January 18, 2012

Chicago, IL - Beer School Day 3

OK folks, apologies for such a delay on the next post -- between the holidays and procrastination I've let the blog fall to the wayside.  But big things are a-brewing (puns are great) so bear with me as I get you up to speed.

Day 3 of my Start Your Own Brewery class through the Siebel Institute began with an introduction of John Mallett, Production Manager at Bell's Brewery of Kalamazoo, Michigan.  With over 20 years in the beer business, we knew this guy was an expert.  Over the next few hours, John spoke to us about the brewing process, the anatomy of a brewery, including brewing, fermentation, and packaging equipment, and also about utilities and waste management.

John started by going over some brewing basics, but got fairly in depth about the chemistry behind the brewing.  The amounts and varieties of minerals and ions in your water can have a profound effect on the taste of your beer and the functionality of your brewing equipment.  The pH level is another factor to consider.  When brewing in the big leagues, you have to know the chemistry of your water and make adjustments as needed.

John then spoke about the various brewing ingredients, explaining some of the things you may consider when purchasing barley and hops.  Again chemistry was a big part of this conversation.  Brewing at home you may not worry too much about isomerization of hop acids or oxidation of phenols, but if you're brewing on a large scale and don't understand these concepts, you're setting yourself up to ruin a batch of beer and waste a lot of money, not to mention creating an inferior product.

John then took this in-depth approach to talk about wort production and fermentation.  I'll go over the basics.  Mashing, lautering, and boiling are the first steps in making beer.  Through these steps, malt starches are converted to fermentable sugar, the wort (unfermented beer) is separated from the spent grains, hops acids are isomerized, and the wort is sterilized (among several other chemical processes).  Control of oxygen, temperatures, and pH levels are critical in these steps.  After all the ingredients have been mixed together, boiled and cooled, the wort is drawn away from the trub (left over hops and grain proteins), yeast is mixed in, and the wort is moved to another container to ferment.  Your fermentation practices will vary depending on whether you're making ales or lagers.  Again, control of oxygen, pH, and temperature is crucial.  Finally, the beer must be clarified, carbonated, and packaged.

14 bbl fermenters at the District Chophouse
in Washington, DC
Now that we covered the brewing process, John spoke about all the different types of equipment you need to make beer.  First up, the brewhouse, which makes the wort.  At a minimum you will need a mash and lauter tun, a brew kettle, a heat exchanger, oxygenation equipment, hot water storage tanks, and a variety of pumps and hoses.  Naturally, you need to think about the amount of beer you want to produce as this will dictate the size of your brewhouse.  Do you want to make small, 3.5 barrel batches and be able to experiment, or do you want to make large, 50 barrel batches and produce a lot of one style of beer in a short amount of time?  How much beer can you realistically sell in your market?  These questions and more will affect the size and type of your fermentation and packaging equipment as well.

The second-to-last segment of the day was presented by Jim Neely, an investigator with the Federal Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau.  He spoke to us about all of the legal mumbo-jumbo required to brew commercially in the United States.  Brewing is a highly-regulated industry in the U.S., so you have to be sure to fill out all the right paperwork so you don't get shut down.  Among the forms you need to provide the feds are a diagram and physical description of your brewery, a legal description of your brewery, a description of the security of your brewery, plus various questionnaires, bonds, notices and environmental information.  Labeling for all of your products also have to be submitted and approved.  One importation rule: if you fail to include the Government Warning Statement, you can be fined $11,000 per bottle per day!  That can easily put you out of business.  My recommendation: contact your local Trade and Tax Bureau agent to make sure you're following the rules.

The day finished on a much lighter note.  The final segment was a question and answer session with a few brewmasters from local breweries, including Goose Island, Piece, and Revolution.  It was reassuring to hear that most of them had taken classes with Siebel.  They spoke about their routine schedule, important issues they come across on a regular basis, and recommendations of brew equipment and recipe formulation.

This warmed everyone up for the end of the course and the cold Chicago weather that waited for us.  The certificates were handed out, some of us grabbed final brews, and we went our separate ways.  What's in store for the future?  Well, plenty of studying my notes from the class.  Beyond that, we shall see....

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