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!

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