Week 2 at UC-Davis
Unbeknownst to me as a homebrewer, there is a technique you can employ that will explain about 90% of the issues you will face as a professional brewer. As Dr. Charlie Bamforth put it multiple times this week, you can simply “blame the maltster”. It appears that this is a bit of an industry joke that has been handed down for generations. I’m guessing it began way back in Europe somewhere, when a brewer had a hard time knowing if the shipment of malt that just landed on their doorstep was going to have any resemblance to the last one they got. With the advent of modern day malthouses and the array of tests that can be done by both parties involved, I’m sure that excuse loses a bit of merit these days.
I mention this because our focus in Week 2 was on barley and malting. Considering malted barley is the largest contributer to beer flavor, I definitely see the importance of knowing it inside and out. The process of modification was by far the most important concept that we went over this week. This term refers to the level at which the maltster has allowed the grain to germinate. They accomplish this by alternating a series of steeps in water with air rests to hydrate the kernel, followed by a few days where the grain is placed in a temperature/humidity controlled vessel and allowed to think it’s going to one day be a plant. During this process, the cell walls of the starchy endosperm break down and make available the amylose/amylopectin that the enzymes alpha and beta amylase (conveniently located in the malt as well) convert to fermentable and non-fermentable sugars during mashing. Trying to brew with under modified malt will result in an array of issues that can include poor fermentability, grainy flavors, and an overly viscous wort. Now I see why they used to blame the maltster.
This week we also got to know a few of the aromas that can arise when something isn’t going as planned and some of the compounds that are responsible for them. Needless to say there were the usual suspects, such as Diacetyl (buttery), DMS (cooked corn) and Lightstruck (skunky). Let me tell you those are the least of your worries after smelling some of the others. You better hope that none of your beers ever have any perceivable levels of the following: Isovaleric (vomit), Chlorophenol (bleach), Caprylic (the inside of a barn) or the class favorite, Catty (yep, it smells like cat pee). We were also informed that next week, we get to start tasting as well. I really hope some of those aromas don’t translate to flavor. Yuck.
Sue Langstaff, the sensory scientist conducting this part of the class proclaimed that we would all be “highly trained sensory tools” by the time she was done with us. Needless to say, we all glanced at each other and laughed a bit after hearing that. Being a tool of any kind has never be too high on my list of aspirations, but in this case I think I can make an exception. It’s an important skill that will give us the ability to identify defects, what causes them, and make the necessary changes in the brewhouse to correct the problem.
I guess the flip side to that is you could accentuate one of those characteristics if you really wanted to. In theory, you could intentionally make a beer with high levels of diacetyl and call it Movie Night or An Ode to Orville Redenbacher. Then you could drink your buttered popcorn instead of eating it! I think there’s a fairly good chance that won’t make my personal list of future brews, but I wouldn’t be shocked if one of you daring souls out there have already taken a crack at it. As ridiculous as that may sound to some people, it’s the experimentation aspect of this hobby that makes it so much fun for many of us and that’s why we love it. Just as long as you don’t try to replicate the texture of popcorn in the beer...