Beer Camp: Every Young Girl’s Dream

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Tiffany Davidson received the very first Fermenta scholarship. The scholarship was Beer Camp, a day long brewing experience taught by Know Beer!. Every Fermenta scholarship winner must create a short blog piece or visual project re-capping their scholarship experience. Enjoy Tiffany’s blog!

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The title of this blog came from a graduate assistant I have working in my office here at Central Michigan University. He and I share a common bond in that we enjoy drinking quality beers. In my obvious excitement at being granted the Beer Camp scholarship by Fermenta (and being one of the first individuals granted a scholarship by this group), I shared my excitement with him. He laughed a little and then exclaimed, “Beer Camp! Every young girl’s dream! Congratulations!” Now, I know I am unique among most of the women I know here in Mount Pleasant and definitely among the women in my Upper Peninsula hometown of Iron Mountain. However, through Fermenta, I have found out just how many other women here in Michigan might have shared that dream in their youth. This blog is about Beer Camp though, so why don’t we get started?

Beer Camp, offered by Know Beer: Beer Education in S.E. Michigan, was a wonderful experience and truly gave me perspective on the tools necessary to produce a quality beer. My brew day started much earlier than my classmates who already live in the greater Detroit area. I woke up at 5:30am after spending the previous day helping my fiancée find her wedding dress (she found it and it’s ABSOLUTELY beautiful). I made the 2.5 hour journey to Allen Park and the home of Annette May and Mike Bardallis. As a longtime martial artist, I am overly cautious in going to the homes of people I have never met (even though my good friend told me that her family has been longtime friends with Annette and Mike). When I met Annette and headed down into the basement, though, I knew I had found the right place to learn.

Some background on me: I am the Administrative Secretary for the Office of Research Compliance at Central Michigan University. I grew up traveling through Wisconsin with my family, touring wineries and cheese factories, and trying beer, wine, and cheese samples at every available opportunity. From a young age, I found the process of brewing absolutely fascinating. Later in life, I found that I liked to experiment with food mikepairings, to see what goes well with what and why. But I digress. Back to that job of mine. A large part of my position is working with scientists in all fields and making sure that they comply with the various regulations that exist to ensure the safety of both their research subjects and themselves. When I entered the basement of their home, I was immediately reminded of a mad scientist’s laboratory (There are so many in my line of work and this actually made me excited!). A homemade Jacob’s ladder sparked up and down as a man in a lab coat stood among various pots and kettles, one of which was already heating over a gas burner. Tools were filed in their own yellow industrial storage bins (like those used for nails or screws) while others hung from hooks on the workspace wall. Tubing of all shapes, sizes, and diameters hung from hooks on the ceiling and wall. Various refrigerators and freezers (some of which had taps) hummed away, the contents of one written on a blackboard above the taps. If this was a mad brew scientist, I was ready to hop on the bandwagon. That was my element!

Once everyone else arrived (three of us in total non-inclusive of my instructors), we began our journey into the world of brewing. That day, we were to brew an American IPA with the addition of Equinox hops (which have a lovely aroma that is piney, cedary, and clean). Annette provided us with clipboards and pens (a good thing, since I forgot my notebook in Mount Pleasant…you always forget something, right), as well as a handout that detailed the process of what we were doing, and some information that will assist us in understanding the necessary elements to brewing a beer that all will enjoy.

grainWe started by briefly discussing what we would be doing that day, but ultimately got down to the business of brewing our beer. Mike left roughly 1 lb. of malt for us to mill and then we brought the milled grains from his milling area to the brewing area to begin mashing. We used a domestic 2-row malt (18 lbs.) and German light Munich malt (2 lbs.). One of my classmates added the milled grains to our liquor (I was too shy to speak up, but I’ll do it next time). We also added some gypsum (something I had never done before) to balance the pH. While we waited, we got to sample some of the different kinds of malted grains that can be used in brewing. That day, they had: Black Patent, Rauch, Munich, Pale, C-80, and C-40. We were informed of the processes used to malt the grains such as kilning and soaking, as well as how grains were malted historically (a personal favorite of mine, as I am a historian by education). In addition, we discussed how beers such as porters were historically produced in Great Britain and how the process was improved upon with inventions developed since the Industrial Revolution in England. We tested the wort with iodine at around 30 minutes to see what a positive and negative test looked like and to determine if we should let the wort go longer (iodine starch test). We pulled the wort while it was almost ready, so the chemical reaction of a negative test (turning the wort drops blue black in color) was not noticeable. The purpose, so I learned, is that we don’t want to carry extra starches into the finished product. These starches can provide food for other micro-organisms (we definitely don’t want that). I learned how to do this though and what to look for though, so that is the important part. I will be employing this in my future batches of beer.

mike2Once the grain was mashed and the sugars extracted, we began the lautering process. The mash tun had copper tubing in the bottom of it with thin dremelled lines along them to catch the grain as the wort flowed through. We drained everything very slowly, and continued to recirculate the sweetened wort until it ran clear, a term I learned is called vorlauf (which apparently is German, but interestingly most Germans do not know unless they brew). Once thoroughly circulated and clarified, Mike started to sparge the grains with water from the hot liquor tank to catch any other sugars remaining. Then, came the boil.

tiffanyThe boil was pretty exciting as we were adding the much anticipated Equinox Hops to it in the second two stages. Mike rubbed the hops between his hands to give us a sense of the fragrance of them and they showed us what the composition of a hop looks like in a diagram (I even got to rub some in my palms for a Fermenta photo opportunity). Then, he showed us how to weigh the hops using a manual weights scale and placed the hops in paper lunch bags that were already labeled for their stage of the boil. I got to add the first stage hops at 30 minutes, 2.1 oz of Centennial hops (kettle hops). In the next stage at 70 minutes, my classmate added 1.5 oz Equinox hops, as well as some hydrated Irish moss. At 85 minutes, my other classmate added the remaining 1.5 oz of Equinox hops. After 90 minutes, we cut the heat and began the chill using a copper wort chiller attached to the municipal water supply. Mike said that about 25 feet of copper tubing is necessary to chill a batch such as ours.

Once everything was cooling, we worked with the yeast. We created a yeast slurry and added it in equal parts to both of our carboys when it was ready. Once the wort had cooled to about 65 degrees, we slowly added it to the fermenters with the yeast and then placed the airlocks. The fermenters were placed in a cool and darker part of the basement, so that the yeast could do its magic in the coming days. I can only imagine that they are bubbling away in Mike and Annette’s basement brewery right now and making all of us proud. As an aside, we all owe a debt of gratitude to Louis Pasteur for his work in fermentation (had to add that in…it’s related to one of our conversations that day).

The last and ongoing process, of course, was cleaning, sterilization, and sanitation (did you have any doubt). We discussed various ways of cleaning, sterilizing, and sanitizing the equipment that we used before, during, and after we finished brewing. As we all know, these are very important parts of making sure our treasured brews turn out the best they can be! Who wants skunky beer? Not me!

chartI learned a lot during this process (such as how to use a hydrometer…hey! Don’t laugh!), but most of all I learned to open my mind to IPAs. I have never brewed an IPA, mostly because I didn’t think I enjoyed them very much. Most of the IPA’s that I had experienced up until that point (not just in Michigan) were too hoppy for me or over hopped (we are in a hop craze, after all). I enjoy a nicely balanced and fragrant IPA that is hopped with artistry and care, which gives me the sense the brewer actually enjoys her product. The beer that we brewed fits the bill in all ways. I definitely look forward to sampling the finished product (I’ll get my bottle somehow even though I am up north).

eggI would like to take this opportunity to thank Annette, Mike, and Fermenta for this wonderful opportunity. As a self-taught home brewer, I have never had the chance to brew with anyone else before. The beer culture here in Mount Pleasant is only just developing, so I haven’t really encountered too many other brewers (I know they exist, but I haven’t been confident enough to seek them out). Now I know that we are all in this together, all focused on producing something that we would happily drink and share with others, something of which we can be proud. I am more inclined to approach the brewers I do know of in this area and learn more. Hopefully, all of this will help me in my ultimate goal of earning a Certificate of Fermentation Science at Central Michigan University and becoming a brewer here in my home state. Until then, I will continue to take classes with businesses like Know Beer and hone my skills. Like an increasing amount of women I am getting to know, brewing IS this young girl’s dream.

Oh! And if you are wondering what that delicious food pictured above is, that’s the green tomato cobbler that Annette made us for lunch (OMG!). And what about that blackboard pictured above? Some of Mike’s homebrews that we got to sample. I’m a fan of all of them that I got to try (sadly I didn’t get to try the Saison before it ran out), but I especially enjoyed “Uncle Dave’s Rye Peppercorn Pale Ale.” Two more reasons to schedule a class or five with Annette and Mike.

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If you are interested in scheduling a class with Know Beer: Beer Education in S.E. Michigan, please go to their website: http://knowbeer.org/.

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