Sunday, July 1, 2012

Brewing On The Shoulders Of Giants

Photo Credit: (
I brew a lot.

Of course, in the spring and summer months, I brew a hell of a lot.
Most days, actually.
To be completely honest, I don't do this much brewing out of a insatiable craving to create wort for the yeast. The heat can become crushing. Mixing cracked barley, wheat, and 170°F hot liquor (aka. "hot water") in the mash tun for 40 minutes and then hovering over the boiling brew kettle (°208F) like a mother robin for 90 to 120 minutes, then crawling into the freshly-emptied mash tun to clean it can be heat-stroke inducing work. Especially during these warm months. The ambient temperature in our brewhouse during a typical workday can easily exceed 85-90°F. Nevermind the relative humidity created by these steaming, giant, stainless steel vessels! Somewhere around 75-83%. Yup. Good times.

Anyhoo, the reason to brew so much is directly related to our market demands. This is what I call "The Pull". As in "How hard is The Pull from our distributors this week?". If we need to entice our distributors to sell more of our beers and sodas (which doesn't happen much at all, thank goodness!), I call that "The Push". As in "How can we increase The Push to the market?". Aren't semantics fun?

As I've said, I have been brewing a lot. During these sessions I find my mind wandering to interesting corners. Recently, I caught myself trying to walk in the shoes of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. I was not trying to channel the statesmanlike qualities of these gentlemen, rather I was hoping to embody the brewing prowess that was possessed by these "Forefathers Of Brewing".
Yup, our country's forefathers were all passionate brewers. They understood that the production of, and consumption of, beer was such an integral and important part of the culture of our fledgling country. Almost every township, city, villa, and hamlet had their own brewery or two or three. Our country's first president, George Washington, had his own beer recipe. Well, he probably had quite a few considering he was considered to be an expert in the craft!

This is the text from one of his surviving recipes:
"To Make Small Beer
Take a large Siffer [Sifter] full of Bran Hops to your Taste. Boil these 3 hours then strain out 30 Gall[ons] into a cooler put in 3 Gall[ons] Molasses while the Beer is Scalding hot or rather draw the Melasses (sic) into the cooler & St[r]ain the Beer on it while boiling Hot. let this stand till it is little more than Blood warm then put in a quart of Yea[s]t if the Weather is very Cold cover it over with a Blank[et] & let it Work in the Cooler 24 hours then put it into the Cask—leave the bung open till it is almost don[e] Working—Bottle it that day Week it was Brewed."

As I imagine Washington, Sam Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin laboring over a boiling brewkettle, my mind would wander to another corner. This time, to THE symbol of our great nation:
The Stars And Stripes.
Ole' Glory.
Our Flag!

The song (originally a poem) "The Star-Spangled Banner" is, of course, our national anthem paying tribute to that beautiful flag.
Interesting thing about that flag though.
The flag that was seen by Francis Scott Key
The "Flag-Was-Still-There" Francis Scott Key.
THAT very flag owes it's existence to.........wait for it...........

Photo Credit (
This flag was made to be huge. Fort McHenry's commander, Maj. George Armistead, Commodore Joshua Barney, Brig. Gen. John S. Stricker wanted a flag "so large that the British will have no difficulty in seeing it from a distance." It was 30 feet tall by 42 feet high. Each star was two feet wide from point to point! It used 400 yards of best quality wool bunting and cost (in materials at the time) around $405.00! The lady tasked with making this flag is none other than one Mary Young Pickersgill of Baltimore.

Photo Credit
Pickersgill was aided by her 13 year old daughter Caroline, three nieces, a free African American Slave as well as an African American slave (I know, "Ironic"). They stitched together the pieces they could in their small workroom and upstairs bedroom, but they needed more space. Across the street was the Claggett's Brewery. The stitched-together segments were laid out on the huge malting floor-space of the brewery. It was there, in this brewery, that the flag which inspired our National Anthem was finally assembled!

We are lucky enough to be alive in this great land during such a wonderful expansion of the craft brewing world. Every small brewery you visit is a direct representation of that original spirit of freedom and enterprise. The next time you are enjoying a pint at your local tasting room and that sweaty, rubber-boot-wearing, tired-looking person wanders out from the brewhouse, stop, put down your pint, and thank them for continuing the passions of our country's founders!

I wish everyone a peaceful and happy Fourth Of July!

Until next time I remain,
Your Humble Brewer

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Blink of an eye

310 gallons....

Every batch of beer. Every batch of soda. That's the goal.

I am always striving to produce 310 gallons of beer. For those of you who have not been through our brewhouse, we have a ten-barrel brewing system with five fermenters and five "brite" tanks. One barrel is equal to 31 gallons so ten barrels equals....yup, 310 gallons. Our fermenters and brite tanks can both hold at least ten barrels. The brite tanks are so named because by the time the beer enters these tanks, it has been fermented and filtered so it is clear and BRITE!

310 gallons is a strange goal to go to work with everyday but it is the one that drives me. I don't always reach it. Sometimes I exceed it. There are several factors that directly affect this outcome.
These include; the quality of the malted grain, the temperature of the brewing water, the speed of the sparge (showering water over the grain to leech out the malt sugar), and the attitude of the brewer. Perhaps the last is the most volatile and can have the biggest impact. Whenever I brew, I strive to repeat my actions from the previous successful brew. I use the same water temperature, I set the grain mill to the same crushing gap, I place my feet in the same place on the brewing platform as I stir the mash. I strive for redundancy.
Being mostly human, I am susceptible to the same idiosyncrasies that haunt us all: inattention, rushing through projects, tiredness, arrogance. Recently, I was reminded how quickly things can go flying off track. How fast a brew can go from producing a fantastic yield to producing something else entirely.

During a recent brew, I was called away. I received a call from my twelve-year-old daughter, whose after school plans had radically and unexpectedly  changed and she required to be picked up, now Dad NOW, in a teen-age minute! This call came in the middle of the extremely important knock-out! During the knock-out, the recently boiled and hopped malt sugar (wort) is pumped out of the brew kettle, through the heat exchanger (to drop the temperature from 208°F to 70°F), and into the fermenting vessel (FV). It is in the FV that the yeast is added to initiate the conversion of the malt sugar to alcohol. When I returned to the restart the knock-out, I caught myself pressing the wrong button on the brew control panel. I was about to shut off the cooling to the heat exchanger. This would send the temperature of the FV skyrocketing and kill the yeast! Our fermenters are designed to cool using jackets filled with propylene glycol that has been chilled to 28°F. If the FV is filled with hot wort, the glycol-jackets can cool the tanks but they would take about two days to do it. The "quick fix" would be to disconnect the glycol piping from the tank, drain the glycol, and pump cold water through the jackets for the next eight hours! Ask any profession cook how important it is to quickly cool down a stew or soup so bacteria doesn't get a foothold. We have to ensure the wort is cooled as quickly as possible.
This misstep could cost the brewery several dozen hours of lost labor time, lost raw materials used, and, worst of all, a lost 310 gallons of potential beer! Being a small business, these types of losses hit very hard. Unfortunately, unlike JP Morgan, we cannot absorb losses like this easily.
Back in the days when I was a professional carpenter, doing residential and commercial remodel and construction, the lead carpenter would tell me that "the really good carpenters don't make mistakes and the really great ones know how to fix their mistakes!". Pretty much the same in the brewing world. If you screw up in the brewhouse, you had better by God be able to fix it!
So these thoughts were racing through my skull at light speed as I watched my fingers press the button (in slow motion) that turns off the cooling to the heat exchanger. Of course, I quickly restarted the cooling and breathed a well-deserved sigh of relief. The rest of the wort was pumped successfully in the FV and the yeast fermented the tank, alive and thriving to work another day!

Until next time,
Your humble brewer.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

And Then There Were.....MORE!

Being in this business for so long, my ear has tuned itself to the various heaves and contractions of our local brewing industry as well as the national scene. What I'm seeing and hearing lately can be summed up in two words:PRODUCTION EXPANSION! Not just the individual breweries, but the industry as a whole. I have been approached for advice and consultation by more start-up brewery projects from all across the country in the last seven months than I have in the last three years! I recently heard one of my brewery compatriots exclaim "It seems like everyone and their brother is starting a brewery!" He is only partially correct. Don't forget their sister, their aunt, their great uncle, their kindergarden teacher, and their third cousin twice removed! 
What is accounting for this seemingly national grassroots resurgence in craft brewing? While it is very true that the craft beer market share has done nothing but grow and grow in recent years while others have shrunk! Years where every other segment of the alcohol-sales world has declined (wine, liquor, and macro-brewed beers), craft beer has increased its volume! No mean feat, to be sure! But has the growth been enough to account for the marked increase in production facilities? Truly, only time will tell. 
However, this is not the first time we have seen this type of a "land rush" in the brewing world. Most recently, I can recall very clearly how, in the early-to-mid-1990's, every bar, every restaurant, every vacant warehouse space seemed to sprout a brewhouse! I knew that expansion wouldn't last long when I went into a frozen yogurt shop in Fort Collins, Colorado and they had a brewhouse behind the freezers full of pistachio/cappuccino delight! Alright, that never really happened. But, had the "craft bubble" continued for a couple of more years, I would not have been surprised to see a pint of "DMV Pale Ale" for sale at the Motor Vehicle Department! 
It seems that this industry might just have a cyclical nature to it ("WHAT?!? SHUDDUP!"). At its core, craft beer and craft brewing are a niche item. Read that as a luxury item. However the big advantage we have over other indulgences is that we offer a very affordable, luxury item. When the national economy is walking through knee-deep muck and loosing its boots in the process, our wonderful craft beer world offers our customers an affordable, enjoyable product created with very high-quality ingredients, produced by highly-schooled individuals. We give the public a chance to enjoy a premium, gourmet experience for a very affordable price. But I am truly digressing!
The pervasiveness of the brewhouse. I am not at all against this. I love the fact that more and more breweries are starting. These businesses are EXTREMELY difficult to get going and KEEP going! Anytime you encounter a commercial brewing operation, please understand that it is a testament to somebody's dream and insane drive!
Are all of these new breweries going to be sustainable in the coming years? No, most likely not. The market for beers brewed domestically (see previous post!) is very contentious and, sometimes, downright cutthroat! As more and more breweries try to get their products on the shelf and behind the bar, the more the macro-breweries (ABInBev, Miller/CoorsSAB, Kokanee, etc.) will fight against any contraction of their share of this golden pie!
So, what is my point? Hmmm......good question....
My point is this: when you come across a small brewery or brewpub, get in there and sample their wares! Some will make you wince, some will make you happy.  As I have previously stated, small breweries are very hard to run. Whoever is doing that is running on pure dream and caffeine! Try their beers. Give them a chance. Shun the macro-beers. Embrace unique beer styles and open your mind and palate! 
If you truly believe the entrepreneur and small-business owner are the catalysts for our economy, you have just met them in your local brewer and brewery owner!

Until next time,
Your Humble Brewer

Monday, March 26, 2012

it has been quite awhile since I've chimed in with my two cents.
I have been otherwise occupied this whole time. Chasing cats. Putting out fires. Chasing cats on fire.
Plain and simply, I have been too busy managing our little brewery and tasting room. I wish I had a better excuse like; "I've been touring the country, visiting small breweries and tasting their beers or I was searching for a hidden cache of ancient brewer's yeast in Iceland."
Nope, sorry. Bottom line is I've been managing our bottom line!

A lot has been happening in this industry since my last post. Most notably, the huge, big, macro, American-owned breweries are still huge, big, and macro but are no longer American-owned. I'm talking about Anheuser-Busch , Coors Brewing , and Miller Brewing. Collectively, these three breweries held around 80% of the domestic beer market.
Well, since then all three of these behemoths have been acquired by other companies.
Non-American-owned companies.

Coors Brewing was purchased by Molson Brewing of Canada.
Miller Brewing was purchased by South African Breweries (SAB).
And the mighty giant, Anheuser-Busch was purchased by InBev (a merger of Brazilian AmBev and Belgium Interbrew).

So, to update your scorecard:
  • The maker of Budweiser and Bud Light (and more), with all their red, white, and blue marketing is owned by a Brazilian/Belgium corporation.
  • The maker of Miller Genuine Draft (and more) is now owned by a South African corporation.
  • The maker of Coors Original (and more) is now owned by a Canadian corporation.

As if that wasn't enough. Shortly after the dust settled, MillerSAB and CoorsMolson struck a deal to form MillerCoors. Don't be fooled though. Non-American-owned SAB and Molson are still behind these two.

Now I don't want this monologue to come off as antiforeignism. The point I am laboring towards is the pervasive and intentional perceptions put forth by the above named corporations to cast their brewed products as all-American in an attempt to related, and sell, to average Americans. "Brewed by true Americans for true Americans!" These mega-breweries are making an untold amount of money on very cheaply-produced beer coupled with world-class marketing. To be frank, I wish I had 0.01% of their marketing budget!

Anyhew, when you are out and about at your favorite watering hole or restaurant and the all-important question of "What beer would you like?" comes up. Please understand and realize this fact: the menu will state "Our Domestic Beers are Bud, Bud Light, Coors, Miller, etc". These are NO LONGER DOMESTIC beers! They are Foreign owned with foreign alliances! REMEMBER, the craft breweries (like the one in YOUR town) are American owned and operated.




We spend our dollars in our communities. Please make sure the dollars you spend stay in that community!

All of us at the Glacier Brewing Company are counting on you!


your humble brewer

p.s. it's good to be back!

p.p.s. keep an eye peeled for our NEW WEBSITE launching as soon as I get done with it!