Category Archives: brewing

BeerTools Pro Comments

Currently entering a recipe in BeerTools Pro. A few quick comments. Overall, I do like the program but it’s not revolutionary. I have a lot of ideas about a complete brewing database program, including brewclub and brewshop features. I wish I could code in PHP/MySQL just so I could implement some of these ideas.

So, BTP.

What’s neat:

  • Responsive staff (even on a Sunday!)
  • Ease of entering ingredients
    • Searching for ingredients
    • Add multiple times
  • All ingredients view
  • Templates
  • Download from BeerTools.com

What I had to learn to do (or could be made clearer in the UI):

  • Back-tab to select next ingredient in recipe’s list
  • Grams before quantity (to prevent conversion)
  • Distinguishing between database ingredients and current ones (price, vitals)

What’s not so neat (bug or bug-like non-feature):

  • Doesn’t automatically add .btp to template filename (so file isn’t recognized as template)
  • Direct heat adds volume
  • Can’t export to common formats
  • No stage for grains (mash or infusion)
  • Recipe ingredients aren’t added to database directly
  • Style listed by BJCP numbers, field can’t be searched

What could be neat:

  • Duplicating ingredients in database
  • Search all ingredients
  • Add ingredient on double-click
  • Grains and adjuncts together
  • Multiple additions same grain (adjust proportion)
  • Add schedule steps visually
  • Mash volume in schedule graph
  • Style templates
  • Date field (calendar)
  • Multiple dates (recipe formulation, brewing, tasting, etc.)
  • Download data for new ingredients

The last few items are somewhat connected to what I have in mind for the ideal brewing application. What I envision is really more than recipe formulation. It includes references between batches, tasting comments, lots of observations, blogging features, beer-related social networking, etc.

I really should blog about my “vision” but that will have to wait for another day.

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Beer and Science

The weekly SciAm Podcast Science Talk had an interview with UCDavis beer science professor Charles Bamforth. The interview was mostly concerned with Bamforth’s 2003 book on beer and science. Many of the things discussed on the program are common knowledge for most beer geeks but it’s still fun to have science media cover some part of the beer world.

As explained in this interview, beer is a much more complex beverage than wine. In North America, many people seem to associate wine with sophistication and beer with college drinking. The interview does fairly little to debunk these associations but does give some idea of how interesting beer can be from a scientific perspective.


Beer Explosion and Other Cautionary Tales

Here’s an old message I sent to the Members of Barleyment brewclub mailing-list, a while ago.

——– Original Message ——–

Subject: Beer Explosion and Other Cautionary Tales
Date: Mon, 1 Mar 2004 09:04:41 -0400
From: Alexandre Enkerli <aenkerli@indiana.edu>
To: brewers@wort.ca
Got back from the in-laws this morning. The house smelled like beer.
Not really a good sign.
Had brewed a batch and bottled another one on Thursday. Left Friday
afternoon. Thought the yeasties didn't need their herder for the
weekend. The new Scotch Ale seemed happy, bubbling in a cool carboy
with blow-off tube. The bottles of Mep were all warm and cozy, didn't
seem to want to transform into little bottle bombs, yet.
Where's that smell coming from? Oh, well, people were in the house
during the weekend so if a catastrophe happened, they probably know
about it. But let's check the bottles, just to make sure. Snif.
Snif-snif. Sniffffffff... Nope, no b.o. (beer odour) here. Fine, then.
Talked a bit with SWMBO before she left for work. Thought about going
back to bed (got home before 7am). Hey, it's Spring Break for everyone,
right. But no /Girls Gone Wild/ shooting in perspective. Just this beer
smell...
Speaking of beer: how's the new batch coming? It's always cool to check
on a fermenting beer. Except, that...
OMG! What's that thing where the carboy used to be? Did someone put it
somewhere else? Looks like it. An empty beer pack isn't where it was on
Friday. But, wait. This is the t-shirt that served as a carboy-jacket.
Why's it all wet? And where's the Scotch Ale?
Hey, the blow-off tube's still here. So is the wine bottle at the end
of the blow-off tube...
Uh-oh!
Oops!
There you go. That's where the b.o.'s coming from. And that's where the
carboy morphed into a pile of shattered glass in a pool of wort. Smells
good, though.

Let's learn some lessons:
a) Murphy's Law applies to brewing
b) yeast can be mighty strong
c) a rubber stopper can stick to a carboy more strongly than the
carboy's walls themselves
d) a blow-off tube shouldn't be constricted
e) there's a reason to have a headspace above fermenting wort in a
primary
f) it's a good thing to have your fermenters in the basement
g) carboys break fairly cleanly
h) a 5 gallon carboy filled with about 4.8 gallons of wort might make a
mess of ca. 1.5m^2
i) New Brunswick's blue plastic bags for "dry" trash aren't really
sturdy
j) there are situations where beer odors don't smell so good
k) it's probably a good thing to open-ferment ales in primary

["Whoooooo are you? Who-Who? Who-Who?"]
Sara's surprisingly not in the mood for beer this early in the morning,
so Warrick's the one taking the pictures and sending the yeast to Greg
for DNA analysis. Al establishes time and cause of death: carboy
explosion. Grissom, using his in-depth knowledge of brewing,
establishes a timeline.  Lag time was probably around 9–10 hours,
blow-off tube was blocked after 30 to 48 hours, pression accumulated at
a rate of 2 PSI/hour, carboy exploded about 66 hours after pitch-in,
most of the wort dried off in the remaining 18 hours.
Stokes notices some mud-like substance on a fragment of glass. Analysis
comes back: precipitated protein, yeast sediment... Yup, it's trub. But
how did it get there?
Catherine tours brewpub to identify the victim. The brewmaster at the
pub: "Hey, it looks *somewhat* like Scotch Ale, but real Scotch Ale
would be maltier and bigger." A botched attempt at Scotch Ale? A
lagered Tripel? Maybe...

Ale-X, not in Vegas

References/Apologies to:
http://www.homebrewers.com/product/600671
http://www.hum.utah.edu/english/faculty/brunvand.html
http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~insrisg/nature/nw00/laFontaine.html
http://www.edwards.af.mil/history/docs_html/tidbits/murphy's_law.html
http://www.cbs.com/primetime/csi/main.shtml

I hope this might help others, if only as a funny anecdote.


Alcohol Marketing, Craft Beer, and Responsible Drinking

[UPDATE: Press release. Much clearer than the Hour article…]

This could potentially be big for craft beer. A code of ethics for alcohol adverts.

Hour.ca – News – Alcohol marketing becomes ethical

A bit like video game manufacturer who propose rating systems for their own games, members of the alcoholic beverage industry in Quebec are trying to regulate their own advertising practises. According to the article:

Under the new code, the following has been forbidden:

  • Using alcohol content as a sales argument
  • Associating alcohol with violent or asocial behaviour, or with illicit drugs
  • Sexism or the association of the product with sexual performance, sexual attraction or popularity
  • Implications that the product improves physical or intellectual capacities, or has health benefits
  • Encouraging drinking games or excessive drinking
  • Making the product particularly attractive to people under 18
  • Showing images of people who look younger than 25
  • Showing disrespect for those who choose not to drink

By proposing such a code of ethics, the industry may possibly bypass government regulation. It also shows that its members are willing to go some distance in changing their practises.

Educ’alcool‘s message, associating responsible (moderate) drinking with taste, is well-established in Quebec culture and this code goes in the same line. By contrast, in the U.S., advocacy for responsible drinking is criticized by academics and health specialists. IMHO, this criticism has the effect of encouraging younger people to binge drink, with sad consequences. Educ’alcool and Quebec’s alcoholic beverage industry are probably trying to avoid such a situation. Although it might sound counter-intuitive, binge drinking is not beneficial to their bottom line. After all, nobody wants to get sued for the death of any of consumers.

The main apparent target of this code is beer advertising, especially on television. While Quebec has its share of beer ads with scantily clad women, even ads for some of InBev’s Labatt products are somewhat more subtle. In fact, the French-speaking versions of commercials for Labatt bleue have, over the years, represented an alternative to the typical "beer gets you laid" message. As typical of Quebec culture, these ads have used humour to carry their message, often with puns and other word play. For instance, one of the most recent ads uses a zeugma and the names of several parts of Quebec (strengthening the association between the beer and Quebec cultural identity). It also describes the beer in its association with food.

Which brings me to the interesting point about craft beer. While beer advertisement is typically full of what this new code of ethics seeks to prohibit, craft beer positions itself in exactly the same line as Educ’alcool and this code of ethics: taste and responsible drinking. The only television ads I’ve seen for craft beer were made by Boston Beer company for their Samuel Adams products. These ads usually emphasize the brewing craft itself and have been discussed by many members of the craft beer crowd. An important point is that they’re quite effective at delivering the message about taste, quality, sophistication, and responsibility. (Actually, I wore a Samuel Adams t-shirt yesterday, after reading about the new code of ethics. Didn’t even notice the possible connection!)

Any craft beer person will argue that craft beer always wins on taste. So if the new marketing message needs to focus on taste, craft beer wins.

It’s quite striking that the code of ethics mentions people looking older than 25. IMHO, it’s overstating the case a bit. IMHO, nothing is to be gained by avoiding the portrayal of members of the 18-25yo age bracket in advertising for responsible drinking. This demographic is not only very important for the alcohol industry but it’s one which should be targeted by the responsible drinking movement. Educ’alcool does target people who are even younger than that, so that they "do the right thing" once they’re old enough to drink, but there’s no reason to let people down once they start drinking. Eighteen-year-olds are not only learning the value of responsible drinking, they’re integrating responsible drinking in their social lives. And they’re learning how to taste alcoholic beverages.

Apart from age, characteristics of craft beer people are usually the same as those of the target market for beer in general. But their emphasis is really: taste, distinctiveness, sophistication, and responsibility. Again, perfect for the new type of ads.

Speaking of beer marketing, the issue of Montreal’s Hour indie weekly also has a piece on the importance of beer sponsorships for the success of events in the city. Coincidence?

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Belgian Artist and German Engineer

This one might already be somewhere in my beer entries. Still, it's worth repeating… 😉

Much of craft beer culture in North America uses a continuum based on two important images from two important brewing traditions: Belgian Ales and German Lagers. Not that these are at all exclusive associations. Belgium produces many lager beers and Germany produces many ales. Other brewing traditions (especially from the Czech Republic or from the British Isles and former British colonies) also have their own ales and lager beers. But these two “national” traditions are quite important in craft beer culture's imagination and self-identification.

The German Lagers used as a prototype are usually clean, crisp, refreshing, balanced, and especially consistent. The Belgian Ales used as a prototype are usually complex, smooth, soothing, malty, and especially distinctive. Many beers are located along this continuum. And it's not unusual to see malty brews associated with complexity or crisp brews with clean-tasting. The values of consistency and distinctiveness are quite important in craft brewing as it influences brewing practise. Those of a more creative approach may tend to prefer brewing Belgian Ales, even when the results are disappointing while those with a more technical perspective may prefer brewing German Lagers, even if their taste is relatively unassertive. In such a context, the images/stereotypes of a German Engineer (GE: who wants his work to always be perfect and dependable) and the Belgian Artist (BA: who wants his work to make a statement) seem useful, if simplistic.

For one thing, those images don't necessarily correspond to beer styles. Many of the BA beers could in fact be based on German beers like the Hefeweizen and Berliner Weiss. Similarly, GE beers are likely to be ales, especially British ones. But the brewing traditions of Germany and Belgium are perceived through those models/prototypes.

And speaking of beer in Germany, see Ron Pattison's criticism of the so-called “purity” law, his take on German Beer, and especially Thomas Perera's description of the German beer spirit.

For Belgium, there's a wealth of resources (including on Ron Pattison's site) but its beer scene is characteristically described by disparate details as it's difficult to make sense of Belgian beer in general.

Of course, discussions of regional differences within these two countries in brewing patterns are extremely important. But these differences are rarely seen by North American craft beer people as implying much distinction in brewing philosophy.

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Montreal Madman

Welcome John!

Missed the Big Strange New Brunswick Brew myself but went to the first three incarnations.


Michiana Beer: South Bend Breweries

A Brief and Incomplete History of Brewing in South Bend, Indiana

Over at Indiana Beer. Link posted by Jeff Sutter on the Michiana Brew Google Group. A list of a few breweries in South Bend, especially the Muessel Brewing Company and Manitoba-based Drewrys Brewery. (“Michiana” is the informal name for a region which crosses the Michigan-Indiana border around South Bend, IN.)
In more recent history, there has been a few brewpubs and microbreweries in Northern Indiana. The following ones are currently in operation: Three Floyds Brewing Company in Munster (along with the Three Floyds Brewpub), Backroad Brewery in LaPorte, Mishawaka Brewing Company in Mishawaka, Shoreline Brewing Company in Michigan City, Mad Anthony Brewing Company, in Fort Wayneand most recently, Nine G Brewing Company, in South Bend. A more complete list of Hoosier breweries is available on the Indiana Beer website.