Posts Tagged ‘brewing’

Brew School: Learning by Doing

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Despite everything I’ve been learning at the brewery I constantly want to know more. Fortunately, the brewery I work in consists of three people: the head brewer, an assistant brewer and myself. This small crew provides me with many opportunities to not only flood my mind with beer knowledge, but also get my hands into many of the daily brewing operations.

I currently work six days a week. Although I spend three great days in the brewery, the other three days are spent waiting tables. In all honesty, being a waiter is the pits. However, it pays the bills.

Lately I’ve found some of my brewery hours getting cut in order to work more in the restaurant—the brewery is part of a brewpub, so we have a full restaurant and my two jobs are thankfully located in the same building.

Initially I was bummed, since I viewed this as stepping backwards from my ultimate goal of full time brewing. However, I spent one of these forced days off visiting another local brewery and checking out the operations there.

A friend of mine starting interning at a brewery in Brooklyn around the same time I started my tenure at Chelsea. On my day off I hopped the train over to his neck of the woods and had the chance to see the inner workings of another commercial operation. My initial reaction was to the size of this brewery. It dwarfs the facility in Chelsea and produces about 5 times as much brew. Also, the brewery had 8 full time employees and 2 interns.

Although my buddy is now full time, like most people, he started as an intern. Most interns start as the brewery monkey, shlepping around pallets and cleaning kegs. While this is essential to any brewing operation, it also takes the least amount of time to learn. I’m not saying that keg cleaning isn’t important, but when it comes to the mindset of brewery interns, it’s only the first few backbreaking steps down a long road of brewing knowledge.

As he showed me around the space I got curious and began asking a lot of questions about their procedures. Since I now possess a pseudo-working knowledge of a brewery, I started contemplating how the practices at Chelsea were different from the way things were done here. After a few minutes of questioning my pal conceded that he wasn’t sure about most of the procedural activity since he didn’t get many chances to take part in the actual brewing. Most of his time, he said, was spent on the other side of the brewery cleaning and filling kegs and directing transfers.

As I sat on the train home I realized how often I’m able to get my hands in many of the essential brewing activities. While I definitely clean my fair share of kegs and spend a great amount of time completing the less desirable tasks at Chelsea, I’m also allowed to take part in the actual brewing and many other aspects of life in the brew house.

Working in a small brewery—like working for any small operation or company—definitely has its setbacks, but the rewards outweigh these issues by far. Although I may be forced to wait a few extra days for my paycheck, or the beer I make isn’t as readily available as bigger breweries, I have the opportunity to get my hands dirty and actually learn the craft. Despite the little inconveniences, the hops stuck underneath my fingernails and the wort that sticks to my boots is a true testament to the value of learning by doing. Besides, how many other people get to pour themselves a pint in the middle of their workday?

Brew School: Brewing with Wet Hops

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Recently we brewed our second wet hop beer of the year with about 50-pounds of Cascades from the Yakima Valley. Our head brewer had the day off so I was brought in the brewery to assist with the brew day. I decided that within 6-months I want to be able to run a brewday completely solo so I decided to take the opportunity to sketch out some diagrams and take detailed notes to help me remember some of the more minute details of the process. Since there were only two of us working that day, I didn’t have to surrender my services to deliveries. This meant not only that I could focus all of my energy on brewing—loading and unloading kegs around NYC gets very physically draining—and even had some spare time to take a few photos.

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Brew School: Learn To Love The Wet Hops

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

More and more I find myself enamored with the smell of hops. Now, I’m no hophead, but there is something about dumping Amarillo pellets into the brew kettle or manning the hop back that really gets to me. Although I may go for a malty porter more often than a sharp IPA, the utilization of hops while brewing has really got my mind—and palate—intrigued.

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How Beer is Made

Monday, July 6th, 2009

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Beer is made from four basic ingredients: Barley, water, hops and yeast. The basic idea is to extract the sugars from grains (usually barley) so that the yeast can turn it into alcohol and CO2, creating beer.

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The brewing process starts with grains, usually barley (although sometimes wheat, rye or other such things.) The grains are harvested and processed through a process of heating, drying out and cracking. The main goal of malting is to isolate the enzymes needed for brewing so that it’s ready for the next step.

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The grains then go through a process known as mashing, in which they are steeped in hot, but not boiling, water for about an hour, sort of like making tea. This activates enzymes in the grains that cause it to break down and release its sugars. Once this is all done you drain the water from the mash which is now full of sugar from the grains. This sticky, sweet liquid is called wort. It’s basically unmade beer, sort of like how dough is unmade bread.

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The wort is boiled for about an hour while hops and other spices are added several times.
What are hops? Hops are the small, green cone-like fruit of a vine plant. They provide bitterness to balance out all the sugar in the wort and provide flavor. They also act as a natural preservative, which is what they were first used for. (For more info on hops take a look at our article on the subject.)

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Once the hour long boil is over the wort is cooled, strained and filtered. It’s then put in a fermenting vessel and yeast is added to it. At this point the brewing is complete and the fermentation begins. The beer is stored for a couple of weeks at room temperature (in the case of ales) or many many weeks at cold temperatures (in the case of lagers) while the yeast works its fermentation magic. Basically the yeast eats up all that sugar in the wort and spits out CO2 and alcohol as waste products. (For more info on the difference between ales and lagers check our article here.)

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You’ve now got alcoholic beer, however it is still flat and uncarbonated. The flat beer is bottled, at which time it is either artificially carbonated like a soda, or if it’s going to be ‘bottle conditioned’ it’s allowed to naturally carbonate via the CO2 the yeast produces. After allowing it to age for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months you drink the beer, and it’s delicious!

All drinks have ‘drinkability.’ Shut up, Bud Light.

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Bud Light & Drinkability

Budweiser has recently launched a major ad campaign centered around Bud Light’s unique ability to be placed in your mouth and swallowed, or as they refer to it, “drinkability.”

This is apparently something that sets Bud Light apart from other drinks. Really Budweiser? Let’s take a look at one of those ads.

I have to agree with Budweiser on a few points. Something is generally easier to drink when it’s not being sprayed at you from a hose at full blast, or not hot sauce, or not hail (which as a solid and not a liquid is in fact impossible to drink.) Last time I checked however none of the other light beers out there were any of these things, they were in fact beer, and generally served in glasses. So unless there’s some brewing company I don’t know about making a hail and Tabasco flavored beer that’s sprayed at you from a hose, I’m not sure if Budweiser is really making much of a claim for Bud Light.


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