Sunday, January 27, 2008

Is that a poisonous snake in your pocket......

Wouldn't it be great if all the dangers in life came with such obvious warnings? This is a sign I saw across from the parking area at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida when we went to watch the Space Shuttle launch (it didn't launch, still hasn't). It struck me as amazing how close people down there life with creatures such as the poisonous snake, alligators, snapping turtles, and all the other life-ending animals. On the heels of that thought I had another (I know, TWO in one day!), I wonder if Floridians feel the same amazement at how Montanas can live so close to grizzly bears and mountain lions. Both populations feel that their personal living situation is normal, with the other living situation being out of whack! I guess this is the basis of why microbreweries can provide such a unique and necessary niche: people from different backgrounds, living in different areas, do not share a homogeneous appetite. I know this flys in the face of the "McDonald's" business plan ("The exact same hamburger no matter what McDonald's you visit."), but I do believe that local populations thirst for, well, local flavor! I try to make a point of seeking out the breweries of any area I visit. I've found some wonderful beers in some out-of-the-way places, I've also found some horrible swill that the brewery claims they can't make quick enough. Either one is always an adventure and offers me some strange insight into that local culture. I wonder what people visiting Glacier Brewing think about Polson's culture?

A couple of summers ago, I got the honored and unique opportunity to accompany Steve Lozar (a.k.a. Bubs) on a very early morning trip to Helena to examine several boxes of "recently discovered" letters from Nicholas Kessler, founder of Kessler Brewing of Helena and the Kessler Brickworks of Helena. Not only was the quantity of the artifacts unusual but the subjects they covered. We found letters to Nicholas Kessler from bar owners, other brewery owners, brewers, friends. We even found a poem that was written on the backside of letterhead for the Montana State Brewer's Association. This poem was written by Nick Kessler's young son and it was about why his dad was so much fun! What a fantastic glimpse into the day-to-day from over one-hundred years ago!
This letter from Horsky, Miller & Co. caught my eye on Ebay. One reason is because of the wonderfully ornate letterhead. But also because it was written in 1896 and above the letterhead it reads "Miller & Co.". Before that trip, I had no idea Miller had such humble roots or such old ones. Kinda' makes me wonder what GBC is gonna end up as!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Yeastie Beastie!

Jim finished kegging out the rest of the Dunkel Hefeweizen yesterday. At the end of the tank we had a generous deposit of hefeweizen yeast that had settled out. It never ceases to amaze me how much influence this little yeasty character has on the final product of beer. I could brew two beers with EXACTLY the same ingredients, process, and methodology but change just that one variable: the yeast strain, and we'd end up with two beers that look the same but taste entirely different. I've always believed that happy yeast are one of the keys to a successful brew.
We get our yeast from this great little lab in Colorado Springs, Colorado call The Brewing Science Institute. I've been using them as a yeast supplier for pretty much my entire professional brewing career. When we need a new batch of yeast (we use the same batch for about 15 brews), the kind folks at BSI begin to "grow" our order volume from a microscopic sample they keep in liquid nitrogen. It takes about five days to get it propagated up to the volume we need. Then it is packed in cold-packs and overnighted to us. When our new yeast gets here, it arrives in an expandable plastic container the size of a little red dodge ball and resembles a mocha latte! We pitch this slurry into a freshly-brewed beer and let the magic of fermentation run its course. One of the neat things is we start with about a quart of yeast slurry but when the fermentation is complete, we have probably 15-20 gallons of it in the bottom of the fermentation vessel! During fermentation, the little yeast cells eat the sugar from the grain, burp out carbon dioxide gas, excrete alcohol and grow more little yeast buddies!
(sing with me) THE CIRR-CLE OF LIIIFFFE!!!!(okay, okay, stop singing! let us never speak of that again!)

If you happen to see Bob today, wish him a HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I'm not really sure how old he is now, let's just call him "OLD!" Well, I guess we could cut him in half and count the rings but then we would've ruined a perfectly good "Bob".

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Dave and Jim prepare for another winter day in the Brewhouse

Well this last week in the brewhouse has me testing my cold-weather coping skills. Due to the age and construction of our brewhouse (and original tasting room), whatever the temperature is outside is pretty much the temperature inside, with a little buffering. It has been quite a while, though, since I've been able to see my breath on the brew platform. Nonetheless, it is still "butt-cold"! It is fairly invigorating when I'm actually brewing a batch because the boiler, steam kettles AND physical activity of brewing get you warm and keep you warm. We use dozens of small rubber washers and stainless steel fittings to facilitate our brewhouse tasks. We keep all these little parts in five-gallon buckets that are filled with a sanitizing solution. This keeps all the parts that touch the beer clean and sanitized. However, this also leads to one of the most agonizing parts of the brewery worker's day at GBC: reaching into the frigid buckets to retrieve parts! The water/sanitizer mix, I swear, must be just above freezing! You can keep your espressos, double-lattes, give me a near-frozen bucket of sanitizer to stick my hands and arms into for a effective morning wake-up!
Working in this brewhouse throughout the seasons is quite a schizophrenic existence. In the summertime, the summer heat is intensified by the same characters who make the wintertime tolerable; the steam boiler and steam kettle! I know, I know "Poor, poor me (and Jim)." I still love what I do. Even with the extreme temperature conditions, I am hard-pressed to think of another career where I could be so happy. Having said that, now you know why I have that distant, dopey look when I walk into the warm, cozy atmosphere of the tasting room. It's like jumping into a warm shower after a January dip in the lake!

If you've spent any time around my wife, Christine, then you know what an intense (read: RABID!) New York Giants fan she is. Well, this year the Giants are on an upswing: playing fairly smart and actually winning games! When you see Christine around this next week, please remember that what the Giants do this Sunday against Green Bay may have a lot to do with her mood! She tells me that "It will be a wonderful week because the Giants are going to win!" Okay, we'll see.

In the interest of domestic harmony......GO GIANTS!!!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Howdy and welcome

The first ever, interactive Brewer's Blog for good ole' GBC!
Let me know what you think about us, our beers, and my razor-sharp wit!!!
Tonight is Acoustic Thursday. Get to the brewery around 5:30 to enjoy some good, local musical talent!