Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On the Importance of Barley, Part One

We've spent a whole lot of time here on MBR talking about hops. A whole lot of time. We've talked about growing them, we've talked about steeping them, we've talked about hop efficiencies. We've endlessly debated my love for West Coast IPAs and hop-bombs and everyone else's disdain for them.

Maybe it's time we spent some time talking about malt.

There are a whole world of questions that I'm not sure MBR has ever discussed about malt. What is "malt" being foremost among them. Let alone how malt is smoked, why "chocolate malt" doesn't have any chocolate in it, differentiating between Munich and Vienna malt, and who, or what, Maris Otter is (though we know who Roger Maris and Otter Creek are). Though, strangely, we have discussed 6-row barley and the relative merits of 6-row vs. 2-row barley.

But malt is a pretty big component of beer. And, one of the world leaders in malting barley is located just up Highway 151 in Chilton, WI: Briess Malt & Ingredients Co.

So, it's probably best to start at what is Malt, and more precisely, what is barley since, as we'll see, "malt" is short-hand for (usually) "malted barley".

I'm not sure we're going to finish answering that question today, but it's best to back up a minute and look at the brewing process itself because the science of barley is the science of brewing.

1. Barley is picked from the field and aggregated at a centralized grain storage and distribution facility.

2. Brewing quality barley is transported to a maltster where it is malted. The resulting product is generally called "malt". Grains other than barley can be malted (wheat, for example), though most brewing adjuncts (things other than barley) are unmalted additions to the mash (see below).

3. Malt is shipped to and stored at the brewery where the actual brewing process will begin.

4. The malt is put into a hopper and crushed in a grain mill. Also called milling.

5. The crushed malt is sent to a mash tun where water at a specific temperature is added and the malt is steeped for a period of time (the temperature may or may not be altered during the steep). This is the mashing process. The liquid (called "wort") is drained from the mashtun into either a lautertun (in which case the grains are also transferred) or a boil kettle.

6. The remaining grains are rinsed off with more water and that liquid is also added to the boil kettle. This is the lautering process.

7. The wort is boiled for about 60 minutes, during which hops are added at various points (often at the 60 minute mark, the 30 minute mark, and when the heat is turned off). This is the boil.

8. The wort is then cooled down to approximately 65 degrees (for an ale), and transferred to a fermentation tank where yeast and oxygen is added.

9. After a few days you have beer, which, in a commercial brewery, is sent to a bright tank/tax tank to carbonate and settle out, then on to the bottling/kegging line and out the door.

From start to finish, the science of barley and malting affects the final product in your bottle. So, what is this all-important grain, barley? I'm glad you asked. Barley's scientific genus is Hordeum, with two species that are relevant to beer: Hordeum Vulgare (6-row) and Hordeum Distichon (2-row). It is an annual grass. There are endless cultivars as brewers and maltsters are constantly genetically training barley for their specific purpose.

Barley was one of the first grains human civilization cultivated starting in approximately 10,000 BC. Yes, 12,000 years ago. Today, it is the number 4 cereal grain in the world with over 152 billion tonnes (metric tons) produced globally each year. It is used largely as a feed crop for animals, as it was when it was first cultivated, but human consumption accounts for a significant percentage of the production. In the United States about 25 percent of the annual production is sent to malting.

Barley is grown in temperate areas and is known as a relatively finicky grain. For example, while it is moderately heat tolerant, it does not tolerate cold at all, and most brewing varietals do not tolerate long droughts. Moreover, it is susceptible to a number of crop diseases. So, much like the problems in corn, barley monoculture (growing one variety of barley) can have drastic effects when disease hits.

The stem (stalk) of barley can vary from 1 to 4 feet and typically have 5 to 7 leaf-like nodes below the spike. The spike consists of spikelets attached to the central stem called a rachis. Three spikelets develop at each node. In six-row barley a flower/seed form at each spikelet; in two-row barley on the center spikelet forms a flower/seed (see images a, and b, respectively, below). 2-row seeds are much bigger than 6-row seeds and have a higher ratio of nutrients (carbohydrates and protein) to non-starch material (husk).

It is the seed that maltsters and brewers are most interested in. The seed itself is comprised of a protective husk on the outside,  a non-starch cellular membrane called "aleurone", then the  endosperm that consists of carbohydrates and protein, and an embryo. "The total number of cells in the kernel endosperm reaches over 280,000, as compared to 117,500 in wheat and 180,000 in rice. This is the reason why barley kernels contain more cell wall material and, consequently, more of its main component, beta-glucans, than those other cereals." [cite]

A mature seed contains approximately 35% moisture (a white milky substance, typically) and is allowed to dry in the field until its moisture reaches approximately 20%. This is done for a variety of reasons, the primary of which is that a seed that has a lot of water is very brittle and tends to rupture and split - something that the maltsters don't like because it reduces the ability of seed to continue to germinate (we'll talk about this later).

You can see how decisions in the field directly affect barley quality. Thus, barley from one farm, whose micro-climate may be dryer (slightly longer germination and faster drying conditions), may be very different from barley from another farm whose micro-climate may be more moist. And we haven't even discussed differences in the hundreds of barley varietals that the farmers choose to grow. Each varietal has slightly different growing conditions and carbohydrate and protein mixes. These differences can have profound impacts when the barley is malted.

During "threshing", the seed is removed from the stalk and the "chaff" (the feathery material and other non-seed stuff). After the seed is removed from the stalk and chaff it is dried to below 12% moisture for storage and transportation. Because of the precise dry-storage conditions required for barley, the seed is transported from the farm to a central storage facility. After this central drying and storage, the seed is often then aggregated in larger centralized silos and then shipped off to maltsters.

You can see how the decision to aggregate and mix, commodify, barley is both a blessing and a curse. In one respect it evens out the minor differences between farms in order to fulfill large orders placed by maltsters and brewers. On the other hand, though, it removes the uniqueness that one farm's barley has with respect to another. In wine, with grapes, we call this uniqueness "terroir" and it is celebrated and valued. It is only recently, within the past 2 years, that this value is being leveraged in the brewing industry with Lakefront, Rogue, and Sierra Nevada leading the way with beer produced with non-commodified barley (Local Acre, Chateau Rogue, and Sierra Nevada Estate, respectively).

If you refer back to the steps listed above, we have just completed (in a very summary way mind you) step one. In future articles we'll talk about the malting process and how that works.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Promise This Is The Only Time I Will Say This

Not to be political or anything, but apparently a recall attempt is getting under way here in Wisconsin. I am not endorsing any particular candidate, nor am I even suggesting that you vote one way or the other, I'm not even recommending that you do or do not sign a recall petition.

I will just remind you that our Governor had the chance this past summer to veto a bill bought and paid for by MillerCoors and the Wisconsin Beer Distributors Association. As a result of that legislation even recognized that Wisconsin is now a worse place for craft brewers and craft breweries:
"Why isn't Wisconsin ranked higher [than 7th], then? Partly because of production that doesn't even crack the Top 10, but partly because of legislation passed this summer that protects Miller from A-B InBev encroachment that combines the brewer's permit and wholesale and retail licenses given out by municipalities into a single permit under state control and prohibits brewers from buying wholesale distributors. That's great for Miller, but just made life a whole lot more difficult for the more than 70 brewers in the state that aren't Miller who now have a much more difficult path to getting licenses and getting their product on shelves. Wisconsin's total beer output grew only 0.2% during the past decade. Making life harder for most of your brewers for the sake of one doesn't seem like the best way to create growth."
Admittedly MillerCoors (not a Wisconsin company, but headquartered in Chicago) and the Wisconsin Beer Distributors (most of whom specialize in selling you Miller and Anheuser-Busch products) are better off.

Monday, November 14, 2011


I've been thinking a lot lately about the Occupy Wall Street Movement. While the skeptic, pessimist, and pragmatist (do all three mean the same thing?) in me doubts the long-term efficacy of the movement, the short-term media coverage at least makes it clear what the message is.

But, really, it's not just Wall Street. The Declaration of the New York City General Assembly lays out the grievances thusly:
  • They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
  • They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
  • They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.
  • They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
  • They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.
  • They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
  • They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
  • They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
  • They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.
  • They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
  • They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.
  • They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
  • They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
  • They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
  • They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.
According to Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors, beer is for straight, football-lovin' males that love to make fun of each and ogle the ladies (but drink responsibly boys). 

Beer is a commodity product. It all tastes the same. Barley and hops is barley and hops (except when it's triple hop brewed). Fields of barley in Montana and North Dakota are the same as fields of barley in California and Wisconsin.

If you don't have Clydesdales you aren't cool.

It took national boycotts in the 70s and 80s to cure labor issues at Coors. Anheuser-Busch was sued in 2005 for using illegal surveillance practices on its employees.

None of the three major beer marketing companies in the United States are owned and operated by US companies.

They have bought and influenced politicians in Wisconsin and throughout the United States to actively suppress competition from craft brewers.

Four Loko and similar products, despite known health issues with alcohol and caffeine products, were pushed into student and minority markets.

Through control of advertising and other media outlets, the major breweries impose propaganda on the public to their own benefit and to the detriment of craft beer.

Beer, perhaps more than any other product, imposes American colonialism world-wide. 

I propose that we promote an agenda to #OccupyBeer. Tell Anheuser-Busch-InBev, SABMiller, and MolsonCoors that you agree with Twisted Sister "We Aren't Gonna Take It". Tell the Beer Marketing Companies that you disagree with their world-view. Tell them that you prefer local, you prefer craft, you prefer sustainable. 

And, most importantly, drink craft beer.

Friday, November 11, 2011

On My Lack of Posting - Rediscovering Augustiner Maximator


Things have been relatively quiet around here recently. I'm hoping this changes in the near future. I've been debating whether to say anything, but I think some explanation might raise some interesting issues. But, first, thanks to Joe for finding time to write even with a new baby in the fold.

But on to the reason that I haven't been posting lately: I've been really bored with Wisconsin beer lately. I don't think I've bought a single six-pack of beer from a Wisconsin brewery in 5 months. Nothing new. Nothing exciting.

The best, by far, has been Potosi's new Witbier. And Kirby's Eternal Flame is a pretty awesome project.

But, by and large, Wisconsin beer has been really, really boring. And, you can tell me that you're too busy brewing your base brands. That demand is so high. Constrained production. Stretched too thin. Blah, blah, blah. I don't care. Boring.

So, what have I been drinking? Nothing. To be honest, I haven't been drinking a whole lot lately - beer or otherwise.

I've bought some bottles of Stillwater and Fantome that are sitting unopened. I bought some Surly Wet in Minnesota that was pretty delicious (good, not as good as I had been hoping it would be). I've had some bottles out of my cellar that I've been trying to get through (2008(9?) New Glarus Berliner Weisse - REALLY good; 2006 Two Brothers Heavy Handed was interesting).

Tonight, just for kicks, I pulled out a 2008 Augustiner Maximator, one of my favorite doppelbocks. Still one of the prettiest beers you can buy, the tawny body is below a dense tan head. The chocolate and roasted caramel aromas explode out of the bottle. A strong booziness mixes with the chocolate to create some amazingly complex plum, and earthy fruit-like aroma. Still dry as ever, the flavor is somewhat subdued and very drinkable. The cherry fruit comes out in the finish with a fine pucker, a slight bready maltiness holds up the body quite well.

After 3 years in the cellar this beer is still one of my favorites on the planet. Kirby doesn't make 'em this dry, which is unfortunate, because if he did, between Augustiner and Capital, I'd never drink anything else (OK, except maybe an occasional Double IPA or Arrogant Bastard).

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Five Gallons At A Time: Blending, Priming Sugar and Alcohol

Each of the last three years, I brewed a batch of English Ale and set aside a gallon to age on oak chips that were originally inoculated with Flanders Red microorganisms. I blended the remaining four gallons of each batch with the aged beer from the previous year, then added corn sugar to carbonate. If you know the alcohol content of each beer in a blend, you can use the mixing formula to estimate the alcohol content of the blended beer before you add priming sugar:

Blended ABV = (ABV1 x Volume1 + ABV2 x Volume2) / Total Volume

My Old Ale was about (6.1 x 3.9 + 7.7 x 0.9) / 4.8 = 6.4% alcohol by volume before priming. Figuring out the alcohol contribution of the priming solution is a little more involved. I primed my beer with 120 g of corn sugar dissolved in water. The volume of my priming solution was a pretentious 417 mL. Those are the values I knew, and these are the values I assumed to be true:

-Corn sugar solubility = 90.6%.
-Corn sugar fermentability = 100%.
-1 lb of fermentable extract produces 0.078 gallons of alcohol.

First, I needed to know how much alcohol was already in the beer. Rearranging the definition of ABV:

Initial Alcohol Volume = (ABV / 100) x Beer Volume = (6.4 / 100) x 4.8 = 0.31 gal

Next, I used the following formula to figure out how much fermentable extract the priming sugar contributed to the beer.

Fermentable Extract = (Solubility / 100) x (Fermentability / 100) x Weight / 453.59 = (90.6 / 100) x (100 / 100) x 120 / 453.59 = 0.24 lbs

Since every gram of fermentable extract produces about 0.078 gallons of alcohol, you can calculate the volume of alcohol produced from the priming sugar as follows:

Priming Alcohol Volume = 0.078 x Fermentable Extract = 0.078 x 0.24 = 0.02 gal

Adding the priming sugar to the main batch, I ended up with 0.31 + 0.02 = 0.33 gallons of alcohol in 4.8 + 417 / 3785.4 = 4.91 gallons of primed beer (1 gallon = 3785.4 mL). My final estimated ABV was 100 x 0.33 / 4.91 = 6.7%. As you can see, priming sugar can significantly influence alcohol content. If you want to control the alcohol content of a bottle-conditioned beer, you can adjust the amount of water in your priming solution. I don't usually bother, but it's nice to have a comprehensive estimate of ABV.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Press Release Tuesday - Imperial Stoutfest at Brasserie V

Sorry for the slow pace of posting. As I've mentioned, it's been crazy 'round Casa de MBR. I promise that I'll get back to posting more frequently. In the meantime, go to Brasserie V for an Imperial Stout.

--------------START PRESS RELEASE-------------------

Stop in Brasserie V this week for our Imperial Stout Fest starting Tuesday, the 1st.
We will be tapping four very rare, hard to find kegs of Imperial Stout (ok, one is a porter) all from Denmark, that will be a real treat for all you dark beer lovers.
We will be offering these as flights so you can try them all. Here is the lineup:

Amager HR Frederickson
Djævlebryg Gudeløs
Xbeeriment Blackforce
To Øl Black Ball Porter

We have also just added over 25 new beers to our 130+ hand-picked bottled beer list!!
There are some great new beers, and hard to find stuff from Belgium, Denmark, France, Norway, and more.
Check out some great new Lambics and Sours! See our website for the full list.