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.