U. Penn Students Win Prize For 9 Times Faster Brewing Process

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I tend to be skeptical of anyone who claims to be able to shorten the brewing process, especially by up to nine times, since brewing is a pretty time-honored process, improved little by little over the centuries. And generally speaking, speeding up fermentation has rarely resulted in better beer. Of course, there was that flourish of decades beginning with the industrial revolution that speeded up that process considerably, but since then things have slowed down to a more manageable pace. But that’s exactly what got the winners of this year’s Y-Prize, from the University of Pennsylvania, the grand prize $10,000, “for developing a process that speeds up the fermentation process in beer production by up to nine times — while maintaining alcohol quality and composition.”

The three winners, Alexander David, Shashwata Narain and Siddharth Shah, are students in the Wharton School and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. They’ll received “$10,000 and the rights to commercialize the technology through their company,” which they’ve named “Fermento.”

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The Fermento Team: Alexander David, Shashwata Narain and Siddharth Shah

From UPenn:

The Fermento team selected microfluidic fabrication technology developed by Assistant Professor of Bioengineering David Issadore as the basis of their application.

The alcohol in beer is the product of yeast, which metabolically converts sugar found in barley and other grains into ethanol. This fermentation process typically occur in large batch reactors, where a concoction of boiled and strained grain liquid, known as wort, is left mixed with a carefully controlled amount of yeast.

This stage is one of the major bottlenecks of beer production. It can take up to three weeks, as maintaining the correct amount of yeast is a delicate balance.

“There is only a certain amount of yeast cells one can directly add to a batch reactor,” Narain says, “because overpopulation causes physiological stress on the yeast cells, which in turn reduces reaction rate. It takes time for yeast cells to grow and reach a critical mass to produce enough beer. Moreover, the concentration of sugar available to yeast cells is limited because in a large batch solutions, yeast cells don’t consistently interact with sugar molecules.”

Capable of delivering precisely controlled amounts of liquids to exact locations in a conveyer-belt fashion, microfluidics present a possible solution to both of these challenges. Yeast and wort can be introduced to one another in microdroplets, providing the optimal ratio for fermentation each time.

“Microdroplets to speed up fermentation have been tried in labs, but none of the technologies so far are scalable,” Narain says. “This patented technology actually makes the process industrially scalable for the first time, and in a financially feasible manner.”

So who knows. According to another report, “[t]heir advisors include executives from some of the biggest brewers in the world: MillerCoors, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Biocon India and Heineken. And say what you will about them, but those beer companies employ brewers who know how to make beer. So there may be something to it. It will be interesting to see what becomes of the idea.

Brewhog Determines An Early Spring Bock For 2016

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Over in Gobbler’s Knob, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, Phil the Groundhog — a.k.a. the Brewhog — raised up his head this morning and looked around, and this year did not see his shadow. You know what that means? It means an early spring, and earlier spring bock for us. You can see a video of Punxsutawney Phil here. And there’s more information about Groundhog Day from the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.

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And surprisingly enough, Phil wasn’t the only one. There’s also Shubenacadie Sam in Canada, who likewise did not see his shadow. And in New York there’s Staten Island Chuck along with General Beau Lee in Georgia, both of whom also predicted an early spring. Fingers crossed. And if you don’t have time to watch all of the deliciously wonderful Groundhog Day film today, here it is in a slightly shorter version just over three minutes.

Beer Birthday: Marc Worona

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Today is also the 48th birthday of fellow Pennsylvania transplant Marc Worona. Marc used to be the brewer at Stoudt’s Brewing in Adamstown, Pennsylvania but a number of years ago moved to California and currently works with Brewers Supply Group, and is their VP of Sales and Marketing. Join me in wishing Marc a very happy birthday.

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Marc goofing around at the CBC beer and chocolate event at TCHO chocolate that he co-sponsored.

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Marc with Marin brewer Arne Johnson at the Anchor Christmas Party in 2007.

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Marc (center) with Brendan Moylan and Denise Jones getting the top prize in the Chocolate Beer competition sponsored by Brewers Supply Group and TCHO chocolate company during CBC in San Francisco a few years ago.

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Out in front of the Bistro at the Double IPA Festival in 2008. Rodger Davis’ wife Claudia (who nworks at 21st Amendment), brewster Melissa Myers (working on opening her own brewpub), Shane Aldridge (brewer at Marin & Moylan’s) and Marc.

Beer In Ads #1732: Home Of Gold Medal Beer


Tuesday’s ad is for Stegmaier Brewing Co., from between 1933-1945. The “Home of Gold Medal Beer” was Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. I love these grand illustrations of breweries, testaments to industrialization, this one was a postcard. I’m not sure why there’s a passenger train chugging by, maybe that’s how the brewery executives commute to and from work?

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Beer Birthday: Don Russell

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Today is fellow beer writer Don Russell’s 60th birthday. Don writes a beer column for the Philadelphia Daily News under the nom de plume Joe Sixpack. He also writes a blog online, Beer Radar. His most recent book, What the Hell Am I Drinking?, was published last year and can still be ordered directly from the author. Don recently became the executive director of the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild, the trade group for New Jersey breweries. Don is also a fellow Pennsylvanian, a crack card player, and one of my very favorite people to share a beer and discuss the issues of the day with. Join me in wishing Don a very happy birthday.

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Don (center) with me and Lisa Morrison at the Hofbrauhaus in Munich during a press junket to Bavaria several years ago.

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Don, with fellow Pennsylvanians Lew Bryson and Jack Curtin at GABF.

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Me and Don at the kick-off for the first Philly Beer Week in 2008.

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Don with Pete Slosberg, signing books at GABF a couple of years ago.

Beer Birthday: Jack Curtin

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Today is fellow Pennsylvania beer writer Jack Curtin’s birthday. You can read his writings and rantings on a variety of subjects at his Liquid Diet Online, Curtin’s Corner, I Have Heard the Mermaids Singing and The Great Disconnect. If you think I don’t know when to stop, check out Jack’s voluminous output. Plus Jack is one of my favorite people to kvetch about politics with, over a pint, of course. Join me wishing Jack a very happy birthday.

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Jack, at right, with fellow Pennsylvanians Don Russell (a.k.a. Joe Sixpack) and Lew Bryson. I’m originally from Pennsylvania, too. What is it about the Commonwealth and beer writers?

Upstairs at Nodding Head with Jack Curtin
Jack and me at Nodding Head during Philly Beer Week a few years back.

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Tomme Arthur and Jack.

Jack Curtin, Sam Calagione, Ed Friedland and Curt's assistant brewer
Jack with Sam Calagione, Ed Friedland and Nodding Head’s assistant brewer.

Pre-Revolutionary Inns & Ale Houses Of Old Philadelphia

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Here’s another fun historical artifact that I came across when I one of my beer ads was for the Robert Smith Ale Brewing Company, which was founded in Philadelphia in 1774, incorporated in 1887, and was apparently acquired by Schmidt’s around 1881. In 1909, Schmidt’s, through their Robert Smith Ale Brewing Company brand, commissioned a local artist, James Preston, to create a series of twelve works depicting pre-revolutionary taverns and inns in or near Philadelphia as way to promote the heritage of the Robert Smith beer brand.

James Moore Preston (1873-1962) was artist and illustrator who trained under Thomas Anshutz at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Preston also did one cover for the “Saturday Evening Post,” in April 1905, although his most active period was during the 1920s. Here, you can read more about Preston’s http://rogallery.com/Preston_James_Moore/Moore_Preston-biography.htmlbiography.

And here’s more about Robert Smith, from an article in Zymurgy magazine by Pennsylvania beer historian Rich Wagner from 1991.

Another brewer who withstood the test of time was Robert Smith. What was to become Robert Smith’s Ale Brewery had its humble beginnings in 1774 when Joseph Potts established a brewery at Fifth and Minor Streets in Philadelphia. During the British occupation of the city, the brewery was seized and used as a barracks.

In 1786 Henry Pepper purchased Potts’ brewery and operated it quite successfully. His wealth and philanthropy were demonstrated when he provided the clock and bell in the tower of Independence Hall. Upon his death in 1898 he donated large sums of money to many charitable and cultural institutions of the city. His son George headed the brewery and directed it successfully before leasing the establishment to Robert Smith.

In 1837 Smith came to America after having served an apprenticeship with the Bass Brewery in Burton-on-Trent, England. He began brewing on St. John Street near the Delaware River. He became acquainted with Pepper and Sickel and in 1845 purchased their brewery.

The Robert Smith India Pale Ale Brewing Company was incorporated in 1887 and moved to a new plant at 38th and Girard (right across the Schuylkill River from “Brewerytown”). It operated until Prohibition as the oldest brewery in continuous operation in America. In 1891 Robert Smith was described as a “hale and hearty” 84-year-old who was still running the brewery. He died two years later and the business was reorganized as the Robert Smith Ale Brewing Co. owned by Schmidt’s Brewery of Philadelphia. The Smith brewery produced mainly ales and stouts. Production figures for the turn of the century are: 1902: 53,521 bbl.; 1905: 61,910 bbl.; 1907: 64,400 bbl. Brands included Tiger Head Ale, XXX Stout, Porter, IPA, Old Mystery, Imperial Burton and English Pale.

The twelve prints show up from time to time on eBay, antiques auctions, collectibles websites and even on Amazon. They’re also in the collection of the Library of Congress.

In addition to the posters, they also created a short book — more or a pamphlet at 37 pages — with information about the brewery and each of the twelve images.

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Here’s the book’s introduction:

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Below are all twelve illustrations. In each case, I used the biggest and best image I could find. Below each print I’ve added the text from the book, and it appears that some editions of the posters may have even included that text just below each print.

The Falstaff Inn
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Penny Pot Tavern and Landing
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Indian Queen Hotel
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Spread Eagle Inn Inn
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State House Tavern
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The Three Crowns
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Drawbridge and Blue Anchor Inn
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London Coffee House
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City Tavern
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Black Horse Inn Yard
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Smith’s 1774 Brewery
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Moon and Seven Stars
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And here’s the final page of text from the 1909 book.

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Beer Birthday: Larry Horwitz

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Today is also the birthday of Larry Horwitz, who is an award-winning regional brewer with Iron Hill Brewery, headquartered at their West Chester location. Larry was at Manayunk Brewery before joining the Iron Hill team over ten years ago, in 2004, having gotten in his professional brewing start while in Ohio. Join me in wishing Larry a very happy birthday.

Tonya Cornett, from Bend Brewing, with Larry Horwitz from Iron Hill
Tonya Cornett, for 10 Barrel Brewing, with Larry at the 2009 GABF.

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Larry’s promotion photo for Larry’s Blog.

Beer Birthday: Carolyn Smagalski

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Today is Carolyn Smagalski’s birthday. Carolyn’s a beer writer from Pennsylvania — not sure what it is about Pennsylvania and beer writing — who writes for BellaOnline. Her nickname is the Beer Fox and she does a terrific job spreading he gospel of great beer. Join me in wishing Carolyn a very happy birthday.

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Carolyn with Michael Jackson at GABF in 2006.

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Don Russell, Carolyn and Curt Decker, from Nodding Head.

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Don Feinberg with Carolyn.

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Ralph Olson, from HopUnion, the Alpha King and Carolyn.

NOTE: Last three photos purloined from Facebook.

Beer Birthday: Jennie Hatton

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Today is the 44th birthday of Jennie Hatton, who did P.R. for Philly Beer Week and several craft breweries in the tri-state area for a number of years. She cut her teeth working for Tom Peters at Monk’s Cafe. Jennie and her business partner Claire Pelino are responsible for many, many beer books being published as literary agents to a number of beer writers, including yours truly. Also, Jennie is one of my favorite people in the industry and she’s so much fun to be around that people refer to her as “The Wonderful Jennie Hatton.” Also, few people love tater tots like I do, and she’s one of them. That’s enough for me. More recently, she became the North American Brand Manager for Crabbie’s Ginger Beer. Join me in wishing Jennie a very happy birthday.

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Jennie and me on the floor at GABF in 2008.

Everyone wanted their picture taken with the Hammer, and Jennie was only too happy to oblige
Jennie wielding the Hammer of Glory during this last year’s Philly Beer Week.

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Jennie and the Reverend Kirk T. Berlenbach, Rector of Saint Timothy’s Episcopal Church, at the Sam, Tomme & Old Beer event at Nodding Head Brewing during Philly Beer Week.

Jennie w/tots & a dog at North Lanes Lounge
Jennie with some of the best tater tots ever, at North Lanes Lounge in Philly.