February tech topic?

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February tech topic?

Postby Mike C-Z » Mon Jan 05, 2015 6:25 pm

Just curious if any members that brew sour beer are considering doing a tech topic for the February meeting? Or maybe a Q and A with several brewers.
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Re: February tech topic?

Postby seymour » Tue Jan 06, 2015 5:53 pm

Mike C-Z wrote:Just curious if any members that brew sour beer are considering doing a tech topic for the February meeting? Or maybe a Q and A with several brewers.

I think that's an excellent idea, Mike, and I hope you would be one of the spokespersons. I am also willing to speak about my experiments, if anyone's interested. Are there any other StLBrews members with knowledge about brewing (intentionally) sour styles? Hee, hee, you all know what I'm referring to.

To build on Mike's idea, if the leaders want me to, I will contact several pro brewers with local sour beer programs to invite them to a panel discussion. Some which come to mind: Cory King of Perennial/Side Project, Brennan Greene of Schlafly/Missouri Oak, Derrick Langeneckert of Alpha, Steve Crider of 2nd Shift...

What say you?
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Re: February tech topic?

Postby Tim Fahrner » Fri Jan 09, 2015 11:08 am

I don’t personally think professional brewers have much business giving out advice at a homebrewers meeting. Most of their brewing is geared toward big scale brewing and making money -not making the best possible product. The last pro which spoke at a meeting I attended proved this in at least one or more questions that he answered. These guys are focused on making what they can sell, while spending the least amount of money possible (just take a look at the ingredients most of them use). Brewing what conforms to established styles or what is the highest quality is not their priority. Most people I know who homebrew have nearly the opposite goals.
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Re: February tech topic?

Postby seymour » Fri Jan 09, 2015 11:27 am

Tim Fahrner wrote:I don’t personally think professional brewers have much business giving out advice at a homebrewers meeting. Most of their brewing is geared toward big scale brewing and making money -not making the best possible product. The last pro which spoke at a meeting I attended proved this in at least one or more questions that he answered. These guys are focused on making what they can sell, while spending the least amount of money possible (just take a look at the ingredients most of them use). Brewing what conforms to established styles or what is the highest quality is not their priority. Most people I know who homebrew have nearly the opposite goals.

I see your point about the business goals of commercial breweries in general, and I am especially disappointed in the direction Schlafly has taken since the new investors took over, for instance. No new beers beyond their core brands, fewer hop trials, no more cask nights, cancellation of several recurring festivals, etc. Even so, I think it's important to differentiate between the skilled artisinal brewer personnel versus the restrictive brewery business owners.

The specific brewers I listed are renowned for their specific sour beer and barrel aging programs, which are definitely not driven by cost-cutting pressures. The resulting "special releases" are accordingly high-priced and have wait-lists and demand-which-exceeds-supply nonetheless. Brewers like that, who are proven experts in such a rare and challenging brewing style, I believe would have lots of valuable insights to share with homebrewers.

To your point though, that's not going to happen this time anyway. Tim Cochran had already planned ahead and scheduled Kyle Kohlmorgen to speak, who gave a related sour beer presentation at 2013 NHC . You'll be happy to know he is a homebrewer and well-known STL Hops member. I'm sure it'll be great, you should definitely attend.
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Re: February tech topic?

Postby Tim Fahrner » Fri Jan 09, 2015 11:47 am

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The specific brewers I listed are renowned for their specific sour beer and barrel aging programs, which are definitely not driven by cost-cutting pressures. The resulting "special releases" are accordingly high-priced and have wait-lists and demand-which-exceeds-supply nonetheless. Brewers like that, who are proven experts in such a rare and challenging brewing style, I believe would have lots of valuable insights to share with homebrewers.


It's possible some good information may be had from the brewers you mention. However, since I haven't sampled the products of which you speak, I'll have to remain skeptical as to whether they are "proven experts". Simply because people wait in line for "special releases" does not prove these products are of great quality and worthy of the high prices charged for them. It only means they are popular. This is good for the brewers in terms of making money, but I know of many popular products that I consider mediocre at best and you wouldn't find me paying the ridiculously high prices charged for them.

-Especially when I could brew them for ~1/100the cost!

Tim
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Re: February tech topic?

Postby seymour » Fri Jan 09, 2015 1:05 pm

Tim Fahrner wrote:...It's possible some good information may be had from the brewers you mention. However, since I haven't sampled the products of which you speak, I'll have to remain skeptical...

Again, I agree with much of what you're saying in generalities, but if you knew these specific brewers/beers you wouldn't be saying what you're saying. Except for Brennan who quit Schlafly and is moving away to start his own more adventurous brewery (his Schlafly Flanders Red was mind-blowing, for instance), there is nothing to stop you from sampling the specific brewers I mentioned. Cory King just opened a swank tasting room in Maplewood called Side Project Cellar wholly dedicated to these very beers. At Alpha right now, Derrick is serving a delicious Barleywine aged in Jack Daniels barrels, some of his other sour blend creations are amazing too. 2nd Shift's sour beers are consistently excellent, I recommend Katy as a good starting point. I would challenge you to find another brewer outside of Cantillon who is better at balanced brett fermentations. Do yourself a favour and seek some of these beers, your skepticism will end.

We St. Louisans are extremely lucky to have so many world-class sour/wild/wood-aged artisan brewers, it sounds like you are really missing out. I'm not talking about beers which are popular because an Anheuser-Busch-sized advertising budget tells people to like them. Those kind of drinkers would describe these particular beers as vinegary and disgusting. The beers I'm talking about are popular because serious, critical, well-informed beer drinkers really like them, despite having more affordable, diverse, well-crafted, domestic and international beers offered to them then ever before in history. With so many options available nowadays, if a brewery charges too much for disappointing low-quality beer, they will be out-of-business fast. As much as I want to resent Perennial for the prices they charge, time and again upon tasting them I'm convinced beers like Abraxus and Sump are worth every penny. No offense, but it's silly to think you could make that beer at 1/100th the cost.

We're moving into an era where the blanket statement "decent homebrew is better than any commercial beer" is no longer patently true.
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Re: February tech topic?

Postby Tim Fahrner » Fri Jan 09, 2015 6:21 pm

I will confess I have not extensively sampled local sour commercial offering to the extent you obviously have. I am mostly referring to the other offering that can be found around town. With the exception of the Pils and Helles at Urban Chestnut, I haven't found much that I would rate better than mediocre. As for sour beers, I have tasted a couple of those at the Tap Room, and the Berliner at Urban Chestnut. Again, mediocre at best. It's possible something special is available locally, but I am yet to have sampled it. With the poor track record so far, I'm not likely to look too extensively- especially at the prices mentioned earlier.

I'm always ready to learn something new and useful as far as brewing goes, and who knows, maybe some of these guys could offer that- I'm just not sure they offer anything more than is already available in print (and experience).

As much as I want to resent Perennial for the prices they charge, time and again upon tasting them I'm convinced beers like Abraxus and Sump are worth every penny. No offense, but it's silly to think you could make that beer at 1/100th the cost.


As for that, I am certain I could make that beer at 1/100th the cost. Think about it- it wouldn't be hard when they are charging something like $30-50 per bottle. A homebrewer can easily make those beers for 30 cents per bottle or less... It might take some experimentation to narrow them down at first, but then that's part of the fun of the hobby.

We're moving into an era where the blanket statement "decent homebrew is better than any commercial beer" is no longer patently true.


OK, that's not something I ever have been quoted as saying. To make something better than most tap offerings here in town is not very hard, but a few beers have existed that are nearly impossible to duplicate. The old Thomas Hardy barley wine and Samiclaus (the original, not the stuff they sell now) come to mind as well as the old Salvator (again, not the newer stuff) and Spaten Optimator. Those beers take technical skills that are a HUGE challenge for a homebrewer. If you want to bring in the brewmaster from Spaten to talk to the club, well, I'm all ears...

Tim
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Re: February tech topic?

Postby seymour » Mon Jan 12, 2015 11:56 am

Tim Fahrner wrote:I will confess I have not extensively sampled local sour commercial offering to the extent you obviously have. I am mostly referring to the other offering that can be found around town. With the exception of the Pils and Helles at Urban Chestnut, I haven't found much that I would rate better than mediocre...

I agree with you about Urban Chestnut's mediocre sour beers. That's why I didn't recommend asking them for advice.

seymour wrote:As much as I want to resent Perennial for the prices they charge, time and again upon tasting them I'm convinced beers like Abraxus and Sump are worth every penny. No offense, but it's silly to think you could make that beer at 1/100th the cost...
Tim Fahrner wrote:As for that, I am certain I could make that beer at 1/100th the cost. Think about it- it wouldn't be hard when they are charging something like $30-50 per bottle. A homebrewer can easily make those beers for 30 cents per bottle or less...

No, you really, really couldn't. I know Perennial is often over-hyped, and not all their ridiculous prices are worth it. But take their Barrel-Aged Sump Coffee Imperial Stout for instance, you couldn't even buy the raw materials. You would need a freshly-emptied Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey barrel, SUMP coffee (the origin blend and method of roasting are trade secrets. Taste it for yourself, there is no substitute), and their proprietary blend of yeast and beneficial bacterium. Not to mention a highly unique grainbill and enough of it to reach 10.5% abv, which you would not be able to reverse engineer without spending lots of money on trial and error. Oh, and you'd have to wait 12 months between attempts to know if you've succeeded. We're not talking about cloning Schlafly Pale Ale here. Wouldn't it be interesting to have that brewer come talk to us?

Tim Fahrner wrote:...The old Thomas Hardy barley wine...Samiclaus...the old Salvator...Spaten Optimator. Those beers take technical skills that are a HUGE challenge for a homebrewer. If you want to bring in the brewmaster from Spaten to talk to the club, well, I'm all ears...

I think we're still talking past each other a bit. I agree with you, those are excellent beers, and extremely difficult to imitate or equal. But this contradicts your original assertion "I don’t personally think professional brewers have much business giving out advice at a homebrewers meeting." Now it sounds like they just need to be the brewers of your personal favourite beers in order to count.

Even so, none of those are sour beers, which shows you've missed my main point. Brewing a good sour beer is unlike brewing other beers in many crucial ways. We were talking about adding value to the next meeting by inviting expert sour brewers because past StlBrews sour style meetings have been such train wrecks, AND we are extremely fortunate to have some world-renowned local sour brewers. I really don't understand why this is such an offensive concept.
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Re: February tech topic?

Postby Tim Fahrner » Mon Jan 12, 2015 4:59 pm

Tim Fahrner wrote:As for that, I am certain I could make that beer at 1/100th the cost. Think about it- it wouldn't be hard when they are charging something like $30-50 per bottle. A homebrewer can easily make those beers for 30 cents per bottle or less...

No, you really, really couldn't. I know Perennial is often over-hyped, and not all their ridiculous prices are worth it. But take their Barrel-Aged Sump Coffee Imperial Stout for instance, you couldn't even buy the raw materials. You would need a freshly-emptied Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey barrel, SUMP coffee (the origin blend and method of roasting are trade secrets. Taste it for yourself, there is no substitute), and their proprietary blend of yeast and beneficial bacterium. Not to mention a highly unique grainbill and enough of it to reach 10.5% abv, which you would not be able to reverse engineer without spending lots of money on trial and error. Oh, and you'd have to wait 12 months between attempts to know if you've succeeded. We're not talking about cloning Schlafly Pale Ale here. Wouldn't it be interesting to have that brewer come talk to us?


OK, I guess I shouldn’t write things in such a hurry when I am obviously striking more than one nerve. The point is not that I or anyone else can make exactly the same beer as the one you describe, but that one can make a sour, barrel –aged coffee stout that can be just as enjoyable. I have malts and grain for making stout in stock, I have yeast and souring bugs in a -80C freezer to grow up, I have a whiskey barrel, and I can get good coffee locally. It is really more productive to talk in terms of style rather than this or that particular weird beer. Perrenial doesn’t know how to make MY sour cherry oatmeal stout, either. That doesn’t make me more or less knowledgeable that they. If they are good brewers, though, they can make a great oatmeal stout also (and then charge some ridiculous amount for it, I guess).

The issue is whether we can learn anything from them at a meeting. I already know how to make coffee stout. Are they going to tell us exactly of what their “proprietary blend” and “highly unique grain bill” consists? What temperatures they use during fermentations? What problems to avoid when handling lactobacillis? Is so, then yes, maybe we could learn something. But such useful details are not usually given out at these things. A visit from one of the local pros usually consists of them getting their egos stroked by sycophants in the audience, as well as hearing them brag on their brewing prowess, and plugging their products. They generally see it as a PR opportunity (which, I suppose, it is), and make the most of it without really teaching the club anything. If this is what you and the rest of the club enjoy, then by all means have at it. If I’m present I’ll probably end up outside sampling and discussing homebrews (if it’s not too cold). You know- what the club used to be about…

Tim Fahrner wrote:...The old Thomas Hardy barley wine...Samiclaus...the old Salvator...Spaten Optimator. Those beers take technical skills that are a HUGE challenge for a homebrewer. If you want to bring in the brewmaster from Spaten to talk to the club, well, I'm all ears...

I think we're still talking past each other a bit. I agree with you, those are excellent beers, and extremely difficult to imitate or equal. But this contradicts your original assertion "I don’t personally think professional brewers have much business giving out advice at a homebrewers meeting." Now it sounds like they just need to be the brewers of your personal favourite beers in order to count.


Touche on that one. Perhaps a little more explanation is in order. What I was trying to get at was that if I were going to have some pro take up time at a meeting, and try to get information out of them, I’d rather it were someone who had truly achieved something great in the brewing industry. The expertise it takes to produce a high graivity beer with cleanness and maltiness of the beers mentioned is truly astounding. This is especially true for a lager. The technical difficulty in making these and the beer you describe above is not even in the same magnitude. It doesn’t mean I’ve really changed my mind that the whole thing is out of place. We, or at least I, simply don’t make beer for the same reasons or on the same scale as pros. Even the information one might possibly get from one of these guys (assuming he/she is really willing to divulge it) would have to be carefully considered for applicability, pertinence, and whether it could even be converted to a small scale household operation.

Even so, none of those are sour beers, which shows you've missed my main point. Brewing a good sour beer is unlike brewing other beers in many crucial ways. We were talking about adding value to the next meeting by inviting expert sour brewers because past StlBrews sour style meetings have been such train wrecks, AND we are extremely fortunate to have some world-renowned local sour brewers. I really don't understand why this is such an offensive concept.


I haven’t missed the point, I’m simply trying to put things in perspective- although obviously not doing a competent job. You are describing sour beer brewing as though it is some sort of mystical marvel that few minds on the planet can comprehend. It can be tricky, I’ll grant you that. But other aspects of brewing (malty lagers for instance) can be far more difficult and technically challenging. Also, tons of information on making sour beers has already been provided by homebrewers on the web and in print but seem to be have been ignored by most brewers I encounter. They will however, for some reason, cling to hear every word falling from the lips of someone simply because he/she has “professional” attached to their name. Honestly, I’ve heard some of the worst comments and advice from people who supposedly make their living by making beer. If you have not had the same experience, then you have not asked them enough of the right questions. Not all pros fall into this category, of course, but many (too many, IMO) do.

BTW, I’m agreed on the train wrecks from last year’s meeting, but I’m not at all sure this is a fix. Although if it means not having time to taste another one of those “I’ll just cover up this crap with fruit flavoring and call it a Lambic”, then maybe it is an improvement.

Lastly, thanks for reading what some would call my acerbic prose. I hope it is at least a bit more clear than the earlier version.

Tim
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Re: February tech topic?

Postby rsc3da » Sat Jan 17, 2015 1:45 am

I was planning on doing a tech topic on water and flavor for the February meeting but if there is not time and/or we are going to be doing a sour brewing topic, then we could move it to March. Actually that might make more sense since the beer I made for the tech topic is an Irish Red so it'll be closer to St. Pats.
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Re: February tech topic?

Postby rsc3da » Sat Jan 17, 2015 2:04 am

A question I have for the pro's would be how long do they age their sours prior to releasing, and how do they get them so sour in the first place? I'm sure anyone who has made a sour using either Wyeast or White Labs liquid bacteria packages or tubes, I don't think that the yeast/bacteria is all that strong coming out of the gate so the finished beer just isn't anywhere near as sour as you might want it to be. This has been my own experience. I even let a couple carboys with lacto cultures in them sit in my garage a few summers ago when it was over 100 degrees outside and they are still not that sour, although they are starting to come around coming on 2 years old. So I imagine they are doing some blending to get the level of sourness they want at packaging as well as get a good flavor, that way they don't have to hold on to the beer for really extended aging periods and then who knows end up with a bad one although that is always a risk. Do they keep a mother culture of the bugs around in a keg, just ready to pitch into a beer or wort? just keep feeding it some wort here and there until it get's really friggin strong? How much of the bugs do they pitch? If they don't do it this way do they pitch yeast/bacteria directly from their yeast supplier?
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Re: February tech topic?

Postby rsc3da » Sat Jan 17, 2015 2:28 am

Tim one of the better sours I have ever tasted was one you brought to a BJCP exam class that Mike organized some years ago (the last time we had a BJCP exam in STL). I had just joined the club and it was one of the first sours I ever tasted up to that time. It was a Berliner Weisse if I recall and I think it had some age on it. So I would actually be interested to hear what you would have to say about making sours ales too because I suspect you might know a think or two about it.
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