“Bottle and cans, just clap your hands, just clap your hands” - Beck
Contrary to the next line in that particular song, this week did not involve two turntables and a microphone. What it did consist of was a interesting mish mosh of events. First and foremost was a visit from Tom Shellhammer of Oregon State University. His main goal over the next two days was to give us a crash course in packaging as it relates to beer, hence the musical reference above. We got into everything from the type cardboard used in a six pack, keg design, how cans are seamed, all the way down to the actual process of manufacturing tinted glass. I can honestly say that there is no way I will remember the specific list of materials (there’s about a dozen) that go into making the bottle I drink a beer out of. Fortunately I think that was included in the presentation just to give us an appreciation of how much effort is put into giving beer a safe mode of transportation from the brewery to our stomach. I won’t bore you with the details, but it’s much more than just melting sand and blowing on it.
The most memorable part of his presentation was a video that showed us the various ways of dispensing beer. As many of you know, casks are having a sort of revival right now in the U.S., thanks to the many craft breweries those choose to use them. Back in Britain, where the cask was originally popularized, there is a device that is used by a small number of pubs that absolutely astonished me. When the bartender uses a hand pump to fill a glass of beer and it begins to overflow, you assume that the foam is going down the drain right? That’s true ..... in most cases. For the pub owner that’s looking to save a few pence here and there, I present the Autoback. This device works by sucking the foam from the drain and then re-dispenses it right back into the next glass! I don’t know if there are any health risks associated with it, but I’m going to have to give a big NO THANKS to that one. I’m not being a beer snob, it just sounds nasty to me.
On Wednesday we got to take a trip over to the Anheuser Busch brewery in Fairfield, CA. It was pretty much what I expected: Clean, hospitable, highly automated, high tech, and enormous. I did learn a thing or two while I was there. I’m not sure about you, but I always thought that “Beechwood Aging” had something to do with the flavor of the beer. According to our tour guide, that particular wood was selected for it’s neutrality. It’s real purpose is to help give the yeast and other precipitates a place to land during fermentation or lagering. I can’t remember which, but it sounds like the wood chips used for the same reason you use aluminum foil to line a baking pan. To make clean up a snap! Who knew? Also, we got to taste their alpha beer, which is the high gravity version of Bud Light prior to diluting it. It was an interesting golden orange color and came in at around 7% ABV. Not surprisingly, it was much more flavorful than it’s lightweight little brother and in my opinion may attract a new segment of customers if they were to bottle it as is. I have heard some people refer to light lagers as watered down tasting, but the irony is that’s really how they’re made.
On Friday, we had our last day of sensory evaluation and we also completed the 8 Week Brewing Certificate part of the program. This meant no more tasting beers at 10am the last day of class each week. We were crushed to say the least. Our sorrow was only intensified by having to say goodbye to a few of our classmates that had to return to their countries of origin. The 3 gentlemen from the Netherlands and the one chap from Guiana had completed their tour of duty. They will be missed. Those of us that remain must carry on into the next phase of the program. One more week of lectures and then a 2 week break. Some people are going home to see their families, some are headed to the Craft Brewers conference in Chicago, others are just hanging out in California and some are going to partake in brewing internships. Me? I’m going on an internship. The details of which are soon to come my friends.
Next Week: An in depth look at the dreaded IBD exam and a visit from hop expert Dr. David Hysert.