Category Archives: Recipe Formulation

The Anheuser-Busch Specialty Brewing Group Beers before my time-Pt 1: Elk Mountain Family

There were several “Specialty” beers that were developed by the Anheuser-Busch Specialty Brewing Group before I joined the team in 1995. Here’s summary of the Elk Mountain beers.

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These beers were named after AB’s Hop Farm in Bonner’s Ferry Idaho, near the Canada border. It was beautiful location, and AB grew Hallertau, Saaz and Tettnang there, probably the only place that successfully brewed Saaz on American soil, and used those hops in Budweiser and several other beers. It was a cool story, a great farm, and I got to visit the hop farm with a bunch of beer writers in 1997 (more on that later). Anyway, it seemed logical that specialty beers focused on hops got named after this hop farm.

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Elk Mountain Amber Ale: This beer really got me excited for our fledgling new products efforts-I was still a Supervisor at the Ft. Collins CO brewery when this beer was first released in 1995, and I remember going to a special tasting after work in our tour center. As I tasted it, I remember thinking-“holy crap-someone in St. Louis figured out how to use hops like a microbrewer would!” This beer was malty and caramelly and had a significant citrus and pine blast of Cascade hops. This beer made a pretty good impression on beer drinkers-I don’t remember seeing any bad reviews, and I think it lasted about 3 years before finally giving way to the Michelob Specialty lineup. I remember some of my hardcore hunter coworkers in Ft. Collins complaining that the animal depicted on the label was not an Elk…

Pretty simple recipe really, it was 80% 2-Row Malt and 20% 40 °L Crystal malt. Hopping in the kettle was Willamette (an AB standard bittering hop at the time), Hallertau from the Elk Mountain Farm in Idaho, and Cascade. The beer was fermented with NCYC 1044 yeast, an English Ale strain that flocculated really well, and then was dry-hopped with Cascade at 0.25 lbs/bbl, tame by today’s standards, but the beer was one of the hoppiest beers I ever tasted from AB. Starting gravity was 14.5 °P, terminal gravity was 3.2 °P, 5.6% abv, 20 °L color, and my records show 25 IBU, though I think it may have started closer to 35 IBUs before being reduced later.  (As a side note, Doug Muhleman, who was a Brewing Director and then VP of Brewing when I was in St. Louis, was a big proponent of low IBU’s-he felt beers lower in bitterness sell better-his quote was “1,000,000 bbls increase in sales for every point of IBU drop”, referring of course to the American Lager style of beer). Elk Mountain Amber was brewed in the Fairfield, CA and Merrimack, NH breweries, and was the first ale AB brewed in almost 100 years.

Elk Mtn Red

Elk Mountain Red Lager: this beer had a similar malt bill to the Amber Ale, but used only hops from Elk Mountain Farms-Hallertau, Saaz and Tettnang. Probably closest to a Vienna Lager in style, this beer was too crystal malt forward to my tastes, and got a little sweet after a pint. Some interesting recipe tidbits-it was decoction mashed, and was fermented with AB’s house lager strain. 12 °P OG, 2.95 °P TG, 4.9% abv, 20 IBU and 16 °L color.

Elk Mountain Harvest

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1995 Elk Mountain Harvest:

This was a special beer we brewed in the fall of 1995, right after I joined the group, and it’s claim to fame was that it was dry-hopped with fresh hops from the Elk Mountain Farm. AB called the hops “baby hops” because they were harvested earlier than normal-something that a lot of brewers and hop growers are looking at right now. Could this have been one of the first wet-hopped beers of the modern craft brewing era? Almost Pilsner like, this golden ale was bright, crisp, and had a really nice peppery spicy hop character. I don’t remember much about it, except that it was all malt, had a small amount of crystal malt and some wheat malt. Elk Mountain Harvest Ale was only a small batch and wasn’t released to the public, only given to our Distributors, though the neck label hints that it may be brewed again in 1996 for public release, which never happened. Because we never brewed it again, and because I liked the beer, I remember using this recipe to form the basis for the later release of Michelob Pale Ale.

American Hop Ale and 1996 Winter Brew: The recipes

I was straightening up the bookshelf in my office today and found an old spiral bound notebook that I used to log my old home brewing recipes in.  And as a nice surprise, I found tucked between the pages some recipe summary spreadsheets on some of the beers I’ve been discussing recently that I was involved with at AB in the 1990s. I thought maybe I’d share a couple of these.

American Hop Ale:

This was one of my favorite beers we brewed in The Specialty Brewing Group. The last of the American Originals, it was a deep amber/brown ale, malty, but not sweet, with an intense hop bitterness and floral, spicy hop aroma. Without a doubt, the most aggressively hopped beer we released while I was in the group.

Grain:
91% American 2-Row malt,
8% 40 dL Briess Caramel malt
1% Briess Black Patent Malt

Mashing:
The mashing profile is described as an “Upward Infusion w/ Reverse Boiling Water Pumpback”. That’s a mouthful, and the German term for it-that the old school German Brewmasters at AB used: “Hochkochmaishverfahrven” (forgive any spelling errors-I’m going off a 20 year old memory here!) was even worse. To understand what this means, you need to understand AB’s brewing process a bit:

At AB, most brands were mashed in at a fairly low temperature for protein rest, and a cereal boiling process was used in a separate cooker. In what AB called the American Double Mash process, the rice or corn after being boiled a short time to liquefy the starches, was pumped back to the mash vessel containing the malt, and that process, coupled with steam flow to the jackets on the mash vessel, helped raise the overall mash temperature to the desired conversion temperature. This is very similar to the traditional German decoction mashing technique.

The problem with this technique is that it produced a very fermentable wort, meaning it didn’t leave behind a lot of dextrins and other complex carbohydrates that an ale brewer would get using a traditional infusion mash profile, as was common in craft brewing in those days. So the specialty beers made using the traditional AB mashing schedule came out thin and too dry, and lacked mouthfeel. To fix this situation, Frank Vadurro, Sr. Asst Brewmaster in Merrimack, NH, Denny Franz who ran the Corporate testing program out of St. Louis, and Al Linnebach, who was running the pilot brewery (RPB) at the time, devised this process in which the thick malt mash was pumped into a second mash vessel containing only water that was at boiling temperature. It’s very similar to the jump mash process described in Kunze’s excellent  Technology of Brewing and Malting. The result was that the mash almost instantaneously increased to the proper conversion temperature, bypassing the beta amylase window (144-149°F) that results in highly fermentable wort. It was a neat technique to get some body and mouthfeel in these beers, and we used it for a lot .

Hopping:
Not a lot of detail available on my sheet, but the hops used were Cluster and American Fuggle (which is the same hop as Willamette. Legally, for labeling purposes, they are interchangeable). The beer was then dry hopped with 3/4 lb/bbl Fuggles. I remember we tried Cluster on a pilot brew and felt it was a little too catty for this beer.

Fermentation:
Yeast was NCYC 1044 Ale yeast. I don’t remember exact fermentation temperature but I think it was around 72 °F.

Analytical Targets:

OG: 14.8 °P
TG: 4.5 °P
IBU: 50+
ABV: 5.6%
Color: 16 °L

1996 Anheuser-Busch Winter Brew

As discussed in the last post, this was the second, and arguably the best, Winter/Holiday beer we brewed while I was in the Specialty Brewing Group. Here’s a recipe summary:

Grain:
68% 2 Row Malt
19% 40 °L Briess caramel malt
10% 20 °L Munich Malt
3% Briess Chocolate Malt

Mashing:
The mashing profile was the upward infusion process similar as described above for American Hop Ale

Hopping:
Willamette, Cascade, and Elk Mountain Farms Idaho-grown Hallertau and Saaz. I wish I had record of which hops were added early and which were added late.

Fermentation:
AB Lager yeast strain, probably at about 55 °F for primary, then cold lagered at 40-45 °F for 3+weeks

Analytical Targets
OG: 13.6 °P
TG: 4.95 °P
IBU: 2
ABV: 5.6%
Color: 16 °L

 

Anheuser-Busch Christmas and Winter Brews of the mid 1990s

Merry Christmas!

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The lights hung at the St. Louis Brewery at Christmas time were always magical to me.

Most brewers know this fact: call a winter seasonal beer a “Christmas” beer or “Holiday” beer, and you can’t give the stuff away the day after Christmas. It’s one reason why Stone Brewing Co. has never really done a Holiday Seasonal , and I don’t expect we ever will (the Stone Vertical Epic 12.12.12 is the possible exception-but that had additional staying power because it was part of a series).  Anheuser-Busch felt the same way, and experienced this very real effect after the release of their 1st holiday beer in a long time, the 1995 Christmas Brew Beer. It stopped selling very quickly after the holiday season, and there was a fair amount of inventory that eventually had to be destroyed. After that, the holiday beers we brewed were called “Winter”, which still suffers from the same seasonal effect, but not to such a large degree.

I worked on 4 Holiday beers at Anheuser Busch-in 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1998. I honestly don’t remember a heck of a lot about the brewing and recipes for three of them, but I love telling the story of one in particular.

CHRISTMAS BREW 1995

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This beer’s development started in the late summer of 1995, a few months after I had moved to St. Louis to join Corporate Brewing/Brewing Process Technology/The Specialty Brewing Group. Dan, my predecessor in New Products, spearheaded this project from the office of the VP of Brewing, and Paul and I worked on putting this concept from Dan and Directors and VP level Brewmasters together. This was the first Christmas beer that AB had done in years, if not decades. All I really remember about this one is that it was all malt, had a nice amber color, and a balanced and slightly aggressive hop profile, with some late hopping intended to emphasize pine flavors.

The back label text: “In the 1890’s, Adolphus Busch began a tradition of brewing special beers for the holiday season.These beers are offered to friends and customers. We are proud to bring back this tradition with a limited bottling of Christmas Brew 1995”.

SPECIAL WINTER BREW 1996

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I remember we worked very closely with Corporate Brewing Directors and and the VP of Brewing on this one. This beer was re-named Winter Brew to avoid the intense seasonality of Christmas beers. I don’t remember much about the recipe, except it was again an amber/brown lager, more in line with a Muenchener Dunkel, not very hoppy, with a really nice rich and smooth malt character. I remember being very pleased with the end result, and one of my lasting memories about this project was that VP of Brewing Gerhardt Kraemer was very happy with it and congratulated us on it.

Note that both the 1995 and 1996 beers were packaged in the same bottles used for the American Originals.

The back label text: “”At the turn of the century, Adolphus Busch began a tradition of brewing special beers for the holiday season.We are proud to continue this tradition with a limited bottling of our 1996 Special Winter Brew. I’ve brewed this beer to be a rich, flavorful lager that’s perfect for the celebrations of the season.”-Gerhard A. Kraemer, Head Brewmaster”.

MICHELOB WINTER BREW SPICED ALE:

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This 1997 Holiday beer had the best label and the most convoluted story. I can laugh about it now, but this beer was brutal to develop, and caused a few sleepiness nights.

By the Fall of 1997, The American Originals beers were either gone or on their last legs. Because of the huge success of Michelob Amber Bock,  Marketing was putting a huge focus on expanding the Michelob lineup with a series of specialty beers-more on those beers in an upcoming post. It’s worth noting that a new Specialty Brewing Group marketing person was on board, and the shift from the American Originals to the Michelob lineup was a very calculated move.

New Products was normally given one brew a week at the 10 Bbl the Research Pilot Brewery (RPB) attached to the the main St. Louis Brewery, and if I remember correctly, at the time they were brewing 10 brews total per week. Most of what they brewed were variations and tests on Budweiser-some really cool beers-single hop variety Budweiser and the like. Since we had reasonably frequent access to the RPB brewing schedule, we set a goal for ourselves to pilot brew at least one example of every recognized beer style in the RPB. We figured if we did this, we’d learn a lot about each style and perhaps have some good recipes in our back pocket, because there were many times when the new product releases came at you fast, and there wasn’t enough time to really run a lot of trials to finalize the recipe.

At some point in 1996 or 1997 I came up with a recipe for a Scotch Ale that the RPB brewed for us. It was really tasty strong, malty ale, and became a favorite of August Busch III’s-the story was that he often poured the beer at his house. In fact, I know we brewed it a couple of more times at the RPB so it would be available if he wanted it. I’ll share much more about that beer in a later post, but the point is when we were given the news that the 1997 Winter beer would be part of the Michelob Family, we suggested this Scotch Ale, and everyone involved, all the way up to VP level executives, agreed on that direction. So this beer seemed a no-brainer, especially since it was confirmed that AAB III already liked it, because getting his approval on a new beer was often the hardest part of the process. And we already had approval from all other high level management people, because they had already tasted the beer.

We had starting brewing full sized 400 bbl batches of the Michelob Holiday Scotch Ale in Merrimack, we had purchased and shipped in all the malts, sent in some copy for the label and marketing material, and everything was moving forward very nicely.  And when the first batch was in the aging tank, Marketing pulled an abrupt about face, and told us they wanted a Spiced Ale instead. This was a definite “WTF” moment, and we tried and tried and couldn’t get them to see the logic and agree to go back to the original plan. We needed up dumping the in progress batches.

So it was already late in the game-it was probably September by this time, and the Winter beer had to be in distribution by late October. Paul, Steve and I quickly put together some kind of traditional spiced ale, using spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and clove, and we asked the RPB to brew it as a priority. 2 weeks later, we were tasting in the Corporate Taste Panel-called the “220 Panel”, with Doug Muhleman, who had taken Gerhardt Kraemer’s spot as VP of Brewing. Doug tasted the beer, looked at us and said: “guys, this beer tastes like a Betty Crocker Spice Cake. If we’re going to do a spiced ale, I want us to use more exotic spices. Let’s not be so predictable”. I actually liked his feedback and agreed with him, though I still hated the idea of doing a spiced beer at all.

So we quickly came up with another recipe that used things like Cardamom, Coriander, and a couple of other eastern spices, and 2 weeks later we were again sitting in the 220 Taste Panel, and tasted the beer with Doug. This time, he liked it, which was a good thing, because we were sweating bullets-we were quickly running out of time to get this beer recipe sent out, get the beer brewed, fermented and bottled in Merrimack in time for the scheduled release. The phone calls I got from Marketing and the brewing team at Merrimack were relentless. They needed to know what the beer was and if it would be ready in time.

The next step in the taste approval process, after VP of Brewing approval, was the Marketing and Sales Team, and ultimately the beer ended up at August Busch’s desk for final approval. We could not brew this beer for real until we had his approval. In what I consider a classic AB moment, when he tasted the beer, he got in touch with Doug Muhleman and said something to the effect of “What the hell is is this!? When I drink a spiced Christmas Beer, I want something with cinnamon. And clove. And nutmeg! Something traditional!” How ironic, how deflating, and how frustrating it was to learn of AAB III’s comments and being faced with going back to the drawing board.

So we quickly went back to the original recipe with some modifications Doug made while playing around in his kitchen at home. I do think he enjoyed this level of involvement with creating a beer, and I remember he found this crazy liquid brown sugar that we added to the beer that give it a really nice molasses touch. I know we used a little chocolate malt in it and plenty of 40L crystal malt. The powdered spices were all added during the kettle boil. We got the beer brewing in Merrimack and made the release date by the skin of our teeth. And unfortunately, by most accounts, the beer was a flop. Certainly not as popular as the 1996 Winter Brew had been.

The beer itself was a moderately strong brown ale, with pronounced spices, followed by a cocoa and molasses finish. Not one of my favorite beers that I worked on, for a lot of reasons.

The Neck Label Text: Left: “The addition of spices during the brewing process is one of the Brewmaster’s seasonal traditions, as spices can add excitement and festiveness to a brew.” Right: “The traditional spices used in this winter offering add a unique contrast to the sweetness emanating from the caramel and chocolate malts used in brewing this hearty ale.”

 

1998 MICHELOB WINTER BREW ALL MALT LAGER 

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I remember very little about this beer, Winter of 1998 when was I was transitioning out of new products to some extent-I had been moved to work as an assistant to a Brewing Director for 5 months before being shipped out to the St. Louis Brewery in May of 1998. I still had my hands in new products for a while, as I was transitioning out and the new team was transitioning in.

Like the 3 previous beers, this 1998 Holiday beer was brewed in Merrimack, NH. It was a moderately strong  amber lager, most likely brewed with a lot of 40L crystal malt. But I really don’t remember much at all about this one. Looking back on it, I wonder why we didn’t make this beer an ale, like the previous year’s beer.

The Neck Label: Left: “Winterbrew is an all-malt brew with a  full-bodied taste and a rich amber color. It’s moderate hopping provides a nice balance to the sweet taste of the malt.” Right: “The use of generous amounts of specialty malts and an extended layering period make this a truly special brew, a great match for your holiday feasts”.

This was the last Holiday beer for a few years-in the early 2000s, AB started doing them again, I remember a high end, higher alcohol Budweiser beer in beautiful 750 ml bottle, and the next year a Michelob vanilla/ and bourbon barrel aged beer, but I wasn’t involved in those projects.

 

The 4 American Originals: Beers From My Past. Chapter 2

 

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Now it’s time to talk about the beers that were introduced under the American Originals umbrella in the Fall of 1995: Faust, Muenchener, and Black and Tan, and later, American Hop Ale. Unfortunately, I don’t have any records of the actual recipes used for these beers, but I’ll talk about what I remember, which may be a bit hazy, it was almost 20 years ago!

faust posterFaust Bottle

FAUST:

Faust Lager was first brewed in 1885, for a friend of Adolphus Busch named Tony Faust, who owned Faust Oyster House and Restaurant in St. Louis. The restaurant had a long history and several versions of the place existed since the 1800s. When I lived in St. Louis, there was a Faust’s Restaurant downtown in the Adams Mark Hotel (now a Hyatt Regency), a spot where I did a couple of beer tastings for the American Originals, and once had a really nice meal there with my wife. I believe the restaurant is now closed.

The German legend of Faust involves the story of a man who, in search for the meaning of life, sold his soul to, or made some sort of deal with the Devil, represented by Mephistopheles. Later  a famous play written by Goethe, it’s a standard of German literature. So Adolphus Busch’s inclusion of Mephitopheles in the branding of the beer makes perfect sense.

The beer itself was a very popular beer in its time and lasted well after the end of Prohibition. I remember visiting swap markets and antique shops in the St Louis area when I lived there in the 1990s and seeing many (empty) bottles of Faust for sale.

The re-introduced Faust Lager was my favorite of the first 3 American Originals. It was all malt: American 2 Row malt and a malt called Hi-Dried Malt, which was a 6-Row malt that was kilned to about 20°L, similar to a light Munich malt. We called the Hi-Dried Malt “dry-roasted” in the marketing materials, which I always found odd (we could have called it kiln-roasted), and expressed concern that people might think we were using peanuts in our beer. Faust also used a blend of German, Czech and American Hops. Unfortunately I don’t remember all of the hops used, but I know Czech Saaz and Cascade were part of the mix. This beer, when fresh, had a nice toasty malt character, and a pronounced floral hop aromatic, and pretty substantial bitterness for the time (especially for AB). If I remember correctly, the IBU target was 28, and the color target was 7-9 dL.  Unfortunately, this beer aged very poorly in the bottle. The hops faded quickly and the toasty malt character evolved into a very grainy and harsh note.

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BLACK & TAN

Black & Tan was a traditional porter, which caused a lot of confusion when we were doing events for these beers. I remember frequently having to explain that this beer wasn’t a blend of two beers, like the classic Black & Tan made from Bass and Guinness, or like Yuengling’s Black & Tan.

The name Black & Tan from 1899 had unknown origins. We had two stories we told about the origin of the name, though we were never clear which (if either) was the truth. The first was simply that the beer poured black, with a tan head, which made the most sense to me. The second story, from AB Corporate Historian Dr. Bill Vollmar, suggested the beer was named after the British Military force that was stationed in Ireland during the war for Irish independence-they were nicknamed Black and Tans because of the color of their uniforms.

Bill Vollmar had two full bottles of Black & Tan from before Prohibition in the archives, and he often jokingly offered one to me to open and drink. I was tempted, but it felt almost sacrilegious to do this, and Bill also insisted that if we opened it, I’d have to drink the entire bottle, which scared me a bit. It would have been great if we could have tasted it and analyzed the beer as well, but we never did.

Black & Tan Porter was all malt, brewed with 5 malts, including chocolate and black malt, crystal malt, and I believe hi-dried malt again. It was pretty bitter, maybe 35-40 IBUs. I always thought it was bit harsh on the finish, and felt we made a much better Porter when we did Michelob Porter a couple of years later. That said, it was a pretty aggressive beer for Anheuser-Busch, it was the second ale (after Elk Mountain Ale) that we made in the 1990s.

The ale yeast strain we used most often at Anheuser-Busch was an English strain, NCYC 1044, which reputedly was developed for experiments with continuous fermentation processes in England in the 1950s or 1960s. It was a really hearty yeast, produced a lot of fruity esters, and had the advantage that it settled out, or flocculated, strongly when the fermentation was complete. This was really important at Anheuser-Busch, because the ales were made in Fairfield, CA and Merrimack, NH, and both breweries had old-fashioned rectangular fermenters (we called them “shoebox” fermenters).  A yeast with good flocculating characteristics was critical for being able to recover enough yeast to repitch more brews.

Muenchener BottleMuenchener Poster

MUENCHENER

I hesitated to include this beer, primarily because this beer was simply a blend of the Faust and the Black&Tan. This method was something that the VP of Brewing wanted to try-he wanted use the Black & Tan as a “stock ale” to blend with other beers to create new beers. Contrary to what might be conventional wisdom, Anheuser-Busch did not normally use this practice. Every beer, with a couple of exceptions, was brewed as it’s own brand in the brewhouse, each with a separate recipe, different malts and different hops. Other large American Lager brewers often blended beers and/or labeled the same beer with several different brand labels, but AB didn’t do this. So the Muenchener was a pretty big departure. It was a nice beer, I’ll give it that. The blend worked, and I enjoyed it.

The original Muenchener (aka Columbian Muenchener) was first brewed in 1893 and was awarded the “Best Muenchener” in the Columbian World’s Fair Exposition in Chicago in 1893. It was definitely inspired by the popular Dunkle beers from Munich.

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The swing-top bottles above were a complete fiasco. Marketing wanted these for special events, which required hours and hours of hand-bottling at the Merrimack brewery. Who knew what the air levels were in these beers, but I bet they were terribly high.

 

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AMERICAN HOP ALE:

Shortly after the first 3 American Originals rolled out, AB’s marketing department wanted to us to start working on the 4th beer. They initially wanted either “White Label Exquisite Pilsner” or “Old Burgundy Lager”. We didn’t have any archive information on either one of these beers, so were a bit unsure on how to approach brewing. I remember being kind of excited to brew the White Label-I looked at it as an opportunity to brew a real hoppy Bohemian Pilsner beer, but that ended up being a no go, because we already had Faust, and marketing didn’t want to add another golden lager to the mix. It didn’t help Old Burgundy Lager’s cause with us brewers that marketing was insisting the beer have a Burgundy wine like character, as opposed to a red color-which is what we assumed inspired the name of the original beer.

After a lot of back and forth, and after also briefly considering other pre-prohibition beers like Union Man’s Lager, and Bock (which was denied because of the presence and popularity of Michelob Amber Bock), I came up with the idea of brewing a version of American Hop Ale, using the two American hop varieties that were available to AB in the 1890s-Cluster and Fuggles. Surprisingly to me, marketing loved this idea. The original 1895 American Hop Ale was a very low alcohol mail order beer, a hop tonic, that was used for medicinal purposes, but I proposed we brew a strong, very hop-forward ale, and that seemed to be a popular direction.

American Hop Ale holds a very special place in my heart, as it was the first (and one of the few) beers that I worked on at AB that was exclusively my recipe, and it didn’t get changed, altered, or dumbed down at all as it went up the Corporate approval ladder. It was an all malt beer, brewed with 2-row malt, 40L Crystal (I think) and just a touch of black malt-I believe just under 1%, which gave the beer a beautiful deep red color. We used Cluster and Fuggle hops exclusively, and we had co-workers in the Brewing Process Technology group that had a lot of fun referring to this beer as “Clusterfuggle”. American Hop Ale was likely the most bitter beer AB had ever brewed, coming in at close to 50 IBUs, and was dry-hopped with Fuggles.   The beer was what I envisioned at the time as kind of an English IPA…I’ve learned a lot about English IPAs since then, but back then this beer fit my understanding of the style.

American Hop Ale didn’t last long. The bottle in the picture above was the only bottling run this beer ever had, marketing made the call to make this a “draft-only” product, which sealed its doom. People who tried it gave it great reviews, but the beer never got the exposure of the first three, and by the time it was released, marketing was already moving away from the American Originals concept in favor of the Michelob Specialties.

Happy Holidays!

Next up: The Christmas beers

 

 

On my quality soapbox (again)

I haven’t posted here in what seems like forever. Those who know me know that I have a lot going on right now, both personally, and professionally, and the motivation to sit in front of the keyboard and type out my thoughts just hasn’t been there lately.

This is a post I wrote soon after the Craft Brewers Conference in April, and just never got around to posting, so here it is..

From April 2014:

During the keynote session of the Craft Brewers Conference, Paul Gatza, Director of the Brewers Association, gave his annual state of the industry talk. In that discussion, he told a story about going to a beer festival and trying many really bad beers from newer brewers. These brewers thought their beer was fantastic, and were buoyed by the positive response they had received from their customers, so they had no idea their beer, from a technical standpoint, was flawed. This is cause for concern. Paul’s  takeaway message: “QUALITY QUALITY QUALITY and “don’t f*@k it up” for the rest of us.” A lot of craft brewing people have spent years building this industry, and one serious quality issue could really ruin the great momentum that has been built.

In the biggest honor of my career, right after Paul’s opening address, I was awarded the Brewers Association Russell Schehrer Award for Innovation in Craft Brewing, and as I walked up on the stage to say a few words, I decided then and there that I would follow up Paul’s comments with a few of my own, which ended up being something about how the growth of this industry is great, but if you are starting a brewery, please, please, please hire a brewer who knows what the hell they are doing.

A few hours later, Dr. Michael Lewis from UC Davis gave a seminar where he stressed the importance of having technically trained brewers on your staff. And he took it a step further, saying that it is also important that they have an independent certification of their mastery of the craft.

Recently, my friend Jeremy Danner from Boulevard Brewing Company posted on Facebook the following: “Fellow brewer types, as you plan your trips to GABF this fall, if you can afford a week in CO, you can afford a microscope. Buy one.” I loved this post…

If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you already know that beer quality is very important to me. It is important that, as brewers, we all strive to make the highest quality, most consistent beer that we can. As the saying goes, a rising tide raises all boats. On the other hand, a craft brewer making lousy beer can drive fledgling craft beer drinkers permanently to other beverages, like wine or spirits. And that’s bad news for all of us.

Unfortunately, there are some brewers starting up who don’t understand the importance of this, and worse yet, how to achieve it.

I teach the Wort Production and Recipe Formulation for the UC San Diego Extension Brewing Certification Program, and one thing I constantly preach to my classes is that if you are starting a brewery, at a minimum you need to invest in a microscope, a pH meter, and hydrometers. Basic stuff, right? But I’ve walked into so many new breweries that have none of this, or perhaps just hydrometers to check gravity, and it just makes me shake me head. And not enough brewers out there have had any formal sensory training, and know how to identify off-flavors in their beers, and subsequently, how those off flavors are formed, and how to fix them or prevent them.

Again, beer quality, as defined by most brewers, has a very clear meaning: The ability to brew beer with no off flavors, the ability to brew the same beer consistently from batch to batch, to recognize and fix quality issues before the beer gets packaged, having the recognition of when its best to simply dump a beer that has gone south, and the ability to evaluate beer ingredients to brew the best beer possible.

Notice I did not mention formulation. To me, that’s where the consumer comes in. Once all the brewers master the art of quality, their formulations can come under fair scrutiny by beer drinkers, who then use their purchasing power to determine which beers thrive and which beers don’t.

I’ve seen many people take the opinion that having poor quality beer out there won’t affect the overall growth of craft beer. In other words, beer customers won’t turn away from craft after having a poorly brewed beer. In some respects that is true-one bad apple won’t spoil the whole bunch. But here is a reason why brewing quality matters: The craft industry is now a major factor in overall beer consumption. Big brewers are starting to really focus on craft beer, and they have the marketing power to exploit poor quality beer and generalize that across the entire craft beer scene. This is not a joke or an idle threat, look what Anheuser-Busch did to craft beer in the 1990s, when they drove the expose on Dateline with Sam Adams and the concept of “who really brews your beer”. The fallout on craft beer started immediately afterwards, and it took years for the craft beer business to recover, and most contract brewers disappeared. These big brewers understand quality, and have a lot of power, and if they ever figure out how to effectively combine these two elements to convey their message it could have a very bad effect on the rest of the industry. Fortunately, for us, their Executives and Marketing folks still don’t “get” what craft beer is all about, so they haven’t been able to effectively talk about this with any credibility.

As MIchael Lewis says, it’s not good at all for craft brewers to get smug with our success, spend too much time patting ourselves on the back, and rest on laurels, since a potential quality disaster is just around the corner.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

UK Brewing Part 1: The traditional breweries

Last week our Lead Brewer, Jeremy Moynier, and I traveled to England to brew a beer for the JD Wetherspoon pub chain’s Real Ale Festival, an event we have now participated in 3 times over the past 6 years. I was hoping to blog about this while there, but very spotty internet service and a very busy schedule made me give up the idea until I got back home.
I thought I’d break these blogs about the trip up into 3 parts:
1. The traditional English breweries that we visited
2. The “new” breweries we visited
3. Some great pub stops.

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Adnams

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Adnams Brewery

So to start off with, Jeremy and I had the pleasure of brewing a 5% Black IPA, or Black Ale, at the Adnams Brewery in Southwold, on England’s east coast (“East Anglia”) about 1.5 hrs northeast of London. This is a very quaint English village on the coast, their claim to fame is a long row of small beach huts/cottages (or sheds, or what we refer to as cabanas) that are lined up all along the beach front. People pay over $100,000 for one of these small wooden boxes that have no power or running water, but have incredible beach view and location.

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The town of Southwold near the Adnams Brewery

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The infamous Beach Huts or Beach Sheds in Southwold

The town was great, and there are 3 Adnams pubs there that we visited, all a very short walk from each other, and a lot of nice shops. Apparently, when the weather is nice in the summer, there are incredible lines of cars and huge throngs of tourists that crowd the town. But when we got there on September 10, it was drizzling rain, and the town was kind of empty.

We brewed with Fergus Fitzgerald, the Brewmaster at Adnams, who previously spent a some amount of time at the Fullers Brewery in London. This was really nice,  because not only is Fergus a very talented brewer (after all, he just won UK Brewer Of The Year!), but he is in our age range and we instantly were able to connect and talk brewing. He likes his Southern Hemisphere and American hops, and had quite a few beers that used Citra and other great American hop varieties.

But make no mistake, Adnams is a very traditional brewery. Their best selling beer is a bitter called Southwold Bitter. We really enjoyed this beer, it’s a classic bitter, full of chewy crystal malt flavors and a very pleasing bitterness, and probably half my pints on this visit were the bitter. On cask (or hand pull, as they say) it has an amazing depth of flavor, especially for a beer that is only 3.8% alcohol. Ghost Ship is their fastest growing beer, originally released as a fall seasonal (Ghost Ship for Halloween) it proved so popular they made it a year round beer. It is golden in color and has a nice American hop presence. And our other favorite was a beer called Explorer, which really had some nice hop intensity.

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The lineup of Adnams cask (or hand-pulled) ales at The Crown Hotel, one of their pubs in Southwold.

For the festival, we brewed a Black IPA, a recipe that was loosely based on Stone Supremely Self-Conscious Ale, a beer that started out as a pilot brew using second runnings from Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, and recently has been brewed twice at our Liberty Station brewery. The version we brewed at Liberty Station is 4.5% alcohol and used Amarillo and Simcoe in the dry-hop, just like Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale. But since Fergus doesn’t use Amarillo any more (like many of us, he is tired of dealing with the supply issues), and he didn’t have any Simcoe, we agreed to use Australian Galaxy and Citra in the dry-hop. This was perfect-we weren’t trying to brew a replication of something that we brew in San Diego. Instead, it was truly a collaboration, and Fergus contributed some great ideas to the recipe that I had provided him. We also ended up using their house yeast instead of our house yeast, again, with the intent to make this beer very collaborative, and different from what one would find in our San Diego locations.

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Jeremy and I weighing out hops! These were First Gold, which we used for bittering.

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Fergus manning the control panel. He let me actually click the mouse to start the brew. Funny story, apparently a while ago a member of the British Royal Family was also given that opportunity to start the brew and they couldn’t work the mouse!

Adnams recently replaced their wood and copper brewhouse with a modern, automated Huppmann brewery, all shiny stainless steel, and equipped with a wet mill, mash vessel, lauter tun, holding kettle, and kettle/whirlpool. We felt right at home on this system and the brew went pretty smoothly, despite having some difficulty getting the Golden Naked Oats to transfer through their malt system (the kernels are too small and bridged in the transfer system-nothing that a gentle persuasion with a rubber mallet couldn’t fix). So all was good until we tried to chill the wort out of the whirlpool. At Stone, we use a boatload of hops in the whirlpool to provide flavor and aroma to our beer, and we did the same with this beer. But the danger with that is that the solid hop material can sometimes carry through to the wort chiller and create a plug that prevents the transfer of wort to continue. And that is exactly what happened here. The same thing happened when I brewed at Wadworth Brewery in Devizes two years ago, and I feel bad about it, because a plugged plate chiller is an awful thing to have to unplug. It takes a lot of time and work, and the brew that is sitting in the whirlpool waiting for a clear path is not developing nice flavors at this point. Fergus was very gracious in this situation, reassuring us that it was not our fault and that his brewers tried to push the wort through instead of slowing down the transfer to allow for better separation of clear wort from the solid hop and protein material. Part of me feels that the fact my beers have done this twice now is kind of a badge of honor, but my fear is that no one else in the UK will want to brew a Stone recipe again!

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The Recipe!

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The Pump Clip for the beer we brewed with Fergus

Fergus shared some very special beers with us while we brewed, and he has an American style IPA that is fantastic-in fact I brought one home with me to share with the crew.

The Wetherspoons chain has a collection of brewers in England that will host the international brewers for each festival. This was the largest contingent of American brewers to date. And we were the first American brewer to participate, back in 2008, but I do believe that Matt Brynyldson from Firestone Walker and Toshi Ishii from Ishi Brewing in Guam have done this more than anyone else at this point. One of the most interesting things I find when visiting these traditional English brewers is that most of the brewmasters have shown a very real appreciation and curiosity for the craft brews that we are making in the United States. And I definitely get the feeling that most of them would like to brew more of these kinds of beers, but are a bit handcuffed or squashed by the sales and marketing folks that want to focus on the more traditional styles. Fergus has had the opportunity to brew some great beers with American hops, but I know he also enjoys a traditional bitter also. And that’s what makes it really great-seeing a brewery that doesn’t abandon the tradition, but also embraces the new.

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The brewers participating this year. I’ve brewed collaboration brews with every one of them except Spike from Terrapin and Mark from Abita. Great friends!

One of the other things that I found very interesting is that Adnams installed distillation columns in the area where their old brewhouse was, and are making a variety of spirits. Most notably gin, which one of theirs just won a major award for being the best gin, but also vodka, distilled beer cordials, whiskey, rye and absinth. It was fun talking to Fergus about the lautering of a 100% rye mash, which he stated “doesn’t lauter, you just pull the liquid through”. I could relate, after all, any time we brew with rye at Stone, the team threatens to mutiny because the lauters are so bad.

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The Distillation columns at Adnams run through the floor holes left by their old brewhouse

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Small batch stills used to allow special guests to distill their own gin!

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Various botanicals used to flavor gin

When we returned from Southwold to London,  we were able to arrange a last-minute tour at the  Fullers Brewery (thanks to Angelo Scarnera, who made a phone call while we were at The Rake), and we met up with beer tour guide extraordinaire Glenn Payne, old friends Shaun O’Sullivan and Nico Freccia from 21st Amendment Brewing Co. in San Francisco, and Shaun’s dad Don, and took the Underground to the west side of London. We were met at Fuller’s by Brewing Manager Derek Prentice, one of the most respected brewers in England. Derek spent a lot of time brewing at Young’s before it got sold, then was able to join Fullers in the same capacity after John Keeling was promoted to Brewmaster following the retirement of legend Reg Drury.

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Derek is an amazing host, I’ve done the tour now a few times, and one of the things I really enjoy is Derek’s passion about the traditional British brewing system, which involves an infusion mash tun, (or a combination mash/lauter tun) which is similar to how most craft brewers and homebrewers start out. Derek is a big believer in this system, he doesn’t like modern lauter tuns with rakes that tear the malt apart as they pass through the grain bed.  It’s refreshing to hear this viewpoint. They’ve set their brewery up like a museum, keeping vessels that are hundreds of years old in their original locations, so even though they are no longer being used, one can get a real sense of what the brewery was like at one time.

One of the things that sets Fuller’s apart from other brewers is their tradition of “partigyling” brews, or basically separating the wort into two streams in the brewhouse process: a high gravity portion from the first runnings, and a lower gravity portion from the sparged wort. The high gravity portion is boiled first, and the heat from the boil is used to preheat the second gyle. After the brewhouse process is finished the gyles are blended in different proportions before fermentation to make 2, 3, or even 4 beers of varying strength. It always seemed very complicated to me, but Derek explained it very well.

Fullers has kept old brewing logbooks, and Derek showed us a few recipes from them, including an IPA recipe, and also a Strong Ale that was brewed in 1966, which has been rebrewed and released as part of the “Past Masters” series that they do annually.

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Shaun O’Sullivan and I reviewing an 1891 recipe with Derek Prentice

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Historical brewing logbooks in Derek’s office. Derek is one of two English brewers I’ve met who thinks handwritten logs are much better than electronic record-keeping, and still maintain the tradition. Why? Because you can’t lose a handwritten ledger!

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Derek is leaving Fullers at the end of the year, but he insists it’s not retirement, it’s moving on to consulting and possibly other opportunities, and I’m sure he’ll be highly sought after. In fact, Shaun O’Sullivan jokingly offered him a job right then and there!

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Fuller’s beers, I think they get the best malt profile of just about any brewer, and a Fuller’s pub is always my first stop for a pint upon arriving in England.

Next, a review of some of the new and exciting craft brewers that are springing up around London.

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A pint of Adnams Southwold Bitter. Now that’s a proper pint!

 

What is Quality Part 3. How important is the recipe?

Below is an email I recently sent to our Brewing, Packaging, Maintenance, and QA Teams at Stone Brewing Co. I actually meant to send this at the end of 2012 to congratulate our team on the release of some very cool new beers-namely Stone Enjoy By IPA, and Stone Ruination Tenth Anniversary IPA (now called Stone RuinTen IPA), but found it recently in my “Drafts” folder (doh!). I still believed in the relevance of the message, so I sent it just before our 17th Anniversary celebration.

I think this applies to any production brewery. In a one/two man brewpub operation,obviously the brewer has control and influence over every part of the brewing process starting with formulation, ingredient securing, brewing, fermenting, aging and packaging. But in a production brewery, one has to rely on the talents and skills of many people to get a good beer out the door.

To The Stone Brew Crew:

Whenever we put out a new beer, I’m always asked “who came up with the recipe?”, and I am uncomfortable answering that question, because it is a simple answer that really doesn’t accurately convey why the beer is successful and tastes delicious.

I think far too much credit is given to the formulation/recipe for a beer’s success. I honestly believe that recipe formulation is one of the easiest parts of making a great beer, and accounts for about 5-10% of its potential success. In my opinion, anyone with some understanding of ingredients and styles can create a great recipe, but actually working with that recipe to brew a great beer is the hard part.

Think about it:

1. Without having sufficient supply of the highest quality ingredients, the beer will fail. This means formulating the beer knowing what ingredients are of the highest quality and their availability. Nothing ruins a good beer quicker than having to make inadequate ingredient substitutions.
2. Without having a robust brewhouse that produces consistent wort, and without having a pure yeast strain and carefully monitored fermentations, the beer will fail. Fermentation provides most of the “Beer” flavor you get in beer. Poor yeast health, improper temperature control, or insufficient oxygen addition will cause a poor fermentation with off-flavors.
3. Without having well designed, high quality, reliable production equipment that is maintained and optimized on a regular basis, the beer will fail. You need equipment that will allow you to produce consistent, high quality beer.
4. Without a great team of brewers, who understand craft beer, the beer they are brewing, and the best practices and procedures needed to make that beer, the beer will fail. Our brewers need to be equipped with the education and experience to make smart decisions that are in the best interest of beer quality.
5. Without having 100% focus on sanitation and cleanliness in the brewery, the beer will fail. This has killed many, many small brewers in the past 25 years.
6. It’s often stated that nothing “good” can happen to a beer when it is packaged. Without a great team who bottle and keg the beer, who understand the quality that needs to go into every single package, and who know how to respond when quality issues start to appear, the beer will fail.
7. Without a QA team that accurately measures the progress of the beer and reports it to the team, and looks for ways to improve our understanding of what is happening in the brewing, fermentation, finishing, and packaging processes, the beer will fail.
8. Without proper scheduling of the brewing and packaging of the beer, the beer will either sit too long, or not long enough in the tank, or will be shorted in supply to our sales team, who can then lose valuable handles and shelf space. Ultimately, without proper planning, the beer will fail.
9. Without having a sales and media team that understands the industry and our beers, and works tirelessly to ensure awareness, and deliver our message and vision, the beer will fail.
10. Without having company leadership that encourages risk taking, focuses on taste and quality, supports innovation in everything the company does, listens and supports creative ideas from the team, and supports all of the above items, the beer will fail.

My point is that while it’s great to get accolades about creating a beer recipe, not enough credit is given to the other critical parts of brewing a great beer, some of which are listed above. There are plenty more components that go into making a great beer, and everyone on our team plays a very important role in our success.

I thank you all for everything that you do to make our beers so successful.

Beer Recommendation:

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I was at the Stone Brewing World Gardens and Bistro Liberty Station yesterday afternoon, and after having a sampling of Kris Ketcham’s wonderful beers, got a small pour of Montreal’s Dieu de Ciel! Rosee dHibiscus, a wonderfully refreshing beer that has Hibiscus flowers added in the brewing process. We’ve done some pilot brewing with Hibiscus ourselves, and I really enjoy the fruity floral character that the flowers impart-not to mention the rose hue that also results. Hibiscus plays particularly well in Belgian style beers. As hot and muggy as it was yesterday, this beer was absolutely perfect. Check it out!

 

A Final Note:

We recently had a tragedy at the brewery and it has shaken all of us up pretty hard.  Everyone on our team is grieving and mourning in their own way, and one thing that has really helped has been the tremendous outpouring of support, well wishes, and condolences for our loss. The Craft Brewing Industry is a wonderful business to be in, full of really good, thoughtful, and caring people, and I thank everyone who has reached out to me or anyone else in our company to offer support. It means more than you can know.

Also, I am not going to comment on this tragedy further, unless asked to do so for any official future statements from Stone Brewing Co.

Thanks so much, and cheers.

 

 

What is quality? Part 2

So after I ranted a bit last week about brewers who don’t invest in quality and how that can harm everyone who makes beer for a living, I thought I’d take some time this week to review a little bit more about what it takes to brew a quality beer (or a “proper pint” as they say in the UK).

I hit on a few elements that I think make a quality beer in the previous post. These are:

1. Consistency from batch to batch. Admittedly, this refers to a brewery brewing and packaging a core lineup of beers. Although a brewpub that makes a few flagship beers or regular offerings should strive for consistency too. Philosophically, I disagree to some extent with the notion that a small brewpub/nanobrewery/farmhouse brewer can successfully embrace variable beer flavor caused by seasonal changes to recipes and variability in ingredient flavors, but I understand the attraction to this kind of brewing. For them the question becomes: “Did I make the beer I set out to make?”

2. Lack of off-flavors. Some people don’t agree or don’t care, and many beer drinkers don’t have a good understanding of this, but the presence of off-flavors like diacetyl (butter) and acetaldhyde (pumpkin seed) is a strong indication that the brewer doesn’t have a good grasp on the basics of managing the fermentation part of the brewing process. Too many brewers focus on recipe formulation and the brewhouse operation, but fermentation is by far the hardest part of the brewing process to manage. The idea of managing a living organism (yeast), and controlling it to the extent that you get proper amounts of growth, the flavors produced by the yeast are flavors you want, and the yeast is healthy and happy though several rounds of repitching to fresh wort is daunting to say the least. It requires the utmost focus every day. And it requires good sensory skills and knowledge, so the brewer can determine if things are going as planned, and if not, take immediate steps to rectify the situation.

Other off-flavors:

The presence of DMS (Cream Corn flavor) is indicative that the boiling process in the brewhouse is not as vigorous as it needs to be, or the wort was held hot for too long in the brewhouse.

The presence of phenolic (Bandaid/medicinal flavor) is most likely indicative of having sanitation or ingredient issues.

The presence of excessive grainy or harsh, wet paper or cardboard character is indicative that the beer is either old, or was packaged with high oxygen levels. As someone pointed out in the last blog, this applies primarily to fresh beers. In high strength beers that are brewed for aging, like Imperial Stouts, Barley Wines, etc., the aging and oxidation can create complex flavors that are highly desirable. But still, the aging process must be controlled by holding the beer at the right temperatures to avoid the development of excessively harsh flavors.

3. Creativity: This is a big part of what is going to make or break brewers that are just now getting started. There are so many brewers out there now, each brewery has to have a unique product and message in order to stand out in the crowd. This being said, if you don’t have the first two elements locked down, creativity and uniqueness won’t mean squat. And be mindful of flavor balance. More hops or more spice, for example, isn’t always better. Learning how to get proper balance of flavors in your beer requires skill and experience.

So what’s a brewer to do? Here are my recommendations for brewers that are just starting out:

1. Every single brewery should have, at the very least, lab equipment that includes a pH meter, a hydrometer, and a microscope that is capable of viewing yeast and bacteria.

A pH meter is used to check brewing water pH (critical for proper and consistent mashing), wort pH and beer pH (changes in beer pH can indicate the presence of acid-producing beer spoiling bacteria). pH meters are also critical in wastewater operations. Most municipalities that receive waste streams from a brewery require a certain pH range for that liquid, so brewers need to be able to measure and adjust the pH of their waste streams.

A hydrometer is a floating, calibrated glass or plastic spindle that is used to measure the specific gravity (or density compared to water) of the wort, which refers to the sugar content of the wort. It’s critical to understand wort specific gravities throughout the brewhouse and fermentation process. This tells the brewer that the targets in the brewhouse are being met, and that fermentation (which causes a reduction of sugar content) is occurring at the proper rate. There is an instrument called a refractometer which also measures the density, but be aware that this instrument, while easier to use, won’t provide accurate numbers in beer (with alcohol). But for the brewhouse gravity checks a refractometer is a great tool.

A microscope is critical for viewing brewers’ yeast. Brewers need to check every fermentation as it progresses for yeast viability and cell counts. This involves taking a sample of fermenting beer, or the yeast, and putting it on a special slide called a hemocytometer. The hemocytometer is equipped with gridlines that assist with counting the cells-important to know as fermentation progresses-should see a 3-5 fold increase in yeast at the height of fermentation. In addition, staining the yeast with methylene blue, trypan blue or methylene violet will allow the brewer to count dead yeast cells vs. live, healthy cells. Yeast viability should be be in the 90+% range if you hope to re-use the yeast with good results.

2. At the second level, brewers should really consider investing in a shaker table, malt sieve screens, an analytical balance and a Dissolved Oxygen Meter.

The shaker table holds Erlenmeyer flasks and is used to agitate samples of wort from each brew in the presence of a lot of yeast. The beer in the flasks will completely ferment out within 24 hours, and by measuring the gravity after this process, the brewer will know where exactly the fermentation should finish in the production fermentor. This is called a “forced fermentation” or “attenuation limit” test. In my opinion, this is one of the most critical quality checks a brewer can do, since chilling a tank of beer that still has residual sugar in it, even though the fermentation appears “done”, can result in a sweeter beer that is very susceptible to microbial spoilage. Don’t ever stop a fermentation before the fermentable sugars are consumed, it’s a recipe for disaster. This test can also be done with a lower price tag using an Erlenmeyer flask of fermenting beer placed on a stir plate with a magnetic stir bar.

A malt sieve shaker is set of circular screens with varying mesh sizes that are stacked on top of each other, from coarsest (most open) sieve at the top to a fine mesh sieve on the bottom. Milled malt is placed on the top screen, and the stack is shaken. As the particles of millled malt fall through the screens, they are held back on a particular screen with a mesh size too small to allow the piece to fall through. Using a scale or analytical balance to measure the amount of milled malt retained on each screen allows the brewer to gauge the performance and consistency of the malt milling operation. There are guidelines for the percentage of total grain that should be held on each screen to optimize extraction of sugars and also get good straining of clear wort from the spent grain. Several quality, taste and efficiency issues arise from having too much coarse material in the milled malt, or too much fine/powder material.

The Dissolved Oxygen (DO) meter is the most costly piece of equipment mentioned so far (usually $3000-$10,000), but is critical to ensure low dissolved oxygen levels in the fermented beer. Oxidation reactions create excessively harsh, papery and grainy flavors, and also a very rapid loss of hop character. A brewer who knows that their process is keeping the beer free of oxygen can be assured the beer will survive better in the treatment it gets out in the trade.

Understand that many of these pieces of equipment can be purchased for very reasonable prices, especially if the brewer is willing to shop around and buy used equipment on eBay or Craigslist.

Most small brewers don’t have the resources to purchase the more expensive equipment used to measure IBUs and alcohol. But there are several companies that provide analytical services, and I highly recommend using them on a regular basis. Small brewers have to rely on calculations and estimates to list abv and IBU levels. Using an analytical service can verify those numbers and make them more accurate, as well as help ensure consistency from batch to batch.

3. A formal sensory program is a must! Sitting at the bar and having a glass of beer does not constitute a sensory program. Sensory programs require formal tasting of the in-progress beer and finished beer to ensure the flavors are consistent and desirable. I recommend tasting daily at a minimum: brewing water, samples from the fermentor (a sniff test is fine here), beer that is ready to package, and packaged beer. Also, a museum stock of packaged beer should be held cold and at room temperature and tasted on a regular basis to ensure the beer isn’t going stale too quickly. A consistent and thorough tasting program helps ensure beer flavor consistency and also helps catch problems very early, when they are easier to fix. And keep records!

4. Don’t accept poor quality ingredients. Have a program to select what you want to use (this refers in particular to hops), and evaluate your ingredients as they come in to make sure they are of proper quality. This is tough for a brewer that is just starting out, because often there is no money available to forward contract the hops or the malt. Just be aware that there are some sub-par ingredients out there, don’t succomb to financial or production requirement pressure to use them if you can avoid it.

5. Have a basic microbiological testing program. There are many ways to do this, but have a formal program to either streak agar plates with samples of wort and beer, or some other method that will tell you if your process is sanitary enough to ensure no spoiled beer. Spoiled beer will turn off beer drinkers very quickly, and most customers won’t come back for another try. And people on the beer internet sites love to spread the word about infected beer.

6. Don’t release sub-par beer. If the beer is spoiled, or has off-flavors, please bite the bullet and dump it. Take the financial hit, because in the long-term, it will save the company’s reputation. Learn something from the experience and move on.

7. Understand beer styles and how to brew them. This doesn’t necessarily mean be part of the “style police” and brew everything strictly to style. But it does help to understand the established styles so you can use them as a basis for your beer and develop well crafted variations on them.

8. For goodness sake, if you are a brewery owner, hire a trained and/or educated brewer to run your operation. Don’t skimp on this so very important part of the business. There is no substitute for experience, but a young person who has just graduated from brewing school (and there are many excellent ones across the country) will be able to understand the brewing process on a commercial brewing scale much more effectively than someone who has only brewed several batches of homebrew. This really is critical. Get someone who on board understands the science behind brewing. A brewing school graduate will demonstrate both passion for the craft and the ability to think critically about the processes and troubleshooting.

9. Rely on the industry for help and advice. The Brewers Association out of Boulder is a wonderful organization for craft brewers. It doesn’t cost much to join, and there are many ways you can ask questions, and get answers from some of the smartest, most experienced brewers in the country. The Master Brewers Association of America is a technical association that has been in existence for over 100 years. And though historically they have been the technical organization for large brewers, they are now also focused on craft brewing. There are regional districts of the Master Brewers all over the country, and it costs typically less than $150/year to join. The district meetings are a great place to network and learn from more experienced brewers, and the annual conference is a nationwide event that presents some of the best brewing technical information I have experienced. As a third option, this industry is still young, and there still a strong sense of brotherhood and camaraderie among craft brewers, and most of the local brewers are likely willing to help a startup brewery with quality or equipment issues and advice. And finally, websites like pro brewer.com have excellent forums where brewers can ask questions and get great answers.

10. Be humble when praised, and respond quickly to complaints. Nothing can salvage a brewer’s reputation quicker than providing a quick response to a customer who has a complaint about the beer. Make a sincere effort to make good on the issue, either by replacing the beer or sending a shirt, hat, or logo glass. Ignoring complaints will come back to hurt the business. More people spread the word about poor experiences with beer and breweries than those who have had enjoyable experiences. And when receiving praise, don’t get a big head. Know that a serious quality issue, infection, bad batch, whatever, is lurking just around the corner. I remember Dan Carey of New Glarus once saying: “There are 2 kinds of brewers: brewers that have had infection issues, and brewers who haven’t had infection issues, yet“. True words.

11. Focus 100% on cleanliness and sanitation. Experienced brewers know this, and often (semi) jokingly call themselves janitors, because 75% of their job is cleaning, scrubbing, and sanitizing. Wort, being 12-25% sugar, is extremely susceptible to unwanted bacterial or wild yeast spoilage. And beer is only a bit more resistant. An unclean brewery cannot produce consistent beer without off flavors.

And now it is time for me to get off my soapbox, at least for a few days!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is quality?

I fell into an interesting discussion on Facebook yesterday that was started by Gary Spedding, a long time colleague who runs Brewing and Distilling Analytical Services, a company in Kentucky that can do complete analysis on beer, spirits, and other beverages.
Gary referenced this Article and also a talk from Michael Lewis, my brewing professor at UC Davis back in the 1980’s, at this year’s Craft Brewers Conference in Washington, DC, that was critical of craft beer quality in general.

Michael Lewis’ talk at the CBC was quite provocative, which I’m sure was his intent. He scolded the craft brewing community for being smug in our success, and cited that most craft brewers don’t have the wherewithal to really deal with important quality issues, especially those that could hurt the consumer. And when compared to large and/or well established brewers across the world, he is absolutely right. Now to be clear, there’s no microorganism that can grow in beer that can make people sick, which is just one reason why it is such an amazing drink. But his examples included bursting bottles, which some of us have had to deal with, and also the rampant use of herbs, spices, foods, and other botanicals in beers. Brewers sometimes don’t list their unusual ingredients that could potentially make some people sick. And he has a point. With the exception of Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, and some of the other brewers who have graduated from microbrewery status to “Regional Craft Brewery”, most of the smaller brewers in the USA have very rudimentary labs, don’t really analyze their beers, and don’t necessarily do all the due diligence required when adding an an unusual ingredient to their beers.

As Gary Spedding points out, the TTB, which governs brewers and approves formulations (recipes) for beer, especially when the beers include unusual processes or ingredients, is a shrinking agency. Once under the umbrella of the old Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the TTB (Tax and Trade Bureau) split off at some point after 9/11, and currently has a very small staff that cannot handle the sheer volume of brewers’ formula approvals that come across their desks. And many smaller brewers, especially those that only sell their beer at their pubs, taste rooms, or just locally, don’t even bother with TTB approval, as long as they have local or state label approval. So there are a lot of beers out there that have ingredients not reviewed by the TTB, which I find a bit unnerving.

So what is a quality beer? It’s different depending on who you ask, which is part of the problem. Some people view quality as pushing the envelope, being creative, and brewing unique, groundbreaking beers. Some, who I refer to as the “style police”, look at a beer with an eye towards accepted style guidelines, and knock a beer if it doesn’t conform to certain style parameters, such as bitterness, sweetness or dryness, malt character, hop intensity and the like. Others look at consistency in beers-does the beer taste the same from batch to batch? I can tell you that this is very important for us at Stone-we want people who are buying a six-pack or case of Stone IPA to know what they are getting, and to get what they expect. A lot of people don’t think American Lagers have any quality, and to me that is a big mistake. Just because someone doesn’t like the flavor of the beer, or the fact it is brewed with cereal grains, doesn’t mean that the beer lacks quality. The consistent flavor of these beers with so little malt and hops flavor is actually quite an amazing technical feat, and it takes a high level of talent and skill to pull it off.

To me, quality means all of the above to a certain extent, plus whether the beer has a proper balance of flavors, and also the absence of off flavors, such as diacetyl (butter), acetaldehyde (green apple, pumpkin seed), phenolic (band-aid), and oxidation/age (cardboard/harsh/stale). Let’s look at a few of these off-flavors in more detail:

Diacetyl:  There are people that say buttery diacetyl is acceptable in some styles, and I call BS on that. In my opinion that’s a cop out. Perhaps that’s because I learned from Dr. Michael Lewis, and Anheuser-Busch, but I cannot drink a beer if it has even the slightest trace of diacetyl. Diacetyl is formed by yeast during fermentation, and is taken up by again and metabolized by yeast during aging, so the resulting beer should have none. Diacetyl in beer can be a result of a fermentation issue, unhealthy yeast, rushing the beer through aging, or in some cases, a bacterial infection. And I cannot stand the movie theatre buttered popcorn flavor in beer that results from diacetyl. When I worked at San Andreas Brewing Company, we used a dry yeast strain (this was before Wyeast and White Labs) and occasionally, one of our flagship beers, Seismic Ale, would throw some diacetyl.  I hated it when this happened, but many customers who came into the pub absolutely loved it. It was quite confounding and frustrating, but we still worked hard to ensure the beer didn’t have diacetyl.

Acetaldehyde is another flavor that results from fermentation issues, and is present in beer either because the beer hasn’t been aged long enough, or if the yeast health is poor, the yeast cells die and burst, releasing this flavor into the beer. In any event, acetaldehyde is hard flavor to discern at lower levels, and is one of the hardest off-flavors to detect and also fix. There is a common misperception that the green apple ester that some people use to describe Budweiser is acetaldehyde. I’ve heard this from very experienced, knowlegable brewing educators, and it is absolutely wrong. Budweiser has the lowest measured acetaldehyde levels of any major American lager brewer, the green apple ester is something else, and this exemplifies some of the confusion about this off-flavor. Not to name any names, but there is one lager brewer who operates in this country whose beer has definite acetaldehyde-and I think it’s a characteristic of their yeast strain, because it’s very consistent in their beers. So is this an off-flavor? To them perhaps not, but I find it unpalatable.

Oxidation: The other off flavor that drives me crazy is excessive age. This exhibits itself as grainy flavors, harsh or cardboard/wet paper flavors in beer. As craft brewers have become better educated, I’ve seen a drastic reduction in instances of diacetyl or acetaldehyde, but graininess is still something I see a lot, and to me it’s a major flavor flaw. People who drink a lot of import beers have become accustomed to this flavor, and may even find it desirable in some cases. And craft brewers are among the worst offenders of beer freshness. Many assign 6 month to one year code dates on their beers, without really testing, let alone considering, what the beer will taste like after that much time sitting on a dusty shelf. I can tell you, beer with any hop character is going to lose the hops within a couple of months, and will be harsh, grainy and undrinkable very soon after that. This oxidation character can be controlled to a certain extent by keeping beer free of oxygen post-fermentation and during packaging, but many small brewers lack the technical skill to measure dissolved oxygen, let alone control it during packaging or fixing the situation when oxygen levels are high.

Beer drinkers, by and large, are not familiar enough yet with these off flavors to make an accurate judgement as to whether the beers have quality issues or not. And that is because large brewers, who many people grew up with, are technically skilled enough to prevent off flavors in their beers. So people aren’t used to tasting beers with off flavors, and often can’t identify off flavors when they are present. And so they base quality on other things, like uniqueness, hoppiness, maltiness, unique sour character, or simply whether they like the beer or not. However, at some point, as the less experienced consumers become better educated about beer, low quality beers with high levels of off flavors are going to turn some people off, and that could have a negative effect on the whole industry,

Here’s the real issue: With so many breweries popping up right now, which in general is a good thing and is very exciting to me, there are some breweries that have brewers who lack the education, experience, or sensory acumen to ensure consistency and prevention of off flavors in their beers. I can’t count how many small breweries I’ve visited that don’t even have a microscope or pH meter in their facility, and this makes me nervous. Brewers that believe they can judge their beer’s quality by sensory analysis alone are missing the boat, there are some basics regarding Quality Assurance that absolutely must be adhered to. I remember seeing a presentation by Ruth Martin at Sierra Nevada, where she outlined what a craft brewer’s quality regimen should be as they grow and expand their distribution. It was a very gratifying talk for me, because we had been growing our quality program very closely to what Ruth recommended, and we continue to so so.

I remember, many years ago, I walked into a brewpub, and talked to the brewer, who had just been hired on. He had been a line cook in the establishment’s restaurant, and when the previous brewer left, they gave him the brewer’s position, despite the fact he had no experience brewing beer, or any technical education at all. And this situation made me very upset. First, it annoys me that some brewery owners see so little value in brewing experience and will hire people that don’t know what they are doing. A brewer has to be many things, and recipe creator is just a small part of the job. If the brewer doesn’t have a good understanding of the importance of cleanliness and sanitation, off-flavors, how they are caused and what can be done to remedy them, brewery safety, yeast management, etc. the beer is going to suffer. Secondly, this poor kid had no clue about brewing, beer styles, ingredients, and what makes a quality beer. He was put in a position to fail, and that angered me.

Unfortunately, as the craft brewing industry is enjoying a nice boom right now, a lot of people are starting breweries that just don’t understand how critical it is to have someone who knows how to brew at the helm. And too many people are starting breweries because they have money and think it would be cool, vs. having a real passion for beer and the art and science of brewing. And I think that’s sad, and potentially damaging to the industry.