Sunday, May 30, 2010

I'm Baaaack! News from Fred.

I wanted to share with everyone some pictures taken on the Butternut Creek because late spring is finally here. Upstream from me is the Butternuts Beer and Ale Brewery so if you look closely at the picture to the left, you will see one of their products has traveled downstream to my place. What a wonderful delivery system!

But maybe not. Because of what has been happening around the cottage, I'm worried that the beer deposited in my backyard may be a prank played by Fred. You do remember Fred, don't you? He's our ghost, silent since last summer, but I fear he is letting us know he's still in residence.

The first few weeks when we returned from Florida, the nights were cold. We had frost often and I had to cover the delicate plants I transported back from the south. We have serveral electric fireplaces downstairs, one in the living room, one in the dining room. They not only look real with fire dancing across their burning logs (all a light show, no real fire), but they also deliver heat. The one in the living room has a remote which we set on our coffee table. Several mornings we have come downstairs to find the fireplace turned on. Because we turn down the heat when we go to bed, we figured the cats were chilly and had walked on the remote, found it turned on the fireplace, and managed to do it several more times. Well, one of our cats is that smart. And the other one is a great imitator. We worried about the safety of the cats manipulating the heat level in the hourse, to say nothing of the cost of electricity, so we placed the remote on a high shelf with the device pointing backwards. That way even if the cats walked on it, there was no possibility it would activate the device.

The other morning the fireplace was on when I came downstairs. I know it was Fred.

Just today when we were having lunch in the dining room and discussing writing as we like to do often, the lights dimmed. As soon as we both said "Fred", they came back on. He hates it when he's left out of anything.

I've been sloppy in the past, leaving my computer on "standby". Now I am careful to turn it off. I think Fred might have his way with my writing or publish something on this blog. I hope I'm not giving him ideas.

Perhaps the only way to satisfy him is to give him his own time here. I may do that sometime, but for now, the computer is off limits to him. I love a sense of humor, but I'm unclear what that may mean in someone dead.

If anyone has any ideas of how to placate Fred's need for attention, feel free to post them.

More interviews with craft brewers coming and a visit from my critique partner where we discuss writing groups and exchanging manuscripts.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Find out about the real Hera

Today I’m excited to have Ed Canty on my blog. He’s a partner at Orlando Brewing and Founder of the Florida Brewers Guild. Ed was the second brewer I worked with to learn about microbrewing. Although we have met in person only once, we established a relationship through email. I asked questions and Ed provided the answers. He has remained one of my best resources for beer, and brews innovative, tasty microbrews. He’s always involved in something new, as we’ll see.

Lesley. My book should help readers learn a little about microbrews, but most of us are unfamiliar with hand craft beers. Terms are confusing. What’s the difference between a lager and an ale?

Ed. Lagers are brewed with lager yeast at temps ranging around 45F to 55F, ales are brewed with ale yeast at ranges around 60F to 70F. Lagers tend to be very mellow in taste whereas ales tend to have a lot of fruity esthers in their taste profile.

Lesley. Are they both beers?

Ed. Yes, they are both beers.

Lesley. And we also hear the term pilsner. What’s that?

Ed. A pilsner is a type of lager originally brewed in the Czech Republic.

Lesley. We know hops go into beer, but what are they there for?

Ed. Hops are added to the boil at the beginning for bitterness to offset the sweet wort, in the middle of the boil for the flavor of that type of hop, and at the end of the boil for the aromatics of that type of hop.

Lesley. What does it mean when a beer advertizes it is “double hopped, triple hopped.”

Ed. Marketing terms meant to entice the consumer. Most beers have two to three hop additions as noted earlier.

Lesley. Hops come from all over the world including the Pacific Northwest. Now we hear on television about “Noble Hops.” What’s the difference among the types of hops?

Ed. Noble hops are these specific types: Hallertau, Tettnanger, Spalt, Polish Lublin and Saaz, grown in central Europe. Pacific Northwest hop varieties tend to be higher in bitterness with very fruity aromas.

Lesley. Many drinkers of microbrews are used to quaffing brews where malt is the grain used. What is malt?

Ed. Brewers Malt is actually malted barley. Barley that has been forced to begin germination and abruptly stopped so that the starch in the malt can be converted to sugar during the brewing process.

Lesley. Are grains other than barley used in microbrews?

Ed. Yes. Corn, rice, rye, wheat to name a few of the more widely used grains.

Lesley. I’ll sometimes read about IBUs. What are these?

Ed. IBU stands for International Bittering Units. This is a scale to describe the level of bitterness in a beer. The higher the number, the more bitter the beer.

Lesley. You recently spent some time at the Seibel Institute in Chicago. Tell us about the institute and what you did there.

Ed. The Seibel Institute of Technology is the oldest brewery training school in the United States. I was there for a two week intensive course on brewing methodology.

Lesley. You’ve been in this business for a number of years.

Ed. 21 years to be exact.

Lesley. What changes have you noticed in that time?

Ed. Everything has changed. For example, when I got into brewing professionally, there were about 400 craft brewers, today there are over 1500.

Lesley. Can you tell us what you’ve been involved in recently?

Ed. I am currently consulting on a start up Microbrewery in St. Augustine set to open this fall. Before that, I was working with Orlando Brewing (the only certified organic brewery in Florida) where I was the Director of Brewing Operations. I left there in June of 2008, but I am still a 10% owner on a silent basis.

Lesley. The brewer in my book is a woman and we don’t see many of them in the business. Is there a reason for this?

Ed. Only because women are just recently getting back into brewing. It used to be that most all the beer was brewed primarily by women (waaaaaay back in the day).
Note: When I was writing A Deadly Draught and visited Ed in Orlando, he was training a brewer, a woman by the name of Alysha Heck. I already had my picture of Hera and was shocked to find that Alysha looked exactly like her. We now refer to Alysha as “the real life Hera.”

Lesley. Speculate about your dream brew. Have you ever made it?

Ed. Still working on it.

Lesley. If so, can you tell us what it was like?

Ed. It will be a medium bodied, very hoppy India Pale Ale.

Lesley. My favorite. And Hera’s, too. We can hardly wait to taste it

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Butternuts Beer and Ale: A brewery like that in A Deadly Draught: Interview with Chuck Williamson

The brick clad vessel you see at the top is where the wort is boiled. The other pictures are taken outrside the brewery to give you a picture of what a farm house microbrewery looks like. Although these photos are of Butternuts Beer and Ale, this is the picture I have in mind of Hera's microbrewery.
Today we welcome Chuck Williamson, the master brewer of Butternuts Beer and Ale located in Garrettsville, NY. This is the microbrewery where I buy most of my microbrews, not only because it's right down the road from me, but because of the quality of their products.
I'm glad we got you on the blog, Chuck. Welcome.
Chuck was one of the brewers who helped me with background for my book A Deadly Draught. He has an interesting background in brewing, so I wanted him to share his experience and knowledge with you.

Tell us what your background is in brewing, what training, where you have brewed.

Chuck: I started my professional brewing career at the age of 21 in a brewpub in Long Island, NY. At the time I was a homebrewer (I started that a little young) and had been buying my brewing supplies from a gentleman who owned a homebrew store and was the consultant and to be head brewer at the now defunct Long Island Brewing Company in Jericho, L.I. Due to my persistance he agreed to hire me as his assistant and that is where the doors blew open. My professional training is mainly hands-on. Through the years I have been involved in industry-related courses and read my share of technical brewing material. After LIBC closed in June of 1999 I did some brewing in Brooklyn and Manhattan before looking into the possibility of opening my own brewery.

You have an interesting set-up. Your brewery is right down the road from where I now live in the Butternut Valley. How did you decide to brew where you are?

Chuck: While brewing in NYC I began to realize I had an interest in creating a farm-style brewery. Also being a city boy who had experienced many a family vacation camping and traveling I had started developing an interest in moving to the country. The catalyst was the events of September 11th. I had been brewing and warehousing malt for a small wholesale distribution business in Red Hook, Brooklyn. At the tip of Red Hook you can practically reach out and grab lower Manhattan and shake Miss. Liberty's hand. Post-disaster I began to actively search for property in upper New York State. Price was a consideration and at that time it was the peak of the real estate bubble so I began to go further north in search of an affordable piece of property. Other factors were an issue in selecting the property as well so when I had arrived at the location I am in now I felt it had a piece of everything I had needed for this project.

Folks have to come visit your place to appreciate how interesting and unique it is. You’re growing hops, aren’t you and that’s something we’ve not seen grown in upstate in years. What made you decide to do that? Do you use these hops in your brews? Are there other hops you use?

Chuck: I do have a small hop field growing. NYS was the hop capital of the world and in 1850 Otsego county was the number one producer of hops. As with any industry there were technological advancements which began pushing the hop industry west, and the final blow was the onset of prohabition. Without breweries there was no commercial need for hops and so away went an industry. One of the projects I had in mind when deciding to develop a farm brewery was to begin some agricultural projects such as growing hops. It is not feasible for me to grow hops for my year-round production brands but I do have some seasonal beers that I use the hops in. As I progress with the project at large it is my interest to expand the hop project and offer organic hops for sale to other brewers.

When you walk into your brewery, you’ll notice an interesting vessel in front of
you. It is clad in brick. What is that?

Chuck: The brick clad vessel is the kettle. This is where the wort (pronounced wert) is boiled. Wort is the liquid sugar extract that is removed from the malt after a mashing program to convert starches into sugar.

Take us on a quick tour of your place. What can we expect to see and what is happening with in each of the large vessels?

Chuck: As you enter the front of the building you will be in the Brewhouse. This is where the process for the day’s brewing begins. There are four vessels in this space each lending to the production process. The first is the mash tun. This is where cracked malt is mixed with tempid water to convert starches into sugar. After a certain process, taking about three hours, the grain is rinsed with more tempid water and collected into the kettle. At this point the solution is sweet wort because it has yet to be hopped. After the volume is collected and hops are added, the wort is boiled for a duration for hop extraction and stability. Post-boil the wort is moved to a whirlpool tank to allow the solids to settle. Once the wort is settled it is pumped through a heat exchanger into a fermentation tank where yeast is added and the fermentation process begins. At this point I lock all the doors in the brewery and make sure there is no one in the building so I do not get trapped in the fermentation room. After about 5 days the beer is cooled and ready to be transfered to the conditioning room in the back. The beer is processed for packaging and either canned or kegged.

Another fascinating aspect of your place is that you don’t bottle your brews. You can them. I’ve read that this preserves the flavor better than a bottle. Is that true?

Chuck: Canning does lend certain benefits to the beer. The package is solid so light cannot come in contact with the beer which can degrade the flavors. It is a better seal than a bottle so there is less oxygen damage.

Would you tell us the story behind the name of one of your ales, “Porkslap”? Do all of your brews have such interesting names?

Chuck: Porkslap is a play on the name Park Slope, Brooklyn.

We’ll get back to Chuck at a later date to ask him more about the farmhouse ales he brews. Meantime, the spring weather lends itself to finding a local brewery for a tour and a tasting. Enjoy with a good book like A Deadly Draught.

Monday, May 3, 2010

More information on Brewery Ommegang

The address for Brewery Ommegang is 656 Route 33, Schenevus, NY. If you're in Cooperstown, anyone can direct you to the back road that runs along the river between Cooperstown and Milford. Or you can take Route 28 out of either Cooperstown or Oneonta and follow the brewery signs.
Their website is If you click on their links button, it will take you to a wealth of information on pairing beer and food.
Stop by the brewery for a tour. The people are friendly and the tour informative. Be sure to ask them about the tank painted like a holstein cow!
Thanks again from me to all the people there who made me feel welcome on my past visits and my visit this past Friday. People who brew beer are good people!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Interview with Master Brewer from Brewery Ommegang

Today our guest is Phil Leinhart brew master at Brewery Ommegang near Cooperstown, New York.

Q Welcome to my blog, Phil.. How did you get interested in making beer, especially ales?

A I’ve liked beer since I was a teenager. I have an older brother (also in the brewing industry) who was a big influence. We used to try different beers both domestic and imported. The world of brewing did and still does fascinate me.

Q Where did you learn brewing and where have you worked?

A I attended the Doemens Academy in Germany as well as Brewing and Engineering training with Anheuser-Busch. Practically, I’ve also learned much where I’ve worked: Manhattan Brewing Co., Commonwealth Brewing Co., Harpoon, Paulaner (Germany), Lion Brewing Co., Anheuser-Busch (Newark brewery) and, finally, here at Ommegang.

Q Ommegang is an unique brewery, featuring Belgian style ales. What is an ale and how does it differ from other kinds of beers, for example, from a lager?

A Ales differ broadly from lagers. Ales use top-fermenting strains of yeast whereas lagers use bottom-fermenting strains. Typically, ales are fermented warmer than lagers. Very generally, ales tend to be higher in certain yeast metabolites such as esters and higher alcohols and thus tend to be more fruity and complex than most lagers which tend to be cleaner and more raw material driven.

Q Give us a mini-tour through your facility. How are ales made?

A The brewing process for all beers is, very generally, the same: liquid extract (wort) is derived from a source of starch or sugar (such as barley malt). This wort is boiled (typically with hops but also, in some cases, other ingredients such as spices. This “hopped wort” is then cooled, aerated, and pitched with yeast which commences fermentation. Fermentation is, very basically, yeast metabolizing fermentable sugars to alcohol and CO2 as well as hundreds of other flavor/aroma compounds.

Q Where do you get your malt and what malts do you use?

A We get our malt from the US and Belgium. We use malts such as Pilsner Malt, Munich malt, Aroma malt and Amber malt. We also use adjunct grains such as maize, wheat and oats.

Q What are the different kinds of malts for?

A The different kinds of malt are used to produce different flavors, aromas and colors in our different beers. Do you use different tpes of hops? Yes, Styrian Golding Czech Saaz for example.

Q And where are they from?

A All over: the US, Slovenia, Germany, Czechoslovakia.

Q But there's more than just malt and hops in your brews. You mentioned other flavors. What are they?

A We do spice some of our beers with spices such as ginger, coriander, orange peel and grains of paradise to name a few. In addition the yeast produces much of the flavors/aromas through the previously mentioned fermentation process.

Q I understand some local farmers benefit from your brewery in what they feed to their cows. Tell us about this.

A One of the major by-products of brewing is spent grains which are very high in protein and highly prized for feed. A local farmer currently takes all our spent grains.

Q Lucky cows! Several years ago you began a process called cave aging. What is this and what does it do to the ales?

A This is a process of storing bottles of our beer in a cave which is at a constant temperature and humidity year-round. The beer ages gracefully and is not subjected to abusive conditions such as wide temperature swings. Beer flavor changes as it ages. Our darker beers can take on “port” or “sherry” like characteristics.

Q How do you bottle your brews? Can I buy a six pack? Where can I buy your ales?

A We bottle our beers with a 12-valve semi-automatic bottle filler. All our bottled beers are “bottle-conditioned” where yeast and sugar are added to the bulk beer just before it is bottled. The bottles are then put into a “warm cellar”. As the beer warms the yeast begins to metabolize the added sugar creating CO2 and thereby carbonating the beer. We don’t currently make 6-packs but you can buy a 4-pack. We are currently in 46 states. In this area our beer is sold at The Great American as well as The P&C in Cooperstown.

Q How long does it take to go from the beginning of brewing to the end?

A Approximately 3.5 weeks

Q How much ale do you make at one time?

A One brew is approximately 58 Hectoliters.

Q Tell us about your line of ales.

A Our main line includes the following: Witte is our lightest beer in the Belgian “white ale” style spiced with coriander and sweet orange peel; Rare Vos is our take on a Belgian Amber Ale spiced predominantly with Grains of Paradise; Hennepin is a Saison style farmhouse ale which contains ginger; Abbey Ale is inspired by the dark luscious Dubbel beers of Belgium; Three Philosophers is a Strong Dark Belgian-style Ale blended with Belgian Kriek beer. In addition we are making several new beers this year such as BPA(Belgian-style Pale Ale) and a Tripel style called Tripel Perfection.

Q There is an ever-growing movement to pair fine food with ale. Some of my readers may be interested in knowing what ale to pair with red meat, fish, chicken, and pork as well as with other dishes and desserts. Can you help them with this from your products. Are there other sources of information available on food and ale pairing?

A Phil suggested we go to Ommegang’s website for this information.
Q One of the aspects of your operation which impressed me was how you ferment. Many breweries use an enclosed vat or vessel. Tell us how you do it.
A We use enclosed tanks but we also have our open fermentor. This is a very traditional method of fermentation that allows us to harvest the “top” yeast that comes to the top of the fermenting beer. This yeast has a very high viability and vitality and we like to use this yeast particularly for bottle-conditioning.
Thanks, Larry.
And thanks to all the people at Brewery Ommegang. I visited this Friday and was impressed with how the operation is growing.

Cooperstown is not only known for Baseball, but for Microbreweries also. So when you drop your kids at one of the Baseball Campus this summer or visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, visit the local breweries such as Ommegang.
I’ll be back again next week with more on microbrewing with interviews and information on beer.
Come to my book launch this Tuesday, May 4 at the Milne Library, SUNY Oneonta campus, Oneonta, New York, 7 pm in the Reading Room. A short program, drawing for free beer stuff, refreshments, and a book signing. See you then!