worked out myself, and here are my thoughts:

Working for a large brewery has some certain advantages. Mostly financial, as they would be able to afford to pay me a pretty good salary plus benefits. Second, they usually have pretty good training programs so I would learn a lot. Third, theres usually a bit of security and upward mobility possible. But this all comes at a cost... I wouldn't be able to take pride in the product I produce. Not just because I don't generally enjoy macro-style lagers, but also because I'd be playing such a small part in the overall production. In addition, I've worked for larger companies in the past and I was never really all that happy with how I felt working at such places -- not because they treated people badly at all, just because there was this impending air of everything being somebody else's job.

vs David
Working for the small craft brewery works for me, then, almost just because they are not big. If there is a problem I can talk directly to the boss. My boss wouldn't have a boss with a boss with another boss who reports to the CEO. I don't want to be a small cog in a big system. I want to take pride in the product I literally make myself. I don't just want to "do my job" then go home, collect my pay cheque, and wait for somebody else to make all the big decisions. I want to have the opportunity to makes things better. I want to be brewing one day, filtering the next, and helping sales another day. I don't want to look at a computer screen all day analysing extract efficiency.

Some pegs just don't fit...
I think it takes a certain personality to work for a small company in general. You have to be somebody who can work as a very flexible part of a team. Somebody who really believes in the product being produced. Somebody who believes that getting a decent pay cheque isn't enough to be satisfied with your job. Somebody who wants to feel special by being part of something unique. Somebody who likes the excitement of the risk involved. That kind of thing isn't for everybody, and that's fine. But I think its for me.

So, where am I going to work?
I've started browsing around for possible jobs. My only real problem is that I want to stay in Edmonton, Alberta to be with my girlfriend (plus I still own a condo there). That does tend to limit my possibilities quite a bit, but there are three craft breweries (one I used to work at), one defunct craft brewery with equipment getting dusty, and a brew pub. I'm not back until almost 6 months from now, which is a long time for a small brewery to wait for me. Hopefully somebody needs me around October though!

And if I don't get a job?
I've been considering other possible career options too... If I can sell myself as a brewery consultant to small breweries that would be great, as I could live in Edmonton but travel around to clients. There are lots of very small craft breweries and start ups that don't have the proper technical knowledge to efficiently produce and distribute beer (or even create decent tasting beer in some cases). There is a big difference from making beer on your stove at home and making it for profit even in a small brewery. While I only have a year and a half experience working at a craft brewery, my MSc in Brewing should go quite a long way in convincing people that I know what I'm talking about. This is an industry, however, that puts a lot of weight in solid experience it seems (and for good reason, honestly). So I'm a little cautious as I wouldn't want to over sell myself.

Opening a brewery?
So, if anybody just happens to be opening a brewery and needs an experienced, educated, technical brewer to help start it up, give me an email ;)
Hell, I might even be able to drum up some investment capital...


Comments on "Guinness Holiday"

For the past few years now it seems Guinness has been trying to make St. Patty's Day a national holiday in the USA (and I remember it in Canada too). I've never really agreed with this idea. The main reason? Its just a well-crafted marketing campaign. They get to look like the heroes fighting for your right to party... and people buy more Guinness. Really, its in their best interest that the holiday doesn't pass, as then they can do the same campaign next year.

What if St. Patty's day was a US or Canadian holiday? Maybe it could be "Sponsored by Guinness", the first corporate sponsored holiday. There are costs to holidays, too... we have to pay government employees extra for coming into work, businesses may have to pay time +1/2 to their staff, plus all the time/money wasted debating the subject in the various governments.

The other thing to consider is what St. Patty's day has become in North America... it seems to me that its just a big drink-as-much-as-possible festival. Now I obviously like drinking my beer, but I don't agree with ridiculous over-consumption. A holiday on St. Patty's day, lets face it, would bring the worst out of people.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Fighting the good fight

I've just read a good story from the LA Times about the poor folks in Alabama fighting for change to horribly restrictive liquor laws surrounding beer. Basically, the fearful scripture-interpreting Southern Baptists have been able to keep liquor laws in that state quite restrictive -- no homebrew, no beers above 6% abv. Looks like things are changing slowly, however. Give it a read and be thankful that you live somewhere that allows freedom of choice (unless you live somewhere more restrictive, that is...)


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Official Beer?

It seems, according to this article, that someone wants to make Budweiser the official beer of Missouri.

The reasoning? Well, "We've got a state dinosaur, a state frog, a state reptile, a state flower, a state nut, but no one has given a thought to a company that's been in Missouri for many, many years and is bringing prosperity to our state and manufacturing a product in our state that many people enjoy". The result would be, hopefully, that more people would be inclined to visit the state.

Ok... but why does anything need an "official" anything at all? What does officiality do? Well we see it at the olympics... companies pay dearly for the right to market themselves as the official whatever. But a state? Having an official animal (while I think is silly anyway) is different than having an official multi-billion dollar corporation's product. Does having an official state frog written on paper, voted into law, make people want to go to Missouri? "Honey, where should we go for vacation... hmm... OH look at this, Missouri has a state frog! Lets go see it!" I'd argue that it doesn't. So why should having an official beer do the same?

What about other businesses in the state that have been around for a long time and bring prosperity? Oh, and 77% of Missourians are Christian... perhaps that could be the official religion?

I think the idea is a good example of what 'lawmakers' do to try and make themselves look useful when they don't want to tackle bigger problems. Like when you're supposed to be studying for an exam and you find any menial task to avoid it... perhaps by writing a blog post on something that you wouldn't normally care about...
...on that note, I guess I have to get back to studying.


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Lo.key's new album

Leif has put out a new album. I haven't listened to it yet, but you ought to go here and download it and enjoy it.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Inside Scottish Distilling

This term in "beer school" we're learning all about distilling. And since my university is in Scotland, most of what we learn is about Scotch whisky. I've knows a bit about whisky for some time now, but only what I've been told from other people. Some of it was right, some of it wrong. The amount I've learned in the last few weeks has been quite phenomenal. Most of it was what you'd expect... distilleries, oak casks, maturation, etc. Whisky is a product that has a long history and is surrounded by some romanticism... but certainly its an industry that has also had to grow and adapt to make a profitable business. So the unfortunate part about learning the depths of the distilling industry is you also have some of that romanticism shattered. I would say, however, that a lot in the Scotch industry is still done quite traditionally... more so than other industries.

Anyway, I digress, as the real point of this story is to tell you about some places we're recently visited on class trips. We've visited a couple of distilleries of course. But thats not what I want to talk about. Distilleries are interesting, but they are usually open to the public. I'm going to talk about some locations that few people get to see: a copper smiths where they make the stills, a cooperage where they make the oak barrels, and a huge warehouse where they age the whisky. All three are out near Alloa, NW of Edinburgh on the edge of the highlands.

First, a little background story. All three locations are owned by Diageo, a company that produces many premium alcoholic beverage brands. As far as Scotch goes, they own 28 distilleries in Scotland (about 1/3). Talisker, Carol Ila, Glenkinchie, Lagavulin, and many other single malts are all part of their family. Most Scotch, however, is blended into brands such as J&B and Johnnie Walker (which they also own).

Diageo is quite supportive of the brewing & distilling program here, and have been very kind to give us tours of many of their sites. Diageo is quite well vertically integrated, owning all three places we visited. The first place was a copper smiths where we were quite privileged to see just how copper stills are made.
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Copper smiths: two new stills! (Click any photo for a larger version!)

A still is, basically, a big boil kettle that evaporates alcohol then condenses the alcohol-rich vapour. Most Scottish malt distilleries use two stills... the first to strip the wash (beer at about 7-8% abv) of its alcohol and flavour compounds. This creates the low wines (a liquid of about 25% abv), which is then distilled in the second still to approximately 70% abv. Most stills are made of copper, which reacts with sulphur to remove it from the product. The result of this is that the stills need to be replaced every 10 years or so. The Abercrombie Copper smiths do just this for all of Diageo's distilleries.
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Putting together shell-and-tube condensers that will one day cool new spirit from vapour to liquid.

The construction of a still starts with the welding of copper plates together, followed sometimes by a machine hammering to get the basic shape. The final shape is all pounded in by hand, which is still the best way to do it as it turns out. Needless to say, the shop we visited was quite noisy! At the shop they were producing 14 new stills for a new distillery that will come online next year. Stills are designed to a very specific shape... a small change in design can change the final spirit character. They have to work to exacting specifications. It was very interesting to see where stills are born, it certainly looked like a lot of work.
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Foreground: the bottom of a new still in production.

Oak barrels are another key to the whisky industry. By law, all Scotch has to be produced in Scotland and aged for at least three years in barrels less than 700 L in volume. Oak barrels come second-hand from two sources: the American whisky industry (bourbon), and Europe (wine/sherry/etc). A cooper is a highly skilled tradesman that can build these barrels, which consist of staves (thick wood strips) bent into shape and held together with metal rings. The nature of the wood and the compression between the staves results in a liquid-tight seal (although alcohol and water can evaporate through the cask over time).
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1) Bunched staves as they arrive from overseas. 2) A cooper placing the staves back together to create the appropriate sized barrel.

The oak barrels are broken down into the staves, packed on a shipping skid, and shipped over to Scotland. The coopers here put them back together. In traditional cooperages this is all done by hand, but the location we visited was machine assisted (its still a really hard job though!). Casks are charred with a flame on the inside to release wood flavour compounds (and create a layer of carbon that will absorb undesirable compounds from the whisky).
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1) The cooper tightens the staves with a machine to place the upper hoop on. 2) casks are steamed to expand the wood, and charred for flavouring.
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Inside a charred barrel.

Once the barrels are put back together, newly charred ones are sent off for "sherrying". Now I'll tell you, this is where one of the romantic 'myths' about Scotch that I had heard was refuted right in front of my eyes. The story goes that oak cask with sherry from Spain are shipped to Scotland, where the sherry is removed and bottled for consumption, and the barrels are used for Scotch maturation. Not so. They have a big tank of sherry... they fill the newly charred casks with sherry... they let it age for three months... then they empty the sherry back into the sherry tank (through a filter). They can use the same sherry batch for about 8 or 9 years. Yes, that is what they do.
Unfortunately, they don't allow you to take photos in any area that has ethanol floating around in the air, so you'll have to take my word for it (and lets face it, it makes more sense than shipping these casks all over the place).
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1) A machine to help place the lid in the cask. 2) A machine to push down the metal rings that keeps the wood tight together.

The purpose of adding the sherry to the cask is a little bit different that I had thought, too. The main purpose of the sherry is to remove some character from a newly charred cask. Otherwise, the character of the wood would overpower the distillery character of the whisky over the maturation time. Apparently it doesn't add colour, that comes from the char and the wood.
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Finished casks!

Moving on, the third place we were privileged to see was the Blackgrange warehouse. Blackgrange houses about 3.5 million casks of whisky. In duty owed in taxes alone, its about 10 billion pounds sterling. Needless to say... its HUGE. They have very strict regulations too... you can't bring anything that could possibly contain liquid on site, you can't bring matches or lighters, nor cell phones, nor cameras. They are quite paranoid about any accident.

Anyway, there are three key parts to this operation. First, tanker trucks from carrying new make spirit from the distilleries arrive and their contents are pumped to vats. The new make spirit is diluted to usually 63% for aging to get the ideal flavour reactions with the oak wood. New make is horrid stuff, I wouldn't drink it. This is one reason you age for at least three years! The new make is then pumped into casks, sealed with a bung, and carted off to be placed in a massive warehouse. Every cask is bar coded... they know where every cask in that place is!

After aging, casks are brought out from storage and disgorged (emptied). This is done along a troph... simply take out the bung, stick an air tube in the hole (for faster emptying), and turn it upside down. This isn't a terribly sanitary operation, but nothing going to grow in a strong alcohol solution anyway! The whisky is pumped into a big tank, mixed with air for an hour or so, then pumped into tanker trucks. The trucks head off to the packaging facility, where the whisky is filtered, diluted to sales strength (usually 40-45% abv) and bottled!

I think I've rambled on about this enough for now; its hard to convey the enlightenment I've gained in the last few weeks into a small amount of space. If you want to see more photos you can check out my flickr set at


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Why do all new records sound the same?

I've been learning a lot about audio engineering this week, and was fascinated to discover that something I thought about modern music was essentially true: that a lot of it does, indeed, all sound the same.
This article can explain it a lot better than I can, and you should read it.

What it all comes down to is the 'loudness war', which is another interesting topic that you should read about. Basically, pretty much everything you're going to hear on the radio and on most popular CDs is as LOUD as possible. This leads to a reduced dynamic range (which is the difference between the loudest and quietest parts of a song) as well as distortion in the sound.

Anyway, read the links for yourself, as they are far more informative that I could ever be. And stop listening to the shitty loud commercial radio stations in your local city. But thats a different topic...

Coming soon: We've just visited a cooperage (place where they make oak barrels for the scotch whisky industry), a coppersmiths (where they make the stills) and the Blackgrange fucking huge whisky warehouse (where Diageo stores all the scotch for aging)... so expect a write up on all of that soon.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I music too

So in addition to going to beer school, when I'm not studying (which is often, sadly) I sometimes make some mixes in Ableton Live.... here is one such mix. Its not really for 'dancing' or whatever, its really just stuff that I thought sounded good mixed together. Sofar the response has been quite positive. Here is the link to the mp3 (1 hr long):
Click here for the mix

And, if you're interested, here is the tracklist.

I also have another mix from a long time ago that is entirely made of Amon Tobin samples... click here for it.

Anyway, thats all for now.