The Home Brewers Guide to Vintage Beer

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I recently received this book, The Home Brewers Guide to Vintage Beer the mail, and I am tremendously excited about it for many reasons.

If you’ve read my book on IPA, you know that beer historian Ron Pattinson helped me a lot with it, he contributed numerous data tables on English and Scottish IPA brewing analysis and specifications, and fact-checked my manuscript before publication. His website Shut Up About Barclay Perkins is one of my favorite internet sites about beer. I visit it at least twice per week, because I always learn something new about brewing, not only about historical English techniques, but Scottish, German and American facts as well. He has done amazing work in researching old brewing logs and figuring out how the brewers made their beers, what the ingredients were like, what the style names meant, and along the way, debunking many brewing myths and clarifying the brewing procedures used through written brewing history. It really is an incredible place to learn about brewing history.

By my count he includes over 110 historical beer recipes in this book, covering the following styles: Porter, Stout, IPA, Pale Ale/Bitter, Light Bitter/Light Ale, Mild Ale, Stock/Burton Ale, Scottish Ales, Brown Ale, Broyhan, Grodziskie and some other European styles. In each chapter, he gives a synopsis of how and when the style originated and how it evolved over time. Each recipe is laid out in an easy to follow style, sized for a 5 gallon brew, but easily scalable to your own brewing system. And there are historical notes provided for each recipe as well.

Pattinson IPA Recipes

Here are 4 of the Historical IPA Recipes in Ron’s book.

Pattinson Mild Recipes

Here a couple of Mild recipes

I was never much into history until I started writing the IPA book, and then I got sucked in completely into the history of brewing, and the thrill of discovering extinct beer styles. Ron Pattinson’s website provided a lot of information that I was able to use in the book, and it was very gratifying that Ron was so willing to help.

Ron has worked with many brewers to brew historical recipes including my friends Dann and Martha Paquette at Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project (check out  Pretty Things Historical Beers to see some of the historical beers they have brewed), and John Keeling and Derek Prentice at Fuller’s, who brewed an historical Double Stout and XX Strong Ale with Ron’s help as part of their Fuller’s Past Master’s Series.

I’ve never actually met Ron Pattinson, all our correspondence has been via email. But I am excited that he will be in the San Diego area this spring, and we hope to brew a batch of beer with him while he’s here. He will be selling his book on the trip, so I hope you all come out to any of the events that scheduled (we’re hoping Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens Liberty Station in mid-May). More to come on this as events get planned.

 

The Ecliptic/Stone Collaboration-White Asteroid!

In my last post I talked about how a buddy and I went backpacking after representing San Andreas Brewing Co. at the Oregon Brewers Festival several years in a row in the late 80s and early 1990s. After one of those backpacking trips, we found ourselves driving through Bend OR, and stopped by the Deschutes Brewpub. That’s where I first met John Harris, who has since went on to do some great brewing for Full Sail, and just recently opened his long-awaited brewery, Ecliptic. John and I have been friends ever since we first met, and have had many beers together over the years at industry conferences and festivals.

So for the first time, we got to brew a batch of beer together. John came up with the idea of doing an Imperial Wit, and of course, without hesitation, I agreed (I usually don’t object to any collaborative beer ideas unless it’s physically impossible to do, or its a style I don’t like-which eliminates about 0 beers). Having never brewed this style before, I was really looking forward to it. We talked a bunch about the recipe, and I suggested using New Zealand Motueka Hops, and we agreed on abv and IBU targets, as well as the use of orange peel and coriander (big surprise) as additional spices.

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The recipe!

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I thought the decision to use chamomile in an Imperial Wit was inspired. Nice job John!

This was the first time John had brewed with wheat at his new brewery, and of course, the lauter stuck. I’m getting a reputation: clogging wort chillers in the UK, and clogging lauters in the US. After much raking with a boat oar, the runoff finished and the rest of the brew progressed without any issues.

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Stone Lead Brewer Jeremy helping out dumping malt into the mill.

 

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Mash in

 

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Crafty use of a discarded Anheuser-Busch keg as a grant, to regulate flow from the lauter

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Unique way to wheel a pump around the brewery. Nice having a pump cart with a workspace on it.

All in all, it was a pretty mellow brew day, and we had lots of brewer visitors throughout the day, including a team from Brewers Supply Group, Matt Brynyldson from Firestone Walker, Otto Ottolini from Schlafly, Greg Hall from  Virtue Cider in Michigan and John Mallett from Bell’s.

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Every brewery should have a workout center

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Jim Boyd from Roy Farms tasting the wort

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Hanging out with John always involves some good music. We had tunes going all day, this band Broken Teeth were a bit like old school AC/DC. John has turned me on to some good music over the years.

I’ve never been much of a cider drinker, but Greg Hall brought some of his Virtue Cider in and it totally changed my perspective on what cider can be. These weren’t simply fermented apple juices, there was an amazing amount of detail that went into each cider he shared with us, including the apple varieties, how long after harvest they are pressed, the yeast (he had some with Belgian Yeast, American yeast, and Brettanomyces), barrel selection. Each of the 4 ciders was completely different than the others, some were quite funky and others clean and tart. I was really impressed.

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Greg Hall’s Cider Selection. Amazing.

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John Mallett and John Harris troubleshooting over a beer.

So the beer itself-John suggested the name White Asteroid, and despite several other ideas brought forth, it stuck. It ties in nicely with John’s theme-Astronomy, and our name (Stone). All these years I have known John and never knew how into astronomy he is. It’s pretty cool, all his beers at Ecliptic have astronomically themed names. So White Asteroid-totally appropriate.

The Ecliptic Brewery is a fun place to visit. John’s beers are fantastic, and the astronomy theme can be seen throughout the restaurant. And the food is great!

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John’ s amazing beer list. I really enjoyed the NGC 881 Pale Ale, brewed w/ ADHA 881 experimental hops.

John sent us a keg of the beer so we could try it, it’s been pouring in our QA lab for a few days now and it is delicious. Spicy and fruity, the coriander and orange peel are stellar, the bitterness is firm, the beer is nice and dry and the chamomile subtleties are wonderful. I love how the beer turned out, and am pleased to have had the chance to finally brew with John. I hope we get to do it again soon.

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Behold! White Asteroid!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bay Area Trip Part 2

In the last post, I talked about how much fun we had brewing At Heretic in early January. In addition to brewing at Heretic Brewing Co I also got to visit two exciting new breweries while in the Bay Area.

Rodger Davis is a Bay Area brewing icon, having been the brewmaster at both Triple Rock and Drake’s, and he recently opened his new brewery, Faction Brewing with his wife Claudia. Located in an old military  hangar in Alameda, they have tons of space with an incredible view of the San Francisco skyline. They have plans to put a deck outside to capitalize on the view, and their tasting room, while still being constructed, is already a great place to enjoy their really nice beer selection. I’m a big fan of Rodger’s beers, so I hope they make their way to SoCal at some point. If not, I’ll just have to visit every time I’m in the area!

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I love this logo

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Isn’t this view amazing? It will be unobstructed forever, because of an endangered bird species that makes its home in the area.

 

Stone NorCal Brewery Rep Dave Hopwood, Mike McDole and I also went to a new brewery, The Rare Barrel in Berkeley. Jay and Alex do exclusively Brettanomyces with Lactic Acid Bacteria or Pediococcus soured beers. Excellent beers, and I really like their approach. I sometimes have trouble drinking sour beers, though I do enjoy tasting them, but the beers at The Rare Barrel had such a pleasant, mellow tartness that I could drink them all day. Their facility consists of barrels and primary fermentation (from Brettanomyces…they’ve never used standard brewers yeast). They don’t have a brewhouse, they brew at other local breweries, and ship the wort back to their facility for fermentation and aging.

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Amazing beer list. My favorites were Egregious, a dry hopped sour golden, and Sirius Black, their blackberry sour. But they were all fantastic.

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I also want to make mention of some great beer locations that we visited while in the area:

The Diablo Valley needs more craft beer spots, but it’s getting there. Creek Monkey Tap House is a great spot, in an old house alongside a creek in downtown Martinez. We’ve done several Stone events there in the past couple of years, and they always have Jamil’s Heretic beers on tap.

Another Diablo Valley favorite is ØL BEERCAFE & BOTTLE SHOP, in downtown Walnut Creek. Great bottle shop and bar, they focus primarily on Belgian beers. I had a Gueuze Tilquin there, from Belgium’s newest gueuze maker, and it was quite nice.

I didn’t get to EJ Phair Concord this time around, but it’s one of may favorite spots in central Concord, right across the street from Todos Santos Plaza, where the Brewing Network will be holding their annual Winter Brews Festival on January 25th. I was also excited to learn that The Brewing Network will be moving their studio to a location right by EJ Phair in Concord, and they will have a tap house there as well. Exciting times!

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Had some great barbecue and Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale at Slow Hand BBQ in Pleasant Hill.

Surprisingly, this was the first time I had a chance to visit Jupiter Beer in Berkeley, and we enjoyed some Pizza and some house brewed beers.

The Bay Area is “home” for me, and I always love visiting. Hope to get back there soon!

 

 

 

 

Evil Cubed-Bay Area Trip part 1

 

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The San Francisco Bay Area (the Diablo Valley/East Bay specifically) is home for us. Both my wife and I grew up there, still have family and friends there, and it holds a special place in our hearts. I love having the opportunity to visit, I don’t get to enough, but I did get to go last week for a few days, and had a great time visiting breweries and some new craft beer bars.

Had a great experience brewing with 2 of my favorite people in the craft beer world, Jamil Zainasheff of Heretic Brewing Company, and Mike “Tasty” McDole, Homebrewer/Collaborator extraordinaire and Brewing Network legend. This whole idea came together a year ago, when I was able to attend the Brewing Network’s Winter Brew Festival in Todos Santos Plaza in central Concord (I went specifically to taste a Session IPA I brewed with Alex Nowell at Drake’s over the holidays). We were having a beer together when Mike suggested we brew a beer together once Jamil’s brewery opened up. After some schedule wrangling, we finally made it happen, and we spent a great day at Heretic in Fairfield brewing a Triple IPA.

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At the event that started this idea, back in January 2013-The Brewing Network’s Winter Brews Festival. Heretic Brewing has pictures like this all across their bar top, which is really great.

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That photo above inspired this amazing logo for the beer!

I love brewing at other breweries as a collaborator. Often it’s the only occasion I have to really brew anymore. As I described in a previous post, my job currently involves running and managing the brewery (as opposed to brewing). Though I have to say that this day, Chris, Jamil’s head brewer, and brewer Warren did the bulk of the work, and we just tried to not get in their way. It was a super fun day, Jamil and Liz Zainasheff were wonderful hosts, and we ate and drank very well while there. If you haven’t tried Heretic’s beers, you need to. Evil Twin and Evil Cousin are amazingly hoppy and delicious. And, we seriously hope to have Jamil visit us at Stone for a collaboration brew sometime soon.

I just saw a “Movie Poster” for this beer, a Triple IPA late and dry-hopped with Amarillo and Australian Summer hops. Tropical fruit goodness, I do hope I get to taste some. I know it will be poured all over the Bay Area during San Francisco Beer Week, but I don’t think I’ll make it to the Bay Area this time. In the Bay Area, it should be available at the 2014 Winter Brews Festival in Concord, and at The Bistro in Hayward for their 14th Annual Double IPA Festival on February 8. But I also know that Jamil is trying to get some to Southern California.

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The “Movie Poster”. Note the music credit

Here are some photos from brew day:

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The Brew Log. Hoping to dispel the rumor that I don’t like crystal malt.

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Getting ready to mash in. Milling is done on a high level, accessible by the scissor lift on the left.

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Trying to stay out of Heretic Head Brewer Chris’ way. Found out about halfway through brew day that he doesn’t like people on his brew deck. If true, he dealt with all of us incredibly well!

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It was a nice surprise having Chris from Dunbar Brewing in Santa Margarita spend the day with us. Several of Team Stone brewed a collaboration with him at his brewery last year.

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And on another note:

Stone Double IPA

Thanks to my friend, London Brew Wharf’s Angelo Scarnera for the picture. He liked the beer.

The 8.5% abv Double IPA (see how I did that?) I brewed with Fergus at Adnams in December has apparently been released and is now pouring at the braver JD Wetherspoon locations in the UK. If anyone tries this beer, please let me know how it tastes!

UK Revisited

Less than a week after I returned from Asheville, I packed the family up and we flew to London for the holidays. I got to brew another beer with Fergus Fitzgerald at Adnams in Southwold, this time an 8.5% Double IPA (California Style!) that will be dry-hopped with Centennial, Citra and Mosaic. This beer should be available in Wetherspoons pubs in mid-January.

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It’s become a tradition-my first beer after arriving in the UK is always a Fuller’s!

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I love seeing historical brewing sites-this was in London.

I am very curious to see how people react to our beer, since the alcohol  is much higher than what beer drinkers in Britain generally find acceptable. It’s an interesting point of difference between the US and UK beer drinking cultures. When having beer discussions with folks in the UK, the alcohol content is one of the first things always mentioned when describing a beer.  Whereas, in the US, some of the first things we mention are the IBUs and/or hop varieties. It’s part of the culture in the UK to drink multiple pints in a session at a pub, so the alcohol content is kind of an important consideration, I get it. But it also sometimes seems a little extreme, like when we brewed our first beer for JD Wetherspoon back in 2008, a 7.2% IPA that many people wouldn’t even try because the alcohol was so high. I’m sure we’ll have people on both sides of the fence with this beer, and am looking forward to seeing any comments. I do think craft beer fans will really like this beer.

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The recipe sheet for our Double IPA.

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Mash-in complete. West Coast IPA!

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This was the street our cottage was on. At the end of the street, turn right and you’re at the Adnams Brewery.

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Cool historical poster at Adnams

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Hop Dosing system at Adnams.

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We mashed in at 5:00am, and so I got to get some shots of an amazing sunrise from the Southwold shoreline at about 8:00 am.

On Christmas Eve, we went back to London and spent 3 days there with the family. It was a great opportunity, the kids had never been out of the country before.

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I have a lot of pictures of my son’s hand.

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We took a Thames River Cruise on Christmas day, and saw this guy piloting an amphibious car.

London in the evening was beautiful:

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Asheville Revisited

I had the pleasure of returning to Asheville, one of my favorite places, in mid-December for some more great beer events and some great music. I’ve been there twice now, both times in 2013, and have really fallen for the town. The people there are so nice, always rolling out the red carpet, it’s in a beautiful setting, and the beer scene is great.

Our first event was a “Tap Takeover” event at the new Thirsty Monk, at the Biltmore Park area, in between Asheville and the airport. Stone Southeast Regional Manager Scott Sheridan and I had visited the original Thirsty Monk in downtown Asheville on our last visit, and this time we had well over 30 taps pouring some core Stone Beers and many rare beers from our archives. It was a super fun event and very well attended. Barry, the owner of the Thirsty Monk, and GM Dylan put on a great event, and it was packed with beer fans. I met a bunch of brewing students from a local community college, AB Tech, while there, and that was fun.

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The Stone Tap Takeover at The Thirsty Monk in Biltmore Park.

The next day Scott and I had breakfast at a great place called the Sunny Point Cafe. I’m normally not one for a Bloody Mary, but I had to get this bacon infused one. And the food was amazing-comfort food plus. I had an omelette called “The Southern” with bacon, diced tomatoes and pimento cheese filling. Fantastically rich!

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Bloody Mary with bacon and bacon wrapped jalapeño. Nice way to start our day.

Then we stopped by the new Sierra Nevada Brewery for a quick visit. Located just behind the Asheville Airport, the brewery was still under construction, but they had started test brewing. It looks like when they finish the facility will be just as stunning  as their Chico location. I can’t wait to see it when it’s done, they are projecting late summer 2014. When we were there, the area was still a major cvonstruction zone, with scaffolding and tarping all over the brewhouse, and a big hole in the ground where their pub will go. But what they are doing there will be absolutely amazing.

From there we drove south to Greenville, South Carolina, and met up with Mike Okupinski and Ed Buffington at the Community Tap, a beer and wine store and tap room that has a fantastic selection. I had known Mike on Facebook for a while, but we never had actually met, so it was great to see him, and see everything that they are doing to promote craft beer in the Greenville area.

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After an afternoon “Meet and Greet” at the Community Tap, we then packed in Mike and Anna’s new minivan and drove out to the Greenbrier Farms for a farm to table Stone Beer Dinner that Community Tap set up with Scott and the the team at Greenbrier Farms. This location is beautiful, and they set up the dinner in a barn that was a bit cold for a thin-blooded Southern Californian like me, but there was a bonfire in the middle that kept everyone warm and in good spirits.  Amy, Chad, and Roddy, the folks that run this farm, are very cool, and the meal was fantastic, the beer pairings superb. At the end of the dinner, Mike absolutely floored me by presenting me with a hand-built electric guitar that was made by his father. An SJO Custom, it’s a beauty, and plays great! To say I was moved and touched by the kindness here doesn’t do the emotions I was feeling any justice at all. I’m still totally blown away by this.

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Farm-to-Table beer Dinner at Greenbrier Farms

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Chicken was the main course. Paired wonderfully with Stone Pale Ale and served with mashed potatoes, carrots and greens.

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The full menu from our beer dinner

 

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Look at how beautiful this guitar is! I was touched beyond words.

After dinner, we had a couple of beers at Barley’s in Greenville, a very cool craft beer spot. Drew was a great host, and we tasted some really cool beers there. I should mention that Barleys has won our annual “Most Arrogant Bar” contest 2 years in a row!

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Check out the Rare Beer Cellar at Barley’s. I was honored to be able to drink a couple of very rare beers in that room.

On the way back to Asheville the next day, we stopped in at Oskar Blues brewery in Brevard, just outside of Asheville and near the Pisgah National Forest, for a tour and a couple of beers. Great spot, the beers were tasting excellent, and it’s an awesome place to hang out. Special thanks to Eric Baumann, who I first met at the MBAA conference in Austin in November, who showed us around.

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Each one of these bags, called super sacks, holds 1000 pounds of malt. I want Oskar Blues’ super sack station that they use to hold the bags and weigh out the grain they need. We hope to get something like this in 2014 at Stone.

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Dale Katechis, the owner at Oskar Blues, also builds bikes. Everyone who works there gets one of these Reeb bikes after 2 years (Reeb=Beer spelled backwards). It’s a cool bike, it is belt-driven instead of a standard bicycle chain. There is a ton of good mountain bike riding around the brewery.

 

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The wall of cans, ready to be filled!

I spent the next couple of days meeting up with some other Stone peeps who came down for the Warren Haynes Christmas Jam, an annual music showcase. We started Friday afternoon at Altamont Brewing Company, where they had a few special kegs of our beer pouring. And then from there we went to Wicked Weed Brewing, and we enjoyed hanging out a lot with our good friends Luke, Walt and Abby there before the first show.

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The Stone crew and the gang from Altamont Brewing before Christmas Jam!

While at Wicked Weed Friday night (they put on Suede specially for my visit!), I also met Mike, the brewmaster from Green Man-who is doing some fascinating historical recipe brewing-he had a bottle of Burton East India Pale Ale, a recipe from 1850, hopped with 100% Fuggles, that he shared with us and it was stellar. I wrote a lot about historical recipes in my IPA book, and it is cool to see so many people brewing these and other long-forgotten recipes. I’d love to brew some of these beers myself some day.

 

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Warren Haynes rocks!
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Green Man, one of Asheville’s best breweries.

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Check out these historical beers that Mike has brewed at Green Man. The IPA was great, I was sorry I couldn’t try more.

ON Saturday, we spent most of the day before the show hanging out with Luke, Walt and Abby at Wicked Weed again. It was a very fun afternoon, followed by an incredible night of music.

Some of my highlights from the Christmas Jam included on Friday night, Keb Mo, seeing John Scofield for the first time, Warren Haynes and Greg Allman acoustic, and the Phil Lesh Quintet taking me back to my days of going to Dead shows. On Saturday, Grace Potter and The Nocturnals rocked, and Greg Allman & friends were great, playing some Allman Brothers Band classics.

Combining great craft beer with really great music always works for me. We’re hoping this becomes an annual tradition.

 

 

 

 

 

What a brewer does

I get asked, on a regular basis, what my daily routine is like. I sometimes think people are disappointed with my response, as it’s remarkably unexciting for the most part, although my routine is peppered with moments of fun. After all, we are making beer!

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A lot of brewers refer to themselves as “janitors” which is really appropriate.

 

I remember seeing this photo on Facebook, and thinking-”wait, they forgot one-the guy sitting at a desk, reviewing databases and spreadsheets and talking on the phone.” That’s me.

When I first arrived at Stone Brewing Co., I spent my first few weeks learning the brewhouse, and learning how the automated programming worked. I had expected that I would be brewing at least a few times per week. Wrong. I realized pretty early on that we already had some very skilled people brewing the beer, and that I was needed elsewhere-like installing some quality criteria and protocol, reviewing and optimizing our processes and procedures, managing our ingredient supply, and managing our growth. And yes, I do recipe formulation, and I really enjoy it but it’s a very small part of my job. Though innovation will continue to be a key part of my role as we move forward.

I remember being at a beer dinner a few years ago and sitting with a beer writer who made some derisive comments towards what he called “clipboard brewers”. I held my tongue, but that is what I am, I walk around with a  clipboard or notebook, talking to the team, and making notes on what opportunities or issues we have in various process areas. Auditing processes, working on optimizing the time spent on various steps, and understanding the impact of all the equipment on the quality and consistency of the beer are all important parts of my job. When a brewery grows, that’s what the brewmaster job evolves into. Not every brewmaster can be the hands-on brewer all the time, and as breweries grow, it becomes more about directing the flow of beer through the brewery, managing the team, managing the process, thinking forward, and finding opportunities to make the brewing processes better.

I recently saw a post from my friend Jaime Jurado on Facebook where he quoted a former coworker of mine, Otto Kuhn, who is currently the Resident Brewmaster at Anheuser-Busch’s Merrimack NH brewery. Otto and I worked side-by-side as Assistant Brewmasters in Merrimack for several years, I respect his brewing skills tremendously, and he became a good friend. His quote went like this:”You’re Brewmaster when the owner of a brewery entrusts his entire brewery to you, and trusts in you to keep its employees safe, and make the best beers you can. And to stop screwups by leadership and to be responsible for making the best decisions for the company you can.”

That pretty much holds true for being a Brewmaster at any size brewery. If you are a one-person show, and also own the brewery, it still works.If you are working fior a mega brewery, it works. Make the best beer you possibly can, keep the team safe, and be part of making key business decisions. The only thing I would add to this, especially in a growing brewery like ours, is that the Brewmaster needs to develop the team’s skill set and creativity.

Do I miss hands-on brewing? Of course I do. And I do get out in the brewhouse occasionally, though not as often as I’d like. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy what I currently do, and I enjoy having the ability and responsibility to grow this brewery, come up with creative and tasty beers, and hire talented team members, many of whom I think could run their own brewery at some point, if they want to.

So to finally answer the question on what my day is like:

My daily routine starts at about 7:00 am with a quick sniff test on samples of fermenting beer. This allows us to identify any problem fermentations that show themselves as excessive amounts of sulfur, diacetyl (butter) or acetaldehyde (green apple seed, pumpkin). By catching any issues during fermentation, they can be easily corrected, usually by simply waiting for the yeast to take care of the issue on its own, though adding a dose of fresh yeast or fermenting wort to the tank can help also. During this informal tasting session, we also taste approve beer in bright tanks ready to be packaged. No beer of ours ever gets put in a bottle or keg unless it is taste approved by a brewing manager.

I spend the rest of the early morning drinking copious amounts of coffee, and reviewing emails and shift reports from the past 24 hours-basically to make sure we don’t have any quality issues, brewing process issues, or beer supply issues. I get 200+ emails a day, so I need to make sure I’ve responded to the ones that require some response from me.

At 8:30, we have our daily production meeting, where all the brewery managers gather in a conference room, and we go department by department, reviewing the daily plan and discussing any issues and priorities. This is an important meeting for all of us, as it helps us coordinate our work schedules. For example, coordinating when a piece of equipment is going to be available for maintenance work, where and when we have construction activities going on, if we have any quality/analytical issues, or whether we are at risk of not having all the beer we need for packaging.

The rest of my day, until about 3:00 pm, is either meetings, walking around the brewery, meeting visitors, or getting work done at the desk.

Getting work done at the desk involves a lot of things, and includes managing ingredient supply, the brewing, filtering and packaging schedule, reviewing sales projections, expansion and capacity plans, and the all-important task of managing the team, including staffing plans, interviewing, training and career path development. Reviewing our database of processing data, and looking at ways to make our processes more efficient also plays a big part of my daily routine.

Unfortunately, meetings are a huge part of my day, and I can spend, at times, 70-80% of my week in meetings. We have weekly team leader meetings, new beer release meetings, project and capital meetings and meetings with my boss, along with a host of other things that come up occasionally. I’m not a big fan of meetings, as I usually walk out of them with more work added to my plate. But they are a necessary evil, especially in a company as big as ours has gotten.

3:00 is taste panel, and I taste at least 3 times per week. It’s a critical piece of our beer quality and consistency program, and we taste everything that was bottled, bright beer ready for packaging, beers ready for filtering, and process waters. One of my former bosses always called taste panel the most important part of the day, and I believe that.

Bottom line, though the daily routine will differ depending on the size of the brewery, a Brewmaster has to take responsibility for the quality of every single beer that is released. And whether the brewer does all the work him/her self, or manages a team that does it, the beer quality and consistency is of paramount importance. In my situation, that means having a team of brewers who are well trained, smart and educated, who understand which quality and process issues can impact the taste and consistency of the beer, and then take appropriate action when they see the issues. This ability doesn’t happen overnight, it takes experience and training.

More on the definition of a “brewmaster” in a future post.

 

 

The Bottle Share and the changing landscape of beer drinking

I love craft beer bottle shares. Many of the parties and events I go to now include a large group of serious beer fans, and because of that, I get to taste some really rare beers on a pretty regular basis. The concept of a bottle share is nothing new, but the term “bottle share” is becoming more commonplace as a way to describe what happens. It will be interesting to see how the bottle share concept translates into buying practices of craft beer drinkers as we move forward.

So basically, what happens during a bottle share is that everyone pulls select beers from their own personal collections and brings them to the party. And the bottles are opened sequentially and passed around so everyone who wants to taste can get a bit. It’s an awesome way to share great beers with like minded people. I enjoy these sessions, it’s a lot more fun to taste these beers with others as opposed to drinking them solo.

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The epic Bottleshare that happened after Friday night’s Bluesapalooza show in Mammoth August 2013.

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It’s interesting to think about your own beer buying practices and how they have changed over the years. If you are as old as I am, your beer drinking habits when you first started drinking beer may have been like mine: to get with your buddies, go to a grocery store (in CA) or liquor store and pick up a 6 pack, 12 pack, or case of whatever wasn’t the crappiest , cheapest beer there, but always with an eye on price. If you were celebrating, or had some extra cash, you might spring for an import beer like Moosehead or Lowenbrau, or a higher end American beer like Michelob or Henry Weinhards Private Reserve, but in general, Bud, Miller, Coors or the occasional malt liquor all worked. When I was in college and had no money, I remember $3 12 packs of Hamm’s were the standard in our house.

In the mid 1980′s as I entered the workforce, I became more discriminating, but my routine usually included buying a 12 pack of some standard American Lager (by then I was starting to favor Budweiser), and supplement it with something special, like some single bottles of Bass, Beck’s,  Guinness, or the occasional Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Then, as craft beer started to boom, the pattern stayed the same, but I began to seek out brewpubs when looking for on-premise beer, and though discriminating liquor stores had a decent selection of craft beer, high end beers were still a celebratory luxury item for me. Even when I worked at San Andreas Brewing Co., and could take 5 gallon corny kegs of our beers home with me, I still had some mainstream beer in my house, but by then my consumption of it was dwindling significantly.

When I worked for Anheuser-Busch, I always had plenty of Budweiser at home, and to this day, I still think Budweiser is the best American Lager out there, but my tastes really shifted into the craft realm, and by the late 1990s, my craft beer selection was crowding Budweiser out of my refrigerator.

When I moved to New Hampshire in 1999, and throughout my time there, I became heavily involved in homebrewing again, so most of the beer I drank was homebrew. And fortunately, I lived close enough to Massachusetts to be able to visit great beer stores and stock up on 22 oz bottles or 750 ml bottles on a regular basis (New Hampshire now has a few places that carry a great craft beer selection-my friend Bert Bingel owns a store called Bert’s Better Beers that is amazing).

We started having our annual Superbowl Party and Chili Cookoff when I lived in New Hampshire, and since many of my friends in New Hampshire were part of the Brew Free or Die Homebrew Club, everyone always brought a nice selection of craft and homebrewed beers for group sampling. The same thing happened at the monthly Brew Free or Die club meetings-everyone brought bottles of cool beers to share. This is where I first experienced the bottle share concept, though no one called it that back then. To this day, our annual Superbowl party involves a pretty nice bottle share, and I save some very special beers each year for it.

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My contribution to the Superbowl bottle share at our house. Our guests brought a lot more than this.

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I carried this bottle around through several moves across the country, and finally opened it in 2012 at our Superbowl party. Smooth as silk, intense sherry, simply amazing. One of those beers I’ll remember all my life.

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Bottle shares can quickly get out of control! Be careful.

As the craft brewing industry evolves, one of the things I am seeing is that the bottle share experience is manifesting itself in the way craft beer fans buy their beer. It appears to me that our society is evolving from the mode of buying a 6 pack or 12 pack of any single beer, and going towards drinking something different unique with the opening of each and every bottle. And maybe my viewpoint is biased, because of where I work and because of the people I hang out with, but I question whether the 6pack of IPA or Pale Ale is moving from the staple, supplemented with unique beers, to being a dinosaur. I say this as 6 pack and 12 pack sales of our Stone IPA are booming-so I may be way off-base, but I do think it’s worth pondering.

Take a look at IRI data, which is a tabulation of statistics for the kind of beer being bought in grocery chains and conveneience store chains. The old mainstay for craft beer, the Pale Ale, is sinking, while IPA is rising, But the top selling packages for the last several years have been seasonal offerings and mixed packs-usually mixed 12 packs. That’s indicative of craft beer fans’ desire for variety in what they drink.

So what does this mean for craft brewers? Well, it certainly means that new and unique beer choices are an increasingly important part of any craft brewer’s portfolio, and it may mean that relying on a flagship beer may be an outdated business model. I’m not really sure what is going to happen, but I know there are an increasing number of craft beer bars that refuse to carry flagship beers, and insist on pouring only those beers that are rare and/or unique. This is great for craft beer drinkers, but in all honesty, for the brewers, it’s a real challenge. While we all enjoy creating new beers, once you start distributing outside of your home state, the logistics of getting new beers approved by the governments (both state and federal) becomes quite time consuming and expensive. And every new beer requires label approval and abv certification-depending on what state the beer is going to. So if we’re going to a model that includes a lot more special releases or one-off releases, we need to pay very special attention to the timing of getting the approvals done, so we can release the beer when we want to, and when the beer is ready. And we need to have ample supplies of a variety of ingredients, primarily hops, which are getting increasingly difficult to secure. In short, it’s a ton of work, but it certainly keeps things exciting, fun, and challenging. We say frequently that this is the most exciting time in known history to be a brewer, and it certainly is exciting to be a craft beer fan, with all the variety and unique beers that are available.

 

Master Brewers Annual Conference

I just got back from the Master Brewers Association of Americas Annual Conference that was held this year in Austin, TX. This event is 3+ days of great technical sessions, presented by beer scholars, brewers, and scientists. I’ve been saying for a few years that this is the best brewing technical conference that happens in the United States, it is chock full of practical information and cutting edge research.
As a caveat, I am a member of the National MBAA Technical Committee, but I think I can be objective about this. I accepted a spot on the Technical Committee because I felt this was a great way to help make these conferences stay as valuable as they had been for me in years past. And my role on the committee is to assist with moderating sessions, review the technical presentations and posters that have been submitted, and suggest workshop topics for future events.

If you are a brewer, just a quick glance at the presentations and activities will prove my point about the value of this conference:
Wednesday October 23rd started with Austin area brewery tours and some pay-to-play Pre-Conference short courses on In-Line Instrumentation, Cleaning in the Brewery, and a Beer Steward Certificate Seminar (The MBAA’s version of the Cicerone Program). Many of the attendees showed up Wednesday for some board meetings and the opening reception.
On Thursday the Technical Sessions started in earnest. There were many Technical Sessions, in each one 4 presenters talk on very technical aspects of a certain part of the brewery process. This is the cutting edge brewing research that is being done all over the world, and excellent presenters from Germany, Japan and the UK complemented the American brewers and beer researchers. The presentations covered a diverse program that included research on brewhouse operations, world class management, beer filtration and stability, brewery utilities management, food safety and cleaning, sensory analysis, sustainability, and two excellent sessions on yeast and fermentation.

Then there are workshops, which are a little less formal and a little more practical reviews of things like food safety, brewhouse engineering, single malt and hops brewing, beer styles, gluten free brewing, and wastewater treatment.
And finally, there were the brewing fundamentals discussions on brewing water, the chemistry of which is still a bit of a mystery to me, so I found the talks very valuable.
Sandwiched in between the technical talks was a great trade show, a little less crowded than others, which gave me the opportunity to have great discussions with current and potential suppliers of ingredients and equipment. And several researchers opted to present posters, instead of oral presentations.

I always come back from events like this all fired up and ready to implement new methods of research in  our own processes, and new procedures or ideas that I got from trhe conference.

As an added bonus, we sell a lot of beer in Austin, and so we spent our evenings doing events and visiting some great accounts. One favorite event was a tap-takeover we did at Whip In, an old convenience store that has been converted into a bottle shop, grocery store and bar/restaurant, and has a very interesting food menu that combines elements of Indian food and Texas BBQ. It was really pretty amazing. And they brew their own beer too! “Namaste Y’all!”

We had an event at a great place called Easy Tiger, on the east part of 6th street, near the freeway. This place has a bake shop/coffee shop upstairs, and down the stairs is an excellent craft beer bar, with an outdoor patio that overlooks a beautiful creek. They have a relatively small menu, but the food is absolutely delicious, and focuses on meat.

On the west end of 6th street is a great craft beer spot called Star Bar, where we went very late one night. Friendly folks, and a great beer selection.

We had a “meet and great” at a newer place called Bangers, in an old residential neighborhood just south of 6th street that is getting renovated into a very hip area for restaurants and bars. Bangers does sausages and beer, they were smoking a whole pig when we were there. Not only do they have ana amazing selection of draft and bottled beers, but they also have a large outdoor area equipped with picnic tables, a music stage, and a dog run for those that don’t want to leave their dogs at home. All in all, a very cool place.

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The whole hog at Bangers

6th Street itself is world-famous for the live music, and we popped into a bunch of places to listen to bands. I saw some pretty incredible guitar playing (not surprisingly, lots of Stevie Ray Vaughn and ZZ Top influences), but unfortunately, most of these places have a pretty lousy beer selection. One exception is Chicago House, a craft beer beer just 1/2 block north of 6th St. No music when we were there, but a great beer selection. While we were there they were pouring Stone Enjoy By IPA, 10 Barrel/Bluejacket/Stone Suede Imperial Porter, and a cask of Ballast Point Sculpin with Citra hops.  My kind of place!

The first night we were in Austin, we went to two places north of 6th street, closer to University of Texas.  The Draught House was our first stop-great beer selection and a great spot to watch the World Series. The next stop was Pinthouse Pizza, a pizza place with a brewery that reminded me a lot of Pizza Port here in SoCal. Great beer selection. We didn’t try the pizza but it sure looked good!

And of course, no trip to Austin could be complete without having some barbecue. This time, our rep Steve took us out to the famous Salt Lick, where I had the absolute best brisket I have ever had in my life. Next time in Austin I’ll be sure to try Franklin’s BBQ downtown, I heard from many it’s the best, but you have to stand in line for hours (or pay someone to do it for you).

Austin salt lick photo

 

The one thing I didn’t get to on this very full trip was visiting a brewery, like Real Ale or Jester King. There are a lot of brewers in Austin now, making some very good beers. I certainly sampled many, and enjoyed them. Next time!