Saturday, June 18, 2011

Put Your Big Boy Pants On

It has been two weeks since starting the Master Brewer Program at Doemens and I can safely say that we have just finished the most intense week of brewing education I have had so far. The Diploma Program lays the groundwork for aspiring brewers and is a very good entry level education. Clearly a cut above, is the Masters Program, which takes the general principles which we learned in the diploma course to a much deeper level. The academic rigor reminds me more of my time at HSC in the chemistry department. Klaus Ritter put it best, "What did you expect? This is not the diploma course, this is not the concise course, this is the Master Program."

To give you an overview, we will be brewing a total of six days - three at Doemens and three at breweries in the region. One day we will spend at the Stiegl brewery in Salzburg, which we visited on our brewing tour, brewing on their pilot system, which is really exciting. One day we will spend brewing at the Riegele brewery in Augsburg. The other non-Doemens brew day we will have will be at Braucon which is a manufacturer of small scale brewing systems for the pub and micro breweries. We will be malting on a small scale at Doemens as well as doing advanced work in new topics such as steam boilers, beer filling, filtration, and staff management.

The three beers that our group will be brewing at Doemens are an IPA, an Abbey Ale, and a traditional bavarian Helles. The brewing sessions will be a little more intense as we are going to be doing a lot more analysis during the brew, as instructed by Klaus Ritter. Dr. Ritter has been teaching us Chemical Technical Analysis for the past week and a half. We have spent hours and hours learning about malt analysis, water analysis, wort analysis and beer analysis. The theoretical sections have been accompanied by applied techniques in which we get our feet wet in titrations, distillations, friability measurements and other chemical and physical analysis.

Since our class is made up of twenty students and the lab space is not intended for a class of that size, we have been split into two groups. While one group is doing Chemical Technical Analysis, the other is spending time in the Microbiology lab, working on plating techniques, membrane filtration and microorganism identification. We will also be using these groups for our brew days as well.

We have also had a couple of classes regarding the production of soft drinks, which we will be doing later in the class. A lot of the small breweries in Germany make soft drinks as well as beer. Apparently the sale of their own soft drinks is keeping a fair number of them open. It is open to interpretation if this is helping the brewing business or hurting it. Why would you avoid experimentation in the beer world to explore it in the soft drink world? It is difficult to say if the German beer drinking population would be responsive to experimentation, and many people are quick to discard the thoughts of doing so. It sounds a lot like the 70s in the United States to me, the only difference being the drinking culture in Germany is a bit older than that of the U.S. and tradition holds strong here.

I am extremely excited about the Master Program and am thoroughly enjoying it. My impressions so far is that it is well worth it. The next month and a half will be filled with studying, sending out resumes and bike riding.

I am also doing some research on cool places to live in the U.S. If you have recommendations you can leave them here, send me a message on Facebook or email me: I am looking for a place near mountains with rivers and lakes. Think Asheville! I am open to all parts of the country.


The Return Home: Munich Edition

With the Master Brewer Program on the horizon, I decided to head back to Munich on Thursday. Another easy ICE trip back to Bavaria was a wonderful feeling. While I had actually spent more time in Brussels than I did in Munich, the place just feels like home. Getting off the train in the Hauptbahnhof almost felt like coming coming home!

I do have to give a special thanks to Alex for letting me stay with her for my few weeks in Brussels. I really enjoyed getting to cook again and the ability to relax and recharge the batteries. It was funny that most of her friends which I was introduced to asked me how long I had known Alex, and it turns out I had known her at least twice or three times as long. It is actually a little sad that it has been that long since we were camp counselors, but goes to show that the "camp" friendships really are lifelong. I remember well the days of trying to explain why camp was such an important place and why I had to go every summer, but found that putting it into words was nearly impossible. I guess this part of my trip explains that relationship as well as any previous attempt.

Back in Munich, I had met back up with my classmates. It is good to get back and hear about the travels of other people in exactly the same situation as you. It has definitely given me ideas for the travel period after I have finished with the Master's program. It is also good to be around people who are so interested in beer.

After getting settled at the hostel (where we be staying for the next couple of months), we went out for the obligatory "football at the english garden" Sunday. We have met some locals who we have established an email group so we can arrange a time to get out and play. Life can't get much better, biking Monday - Friday to beer school, Friday and Saturday - study/sightsee/party - and Sunday afternoon at the English garden playing football for a few hours then off to a bier garden for a half liter of helles (German for standard lager beer). With all the biking and footballing, it is not just my body who has felt at times, unable to keep up. My shoes also bit the dust. Lucky for me, the Europeans offer my favorite style of shoes is cool color combinations that you don't regularly see in the states. I present, the new kicks:

Location:Munich, Germany

Monday, June 13, 2011

Back in Brussels - Cantillon

Once back in Brussels, I took a day or two to sleep in and recover from the traveling. On Friday night, Alex had some friends over and we had a dinner with typical spanish dishes. Gaspacho (made from scratch), some aged raw hams from spain (one which is like 1400euro a kg if I remember correctly), and various other spanish dishes. It was a great evening and we ended up hitting the town until late.

All of Alex's friends were incredibly nice and I had a really enjoyable night with them all.

I also went to IKEA for the first time with Alex to get a table. While she prepared dinner, I put the table together so we would have enough room for all the guests. My favorite dish was the potato egg quiche which Alex made. Also the aged raw ham was incredible.

Before I headed back to Germany, I took the tour at Cantillion which was my favorite brewery tour since I got to go at my own pace. After spending weeks on brewery tours, and studying brewery design and processes for the past 14 weeks, I didn't really need a guide. The great part about Cantillon is that it is basically the opposite of modern.

Their old school mash tun with these crazy flaps.

Aging Cantillon. One of the things that separates Cantillon from other breweries is that they use a strict aging regime paired with a spontaneous fermentation which means that literally every beer will have a different flavor/taste. All of the beers produced are lambics which are basically covers the spontaneous fermentation. Lambics are traditionally very dry and sour with little to no carbonation. This is because that their aging is done mostly in barrels and then transferred to bottles without adding any additional wort/sugars for continued aging.

The brewhouse. All copper!

The coolship is used to not only cool down the wort but also to inoculate the wort with wild yeas and microorganisms which are flying around in the fall and spring air. They do all of their brewing in the seasons not called summer.

Some old barrels in the upstairs room. The place gives off a very rustic feeling.

They actually brag about the spider webs which protect the beer from insects.

Aging barrels. This is where the primary fermentation takes place.

Bottle aging Grand Cru.

They have tons and tons of barrels in this place.

Additional aging. The balance between a brewery which relies on nature to create its beer and the breweries which are full of millions of dollars of stainless steel equipment which is sanitized and sterilized using the most modern techniques and chemicals gives a full perspective of the range of my industry.

Adam Davidson sums it up for me, "This is what we do, humans, we tinker and change and endlessly imagine a more perfect future and at the same time we idealize the past. So we are trapped; progress's constant companion is nostalgia for the way things used to be."

Location:Brussels, Belgium


The next day we headed off to Venice. We caught the train from Monterosso to Milan, had a brief stay in the train station there and then hopped on a cross country train to Venice. The train had a few delays and we ended up an hour late to Venice, but plenty of time to get checked into the hotel (which I got lost 50 times trying to find) and grab some food. I went for the traditional "squid ink" pasta which was very rich and earthy. I enjoyed it and wouldn't mind having it every couple months or so, but certainly not something I would want every week.

The day was long and travel makes you tired. We grabbed a bottle of wine and walked around the streets of Venice along the main channel below San Marco's. It was nice to visit the area at night when it wasn't packed with tourists. A word to people who haven't been to Venice before: go with the understanding that tourism has been the major business there for hundreds of years and you will be surrounded by tourists from all over the world. Don't let that ruin your experience!

I had to cross the Rialto bridge every night to get back to my hotel. Life could be worse!

The next day was my main day in Venice. Natalie and her parents had scheduled some tours, so I decided to put the map in my pocked and proceed to get as lost as possible. Venice doesn't exactly have street signs or street names so trying to navigate by map is almost impossible. It is easier to identify landmarks and then wander around. Using the signs pointing you towards major parts of town makes it easier to orientate yourself.

A lot what I enjoyed about Venice was the ability to go at my own pace and walk everywhere. Those who know me, I really enjoy walking and will easily choose walking a mile over taking a cab any day. This played well into my experience in Venice. It truly is a beautiful walking city.

This was one of my favorite buildings in Venice and I wish I had taken a better picture. It was covered in ivy with a great little bridge out front.

The boats which give Venice its bustling character are finely crafted and remind me of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade which I have since watched and enjoyed more since I had now been to Venice!

I stopped by the Peggy Guggenheim museum for a cool off and to check out the modern art in Venice. This brings Guggenheim count to 3 of 10 (according to ChaCha).

When Sed and Melissa were visiting they told me that this structure was being constructed on the top of the Guggenheim. They described it as "intense" as there were two grown men hanging from stalks of bamboo, weaving them together to create their art. No harnesses or anything.

I felt strong about taking this picture as I have a painting of it in my room. I can't wait to compare it.

Every turn in Venice is something new and spectacular.

Daytime picture from the Rialto.

We saw this bizarre little building while walking around. I wonder what exactly the inside of that one looks like.

We also stumbled upon this interesting piece of modern art. I like it.

Sunset in Venice. Natalie and I decided to try out the Ciccetti and Proseco so that was dinner that night. We found some awesome bars and had drinks and little snacks. The only problem with Venice is that the night life shuts down at roughly 10pm. I think they could probably extend that well into the morning hours with plenty of success, the only problem would be drunk tourists getting home in a city designed to get you lost.

We debated about which one of these buildings was the one that "sank" in Casino Royale.

A picture of the Rialto before it got dark.

Venice at night is awesome because the water is relatively calm and the lights reflecting off the water make for a pretty romantic atmosphere. Mostly, Venice made my miss the lake. With the great weather, boats, and water it was impossible to not think of the lake. The next day I caught the early bus (5am) to the Treviso airport for my flight back to Brussels. I got on the plane with shorts and a t-shirt and 23C weather and got off to 13C cloudy weather. Ohh Italy how I miss thee.

One thing that I realized on this trip was that initially I hadn't had much interest in Italy. After visiting I am sure that I will return. The people are incredibly nice, the terrain amazing, the weather awesome and there is a good reason that most cultures imitate Italian food.

Special thanks to the Gray family and the Canfields for their hospitality and companionship.

Location:Venice, Italy

The Cinque Terre Hike

Cinque Terre is a group of small mountain/beach towns that were, until the 1930s, connected only by walking trails. Natalie and I decided the best way to visit all the towns was to do it the traditional way, which turned out to be 8+ miles of moderate hiking. We started in the northernmost town of Monterosso al Mare. The portion of hiking can be done along the "2" trail which runs along the coast the entire way between the towns. The portion between Monterosso and Vernazza is considered the hardest portion of hiking along the "2". As we would find out later, that certainly doesn't account for the other numbered hiking trails.

Monterosso is known for its beaches which can be viewed here. It is a great place to relax by the beach and get some sun. If we had spent more time in Cinque Terre, this would have definitely been on the agenda.

The view of Monterosso when coming from the train station. The great part of the trails is that all of them lead you through the cities, not around them. If you plan on taking a trip, and are up for a pretty strenuous day of hiking, I highly recommend visiting the cities this way. You will get some of the most amazing views. The rewards are certainly worth the work.

The first of at least two little football fields which we ran across. Would be great for some small sided games, and when it gets too hot, you just run down for a "cool off" in the Mediterranean.

Above is the view of Monterosso. Littered along the paths are grapes, olives, and other small gardens which the locals maintain.

A man tending to his basil garden.

The view from roughly the highest point on the portion between Monterosso and Vernazza. Like many things in Europe, the "fence" pictured here is all that stands between you and a few hundred foot drop. This was the first portion where we really got a taste of the views to come. I will show you some of the pictures that I was able to take but as always they just don't do it any justice.

This was a popular overlook of Vernazza, where we had come from just an hour before via the train. As you can see, the weather was amazing.

The locals use these rail cars driven by what look like lawnmower motors to scale the sides of the mountain and harvest their crops. Natalie was really interested in going for a ride, but the opportunity never arose.

This is the overlook of our "swimming area" from the day before. Also, where we came up with the plan to coerce a yacht owner to befriend us, and invite us on a boat ride.

We hiked down through the Vernazza, stopped for water, and continued on. Here is about where we found out that the trail "2" was closed because they were working on it. This meant that we had to take the alternative (read strenuous) route. We continued on using trail "7".

The distance between Vernazza and the Corneglia, the next town over, is not far. However, the elevation change was massive. We got about 5/6 of the way to the top of the mountain overlooking Vernazza and ran into some fellow hikers coming down the mountain in flip flops and non-athletic clothing who were already complaining about how steep the trail was. I just feel bad for their boyfriends.

This was the best I could capture of the steepness of the trail. It was about 2 km of this kind of terrain.

On the way to the top we found the largest dandelion seed flower I have ever seen. Notice it is roughly half the size of Natalie's head.

We finally made it to the top of the mountain where San Bernardino was. A little house overlooking Corneglia is certainly a place you could convince me to move to.

As we were hiking down to Corneglia, we found this boat which we could only assume was there in case of massive flooding (you know with global warming and all).

So the view of Corneglia from the terrace was taken from the little red building next to San Bernardino (the spire).

One of my favorite pictures of Corneglia.

While Corneglia doesn't have any beaches, it is rich with agriculture. We stopped and had a "fruit lunch" consisting of peaches, strawberries and lots of water.

This is a picture of what is to come. The trail we took climbs over the mountain at the top of the picture.

The garden in front of a quaint little home overlooking the mediterranean. I couldn't help but think about the Jas and Peter tending to the garden in the blazing hot sun, though the view is a little bit better than Asheville but not much.

The rail in the bottom of the picture is for the "tram" Natalie posed in front of earlier. This is the most representative picture of how the sides of most of the mountains between the cities looked. Nearly all of these are grapes but there are some olive and lemon groves mixed in as well.

Found another football field overlooking the ocean. I wouldn't mind playing some pickup there every weekend!

A picture of Manarola which is the our fourth of the five "terres".

There are lots of creeks running down through the little towns. This was my favorite of the bridges that allowed for residents to reach the main road.

A great picture of Manarola's water front area.

Once we arrived in Manarola we were done with the strenuous portion of the hike. The walk down from the top of the mountain between Corneglia and Manarola was by far the most painful part of the hike. Halfway down we estimated a few thousand stairs, then quickly moved on to hyperbole with talk of millions. It certainly felt like it. By the time we reached Manarola we were ready for the flat "wheelchair friendly" portion of the hike.

The walk between Manarola and Riomaggiore is called the "Via dell' Amore" and has the traditional locks on the fence and messages from lovers on a white wall. We guessed that every year or so they come and paint over the old messages, creating room for new ones.

We had finally arrived at the end of our trail. Riomaggiore is a nice little town with some decent beach front area. By this point, our feet where crushed and appetites large.

We headed back to the train and met Natalie's parents for dinner. Spaghetti and anchovies hit the spot! After enjoying a nice little night at the local bar, it was on to Venice.

Location:Cinque Terre, Italy