Tag Archives: IPA

Brewing Records and Why They Matter

Last week I had beers and dinner at The Porter in Atlanta with author and brewing historian Ron Pattinson, who was traveling through Atlanta to speak at an event during Asheville Beer Week.

Ron writes the blog Shut Up About Barclay Perkins http://barclayperkins.blogspot.com and has written numerous books containing painstakingly researched recipes from brewing’s past.  Ron helped me a ton when I wrote my book on IPA and IPA history, and his work on recipe research helped me to decipher a lot of the brewing logs from the 1800s so I could relate them to current brewing terms and techniques. It’s a real shame that so many historical records from the 1700s and 1800s were lost when breweries sold or shuttered their doors. And in the case of the American breweries, Prohibition resulted in many brewing records being destroyed or lost forever. But people like Ron have been able to really do a deep dive and understand how beer was made back then.

Ron and I had some great conversations last week, but we finished up the evening  talking about current breweries and wondering how a future beer historian might be able to access today’s brewing records and write about them. In these days of the Information Age, one might think it should be easy to find electronically any brewery’s recipe and write about how the brewery brewed them. But not really. Here are my thoughts on why this might be very challenging.

I’ve been a proponent of documenting everything in the brewing process since the mid 1990s when I spent time in Anheuser-Busch’s Corporate Brewing Dept. and in their St. Louis Brewery. I remember clearly the VP of Brewing Doug Muhleman’s stance on record keeping: “If it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen”. AB kept electronic records of all their brewing and QA analysis, kept detailed recipe logs, taste results, and maintained process and ingredient change logs at every brewery. Doing so allowed the brewing managers to track back when there were flavor issues or other quality issues in order to understand what might be potential causes. So now I wonder if these records are available anywhere now, with the Inbev buyout and the drastic changes at the brewery? It’s very hard to say. The database was built in house by AB, and probably will never be accessible to anyone outside the company, if it still even exists.

I’ll never forget working on the American Originals project to brew AB’s pre-Prohibition beers and how hard it was to find any detailed records of those beers, or the project that others were working on in Corporate Brewing to detail the recipe history of Michelob going back to the late 1800s. Very tough tasks indeed, and I can see history repeating itself with hard-to-find recipes and process descriptions for today’s beers.

When I worked in AB’s big St. Louis Brewery, in the late 1990s, one person was charged with the daily update of what was called “the McNab book”, which was a handwritten record in a binder that tracked every fermentation and lagering process. McNab was the brand name of an in-line instrument that recorded the yeast content of the beer as it moved from primary fermentation to lagering. Then, during the lagering process, the 0 hour, 10 day and end of lager cell counts were tracked in the McNab book, as were QA analytical values, and all of this data was used to determine proper zinc sulfate additions in the brewhouse. Zinc sulfate was used as a yeast nutrient, and affected the yeast cells’ flocculation (settling) rates, which in turn impacted natural carbonation, diacetyl reduction, and the unwanted acetaldehyde formation in the final beer. One person was charged with evaluating the McNab trends and with tracking the cell counts to proactively make zinc changes when the 10 day cell counts were too high or too low. This was a record that Brewing Directors in Corporate Brewing reviewed when they visited the brewery, so it was important to keep it accurate, neat and legible.

When I moved to Merrimack NH in 1999, I took the mechanics of the “McNab” book with me and adapted it to our brewing process in Merrimack. I added sections for brewhouse and primary fermentation, and noted which lager tanks were blended as they were filtered and packaged. And yes, much of this information was later available electronically, but I found it very difficult to structure the reports that had all data I wanted into a format that was easy for me to use. In addition, I found that I had much better retention of the information if I actually wrote it myself vs printing off a pre-fabbed report to review.  So I filled out spreadsheets. Lots and lots of spreadsheets. And as I filled them out, I gained a real thorough understanding of how we were brewing our beer over time. I also maintained an overall brewhouse recipe spreadsheet, which the brewers had at their workstations, which was updated with recipe changes as they occurred. This is a form that I again took with me from the St. Louis brewery operation and adapted to Merrimack’s operation. We had a “Yeast Tree” document that tracked the use of every culture we received from 0 to 10 generations. And we had an electronic change log that documented recipe changes. But these records were all lost to me when I left AB to join Stone Brewing, and I’d be surprised if anyone could still find them today.

In 2006, when I got to Stone, which was like many craft brewers in this respect, all the brewing logs were filled out on paper by the brewers and were kept in file folders. One of the first tasks I assigned to myself was to create an electronic record of all the recipes Stone had ever brewed, so we could refer back to them if needed, and also to make sure we weren’t accidentally repeating a hop combination or recipes that we had already used. But we had just moved into the new building on Citracado, and many of the really old brewlogs were filed in various offices, and in some cases, people’s homes. So I went back as far as I could with the brewlogs I was able to find, and then moved on to other things. I kept several other spreadsheets, including a master recipe sheet, a change log that included both recipe/ingredient changes AND process changes (new equipment, procedural changes and the like), and a brewing record that was based on the original AB McNab log that I called the “BrewDiary”. I had a separate worksheet in the spreadsheet for each core brand that tracked each batch of beer from start to finish, and then one large sheet for all the special releases,collaborations and one-offs we brewed.

During my final year at Stone Brewing, when we were putting together the list of beers to re-brew for our year-long 20th Anniversary celebration, we were asked to re-brew the Stone 02.02.02 Vertical Epic Ale, and the Stone 6th Anniversary Ale, which was a bigger version of Stone Smoked Porter. That’s when I regretted not following through on that early project to completely build files for the old recipes! After some discussions with original Brewmaster Steve Wagner and with former Head Brewer Lee Chase, there still wasn’t much detail available on either beer. The brewlogs were apparently buried in a box somewhere in the Stone archives, we made jokes about getting HazMat suits to sift through all the dusty boxes to find them.  In the end, I reversed engineered the Stone 02.02.02 Vertical Epic Ale from Lee’s original homebrew blog that we did for each VE release, and we interviewed many Team Stone members who had been with company a long time to learn about what went into the 6th Anniversary Porter-we had missed a lot originally-it was actually more complex than just a scaled up version of Stone Smoked Porter.

So my point in all this is that I suspect there are a lot of craft brewers over the years who have followed a similar pattern. They have graduated from handwritten brew logs, that are filed and stored in a box somewhere, to spreadsheets, or maybe even to more complex equipment supplier automated databases or ERP systems. But in 100 years, who is going to be able to find any of it if they want to document how beers were brewed during our current times? Especially if breweries continue to grow quickly or get sold or close shop.

Several years ago I was able to travel to England and brew a beer at Wadworth brewery. And I had some discussions with their Brewmaster, Brian Yorsten, about record keeping. He told me that they had recently moved from filling out the ornate brewing logs like the brewers in the 19th century used to the more modern practice of keeping records on spreadsheets. And he absolutely hated it, and eventually went back to filling out the logbooks.  Logbooks are easy to store and access, provided someone doesn’t throw them out with the trash. Computer records are not always easy to access, especially when stored in ERP systems or house-built databases.

I’m wondering right now if a concerted effort could be made by the industry to preserve some brewing logs from early craft brewers in a safe place, like a library or a museum, where researchers in the future could go back and learn about the techniques and ingredients being used today. As difficult as it was to research beers brewed in the 1800s, I sadly suspect that 100 years from now, it might be even harder for historians to research the beers that are being brewed today. Sure, there’s a lot of high level information available since brewers have been providing recipes to brewing magazines and homebrewers for many years. But nowhere have I seen the details of how someone’s beer is brewed, exactly how they describe their ingredients, what equipment they are using, and their brewing processes. And that’s the stuff the researchers will want to understand.

 

The Home Brewers Guide to Vintage Beer

Vintage_Beer_cover_new

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 decline of Bass Pale Ale

Here’s a great post on Martyn Cornell’s Zythophile regarding The sad state of Bass Pale Ale.

I used to love Bass Ale, it definitely was a favorite of mine for many years, especially when visiting “pubs” here in the US, when the only offerings were typically Bass, Guinness Stout and Harp. However, it’s been many years since I’ve even seen it (not that I seek it out). This is a depressing story, about a company that simply doesn’t know what to do with one of the most iconic brands in brewing history.

At one time, in the 1800s, Bass was the largest brewery in the world, and their IPA set the standard for the style. Much of what I researched for the IPA book about 1800s IPAs I found in the Bass Archives (now called the National Brewery Centre archives), and if you ever get a chance to visit their museum in Burton-On-Trent, it is an amazing display of historical brewing in England, including an entire section dedicated to IPA and Burton’s heyday as a world brewing center in the 1800s. Also, there is a very nice pub on site, serving beers brewed exclusively at the Worthington’s small brewery just across the driveway from the museum.

Beers being served at the National Brewery Centre Worthington's Pub. Delicious!

Beers being served at the National Brewery Centre Worthington’s Pub. Delicious!

The state of affairs in Burton-On-Trent regarding the absence of the Bass name and logo on all of their old brewery buildings always seemed very sad to me…not that I blame Coors, who bought the breweries and now operate them. Just a strong statement about the dangers of brewery consolidation of the loss of historical brewing records, memorabilia, and other historical artifacts. Often, when breweries are bought out, much of the written material gets disposed of by the new company, without a thought as to how valuable those records might be to someone else.

This brewery used to be part of Bass. Now it is not.

This brewery used to be part of Bass. Now it is not.

I salute Coors for finally making the decision a few years ago to reopen the Museum and The Brewing Archives, a virtual treasure trove of old brewing documents, recipes and labels. They may have bowed to public pressure, but the fact remains that one of the best museums for beer was on their site and it’s a wonderful thing that it is open for visitors again. And if you do ever get the chance to visit, there are still plenty of historical sites that refer to the Bass heritage found throughout Burton:

The old Bass Water tower, just off the banks of the River Trent

The old Bass Water tower, just off the banks of the River Trent

William Bass house-historical marker

William Bass’s house is identified by this historical marker

 

A better shot of the William Bass house

A better shot of the William Bass house

No trip to Burton-On-Trent is complete without a visit to the infamous Cooper’s Tavern, once a Bass tied house, but now a free house pub. This was the pub that workers at Bass frequented on a regular basis. Now it is a wonderfully historic pub, serving a great selection of beer, and packed with friendly people. I’ve been there a few times now, and have always ended up having lively, friendly conversations with the regulars.

The casks at Cooper's Tavern

The casks at Cooper’s Tavern

The sign outside the door features, not surprisingly, a cooper!

The sign outside the door features, not surprisingly, a cooper!

The house dog, "Eddie" at Cooper's Tavern, making himself at home

The house dog, “Eddie” at Cooper’s Tavern, making himself at home

Any brewer interested in brewing history and recipes from the 1700s and 1800s owes themselves a trip to Burton-On-Trent. Spend at least 2 days there, the historical impact of this town on brewing is massive.

More to come, I have a lot to share about my experiences in Burton-on-Trent.

 

 

 

 

Going to England (again)

We just made arrangements today for me to fly over to England in September with our Lead Brewer, Jeremy Moynier, to brew a beer with an English brewer for the Wetherspoons pub chain. Wetherspoons puts on an International Real Ale Festival twice each year, and has a program where they invite brewers from other countries to brew beer at select English breweries. All the beer is made as Real Ale, meaning it all goes in casks, is clarified to brilliant crystal clear without filtration, and is naturally carbonated, and served from the cask using a beer engine.

Stone Brewing Co. has participated in this program with Wetherspoons twice over the years. In fact, we were the first American Brewery to participate, back in early 2008, when Stone Brewing Co. cofounder, President and original Brewmaster Steve Wagner and I got to brew at the Shepherd-Neame Brewery in Faversham, which bills itself as the oldest operating brewery in England. That beer we brewed with the great brewers at Shepherd-Neame was an IPA, weoriginally wanted to do an 8-9% abv Double IPA, but the Wetherspoons folks balked at that because it was too high in alcohol. After some negotiation, we settled on a 7% West Coast style IPA.

Steve wanted to call this beer “California Mild” which still makes me laugh, but what I really found interesting is that when Stone cofounder and CEO Greg Koch and I went back for the release party at one of the Wetherspoons Pubs in London, there were many people, including some fellow brewers, who would not even try the beer because it was “so strong”. There were some I couldn’t persuade to even try a small taste. I learned then a bit of the real differences between the beer scene in England vs. the beer scene here in the United States, especially with regards to alcoholcontent. In the United States, many craft beer drinkers look for high alcohol, and are happy sticking to 1-2 pints over the course of an evening. In England, many of the beer drinkers want 3-4%, and that’s it. Anything above that teeters dangerously close to the dreaded “binge drinking” label. The pub drinking culture in England is totally different, and revolves around drinking many pints among friends, so the lower alcohol is an important consideration. And to be fair, there were many brewers, including David Holmes from Shepherd-Neame and John Bryan from Oakham Ales in Peterborough who really enjoyed our beer as well. It was during this trip that I gained a very deep appreciation for traditional English brewing and for good Real Ale. It was a fantastic experience, and I was really glad to be able to help set up some of my craft brewer friends to participate in the same program over the past few years. One of the nicest surprises that came out of this particular trip was that for a short while, the beer we brewed had the highest ranking of all British Beers on ratebeer.

Britain Best Beers

 

Wetherspoons Real Ale Festival Pump Clips

Mitch and former Team Stone Member, Collaborator and good friend Toshi Ishii pouring their beers. I’m not caring that some people won’t try it- more for me!

The second opportunity for Stone came in the fall of 2011, when I traveled solo to the Wadworth Brewery in Devizes, near Bath and Bristol. This time we brewed something a little more British, at least in terms of alcohol content. We brewed a Session IPA, loosely inspired by the collaboration brew we had made with San Diego homebrewer extraordinaire Kelsey McNair and Colby Chandler from Ballast Point. That was a very fun experiences-Devizes is a wonderfully quaint village, and there was literally a Wadworth pub on every corner of the main street through town. The brewers there treated me wonderfully, and I got some great sightseeing in.

The Wadworth Brewery, a great example of a traditional English brewer.

The Wadworth Brewery, a great example of a traditional English brewer.

Pump Clip for the San Diego Session IPA

Pump Clip for the San Diego Session IPA

So this time, we are brewing at Adnams in Southwold, on the East coast of England, with Fergus Fitzgerald, a brewer Steve and I met a few years ago with Martyn Cornell during one of our research trips for the IPA book. Fergus brews some great beers, and has a love for American hop varieties, so we are looking forward to putting this beer together with him. And congratulations are in order, as Fergus was just named Brewer Of The Year

I am looking forward to spending a little time in London, visiting some of my favorite pubs, including The Rake, The White Horse, Churchill Arms, Craft Brewing Company, and wherever else our travels take us. We hope to visit some London brewers as well-will keep you posted on that.