Sunday, May 31, 2015

Start a Quality Program at Your Brewery, part 2

So, how’s my beer?
It’s heartbreaking to visit a new brewery and see the same avoidable off flavor in every beer while the proprietor waxes about how something seems just slightly off. You work too hard to produce sub-par beer. Solid sensory training and careful, consistent, observation with data collection are the foundation of a quality program.

Melissa Coles assesses visual characteristics

There’s trouble in River City!
Quality issues arise from ignorance to off flavors. Hands down the best quality equipment investment is in calibrating what you already have; your eyes, nose, and mouth. Beer fault training is the detection part of the answer. Aroxa and Seibel offer beer flavor training kits to program your schnozz to identify offending (or good) aromas. The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) is specifically existent to train homebrewers to taste, judge, and offer technical brewing advice to one another. But wait, it’s not just for homebrewers! Every sanctioned homebrew competition and class I’ve been to has been a mix of equally passionate; on-the-cusp-of-pro hobbyists, happily amatuer homebrewers, and pros.

Back to School
BJCP classes covering styles, how to taste and judge, and identify beer faults are available nationwide. BJCP training materials are intensive on beer faults and corrective options. Your local BJCP class coordinator can also order off flavor kits at a reduced price. Beyond the basic training, I found judging at home brew competitions extremely helpful in understanding harmony, balance, and intangibles, knowing faults both fatal and incorrect for style, and becoming comfortable with deciphering the difference between mediocrity and true greatness.

Check out my profile
At the minimum breweries should have sensory profiles for each significant brand. List all aromas and flavors and their intensity. Note color, clarity, head texture and retention, mouthfeel, and alcohol strength. I use a modified BJCP score card for this purpose. Combine complete profiles at varying points in aging with exacting brewhouse and cellar records for a clear look at how process and recipe changes affect your final product throughout its life.

Example Conclusions:
1) tried malt type Z in IPA recipe 2. Found body and caramel aroma reduced compared to malt type X.

2) used 20 kg yeast, cropped day 9 for porter. Compared to 30 kg yeast cropped day 7 in same recipe, less alcohol heat and more body.

Wouldn’t you like to definitively know how slight variations alter your product?

Data are as data do.
Be on data collection and tracking like a rat on a cheeto. It's tedious, but it will build a map of how to improve in efficiency and quality.

Brewhouse: OG, amount of grain, mash temp and pH, KO volumes and temperatures, times on process start/stop.

cellar: cell counts and viability with microscope. yeast pH, FG, diacetyl by nose. Temperature and gravity daily.

final package: ABV%, send it out to a lab. Use White labs big QC day for a value on many analytical Packaged airs data by a Zahm and Nagel is a good place to start for in house package quality, oxidation flavor impacts should be avoided when bottling if possible.

Once you begin tracking data, each brew can be a little experiment. Slight variations can be controlled and implemented to improve a variety of parameters from yeast health to brewhouse efficiency.
Lactobacillus Brevis

If you’ve got sensory and faults on lock, identifying contamination should be a matter of dedicating time and product for long term storage. Understanding aseptic sampling technique and using it to collect and store beer for long term assessment trials can identify low-grade infection issues just by taste. Keep packaged product in sanitized vessels with as little air contact as possible in a cool, dark area for several months, tasting every month.

Wort stability is a good entry level test for microbe issues kettle to KO. Wort stability just requires sterile/sanitary vessel.

Unless your operation is adding a large packaging facility, farm out the intensive microbiological and analysis work out to White labs, Seibel, etc. If you're dead set on starting to plate for infection; Hsu's Lactobacillus/ pediococcus media (siebel product) detects lactobacillus and pediococcus without need of an autoclave. You would need the following: gloves, RO or distilled water, heat proof lab flasks (a few), a microwave, test tubes and caps, a .01g scale (jeweler's scales), and an incubator at 28C or a consistently warm spot in your building. I'd get single use sterile swabs and pipettes for sampling.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

corporate culture shock

Company culture answers the question of why we do things this way here. It forms an organic social contract defining what we believe in, how we behave and who belongs. It's also incredibly valuable, see Amazon's purchase of Zappos and appropriation of their employee policies. It cannot be controlled or managed top down because it belongs to the employees. It can however be inspired and propagated by careful communication about company goals and aligning the culture to the overall business strategy.

Craft beer business culture prioritizes development of the innovative product, relating to customers via service, outreach and marketing, and controlling the risks of production to attain operational excellence.

Operational excellence in safety, quality and consistency are more elusive and understandably tertiary concerns. Sales and stability in revenue determine a brewery's success more than safety and quality during initial growth.

As breweries become established, these concerns move to the forefront, especially in larger production operations. The risks are higher and insurance more expensive.  Balancing the safety, quality, and consistency needs of the operation as a whole and retaining employee determined company culture easily becomes combative.

Especially so when the topic of medical and legal recreational (state law) marijuana comes up. Safety often is strung up as the reason for mandatory drug testing. Clearly everyone wants a safe environment while at work. Being under the influence at work is not appropriate to the vast majority. Also most agree that it is reasonable to require drug testing after major accidents. Yet many find themselves in the independent craft beer industry because of the embrace of personal responsibility and self policing that is an essential component of a productive company culture while creating an inebriating product.

33% corporate beer still tokes
In the case of marijuana, the levels of THC stay in the body much longer than the effects. Clumsy tests that don't differentiate between getting high last Saturday and being stoned on a forklift Monday morning and constant threat regimes of random screenings rob employees of their right to enjoy legal, state tax revenue earning weed on their own time. Such as the case with most rules, the extent to which a company enforces a drug policy largely determines the degree to which employees feel their privacy and personal life are invaded.

Craft beer is largely comprised of small independent companies deciding for themselves how to enforce quality and safety policies. As they grow and change they will have to determine what values are essential to employee engagement and productivity. Companies only pay for the hours employees are at work, how much should they determine behavior off the clock?

Friday, January 30, 2015

A personal perspective on a big change

Elysian as a company will undoubtedly grow at a staggering pace over the next few years.  A company is still just a group of people, brought together by mutual needs and goals. We have dedicated our lives to creating, serving, and selling great beer. With dedication comes sacrifice, I count many among us who forwent better pay, benefits, and a slew of cushy perqs to work in craft brewing.

At some meager amount of time at Elysian, I was summoned by Dick Cantwell.  Those who knew him well assured me, “He’s just a man who cares about his beer.”

I nervously presented my work and ended by expressing; “My time at Elysian has been the most challenging and rewarding period of my career. I am continually impressed and motivated by my coworkers. Elysian demands patience, hard work, and a passion for working together to make our beer its best. Respect is earned here and well worth the effort. I have full support at every step. My accomplishments reflect the excellence of our company.”

I still feel that way today.

For employees, few of us have the means or disposition to turn our noses up at an opportunity of this magnitude.  We will have access to training and resources few of us would dare to dream of.  Speaking of means, we all look forward to the many positives that come with a big company.

Joe, Dick and Dave worked tirelessly to find a way for us to continue to thrive in an ever more competitive world. I am thankful for all they have done for me.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Start a quality program at your brewery today

Down a damp corridor I hear The Cellarmaster bellowing. " I'm trying to protect the beer!" rings off the tanks, neatly lined observers to his frustration and dedication. Snatching glances through the stands of fermenters, I see negotiations have escalated.

Contests of will break out in breweries attempting to tame the often opposing goals of growth and quality. The brew must go on, and decisions need to be made, quickly. Will quality standards or "get the job done" win the day? What is most important for preserving quality and where can (or should ) we cut corners?

Integrating quality and consistency monitoring practices in your brewery will mean building a program from scratch to support the needs of your brewery. Always keep in mind " how does this serve the needs of the brewery?"

Building a program requires the entire staff to take a direct interest in beer quality. Open your discussions with your team by explaining the overall impacts of a quality assurance program on the business.

Why are quality and consistency important?
Success as a brewery means creating the best beer possible with the least amount of resources and risk. Risk equates to unsaleable beer due to contamination or low quality.  Q&C effects investor relations,customer satisfaction, growth, accountability, enforcing distribution contracts, and production costs. It’s about growing and protecting your business. Let your employees know how their participation (or lack of) affects the company as a whole.

What can we learn from very successful breweries?
AB, SAB Miller, Molson Coors, Sierra Nevada, Boston BC, New Belgium. All provide a consistent, high
quality product to their customers at national and international level. It’s about customer trust. You want your customers to get what they expect. All have invested in quality control measures to grow.

What are your goals?
What changes are coming for your business and how can implementing quality and consistency
tracking and evaluation help your product improve or maintain Q&C in spite of those changes?

Example goals:
Make 50,000 BBL packaged product with 120 day shelf life this year.
Increase brand consistency across multiple brewpubs
Increase consistency batch to batch
Troubleshoot obvious flaws
Track flavor changes over time
QC is the collection and tracking of data to make better decisions.

Once you have your goals in mind. Figure out the information you will need to make changes in process to achieve those goals. Let's use the example of  "increasing consistency batch to batch".

What information do you need to start? Identify the unknowns that if monitored and adjusted can impact you goals.
Examples of data gathering activities:
Brew sheet tracking
Tasting panels
yeast viability and counts
Fermentation profiles
mash pH
starch conversion test
wort stability
forced fermentation
VDK testing
Temperature tracking seasonally
microbe screening at each vessel transfer
grist sieve testing
For our sample goal of increasing consistency batch to batch, all of the above can be used to identify and reduce inconsistencies between batches of the same beer.

Create a plan with your team (foster the environment of quality and safety as a priority)
Set investment limits for goals. # employee hours, $ invested
Set a timeline for accomplishing goals.
Follow up with assessment at set times.
Identify missing pieces and supplement.
Train employees.
Invest in equipment
Write SOPs and logs for tracking info.
Outsource vital testing that cannot be accomplished in-house.
Review at 6 months, and annually.
Write Q&C tasks into every job description, employee handbook, and training session. From brewer to
tasting room, everyone should consider “what is best for our beer?”

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Groovy! Acid wash yeast

Managing Bacteria in a Brewery
Even with using best practices to ensure sanitary equipment, the yeast may harbor an infection which grows with each re-pitching. Acid washing the yeast lowers the amount of bacteria passed from batch to batch. Brewers most often use acid washing as an emergency procedure to combat infection until fresh yeast can be obtained or as periodic maintenance. Some brewers wash every pitch to ensure absolutely every measure is taken to reduce bacteria in the brewing process. Unfortunately information regarding this practice is often conflicting or confusing.
How Acid Washing Works
Acid washing will lower the level of bacteria cohabitation with yeast. It will not rid an infection. We acidify the yeast slurry while keeping a low temperature to kill a large proportion of bacteria and weak yeast cells. Healthy, actively dividing and fermenting yeast produce an acidic environment naturally. We can utilize the ability of healthy yeast to withstand pH fluctuations to reduce the bacteria. Killing off weak and dying yeast cells is also beneficial because they excrete peroxides and autolysis factors which raises the pH of the total slurry and may contribute off flavors to beer.

Acid washing after several pitches can prevent a buildup of bacteria and weak yeast, allowing the healthy yeast to replicate and ferment uninhibited by bacteria and autolysis factors. Pediococcus affects yeast health by depressing yeast in suspension by up to 30% and increasing fermentation length while also producing high levels of diacetyl.

Acid washing has the potential to negatively impact yeast health if performed inappropriately or on certain strains of yeast. Time, pH, and temperature must be balanced to achieve the goals of washing while maintaining highly viable yeast for pitching.

Recommended Procedures
Overall goal:
Reduce yeast slurry pH to 2.0-2.4 range with food grade acid by constantly mixing at temperature range of 32-40ºF for 90 minutes.

Sterile recirculating reservoir with pump or sterile mixing reservoir and paddle.
75% food grade phosphoric acid.
Ability to cool or at least hold cool temperature.
Take initial yeast pH and temperature readings.
Dilute 75% phosphoric acid to 7.5% by a 1 to 10 dilution. The amount of 7.5% phosphoric acid required will depend on volume of yeast. We used approximately 40L (10 gal) per 100 gallons of yeast.
Start mixing yeast by paddle or recirculation pump.
Add 7.5% phosphoric acid using sterile technique (sanitize all connections)
Mix for 2-3 minutes and check pH and temperature.
Adjust pH by adding more 7.5% phosphoric acid or more water or yeast slurry
once pH range of 2.0-2.4 has been achieved. Start timer. Wash for 90 minutes. Maintain temperature between 32-40ºF.
After 90 minutes pitch yeast as soon as possible. Maximum storage for washed yeast is two hours

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Winter Beer Festival Guide

NW winter beer events

There's chainsaw carving, gnomes and beer, lots of it. where have you landed in the soggy pacific winter? Probably a winter beer festival.So many to choose, so little time, here's my favorites thus far.

Chocolate and Beer – February 10- Seattle
Theo's chocolate pairs with Seattle hometown favorite; Georgetown brewing for a great event benefitting autism. Chocolate and beer pairings, blues music, Macrina Bakery, and georgetown brewing reveals Lisa's Chocolate Stout. This brew uses 76 lbs of theo chocolate. Oh yeah and they're doing chocolate stout ice cream floats. Count me in.
Klaus the Elysian gnome always makes an appearance at WBF

Winter Beer Festival - December- Seattle
This one is “ family” as one insider puts it. Pretty much everyone you'd like to meet in Seattle beer's scene without the overwhelming crowd. Enjoy wintery beers from within the cozy goodness of Hale's Palladium. Good if you like big beers and pretty lights. Bad if you need outdoors, sunshine, and huge crowds.
Funk band at Strange Brew keeps the crowd grooving

Strange brew -Late January - Port Townsend
Again, small and intimate. Taste the most interesting beers of the Northwest in historic hippie town. Everyone brings their weirdest to this one and its another small winter festival. Good if you like small events, interesting ingredients, being off the beaten path. Bad for those who abhor; road trips, sailors, funk bands.
more gnomes at strangebrew
Winter Beer Festival -Early December- Portland
Big, weekend long, high gravity celebration. USE PUBLIC TRANSPORT. This is staged in downtown portland, the current epicenter of craft beer for the NW. Big crowds, long lines, and crazy-good winter beer selection from all over. As with all large beer festivals, I recommend showing up early on opening day. Volunteers are at their least cranky and you get the best selection. After 6pm, most everyone is very, very jolly so be a safe pedestrian.
check out local hotties in der town

Alefest- spring- Leavenworth Wa
Head over brilliant highway 2 to Alefest. Oktoberfest may get all the crazy kids in their trachten, but trust me Alefest is where it's at. Check out Icicle Brewing Company, enjoy the emerging spring beauty of the north cascades and indulge in some of the best East of the cascades has on offer. Many of these breweries rarely get any distribution in westside markets, so make sure to brag to your I-5 bound friends about your ultra rare finds.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Want a career in brewing? Start at the bottom, then hustle

imagine yourself... brewer, bearded, and badass
Start your own.
Skip the fancy Siebel or UC Davis education. You will have so much debt, you will have to take a job at a large production facility to make the degree worthwhile. You're better off taking some accounting and business law classes and spending your time figuring out how to fund the brewery. Find a good lawyer, figure out what you're good at and recruit a business partner to do the things you suck at. In the meantime...

Start at the bottom
Cellar, brewing, and production jobs are extremely competitive and an unlikely option if you've only got home brewing experience. Homebrewers often fail in a commercial cellar and brewhouse. Production requires little creativity, a monotonous grind and daily simple frustrations like constantly breaking machinery. The autonomy, and flexibility of homebrewing are nonexistent until you get to be head brewer. Even then, you're listening to the market more often than being a tastemaker.

first assignment: disassemble, sanitize and reassemble. Try not to hurt yourself
Make friends and work for free if you want this route. Only your friends will get you in the door directly to the production floor. If you do get an interview, talk about how clean you are, how you're good at detail work and taking direction. Downplay your brewing genius. The last thing a cellarmaster wants is a newbie “ getting creative.” If your homebrew truly is the nectar of gods, bring it to the interview as a parting gift ,but don't talk about it too much. Your job is to get along with everyone and perform your job exactly as your boss wants. You will never get to brew if you can't learn how to clean a tank. Cellar takes their job extremely seriously. They also have a freakish sense of humor, prepare to get weird.

Once you've worked in production for a few years, decide if a brewing degree will take you to the next level. Make sure the pay jump is worth it. Even head brewers don't make bank, so decide if this will give you the authority, knowledge and clout in the industry you need to be successful. Apply to Siebel and UC davis even if you're not sure. The waiting list is at least 2 years.

Less competitive beer jobs include front of the house in a pub, customer relations, distribution, buyers for groceries, outside sales, events management, point of sale retail, and management. These areas capitalize on different strengths than production. If you have an ounce of people skills go for a beer-tender position. You will meet the most industry insiders, learn how to talk about beer and can easily move up the ranks to management or sales. Keep in mind that you can still love beer and make it on your own time.
like wearing costumes? I've got a job for you!

Learn the industry.
While you're at the bottom figure out everyone's role in the brewery and also what type of brewery you'd like to work for. Large production facilities have tons of resources to help you grow and have more industry clout. Trust me, it pays later to slog it out at big brewery for the street cred. You'll also gain a huge amount of professional experience in doing things the right way. Big companies tend to play it safe and you'll get a feel for professional conduct. Brewpubs have the most flexibility and inventiveness in brewing but also have tension between brewery and restaurant, and limited resources. On the upside you'll get opportunities to crosstrain as they have fewer employees. Job hop around to different breweries and locales. Never burn your bridges and always give credit to those who helped you grow. It's a small industry and feels like family for the moment. Balance being kind and looking out for yourself.

Get experience in different areas.
Offer to do ride-alongs with sales people. Jump in the lab and learn to do cell counts. Clean parts in the cellar and always take projects your boss hates. Mostly shut up and listen. Ask questions to find out what makes each person good at their job. What do they enjoy and what is challenging about their daily grind? Your goal is to find what you like and what you're good at. Like leaving work at the office? Don't be in sales. Hate doing the same thing everyday? You may not like being a brewer. Not much of a neat-freak? Get out of the cellar.
gnome liberation. A finer point of my skill set
Always be learning, and networking.
Brewing is literally the oldest science, so you have a ton of catch up. Take a beer serving certification program course (cicerone). Study the BJCP guide. Go to homebrewers meetings, learn the history and culture of brewing. Express your passion by educating yourself and teaching others. Building a network never ends either. Your network benefits your brewery too. If you can hunt down an available bar manager or new cellarman you will prove your value and good judgement to your bosses and have a friendly for office politics.