Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Evolution of a Beer Part I: How a Beer is Born

Forget everything you have seen on television or heard through the grapevine whilst sipping on your favorite beer in regards to how a beer comes to fruition. It does not come from the mind of suits in a well-oiled marketing department hoping to come up with the next big thing.  And contrary to popular belief, a beer does not come merely from a good recipe. No. Like all good things, beer starts as an idea. It is either borne from a momentary flash of Zen inspiration or from eons of deep, deep thought.  In the case of our newest ale it was the rare combination of both months of deep thought followed by a lightning bolt of inspiration that brought on its evolution.

When I signed on as Head Brewer here at Maritime Pacific last April, George and I agreed that I could have one beer to “create.”  For my purposes, this was needed because if one does not stretch his or her muscles in recipe development they become a flabby mass of weak flesh.  I liken it to when Bugs Bunny tries to make a muscle and instead his arm becomes limp as a noodle.  (Yes if you know me, anything can be likened to a cartoon, usually Bugs Bunny.)  From the Brewery’s perspective, it is one more way to show our loyal customers we care.  And with many of the glitches of a newer and larger brewery hammered out, it was time for my mind to exercise after 15 months of slumber.

I dread exercise. I dread everything about it, which is funny considering I love to exercise my brain.  Most times, however, I just want to get straight into it, learn on the go.  Unfortunately in brewing, one cannot do work by trial and error because there is little to no margin for error.  For the creation of a good beer, preparations must be made.  There is no willy-nilly in brewing, just ample amounts of patience.  And so because I just could not throw myself into a brand new brew, my mind took over and did what it does best…Think.

What beer do I want to do? What yeast should I use? How do I want it to taste? What am I going to call it? How many questions can I ask before I get tired and need a pint?  All these things go running through my mind as if it were in a marathon. And I would just blurt out random questions, mostly at home at the dinner table, and my beloved and my friends would roll their eyes and begrudgingly answer my questions.  Of course, for all we knew, this beer would not be born until the fall at the earliest.  There was no timeline, just the knowledge that it was going to happen.  That is, until I received a letter from HopUnion announcing its plan to release a special hop pellet in honor of Glen Hay Falconer.

As you may or may not know, the Falconer Foundation gives out 3 scholarships to either Siebel Institute in Chicago or the American Brewers Guild. They created the Foundation and the scholarships in honor of Glen Falconer, a jovial and inspiring brewer who passed away in 2002. Jacob Leonard (now a brewer at Widmer) and I were honored to receive the Falconer Scholarship in 2007.  Since that time I have been a proud preacher of the work of the Foundation and it only made sense that I create a beer using that hop exclusively.  And I knew exactly the type of beer I wanted to create: an American Strong Ale.  The months of ceaseless thinking finally had the bolt of inspiration it needed.  Now I had to propose it to the man who calls the shots.

Before I could talk to George, I had to get all my ducks in a row as they say.  I gathered up all the information I could on the Foundation and the hop.  I put it all together in a small proposal and at the right moment I would give it to George to think about.  And like most things, I over-thought my strategy because after hearing what I had to say, George agreed to the beer saying it would be a nice fit to our new seasonal program.  All the work I did and all the stress I put myself under was unnecessary. It was just that easy. The beer had been born.

So many things go into making a good beer.  A good recipe must be formulated from notes on how the final product tastes. We as brewers must pick the right malts and the right hops to create a flavor profile that will make many different palettes happy.  Strong healthy yeast must be chosen to do all the work we are asking of it.  And a good name must be chosen.  Oh, jeez…The name.  How to pick the name?  That is a process all on its own.  We shall save that for another day.

Corey Blodgett
Head Brewer

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