Monday, March 30, 2009

Weekend and Beer Styles

Over the weekend we rented bikes to go through the English Garden and stopped at the second largest biergarten in Bavaria for lunch while the sun was still out. We admired the fellows that surf the river in the park.

On Sunday we went to the Deutches Museum to ponder for hours their wonderful technology displays.

But enough about touristy stuff; let's talk about beer style. The German brewmasters recognize many different variations in beer styles.

Pale lager exists in two catagories: Munich Helles and non-Bavarian Helles. Munich Helles is very slightly sweeter, fermented traditionally in open fermenters and has HUGE amounts of SO2 due to the pressurization of the fermenting tanks to achieve natural carbonation. It's also a bit darker (9-12 EBC) due to single decoction mash. Non-Bavarian Helles has a higher degree of attenuation (82-86% apparent). This is the style we know in the States as European light lager.

The Pilsner category can be divided up to three styles: Bavarian, North German and Bohemian. Bavarian is less hopped, degrees dropping as low as 20BU and taste more like Helles lager. North German is mid-range to high and Bohemian is always high sometimes pushing 45BU. Original pilsners were much darker and sweeter than the pilsners we know today and always had a hint of diacetyl. This color change was caused by the intensive decoction procedure. It was felt that the pale malt made in the Bohemian area would not make good beer so intensive boiling was instigated.

More beer styles later...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Flotzinger Brau mmmmmm,

Friday after class we took the Bahn to Rosenheim to meet up with our good friend and teacher Dr, Michael Zepf. Mike's the brewmaster at Flotzinger Brau and had us over for a backstage tour, some wonderful food and, of course, beer. The murky liquid that Zak and Brian are drinking is an acidified wort. Due to the German purity law Reinheinsgebot, brewers here cannot add anything that isn't malt, hops, yeast and water. Sometimes a brewer desires a low pH mash. How the Germans got around this was allowing the bacteria found naturally on the malt to acidify a solution. They keep tanks of acidified wort around to mix with fresh mash.

The brewery was beautiful and dates back to 1904. The family has brewed there since 1543. We saw traditional equipment next to state of the art Steinecker vessels. At the end of the tour Mike took us into the maturation rooms to have a glass of Helles unfiltered, straight from the tank. It always confused me that the BJCP made a score sheet for beer that was on a scale of up to fifty, but no beers ever got a fifty. I thought some beers should be that good. This beer and the experience is why the beer scores go up to fifty. It was the best beer of my life. Fifty out of fifty, hands down.

After the tour we went to the lunch hall where Mike and his wife had made us livercheese, sausage salad and pretzels. Oh yeah, and a barrel of Marzen. We had a fun night, but I shouldn't go into details.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

more pics

More pics like I said from Zak.

First times at Doeman's

It's been three days at Doeman's Academy for Beer, Food and Beverage and I've been having a blast. The campus has many classrooms, laboratories, a brewery (shown here), a bottling line, a bottle washer and a cafeteria. It's a German school that dates back to the late 1800's although this campus was built in the 1960's. The Siebel class is the only class taught in English.

Monday was devoted to getting things at home together and getting over jet lag. Yesterday half of the class including me brewed a traditional Bavarian Wheat on the Doeman's pilot system. Notice the open fermenter that Brad is filling and the horizontal brite tanks that Jeff is leaning against. I wanted to take a nap on the bags of Weyermann malt.

I believe that one of the teachers plotted against us and set the grind on the mill too fine. We tried to lauter for three hours before giving up and adding malt extract! Everything went wrong that day. Our teacher Bjorn was very considerate about all the mistakes. With any luck we won't mess up the Pilsner scheduled for next week. Brian and I put the spent grain in one of our teacher's 7 series and drove it a kilometer to a dairy farm. Only in Munich, huh? We actually got to dump the grain for the cows. So that's why all of Munich smells of manure! There are farms in the center of towns.

The brew day took eleven hours. After school the guys thought it would be nice to head up to Augustiner Keller for some real German beer and food. I'll get more pictures of this. We drank liters of Helles and Maximator and ate pig's knuckle and snitzel.

I love Germany. I could live here. There are many things about Germany that I won't explain here, but I love it. I really should have learned the language; I always wanted to.

Remember how I was excited about the spring? It's 34F and snowing here. Arrgh. I can't escape the snow.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


So we got to Germany alright. At least all in one piece. The first stop we made after dropping off our luggage was to Marienplatz. It's the big tourist stop. I'll try to take more pictures when we go back. I was/am very tired from the plane ride. The Hofbrauhouse was enormous and wonderful. I can't wait to go to more biergartens.
The sauerkraut is fantastic. It's not sour, but sweet and goes well with mustard. Check out the picture of the automatic beer pourer. Now that's engineering!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Goodbye Chicago. It was fun and I'll miss you.

We fly out of town at 9:00 tonight. Siebel's doors will be open to us at noon to let us drop off luggage and attempt to finish off the last of the Sierra Nevada on tap. Springtime has finally come to the Midwest. Over the week I've noticed the flower shoots pushing up the mud and litter. Birds have returned. I saw my first cardinal. We don't get those pretty birds west of the Rockies and it fascinated me. They sing a song that's much like young boys pretending to shoot lasers at each other. (Pyew, pyew!) The barbary and pussywillow I pass on the way to school are sending out new branches. I think back on the two weeks of constant snow in Seattle we had in December and the intense cold of Chicago. This has been the longest winter of my life. The summer plagues me in my dreams. Being in Munich in the spring should be a just reward.

The guys of been eating lots of salads and Asian foods, and drinking lots of American IPA before this trip. We've been warned that the Germans eat nothing but pork and pretzels, and don't import our beer. If the weight of my bag is light enough, I'll try to pack a few DIPAs for the German students to try.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Last weekend before Germany

Friday was the end of our six week brewing theory program. An end of power points? Boy I hope so. We finished the day with the fun program of beer and food pairing hosted by the notable beer writer Ray pictured here. What a great finish to all of our studying!

My favorite was St. Bernardus Apt 12 with muenster cheese. Flossmoor station nut brown with five year cheddar was also very notable. Ray's pick of the day was imperial IPA with carrot cake.

Saturday I met up with my Seattlite turned Chicagoian friend Eric and his sweetheart Sara to see Bonny "Prince" Billy at the Vic theater a few blocks from my house. He put on a great show as always playing hits off his new record and some oldies from "I see a darkness".

Although it was not St. Patricks Day over the weekend, we still had all the parades, the river dyed green and all the stupid drunks filling the streets. My Seattle comrades might not know how seriously these Chicagoians take their non-irish heritage. I saw hundreds of amateurs puking on the streets, screaming at the top of their lungs, and in some cases, driving over trees.

Sunday found me following Aric to Metropolitan Brewing to help with the process and have a few brews from this new lager brewery located in Chicago's Ravenswood neighborhood. Pictured is recent grad of Siebel, Doug in front of his brew kettle. Doug and Tracey are making some wonderful beers in the Chicagoland available at bars and in the bottle. If you're travelling to Chicagoland, I'd suggest checking their brews out. Flywheel is a hoppy Helles lager that is definitely a make-out session of noble, woody hops and slightly-sulfur Pils malt, quite drinkable! Dynamo is a clean, copper lager with a malt forward nose and chewy, Oktoberfest finish. Keep up the good work guys.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Thursday, March 12, 2009

More Sensory Tests

On Tuesday we had the Belgian beer tasting session of the class. I got to admit, It's fun to try every single style of Belgian beer in a row. Today was different though. Today we were tortured. We sampled spiked bottles of Bud with many horrible fluids that nobody would want to try.

Caproic Acid at 7ppm I thought tasted like bark-dust, crayons and solvent and is attributed to yeast autolysis.
The phenolic Eugenol at 400ppb has a clovey, phenolic flavor reminiscent of Lambics and is a flavor that comes out of some yeasts. Ortho-chloro phenol at 6ppb tasted like a dentist office and shouldn't be trusted. The WORST flavor I have ever had in a beer is trans-2-nonenal at 2ppb. It is a compound that is caused by oxidation and smells like a flooded library. It's that old book smell. The taste is to me like biting into a piece of fruit with a stink bug inside. Then we tried some bottles subjected to a 60C heat treatment for three hours to simulate over-pasteurisation or poor storing conditions. It tasted and smelled like Cheerios, was sweet and doughy.

After the taste-bud lashing, we were subjected to a seven sample sensory evaluation. I missed the fact that baby-mess smell is attributed to the oxidation of hops, but I got DMS, diacetyl, trans-2-nonenal, iso-amyl-acetate and the two controls correct.

If any of you brewers, homebrewers or geeks would like to buy a kit of spiking stuff for your own palate training, I would heartily suggest the kit that the Siebel Institute is putting together. Although as you can tell from above, palate training is not always fun. Shoot me an email if you're interested:

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The weekend

What an amazing weekend I had!

My lovely girlfriend Shanna and my lovely friend Mandi came to Chicago to see the sights and keep me company.
It was a gastronomically awesome time. Saturday we met up the other fellows from school to eat at "Hot Doug's", the world's best hot dog place. The line was literally three hours to get in. It's great to be with two pretty girls; we can cut in line and nobody cares. We enjoyed the pear and port wine elk sausage, the pheasant, the spicy hot one, a regular dog with all the fixins' and duck-fat fries. Chicago does its grease right.

Later that day we got poured on trying to enjoy the downtown sights, went out to some BYOB Thai food, visited the L&L, and met up with the guys again. Sunday we went to breakfast and followed up with some shopping. Did you know that vintage people were really small? That's why I have never found anything to buy in a vintage shop. If you're in Chicago and want some Pho, go to Tank noodles at the argyle stop off the red line. We were very pleased. Then we had too much fun at the Hopleaf with Aric from school. You can use all your senses to enjoy a beer, there's a picture here of us listening to it.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Kegs and bottles!

Just in response to a question about kegging and bottle washing:

Way back in the beginning of packaging, if you wanted to buy some beer, you would take a bucket or some type of transfer device to the brewery and pay or barter to fill it. They would have an open tank of beer brewed that day. Normally it takes six days for microorganisms to really grow and spoil the beer. The beer would be consumed in the first few days of purchase. This was a very fresh product, but you had to live next to a brewery to get it.

The problem was that in the hot summer months the beer would spoil much faster. Before refrigeration, beer wasn't brewed in the hot summer months, but mainly at the ending of winter. That beer needed to be stored to maintain a low microbial count. Holes and caves were employed. If you go to the Pilsen Urquell Brewery, you can still tour the deep caves they excavated to keep their beer.

Beer transport was done in wooden casks at this point. They were easier to move and easy to tap. After a little pitch on the inside of the cask, oxygen uptake and wood flavors were kept to a minimum. Wooden casks were choice for quite a while until more modern breweries started to look for a more durable product. Obviously, the wooden casks could not take the harsh detergents we use now making them very time and labor intensive.

The market shifted to many different materials to replace the wooden cask. Aluminum and steel were the winners for their durability. Stainless steel became the most used material in kegs, and brew-houses, because it would not break down in the presence of NaOH(caustic soda) unlike copper and aluminum. Caustic soda continues to be the choice of breweries for its ability to break down fats and its price.

Stainless steel kegs originally had a bunghole where the product was introduced and the keg was cleaned. Developments in the industry allowed kegs to be "tapped" with a fitting that in combination would apply CO2 and distribute beer to a faucet. However, the filling of these kegs was time consuming and chance of oxygen uptake was quite high. These systems are still in use around the would. These filling machines I believe can go as fast as 2,000 kegs per 8 hour day.

The keg as we know it today was made for one reason: automation. It has many benefits like low oxygen uptake, zero UV uptake, steam sanitization, etc. But the one reason it was developed was to make the brewhouse more efficient. Kegs these days are loaded, depressurized, cleaned, sanitized, filled, pasteurized, palletized and shipped automatically.

Here's a link to some great products offered by KHS in Germany:

Please browse their many pretty pictures of kegging machines.

Newer kegs now are only a half barrel(15.5 gallons) or less, as opposed to the full, back-breaking barrel, and have top handles for easy movement. They consist of a tube that goes down to the bottom of the keg to dispense beer and a CO2 inlet at the top to pressurize. But enough about kegs, let's move on to bottles!

Now, why doesn't the States use those heavy-duty returnable bottles like some places in Europe? We used to return bottles; why not anymore? Wouldn't it be more "green" to re-use bottles?

The number one reason we as a country went away from returnable bottles was fuel costs. As a country we drank more and more macro-beer. Macro-beer is made in extremely large facilities in only a few places across the country. The cost of shipping heavy bottles only to be sorted out as mostly trash was not worth the effort or the fuel. It is less "green" to ship heavy bottles for consumption and return than to ship lighter bottles for consumption and recycling. In some countries, shipping is not that bad so governments has enforced a bottle return policy.

To tell you the truth it wouldn't be that bad if we enforced the same rules (and we might!). We would just have to drink more local. It is my belief that certain taxation laws inhibit small brewers and help large brewers. Maybe that will change, maybe not.

Anywho, that's the reason that some bottles have labels that come off easy. They are meant to be sent through a bottle washer. Bottle washers are an extremely expensive piece of equipment and no brewer would want one unless forced by their government. If we forced our breweries to buy and use bottle washers without some kind of subsidy, it would surely put the small guys out of business. Check out this standard bottle washer from Krones:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Day in the Life

Here's a picture of a typical break between lectures during the day at Siebel. The famous Bier Stube was originally at the Peterson Ave location and dates back to the fifties. It's a place for students to culminate around a few wobbly-pops and talk about what was learned or just relax after class.

This week we've been learning about packaging, materials, CIP systems, bottling, canning and kegging. What's taught well in this class is not just how to keg, but how the kegging system works, why it works that way, how it was made, history of previous systems and materials used. We spent half of the day learning about the different materials used in a brewhouse. It's been a realistic, applicable week of learning so far. One of the most important tools a brewer can have is a good flashlight. It's just like when I was plumbing. Inspection and logical thinking rule in the brewhouse as well as plumbing repair. Going to this school will not make you a better brewer anymore than a fitness magazine will make you lose weight. However, you can apply your knowledge with a catalyst (flashlight) and see good results.

It's also neat that many of the teachers are alumni. It's kind of like Hogwarts. Students can look through the old class pictures and talk to the teachers about how it was back then, what kind of improvements have been made in the industry, etc.

BTW, if anyone reading this blog has any technical questions, large or small, I'll be happy to find out the answer for you. There are a great many brains I can pick; just shoot me an email at

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Places I will go

Today we had a new teacher from Germany who will take us through the next week of production and packaging. We spent most of the day learning about returnable bottle washing. It was a fascinating subject although inapplicable to the North American breweries, which leads me to my next point.

This diploma class is not about learning how to brew on a small brewpub system. It is also not about how to brew on a 100,000hl system. It's a diploma about every system. I feel that some small brewers slam this school because it's full of knowledge that they don't need. I also see that some of the large brewers find that it's full of knowledge that they already know.

Bottom line is that it's a complete brewing education.

I would feel comfortable working in any brewery around the world after this course. Not only that, but I know more about how barley grows and is malted, how yeast metabolizes, how hops are isomerized, how product is stabilized, how product is packaged and how it is sold. Do I need this information to work in any of the breweries small or large? No. But it's this knowledge that makes a brewer grow. I would take this class over again in a heartbeat and suggest it to anybody who considers it.

I find it a little sad that enrollment has been down at the brewing schools in NA. I also believe that if taxes were lower on beer our profit margins would be higher. Our industry would afford more education and our products would be better. The Germans laugh at how little we know about what we are doing. In Germany, it is not uncommon to spend four or five years in school to be a brewer. I'll spend three months. And that is not short enough to our standards! Enrollment is down at UCDavis and in the early part of this century our oldest brewing school was sold to Lallemand in Canada.

J.E. Siebel was born in Dusseldorf in 1845 and immigrated to America opening his chemical laboratory in Chicago 1868. In 1872 he opened Siebel's Institute of Technology and wrote extensively on the subject of brewing. After a while the Diploma program was offered at the school along with other subjects in German and English. In the year before Prohibition was put into effect, J.E. Siebel passed away. However, the Siebel Institute survived Prohibition by teaching yeast production in the bread industry. After Prohibition the brewing industry in America soared. With F.P Siebel Sr. the classes grew. One can guess looking at the class sizes before and after WWII that the growth in brewing sky-rocketed when the nation was building up. The 1943-1944 class was nearly ten and the 1949 class was nearly 50.

Although I'm a huge fan and supporter of the craft brew revolution in the 80's, 90's and 2000's, I do wonder what more education would have done. Now I'm not saying anyone without a formal education is making bad beer, but I am saying that many failures could have been avoided. What would it be like if every brewer had the financial capacity of learning every logistic thing he or she could about their trade? I know coming from a plumber's background, where I learned everything through trial and error, that if there were a class I could take on my job I would heartily take it.

Here's the places we will go in Europe:
Oettinger brewery, KHS bottling plant, Orval, Cantillion, Heineken, Koeingshoven, Uerige, Rastal glassware, Kolner brewery in Koln, Weyermann, Krones and many more...

to learn more about Siebel's history check out my reference:

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