Tuesday night is becoming my favourite night of the week. That’s when I have beer school.
Tonight’s class covered the last ingredient, water, and the effect that different levels of hardness and minerals can have. Now I understand why Dad’s home brew never tasted as good as he’d hoped it would. Our well water was extremely hard, giving the beer an unpleasant metallic taste.
Fermentation was the next, my favourite part of the process, where the magic happens. I like that the creation of alcohol was seen as “God’s work” before science revealed what yeast was. I would love to visit Belgium and see the creation of lambic beers – I am fascinated by the fact that with all the science and technology involved in brewing beer, there’s still a place that just throws open the windows and lets nature do what it does.
We also learned what diatomaceous earth is and how it is used in the filtration process. A side bonus was getting to taste and compare the bottled Steam Whistle pilsner and the only-available-at-the-brewery unfiltered version. While I can take or leave the filtered Steam Whistle, I really liked the unfiltered one much better and found myself reaching for the pitcher a second time. It seemed to have a more robust and layered taste.
After looking at packaging methods (did you know that beer in cans was introduced in 1935?), it was on to my favourite part of the class, sensory evaluation. The beer menu contained bock, marzen, Vienna lager and lager selections – some of them are in the photo on the right. However, I no longer have my notes for this class or the previous one, as I reformatted my iPad to fix a glitch before syncing everything. Insert appropriate exclamations here.
Digital technology loses this round…going to write my notes on paper next class.
Some people look forward to Christmas or New Year’s. I was looking forward to January 7th – that’s when the second level of the Prud’homme Beer Certification started!
This session is held at Steam Whistle brewery for the next 8 weeks, with one session being held at a cooking school. It’s a great location, but remind me next time not to drive and park downtown when there’s a Raptors game on down the street. Parking turned out to be $22. I could have used it to buy something lovely, like more of Mill Street’s Vanilla Porter that I seem to have gotten addicted to.
It was great to see familiar faces from the Beer Enthusiast sessions, and meet some new people. Roger started by talking about some ingredients, namely malt and hops. The hops conversations made me even more eager to get a hops plant from Toronto Brewing and I’ll admit I kind of zoned out for a while as I was thinking about just where I could plant them. Roger had a number of sample jars, probably 15-20, with different type of hops for us to smell. Even with an oncoming cold that was affecting my senses of smell and taste, I was surprised by the wide range of attributes, from the earthy Fuggle to the citrusy Cascade and all points in between.
There were two tastings as well, with a total of 8 beers tried. I tried to discern some of the flavours and aromas that the rest of the class were picking up, but I was having difficulty. I know that some of that is due to my lack of experience with the deep sensory exploration of beer and I’m hoping that the rest is due to this cold dulling my senses. The beers were all quite mild: light beers, Helles, lagers and pilsners. My notes are on my iPad (going paperless this time) which is still in the car (doh!), so I can’t get into detail right now, but my overall impressions were good sitting-on-the-dock-on-a-summer-day beers, background beer, ie good for session drinking while you do other fun things like hang out with friends or family, nothing that is going to make you stop and think, hey that’s interesting or wow, that’s an amazing beer.
We started this class with a quiz. I had read over the workbook and my notes briefly, and decided I was good.
I wasn’t. Good thing this one didn’t count.
We spent the first part of the class getting an overview of the history of beer. I found out that the Sumerians had a goddess of brewing, Ninkasi, and learned a bit about the role that monks and religious orders played in brewing. I am intrigued by this intersection of beer and religion, and have requested a couple of books from the library.
Roger also talked about beer culture and glassware, topics that I really skimmed over in Tasting Beer. I think I should revisit it.
It was also the night of lager tasting! Roger had given us a copy of the beer flavour wheel, which certainly helped with the vocabulary.
Miller Genuine Draft
Appearance: clear, pale straw
Flavour: almost non-existent
Finish: I get what dry means now
Appearance: clear, golden
Aroma: coriander, pear, pineapple (?)
Flavour: biscuity, soda crackers, slight pepper
Appearance: root beer, mahogany, brown with red tint
Aroma: chocolate, cherry, vanilla – Dr pepper
Flavour: tea w. brown sugar, pumpernickel, black licorice
Also pointed out – faint wet cardboard smell, oxidation
One of Roger’s former students is observing the class to teach a later session. We had talked about the Samuel Adams Utopias in class 1, and he promised to bring in his empty bottle to show us. Even empty, the aromas that came out of that bottle were heavenly: mellow sherry and dark fruit and oak to name a few. It might be a while before I can afford one, but it has certainly gone on the bucket list.