Sunday, October 29, 2017

Beer Brewer Professional Certificate – Week 3

In week 3 we started with an introduction to brewing terminology and discussed the ingredients used to make beer:

1.     Barley – the body and soul of the beer
2.     Yeast – the life of the beer
3.     Hops – the spice of the beer
4.     Water – the integrity and purity of the beer
5.     Adjuncts (sometimes) – the wild card

Our instructor was a guy by the name of Bobby Faithful. This guy has worked at a lot of well-know breweries including Dogfish Head, Lost Rhino Brewing Co. and The Answer Brewpub. I got the chance to talk to him after class, and this guy knows A TON of people in the local and regional beer scene. And while that might not be something that prospective students are prioritizing while looking for a beer brewers program, it absolutely should be. The craft beer scene is a tight-knit community. Having an instructor that can introduce you to professionals at a brewery that you’d like to work for one day cannot be overstated.

 Because this is an intro section, we didn’t go into tremendous detail into each of the ingredients (because we will cover that later in the course), but we did cover the five basic steps in brewing beer:

1.     Malted barley is soaked in hot water to create fermentable sugars
2.     The malt sugar solution is boiled with hops
3.     The solution is cooled, and yeast is added
4.     The yeast ferments the sugars, releasing Co2 and alcohol
5.      The beer is bottled with a little sugar for a secondary fermentation to add carbonation (unless you are putting it in a keg and force carbonating the beer)

We also discussed the difference between an ale and a lager, the difference between 2 row and 6 row barley, how to calculate the ABV of the beer, what amount of malts are typically used in a beer, using extracts versus whole grain, and the fermentability (generally) of different extracts.

We don’t have class tomorrow, but the following week we get to brew our first beer. While we’re still at the beginning of the program, I think it’s a brilliant idea to be brewing so early, and before learning anything more than the basics.

Have you ever worked on your car, or tried a recipe for dinner that you’ve never tried before? I have, and after I’ve finished, I’ve usually thought to myself, “that will go so much better next time now that I know what I’m doing.” The learning process [for me] is about doing, and then going back over the process and filling in the gaps with the knowledge that I gained the first time.

I feel pretty confident that out first attempt at a beer [as a class] will go well. Most of us have brewed before, and Bobby will be walking us through this recipe (an imperial stout), but it will be invaluable to have an experience for all of us to draw on as a baseline for our future class discussions. So far, the pace of this program is exactly what it should be, keeping the seasoned brewers engaged while not going too fast for the novices.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Experiences in the Beer Brewer Professional Certificate Program at the University of Richmond School of Professional & Continuing Studiesweek two:
Week two we continued our study of craft beer history. Week one we studied the history of craft beer up until the American history of beer began. In week two we discussed history as it related to the [craft] beer movement in America.
One of my favorite parts of this class was how the Ben Madden integrated the assignments that we were all given on a major influence in the world of craft beer. While he was going through the history chronologically, mentioning specific dates and events, the names of the influencers came up and each of us would find ourselves teaching the class for about 2 minutes on the individuals we were assigned.
I’ve been in history classes where the teacher just read a list of facts and dates about historical figures and events and I was bored to tears. These past two weeks have been engaging and interesting. Maybe it’s because we were talking about beer; maybe it’s because there were so many small facts that I hadn’t connected to each other yet; maybe it’s because an instructor who was genuinely excited about what he was teaching was teaching us; but whatever the reason, this was honestly one of my favorite history classes I’ve ever taken. I enjoyed the classes so much, and the interesting stories of the brewers that we were learning about, that I found myself ordering many of the books that we were discussing during the break. (I cant’ wait for The Craft Beer Revolution by Steve Hindy to get here).
The pace of the class was perfect. There was a lot of information, but it was never overwhelming. It was incredible to learn about how any why people were getting brewing and owning breweries, and what their background was prior to brewing beer. Prior to 1978, it was illegal to homebrew in the US and even illegal to write or own books about the homebrewing process. While today, most of the brewers I know started out homebrewing, it’s incredible to think that many of the people who started craft breweries prior to 1978 had never brewed on their own before.
I want to reiterate how invested the instructors are to the success of their students. Ben said that he would show up Stone Brewery on Thursday night to talk about beer and answer any questions that we might have over a pint. It wasn’t a requirement, but several of us took advantage of it and learned a lot. For example, I knew that India Pale Ales (IPAs) were named such because they were over-hopped English beers that were brewed specifically to survive the six-month journey to India. That said, you’ll find most fans of craft beer today will tell you that IPAs should be enjoyed as fresh as possible. Stone Brewery even has an IPA they have named “Enjoy By” to make sure that you are drinking it fresh.
While talking about beer at Stone, I learned that IPAs can be aged and some should be aged. Given the history of the beer, I was shocked that I hadn’t considered that before. It turns out that IPAs with an ABV over 8% that use bittering hops (as opposed to aroma-type hops) will provide a uniquely, desirable flavor profile after aging for 6-12 months.
Next week, we start Module 2 – Introduction to Brewing Terminology. I’ll write more about that class next week. Cheers!

Friday, October 13, 2017

I’ve been a fan of beer ever since my good friend, Jason Harris, introduced me to “good beer” back in 2004. I’ve learned a lot about beer on my own and would consider myself more knowledgeable on the subject than most, but recently I’ve wanted to take the next step learning more about the finer points of brewing craft beer at a brewery level.
When doing research on my options, I came across the University of Richmond School of Professional & Continuing Studies (SPCS) Beer Brewer Professional Certificate Program. What impressed me the most about this program was the breweries that work with the program. The list of breweries reads like a who’s who for Richmond area breweries with some great breweries just a short drive outside the Richmond Metro area. The other thing that really stuck out was that this wasn’t just a program where you were in as long as you could afford the tuition. In talking to some of my classmates on the first day, I heard that only about one in every five people that applied, were accepted into the program.
My immediate reaction was that I felt humbled to be accepted into a program with such a low acceptance rate. That really spoke to the quality of the program that SPCS has put together. If they were just in it for the money, they would expand class sizes quickly to be able to take advantage of the demand. I expect that they will most likely expand in the future, but not at a rate that would compromise their ability to produce a high quality education for their students. I was very impressed with the high level of educators they had teaching the class.
Over the next year or so, I’ll be chronicling my experiences in the Beer Brewers Program. I hope to be able to give a little more background on the instructors that teach in the program as well expand on some of the descriptions of what is being taught in certain modules. My goal will not be to retell word for word what we learned in class (because I could not do the experience justice as the instructors as far more knowledgeable than I am), but more share my experiences while in the program and highlight some of the things I found personally interesting.
Out instructor for the history of beer is Ben Madden. Ben was the brewery at Westwood Brewery in California that won the gold medal in 1997 and the silver medal in 1998 at the Great American Beer Festival for their wee heavy (I told you these were some incredible instructors).
Week one we learned about the history of craft brewing. We started with answering the questions:
What was beer?
What were the historic ingredients?
What was the basic brewing process?
We then worked our way through the history of beer and some key inventions that have shaped the craft beer world from 7000 B.C. through the late 1800s. What struck me the most was how a lot of the ways that beer was brewed as far back as 2000 B.C. have translated into beer styles that we still have today. Learning more about beer styles and how/when they came about is a big part of why I wanted to get my beer brewers certificate.
And as with any education, there is homework. But unlike most education, this homework is fun a interesting. This week we have to do a small report (250 words) on a major influence in the word of craft beer. We were assigned names, but the instructor switched a few names around based on the interests on the students in the class. (For example one of the students plans to open up own cidery so he got the name of a brewer who also own a cidery).
I got Steve Hindy. I haven’t finished my report yet, but I’ll add it as a response to this post later.
If you have any questions about the program, please feel free to ask questions and I’ll answer them as I have time. I can tell you that so far, I am very excited about continuing my beer education and really believe that I made the right decision in choosing to do that at SPCS.

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