Monday, June 29, 2009

The Restaurant Business

Last November, I noticed this ad near the back of an issue of Restaurant Startup & Growth magazine:

When I followed web address, I was shocked at what I saw:

-No mention of boiling the wort.
-No mention of tank cleaning.
-No mention of oxygenation.
-No mention of how to deal with the CO2 produced during fermentation.
-No mention of how to troubleshoot problems without a qualified brewer.
-A requirement for a hot water source, but no warning that the water can't be softened.
-A 7-day fermentation cycle that includes two days of cooling. No maturation.
-A claim that three tanks equals five beers on tap at all times ("ask about mixing beers to produce additional flavors").
-A claim that ingredients alone cost $0.26 per pint, which makes a total cost of $0.30 per pint highly suspect.
-A claim that SPI's beer won a bunch of awards from a competition that I can't find any record of.
-A claim that a book written by Leigh Beadle, the company founder, started the US homebrewing revolution.

That's the short list. It's possible that Specialty Products International conducts itself with the utmost integrity and addresses all of these issues in their dealings with individual customers. I doubt it, though. If their system was really a convenient solution to a whole host of brewing problems, I'd expect to find at least find one mention of it in a search of brewing industry publications. One thing is certain: SPI isn't marketing its products to people who know how to make beer.

That bothered me quite a bit, but what bothered me more was RS&G's response when I wrote to one of their publishers to point out that the ad was likely exploiting their subscribers' ignorance: no acknowledgment of any sort. A "thanks for the info, but we need to honor our current agreement with SPI" or "you're biased and have insufficient credentials for us to take action on" or "we care more about ad revenue than actually helping restaurateurs" would have been fine. Pulling the ad would've sufficed as well, but it's appeared in every single issue since. I'm sure it brings in more money than my subscription, which will hopefully expire soon.

Does anyone who reads this weblog have firsthand experience with a Beadle Brewing System? I'd call SPI and ask a bunch of questions myself, but doing so with no intention of becoming a customer would make me feel dirty. That's why reporters are paid the big bucks.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Multivariable Equations

When I was working as an engineer, I came up with a way to combine two physical dependencies into one equation (I'm sure a lot of people have figured the same thing out, but I'm still proud of myself). I think my original intent was to predict a jet engine's maximum thrust at a given temperature and pressure, but I don't remember for sure. Whatever it was, the method works beautifully for determining a beer's carbonation level at a given temperature and pressure. Here's how to do it:

-Plot the values from a carbonation table (I used an American Society of Brewing Chemists version) and create linear equations of CO2 volumes vs. pressure at each temperature. It should look like this, but without the haphazard legend order:

-Each equation has a first order coefficient and a constant. We'll call those values x1 and x0 respectively. Note that CO2 volumes = x1*P + x0 at a given temperature.
-Plot the x1 values vs. temperature and create an equation that describes the relationship:

-Do the same thing with the x0 values:

-Replace the coefficients of the pressure equation with the equations that describe x1 and x0. The result is this:

CO2 volumes = x1*P + x0 = ((0.00000981*T-0.00229169)*T+0.16809729)*P+(0.00024826*T-0.04710192)*T+2.87424296

You could just look up CO2 volumes in a table instead, but what fun is that?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sour Beers

I apologize for the lack of activity around here. Things are happening, but not the types of things I should be publicizing yet. I'm not terribly paranoid about people having sinister motives, but securing a location for the pub is a big exception. In my mind, the threat of somebody buying a site for the sole purpose of preventing me from moving there is very real. So is the threat of somebody opening a brewpub right next door and, more importantly, beating me to opening day because they don't have to deal with such time-consuming nuisances as raising outside capital.

In less fear-mongering news, I bottled my year-old sour red ale last week. The one I talked about here. The acidity is smooth, but it's primarily lactic. I was hoping for more acetic acid, but that's the way things go. Once carbonated, it should be a refreshingly tart session beer for these hot summer days. The beer didn't have any wood character, which means the vodka (and subsequent boiling of the wood chips) did its job. The woody vodka was nasty, by the way. It tasted like whiskey to me, but it probably tasted worse than whiskey to people who like whiskey.

Wanting to keep my souring microbes healthy, I brewed an old ale two weeks ago. After bottling the sour red ale a week later, I pulled a gallon of old ale from its fermenter and added it to the wood chips. I dry hopped the remaining beer in the fermenter and will bottle it next week for fresh, bacteria-free consumption. New ale, if you will. Around this time next year, I'll brew another batch of old ale and blend it with the wood-aged gallon. Hopefully the result will be a complex ale with a subtle sourness and - if I'm lucky - some controlled oxidation.

Monday, June 8, 2009

New Briess Organics

The latest New Brewer has a press release for Briess Organic Pale Ale and Black malts. Finally! Briess must have listened to me. I use their specialty malts almost exclusively, but Gambrinus is winning the battle for organic base malt supremacy. I'm looking forward to finding out how the new Pale Ale stacks up (I'm already sold on the Black).

Friday, June 5, 2009

Hopping Methods

Before I dive into the geekery, I'd like to announce that Rachel and I are parents! Our daughter was born last Sunday and words can't express how happy we are! Whoops, I think we just entered Extreme territory.

Back at the Craft Brewers Conference, I attended a seminar about maximizing hop flavor and aroma. The speaker was Van Havig, QA/QC manager of the Rock Bottom brewpub group, and his presentation detailed a company-wide experiment to assess the effectiveness of various hopping methods. Essentially, 30-some breweries produced the same baseline IPA recipe with varying late hopping procedures (yes, Miller's advertising department, we all add hops several times throughout the process). The experiment was loosely controlled, which was both good and bad. For example, differences in water treatments between breweries led to some interesting data. However, the fact that each brewery was allowed to use its own house yeast strain was - in my opinion - in direct conflict with the purpose of the experiment. Even with its flaws, the investigation was the most ambitious and informative of its kind that I've seen in the craft brewing industry.

For the experiment, each brewery utilized one of the following late hopping methods:

-Method 1: add 1 lb/bbl of hops at the end of the boil.
-Method 2: add 1 lb/bbl of hops at the end of the boil and wait an extra 30 minutes before cooling.
-Method 3: add 1 lb/bbl of dry hops after primary fermentation.
-Method 4: add 0.5 lb/bbl of hops at the end of the boil and wait an extra 30 minutes before cooling, then add 0.5 lb/bbl of dry hops after primary fermentation.

Mr. Havig used formal sensory evaluations, laboratory tests and statistical analyses to determine the impacts of the various methods. Here are some highlights:

-Methods 2 and 4 tied for the strongest hop flavor, which implies (1) that brewers can reach a point of diminishing return with kettle additions and (2) that hot residence time increases hop flavor.
-Methods 3 and 4 tied for the strongest hop aroma, which implies that brewers can reach a point of diminishing return with dry hopping.
-There were significant positive correlations between perceived bitterness, perceived hop flavor and perceived hop aroma.
-The correlation between perceived bitterness and measured IBUs (International Bitterness Units) was insignificant, which implies that our senses measure bitterness differently than industry-standard lab methods.
-There was a significant negative correlation between perceived hop character (flavor, aroma and bitterness) and sulfate concentration, which directly opposes the "Burtonize your water for hoppy beers" theory.

Being the good pseudo-scientist that I am, I decided to brew a Summer IPA using some of these new hypotheses. Here's what I did:

-Raised my water's calcium content with primarily calcium chloride instead of calcium sulfate.
-Added about 65% of the beer's IBUs at the end of the boil.
-Allowed the wort to sit for 30 minutes before cooling (on my homebrew system, I usually start cooling immediately after the boil ends). With the high evaporation rates of most homebrew kettles, DME formation shouldn't be a concern.
-Added 0.5 lb/bbl of dry hops after primary fermentation.

The results: a clean and refreshing beer, but HOLY HOPS!! It blew my previous Pale Ale out of the water. I'm a convert.

The beer was destined for a wedding, so it required a label:

The wedding isn't until June 28th, but the beer is already on the road. Hopefully its massive hop character will pass the tests of time, travel and temperature swings!