Beer Bikes, MOOCs and the Dutch

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As part of Ornery Ales' annual effort to celebrate (Inter)National Homebrew Day, they create a video featuring brewers from around the world brewing and talking about beer, and it's an incredibly fun mash-up (no pun intended) of a global cast of brewers showing off their systems, beers, and personalities. Beer Simple offered to shamelessly shill for an international brewer or brewers who showcased the simplicity of beer and brewing.  The entrant that caught this blog's attention satisfied that criterion by mashing and sparging in what looks like a six-litre (we're going with European spellings in this here post - deal with, Americans) pot, chilling in a sink ice bath, and bottling up about 13 bottles.  Being a fan of small-batch brewing, I knew we'd found our perfect fit.

And I was completely wrong.  Well, sort-of.  Because although their video was a perfect encapsulation of simple, small-batch brewing, the program that created that video was anything but simple!  

See, the brewers in question are four Honours (again, European.  Seriously, move past it.) students at the University of Wageningen who had, in fact, created a MOOC (that's a Massive Online Open Course - a distance learning-compatible educational device that may provide higher education options at much lower prices by enrolling thousands of students, free or near-free, in online courses) titled "The Science of Beer."  Sander & Esther (Food Science), Florence (Land & Water Management), and Nico (Management and Consumer Studies) brewed their first beer for the video!  

Their story is fascinating, and follows:

What motivated you all to develop the Science of Beer course?

So we are four students participating in the Honours Programme of the University of Wageningen. As part of this Honours Programme we were supposed to start a two year (research) project to the 'university of the future'. As genuine students, and yes, this may sound somewhat surprising: we ended up making a course about beer. In fact we started the research project with doing interviews with people mainly from politics and universities. We wanted to know how they saw the 'university of the future' and, it turned out, several interviewees thought the university should transmit more knowledge to the public. Now, how do you better transmit knowledge to the public by developing a Massive Open Online Course? (for information about MOOCs, please check out this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DavEhc1wds). That's what we did. We decided it would be a MOOC about the science that is behind a beer. And then, why beer? Well, we realised that we could investigate the science behind beer from many perspectives such as production, raw materials, marketing and health effects, which could be perfectly linked to the different research domains of Wageningen University. And, of course, there is no  better topic than beer to attract students!

Who is it for?

The course is open for anyone with an interest in the science behind beer. The course was designed as an introductory course, so experienced beer brewers shouldn't expect too much complexity, but with the four perspectives (production, raw materials, marketing and health effects), we think, there is always something to learn for everyone. 

How long have you been brewing?

he truth is: the video of us brewing at home was only our first time making beer! Therefore, we were even more happy to see that our video was selected as the winner. In the video, we are brewing an Irish Red Ale and we were surprised by the good taste. Perhaps we will continue our brewing experiences in the future. 

Here are two videos of our home brewing experience [Author's Note: YOU WANT TO WATCH THE BLOOPER REEL!]:
- The home brewing video https://youtu.be/T6g-aVC9_uc 
- Bloopers home brewing https://youtu.be/BKKgL7_hVd8  

How does teaching affect your appreciation of beer and brewing?

During the making of our online course, we started trying as many different beer styles as possible. We were getting better in distinguishing the typical tastes associated with the different beer styles and we developed our preferences. Now that we have learned so much about all the science that is behind a seemingly simple pint of beer, we have the feeling that we started appreciating our beers more. But, more importantly, we have become more aware of the health effects of drinking beer. Perhaps, we turned into more conscious drinkers 

What was the best tip you ever received about beer/brewing?

In our opinion the most important tip we received is to make sure you're brewing under sterile conditions. Often, we hear people say their brewing failed and they stop attempting afterwards. That's a pity!  [AUTHOR'S NOTE: Definitely a shame.  It's like going skiing for the first time and being pushed down a double-black-diamond trail called "The Preacher."  You're not gonna have a good time, and your frustration will push you out of the hobby.  Keep it clean out there...]

Favorite beer/style?  Least favorite?

Sander prefers a Porter, Nico goes for a Blond beer, Esther for a Stout and Florence for an Irish Red ale.

On the other side: you don't make Sander too happy with a pilsener, Nico doesn't enjoy a Stout very much, Esther is not a fan op IPA and Florence not of a pilsener or IPA. 

Strangest thing about beer culture in the Netherlands?

That's a good question, we are not so sure about typical Dutch things. But I (Nico) experienced myself: in the Netherlands, we mainly drink pilseners and we've all got strong opinions on which brand is good to drink and which brand is definitely not. But it turns out that, when tasting different pilseners blindfolded, hardly anyone recognizes which taste belongs to which brand and a 'bad' brand might suddenly be not too bad after all. [AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is spot-on.  It's almost impossible to identify specific beers using nothing more than your palate.]

Besides that, something the Netherlands is known for is of course cycling. Dutch people always take the bicycle and it is not unusual to see 'bike jams' over here. In line with the Dutch cycle culture, if you come to a city in the Netherlands, it is possible to see the so-called 'beerbikes': pubs-on-wheels for 10 to 20 people. 

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: I thought this was hilarious and ingenious in equal parts.  In fact, here's a video of it in action.  It's on my to-do list the next time I'm in the Netherlands!  If your sound is on, note the distinctly American soundtrack...]

 

Where can our readers find out more information about the course?

Nico wrote a blog about our online beer course: 

 https://blog.edx.org/science-beer-wageningen-students-create-first-online-course/?track=blog

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Thanks to Nico, Sander, Esther, and Florence for being such great sports and supporters of beer and brewing!

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).


Buying Time: Setting Your Hoppy Beers Up for A Healthy Shelf Life

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ACTUAL EXCHANGE OVERHEARD ON A FACEBOOK GROUP THREAD:

"I need some help getting rid of six cans of [insert famous IPA here].  Picked them up at the brewery seven weeks ago."

"Wow - that beer is OLD."

What the hell has happened to people's tastes that a seven-week-old beer is old?  I'll grant you that if it's a particularly hops-aroma-forward beer, you want it as fresh as you can get it, but old?  

Well, rather than go off on a jag about how beer geeks' palates have (allegedly) become so refined that they NEEEEEEED a beer that's no more than 21 days old (and I'd love to test their sensitivities and have them predict the age on their favorite IPA based on nothing but aroma), I think we'll talk about ways to set yourself up for success and brew beers - particularly hops-forward beers - that can actually hold up to some shelf time.  We'll save the "supertasters'" sensitivity test for a future Beer Culture post, when I find the time to put together some good data (should be able to get that done by June).  

I take two approaches to this: recipe design and handling.  And don't worry - we're not going to belabor the "store it cold, avoid oxidation, blah blah blah" aspects of this.

Design

First, if you're hoping for better shelf "life" on hops aroma, then don't use a huge mash-up of your favorite varieties of hops.  Pick one that, in your water and recipes and system, seems to come through clearly without blending, and then schedule a substantial addition of it.  It can be very hard (borderline impossible, as I hope to demonstrate in that upcoming Beer Culture post) to accurately evaluate the amplitude of a specific hops aroma and predict its age, but I can certainly buy the idea that you can notice if that aroma/flavor changes in character rather than amplitude when one of your blended hops fades faster than the others.  And before anyone jumps on me, I'm sure you can tell them apart by amplitude if you have samples to compare - but unless you're routinely serving someone identical-but-for-age beers at the same exact time, that's irrelevant.

Second, avoid crystal malts in general, and Crystal 60 in particular.  I've read some convincing academic research that suggests that the melanoidins in crystal malts are hostile to hops oils at the molecular level (and that the 60 is especially so).  From a straight flavor perspective, I also notice that hops can struggle to present against a toffee-centric background.  I aim high and low in my hoppy grists - base malts and 20s-ish Lovibond character malts, and 300+ Lovibond chocolate malts.

Third, write a recipe that uses late boil hops, whirlpool hops, and dry hops.  Both my and others' experiments (primitive and imperfect though they might be) have consistently found that multiple hops treatments yield larger aromatic effects, which means that you're starting from a higher "drop-off" point, extending shelf life.  Having said that, and this is where I'm afraid anecdote has to come in, I've noticed a sharper decline when I use more dry hops.  This is a repeat of the first point, in a way: to my palate (and maybe yours, others), dry hops present distinctly from warm-side hops (whether boiled or whirlpooled).  When that character goes away or diminishes, I notice the change.  So, while I use dry hops, I don't go overboard with them - usually not more than one ounce per 4.25 gallons.

Last, I tend to select for citrus hops if I want persistent aroma, particularly the lemon-lime notes we get out of many New Zealand/Australian hops.  They cut through the air and are easily-recognizable to our senses, so even when they're much less potent they seem bigger than they are.  I don't notice the same from the mango or stone fruit flavored hops, and definitely not from the herbal/floral European or old school New World hops.  

And to head off the question, I'm agnostic on whether powders/hashes are actually creating bigger character: they may, they may not.  Use them if you want.

Handling

If you want the hops flavor/aroma in that beer to last, KEG IT.  This is going to serve two functions.  First, while some flush their bottles with CO2 at packaging and some don't, nearly EVERY kegger I know flushes their kegs with CO2 before racking into them.  Less oxygen (yay).  BUT, and this one is apparently based on real science in at least one food sciences journal article I jumped behind a paywall to read, vibration breaks up and volatilizes hops oils.  Maybe that should seem more intuitive to me, but it doesn't, for whatever reason.  However, if you're bottling and hoping for longer hops shelf life, the subtle shaking and bumping of bottle handling is going to degrade the oils you want to be able to perceive.  Kegs, on the other hand, will just sit there.  Bottle/growler up what you need, when you need it.

Whether bottling OR kegging, increase carbonation levels.  Higher CO2 levels (say, 2.5-2.6 volumes of CO2) increase the punch of most aromatics, including hops.  This might be a particularly diabolical way of maintaining a steady perception of hops character in your kegged beer: serve it "on the way up" to full carbonation, and over several days your lower-than-target carbonated IPA/pale ale will have roughly equal hops aroma as your fully-carbed-but-slightly-older version.  But in any case, a spritzier presentation will make it seem hoppier than it actually is. 

You can also cheat on this and give everyone a smaller glass with a bigger bell (snifters rather than shakers), forcing them to go back to the tap/bottle more often and pour into glassware that will provide a crutch for their olfactory perceptions by capturing more of those volatile compounds.

I do also need to make a pitch - however obvious - for cold storage and limiting oxygen pickup.  Anything that stales or ages your beer is bad for hops character.  There.  Cliche served.

How Much Time Do I Have, Doc?

All beers have fading flavors over time.  This is, in some ways, a question of rate - and don't assume it's linear.  You may well have a drop-off from an initial peak of hops flavor, but good recipe design and handling will flatten out the rate of decay on that curve.

Your hoppy beers will be best in the first month or so.  But they're still (or can be) really, really good for months after that.  My oldest medal-winning hoppy beer was a 14-month-old American Amber Ale, and I've had IPAs that score well and win at 10+ months of age.  

Some minor recipe design tweaks and solid basics on handling (with, again, minor specialized adjustments) can keep your hoppy beer hoppy for a good long while.

Seven weeks.  Please.  

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).

 

 


10 Simple Beer & Brewing Resolutions for 2018

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Happy New Year, gang!  2017 was an excellent beer year, and I managed to keep (almost) all of my resolutions.  I didn't have more than one of any beer (a habit that's proving surprisingly difficult to break, but some pitcher-ed Miller Lite at a bowling alley helped), tried a number of new beer bars (rather than just tap rooms at breweries), made a (passable) perry, and I would have gone back to my least-favorite brewery to try out their beer but (I swear this is true) they closed two weeks before I'd planned on going.  

So, what's on tap for 2018?

10. Drink Around the State, Country, and World

As noted last week, this year's beer challenge will be to see what percentage of PA counties, US states, and countries in the world I can "visit" via their beer.  Should be fun, especially when the "easy" places are checked off of the list!  Just the other day I ordered an IPA from a brewery in Wyoming, because when you're looking at a state with fewer residents than South Philly, you'd probably be wise to take that beer where you can find it!

9. Brew a "Wet Hop" beer

I've played around with fresh hops, thanks to friends with bumper hops harvests, but I've never specifically brewed a beer exclusively with them and designed for them.  I'm hoping to go mobile with my brewery and do it on-site for maximum freshness.

8. Visit every brewery within 20 miles of home

Some might scoff, but that's a lot of breweries for me.  Every now and then someone asks me if I've been to a brewery, and I'll say no and ask where it is, and it'll turn out to be within a few seconds of a route I travel regularly.  That's wrong.  I'm not a "drink it because it's local!" guy, but I definitely want to support good breweries - and if I haven't visited, I don't know if they're any good.  

7. Brew with five new yeast strains

There's a fine line between consistency and being in a rut, and just to be sure I'm not doing the latter, I'm going to brew ten batches with five new yeast strains this year.  Preferably strains I'm not in any way familiar with.  But never that Trappist High Gravity yeast - there's something really wonky in there...

6. Empty my beer fridge completely, and start fresh

I swear I have beers and meads in there that I've had for so long I have no idea what's in them and/or I've forgotten what the code on the top means.  I wish I could say it's because I've been deliberately aging them, but I don't want to lie to you.  They're just the ethanol-laced debris at the back of the shelf.  This could be an ugly summer...

5. Replace my Better Bottles

I had this on the list last year.  I just didn't do it.  But the same logic applies: I've still never had an obviously contaminated batch, and I'm worried it's lurking in there someplace...

4. Rebuild my taps and faucets

I've never been especially happy with my tap handles, and I have a couple of new stainless faucets, so I think it's time for a freshening up in the service department!  I have three beautiful new black-gloss painted handles, and I'm looking forward to dressing them up with some von Rycknell Brewery logos and magnetic tags to indicate what they're serving.  

3. Get back in the habit of bottling

For some reason, I've gotten out of the habit of bottling up a six-pack of my beers and setting them aside for competitions, which I've always done as a form of quality control.  Kegging is easy, but bottling a little bit isn't that hard, and it's a great way to keep a steady stream of beer evaluation data coming in.

2. Use homebrewed beer to raise money for a good cause

As a member of a homebrew club, I've gladly participated in events where our beer is donated and poured, but I don't think I've ever explicitly used homebrewed beer to raise money for a charitable cause.  Once I figure out if that's legal, I'm going to do it. 

1. Keep writing Beer Simple

I love writing Beer Simple.  I'm grateful to all of you for reading, for your feedback, for your ideas, and for your time.  I know that if it's ever time to stop, you'll let me know.  Since I haven't received any voodoo dolls or horse heads yet, I guess we'll just keep it rolling.  Have a great 2018! 

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).


Glassholes: Marginal Improvement Calculus in Beer Evaluation and Enjoyment

Overheard in a beer group on social media recently: "I'm bringing beer to a friend's house, and he doesn't usually drink craft beer.  Is it OK to bring glassware for my beer, too?"

Oof.  OK, where to begin here...

I know it's come up before, but I ran into this one again recently.  There's really two questions here: is it socially OK for me to show up with my own beer and my own glassware, and does glassware matter that much?

First Things First

For the first question, in this particular inquiry, the answer has to be "no."  It's not OK for you to show up with glassware.  I don't know you, and I don't know your friend, and I don't know what kind of beer we're talking about, but I can still answer this question, logically:

If your friend took beer seriously enough to not potentially be a little put off by this, he'd probably have a decent stock of glassware on hand already.  Maybe I'm just being overly sensitive, but I think you're running a risk of looking like a snob rather than a geek in this case.

Look, I shudder a bit, too, when I see someone pull out a frozen mug for me when they see I have "good" beer, but I think the more neighborly thing to do is just stall for a minute while the glass warms up a bit and then pour.  No one's going to thank you for educating them on glassware - except for people who wouldn't likely need that education.

So, on to the second part of the question: just how much does it matter?

Glassware Matters...and Doesn't

Short answer?  It matters, and more than a lot of people think.  Volume, shape, curvature and size of the bell, stemmed or not, wall thickness, even glass type make a difference, and if I was at home I'd always reach for a stange for my Kolsch, a snifter for my Barleywine, a tulip for my IPAs, and a dimpled mug for my Mild.  I've done side-by-sides, and you do find a noticeable difference.

You've probably heard this before, but the shaker pint glass isn't really a great vessel for beer.  Tuning your glass choice to your beer style is a good call, assuming you're in a position to do so without suggesting your friend is a hick for not having an 18-karat gold-lipped chalice on hand.  

But at the same time, it doesn't matter so much that you should be losing sleep, friends, or tolerability over it.  Blind Pig is an excellent beer, whether served in a tulip glass or a conch shell, and would still be pretty good even if you drank it from a lightly-used dip spit can.  On the other hand, that low-carb macro lager I had at the finish line of the Delaware Marathon last week was disgusting, and would have been even if it had been served out of a platinum chalice crusted in jewels in a mosaic of Emma Stone's stunning vampire-person face.  

So, if you have the option, fit your beverage to your glassware.  But if it's not practical, or polite, or reasonable, then enjoy your beer anyway.  I suppose I could see an exception for some rare and expensive beers where I'm only going to get one shot at it, but if it's just a question of "will I enjoy it," glassware alone is going to matter a lot less than the beer's quality, how it's been treated since it left the brewery, its temperature, and a bunch of other factors.  Drink up.

The marginal improvement is worth it, but not at the expense of just about anything else.  Factor the non-beer-enjoyment-related stuff into your calculus.

The Go-To Glass

Is there a brewer in the world that doesn't end up with too many damned pint glasses?  I swear, I could smash every one I drink from into the fireplace, Greek-wedding-style, from now until Rapture and I'd still have a cabinet full of shakers on hand for the next round with my fellow-denizens of the post-Apocalyptic hellscape.  Here's to you, Scarlet Woman - and Scarlet Beast, for that matter.

But if you're looking to stock up on good go-to glassware, I have a humble recommendation: the water goblet.

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There's a nice little bell, you can usually swirl your beer neatly, there's a stem so you can keep your hand from warming the beer if you want, and it should keep you from getting the weird looks that sometimes come from pouring your beer into a wine glass (thank you, BYO-restaurant waitstaff, but I'm fine with my wine-glass beer...).

Also, since they're a common purchase you can usually score them for a decent price from any number of online retailers, and if you host a bunch of beer parties you can get a couple of dozen or more for about $2/glass.  

Just...don't bring them with you to parties.  Trust me.

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).

 


The Basics of Base Grains

"You said to go back to the beginning - so I have."  I can still hear Inigo Montoya slurring that line, and it's good advice, especially for brewers.  So today we check in with base grains, if for no other reason than to be sure that we're getting all we can out of our recipes.

It seems like it should be obviously important, but I frequently run into brewers (amateur and professional) who don't seem to give much thought to their base.  They'll tell you all about the crystal they had imported from the UK, the special steeping method they use for chocolate malts, bore you to tears with discussions of experimental hops and fermentation temperature ramp-up - but when you ask about base malts, you often get a shrug and an "I dunno, whatever I usually use or have laying around..."  Since base malts make up the largest chunk of your grist, that attitude seems bizarre to me.

It matters.  As I'm often recommending, you should be choosing base grains for a reason - and that reason should probably be something better than "because I had a bucket of it."

Base Basics

The good news is that there aren't many grains out there that could reliably function as base malts (that is, malts with sufficient enzymes to convert themselves and most anything else you dump into the grist).   They are distinct, though, and your flavor profile is subtly but persistently and pervasively affected by them, even in darker and more-intense beers.

Let's see what our options are:

  • American 2-row: Faint and light grainy flavors.  A good malt to use if you don't want anyone to notice malt - so, some IPAs, I guess?  
  • American 6-row: A lot more diastatic power, so if you're using a bunch of adjunct, then maybe, but practically speaking there's almost never a reason for homebrewers to use this, especially since it has the same barely-there flavor profile but with a touch of gritty/sharp flavor. 
  • Maris Otter/English Pale Ale Malt: Kilned a bit higher than the American malts, it provides a noticeable cracker/bready/nutty flavor.  An excellent go-to malt for all but the most austere styles.  Speaking of...
  • Pilsner Malt: The lightest malt around.  If you want a malt that at least tastes like something (lightly grainy, slight honey-like flavors) but otherwise stays the hell out of the way, this is your choice.  Obviously it's good for Pilsners (where you want those classic hops flavors coming through), but be careful with it in other less-hoppy applications: it can make beers seem surprisingly sweet.  
  • Vienna Malt: Lands in the no-man's-land between pale ale malt and Munich Malt (coming up next): it has a nice toasty flavor, very little of the sweetness of the lighter-kilned base malts, and stops short of the too-full richness that can come from Munich malt.  It can be used in almost anything; don't be shy about using it in pale beers (my Kolsch is 50% Vienna), and you can also count on it to hold its flavor in stronger/darker beers all the way up to Baltic Porters. 
  • Munich Malt: In a lot of ways, this is the Cadillac of base malts.  Munich has the power to convert itself while also functioning as a kind of utility-infielder specialty grain, with rich bready melanoidin flavor and even a touch of light-crystal flavor.  It can be used in a SMaSH (Single Malt and Single Hop) Doppelbock, or as an equal-partner base malt in lots of other amber-to-dark styles.  

The "right" base grain (or mix of them) for you will vary from batch to batch, but I do have some general advice, if you'd like to hear (read) it.

Clearing the Barley Field (So to Speak)

First off, let's clear the board a bit: I don't own a single grain of American 2-row or 6-row malt.  I prefer to follow the chef's maxim of "season everything."  Why would I choose a malt that exhibits virtually no flavor?  The argument that it's a good choice for IPAs because it "doesn't get in the way of the hops" seems asinine to me.  We're talking about beers that are aggressively hoppy - NONE of the base malts (except maybe Munich) would really compete with it (note to self: brew a German IPA with Munich as a base and an ass-ton of Polaris hops...).

So now we're left with four: Pilsner, Maris Otter, Vienna, and Munich (in ascending order by Lovibond).  Which is used how, and when?  Again, your call, but here are my recommendations and rationale.

The Go-To 

First up, when in doubt, reach for Maris Otter.  With just a few obvious exceptions (below), there's virtually no beer flavor profile that doesn't benefit from a slightly bready, biscuit-like background flavor.  It's beer, after all.  In side-by-side fermentations/comparisons and triangle tests with other folks' beers, I've found an incredibly high success rate in picking out Maris compared to 2-row, and almost everyone prefers the Maris-based beers, even in purely American styles.  I use more Maris Otter than any other grain.  Hell, I even use it in...

Pilsner: The Esoteric Malt

I'm not a big fan of Pilsner Malt (there's something in the flavor that just bumps me, like how I love seafood but just don't like crab), but if you're making certain styles, it's the right choice.  Not many styles.  OK, one style - if it's a Bohemian Pils, then go to town on the floor-malted Pilsner Malt.  For German Pils, I still say you're better off with a Maris/Pils blend and then hammering it with Hallertau, but I know I might be weird in that regard.

In other styles, Pilsner can be a nice blended base malt, especially if you want a bit of light honey-focaccia bread background, but be sure it's in a milder beer: its flavor can get trampled easily, unless you're super-sensitive to it like me.

The Underdog

I once received a 55-lb. sack of Vienna Malt free, as a prize from a competition.  I had my eye on the sack of Munich, but someone got to it before me, and so I took the Vienna.  I'm so, so glad I did: this is a wildly underappreciated base malt.

If you're an amber beer fan (and especially if you're an Altbier nut like me), then Vienna is a great thing to have on hand.  Use it for about 1/3 of the grist in any amber or darker beer, and you'll add a nice toasty-spicy flavor, almost like rye but without the sharpness.  I played around with that sack of Vienna in about a dozen recipes, and in only one (an English IPA) did it seem to make it worse.  

The toast comes through really well, but it doesn't add heft to the beer.  I don't think I could use it for 100% of the grist (some people taste it as being a bit too rustic), but as a blender, it's terrific.

The King

Munich Malt is wonderful.  Someone told me once (an outstanding amateur brewer who has since gone pro) that "a pound of Munich makes every beer better."  It's pretty hard to argue with that formulation.  One of the most common pieces of advice I give to people that seem to have trouble with producing full-flavored beers is to add a pound of Munich.

It's like beer flavor mortar.  It seems to fill in the gaps, and creates a flavor that's more mature and complete.  It can be overdone - don't go over 50% unless you're sure you want a rich, bready background - but as a plug-in malt it almost can't go wrong.  

The Others

I've left out wheat and rye here, even though they're perfectly legitimate choices for base malts.  The reason is because they could (depending on your system or recipe) cause process issues.  We'll jump into those another day (or you can buy the most recent issue of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine and read all about it!).

Brew Deliberately

My (often-repeated) point in bringing this up is that I want you to brew deliberately.  Make decisions about your entire beer - don't just let it happen.  There's certainly a RDWHAH-based approach to recipe construction, but if your goal is consistency and reliability, then you should be looking at every piece of your recipe as an opportunity to exert some control to get the product you want - and a product you can make again next time.

Begin as you mean to go on, as they say.  Make a deliberate choice on base grain(s), and you'll be well on your way.  

"....you killed my father - prepare to die..."  Sorry.  I had to.  

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).


The Case of the Multitasking Kegerator: Return to the Beer Simple Mail Bag

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Back to the Beer Simple Mail Bag this week!  Recently, a brewer asked whether he/she could use a kegerator as a fermentation fridge, and vice versa.  The answer, of course, is "of course."  But just because you can do something doesn't mean you should do it.

Quick answer: yes, it can be done, but it's probably not worth the time, effort, and beer impact.

The Obvious

I feel like we need to get this out of the way first: if the choice is between "no temperature control for fermenting beer" and using your kegerator to do the job, then this is a no brainer: use that kegerator.  

I don't know that there's anything more valuable to beer quality than temp control during fermentation, so if you're choosing between leaving your fermenting beer in the garage and letting your kegs warm up a bit, then by all means, choose the latter.

If you're going to do that, though, you need to be aware of a few things.

A Question of Pressure

First, when you dial that temperature up, you're messing with the CO2 balance on your draft system.  You can either adjust the CO2 to rebalance it (and serve your beer warm, temporarily), or (probably the better idea) pop the gas lines off of your kegs and just let them maintain the pressure they already have in them.  As they warm some CO2 will come out of solution into the head space of the keg, but it'll re-absorb when you chill your kegs down again.  Once they cool off, re-connect them to their gas lines, and they should serve just as smoothly as before.

When in doubt, don't adjust more than one thing, and since you're already adjusting temperature, probably best to leave the CO2 regulator out of it.  When you cool down again, it'll be right where it needs to be (as long as you return to the same temperature!).  Disconnect from the CO2, ferment at whatever temps you want, then reconnect your kegs when you re-set the temperature back to serving temps.  

A Question of Stability

You should also be aware that you're increasing the level of flavor instability you're likely to see in your finished beer.  Letting those kegs rise and fall in temperature is a mild form of beer abuse, and when you let them warm, you're increasing the rate at which staling reactions occur (and, assuming you have some small degree of contamination, the rate at which your beer is developing off-flavors).  

Don't get me wrong - it's still better than letting your beer ferment at "whatever temperature it is at that moment in the basement or guest bathroom," but it's a cost you should be aware of.  If you have lots of pull-through and your kegs are rarely on for more than a month or two anyway, then don't worry about it.  If you take a little longer to work through your kegs, though, it's a risk.

A Question of Time and Money

What's your time worth to you?  This is where the multitasking argument breaks down for me.  

Coordinating and choreographing all of this not-hot keg-and-fermenter action is a real time suck. It'll require you to plan ahead so you have cold beer ready to serve at a time when you don't need temp control for fermentation.  If you don't have a massive kegerator it'll probably involve removing and re-inserting kegs.  It certainly puts more strain on your draft system and its connections (changes in temperature can cause CO2 leaks as fittings change in size and fit and work loose).  

Is it worth it?  Honestly, probably not.  

No-frills refrigerators are inexpensive, and depending on where you live they range from "free" (watch the curb, especially for discarded freezers that can't freeze anymore - they may still have plenty of cooling power to hold your beer at lager-fermentation temps!) to $50 (off of something like Craigslist) to $150 (new and delivered from a big-box or mega-hardware store).  It's a small price to pay for flexibility.

A Question of Tolerances

At the end of the day, the answer to this question is, "yes, you can multitask with your kegerator," but only you know if it's worth it to you.

Done deliberately and conscientiously, sure, it can be done.  But for me, it's worth the max cost of $200 (for a decent-sized new-and-delivered chest freezer and a decent temp controller) and 5-6 square feet of floorspace to run a separate fermentation fridge.

So, your call.  Keep those questions coming to [email protected].  Always happy to hear from you all!

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).

 


Maybe You Shouldn't Be Homebrewing...

Every once in a while I see articles and blog posts saying things like, "Try homebrewing!," "Don't Quit, Keep At It!," or "Anyone Can Brew!"  I'm going another direction today, just for the sake of intellectual honesty: Maybe you shouldn't be homebrewing.  

Don't start.

Think about quitting.

Because the simple reality is that brewing isn't for everyone - and there's no shame in admitting it's not for you.  

Bad Beer: Not a Reason To Quit

Let's start here, though: I'm not giving this advice to anyone solely on the basis that they make bad beer.  That's where the articles get it right: if you're having trouble producing beer that's relatively flaw-free and (or?) that you like to drink, then that's fine.  We can help you with that.  Making good beer is actually pretty easy if you do the simple things right.

So please don't think this is some kind of elitist attack on the brewers that are working to bring their beer up to a palatable level, however they define that.

If it's just a question of making better beer - don't quit.  Keep at it.  It'll get better, I promise.  Join a homebrew club, enter competitions to get objective feedback, revisit and refine your process, etc.  

Love the Process

Novelist Frank Norris said, "Don't like to write, but like having written."  That might fly with writing, but I don't know that it's true for brewing.

Brewing is work.  Even when it's as easy and simple as it can be (see...this blog for how committed I am to THAT idea), it's still work.  You have to like the work or you won't keep brewing for long - it's just too easy nowadays to get good beer.  The "don't like to brew, but like having brewed" mentality probably sufficed in the 1980s when there was virtually no craft beer around, but now even the corner dive bars I go into have a couple of solid-to-great local craft taps on.

Take a look at that picture at the top of the post.  That was literally 24 hours ago in a friend's home brewery - the blowoff from that Flextank in the picture was too much for the headspace, and seven of 65 gallons ended up on the floor, under the tables, and soaking into the carpet in the adjoining room.

Now, I'm not saying you need to LIKE the idea of cleaning that up, but at the very least you have to be able to get some wry humor out of it.  On a much smaller scale you probably DO have to like the act of cleaning a kettle, the challenge of engineering a tap system and drilling holes in your walls, monitoring the temperature of a fermenting carboy and draping it with wet towels to get some evaporation cooling, and/or a dozen other small details that go into homebrewing.  If you're not at least neutral on those, the satisfaction of "having brewed" probably isn't enough to keep you going.

Homebrewing Probably Won't Save You Money

My process produces the equivalent of two cases of 12oz bottles.  In exchange, I use about $18 worth of ingredients, $1 worth of electricity, and four hours of my time (including brewing, monitoring, and packaging).  

Those two cases on the open market would cost me something like $40 each, so I'm ahead by $61 per batch, right?  

Not really.  First, my time's worth something (despite the fact that I spend it on this blog for free).  Even at minimum wage, it'd be $7.25/hour, or $29.  And I brew FAST.  Most spend more like five hours on their brew day, rather than the three hours I do.

Then there's the equipment costs.  Burner, kettle, cooler, carboys, tubing, bottles, caps, kegs, cleaners, sanitizers, salts, spoons - the list goes on.  At the end of the day, you're probably breaking even.  But I'm not even sure I can say that about most brewers, just that it's possible.

And, at least in my case, I probably buy more beer now that I brew, paradoxically.

Homebrewing Isn't Cool

...and even if it was, the anti-trendsters would be out in force to rag on it.  You'd be accused of being a hipster, or at least being a carrier of the virus.  Is that worth it to you?

Homebrewing is a pretty nerdy hobby.  It's populated, in large part, by scientists and minutiae-lovers (worst Cinemax soft-core adult film EVER).  Ever had a two-hour conversation about the geometry of a Coleman cooler?  You will.  If the thought of that makes you want to run screaming from the room, then maybe avoid that room.

I guess you could brew a one-gallon batch once in a while for the novelty of serving a bottle or two of your own beer now and again, but I still don't think that'd get you any cool points.

If You're Still Reading...

Good.  

Now that the dilettantes have gone, we can talk.

Brew because you like to create - whether it's the cooking, the science, the problem-solving, or whatever.  I don't like cleaning pots, but I don't mind it, either, because I know that at the end of the day I'll have spent my time making something my own way.  That's fun.  AND I get beer out of it.

Brew because you'll love the people you meet.  The people who stick with brewing are YOUR kind of people.  It's funny how many of us in this community are fairly introverted, but at the same time homebrewers are pretty social within their set.  Sure, there are some out there who use this hobby as a tool to beat people over the head with their beer superiority (hello, aleholes), but they're a minority.  AND you get beer out of it.

Brew because you like being connected to one of the oldest human activities.  We've been brewing beer for a long time (almost since cultivation began), and if you have a sense of history and continuity you'll like continuing that tradition, and it will make the petty annoyances worthwhile.  AND you get beer out of it.

Finally, brew because YOU want to.  Ignore the supporters and the detractors alike, because at the end of the day you'll be the one cleaning up that seven gallons of blown-off wort at the top of the screen.  Ignore the friends and family that ask you to brew beer for them like you're they're personal nanobrewery.  It has to be personally gratifying, and not for others, because otherwise you'll just be resentful and irritated at the idea of brewing, cleaning, kegging, bottling, shopping, hauling, and lifting.  If you like doing it for you, then by all means, brew for your cousin's wedding, your high school reunion, and your office picnic.  But start with doing it for you.

And don't worry if your beer isn't very good to start - we'll help you with that, and it'll get better in no time.  

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).

 

 


Hot or Not: Heat Effects on Flavor Stability in Finished Beer

While we're right to be wary of light when it comes to finished beer, worries about heat are - persistently and irrationally - overstated.  While heat does have an effect, it isn't an inherently damaging factor in its own right: it needs help.  And, by and large, if you're producing good, healthy beer then you don't need to worry quite as much.

Bright vs. Hot

Light is our enemy.  We've all tasted skunky beer.  Skunking is an effect caused by the interaction of UV light with specific compounds found in hops (though not hop extracts, as I understand it).  This has led some to conflate light with heat, which is a bad idea for at least two reasons.

First, it might make some less wary of light exposure in cold environments.  Be wary.  Chilled beer that's sitting under fluorescent lights, or out in the sun on a cold day, is probably going to skunk quickly.

And second, there's very little reason to be concerned about heat, in and of itself.  Some have written about the potential for the formation of coagulated proteins due to extended hot aging (which I'm not scientist enough to support or rebuke), but I can't recall a specific time when I experienced it.  Reading others' accounts the effects seem to be limited to mouthfeel and head formation which, while important, aren't at quite the same level as light effects, which can make your beer taste like homeless-person asparagus urine.

A Natural Experiment

One reason I'm pretty confident that heat isn't a principle concern in terms of beer flavor and its stability is because I'm a bit of a nerd.  I generate and keep data on my beer, and one of the things I track is competition score as a function of age in the bottle.  It gives me a sense of overall flavor stability, among other things, and one year I was provided with a nice little natural experiment.

I moved.  And in the course of moving house, my finished, to-be-sent-to-competition beer had to be stored for 32 days in a garage.  In the middle of summer.  During several heat waves.

Now, ordinarily my "evaluation" beer doesn't see the light of day between bottling and submission, and it's stored in a near-freezing refrigerator.  So as you can see, this was beer abuse - if we start from an a priori position that heat is a detriment to beer.  

Well, I now had my natural experiment.  18 beers that had been hot-aged for a month, vs. those in previous (and subsequent, eventually) years that had not.  I compared the scores for those beers to those of other beers of similar style and age, and also compared the average effective "life" of each (the point at which its flavor and/or scores fall off the cliff, using judges' scores/comments as well as my own organoleptic evaluation).

Results

I'll spare you the statistics (though I hope to present them in some detail at a future Homebrewcon), but suffice it to say that there was no statistically significant decrease in scores or life expectancy for the treatment ("hot-aged") beers.  

Scoring fluctuation was within "normal" limits (there's always a bit of variability in those due to the human nature of beer judging).  

Flavor stability was unaffected (and, in fact, for the lagers I got a very counterintuitive result when their timeline actually extended).  I can count on more than a year (13.1 months, to be exact, as a 20-batch moving average) of flavor/scoring stability, and this batch had no issues there.  The hot-aged beers varied in initial bottling date, too, so some were hit with this within a few weeks of bottling, and others after more than a year.  As a group, and individually, there was no statistically (or substantively) significant change.

And for what it's worth, they tasted fine, too.  But that's so highly subjective that I shudder to even mention it.

When Heat Matters

Maybe I just got lucky.  It's certainly possible.  But I don't think that's it.

Heat has one undeniable effect on beer (and most any other chemically-reactive situation): it speeds up reactions.  Arrhenius tells us that for every 10C increase in temperature, reaction times double.  Now, many have taken this rule and oversimplified it to state that "heat means beer stales faster."  That's incomplete.

Heat certainly might make beer stale faster, or sour faster, or anything faster - but only if the requisite process(es) is (are) already underway.  A beer with only limited contamination might be "turning" faster than it ordinarily would have in a cold environment, but that doesn't automatically mean that it will hit detectable levels before its normal timeline runs out.  

So I'm not denying Arrhenius' rule, I'm just saying that it might have only limited (insignificant and/or insubstantial) effects depending on the underlying beer's situation.  If you have some history of producing contaminated beer, then, you should certainly be avoiding heat.

Heat is also blamed for accelerating oxidation, but that, too, is incomplete.  Subject to Arrhenius' rule above, oxidation (if already present) may be brought to the fore more quickly in hot-aged beer.  What many are blaming on heat, though, might really be a function of temperature fluctuation, not temperature level.  As temperatures change, your beer bottles (and their caps) are expanding and contracting.  That temperature change is also causing pressure changes, and these two elements are very likely resulting in the introduction of more oxygen into your beer.  Hence, greater risk of oxidation.

So yes, temperature swings might be present in a hot-aged environment, but apparently they weren't a huge issue in my dad's garage.  And if you gave me the choice between aging at a steady 85F vs. aging in a cooler room with 30F temperature swings, I'd take "hot" every day of the week.

Respect Heat, but Don't Fear It

In a perfect world, as soon as your beer is carbonated to your target level, you should be storing it cold.  But if circumstances make that a challenge, you shouldn't abandon all hope.  Make your priority temperature stability, and keep your fingers crossed that whatever's happening faster in that bottle isn't going to catch up to you!

And if you notice that it is...well, I guess it's time to get rid of it.  Cheers!

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).


Wasted: Things I'm Sure You Don't Need to Do to Make Great Beer

We homebrewers do a lot of unnecessary things when making beer, and we know why: we're scared.  We don't want to make a bad beer.  We don't want to mess up something that we're putting a significant amount of time and effort into.  We want to make a beer that we're proud of.  I get that, but it doesn't mean we can't learn and improve - we're not slaves to convention and dogma (at least, we shouldn't be).

Last week I was invited to talk to a group (the Berks Homebrew Club in Reading, PA), and one of the attendees asked me what might have been the best question I've ever heard: "What are we doing that we don't need to be doing?"  That got me thinking about things that we probably don't need to do - and I'll go on about those at length in person, when I can properly condition/caution everything - but today I'm going to go with things I'm 100% sure we don't need to do.  

These are things that are simply a waste of your time or effort, for what I'm supremely confident are minimal to non-existent returns, and often actually increase your odds of creating faulty beers.    

The Secondary Fermentation Necessity Myth

OK, first things first: it isn't secondary fermentation.  "Secondary" fermentation only happens when you add a new fermentable after the initial sugars in the beer have already fermented off (primary fermentation).  It doesn't even have to be in a second vessel.  But it's become shorthand for moving your beer off its yeast cake, post-fermentation, into a new vessel prior to packaging.  

Setting aside the linguistic quibble, this is still a pointless thing to do.  The argument for it is that it prevents yeast autolysis (death and rupture of yeast cells, imparting a soapy off-flavor to the beer) - but despite leaving any number of batches on the yeast for weeks (and, on at least two occasions, months) at a time, I've never detected this fault in my beer.  Nor really in anyone else's (and when I have, it isn't as though that's the only explanation).

The reality is that autolysis is a bogeyman that homebrewers fear because someone told a campfire story once that put the image in their head of "AUTOLYSIS" creeping into their fermentation chambers and murdering their yeast, leaving foul-smelling yeast corpses all around.  This fear is completely unfounded.  When yeast were generally less-well-developed and robust than they are today?  Maybe.  If you're producing 30 barrels and exerting crazy hydrostatic pressure on the yeast bed?  Maybe.  But you're not, so autolysis isn't your concern.

You know what is?  Oxidation and contamination.  And every time you expose your beer to a new environment or the outside air, I promise you that you're oxidizing and adding contaminants.  Maybe only in small amounts, but why bother even adding that?  It's like if you started every day pinching yourself to be sure you're not asleep.  It doesn't hurt a lot, but it hurts, and it adds nothing.  So why are you doing it?  

I've heard a few other explanations for the benefits of getting your beer off the yeast cake, but they make even less sense.  "It helps clear your beer."  Why the hell would that be true?  "It helps the yeast clean up off-flavors."  Not really - you're better off just rousing your yeast (including the cake) and upping the temp a degree or two.  "You have to if you're going to lager."  No you don't - is there a reason you can't lager in the bottle/keg?  

And last but not least, if this was an issue, wouldn't we have all kinds of problems with bottle-conditioned beers, sitting on a not-inconsiderable pile of yeast for weeks and months at a time?  

Knock it off. Ferment until fermentation is done, cold crash it, and then package it up.  Hell, I don't even rack into a new vessel when I have an actual secondary fermentation - I just add the new juice/sugar/whatever directly to the primary.

The Never-ending Whirlpool

This one truly baffles me.  I'm a believer in whirlpooling (getting your wort moving in a circular fashion to allow centripetal force to collect physical bits in the center) and allowing it to form a nice protein/hop/break cone.  But a lot of you are reading bad advice and doing it for WAY too long.

I whirlpool for seven minutes.  Maybe eight, if I'm watching a particularly good episode of "Archer" while brewing ("Lo Scandalo" is incredible).  That's about how long it takes to get a good stir going and then stop moving.  When it's done (the surface looks still), I open the ball valve (which has a small, unfiltered elbow joint on it inside the kettle) and run the wort through the chiller.  Easy.  Simple.

But I'm reading things that say you should whirlpool for 20 minutes.  30 minutes.  One particularly absurd soul says "45 minutes, always."  But let's keep our eye on the goal here.

You want to create space for your outlet to pull clean wort (whether it's something intrinsic to the kettle, like mine, or something extrinsic, like a siphon/racking cane).  That doesn't take 20-45 minutes.  

Much like the "secondary" practice above, though, this is doing more than just wasting your time, it's hurting your beer (potentially).  That's time you're spending on whirlpool, not chilling, which means you could be allowing DMS to re-absorb.  You're also wasting the aroma/flavor oils in your late hops (and many people don't allow for that time in their addition timing) as those oils isomerize - more slowly, since we're not at a full boil, but it's still costing you.

Now, if you're doing a warm hop-stand (if you are, you'll know what I'm talking about - if you don't know what that means, then you're probably not doing it!) you might get more out of a long whirlpool, but there's still considerable disagreement on just how long it needs to be.  I've read anywhere from 10 minutes to - I'm not joking - 24 hours.  But utilizing a whirlpool in that specific instance shouldn't translate into treating it as a norm for all beers you brew.

Whirlpool if you want - though avoiding kettle trub in the fermenter may not be necessary and can add some good things to your beer, as the folks at Brulosophy have demonstrated - but doing it for more than 10-15 minutes seems pointlessly wasteful to me.

Pitching Temps

"At what point do I pitch my yeast if I'm making a lager?" a friend recently asked.  "Uh...whenever you do it for an ale?" I answered.

I'm done boiling.  I whirlpool (briefly).  I chill my beer.  I pitch my yeast.  

What temperature is the beer at when I pitch?  Whatever the hell the temperature is that my groundwater and plate chiller got it to.  And then I oxygenate and put the thing in the fermentation fridge, with the temp set to whatever my initial fermentation temperature will be.

That's true whether it's 72 or 48 degrees Fahrenheit.  Does that mean my lager yeasts are at 75, 80 degrees for a little while?  Sure.  Does it matter?  No, or at least it doesn't seem to.  

But I know people who insist on chilling their beer to below their initial fermentation temp first - and only then pitching their yeast.  You can do that, I guess, but this is another scenario where you may be hurting more than you're helping.  

First off, you want your yeast in there ASAP.  They'll get moving, growing, eating and crowd out other microbiota that might be competing for space and food.  The longer you wait, the bigger the head start you give to those other things that want to eat your beer.

Second, you're probably making it harder for your yeast to wake up and get to work.  Yeast activity is a function of temperature, and a colder start means a slower start.  Now, if we're talking about fermentation, then you want that - in most yeasts, and especially in lagers, it means fewer off-flavors - but they're not fermenting at first, they're waking up and making new yeast cells.  By the time they are, your beer will be chilled to the appropriate temperature.

And you're wasting your time.  Let's not forget that part.

So don't be shy - if it isn't too hot to kill them, it's not too hot to pitch.  Let them get up and get moving while you bring the wort down to "fermenting" temperature.

A Little Learning

Our friend Alex Pope warned in An Essay on Criticism that "A little learning is a dangerous thing."  You'll find all kinds of people in your homebrewing community who want to give you advice, and though they mean well they may be inadvertently keeping alive the bad ideas and dead dogmas of the past, or applying lessons from professional breweries to your home brewery.  Be critical.  Test.  Question.  Don't take these things at face value, especially if they waste your time.  And let your beer quality be the ultimate arbiter.

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).


Conditional Love: Bottle Condition Without Fear (or Extra Yeast)

Three times in two weeks I've had to witness a crime: libel, or the publishing of false information that is damaging to one's character.  The victim?  Your yeast.  A substantial number of anti-yeasters out there are trash-talking your yeast.  They think they're weak.  They think they're lazy.  They think that they aren't up to the job of carbonating your beer.  And these yeast-haters are nearly always wrong.

This week we'll be talking about bottle conditioning.  Why it's (probably) good, how to do it to get the beer you want, and most importantly (as someone who hates to see kindly single-cell organisms run down unjustly) how little you really need to worry about the ability of your initially-pitched yeast to do the job.

In Defense of Bottling

I know that many of you hate bottling, and it would seem to fly in the face of the entire Beer: Simple philosophy (one keg is simpler than 60 bottles).  But sometimes you need a bottle of beer (competitions, to share at the homebrew club meeting, bring to a dinner party, etc.).  In that situation, knowing how to bottle condition effectively is useful (and let's not forget that bottling off of your kegs comes with its own challenges and variability, so it isn't as simple as "bam, ONE transfer into the keg!" unless you NEVER take/send beer anywhere).  Even when kegging, I bottle-condition a gallon of the beer and set it aside for evaluation and sharing.

It's also worth knowing about because if you're a prolific brewer (which you should be - at least once a month, and preferably twice!) you're going to run out of kegs sooner or later and have to resort to bottles.

And not for nothing, but I've never had all of my bottles go flat all at once right before a party (thanks, bled-off CO2 cylinder...my kegs are now paperweights...).

So now and again, you'll need to bottle.  And there's anecdotal evidence that it has some benefits in terms of flavor: the additional mini-fermentation may take up the oxygen in your head space (if there was any) and provide one last chance to clean up fermentation byproducts.  I've looked for scientific research on this, but wasn't able to find any - as a side note, does anyone else think it's time for the AHA or some such body to produce a peer-reviewed journal about homebrewing?  I do.

But in any case, I've done it both ways (-phrasing-) and my limited sample shows that my bottled-off-the-tap beers score lower and have a shorter stable shelf-life than my bottle conditioned beers.  For what it's worth.

Bottle Conditioning Basics

Nothing complicated here.  I mean, it's more complicated than, "well, guess I'd better pitch all five ounces of this here bag marked 'primin' sugar' into the beer!" (yes, that was written in a "yokel-ly" voice; sorry), but it's not much more complicated than that.  

You don't want to "rule of thumb" this.  Why not?  Because there's no reason to.  There are any number of perfectly reliable nomographs and calculators out there to give you the amount of carbonation you actually want.  So it by calculation.  So here's a simple process:

  1. Determine your beer volume.  It'll be a little less than what's in the fermenter: you'll lose some in transfer.
  2. Determine the beer's temperature.  The colder it is, the more CO2 is already in suspension.  You don't need to rectal-thermometer this thing, but within a few degrees, work out what temp it is at bottling.
  3. Determine your desired CO2 level.  When in doubt, 2.25 is a good "go-to," but many beers have a traditional level that you might consider following - or go your own way!  But like every other part of your recipe, it should be a choice, not an accident.  Think of CO2 as an ingredient.
  4. Decide on a source of priming sugar.  Corn sugar is most-common.  Cane sugar is fine.  You can also use DME, LME, honey, molasses, brown sugar, maple syrup - hell, almost anything with simple sugars in it.  But be aware that it might impart a touch of flavor, especially if we're talking a cooked sugar. Regular table sugar is perfectly fine.
  5. Punch this info into a calculator.  I use this one because it was the first one I saw when I Googled "priming sugar calculator" years ago.  There are lots of others.  They're all pretty damned accurate.
  6. Weigh your sugar, mix it with a cup or two of water, dissolve it, and boil for a minute or so before adding it to the bucket.  Then rack your beer on top of it.  No need to stir - the natural motion caused by the liquid transfer should more than adequately mix it in, and stirring can add oxygen that you don't want in the beer.  

And that's it.  Consistent bottle conditioning.  If you DON'T get carbonation the answer is almost certainly this simple one: keep them warm.  I almost always see near-complete carbonation in a week or 10 days.  If I don't, it's winter - and so I've learned to simply put them in the warmest room in our house (Laundry Room, if anyone cares) or stack the cases on top of the air register in the brewery and cover them with a towel or blanket so they get a nice shot of warm air at regular intervals.  But the answer has never, not once, been an inability of the yeast to properly carbonate the beer.

(Don't Fear) the Reaper

Now, on to the thing that prompted me to write this in the first place.  

Your yeast aren't dead.  Much like [SPOILER ALERT!] a certain Game of Thrones character, they're still very much alive.  

This might be one of those times when the brewing purists, dogmatists, and scientists will leap onto their keyboards to exclaim about how I must be wrong.  This is definitely, though, also one of those times when my answer is, "OK, but I've done it this way for years, and either I'm a pathological liar or maybe there's more than is dreamt of in your philosophy."

Don't worry about adding extra yeast.  Your existing yeast can do the job.

"But it's been in the fermenter for four weeks!"  Don't care.  

"But the ABV is 8.1%!"  Don't care.

"But it got cold and the yeast are definitely dormant!!!"  Don't care.

"But I racked to secondary!"  Don't care.

"But I filtered all the yeast out!"  Don't c- actually, yes, if you did that, then add more yeast.

But the rest of it?  Seriously - don't sweat it.  There are still lots of yeast there, and they can do the job.

"How do you know, alehole ?" [Trademark pending, btw...]  Because I've bottle conditioned with no additional yeast for....literally every beer I've ever put into a bottle, and every time I think the yeast won't handle it because of some terrible thing I've done to them, I'm proven wrong by those hardy little bastards.  

Secondary?  The yeast are still there.  If you haven't filtered them out, they're still present.  Moving the beer off of the yeast cake shouldn't matter at all. 

Length of time?  I recently brewed a braggot with Adam Crockett of Haymaker Meadery (congrats to Haymaker on their recent Mead Free or Die medal!!!).  We made it for a beer festival in December, so this was October.  Unfortunately it didn't make it to the festival (I ran out of kegs, and he has two real jobs, so...), and I forgot about it in the hustle and bustle of the holidays.  Then I started a busy, busy semester and was on a brewing hiatus (hence, I didn't visit my fermentation fridge), and it just sat.  And sat.  And sat.  For FIVE MONTHS.  And guess what?  Bottle conditioned to 2.5 volumes with no additional yeast.  

ABV?  Don't make me laugh.  My biggest "normal" beer is an 11.2% Wee Heavy.  No problems at all.  Bottle conditions right up.

Cold treatment?  Please.  I once over-froze an Eisbock that was already at 9% alcohol and three months in the carboy, and freeze-distilled to just over 13% when I iced-off about 40% of it by accident. Carbed up just fine - it took a little longer (three weeks instead of 10 days), but no problems.

I've never yet had the yeast fail me.  And as you can see, I've tried.  

Now, is there a chance that my abused and stressed-out yeast are carbonating my beer but also adding off-flavors to it?  I guess it's possible.  But if so, they aren't adding much - it's a very small fermentation, and I've not noticed any "stressed-yeast" off-flavors, nor have the judges who have evaluated it.  In fact, my best-scoring beers historically are the very-lowest ABV (3.0% Berliner Weisse) and one that's fairly-high (8.5% Dopplebock).  There's no significant correlation between ABV and scoring or flavor stability in my data.

The bottom line here is that by adding a new yeast pitch, you're adding a step.  You're adding cost.  You may be adding variability in your process if you don't do it consistently.  You might be adding a wild or mutated yeast, or contamination.  And you'd be doing it for basically no reason.

If you're having issues with getting your beer to condition, check the thermostat.  It's been the culprit in every "missing carbonation" case I've ever worked.

So condition away, and trust in your yeast.  They are wise, and they will take care of your beer.  

Keep it simple.

JJW

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One Cell to Rule Them All: A Simple Approach to Yeast

How often have we heard the saying, "brewers make wort - yeast make beer"?  Obviously it's essential.  But does that mean it needs to be complicated?

Like much else that we've tackled here, I tend to think that the answer is "no."  Yeast are vital to the brewing process, but a great many brewers have worked very hard to make a mystery of yeast.  While I grant that there is much to know and learn about yeast (and I have a well-read copy of the White & Zainasheff book on the shelf behind my head), your yeast handling and use goals can be pretty simple and modest: take this single-celled organism, put it into your wort, and let it make your beer.  You don't need to have the chemical equation for fermentation tattooed to your thigh, or hold a degree in biochemistry, you just need to know how to use yeast in your process.

This week's post is about how I use it, and hopefully you'll find there's a few steps you can cut out and still produce high-quality beer.  We'll cover four elements of yeast use: strain, volume, temperature, and packaging.  

Simply put, though?  I don't think too much about yeast.  I have a process that works.  Sometimes I try something new or fun or different, but I'm more of a hot-side tinkerer (which sounds like a genre of German adult films).  Since I have a lot of respect for what yeast have to do, and since I believe in process as a key to performance, I like to use them pretty much the same way every time so that I can be sure that what is perhaps the most "invisible" (and important) part of the process isn't messing with my results.  And as always, I'll add the caveat that I'm not a biologist: if I'm dead wrong on this, please feel free to explain why in the comments!

Strangers on a Strain

Most brewers I know tend to favor one of two brewing yeast producers - Wyeast and White Labs - and each regularly offers about 50 strains of (generally comparable) brewing yeasts.  I confess that I'm a stranger to most of them, and I'm OK with that.

Trying to learn the strengths, weaknesses, and features of each would be a practical impossibility.  You could try brewing with each yourself, across multiple batches and multiple recipes, taking extensive and detailed notes on each, and utilizing controlled and blinded tasting to verify your findings - but even if you can control for the inherent variability, who the hell has time for that?  You could also try reading reviews of each strain and selecting based on what you read, but there are at least two issues with that strategy: a) your system and fermentation process might yield very different results than those of the reviewers, and b) how can you know that the perceptions of the reviewers are accurate and/or consistent with your definitions and understandings of what are often subjective evaluations (what does "moderate bitterness" even mean, anyway?).  

Here's what I recommend instead: identify a solidly-performing "go to" strain for each of three "beer families," and spend your time learning all of the intricacies of them.  What are these "beer families?"  First, I would suggest having a yeast for your "general" ales - a yeast that produces some moderate and mild esterification, ferments well at slightly warmer temperatures, and "floccs out" (drops out of suspension) promptly.  Second, find a lager yeast that works well for you - clean, complete, and reliable cold-weather fermentation.  Last, find yourself a great Belgian yeast - these strains can produce a wide variety of esters, phenols, and alcohols, and you should test-drive a few and see which combination of flavors you like.

If anyone's curious, I like Wyeast 1007 (German Ale Yeast) for most of my ales - it's a quick ferment, it tolerates warm and cold well so I can use it on my altbiers, and it produces a very pleasant berry ester that seems to pair well with noble and Nugget alike.  I like 2206 (Bavarian Lager) for my lagers thanks to a VERY robust fermentation at even mid-40s Fahrenheit and toleration of the substantial alcohol levels you get in big lagers (think Eisbock at 14%).  And since I'm not a huge Belgian beer fan, I like the 3522 (Belgian Ardennes) for some nice spice and a beautiful pear-orange ester that seems to work with any Belgian recipe I've thrown it at.

How did I settle on those?  And why?  Well, it came from a lot of trial and error.  It also came about because, for a while, I bought into the idea that you needed to tailor your yeast to your recipe - which isn't necessarily bad advice, but it means that I could never really be sure of why a beer might have turned out as it did.  Fewer moving parts made sense, and so I spent some months brewing comparable beers with a few of the "typical" strains for those styles in recipes I had found to be reliable, and taking particular note of the fermentation characters of each.  Once I had one locked in (German Ale became a favorite early on), I'd use it for everything in that family - even a multinational one.  For example, I happily ferment away my Best Bitters with German Ale yeast (which must turn a lot of folks over in their graves in the UK).  That same winter I test-drove the major lager yeasts, and did the same thing.  Ditto the Belgians.  And that was that.  But it took a WHILE.

If I had it to do over again, I'd have split-batched it (say, didn't BYO just have some hack write about that?) and saved myself some time - I recommend you go that route, since it also keeps a lot of other variables constant!

I get that I'm surrendering a little control here.  I may well be missing out on some great yeast-grist combinations.  But I'll trade that for the level of control and reliability I get out of using yeasts I know intimately.  I do still go "rogue" at times and trot out a new yeast into the old carboy, but I can at least do so knowing that if it goes badly I can re-brew with my standby yeasts, and that makes the experimentation more fun and less stressful.

Wait - that's a Starter?

"How much yeast do I need for my lager starter?"

"Use the pitch rate calculator at somebrewingwebsite.net and then double it.  I just made a 6L starter for my 5G dopplebock."

"OK - thanks!"

NOOOOOOOO!!!!  I saw this exchange (paraphrased here - I don't recall it verbatim, but the numbers are right, I swear!!!) on a Facebook discussion not too long ago, and it shocked me.  Good Lord, six liters???  That's a LOT of yeast!  This was one of those dogma days of summer for me, too - when I mentioned that 6L seemed like an awful lot of starter yeast for five gallons, and that I used half of a 2L starter for every beer I make (even 10%+ lagers and hybrids), I was told that clearly I didn't know much about brewing.  Maybe not, guy, but I sure as hell know that I'm not drinking fusel-y, hyper-estery, under-attenuated and buttery sh!t.  

In my experience, brewers are pitching way more yeast than they need to.  Now, some of this may be process - see the next section on Temperature - but for years the only reason I've made a starter at all is to stretch my yeast to two batches from a single pack (liquid yeast is kinda expensive, you know?).  So, I grow up a 2L starter, then split it between two beers that are using the same yeast (and since I tend to brew most beers in the same "family" with the same yeast, there's a lot of opportunity to do so!).  

If you're making a 6L starter for a 5G batch because you think that a Dopplebock just can't be made "cleanly" without it, then I want you to know that that's not necessarily the case.  My 1L starters get rolling quickly, ferment fully and cleanly even at very high alcohol levels, and have plenty of life left at bottle conditioning. 

You might think about starting to walk back your starter sizes, and if you (and those you trust to evaluate your beer - hopefully blind judges in competitions!) aren't noticing a higher rate of undesirable fermentation characters, maybe keep going!  Yeast are pretty robust, and wort wants to be beer.  You want to pitch a reasonable amount - but lots of y'all are pitching one whole beer into another (slightly larger) beer!

Is It Cold In Here or Is It Just Me?

That's a bit of a shameless plug: that heading is the same name as my German Altbier.  For reasons I can't explain, it made me laugh.  But anyway...

Another raging debate I see among brewers revolves around yeast and temperature.  You're welcome to take any tack you like on this, but let me tell you what I do, because a lot of brewing dogma says it shouldn't work that well (though it certainly seems to).

Temp at pitching: Whatever it is after passing through my plate chiller using un-chilled water.  So....groundwater temperature?  A little warmer?  I pitch immediately, oxygenate through a stone for 30-45 seconds, and then stick it in the chest freezer.  I haven't had issue with any consistent off-flavors that could be tied to early-fermentation overheating, and my biologist friends tell me that in the lag phase and shortly thereafter the yeast aren't producing anything I don't want.  So why chill to "just below primary fermentation temperature" as so many advise?  I pitch, then chill.  Seems fine.

Temp for primary: 50F for lagers, 60F for hybrids, 64F for ales.  Your numbers may vary based on yeast strain, but I like to go relatively cold.  If I'm going to have a fault, "too clean" is one I can easily live with.  "Too buttery and plasticky" isn't.  I leave it here for 3-4 days, then start raising the temperature.  If it's a "big" beer (8% ABV or higher) I'll walk it up by 2F/day, but otherwise I'll just spin that little analog temp controller dial all the way up and let 'er rip.  This will have the added benefit of encouraging a complete fermentation and the cleanup of a lot of undesirable compounds and precursors.

Temp in secondary: Who the hell knows?  I don't do it, and don't know of any good reason to.

Temperature definitely matters in fermentation, and I recognize that my relative "underpitching" might be something I get away with because I coddle my yeast a little bit and keep things nice and cool for them, but this process is mine simply because it was easy and always seemed to work, all the way through to...  

Package Time

Again, possibly another good German adult film title.  I know some will think me insane, but I honestly don't mind bottling.  For those who would rather eat the Southbound end out of a Northbound cow than bottle, though, may I propose a small compromise?  Keg most of it, but bottle-condition anything you think you might need in bottles.  For myself, I take a gallon and set aside eight 12oz. bottles (for competition evaluation) and two bombers (for beer club evaluation) out of each batch, no matter how I package the rest.  

So when I do, do I need a fresh pitch of yeast?

Answer: No.  Or, at least, not yet.

When bottle conditioning, we're right to be concerned about our yeast.  They're tired, in an alcohol-toxic environment, and have already done the important fermentation job we've asked of them - now we want to wake them up and make them carbonate the beer, too?  What d**ks we are...

But I've never yet had a group of yeast give up on me.  For every beer, I calculate the priming sugar needed, add it as a simple syrup solution (1 cup of water into x ounces of dextrose, boiled for two minutes), and bottle/cap to completion.  I do this for Kolsch.  I do this for IPA. I do this for 11% ABV Wee Heavy and 8.2% Dopplebock.  Hell, I did it with a two-month old, freeze-concentrated by 40%, 14% ABV Eisbock.  And that thing was good to go (at least on carbonation) two weeks later.

If you're having trouble, check the temperature of wherever you're storing your conditioning bottles.  To ensure mine stay nice and warm I just park them right over a heat vent in the brewery, but you might just pick a relatively warm room (laundry rooms with running dryers are great).  Kept at a few degrees above room temperature (say, at least 68F) I would be willing to bet that you'll have conditioned and carbonated beer in about a week, maybe two if it's a particularly old lager that you're carbonating.

And in exchange, you get a bit of oxygen cleanup, some additional flavor stability, and a dusting of something that will make your non-bottle-conditioned-beer savvy friends have the most exciting gastrointestinal night of their lives when they unknowingly dump the yeast bed into their beer.  You're welcome.

Yeast Simplicity in Four Steps

Let me explain - no, there is no time - let me sum up:

1. Learn a few strains well rather than a dozen strains superficially.  You'll gain more control and confidence over their performance, which to me is a good trade-off.  Yes, I might be losing a potential subtle improvement based on yeast strain selection, but I'm also picking up a potential strain-specific fermentation that strips all the hop aroma out of my Imperial IPA.

2. Make appropriate but not over-the-top starters.  You're not sending your yeast to assault Omaha Beach on D-Day - they'll probably handle the beer just fine, even a high-gravity lager, and even from a single smack pack or vial.  Like I said, I make starters to stretch yeast and cut costs, not because I'm afraid of them being outnumbered.

3. Feel free to pitch warm, but when it comes time to ferment, stay cool, at least at first.  Then let the yeast out to play and let the temperature rise, since they'll also be cleaning up your beer!

4. Consider a small bottling session - and don't sweat your yeast.  Actually, that's wrong - DO sweat them, because warmer temperatures encourage appropriate bottle conditioning, but after they're conditioned go ahead and toss them in the fridge.  But don't sweat that they'll do the job - they're up for it, I promise.

And Barbara, my wife, asked me to pass along this PSA: "Be kind to your yeast."

The more you know...

Keep it simple.

JJW

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Dogmatic Brewing (or, What Rudyard Kipling Can Teach Us About Beer)

Dogma (n.): a belief or set of beliefs that is accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted. 

That’s the Merriam-Webster definition of “dogma,” and I never realized how much we run into this as brewers – until I started offering brewing advice to brewers.  We're a pretty dogmatic bunch, it turns out.  Which sucks, because "Dogmatic Brewing" sounds like a pretty cool name for a brewery...

Since I started writing Beer Simple, I’ve offered in the Brewing posts a number of recommendations, suggestions, and commentaries on brewing.  Not that I expect that every one is a gem that needs to be adopted - far from it, in fact.  Brew your own way.  I heartily and happily acknowledge that I'm not a biologist, chemist, professional brewer, or metallurgist.  I like to think I'm just the friendly neighbor, chatting over the fence.  "Say, Bob, you ever think about putting that sprinkler on a timer?  Works well for me."  Like that.

But often, the response isn't just that someone isn't interested in the advice (which is perfectly fine, of course - your beer, your rules!).  It's that what I'm saying simply can't be right.  But why not?  Shouldn't the proof be in the Pilsner, so to speak?

DOGMATIC BREWING

I’m sure it’s not just me that runs into this stuff.  We all do, don’t we?  When talking methods, or ingredients, or tools and tips and tricks?  Every brewer has their process and their habits, and even though someone tells you that it isn’t strictly necessary to turn around three times and spit before adding your flameout hops, you just always have done it, so you don’t necessarily want to change.

I get that.  That’s fine.  We’re all a little idiosyncratic that way – otherwise, we’d have a more “normal” hobby.

But even though we all have our own process, I’m certainly not hostile to those who suggest that there’s a better way.  I might decline to adopt their idea, but I’m not going to aggressively deny its validity.  And yet that seems to happen frequently, when I share something from my brewing process.  Not just that they prefer not to change – but that I’m wrong for even suggesting it.  To take a recent example (my OneStep addiction), you’d think based on a lot of the comments made that I’m running a mineral-caked shitpile of a brewery that produces nothing but rancid and infected beers since – as we all know – it’s IMPOSSIBLE  for a product to clean and sanitize.  And yet there’s my equipment: no more calcified than anyone’s.  And there’s my beer: hundreds of batches without a single infection.  We "all know" it can't work.  But it does.  That's a contradiction we need to reconcile. 

That’s the issue, really: that “we all know it” mentality.  Remember in Men in Black when Tommy Lee Jones’ character talks like that?  He mentions lots of mistaken beliefs from our past that we all just "knew" to be accurate, and then asks, “I wonder what we’ll know tomorrow.”  I've always liked that.  It reminds us that we should be critical of our stereotypes – that persistence or pervasiveness of a belief shouldn’t be sufficient to justify that belief.  Empirical verification should be our goal.  That truth isn't arrived at by majority vote.

So why the resistance to new or heterodox or unusual ideas when there’s support for their validity?  Answer: we’re prone to dogmatism.  And we shouldn’t be.  It’s a very bad habit to get into, and it’s limiting us as a homebrewing community.  As Winston said, “To improve is to change – to perfect is to change often.”  I’m always happy to hear brewing advice.  If I think it’ll make my brewing day shorter, easier, or better, I’ll give it a try. 

ACORNS AND LIONS

And I’m not talking about adding things to the process.  That’s getting us into a whole level of cause-and-effect that I’m not set up to test for (but please go see the good work over at Brulosophy!).  No, I’m talking about taking away – getting the leanest, neatest, SIMPLEST, most-parsimonious brewing process I can.  If I tell you that adding hops in five additions is the only way to get great hop aroma, then I understand if you doubt me – after all, maybe it’s only one of those five that really creates that great hop aroma.  But if someone tells you that they only ever add hops in the whirlpool, and that their beers win GABF medals for hop-forward styles, then you might consider taking that under advisement. 

It’s like the old story about the Englishman who scattered acorns everywhere he went.  When asked why he did it, he informed his questioners that it was “to keep the lions away.”  “You fool,” they said, “there aren’t any lions in the whole of the British Isles.”  “GOOD GOD,” the man yelled, “it works even better than I thought!”  So I understand skepticism if, for example, I tell you that I add a quarter teaspoon of baking soda to dark beer mashes to improve the roundness of my malt flavors – maybe they’d be nice and round without it .

But if I tell you (as I did) that you can use OneStep alone to clean and sanitize without fear of infection, the only reasons to doubt me would be if: a) I’ve only brewed a few beers, some of which got infected, or b) I live in a bacteria- and wild-yeast-free house.  If neither of those things are true (they’re not), then aggressive denial of the factual basis of my claim seems to be unwarranted.  But that’s just what happened: in at least a dozen places, I was told that what I was suggesting simply couldn’t work.

But it has.  Or I’m a pathological liar. 

I’m not, though.  I’m not advocating the spreading of acorns.  Addition by subtraction – finding out what practices may not be essential or unavoidable, through multiple assessments of repeated trials – is incredibly valuable, but we throw that away when we reject advice on principle rather than on merit.  Don’t be that guy.  Or rather, don’t be this guy…

MR. BEER’S ESTABLISHED ELDER

You all remember my friend Mr. Beer, right?  Turns out he has at least one friend who’s something of a bigwig in the brewing industry.

I was already planning on writing about brewing dogma this week anyway, but then something so perfectly-timed happened that I couldn't believe it: I was accosted this week by someone who was straight up offended by my questioning of brewing dogma (FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW!  You’ll want to read this one, trust me).  I was perusing my mostly-beer-and-politics Facebook feed and doing the usual commenting, liking, and sharing that that entails. 

I ran across a comment that wondered why beer enthusiasts don’t seem to be all that enthused about lagers (at least according to the Ratebeer rankings).  One of the respondents thought that it might be because Ratebeer users prefer intense beers which, “by and large, lagers aren’t.”  As someone who brews a lot of lagers, that caught my eye.  Sure, there are lots of light-ish and boring-ish lagers, especially as a percentage of beers on offer in the marketplace, but I wasn’t convinced that it was lagers per se that lacked intensity, but rather the kinds of lagers that tended to be brewed.  So, in the spirit of social media, I made what I thought was a conversational observation.

I said I wasn’t sure about the idea that lagers are just inherently not-intense.  Maybe it’s just that there are fewer lager styles, and thus a smaller proportion that tend to be “intense” - but maybe the same proportion of lager styles fall into the "intense" category as Ale styles.  And after all, with the possible exception of some Belgian styles, it isn't the yeast family per se that makes a beer intense - it's ABV, IBUs, etc.  Sure, you get Imperial IPA and huge stouts in Ales, but we Lager folk have Baltic Porter and Eisbock, and some others that could be considered “intense,” and since they’re part of a smaller subset…

You’d have thought I questioned the notion that the Earth orbits the sun.  What followed was an impressive display of dogmatic reasoning.  No evidence, no empirical support – just the repeated assertion by this person that everyone knows that lagers aren’t intense, and a litany of ad hominem attacks, appeals to authority, and other logical fallacies.  First there was name dropping of this individual’s relationship to a Prestigious Brewing Institution.  Then it was reference to his/her frequent judging visits to a Prestigious Brewing Competition.  Then it was that I was clearly the only person who believed my claptrap.  But here’s the thing: at no time did this individual actually provide any support for his/her position.  And I wasn’t even saying that I was right – just that I wasn’t sure, and maybe there was something to investigate.  But that was enough to have my sanity, sincerity, intelligence, unrelated professional acumen, and beer knowledge not just questioned, but outright ridiculed.

This was someone who should know better.  As he/she repeatedly referenced, this was someone who contributes to a prestigious brewing institution, is a professional brewer, and judges at prestigious brewing competitions.  How dare I, someone of no beer standing, question something that “every brewing scientist and a majority of beer bloggers knows.”  On the strength of what evidence did “all beer scientists” know this?  None, none whatsoever.  In fact, this person refused to even engage on the limited evidence that I offered.

And let’s not forget: I wasn’t staking out a position here.  I was just suggesting that there might be something worth considering.  But for doing so, I was a target for ridicule, passive aggression, and belittlement. 

In other words: classic alehole behavior.

A PLEA FOR REASON

And so, I ask this – and not for my sake, but for others and your own, and I hope it doesn't sound too preachy:

Don’t be that person.  Don’t be dogmatic.  Look for evidence, and empirical support, and opportunities to learn and evolve. 

Don’t swallow every single suggestion or recommendation you hear (because God knows there's a lot of bad advice out there), but don’t be hostile to people and their ideas, either.  As the poem says, “if you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming you for it, then you can trust yourself when all others doubt you."  True - you can trust yourself.  You're a competent brewer.  However, Mr. Kipling warns us in the very next line: "BUT MAKE ALLOWANCE FOR THEIR DOUBTING, TOO.”

In other words, embrace the openness that brought you into craft beer and homebrewing in the first place.  Be willing to be wrong, and to be right if you think that others are wrong. 

Be kind.  Be considerate.  Be the kind of people other people think beer people are.

If we aren’t, then we’re driving new beer people away and undermining our own brewing success.  It’s just not worth it.

Keep it simple.

JJW

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APPENDIX A: Social Media Incident transcript; emphasis is mine.  Names/identifying items have been changed to protect the innocent, but otherwise this appears exactly as it played out in public.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> 

Original Poster I asked (the hive mind) the other day: What's up with lagers? Why don't beer enthusiasts like them? Is it technical? Are ales simply more amenable to fiddling? Lager brewing not as flexible in terms of creativity as ale brewing?

BEER INDUSTRY EXPERT Original Poster nobody answered because nobody knows smile emoticon As Another Beer Guy says its a self selecting group active on a site because they are attracted to extreme intense beers. Which, by and large, lagers aren't. Last weekend I visited a place packed with the young, affluent, employed, college educated demographic, and they were pounding 24oz Bud Light cans which represented the best value for money at that time. The place had sold the draft lines to the highest bidder so the choice was bad. Both groups represent the beer industry. One of them is just getting on and enjoying their lives however, while the other is sitting at their computers worried they're missing out on collecting something. It was beanie babies before.

Random Beer Person (aka “Me”) BEER INDUSTRY EXPERT - I'm not sure i grant the premise that ales are somehow inherently more intense/extreme than lagers. Yes, you have RIS and DIPA, but lagers have Baltic Porter and Eisbock. If you did a style-for-style comparison between ales and lagers, you might find a greater proportion of intense flavor profiles in lagers than ales, if only owing to the relatively smaller number of lagers...

BEER INDUSTRY EXPERT Random Beer Person (aka “Me”) I actually wrote "which, by and large, lagers aren't... Nobody reads anymore. I did just read what you wrote a few times, and here at the  Prestigous Brewing Institution  we won't be changing our curriculum to reflect your views.

Random Beer Person (aka “Me”) BEER INDUSTRY EXPERT How did what I write suggest I didn't read? There are extreme/intense ales and lagers. They're defined by style/recipe. If there are 4/16 styles of lagers that are intense, and 8/60 styles of ales that are intense, then the "by and large" characterization isn't valid. I'm not saying those numbers are accurate - just that it's worth considering. It seems that you're basing the position on a prevailing view of lagers, not necessarily their defined characteristics.

Random Beer Person (aka “Me”) BEER INDUSTRY EXPERT Also, not for nothing, but who asked you to change the PRESTIGOUS BREWING INSTITUTION curriculum based on a FB comment? Is that something you'd ever even entertain?

BEER INDUSTRY EXPERT Random Beer Person (aka “Me”) I'll bear that advice in mind when judging the Prestigious Brewing Competition in May.

Random Beer Person (aka “Me”) BEER INDUSTRY EXPERT is there a reason you're credentialing all over the place?

BEER INDUSTRY EXPERT Random Beer Person (aka “Me”) You took issue with a simple statement about a commonly known fact, and proposed an alternative view that defies conventional wisdom. Its not particularly relevant to the discussion. Your position that lagers are statistically more likely to be more flavorful than ales is one you alone hold I believe.

Random Beer Person (aka “Me”) BEER INDUSTRY EXPERT I took issue with calling it a fact, yes. And I recognize that my response defies conventional wisdom (but so what?). And if part of the conversation is about the attractiveness of intense beers, then it's certainly relevant.  I'm an academic. We're encouraged to question assumptions rather than assume they're correct, consider context, and look for empirical verification of claims. As I thought about it, the claim that lagers "by and large" aren't intense seemed like an assumption, not a conclusion - as you say, it's "conventional wisdom," but in my business that's not really evidence of fact, it's evidence of potential bias.  And it wasn't my "position" - it was just something I thought merited a thought or basic investigation. Following up as you did, name-dropping PRESTIGOUS BREWING INSTITUTION and Prestigous Brewing Competition and implying I'm some kind of beer rube, was fairly high-handed, dismissive, and rude.

It doesn't matter what my credentials are - what was gained by taking that attitude? If I was just someone with a passing interest in beer, wouldn't it be better to politely correct me? Because if this was one of my earliest interactions with a beer professional, then I'd take a pretty dim view of them - which, by and large, and according to conventional wisdom, has them being a pretty friendly and easygoing group. Thanks for providing a counterpoint.

At any rate, in the 2008 BJCP guidelines there are 40 Ale styles, 19 Lager styles, and the rest are either hybrids or specialties that might use anything. Of the 19 lager categories, I'd say there are 4 that could be called "intense" (numbers to save space; 5C, 5D, 12C, 22A). That's ~21%. Of the 40 Ale styles, I have 11 (13D, 13E, 13F, 14C, 18C, 18D, 18E, 19A, 19B, 19C, 9E). That's ~28%. Obviously there's an element of subjectivity in this - it'd be better to have some objective standards, but this is just a rough-and-dirty look. So, more likely by style, but not overwhelmingly so. And of course there's nothing stopping you from making an extreme beer with a lager yeast that defies style descriptions, which a lot of them do these days.

BEER INDUSTRY EXPERT Publish a paper on your assertions. I'm sure there are any number of peer reviewed brewing publications falling over themselves to present your research. Or write a review onratebeer.com. Your opinion is equally as valid.

Random Beer Person (aka “Me”) I'm curious - do you always approach conversations this way? It seems very counterproductive. To my knowledge I've never insulted you, hit on your significant other, or stolen money from you.  At the risk of repeating myself, it's not a position or an assertion, it's an observation and a question. I've offered an observation and some basic data to support it. It's my understanding that that's what often happens in a public and social forum.  I don't see how elitism and sarcasm are relevant to the discussion.

 BEER INDUSTRY EXPERT I refer you to my previous comment

BEER INDUSTRY EXPERT "I'm not sure i grant the premise that ales are somehow inherently more intense/extreme than lagers." Grant the premise that every brewing scientist and the majority of beer bloggers know to be the case?

 Random Beer Person (aka “Me”) EVERY brewing scientist "knows" it? I'd love the supporting reference. But in the meantime, please tell me why yeast strain alone equals more-intense beer across dozens of beer styles, fermentation profiles/practices, and recipe formulations.

BEER INDUSTRY EXPERT Random Beer Person (aka “Me”) Now you're getting the hang of it. A spirited intellectual debate with nuanced insults. American community college debates not quite at the Oxford level I take it.

BEER INDUSTRY EXPERT Now you're changing the subject

BEER INDUSTRY EXPERT Stick to the original statement you took issue with.

BEER INDUSTRY EXPERT Would it help it I put smiley faces on the end of all my posts smile emoticon

Random Beer Person (aka “Me”) How is that changing the subject? The original statement was: "...attracted to extreme intense beers. Which, by and large, lagers aren't." My response was that I wasn't sure that was correct, since there are numerous lagers that ARE intense, and that suggesting that they're less likely than ales to be so might be worth considering. I subsequently proposed that this was a statistical artifact that's a result of there being relatively fewer lagers than ales.  You're making the argument that lagers, on average, are not intense (presumably compared to ales). So what we're talking about is whether lager yeasts and their standard fermentation lead to less-intense beer. Why would that be the case, when what makes a beer "intense" is rarely the yeast alone? And if it's that lager styles are, on average, not intense, then I'd refer you to that quick breakdown/evaluation - not that it's the only one, or that it's definitive or unassailable, but that it at least suggests that the question is a valid one.  And I'm not a child - I don't need smiley faces. I'm just confused by the passive-aggression. It seems out of place in my experience with brewers and craft beer people, and doesn't seem to add anything to the discussion. I'm not over here touting credentials or making appeals to authority - I'm just talking about beer and evaluations of it, and what might account for the ratings bias in favor of DIPAs and other intense beers.

BEER INDUSTRY EXPERT Random Beer Person (aka “Me”) by speculating about facts that all brewers know?

Random Beer Person (aka “Me”) How can you claim it's a fact? You haven't cited a single piece of evidence, and haven't responded to the only data on the page. Moreover, what's even the logical argument for it? As I said, I'm not staking out a position - but I'm also not impressed by a statement that "everyone" knows it, and that that's the same as evidence or theory.   If I take a 100 IBU beer with a potential ABV of 11% and ferment it with a lager yeast, is it intense? And if not, what magic does the ale yeast impart?

BEER INDUSTRY EXPERT What does that have to do with what I was talking about? You're getting desperate my friend. My original statement stands. When your college adds a brewing class I sincerely hope there's someone else there to teach it.

Random Beer Person (aka “Me”) Not at all desperate. Either ales are more intense because of the yeast, or they're more intense because of style parameters for beers that typically use ale yeasts. You've offered no support for either statement. And again, why the snarky comment? I haven't made a single claim to being any kind of beer expert. We actually do have a brewing course - it's taught by a chemistry professor. Not my field.

BEER INDUSTRY EXPERT Evidently

Random Beer Person (aka “Me”) Ok. Well, if you're unwilling to do anything more than be snide and dismissive, I guess I'm done. Really wish you'd have been willing to actually support your position - and that this isn't reflective of what you teach other brewers. If I'm questioned by my students I give them the theoretical explanation, empirical evidence, and supporting references. That way they see that I can defend my statements, and that I'm not peddling opinions dressed up as fact.  Good luck to you.

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