World Beer Cup Judging

As I was watching the live stream of the 2014 World Beer Cup awards ceremony the other night on the The Brewing Network, I noticed in the chat room a lot of suppositions about how the competition is run. As a long time judge, I thought I might take a little time to explain how the competition for the WBC (and the GABF) is organized and how the judging process works. Special thanks to Technical Brewing Projects Coordinator and long time Competition Manager Chris Swersey from the Brewers Association, who reviewed this post and added some valuable detail about the process.

First off, the competition is blind, meaning that judges do not ever know what beers they are tasting in any given session. The only information provided is a random identification number and a description of what (if any) special ingredients might be in the beer (about a third of all beers are entered in styles allowing entering brewers to specify fruit, spices, type of wood, etc.). The random numbers assigned to each specific beer change for each round they are judged, making the process truly a blind competition.

Judging sessions are divided into a morning session and an afternoon session for each day of the judging. In each approximately 3 hour session, 6 or 7 judges are assigned to sit at a specific table, and they judge 1, 2 or 3 flights of beer (most often 3). The judges stay at the same table for each half-day session. Each round consists usually of 10-12 beers, so there can be 20-30 beers total in each session, and with 2 sessions per day, that results in 40-50 beers being judged by any particular judge over the day. Unless it is a medal round, the table is usually split in half, and one side of 3-4 judges gets one round of samples, the other side of judges get a different round of samples, though they are always the same style. Morning sessions tend to focus on lower alcohol styles; afternoon sessions tend to include higher alcohol or higher flavor styles. This is not a hard and fast rule, just a general theme. Also, at any given table styles tend to be scheduled as less flavorful followed by more flavorful – for example, golden ale followed by stout.

It is common to have 2 different styles judged in any session, though for each individual flight in a session, they are all the same style. So for example, in one session, a team of judges at a table could have 2 flights of American Pale Ale, then 1 flight of Imperial Stouts (I am not divulging what styles I judged). Categories with 12 or fewer entries are judged in one first and final round, meaning all 6-7 judges taste all the beers, choosing (usually) 3 winners.

Categories with 13-24 entries are judged at one table, but in two flights. In the first flight, the table is split in half. Each group of 3 or 4 judges evaluates half of the entries, passing 3 on to the final round. In the second and final flight, all 6-7 judges taste the 6 finalists, choosing (usually) 3 winners.

Categories with 25-48 entries are judged at two tables, in two flights. In the first flight, half of the total number of entries is assigned to each table, and each table is split in half. Each of the four groups of 3 or 4 judges evaluates their share of entries (never more than 12), passing 3 along to the final round at one table, for a total of 12 finalist entries. In the final round, all 6-7 judges taste the 12 finalists, choosing (usually) 3 winners.

Categories with 49-72 entries are judged at three tables, in three flights. In the first flight, one third of the total number of entries is assigned to each table, and each table is split in half. Each of the six groups of 3 or 4 judges evaluates their share of entries (never more than 12), passing 3 along to the second round at one table, for a total of 18 second round beers. The second round table is split in half, with each group of 3 or 4 judges evaluating 9 beers and passing along 3 finalist entries. In the final round, all 6-7 judges taste the 6 finalists, choosing (usually) 3 winners.

Categories with 73-96 entries are judged at four tables, in three flights. In the first flight, one quarter of the total number of entries is assigned to each table, and each table is split in half. Each of the six groups of 3 or 4 judges evaluates their share of entries (never more than 12), passing 3 along to the second round at one table, for a total of 24 second round beers. The second round table is split in half, with each group of 3 or 4 judges evaluating 12 beers and passing along 3 finalist entries. In the final round, all 6-7 judges taste the 6 finalists, choosing (usually) 3 winners.

Categories with more than 96 entries are judged at tables increasing every time another 24 entries is added.

Most categories have 2-3 rounds. Categories with more than 192 entries like India Pale Are are judged over 4 rounds. For most styles, the tasting flow is structured in multiples of 12 or 24 entries. For certain high alcohol or high BU styles the multiple is 10 or 20 instead of 12 or 24.

During the first round (only) comments are filled out that are returned to the entering breweries:

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The beer evaluation form used for beers in the first round of WBC and GABF. Judges who don’t write a lot of comments on this form may not be invited back. It’s important feedback for the entering brewers.

In rounds 2, 3, and sometimes 4, for each category, 3 of the 10-12 samples are again selected for moving on to the next round. By the time the beers make it to the final round, they have been selected and passed through as being one of the top 3 in each previous round. The final round (the medal round) can consists from anywhere from 6-12 samples that have arrived via a process of elimination. If a table is doing a medal round, the table is not split, and every one of the 6 or 7 judges tastes and evaluates the same beers to award the medals. Note that you may taste 2 rounds of a certain style, yet may not judge in the medal round, which can get sent to a different table of judges.

The judging requires consensus on the 3 beers being passed forward. It is not based on scores. No scores are given, unlike in the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) homebrew competitions (see below for their scoresheet). The 3-4 judges at WBC and GABF have to all agree on which 3 beers are the best of the round and are deserving of being passed on. This can take a fair amount of discussion, though the process is helped by the fact that each style has very specific Style Guidelines and each judge is required to use those guidelines for the basis in which they judge the beers. And if a beer is not perfect in any way with respect to the style, it will not be given a gold medal. Which is sometimes why there is no gold medal awarded in a category. It’s not a ranking contest, medals are given based on very specific guidelines for gold, silver and bronze awards.

BJCP Judging Scoresheet includes a detailed scoring system-not used at WBC or GABF

By the time the judges get the remaining beers for the medal round, the beers are, by and large, world class examples of the particular style. And determining which get awarded medals can be tough and at times contentious. The discussions and debates that occur are always respectful, but judges are not always in agreement over which beers deserve to be awarded a medal.

This year there were 94 separate categories that were judged. All the judges have proven skills in taste evaluation of beers and knowledge of beer styles. In an impressive showing, 75% of the judges this year were from outside the United States. And no judge is allowed to judge in a category that they have a beer entered in. It was a pleasure and an honor to sit at the table with some of the best brewers in the world and judge this year’s World Beer Cup. The integrity of the competition is at the highest level, and my congratulations to all the winners this year, many of whom are good friends.

 

 

 

The Russell Schehrer Award

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At the annual Craft Brewers Conference held in Denver this year, I was honored to be awarded the  Brewers Association Russell Schehrer Award for Innovation in Craft Brewing.

Without trying to sound too sappy, I was more than humbled by this. And shocked when I got the phone message from Dick Cantwell, telling me that I was the recipient of the 2014 award. I’ve had a lot of great opportunities in brewing, ever since I landed in Michael Lewis’ Brewing Science class at UC Davis in the early 1980s. After 4 years trying to start a brewery, I got an early start in the 2nd wave of brewpubs in California in 1988 at San Andreas Brewing Co., moved on to a wonderful 14 year career at Anheuser-Busch, where I was able to develop many new beers for AB, and now am celebrating 8 years with Stone Brewing Co. It’s been a wild and fun ride, and I love the brewing business as much, or more now, than when I started 26 years ago.

I’ve been fortunate enough to brew with and learn from some of the most skilled, knowledgable brewmasters in the business-from the old school German Brewmasters at Anheuser-Busch to Steve Wagner at Stone Brewing Co., and I’ve been able to brew with many other huge talents in Stone’s collaboration brewing program. You never stop learning in this business-or if you do, you quickly become irrelevant. So I relish the opportunity to brew beer with others.

Look at the previous brewers who have won this award. I am in some amazing company. And many of the previous winners approached me to say “welcome to the club”. I am glad that that, with the exception of Greg Noonan, whom I only met once, I know everyone else on this list, consider many of them good friends,  and consider all of them inspirations. It’s an amazing business we’re in, and an amazing time in brewing history. I simply feel fortunate to be able to be a part of it.

Previous recipients of the Brewers Association Russell Schehrer award for innovation in craft brewing:

2013 – Peter Bouckaert, New Belgium Brewing Co.
2012 – James Ottolini, St. Louis Brewery, Inc.
2011 – Jennifer Talley, Squatters Pub Brewery/Salt Lake Brewing Co.
2010 – Ken Grossman, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
2009 – Steve Parkes, American Brewers Guild
2008 – Vinnie Cilurzo, Russian River Brewing Company
2007 – Matt Brynildson, Firestone Walker Brewing Company
2006 – Dan Carey, New Glarus Brewing Company
2005 – Greg Noonan, Vermont Pub and Brewery
2004 – Dick Cantwell, Elysian Brewing Company
2003 – Phil Markowski, Southampton Publick House
2002 – John Mallett, Kalamazoo Brewing Co.
2001 – John Harris, Full Sail Brewing Co.
2000 – Mark Carpenter, Anchor Brewing Co.
1999 – Fal Allen, Pike Brewing; Anderson Valley Brewing Co.
1998 – Garrett Oliver, The Brooklyn Brewery
1997 – John Maier, Oregon Brewing Co./Rogue Ales

I may never know who originally nominated me for this award, but I want to thank them. This is such an honor. And I want to acknowledge the contributions of Team Stone, and especially our Brew Crew, because this wouldn’t have been possible without their never ending hard work and passion that it takes to get our beers out into the world for people to enjoy.

I also want to give a shout out to Teri Fahrendorf, founder of the Pink Boots Society, a non-profit organization for women in the brewing industry that several of our female team members at Stone belong to. Teri was the deserving recipient this year of the annual Brewers Association Recognition Award. Teri and I started professionally brewing at about the same time in the Bay Area, I remember the first time I met her when I was at San Andreas and she was at Golden Gate Brewing in the late 1980s. She has done so much for this business, and has had a wonderful and innovative career, and I was so glad to see her get this recognition.

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.