Beer Birthday: Chris White

Today is the 49th birthday of Chris White. Chris founded the yeast company White Labs in 1995 and he’s also on the faculty of the Siebel Institute. He’s also a fixture at virtually every brewing industry and homebrewing conference, and was kind enough to talk to my SSU beer appreciation class about yeast. Join me in wishing Chris a very happy birthday.

Chris and his brother Mike bookending Chuck, from Green Fash Brewing, Natalie Cilurzo, from Russian River Brewing, John Harris, from Full Sail Brewing, and Vinnie Cilurzo, also from Russian River, at CBC in Austin, Texas in 2007.

Chris at the new White Labs taproom during the Craft Brewers Conference a couple of years ago in San Diego.

Surly brewer Todd Haug with Chris.

Chris with Technical Sales and Marketing Coordinator Ashley Paulsworth at the NHC.

[Note: last two photos purloined from Facebook.]

The Journey Of Beer Ingredients

Here’s a fun infographic showing the Journey of Beer Ingredients and called “Glorious Beer.” It was created by Lockstep Studio, who began selling the posters in early December of last year. It’s a different approach than most of these, following the separate journeys of water, barley, hop and yeast until eventually they meet up and have a party, so you can have one, too.

Click here to see the infographic full size.

So You Want To Save Water?

Since today is World Water Day, our infographic for the day is So You Want To Save Water? Though it’s not strictly about brewing or beer, it seems relevant since water is the biggest ingredient used in brewing beer. Two interesting mentions of beer are in the poster. The first is that it takes 19.81 gallons to produce a glass of beer. I’m not sure about the exact number, but I do know many brewers are aware of their own water ratio and work hard to lower it. The second is that you can save 15,582 gallons of water per year if you switched from a daily glass of milk to a daily glass of beer. Now that’s conservation I can get behind.

Click here to see the infographic full size.

Most Complete Beer Proteome Found

The American Chemical Society has announced that the most complete beer proteome has been found. The journal article in the ACS publication Journal of proteome Research, The Proteome Content of Your Beer Mug was conducted in Milan, Italy by two area university departments from the Politecnico di Milano and the Universit degli Studi di Milano working together.

According to the press release:

In an advance that may give brewers powerful new ability to engineer the flavor and aroma of beer — the world’s favorite alcoholic beverage — scientists are publishing the most comprehensive deciphering of the beer’s “proteome” ever reported. Their report on the proteome (the set of proteins that make beer “beer”) appears in ACS’ monthly Journal of Proteome Research.

Pier Giorgio Righetti and colleagues from say they were inspired to do the research by a popular Belgian story, Les Maîtres de l’Orge (The Brew Masters), which chronicles the fortunes of a family of brewers over 150 years. They realized that beer ranks behind only water and tea as the world’s most popular beverage, and yet little research had been done to identify the full set of proteins that make up beer. Those proteins, they note, play a key role in the formation, texture, and stability of the foamy “head” that drinkers value so highly. Nevertheless, scientists had identified only a dozen beer proteins, including seven from the barley used to make beer and two from yeast.

They identified 20 barley proteins, 40 proteins from yeast, and two proteins from corn, representing the largest-ever portrait of the beer proteome. “These findings might help brewers in devising fermentation processes in which the release of yeast proteins could be minimized, if such components could alter the flavor of beer, or maximized in case of species improving beer’s aroma,” the report notes.

I’m not sure about those findings, the statement about the “ability to engineer the flavor and aroma of beer” sounds a bit too Frankenstein-like for my tastes. Though to be fair, I don’t remember much about Proteomes from my time taking the short course on brewing at U.C. Davis.


At any rate, the whole article is online. Below is the abstract, see if it makes sense to you:

The beer proteome has been evaluated via prior capture with combinatorial peptide ligand libraries (ProteoMiner as well as a homemade library of reduced polydispersity) at three different pH (4.0, 7.0, and 9.3) values. Via mass spectrometry analysis of the recovered fractions, after elution of the captured populations in 4% boiling SDS, we could categorize such species in 20 different barley protein families and 2 maize proteins, the only ones that had survived the brewing process (the most abundant ones being Z-serpins and lipid transfer proteins). In addition to those, we could identify 40 unique gene products from Saccharomyces cerevisiae, one from S. bayanus and one from S. pastorianus as routinely used in the malting process for lager beer. These latter species must represent trace components, as in previous proteome investigations barely two such yeast proteins could be detected. Our protocol permits handling of very large beer volumes (liters, if needed) in a very simple and user-friendly manner and in a much reduced sample handling time. The knowledge of the residual proteome in beers might help brewers in selecting proper proteinaceous components that might enrich beer flavor and texture.

Interesting ….


North Carolina To Grow Hops

The Raleigh, North Carolina News & Observer has an interesting article, Brewers Have High Hopes For N.C. Hops, about farmers in the state, centered in the mountains around Asheville, experimenting with planting hops.

Hoping to build on the craft-brewing and local food movements, N.C. State University researchers in Raleigh and a handful of farmers in the mountains are growing experimental plots of hops, the cone-shaped flower clusters that brewers add to beer for bitterness and aroma and as a natural preservative.

Rob Austin, Deanna Osmond, and Jeanine Davis at NCSU got a $28,000, one-year grant this year from the Golden LEAF Foundation to investigate the commercial viability of growing hops here. In March, a couple of volunteers from a soon-to-open Durham brewery called Fullsteam came to help researchers plant a small plot of about 200 plants at a university field laboratory near Lake Wheeler south of Raleigh.

With tobacco demand presumably in steady decline, it would certainly be interesting to see the south rise again with farmers turning to hops.

New Hopyard Planted In Wisconsin

Matt Sweeny, from Fatty Matty Brewing, a homebrewing and craft beer website, announced yesterday that he’s started a small hop farm in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, named Simple Earth Hops.


From the press release:

Simple Earth Hops is a new 1/4 acre hopyard located at Greenspirit Farm CSA in Dodgeville, Wisconsin. The hopyard was founded with the idea of providing a much needed agricultural product for local craft brewers. Simple Earth Hops was established to demonstrate that local farmers can produce a consistent, sustainable supply of ultra high quality hops by working directly with local craft brewers while still maintaining a focus on ecology, the land and the people involved.

“Craft beer producers have made it clear that they desire a local source of hops. Simple Earth Hops will address this need for a local sustainable supply of hops by small locally owned craft beer producers.”

Raising the trellises.

Look for Simple Earth Hops to elaborate more on the details of a Grand Opening hopyard tour/beer tasting event in late July, 2010 and for the hopyard harvest tour & beer tasting in early Fall, 2011.

Funding for Simple Earth Hops is provided in part by a 2009 NCR-SARE (USDA) grant. This small-scale commercial hopyard has been established by the Sweeny family of Dodgeville, Wisconsin who slowly grow earth friendly hops for local brewers with similar locavore ethics.

The hop trellises on Greenspirit Farms.

Agreement Reached For InBev Takeover Of Anheuser-Busch

Well, folks, it’s all over. The deed is done, indeed. The deal for InBev to acquire Anheuser-Busch has been agreed upon in principle, for nearly $50 billion. It’s not really over, of course, because it still has to wind its way through the federal approval process. But for all intents and purposes, it’s probably just a matter of time now that the two parties have reached an accord.

The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and the Financial Times are all now reporting that the parties have agreed to a deal. The new entity’s board will contain two A-B people, most likely including August A. Busch IV. Sadly, they decided to ignore my suggestion of calling the new company InBusch and went instead with the relatively boring and far too long name, Anheuser-Busch InBev.


World’s First All-Rye Beer

Most rye beers that I’m aware of use only around 10-20% rye with the rest being the more traditional barley. I’ve always liked that little something that rye adds to the beer and was in heaven over ten years ago during that year or so when it seemed like almost everybody was making a rye beer. These days, rye beers are a bit more on the rare side, though there’s still a few hundred being made in North America.

There is also a German style of beer, Roggenbier, which uses at anywhere from 25-65% rye malt, depending on whose account you accept. The German Institute says “half barley malt and equal portions of wheat and rye malts” are used while the BJCP guidelines say “Malted rye typically constitutes 50% or greater of the grist (some versions have 60-65% rye). Remainder of grist can include pale malt, Munich malt, wheat malt, crystal malt and/or small amounts of debittered dark malts for color adjustment.” Nothing against the BJCP, but I’m more inclined to to accept the version of the German Beer Institute since it’s an association of German breweries and related institutions.

So those are the common rye beers, what about using 100% rye? Well, probably the first and foremost reason you never hear about all-rye beers is that it is so difficult to brew with. Rye has no husks, like barley does, and that means it’s extremely difficult to sparge (which is spraying hot water on the spent grain) as without the husks it turns to a thick porridge or concrete.

There was a Irish brewer, Dwan Tipperary Brewing, who closed a few years back, who made a beer called All Rye Beer or All Rye Paddy at least once. But there’s no information as to whether it really used 100% rye malt, apart from that suggestive name. I’ve also come across an account of a homebrewer making an all-rye beer. MoreBeer’s forum also has a topic dedicated to why this is a difficult task.


So perhaps I should change the title to the world’s only currently made commercial example of a 100% rye beer, but it doesn’t sound very sexy that way, now does it? At any rate, Bear Republic Brewing in Healdsburg, California on Friday, debuted what they believe to be the world’s first 100% rye beer. I was on hand to try some of the first keg of their new Easy Ryeder and talk with the brewers about it.

But let’s talk about the beer itself first. It had a dull copper color, slightly hazy, with a decent tan head. The nose was a little restrained, with some bready aromas, a touch of hops and, naturally, some rye character. But it was surprisingly smooth, mild and very drinkable, an easy ryeder indeed. I was surprised to learn it was 5% abv because it seemed more like a session beer to me, and I would have guessed a little lower than that. I thought the rye flavors might overpower the beer, but that’s not the case at all. It is light and refreshing throughout with just enough hop character (at 30 IBUs) for balance. It finishes with just a bit of rye flavor lingering, before dissipating quickly and cleanly. Again, I think my expectations were that if beer with just a fraction of rye tends to give it strong rye flavors and character, that with all rye it would be even more so, but that wasn’t really was not what happened. Instead, they managed to create a unique, ultimately very drinkable beer that in temperament seems closer to a wheat beer, but with the more barley-like flavors of rye.

The beer went through several trials before getting things right. To combat the wort turning to concrete, they had to watch the temperature fluctuations much more closely than usual (no more than 3-5 degrees or it turned to stone), and with bags of rice hulls added to make up for the lack of husks in rye malt. It was, of course, difficult to get the malt to break down and early test batches, if they didn’t become concrete-like, were still very thick and viscous and even hard to remove from the lauter tun at all. Even so, the first test batch that yielded drinkable results was the color of bad gravy, having a dull gray tint to it from all pale rye malt. Apparently it tasted fine, but who among us wants a beer the color of dishwater? Twenty-five pounds of chocolate rye malt was then added to give it the much more appealing color it exhibits today. The hops they used are Chinook and Saaz. It took four tries to get it right, as there really aren’t any manuals for tis kind of beer. Was it worth all that effort? I think so, as the results are quite tasty and in some ways different from anything else I’ve tried. It certainly must have been a learning experience and it’s interesting to see that it is possible on a commercial level to use only rye. It’s quite an achievement, and if you love rye — or just brewing innovation and creativity — you owe it to yourself to get up to Healdsburg to try this new beer.

Bear Republic brewers Rich Norgrove, Jode Yaksic, Peter Kruger and Ray Lindecker. Jode, according to Rich, had the most to do with creating the Easy Ryder, from doing the research, test batches and coming up with the name.

The Yeast of Immortality

Though it appears the focus of this new discovery, at least as reported in Live Science, is mostly about the vain hope of immortality, it does involve beer yeast. Research scientists from USC “have extended the lifespan of yeast, microbes responsible for creating bread and beer, by 10-fold. That’s twice the previous record for life extension in an organism.” Or as USC News put it, “[b]iologists have created [brewer’s] yeast capable of living to 800 in yeast years without apparent side effects.” Normal yeast lives not more than a week, usually. The USC study managed to keep the yeast alive for ten weeks.

The full results of the study will be published today in the Journal of Cell Biology. I can’t say this will have any impact on the brewing industry, but it seems like it can’t hurt to have yeast that is effectively ten-times tougher and longer-lasting.


Session #10: Winter Beers

This month’s Session, sponsored by Barley Vine, is Let It Snow: Winter Beers. Of all the seasonal beers, the ones released during winter are my favorites; the ones I look most forward to sampling each and every year. The category of winter beers lacks the tradition of, say for example, oktoberfest beers or springfest beers, both of which owe their existence to the seasons, a lack of technology and brewers having to adapt themselves to the weather. And, of course, even calling them winter beers is a modern conceit to be politically correct and, perhaps more importantly, to try to insure they will continue to sell beyond December 25. Because for the most part, whether we say so or not, most of the “winter beers” are really Christmas beers. And they are, like Christmas itself, largely a modern invention.

For centuries, the most important Christian holiday was Easter, because — as I remember it being explained — the redemption and resurrection it represented was the miracle that made Christianity different from other religions and so it was the centerpiece of an ecumenical year filled with celebrations Sunday after Sunday. Our present calendar system, the Gregorian calendar (named for Pope Gregory) was created precisely to more accurately predict the date when each year’s Easter would be because under the prior system, the Julian calendar (which is still used today by some Christian denominations) had allowed the year to drift by several days because it did not accurately reflect the true length of a year. (For a riveting account of the history of our calendar, read David Ewing Duncan’s Calendar: Humanity’s Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year.) The calendar geek in me could go on and on about this but the point is simply that for the majority of Christian history, Easter was the big day. Beginning in the 1840s, things gradually shifted toward Christmas so that now most people would say Christmas is the number one holiday.

The first Christmas beers were most likely brewed in medieval times by monks making a special beer — and stronger — at Christmastime to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. But it would take far longer for commercial breweries to begin making and bottling seasonal beer. And while there were breweries in decades past that made a holiday beer (I have, for example a full bottle of Ballantine Christmas Ale that was brewed in 1946 but not bottled until 1957), it was not the big business it is today. In my experience, here in the U.S. Christmas beers were more the exception than the rule until somewhat recently.

Germany has a rich tradition of Weihnachtsbier, as do several other Scandinavian countries. So does Great Britain with winter warmers and Belgium with beers like Delirium Noel and many others. My friend and colleague Don Russell (a.k.a. Joe Sixpack) is currently working on a book about Christmas beer which will be published next year. I can’t wait for it to come out, it should be a very interesting read.

For a time, there were only a few holiday beers, and most of them were quite obviously Christmas beers. Sierra Nevada’s Celebration, Samuel Adams’ Winter Lager and even Noche Buena (from Mexico’s Grupo Model) were all early favorites. Little by little, more breweries began making a holiday beer and by around 1996 practically every brewery made one and a large number bottled it, too. And they all sold pretty well. But oddly enough, the day after Christmas sales would abruptly stop. With the exception of the most popular two or three brands, you could barely give away a Christmas beer once the holiday was over. This made it tricky for retailers trying to balance not running out before Christmas but not wanting any inventory immediately thereafter. When I was a beer buyer, I can’t tell you how many offers at rock bottom bargain prices I would get in the weeks after Christmas by breweries trying to unload their remaining Christmas beer.

So what most breweries did was secularize the beers, calling them names like winter ale or holiday beer. Whatever the name, it de-emphasized Christmas in the hope that the fickle consumer would continue to buy them after December 25. And for the most part the strategy worked and eventually led to many breweries having a seasonal beer year-round, whether four different ones quarterly or more often. The reason for this is more business-related than you might assume at first blush. Most grocery stores have very specific beer sets (which is a schematic layout of what beers they carry and where they will be put on the shelves).

Breweries work very hard to get a slot on a grocery store’s beer set. No one wants to put in the effort to get their Christmas beer in the beer set over the holidays only to lose it as soon December ends. So what many did was get a seasonal sku authorized in the set that would be filled with whatever the seasonal beer happened to be. In other words, the same hole would be filled in summer with a summer seasonal beer, etc. throughout the year. One seasonal release would follow the last so that all year long there would be a rotating beer in that same slot on the store shelf. In that way the brewery would not lose it’s spot on the shelf and as a result, today we all have much more diversity on the shelf, a boon for consumers and breweries alike. Nielsen and IRI data confirms that the category “seasonal beer” is one of the fastest growing and best-selling categories of craft beer today. And this all grew out of Christmas beers and trying to figure out how best to sell them.

In modern times, one of the first and to my mind still one of the best is Anchor’s Christmas Beer. Technically, the name of this beer is not Christmas Ale as it is usually called but it’s more proper name is actually Our Special Ale. The first one was brewed in 1975. While there are certainly many other truly great holiday beers, this is always the one I look most forward to each year. It used to be released the Monday before Thanksgiving each year, making it one of the last Christmas beers to come out. A few years ago they bowed to market pressure and it’s now available in early November, usually the first week. I can’t say I don’t like getting it earlier now, but there was something grand about having to wait for it that built up your anticipation and made it somehow more special.

To me, there are two (or three) other factors to this beer that make it so great. First, they change the recipe each year. So not only is there anticipation about its release generally, but also about what it will taste like this year. How much time have I spent sitting around with friends trying to figure out just what spices are in each year’s version? I know there a lot of people, including many beer enthusiasts and the entire nation of Germany, who don’t like spice in their beer. I am not one of those people. I love spicy beers. Not every day, of course, but the more different types of beer loose in the world, the better off we are. The more choices, the better we can experiment and decide what works best when and with what. And there are times when spices in beer work perfectly. I usually pair my Thanksgiving meal with Anchor Christmas, for example, because the spices work so well with turkey’s modest flavors, making both taste better. In addition, the mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and stuffing all benefit from being lubricated with a spicy beer.

Second, they change the label each year. Each year it’s a new mini-work of art featuring a different tree (which I confess I’ve always had a thing for: trees, that is). They’re beautiful labels and each year they create a new poster featuring all of the labels from 1975 up to the current year. I have one from a couple of years ago framed and hanging in my kitchen. You can see this year’s poster at Anchor’s website and you can even buy one in their gift shop. That also adds to the anticipation, finding out what tree will be featured on each year’s incarnation. They also do a kick-ass neon sign. But there’s one more thing about this beer that I love. It can be aged.

Despite it’s modest strength and most likely due to the spicing, Anchor’s Christmas Ale can be laid down, usually for almost ten years and still be drinkable. For a time during the late 1990s, when the beer was more heavily spiced, it actually seemed to taste better after being aged for at least a year and I would lay down quite a bit of it to take advantage of that phenomenon. I still have several Magnums from year’s past in one of my beer refrigerators, as well as at least a case of 12-ounce bottles from various years stretching back to the early 1990s. There’s nothing more enjoyable than doing a vertical tasting of Anchor Christmas beers. I’ve done a few myself, at least one at the Celebrator and twice at Anchor Brewing with older beers from their private cellar. It’s great fun to compare both the different year’s recipes and also what the aging process has done to the beer.

Last night was Anchor’s annual Christmas party and it was my first chance to have this year’s Christmas Ale on draft, though I’d had bottles several times. To my mind, this year’s tastes quite similar to last year but I haven’t yet had a chance to do a side-by-side comparison. The spicing is mild, as has been typical in recent years. As a result, it has a wider appeal — though for myself I miss the heavily spiced days — and is still a wonderful beer. I won’t even try to speculate on what spices are there, that’s a better thing to do with friends over a shared pint or bottle.

One last thing about winter ales that is somewhat different from most traditional seasonal beers. Unlike springbocks or marzens, which are distinct styles, holiday beers can be any style that the brewer chooses. This has led to much more diversity in Christmas beers than in any other kind of seasonal. Even summer ales, which have no style attached to them, still tend to be lighter so they’re more appropriate during that season’s warmer weather. This makes tasting all of the holiday beers the most enjoyable one each year, because you never know what you’re going to get. It’s fun seeing what a brewery decided to brew when left to do whatever they fancied. Since brewers under such circumstances tend to make what they like, you can learn different brewers’ personal tastes, which can be useful in evaluating their other efforts. Plus, it’s just plain fun, the best time of the year to try different beers is without question the winter when strong, full-flavored beers of striking diversity are king. It’s the most wonderful season of all.

Holding a cup of Christmas Ale by the Anchor “tree” at their annual Christmas party last night.