BJCP Update Part 4 – Meads/Ciders and Wrapup

After reading through the previous posts of the BJCP Update Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, we are finally ready to look at the non-beer categories of meads and ciders before I wrap up the presentation with links to Gordon Strong’s presentation slides (as a PDF file, graciously hosted by the bjcp.org website) and full video of the presentation posted to youtube by Chip Walton of Chop and Brew (as well as a few final notes of my own).  I will also point out the venues available for you to provide your own feedback and possibly influence the impending changes.  So, here we go:  meads!

Traditional Mead

  • This category remains unchanged with the three styles of Dry Mead, Semi-Sweet Mead, and Sweet Mead.
  • As before, all meads must list Descriptors for carbonation (Still, Petillant, or Sparkling) and for strength (Hydromel, Standard, or Sack).
  • As before (and true for all meads), the type of Honey used should be listed in the Descriptors only if there is significant character from that honey in the final product – if you list it, the judges will be looking for it and downgrade you if they can’t find that character.  There is never a need to list your ingredients unless the judges need to know to look for it.  In other words, don’t say that you used orange blossom honey if the final mead does not smell or taste of citrus!
  • It is interesting to note that all of the other mead categories (spiced, fruited, and specialty) have three Descriptors required:  sweetness, carbonation, and strength – yet the Traditional Mead category lists the strength at the style level.  The engineer in me balks at the same spec being listed for similar products at different tiers (style vs descriptor), however, many competitions have a large number of traditional honey-only mead and this is their way of saying they want organizers to split them by sweetness first.  I get it, but definitely have some mixed feelings about that – like I said, the engineer in me wants consistent logic in listing specifications of anything.

Melomel (Fruit Mead)

  • Our original two specific melomel styles still remain – Cyser (Apple Melomel) and Pyment (Grape Melomel).
  • Two new styles have been added to help break apart the growing number of “other fruit” meads:  Berry Mead and Stone Fruit Mead.
  • A final catchall style for Other Fruit Melomel remains.
  • As mentioned above, all meads must now list the Descriptors for sweetness, carbonation, and strength.  Fruit meads must also list the fruits used.

Spiced Mead

  • Metheglins (spiced meads) were originally listed as a single style under the Specialty Mead category.  As fruits lends certain semi-consistent flavour profile notes, the same can be said for the use of spices – and a growing number of meadmakers are using spices, often in combination with goodies from the garden.  To ease splitting up entries and reduce palate fatigue, metheglins have been split out to form a new Spiced Mead category with two styles.
  • The first new style is Fruit and Spice Mead.  Clearly, both fruit and spice character is required.
  • The second is Spice/Herb/Vegetable Mead.  As with the S/H/V Beer style, the intent is to list NOT as a S/H/V Mead, but as a Spice Mead, or an Herb & Vegetable Mead, etc.
  • Starting to get a bit repetitious, but yes, all spiced meads must list Descriptors for sweetness, carbonation, strength, and all character-bearing honey/fruits/herbs/spices/vegetables used.

Specialty Mead

  • As mentioned above, Metheglin is no longer a style under the Specialty Mead and has been moved to its own category (see above).
  • Braggot remains as the first specialty mead style.
  • A new Historical Mead style has been added.  With the number of new, experimental meads coming out now (largely fuelled by local mead superstar and fellow active member of Brew Free or Die, Michael Fairbrother or Moonlight Meads), this gives meadmakers a place to specifically identify more traditional meads to avoid being judged alongside the wild cornucopia of new flavors and styles in mead for fairer judging and less palate fatigue.
  • The Open Category Mead style has been renamed to Experimental Mead in order to be more consistent with the Experimental Beer style, and to more properly reflect the nature of most entrants in this style.
  • All Specialty Meads must list Descriptors for sweetness, carbonation, strength, and special character-bearing ingredients.  If a special technique was used that would create a different experience for the drinker, that should be mentioned too.

Standard Cider and Perry

  • Common Cider and Common Perry have been renamed to New World Cider and New World Perry to more accurately reflect the heritage of this style of cider/perry.
  • English Cider, French Cider, and Traditional Perry remain the same.
  • All ciders/perries must list Descriptors for sweetness and carbonation.  Like listing honey types for meads, you should only list Descriptors for your apples/pears if they make a distinct difference in the character of the final beverage.

Specialty Cider and Perry

  • New England Cider remains the same.
  • Fruit Cider has been more accurately renamed Cider with Other Fruit.
  • Apple Wine has been renamed Applewine, which is more consistent with its heritage.  This may have something to do with the ever-growing number of people brewing and entering EdWort’s fortified Apfelwine recipe over the last half-decade (which I have made several versions of myself, with outstanding results).
  • A new style for Ice Cider has been added.
  • Another new style, by popular demand from the judges themselves trying to avoid palate fatigue, is Cider with Herbs/Spices.  Yes, like S/H/V, this should be entered as Cider with Herbs, Cider with Spices, or Cider with Herbs & Spices.
  • Finally, Other Specialty Cider or Perry remains the same.
  • All ciders and perries must list Descriptors for sweetness, carbonation, and whatever character-bearing ingredients the judges need to look for.

Wrap-Up / Conclusion

So . . . that’s the full rundown of what Gordon Strong presented.  There were a number of things that he discussed that leave a lot of vagueness and the fact that this is still relatively early in the process was clear.  I’ve had to do a lot of guesswork to try to figure out what the new list would look like.  I’ve gone through several iterations of an Excel spreadsheet, first based on only the slides, then on his presentation, then again upon re-evaluation for this writeup.  The new categories could be put anywhere in the list and this will require renumbering all of the categories below them – this means that a number of styles, particularly among the meads and ciders, that will remain the same but be renumbered.  Either way, we will no longer be able to trust (for some time, anyway) that Category 17 is Sours or Category 23 is Specialty without asking “Is that Category 23 under 2008 or 2014?”

 My Thoughts

Those that know me well, know that I pretty much always have some thoughts or observations and am generally not shy to speak up about them.  (Actually, my high school yearbook lists me as “Most Opinionated” for my ready willingness to debate pretty much any point.)  As you’ve probably noted as you’ve read through, I’ve had a few things to say already. 😉  Here’s what’s on the forefront of my mind as I finish this review/writeup of the potential changes:

  • I have never liked the idea that the Scottish/Scotch ales (that all have the same flavour profile, ingredients, and techniques) were split into so many separate styles, simply on the basis of strength.  Also, the method of identifying by the schilling cost was both archaic and, unless versed in the notation, nobody outside of the UK would translate /- to mean schillings.  Bravo to simplifying it to Scottish Light, Heavy, and Wee Heavy.  Although, to be fair, taking it further to Scottish Ale and Wee Heavy would be better, I think.
  • While I appreciate the simplification of the naming for English Bitters, I think it could stand condensing to simply Bitters and Strong Bitters.
  • As a judge, it has never made sense palate-wise to have Irish Reds in the same category with the Scottish ales.  As I mentioned above, the styles are based on Michael Jackson’s work and being the good Englishman he was, some of the old English Imperialist attitude led him to create several broad categories for English ales and one small grouping for the Irish, Welsh, and Scottish beers (that collectively received less attention than any one of the broad groupings of English ales).  I would really like to see the entire grouping of British ales re-sorted.  Stouts and porters are certainly their own categories (so distinctly so that even Jackson grouped the Irish stouts with the English ones).  Likewise, pale ales and IPAs are distinctly unique.  However, this entire mid-range from light bready beers through ambers and on into brown ales is a muddled mess, with some very similar beer styles in different categories.  Scottish ales certainly share a flavour profile with many brown ales.  The breadiness of Irish Reds, milds, and ESBs likewise put them in a similar flavour profile.  I think it would be really nice to see these re-sorted into something like British Light Ales and British Brown Ales.
  • I feel similarly with the broad grouping of Belgian Ales.  I really think (especially with the new Trappist Singel style) that a separate Monastic Beer category would make sense, to group the Singel, Dubbel, Tripel, maybe Quadrupel together away from the more experimental secular Belgian brewers.  Belgian white ale, Belgian pale ale, Belgian blond ale, Belgian golden strong ale, and Belgian dark strong ale could all go together as a Belgian Ale category (although I think the pale and blond could be combined into one category – either that, or the blond ale could be split between the pale and golden strong styles and eliminated).
  • The new American Wild Ale category is interesting – I think there will be a lot of discussion over exact interpretation.  I’ve always felt the French and Belgian Ale category something of a random junk drawer, misfitting in the same way as Irish Red amongst the Scotsbeers.  This new category includes many beers that are also similar to many of the less-wild ‘farmhouse’ beers.  I propose that we have a category called Farmhouse and Wild Ales to include the new Wild Ale styles, as well as Saisons and Biere de Garde/Noel.
  • If Belgian specialty ale is deleted, Belgian pale ale is regrouped, and saison/biere de garde are moved, this leaves Witbier orphaned.  However, with German Wheat and Rye Beer being simplified to German Wheat Beer, we could take that one step further to Continental Wheat Beer and include Wit.  Either that, or it could be considered a Spice Beer style (but the flavor profile is a wheat-plus-fruity-spicy mix not that far from hefeweizens).
  • Like I mentioned earlier, the idea of changing weizen to weissbier, while keeping dunkelweizen is going to confuse an awful lot of people.  Then consider that weizenbock is being renamed ‘dunkels weissbier’ – sitting right next to the retained ‘dunkelweizen’ – leaving us with similar-flavor weissbier-vs-dunkelweizen and similar-colour dunkelweizen-vs-dunkels weissbier.  Weizen, dunkelweizen, and weizen bock had a consistency in naming that we now lack.  Perhaps the change (since is this is trying to reflect what they call these beers in Germany) should be to Weissbier, Dunkels Weissbier, and Strong Weissbier?  Although honestly, I would really like to see krystallweizen called out as a separate style under a new style heading – the final product is a distinctly different experience when these beers are filtered bright.
  • Berliner weisse would fit under the Continental Wheat Beer category ingredients-wise and historically speaking, but yeah, should probably stay under Sour Beer.  With the introduction of the new Mixed-Fermentation Sour Beer and Soured Fruit Beer styles, perhaps these could be grouped with Berliner weisse into a new Sour Beer category with a Wood-Aged Sour Beer style and an Experimental Sour Beer catchall.  This would allow the remainder of the current Sour Beer category (Flanders red ale, oud bruin, lambics, and gueuzes) to be renamed Belgian Sour Beer and possibly expanded in the future to reflect the growing worldwide popularity of the wide range of sour Belgian experiments.  A Blended Sour Beer style could be useful for beers such as Ommegang’s Three Philosophers that use a small percentage of sour beer.  Although an amazing beer, the sourness would probably cost some points as a Belgian Dark Strong Ale.  Interest in sours in still growing, alongpace with interest in barrels – I believe that we will be seeing many more of these sorts of slightly-sour blends in the years to come that will be hard to place otherwise:  not sour enough to compete with true sours, but sour enough to be inappropriate in base style categories.
  • Be there no doubt, there will be much screaming and tearing or hair over the changes to the IPA styles.  However, before the clamour begins, I DO feel the need to point out (although Gordon did not) that this provides a beautiful step-around of the Black IPA vs Cascadian Dark Ale battle.  As it is written as a Descriptor that is expecting Black IPA, there is nothing to stop the entrant from declaring the Descriptor as a Cascadian Dark Ale if it does indeed have the specific flavour profile of the Pacific Northwest hops and the correct malt balance!  Gordon mentioned Specialty IPA as a possible descriptor in his talk, but did not list it on his slides, so my assumption is that write-in style Descriptors would be allowed (so you could also list as, say, a Chocolate IPA or a Smoked IPA).
  • Gordon mentioned trying to change things to avoid people having to judge high-gravity and low-gravity beers together, but the IPAs will now have the Imperial-strength ones spread across the stylistic categories as Doubles.  I suppose that this does allow the organizers to sort out the IPAs by either strength or by colour/style.
  • I honestly don’t know what to think about replacing the Pilsner category with a Czech Lager category.  My first question is “Why?”  The second is “Wouldn’t splitting out German Lagers be a more distinct stylistic difference?”
  • The expansion of many categories, such as the Strong Ales and Stouts make a lot of sense.  Strong Ales cause intense palate fatigue – further splits in styles will help ease this, or allow organizers to spread the high-gravity stuff across more judges.  Stouts had way too many entries and further breakdown is good – at many competitions, it’s the stouts and the IPAs that overwhelm everything else in terms of numbers.
  • The reiteration of how things should be called out in the Spice/Herb/Vegetable styles is a necessary thing.  Entrants should be labeling their beers as being a Spice Beer or a Spice & Vegetable Beer – this is actually useful to the judges and organizers.  This was always the intent of the S/H/V Beer category.  In trying to avoid listing every permutation (spice beer, spice & herb beer, spice & vegetable beer, spice herb & vegetable beer, et al.), this intent was never adequately conveyed to the BJCP community – with the greater focus on description this time around, enforcing this is a very good idea.
  • I wonder about a few of the new styles.  Are there REALLY so many German leichtbiers, kellerbiers, topical stouts to need separate styles for each?
  • I think that the Historical Beer proposal could still stand to have some styles to split it up before the Descriptors are applied to specify the actual beer.  In the coming years, I believe that there will be a huge interest in historical re-creations, many of which will not fit elsewhere under current style listings.  I think a Primitive Beer style could be useful to separate the new-found interest in beers such as chicha that do not depend upon malted barley.  It may be useful to have an Unhopped Beer style as interest in historical beers continues to grow and be encouraged – this would allow a clear place to put gruits other than S/H/V Beer or Specialty.  Likewise a Historical Beer Hybrid could cover the ground between non-barley beers, gruits, and mead or wine crossovers.  Calling out a specific style groupings for Historical American Beer and Historical European Beer (vs a Historical World Beer?) could be useful differentiation for beer based on certain points in Euro-American technological advancement.  Of course, any of these style groupings would still require the specific beer to be called out as a Descriptor – but this mid-level grouping would allow organizers to split the historical beer entries more easily into logical groupings for the judges.
  • I’m not quite sure whether we even need to differentiate between the of ‘spices’ and ‘herbs’ in beers, wines, or meads.  Their use is very similar and they have the similar effect of sending the aroma/flavour direction of the beer into someplace that traditional ingredients do not reach.  I suggest we simply consider herbs to be a type of spice and simply things to Spice/Vegetable throughout.
  • It seems strange to see all meads requiring sweetness, carbonation, and strength while the style dictates the allowed extra ingredients – yet the traditional mead category lists the sweetness as styles.  It doesn’t feel right to have the same spec at different levels for meads, but from the knowledge that pure-honey meads have been the largest mead entry category, I know it was needed to split them apart.  However, this time, it would be nice to see traditional mead at the style level in with braggot, historical mead, and specialty mead with all three required Descriptors.
  • I dig all the alterations to ciders, though!
  • The BJCP has acknowledged the randomly-impetuous decision involved with naming Imperial IPA as a style.  Like the Black-vs-Cascadian issue, the Imperial-vs-double issue has long led to heated discussions (and even rumours of an occasional fistfight).  The industry itself, while having no clear consensus, has been leaning towards the use of Double IPA in the majority of late, and the 2014 BJCP is reflecting that.  It is interesting to note, however, that the industry has only settled on ‘double’ for IPAs – most over-strength beers outside of IPAs are being labeled as Imperial hefes, Imperial reds, Imperial browns, etc.  The widespread use of the term ‘Imperial’ outside of Russian Imperial stouts is purely the result of the earlier BJCP decision to use Imperial IPA as a style name.  Only time will tell how this change will proliferate through the market.  I think this will reinforce the industry lean towards ‘double’ and we will see more Double IPAs than Imperial IPAs.  Whether there become more double reds and double browns than Imperial reds and browns, only time will tell.
  • Dealing with re-numbering after so many years of judges having memorized them, there will be much confusion during discussions.  Likewise, organization for competitions and all of the forms will need to change slightly to adjust to the changes.  There will be many people asking “2008 or 2014?”
  • As Chip Walton puts it at the end of his video recording of the presentation:  “The BJCP is being progressive, and proactive, and seeing the changes and the evolution in beer, and instead of, you know, sticking to those categories as they stand and forcing everything into place, they’re lettin’ it kind of . . . they’re opening the gate and they’re redefining things and they’re helping us redefine what we do in brewing as they go along, and I think that’s amazing.”

Like the list of styles itself, the reasons for the changes are myriad.  Some are logical splits of categories/styles that had way too many entries to manage well.  Some are reinterpretations to reflect the original sources more accurately.  Some are to accommodate future changes (prime example being Gordon talking about the heavier use of Descriptors to avoid needing to renumber categories or styles again).  Some seem a little random.  Look at each change yourself and think about why it’s being proposed, if it really makes sense alongside the rest of the style guidelines, if it’s really an accurate depiction of expected entries, and whether it would be judging easier or more confusing.  Speak up!

Places to voice your opinions:

  • Right here on this blog, just respond to any of the posts.  WordPress forces me to moderate and approve posts by hand, but as long as you’re on-topic and not too offensive, I’ll approve pretty much anything.
  • Chip is encouraging everyone to post responses at any of the Chop & Brew locations: website, youtube presentation page, or facebook.
  • Twitter feeds:  @DarkBroodBrews (Me) or @chopandbrew (Chip) to discuss our posts.  Other possible feeds are @BJCPComms, @GordonStrong, @HomebrewAssoc, or @brewingnetwork.
  • Finally, direct comments may be emailed to style@bjcp.org.

From the Horse’s Mouth

Obviously, this is all my interpretation of Gordon’s presentation to the 2014 National Homebrew Convention, which is, in turn, his interpretation of the conclusions of the panel working on this update (who are spread far and wide).  If you don’t know his name yet, you haven’t done much with beer judging or the BJCP – Gordon is the President of the BJCP, not by dint of elections, but because he has accumulated more judging experience than anybody else in the world . . . and by a significant margin.  His experience points rank him as a Grand Master Level VIII – there are no other judges ranked above Level V (and only three of them, only three at Level IV, and only five at Level III).  If you would like to see for yourself what he has to say, the Beer Judge Certification Program has shared his presentation slides as a PDF file.

Gordon Strong’s Slides from NHC 2014 (direct link)

If you don’t know him, Chip Walton is the beerophile videoman behind Northern Brewer’s first set of Brewing TV episodes (with Jay Keeler and Mike Dawson), and who now does video marketing work for Summit Brewing Company.  He is also the creator of the Chop and Brew video blog – one might easily notice that he and I have some similar passions. 😉  Chip has been working hard to record a number of the wonderfully informative presentations at the National Homebrew Convention and will be editing and posting them for everybody over the coming months.  Aware of the time-sensitive nature of this one, he has already edited and posted Gordon’s entire presentation to his blog and youtube accounts.

Gordon Strong’s NHC 2014 Presentation

Finally, I have put together an Excel spreadsheet tracking the changes.  The Excel file contains one tab that lists the 2008 BJCP styles and a second tab that tracks the changes into the 2014 proposals.  If you’re not interested in playing around with the information on the sheet, I have also output it as a PDF file that will print on two 8.5″x11″ landscape pages.

2008-14 BJCP Changes Excel / 2008-14 BJCP Changes PDF

(one final round of updating and I’ll upload these two files)

Over the next few weeks, the BJCP will post the full text of the proposed 2014 Style Guidelines and there will follow a comment period of up to a couple of months before being closed to write the final draft.  Then forms will need to be updated, all the versions of the BJCP software (competition software, web apps, and phone apps), new exams, new organizer guidelines, etc. – Gordon says he hopes to have it all phased in by the beginning of 2015.  Of course, then will follow the updates from everybody else, like updates for BeerSmith and such.

Be sure to provide some feedback!  Make your voice heard!  These are OUR guidelines that we use on a regular basis around the globe.  The mighty Brewers Association style list used for the GABF will likely reflect the changes to the BJCP in the years to come.  The entire craft beer industry reflects in beer styles brewed and in naming conventions how the BJCP organizes and defines beer.  I encourage you to comment on these posts and start a good discussion on the subject.  By weighing in on this subject, you personally have the opportunity to have a direct influence on the future direction, operation, and names used across the world in the beer hobby and industry.  Chip has also encouraged everyone to post comments on his youtube page for Gordon’s presentation.  And of course, use the BJCP forums!  This is our chance to mold the style guidelines for the future – it will be a long, long time before an update of this magnitude is considered again.

See also:  BJCP Update Part 1 – History of Beer Styles, BCJP Update Part 2 – Overview and Lagers/Hybrid Styles, BJCP Update Part 3 – Ales and Specialty Beers.

Certified Cicerone Exam Day

The morning of Thursday, February 27, I woke up early and had a big breakfast on my way out of town.  Driving into the sunrise, the song “Daybreak” by a friend of mine, Dave Osoff, was a perfect soundtrack.

Arriving at Merrimack Valley Distributors in Danvers, MA, I made my way upstairs to the conference room to find a number of somber-faced people awaiting the start of the exam.

Although there was not much talking going on, a couple of things were quickly apparent:  first, that most of the people there worked for MVD – and second, that the majority of the test-takers were re-taking the exam.  Two were on their third re-take.  Obviously, this is NOT an easy exam.  One examinee had come up from Pennsylvania for the exam!

The sheets on our desks restated the fact that discussing the contents of the exam in any sort of detail is grounds for revoking your certification.  We also had to pick a seven-digit “blind number” to go on each page of our exams.  This unique exam id # lets the graders split up the exams page-by-page to send out around the country for impartial grading.

The written portion of the exam is closed-book and scheduled for three hours.  It is mostly shorter write-in answer questions with a couple of longer ones and three full-length essays to write.  For many of these questions (and especially the essay ones), partials credit is available for imperfect answers . . . but not having taken the exam before, I’m not sure how generous they tend to be.

While I can’t discuss the specifics of what was on the exam, I will say that I was shocked at how much of the exam aligned with the practice exam available on the Cicerone web site.  Yes, there were some of the same questions (and many that were VERY similar), but more than that, the style and type of questions were consistent with the actual exam.  The biggest difficulty of this exam isn’t the individual questions – it’s the breadth of knowledge that you are expected to know in-depth and not knowing which of the details will be asked.

The was one question that actually stumped me – on long-draw draft line troubleshooting.  I’ve asked the question of a few brewers since (without mentioning the source) and they’re stumped too . . . one suggested it is a Kobayashi Maru scenario.   The one that really got me was a simple blank-out.  I’d studied the list of Trappist abbeys and when called upon to name a number of them, I blanked out after writing in Westvleteren and Chimay.

I finished the written portion in a little over two hours, a little less than halfway through the pack.  A couple of the examinees worked right until the last minute.  After a short bathroom break, I amused myself doodling until we were ready to start the tasting portion of the exam.

The Cicerone tasting exam consists of three parts.  You are expected to complete all three parts in 45 minutes.   For the first portion, you are presented with a sample beer that is your undoctored control and four samples of the same beer.  One is a control sample that matches the original and the other three have been doctored with adulterants to mimic common off-flavors in beer.  It was not hard to separate the doctored samples from the control, but the the levels were subtly low and it was difficult to pick out WHICH off-flavor we were tasting.  (We got to talk about the samples in the period after the tasting was over – the same sample had as many as three or four people detecting something different!)

The second portion of the tasting exam involved four more samples.  For each, we were told it was one of two styles and had to select the correct one.

The third portion of the tasting exam was the trickier real-world scenario of evaluating a returned beer.  Each of four samples was given to us.  We we told the brand of beer and whether it was from bottle or draft.  Our task was to decide it was worth serving – and if not, the reason why and probable cause.  This was very tough and it seemed nearly everybody got at least one wrong.

Finally, was the much-mysterious demonstration portion of the exam.  This is the part that had me pretty well freaked out – with the amount of material, I really had no idea what to expect and searched the net exhaustively for hints.  The best I found was a vague comment that it *might* have something to do with draft systems.  Yes, it did, but I won’t tell you what we had to do for our demonstration.

We each had three minutes alone in a small meeting room in front of a recording digital camera to demonstrate and explain our given task.  If you are concerned about this portion of the exam, take a good long look at the Draft Quality Manual – know your systems and parts, their names and what each part does, and ideally you should have taken apart each piece of equipment mentioned.  If you’re comfortable with that material, the demonstration will be a breeze.

Overall, it was a great experience that really tested the limits of my knowledge in the fringe details.  I’m positive that I didn’t ace it, but am equally confident that I didn’t bomb it either. I definitely know that I made some mistakes – with the partial credit possible, I honestly have no idea whether or not I’ll end up with a passing score, but am confident in how I did overall.  Fingers are crossed that I won’t need to re-take, but I’ve got a 1-3 month wait to find out.  At this point, I’m glad I can stop studying so hard every night and can relax a bit more for a while.

Time to brew something!

Brewery Intern: Day 01 (Hi, Here’s Some Kegs)

The brewpub that I am interning at has two brewers that work in staggered shifts from 10am-6pm and noon-8pm.  At 10am, Craig met me at the front door and took me on a quick tour through the backhouse areas (tap lines, kegerators, function room, kitchen, cold walk-in, gas tanks, brewer’s store room and offices) before we headed into the Grundy Room.

In the Grundy Room are three large 15bbl bright tanks and seven classic 8bbl Grundy tanks.  They are used as the receiving receptacles from the brewhouse’s fermentation vessels (after passing through the multi-plate filter).  Some are used as cold conditioning bulk tanks, some are used to carbonate in bulk, and some are pressurized to dispense directly to the barfront’s taps.  There are also an assortment of sanke and corny kegs, as well as metal firkins.  Mostly rigged to the bar’s tap lines, backup kegs are stored in here, as well as kegs being cleaned, being carbonated (or awaiting carbonation), and kegs storing root beer for future use.  This room also houses the brewery’s keg washer.  Consisting of a metal frame to hold kegs and a large water basin below, with a fairly large manifold.  Up to four kegs at a time can be rigged up, drained, flushed with caustic, rinsed, flushed with acid, rinsed, flushed with an iodine-based sanitizer, and lightly pressurized for ready storage.

4-Station Keg Washer

4-Station Keg Washer

Craig introduced me to the early-day staff, then to the other brewer, Bryan.  Craig and I washed a several sets of sanke and corny kegs (which at the end of the day, I helped Bryan refill with fresh beer from one of the Grundy tanks).  I polished the 15bbl mash tun and similarly-sized boil kettle from top to bottom while the brewers and owner had a meeting with a tap handle maker about the new designs.  Then more keg cleaning (it gets COLD in that room!)  Craig did a tour of the brewhouse for a few customers, which I followed along to see what they cover.  Talked with a few of the customers on my own too, when they wanted me to.

Of course, there was a lot of talk all day about the details of the brewery, our homebrews, and beer in general — and there was a tasty lunch on the house, too.  All-in-all, a very good day, albeit long.  (The nine hour shift wasn’t that long, but on top of driving back from two states away, I’m pretty beat!)  Back in for 10am in the morning tomorrow!  Time for bed.

Where I’m Comin’ From

If you don’t know me, why should it matter what I’m blathering about?  In other words, not everyone with a voice on the internet is an expert, so how can you tell the difference?  I’ll make it easy for you:  I’m not an expert.  I have a lot of learning, experience, and skill – but I’m not Jamil Zainasheff or Charlie Bamberg.  I like to learn from others and hope that you can learn something from me, or at least be mildly interested and amused.  But I really do know what I’m talking about, and to help you get a feel of “where I’m comin’ from” when I say something, here’s a bit of where I’m at in my brewing exploits:

It’s a fairly common joke that I was born to be a brewer.  My mother was born in Germany to Czech parents and grew up in Brewer, Maine.  My father’s family traces ancestry from Scotland through Pennsylvania Dutch immigrants (from that area of Europe between France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany with very unique beers).  Family rumour has it that my great-grandfather was a moonshiner.  My father’s high school mascot was “The Brewers” and he brewed beer in college and spent some time as a bartender in Seaside Heights.  An awful lot of silly beer-centric coincidences, there, eh?

I grew up on my father’s stories (told sparingly and only on rare occasion) of his post-prohibition college-era lifestyle (something totally at odd with the calm and staid man I saw before me daily).  Stories of the communal pot of stew that was brewed weekly to provide their entire sustenance and the roommate whose response to everything was “Heavy.” and lived a lifestyle that my young mind pictured as looking like PigPen from Peanuts (that was the 60’s).  My favorite stories, though, were of the batches of beer brewed in trash cans made of half table sugar with the basic baking malt extract and topped with bread yeast.  The best was the story of the bottle bombs that they dealt with by crouching behind a sheet of plywood with a small hole and a pellet gun.  For those that have access to Canada’s public broadcasting TV network, these stories may remind you of watching The Red Green Show and the handy-man exploits of the cast.  The oft-quoted sayings of Possum Lodge included such snippets of wisdom as:  “Quondo omni flunkus moritati.”  (the lodge motto, which may or may not be spelled right, and translates to “When all else fails, play dead.”) and the Man’s Prayer (“I’m a man.  But I can change.  If I have to.  I guess.  Amen.”).  But then, of course, was the ultimate observation that explains much of why we men do some of the things that we do:  “If the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.”  (If you’ve not seen The Red Green Show, Home Improvement was a poor copy with a lot more network money – find some clips (or entire shows) on YouTube…it’ll be worth it!)

I got into bartending in college, first at private parties, then occasionally subbing in as a temp barback or beertender – I really developed a knack for mixing unique incredible drinks on the fly to suit a customer’s palate-of-the-moment.  I spent a lot of time in bars during the mid-90’s an on, working it in all respects, from serving and bouncing, to working with musicians to help produce and put on shows (booking, artist relations, pr, event security at all levels, sound and light tech, pretty much everything).  I picked up a T.I.P.S. Training certification and a Bartending Certificate in the process.  I’ve always had a bit of a finger on the pulse of good beer from my first illictly-underage taste of Guinness.  Several friends and other college associates opened small breweries or brewpubs during the brief craft beer bubble in the late 90’s that ended up performing as most of them did in that era – lots of passion and no business savvy or businessmen that knew nothing about beer were the norm. In fact, the Main Street Brewing sticker was still on my snowboard when I sold it a few years ago.

When some friends in the same building I was living in started homebrewing, I jumped at the chance to help out and learn what I could (which mostly amounted to crushing the grains with a rolling pin and sanitizing the bottles in the dishwasher).  I helped out with a few batches, got to sample plenty of the results, and learned a lot in the process – including that I couldn’t afford to buy the gear for it as the broke college student that I was.  So a long break ensued.

After many long and diverse pathways, my life led from being a computer programmer to a theatre tech wizard into travelin’ hippy vendor (getting paid to go see live music!).  A bad car accident led into working a bottling line before being a retail sales department manager and natural talents led me into architectural drafting and design (a surveyor, highway builder, railroad engineer, electrical engineer, and an architect all in the immediate family).  That led into structural design and off into surveying, civil design, and even some mechanical and electrical design work.

"The Sails" on custom-built island in the Bay of Gibraltar (one of my structural projects)

“The Sails” on custom-built island in the Bay of Gibraltar (one of my structural projects)

Then the economy crashed and so did my firm, downsizing to survive.  Suddenly skills without credentials meant little.  I looked around at what was happening and all job markets were suckin’ it.  Even construction, the usual safe-zone industry, was down – in fact, worse than most others.  Odds of getting another design job plummeted.  But what always does good in a recession?  ALCOHOL.  And this time around, it was the flavored rums/vodkas and craft beer that were booming.  Time to change modes and rethink my life plan….to provide myself a strong career opportunity doing something that I truly enjoy, that will provide continuous opportunities for both learning and creative release….brewing is one choice that hits all of these things, and it was one of the only industries still expanding right then.

So I bought a brew kit.  And a book.  Okay, lots of books.  I’m a book geek.  I love books.  Well, good books, anyway.  I love books so much, I had glasses in the first grade from reading too much.  And constantly got in trouble for reading during class all through school (well, for reading something other than the class subject matter).  Anyway, the point is, I happily picked up several of the more popular titles.  And read them cover-to-cover.  And researched online.  And made notes.  Lots of notes.  While drinking.  I can’t read most of them.  But I did pick up a lot of great tips and am sure that at least some of the credit for my first batch turning out so well had a lot to do with it.

By the second batch, I was already supplementing the basic recipe kit (Northern Brewer’s Breakfast Stout) with different specialty grains and hops, as well as adding bakers’ chocolate and vanilla beans.  And proceeded to get more off the wall after that.  Always experimenting in some way, whether a new style, new ingredients, new techniques or equipment, even seeing if I could copy a commercial beer or repeat/improve one of my own.

Chocolate-Vanilla Stout

Chocolate-Vanilla Stout

Shortly thereafter, I ended up with a cool part-time job managing a blueberry farm that also had grapes, blackberries, roses, apples, pears, peaches, fields of mustard, and all sorts of other herbs and food crops.  It was inevitable that some of the blueberries found their way into a beer, and then there were a few wines…  All during this summer, my iPod was constantly loaded with all of the brewing podcasts that I could find:  nearly every back episode of every show on the Brewing Network, Basic Brewing, etc., as well as books-on-tape recordings of some of the heavier brewing texts, like those from Charlie Bamberg.  And watched video podcasts at home as well.  And of course, there were more books to read all the time.  With a lot of conflicting information, confusing information, or information that is only accurate if you pay attention to what decade it was written in and adjust for it.

Apfelwine

Apfelwine

However, I started really studying the industry that I had chosen to get into.  I didn’t want to end up being one of the guys like the ’90s brewers that failed.  Contract breweries, distribution or packaging breweries, or brewpubs, there were a lot of business models.  I noticed two consistent things that were problems/opportunities to succeed.  First, the successful brewers found ways to balance out the issues of sales seasons coming and going, usually by engaging the local population as a large percentage of their customer base.  Second, they had multiple sales models, such as distributing bottles and running a full bar.  The most successful combination that hit everything was the local brewpub that caters to the locals with outstanding quality and balances out sales of beer with sales of food.  I needed to learn restaurant operations!  After the season was up, I started working for a restaurant.  I quickly trained my way up through pretty much every position in the restaurant, as I could see the value in learning the business model from every perspective.  After a few months, I was offered the option of getting into the management track or going into baking if I wanted to.  There were a number a reasons I chose what I did, but baking was a good chance to learn a lot more about the lifecycles of yeast and bacteria (we did a lot of sourdough products too), how they react to temperature, moisture, sugars, etc.  So I spent two years working the night shift and got very very good at it.  (Okay, so I was never fast enough for them to praise, but my quality was outstanding.)

Bread Loaves

Bread Loaves

During this time, I was, of course continuing brewing experiments, reading/listening, and studying different beer styles and classic beers (how?  by sampling, of course!).  I also started experimenting with using spent grains, malt extracts, and hops in my cooking.  I started growing my own hops.  And entered a few beers in contests for the feedback.  What I got was quite helpful and brutally fair – but my first contest entries were still scoring in the mid-20’s to high 30’s (which is the Good to Very Good range), so I wasn’t complaining.  I was also posting regularly to HomeBrewTalk.com (as DarkBrood) when Ray Daniels announced the celebratory reduced-rate Certified Beer Server exam (the first step in the Cicerone program) for $10.  There’s a fair amount to it, and I had to stop and think a couple of times, but passed it with relative ease (and a tiny bit of sweat).

Hops Growing on my Porch

Hops Growing on my Porch

I brewed my first mead, attended my first homebrewing club meeting and later my first homebrewing event, the New England Homebrewers Jamboree.  Not knowing what to expect, I brought along some homebrews in a cooler and tipped one into a pint glass as soon as I parked the car and walked over to the crowd to see what was going on.  A lot like a beer fest without the restrictions, but I was getting laughed at for the pint pretty quickly with comments of “what is that, your chaser?” and “no, that’s gotta be a palate cleanser”.  It was a fun day and a late night with many bizarre and unique samplings had.  I also got to judge several categories in the competition, which was a great experience.  I judged again at the New England Regional Homebrew Competition.

Through all of this, and continuing now, I also have been working on making more of my photography available for sale.  I specialize in large-format landscapes and natural macro imagery (although I am also available for events and portrait work).  A small gallery with rotating samples is at DigitalGibson Photography.  A selection of images are available for sale through Fine Art America as rolled prints, framed prints, gallery-wrapped canvas, and all-new (super-cool!) metal prints that really bring scenes to life.

Since November, I have been a little busy:

  • Left the restaurant job and started concentrated study on beer styles, cuisine, and industry
  • Started a Twitter feed, updating interested people on my day-today brewing activities:  @DarkBroodBrews
  • Joined the local homebrewing club and gotten actively involved
  • Passed the online BJCP exam and sat for the Beer Judge Tasting Exam.  I am quite confident that I passed, but still waiting for the results to determine my actual ranking.  I am currently a Provisional Beer Judge.
  • I have two different beers entered in the Boston Homebrew Competition and will be judging at the event (my first time judging as an official BJCP Judge) next weekend.
  • Bulk purchasing arrangements let me acquire a large stockpile of grain and ingredients to experiment with.
  • I am registered to sit for the Certified Cicerone exam for the Craft Beer Institute in a couple of weeks.
  • I have three beers and a mead registered to send to the National Hombrew Competition and have registered to judge (but not yet approved) for the Northeast Region in NYC.
  • I am starting a new job on Monday morning as an Assistant Brewer at a local brewpub that is currently expanding into distribution and packaging.  I will be an unpaid intern for 30 days with a full-time option at the end (as long as I don’t suck).  There was also some talk about utilizing my baking background and working some of the spent grains into the kitchen for the restaurant.bulkbuy

So there’s a lot going on right now and it’s all on my plate at once, coming together after a few years of consistent work at all angles and a huge dose of right-time, right-place.    My old website, Dark Brood Homebrewery, has been stagnant for a year, but the content there will migrate here eventually and it’ll be closed anyway (although I’ll be continuing to brew under that name at home).

chillin

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Yet another good time to resort to RDWHAHB!

Welcome to Brews & Stews!

“Hello, world!”  Thus says every tech guru’s very first computer program, and it is with these words that I welcome you to my brand-spankin’ new blog.  Hi!  Thanks for stumbling your way here across the vast landfill of hidden treasures that is the internet of today!  But why here?  Why now?  I’ll tell you why you are here:

  • You may be interested in learning more about food and beverages in general.
  • You may be looking for neat recipes to try.
  • You may be interested in starting to brew your own beer, wine, or mead.
  • Or ferment your own vinegar, cheese, kombucha, or kraut.
  • You may already be a homebrewer and be looking for technical details about brewing.
  • You may be a homebrew “tinkerer” looking for ideas or plans for building gear.
  • You may be looking for more information about brewing ingredients or processes.
  • You may be interested in better beer appreciation (learning how to evaluate beer).
  • You may be interested in becoming a certified Beer Judge with the BJCP.
  • You may be interested in becoming a Certified Beer Server or Certified Cicerone.
  • You may be interested in becoming a professional brewer or meadmaker.

I will at some point, be touching on all of these things (and more).  Finally, I suppose:

  • You may know me and just be interested in the weird ramblings that spill from my head in between all of the other beer-and-food stuff on this blog.

If this is the case, I can assure you that reading this blog will be much like talking to me in person – I write stream-of-consciousness for the most part and tend to write as if I were speaking.  So, yes, there’ll be those times of dry technical blibber-blabber that only my engineering- and geek-minded friends will want to wade through…and there’ll be those semi-related side anecdotes fill of witty humour or an odd off-the-wall silliness.  You’ll get a bit of all of it…it’ll be like the weather in New England:  “if you don’t like it, just wait a minute….it’ll change.”

amber

So, to sum up:  welcome!  I hope you’re into beer and food!!!

-Bryan