Tag Archives: Stone

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.

 

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!