Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Michigan Brewers Winter Technical Conference

One of the experiences that I miss the most aboot academia is going to conferences and learning new ideas that is being used in a particular field. A really great thing aboot the brewing industry and where I work, is that there are plenty of opportunities to learn and that my bosses will pay the way for the workers to go to conferences. On 8-10 January, 2014, Michigan Brewers Guild (MBG) and Master BrewersAssociation of America-District Michigan (MBAA) gave their annual winter technical conference in Kalamazoo, Michigan at the Radisson Plaza Hotel. This conference gave me plenty of educational experiences through presentations and workshops.

Michigan winters are cold and snowy. This year though was a little different than the past year, or should I say 10, of unusually warm winters. We had what meteorologist call a “Polar Vortex,” I call it “hey, it's Michigan, so get over it.” I feel that this is the way that winter is suppose to be, so quit pouting. Because of the icy and unusually cold temperatures, we had some delays with some people that had some trouble getting to the conference on time. Saugatuck BrewingCompany is some what local, it only took us 30 minutes longer to get the venue, in which it usually only would take us 45 to 50 minutes to get to Kalamazoo.

After checking into the hotel, the brewers went to the conference centre to check in. We gave ourselves plenty of time before the conference was suppose to start to get there, but after checking in, we found out the conference was delayed, at first by 30 minutes, then by an hour. After re-arranging the program a little and allowing time for speakers to show, we finally got started after a hour and a half delay. During that delay, I had plenty of time to network and meet people that I wanted to meet. One person, someone that I have communicated with maybe three times through e-mail and Facebook, is Acasia Coast of the Brewing Association. Her role with the Brewers Association is to network with each state to ensure that the state and national level for the organization are working together on a common goal. It was a pleasure to get to know her throughout the conference and talk shop with her.

The first talk that was given by John Stewart from Perrin Brewing Company on beer stabilization through pasteurization, filtering, or using sulfates and how that changes hoppy beer. These stabilization protocols can be use to ensure that the beer is not infected when it reaches the consumer and to get rid of all organism (yeast included) in bottled beer. The majority of beer is no longer bottled conditioned and is forced carbonated when bottled or canned.

There are two techniques that are use when pasteurizing beer. One is “flash” pasteurization in which beer is ran through two heat exchangers, the first with hot water to raise the beer up to 71°C (160°F) for 20 seconds then quickly cooled before bottling. The second is called “tunnel” pasteurization in which the bottles of beer are sprayed with hot water to raise the temperature of the beer to 60°C (140°F) and held for 10 minutes before it is brought back down to cold temperatures for storage. The downfall of pasteurization is that it speeds up the oxidation process and ruins the freshness of a beer.

Another technique used is sterile filtration. His is especially key after bacteria (lactobacillus or pediococcus) or a wild yeast (brettanomyces) are used to sour a beer before bottling because you DO NOT want your whole brewery infected. This process is usually done after fermentation is complete in the fermenter and being transferred to the bright tank for carbonation. During this process the beer is past through a filter that is 0.22 microns in size. This strips the beer of all bacteria and yeast that was in the beer during fermentation.

The final way that a brewery can stabilize a beer is by adding sulfites to a beer. The only problem is that many people have an allergic reaction to sulites that causes asthmatic like symptoms. Almost all wines have sulfites and some ciders do to. If a brewery adds a sulfite to a beer, it MUST have a notification on the label.

At the end of the talk we tasted Huma Lupa Licious by Shorts BrewingCompany that went through the 4 stabilization methods and 1 that did not go through any stabilization methods. The two pasteurization method didn't taste much different than the one that wasn't stabilized, maybe if the beer had more age on it, there would be a greater difference. A huge difference was in the filtered beer, a lot of the flavours was gone. The beer with sulfites had a strange odor and taste.

The second talk of the day was on coopering and was given by Russ Karasch from Black Swan Cooperage. What interested me with this talk was how the barrels are produced and types of woods that is used and what flavours are imparted into the beer or spirits. White oak is the best because it does not leak, but red oak leaks like a sieve. A way that imparts more flavours into the wood is putting indents into the wood at a regular basis. This creates greater surface area, sort of like putting pieces of wood into a secondary and that wood is honey-combed.

Toasting imparts different flavours into the beer or spirits. A light toast gives a “bakery” flavour to the beer ot spirits. Medium toasting impart some cinnamon and vanilla notes. A dark toast or char will impart smoky flavours. Wood, especially white oak, has up to 27 different sugars and a lot of the tannins in the wood are water soluble.

The third talk of the day was on managing growth of a brewery. This was exciting because the three speakers were Brett VanderKamp from NewHolland Brewing Company, Tim Suprise from Arcadia Brewing Company, and Scott Newman-Bale from Shorts Brewing Company. These are some of the biggest breweries in the state. There is a lot of details here that I couldn't keep up with. This round table talk was a lot of questions from the audience, but it was really great to here different aspects on how they each got started and grew.

Since the conference got delayed by an hour, they cut out one of the talks and went directly into annual meeting and elections. During this time I had more time to socialize and then go to dinner. I visited some of the trade show, signed up for an event at Hop Head Farms, then venture out on the town.

While out in Kalamazoo, a group of brewers stopped by two breweries and a bar. The first brewery was Gonzo's Bigg Dogg Brewery. This was maybe 3 blocks from the hotel. It is a relatively new brewery in Kalamazoo and from the beer that I tried, excellent! I had their porter and then their stout. I am somewhat leery of new breweries opening and I'll let them get their legs under them before trying them, but this one, I was impressed. The owner/head brewer was the brewer for Old Peninsula Brewery and Restaurant. He gave us a tour of the brew house and talked aboot expansion already. I need to get by here again really soon!

The second brewery that we hit up was Rupert's Brew House. I had their their porter and it was better than average. Chill place, with open mic going on and someone with an “Angry Bird” shirt dancing...sort of...more like interpretive dance. I wouldn't be surprise if he wasn't on E. We ended up talking with Mark Rupert (pictured with me...I'm the one with the graying beard), the owner, and he gave us a tour of their exceptionally small system. It was really pieced together, but in reality, that is all that you need. It was barrel sized mashtun and boiler that was pumped downstairs to the fermenter. We showed up around midnight and they were in the middle of a transfer to the fermenter. Talk aboot dedication!

After we left the brewery, we ventured to a dive bar on the way back the hotel. Their wasn't much to talk aboot this bar. We had a PBR and we were on our way.

The next morning after breakfast (which was excellent), talked began again. We had access to a bloody mary bar in the morning before the talks began. The first talk on the second day covered beer tourism and focused on Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo Michigan. I pulled a couple of things from this talk, mostly on tapping into the brewery community.

The next talk, presented by Gary Spedding of Brewing and DistillingAnalytic Service, I found very useful in my laboratory at the brewery. It is calculating the actual acohol by volume of the beer from original extract and realized extract. The realized extract is what you would read on a hydrometer and from that you can find the final gravity. The key to standardize your equipment with Budweiser, because it is the most consistent brewery in the world. It is a bunch of calculations that can be preformed on a excel (or in my case LibreOffice Calc) spreadsheet. Directly following his talk was a workshop on off-flavours in beer, followed by lunch. In the workshop, Budweiser was spiked with different off-flavours, some non-too-pleasent.

The next presentation after lunch was the one that I was waiting for. Barrel Dwellers: Microbiology of Barrel-Aged Beer. The original speaker canceled, so MBAA brought in Mary Pellettieri. Mary is a private consultant, but has had experience with MillerCoors and Goose Island. Since Micro-organism lives in the rough areas of the barrels, you cannot control microbes, but you can manage it. Acetobacteria, Pediococcus, Lactobacillus, and Brettanomyces all live in the barrels. In the lab, the brewery can test how infected and what infection is present in the beer. I got the most use of this talk.

The next three talks were more for management and safety. They included MIOSHA (which will eventually replace OSHA), Wholesale Contracts, and Beer Tax. I had trouble with gleening much information from these talks.

After all of the presentations were completed, the board had a meeting then, what everyone was waiting for, the dinner. Here I really got to taste amazing food, paired with beer, and got to do more networking. I had converasations with the likes of Acasia Coast, Brett VanderKamp, Scott Newman-Bale, Russel Springteen (owner of RightBrain Brewing Company), and many other owners/operators of small breweries. I got a few business cards of people to talk with in the future.

That evening, we made our way out on the town again, but we only stopped by one brewery, Tibbs Brewing Company. Another very, very small brewery, that sells out of beer daily. This is the main problem with having such a small brewing system. Again, they only had a 1-barrel brewhouse. What I had, again, was really good. We hung out with people that run Michigan Mobile Canning at the brewery and I made another connection.

The third day of the conference, I was only interested in one talk on the Michigan Hop and Malt update. I like what I see which direction the hops in Michigan are taking. Jeff from Hop Head Farms are the closest to us in Saugatuck and hopefully we will be doing more with what they produce in the future.

The whole conference was exciting for me to attend and I am very thankful for the owners of Saugatuck Brewing Company to pay our way to the conference and the dinner. Next year, the venue may change, because of politics with the largest microbrewery in Michigan and the guild, but I cannot wait. Next venture will be the Michigan Winter Beer Fest on 22 February, 2014.

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