Saturday, June 19, 2010

NHC 2010 - Day 3 Recap

It is becoming apparent that this conference is all about endurance - fortunately our hotel has some good strong coffee! While the coffee goes great with a delicious breakfast croissant, it was not so great with bruschetta, sauteed mushrooms, and blue cheese - which is what we were sampling during out first seminar today: food and beer pairing.

During the Practical Food and Beer Pairing: Planning and Hosting Your Own Pairing Dinner we learned some great tips from Kyle Jones. It was encouraging to hear how you don't need a degree in food science or brewing to put together a great evening of pairings - you educate your palate as you go. Kyle, like many of us, will daydream in his office, car, etc. about food and beer and jot down any pairing that sounds interesting and then try it out. The important thing of planning out a pairing dinner is just that: planning. After setting the menu, he'll start 30 days in advance, contacting various vendors to secure the food/beer he wants - and does as much prep work as possible the days before the event. Having a helper is key too.

We tried some crusty crostinis with bruschetta-like tomatoes/basil, paired with Sierra Nevada's Kellerweiss, which was excellent. The wheat beer really balanced out the acidity of the tomatoes. Next up: sauteed mushrooms paired with Deschutes Black Butte Porter. The logic behind this pairing is that the earthiness of the mushrooms would balance well with the roasty, earthy flavors of a porter. Meg really liked this one, but I wasn't such a big fan - I think I was picking up too much of the chocolate from the beer, and chocolate 'shrooms aren't my thing.

Lastly, we had some blue cheese paired with Summit's (?) IPA. This was a great one. The hoppy-bitter/fruity beer did a good job of keeping the strong cheese in check, sort of bathing your mouth, prepping it for the next bite of cheese. Kyle also recommends paring IPAs with cheesecakes and recommends always having a dessert (or two) at your dinner.

A great talk. The overall theme was to think it, try it, and don't be discouraged if it doesn't work. Let your palate guide you. My only complaint was that the 9am class time probably wasn't the best slot for this....

Next up was Hop Variety Overview: What is Quality and How Can I Find It by James Atweis of Gorst Valley Hops. This was also great, as it covered a bit of chemistry but focused on how it impacted hop flavor in your beer. Hops consist of various oil compounds, and these compounds have flashpoints - basically, temperatures at which they work best under. If I see James again, I think I'll ask him if this is why bittering hops don't matter much taste-wise. You toss them in at the beginning of your boil, and if that's all you did - flavor-wise you'd be hard pressed to tell what you used because those flavor oils all have flashpoints well under 200F. By using late addition hops, you loose less as they don't spend as much time over their flashpoints - another reason to cool your beer quickly post-boil. I didn't take notes so please correct me here if you attended this one (my stomach was still yelling about digesting coffee and the food/beer pairings).

The "big thing" I got from this was that most hop flashpoints are around 114F - so next time, I'm going to try cooling my wort down under this, and chucking in some hops then. Also, I think I finally understand the logic behind a hop-back, which is used post-boil to lock in those flavors and aromas normally driven out by the boil. In fact, I can't wait to experiment with this.

After lunch and a heart-warming keynote from Mark Stutrud of Summit Brewing, one of the pioneers of the craft brewing movement in the 80's.  Following the keynote, we went onto Fermentation Management by Greg Doss of Wyeast Labs. We had to sit on the floor for this one as the room was packed. Greg covered lots and lots of stuff (judging from the way he was skipping slides, we missed quite a bit). The things I took away was that as far as attenuation goes, all ale strains are really about the same. What matters is the recipe and wort composition. Things like flocculation didn't matter in his tests. For example, he did shaken vs. completely static fermentations side by side, and there was only a 1-2% difference in attenuation. So according to this logic, swirling your carboy to keep the yeast up in suspension doesn't do a thing as far as attenuation goes (though perhaps it gets the job done faster?). To me, this was pretty ground breaking info as about everything I've read seems to say the opposite. The one big factor we didn't cover much beyond the basics was temperature.

Another interesting thing he discussed was pitch-rates, and how he really didn't think pitching high was much of a concern. Basically, better to pitch high than low. Granted by pitching high, you may loose some desirable esters (especially in wheat beers), but better that then getting the less desirable esters associated with under pitching (and why I always make a starter). I and some other fellows chatted him up in the hospitality suite over a delicious English Bitter he brewed. One fellow said how he pitched 5 successive times on the same yeast cake. Of course, this is way over pitching and Greg told him as much, as well as the fact that while reusing your yeast is fine, to note that you carry over IBUs from your previous batches - so keep in mind that your beers may get more and more bitter as you reuse your yeast (I think I've experienced this). Greg is also not a fan of yeast washing/rinsing - saying that it often does more harm than good by stressing out the yeast. I wanted to talk more about this as my experience is quite the opposite, but will have to do it later as he was quite busy answering lots of questions.

Last up, we attended Bottle Conditioning Like a Pro by Jennifer Helber - a lab worker from Boulevard Brewing. It was interesting to hear someone so gung-ho about bottling, something many homebrewers (including myself) tend to avoid like the plague in favor of kegging. Jennifer started by covering lots of the basics - but here are the "pro" highlights.

First - she doesn't just sanitize her bottles - she sterilizes them in the oven using this procedure:
  1. Put your bottles in, and preheat to 240F.
  2. Every 5 minutes, increase the temperature by 20 degrees until you reach 340.
  3. At 340, bake for an hour.
  4. Let cool in the oven, keeping the door closed until ready to use.
She said she's gotten some flack about this method destabilizing the glass. But after contacting a major bottle manufacturer, confirmed that bottles (and glass in general) are stable up to 800F - so no worries here.

Now, the "like a pro" part comes into play. She adds both yeast and sugar to her bottling bucket. I've always thought that there was enough yeast left in suspension to take any priming sugar and fully carbonate in the bottle. In fact, I've never had a batch not carbonate using this method. But I suppose the point is that this is what the pro breweries do whether or not they filter their beer. Also, she was driving home the points that the extra yeast will help absorb any oxygen and other off flavors that might have been left over post fermentation. Here's the skinny on how she does it:
  1. Both she, and Boulevard, use Safbrew S-33 dry yeast.
  2. For 5 gallons, use 1/4 teaspoon. Boil and cool 1 cup of water to 80F, and completely dissolve yeast.
  3. For sugar, the only real difference between dextrose and sucrose is that dextrose seems to leave the beer clearer. 
Now, there's many charts/calculators out there for determining how much sugar you need, and her point is that none of them take the beer's terminal gravity into account - which may be why folks get mixed results. So for your bottle conditioned beers, record how much you use for each batch - as well as what the terminal gravity of the batch was. What she sometime did was "bracket" the amount of sugar she added for a batch. For example, she'd add some of the sugar solution, bottle some beers (and mark them appropriately), then add some more sugar, etc. keeping track of the amounts. Then she'd have various levels of carbonation in a batch and could pick the one she liked best (she had a system for doing this but I didn't note it). 

Someone asked the question of storing the dry yeast after it'd been opened, to which she replied she seals  it up best she can, puts it back in the fridge, and doesn't use it after the expiration date. And there you have it, more than I ever thought I'd know about bottling beer.

Club Night
It'd been a long day, but the real work was still ahead of us - Club Night! Lots of keg hauling, setup, food prep (we helped put together 144 Chicago-style hot dogs). Homebrew clubs from around the country put their best (and not so best) beers on display, and what displays there were! Some people assembled full bars, while others sported a Wild-West theme, a tropical theme, 50's theme - in short everyone put on a show. The Iowa club brought 600 kegs - 600 kegs! Quite simple there was too much beer in the room - too much beer! So much beer that from what I gathered, hardly anyone blew a keg. Afterwards we tore down and partied into the night. Wherever there was a spare room/space in the hotel (they kicked us out of the ballroom around midnight), some club had setup some kegs and was pouring beer. We left around 3am, and there was still beer flowing. Wow. 


  1. Ask Meghan what her Grandma Doris used to call her Iowa friends! then you will know why they would bring 600 kegs!

  2. Indeed, they certainly were some of "those partying Iowans!"