School is Back

Today starts the fourth section of the Wake Tech Craft Brewing class basics class. It has been fun to teach, but more importantly it is helping people prepare for careers related to the brewing industry. The other benefit is local brewers will have better trained new staff walking in the door.

The students come from a wide range from young adults trying to get their career going to retired folks looking for a hobby. Some homebrewers take it, but over half attendees have no experience with brewing before walking in the door.

The class is review of the brewing process and issues in a brewery. I work to set expectations from the first day, not this is not a class on making wort, it’s about general operations. The class does make one beer on a pilot system, but this is done to make sure they understand the entire brewing process start to finish in a hands-on approach. And yes, the beer is enjoyed for the class graduation. The last big point I try to make clear is brewing is work, hard work. Long days standing getting wet in hot or cold conditions are the norm, drinking beer is often the exception not the rule.

Teaching the class requires me focus on the basic elements of the brewing. As the adage goes you only really know a skill when you teach it to others. Standing up in front of 20 students helps me practice on public speaking which is under appreciated but often needed skill when opening a brewery. All those funny odd skills from cleaning to electrical repair to public speaking that go into brewing that people never stop to think of, but perhaps because it does require so an odd mixture of skills that makes the life so appealing.

Throwback Thursday – Man on a Mission

This week’s Throwback Thursday a beer trip to San Francisco

Original post date: May 23, 2006

When I visited San Francisco little over a week ago I had two missions. One was to relax and enjoy good times with friends I don’t see often enough, people while not blood are in my book family. Then there was the second mission to see as many of the San Francisco area breweries as possible. I think I accomplished both.

We arrived on Friday and immediately I could smell something in the air, beer and it smelled damn tasty. After our crew arrived we had lunch, gathered our necessities and headed off in a cab.

Well one group did, but our group had the cabby from hell. I explained where we were going he replied.

“I dunno where it was.”

‘Great’ was my immediate thought, the only cabbie who doesn’t know his own city. I tried to explain again and he began to shout

“I don’t know where it is” in heavily accented English.

At this point I pulled out a map and explained roughly how far south he would need to drive us from our Union Square hotel to the area of the brewery. As I explained the location he interrupted once again.

“No No No I know how to get there but don’t know what is there.” He proceeded to explain three more times, shouting.

At this point I nearly told the bastard to pull over and go in search of a less surly cabbie. I was on vacation and I didn’t need this crap, if I had been alone I know I would have done it too. But considering I was there with two friends it seemed too much a hassle to bother them with the cabbie claimed to know how to get there and so we put up with his attitude.

Eventually he dropped us off at Speakeasy Ales and Lagers a nondescript commercial building a long ways from downtown. The place was rather quiet and empty when we arrived, not the most promising sign when your looking for brewers and beer, but it was my plan and tour so I had little choice. I marched up the dock entrance like I knew exactly where it would take me. In a way I sort of did know, I was going into a brewery. I hoped.

I knew we were in the right place when I saw the pallets of two row malt and the Speakeasy eyes gazing at me. Hard guitar licks played on an echoing stereo system and the smell of malt in my nostrils proved I was in the right place.

I had called their phone line and left a message I had five for a tour on that Friday, leaving my number in case they wanted to call back with questions or confirm. I never got a reply I meant to call back and confirm but I got busy and it never happened. I knew the brewery was open on Fridays so we took our chances.

The first person we met was Big Mike, aka the brewer, I liked him immediately. He didn’t have us on the tour list, but there was only another couple for the tour so they had plenty of room for us on the tour. After a few minutes wait he poured us a few pints to keep us entertained while we waited for the start of the tour. Their beers were malty, strong, and the imperials aggressively hop. I was in heaven. They reminded me of Stone beers, but more balanced in construction.

Big Mike lead us on a tour of their facility and I suspect he realized I wasn’t your average drunk visiting the brewery. I asked about hops used, temperature control, malt, yeast and every other question a homebrewer could come up with it. Mike seemed to enjoy the questions because it allowed him to pass along more than the regular “We boil here, we age it here, we bottle it there” tour.

I was impressed by their standards and commitment to excellence, but not at the expense of enjoying life, it is beer after all.

After the tour we returned to the tasting area, where their usual Friday afternoon open house is hosted.

While there I spoke with Chris in Sales, we had a great conversation about California beers, the recent microbrewery industry move to canning, and getting their beers into Flagstaff. Also while their beer is available in seven states, it’s evidently available in Finland. A bar there some how got a supplier to bring it in and they love it. Good for them but I’d hate to pay their prices for a pint. But considering Speakeasy’s beer it’s worth the trouble.

The Beers
My first beer was an Imperial Amber which was big, bold, and hoppy. It didn’t fit my mood of what I wanted to drink, but I knew I could drink it far easier than anyone else in the group so I suffered through it. Okay I didn’t really suffer, it was beer.

From there I moved over to their Bootlegger Black Lager which I had sampled earlier and found to be excellent, well balanced and no esters, exactly like you want a Black Lager to be. I intended to find a Black Czech lager I had discovered a few years ago while in San Francisco, but this was the best I could do. That said I wasn’t in the least disappointed.

Last of the beers I have distinct memory was the Old Godfather Barley Wine-Style Ale , while not aggressively strong at 10.2%, it’s a deadly beast. It’s smooth and as balanced as any pale ale I have ever had. It was far too drinkable for something that strong. I wish I bought a growler full of it. In the end I did buy a growler, just because of their distinctive style, but having it filled with their Bootlegger Black Lager made it no trouble at all. Having to use later for my homebrews is only icing on the cake.

A short while later we piled into a cab to our next stop, 21st Amendment.

Postscript: Writing could be stronger, but I like the narrative structure. I have great memories from this trip.

Spent Grain Rule’s Impact on Brewers

Alan asked this morning “Won’t vast majority of US craft brewers deal well with new FDA requirements on spent grain because of exemptions?” Because of exemptions, no but brewers will deal with the new rule well and I’ll explain why. More importantly I think the final rule will not mean the end of brewer and farmer cooperation.

Let me back up and give you some background before I go into the why. For almost 5 years I worked for Congress, specifically for two members of the House of Representatives one of which was in a leadership role. In addition I worked for a trade association for 2 years part that was monitoring the federal rulemaking process for our members. Later I was at a medical device company for 5 years and dealt with FDA regulations and auditing. From this I feel comfortable making educated guesses about where the final rule will end up.

Currently we are in the first publishing of the rule. The person who wrote it probably lives in Washington DC and wrote in respect to best practices for animal feed without awareness of how daily operations for breweries and farms work. Mostly the intent is to prevent harm that might occur even though there is no evidence it has occurred. They will likely look at the response and talk with groups like the Brewers Association for a middle ground. Then the FDA will publish a new draft of the regulation that will implement. Make no mistake we are not getting out of this requirement.

To work around I have heard a few proposals. Some ask “what if we give away the grain?” the lawyers on the Brewers Association recent briefing made it clear that will not change anything. Some suggest “if we only give it to a farm for compost?” Unless there are no animals on the farm I doubt that will be permitted and for your own protection it would be better you assume it may occur to avoid any liability. Exemptions based on company size will likely be rejected though smaller companies may be given greater time to implement the process.

So what may the final rule look like? I think it will be bookkeeping in two forms. One a log sheet at the brew deck or spent grain area that records beer lot number, time/date, and brewer. When it is picked up we will add the farm picking up, time/date, and the farm person’s name. It all can fit on one page sheet on a clipboard. Considering the life cycle of beer and food we will have to maintain that documentation for at least 180 days, but 2 years to be on the safe side. That in itself is not burdensome.

The second part that may become required through this rule and some of the safety rules are more of a written Standard Operating Procedures(SOP) documents. They will get more detailed for the safety requirements, that is a separate agency, but for the spent grain rule it will designate a spent grain location, the logsheet and training for it’s use. As long as you have a process and follow it the FDA will be satisfied, but traceability will be the requirement.

Based on my experiences in medical device industry and brewing practices I am already establishing SOPs for brewery operations for Compass Rose from the start and I intend to add this record keeping into the list. With greater FDA attention to the brewing world, I think more record keeping, training, and documentation will become an industry standard. It will be more burdensome for existing breweries that work in an ad hoc manner, but in the long term it has potential bring a higher standard of quality across the brewing community.

Throwback Thursday – Roots of Craft Beer

Throwback Thursdays has been a popular meme on facebook of late and while I enjoyed it, I am not interested in posting photos of my past. Instead I decided to post old content from my old blog sites that are not online to get that content back into searchable space. I’ll post will be the original post date, the post with all the links, and then any thoughts I have reflecting on the post.

Original post date: Tuesday May 31, 2011

Denver Bartender asks “What are the roots of the American craft beer industry?”

There are four elements that contributed to the modern craft beer industry. European beer, mono-culture in US beer, slow food & other quality food movements, and lastly homebrewing; it was the interaction of all of these elements that drove the industry.

European Beer – American exchange students, tourists and soldiers noticed that Europe offered more unique offerings in beer long before the American craft beer revolution. Longing for those beers after returning home was a factor in interest in beers beyond what American companies were offering.

Mono-culture in US Beer – The story of consolidation in the American brewing industry is well known. The industrial Model T, one size fits all beer approach, works when you want a car, er no wait it doesn’t. In any industry that promotes a mono-culture we see people fighting back wanting diversity of options.

Slow Food and other quality food Movements – While the official launch of the ‘Slow Food’ movements was in the later 1980s, the quality food movement has prompted to people pay attention to what they drink, not just what they eat. People want to know the story behind their favorite food and drinks, who makes them and what makes it unique. These are stories that craft beer is perfectly suited to tell.

Homebrewing – Listed last it definitely has a strong factor, probably one of the larger factors on this list, when people didn’t have access to European beers they brewed their own. I am a case in point with wanting Hefeweizen. The mono-culture of US beer didn’t provide what people wanted so they brewed their own. Legalization of homebrewing and improved access to quality ingredients fired people’s imagination about making brewing a living.

All of these factors influenced the development of craft beer, but without all of them I don’t think the industry would be as successful as it is today.

 Postscript – I think all the points are still the valid. Often we talk about the founders of craft beer, people like Fritz Maytag, Jack McAuliffe, and others that did the ground work and established the idea they do deserve the credit. But what if these people hadn’t been born? Would there still be a craft beer movement?

The answer is Yes. It may not be the same as it is today, there might be other companies in the top 20, but the direction we are headed would look very much the same. The more I think of it, the more the reaction to the mono-culture in beer would have developed in other places at the same time, like the idea of writing developing in multiple places at the same time. The market was ready for a reaction in the 1970s and 80s and if it hadn’t been in California it might had been Vermont or New Mexico or some other state.