Category Archives: Beer Education

Homebrewing a rewarding labor of love

The May 2015 edition of BUZZ Magazine features an edited version of this article in my regular Brew Time column on Page 49. But, since that column was so space restricted, I decided to publish the article in its entirety here. I hope you enjoy both the abridged version in BUZZ and this full version. Be sure to pick up a copy of BUZZ monthly to read my columns that explore the historic aspects of the world’s third favorite beverage (behind tea and water).

Checking_WortHomebrewers are passionate about their hobby. Get in to a conversation with one of them and you will likely get an earful of terms like attenuation, specific gravity and Saccharomyces. Within the community of homebrewers it is not at all unlikely to hear that they spend entire weekends sweating over boiling pots of wort and adding hops to their latest attempt at cloning Pliney the Younger (a mythical and extremely rare beer that every serious beer lover aches to taste).

Until 1979 it was illegal to brew beer at home. President Jimmy Carter, whose infamous brother Billy lent his name to a short-lived beer brand, put an end to the Prohibition-era ban on homebrewing when he signed a bill in February of that year. The new law set limits on how much beer could be brewed at home (100 gallons per year) and how old one had to be to brew it (21-years-old). In the last 30 or so years, homebrewers have come a long way to advance the methods used to create tasty beers. Some have been so successful that they have gone on to found their own breweries and brew pubs. To those enterprising souls, the art of homebrewing was a labor of love that led to a new career in the ever-expanding craft beer industry.

Homebrewing is about two things: ingredients and process. Knowledge of both is critical to creating a drinkable and enjoyable brew.


Water – Tap water is fine, but if you live in an area that has distinctly hard water, you may want to opt to purchase bottled spring water. Since beer is more than 95-percent water, whatever your source, it will affect the finished product.

Malt – The most common malt used to brew beer is barley malt. Malt is any grain that has been allowed to germinate, but not sprout. Malting changes the chemical composition of the grain to convert its sugars and make them more palatable to yeast. This in turn facilitates brewing. Malts provide sweetness to beer that offsets the bitter flavors provided by hops.

Hops – These cones are the flowers of the hops vine. Hops are used to impart bitter flavors to beer and offset the rich sweetness provided by malt. Depending on the type of beer being brewed varying amounts of hops are used. IPAs are generously hopped for a bitter wallop of flavor while Belgian styles generally use a less substantial application.

Yeast – Before the mid-1800s, no one really knew how the alcohol in beer occurred. But, after Louis Pasteur studied the little beasties, it was understood that the single-celled organisms digest the sugars provided by malts and excrete alcohol and carbon-dioxide. In brewing there are two main types of yeast; lager yeast that ferments at cooler temperatures and ale yeast that ferments at warmer temperatures.

BoilTypes of Home Brewing

In homebrewing, there are three primary methods to create a batch of tasty suds: extract, partial mash and all-grain. The best place to start is with extract and then, as your skill grows move on to partial mash and all-grain.

Extract Brewing – This method, as the name implies, uses canned malt extract rather than the actual grains. Because the extract is simply added to boiling water and hops are added, this is generally considered the easiest way to homebrew.

Partial Mash Brewing – This method incorporates using malt extracts with some actual grain. Because of the addition of loose malt, this method requires more skill and is an excellent intermediary step to mastering the art of homebrewing.

All-Grain Brewing – This is the method that craft breweries use and requires the most skill to master. Grains are steeped in water at a specific temperature range and for a designated amount of time to achieve the desired results.

The Brewing Process

The brewing process itself consists of several distinct steps each building on the one before to reach the ultimate goal of a refreshing adult beverage.

Step 1: Sanitation – Beer is extremely susceptible to contamination therefore, to reduce the chance of rogue bacteria from imparting off flavors, all equipment must be sparkling clean. The best way to achieve this is with a commercial sanitizing agent, but a partial bleach solution will work, too.

Step 2: Mashing –During this process malt extract or actual malted grains are added to hot water to convert complex sugars to simple sugars. To achieve the best results, the water often must be held at a specific temperature range. The liquid that results from this stage is called wort.

Step 3: Boiling – In the boil, hops are added to impart bitterness and balance the maltiness of the wort. Depending on the style of beer you are making, you may need just one hop addition or, for hoppier styles, you may have a hops schedule that has hope additions occurring over a period of time.

Step 4: Cooling – One of the biggest mistakes made by new brewers is adding the yeast too soon. Yeast is very delicate and requires a certain environment to survive, if the wort is too warm the yeast will perish. Many brewers will put their wort in an ice bath to cool it rapidly. Ideally ale yeast should never be added to wort that is warmer than 75-degrees. Once cooled, the wort is transferred to a primary fermentation vessel.

Step 5: Pitching – When yeast is added to the cooled wort it is referred to as pitching the yeast. Yeast may come in either dry or liquid forms. Dry yeast should be rehydrated with warm water before pitching while liquid yeast can be added as is.

Step 6: Fermentation – Once the yeast and wort are combined, the process of fermentation begins. Most brewers use a device called an airlock to monitor fermentation; as long as bubbles continue to rise through the airlock, the beer is fermenting. After a week or two the bubbles begin to slow and secondary fermentation can begin if desrired. During this second process, additional sugars and flavorings may be added to create unique characteristics in the finished beer.

Step 7: Bottling – Finally, after all fermentation is complete, beer is transferred from fermentation vessels to bottles or kegs. Often a small amount of sugar is added at this stage so that when the bottles are capped fermentation will start again and carbonate the beer.

Step 8: Enjoy – After several weeks of bottle conditioning, your beer will be ready to drink. Put a few in your fridge, invite some friends over and reap the rewards of your labors!

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Posted by on May 1, 2015 in Beer Education


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How to become a beer connoisseur: the basics of craft beer

I was recently introduced to Man Crates, who have some awesome gifts for guys.  They posed the question, what would help a beginner that is looking to get into beer. So I thought about it a bit and came to the conclusion that we should start at the beginning with a foundation discussion of beer types, ingredients and styles.

Beer is an exceptionally complex creation that, as the craft beer renaissance continues, is also exceedingly intimidating. There is a dizzying number of styles to choose from each described in terms that sound like they come from a different language.  But, fear not gentle neophyte, we are here to help.

Beer Types

Whether you want to learn about beer for your own edification or so that you can follow a beer-centric conversation without having to ask for translation, every beer drinker should know what type of beer they drinking. To clarify, there are two main types of beer, but many different styles. According to the Beer Judge Certification Program Style Guide (2008 Edition) there are 23 distinct beer styles, each with multiple sub-styles. The 2014 Great American Beer Festival guidelines list 90 styles with multiple sub-styles. But, we will talk more about styles later.

As noted above, there are two main beer types; ale and lager. The major differences between the two lie in the yeast that is used and how they are fermented.

Ales are fermented at warmer temperatures and employ top-fermenting yeast. That is to say, the yeast tends to float towards the top of a fermentation tank as it works its miracle on sugars suspended in the liquid. Ales were the first type of beer discovered and have roots that extend more than 9,000 years into history. Ales tend to have robust flavors and higher alcohol content.

Lagers are made with bottom-fermenting yeast and require cooler temperatures – around 40 to 55F. They also require longer for fermentation to complete. The term lager comes from the Germany word for storing the beer in cool caves or lagerung. Because of the longer fermentation time and cooler temperatures, lagers tend to have lighter, crisper flavors.

Beer Ingredients

Now that you know the two types of beer, it is important to understand what ingredients besides yeast go into the final product. In its purest form beer consists of just four components; water, malt, yeast and hops.

Water is arguably the most important ingredient in the mixture that comprises beer. Without this single, abundant element beer would never have been discovered. But, different water results in different beer. Indeed, entire styles of beers have resulted because of the type of water available. The relative hardness or softness of water can impart very different flavors due to mineral content.

Malt usually refers to barley that has been allowed to begin to sprout before being dried in a kiln. But, other grains such as rye, wheat and oats can be used in the brewing process. The type of malt and the amount that it is roasted in the kiln plays a major role in the characteristics of the finished beer.

Yeast strains are not restricted to just top and bottom fermenting. Within those two categories are hundreds of strains that impart different flavor profiles in to beer. Some brewers even allow their beer to be inoculated by wild yeasts to elicit sour or funky flavors.

Hops are the flower cones of the hops plant. Added during the boil phase of brewing beer, hops contribute the distinctive bitter flavor evident in most beer. In addition, hops are a natural preservative and contribute to stabilizing beer for storage over a period of time.

In the hands of a master brewer, these four ingredients can be transformed into literally scores of different beer styles. But, when adjuncts are added such as corn, rice or fruit, the possibilities open further.

Beer Styles

So, now that you know about basic beer types and ingredients, it is time to have a discussion on styles. The most popular style of beer in the world is the light lagers produced by huge corporate beer conglomerates. These beers tend to be light to medium yellow in color, highly carbonated and are mild in flavor. Most of these light lagers are brewed to closely approximate the German pilsner style. But, there are many more styles with much more flavor to choose from.

With more than 90 styles and at least that many sub-styles, getting to know them all can be daunting. So, in order to keep it simple, we will only look at the major styles and their characteristics. By far the most popular styles are:

  • Pilsner
  • Wheat
  • Pale Ale
  • India Pale Ale (IPA)
  • Stout and Porter

Pilsners are lagers and are generally straw to light gold in color and crystal clear. They have aromas of grain, yeast, flowers and some bitterness. They are crisp, slightly bitter and maybe a bit biscuity in flavor. This style takes its name from the city of Plzeň, Bohemia, Czech Republic, where it was first produced in 1842. Later the Germans began producing the style and to this day many people mistakenly attribute the style to the Germans.

Wheat beers are ales and as a general style are cloudy and range in color from pale straw to dark gold. When you smell a wheat beer you are likely to get hints of banana, cloves, grain and perhaps sweet citrus. A sip should provide a mild to strong banana and clove flavor as well as a slight tart tang. Brewers often add orange peel, cardamom and coriander to this style so these flavors may be present as well. These beers may be referred to as heffeweizen, weizen, witbier or wit.

Pale ales are, as the name implies, ales that range from pale gold to deep amber in color. They usually have a moderate aroma of hops that might include pine or citrus. On the tongue pale ales generally show off their moderate hop characteristic with a balanced, mildly sweet malty backbone. Pale ales that are brewed in the Burton upon Trent, UK are considered to be the best in the world to the high gypsum content of the local water.

IPAs are ales that are clear and have a range of colors from deep gold to reddish copper. Aromas from IPAs are heavy on hop bitterness and can include pine, citrus, resin, floral or fruity. The flavor can be mildly hoppy to bitingly bitter with an assertively sweet malt backbone. IPAs began in England and were formulated to survive long voyages by sea better than other styles.

Stouts and porters, while technically two different styles, share many of the same characteristics. These dark brews range in color from light brown to black. Aromas you will experience with both can include coffee, chocolate, dark fruits, toffee, caramel and even cream.  A taste of these styles may present flavors that match the aromas as well as others like burnt toast, hop bitterness and sweet cream. Stouts are generally considered heavy beers than porters in flavor but, not necessarily in alcohol. Porters were said to be favored by the baggage handlers in London’s train stations, thus the name. Both styles are often carbonated with nitrogen rather than carbon dioxide producing a creamier, richer mouthfeel.

As a starting point, the information presented here can be used to springboard into more learning. The world of beer is full of traditions, customs and practices. There are many more styles of beer to discover as you taste your way through craft beer culture. In addition, each style has an optimal style of glassware created to enhance its specific characteristics. The best way to learn is to simply try new things, read as much as you can and enjoy the camaraderie of friends over a delicious well-crafted beer.


Posted by on March 17, 2015 in Beer Education


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Winter months bring highest average level of inebriation study says

Photo: Jeffrey Smith/Creative Commons

Photo: Jeffrey Smith/Creative Commons

Beer, as everyone knows, is an alcoholic beverage and as such, if consumed too heartily, can lead to inebriation. For a serious beer-lover, one who enjoys the flavors of a well-crafted beer along with the company of good friends, drunken stupor is not the goal. Nonetheless, during the months of December through March, becoming legal pissed (that’s British for drunk), is a far too common occurrence.

Sure, a few pints with friends along with a good meal is just the thing to end a long work week with or celebrate a momentous occasion, but drinking to excess is just senseless – and an appalling waste of good beer. Take these startling statistics for instance:

During the winter months of December through March, the average Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is higher than any other time of the year. The legal threshold that determines impairment is 0.06%.

  •  The average BAC is above 0.06% nearly 75 percent of days during this time period; the rest of the year, the average BAC is above 0.06% only 50 percent of days
  • More than five out of every seven days have an average BAC above 0.06%

These figures are not just pulled from a hat, BACtrack a company that produces personal and professional breathalyzers used data culled from apps associated with their products to find out just how drunk we are in the United States.

What they found, in addition to the above data, is that 14 of the 15 biggest drinking days of the year, all of which have an average BAC of 0.08% or higher, fall between December and March.

  • The days with the highest average BACs include: December 6th and 7th (0.087% and 0.088%); New Year’s Eve (0.094%); January 18th and 19th (0.090% and 0.088%) and January 25th (0.093%); Super Bowl Weekend – February 1st and 2nd (0.090% and 0.091%) and February 15th – the day after Valentine’s Day (0.092%); March 7th and 8th (0.088% and 0.088%) and St. Patrick’s Day Weekend – March 14th and 15th (0.087% and 0.094%)
  • The only other day out of the entire year with an average BAC of 0.08% or higher in 2014 was the Saturday before Cinco de Mayo – May 3rd (0.090%)

In addition to the press release below, BACtrack has also created several interactive websites to help illustrate the areas of the country and days of the year that have the highest average levels of inebriation.

Please enjoy craft beer responsibly and never drink and drive. If you have had too much to drink, call a cab or alternative means of transportation (see bottom of article for an offer from The Jax Beer Guy and Uber).

To explore the sites go to:

Full Press Release

 SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – December 18, 2014 – According to a new report just released by BACtrack®, the leader in personal and professional-grade breathalyzers, December through March is the peak drinking season in the United States, with the average BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) level above the legal limit over 35 percent of the time. The data was gleaned from nearly 300,000 unique BAC tests that were collected anonymously from users of BACtrack Mobile and BACtrack Vio smartphone breathalyzers. Notable insights are detailed below and the full results, including interactive data, can be viewed here.

“Our goal is to shed light on alcohol consumption habits so consumers can make smarter decisions when drinking,” said Keith Nothacker, president of BACtrack. “We hope this report will make consumers more aware of how much alcohol they consume when at a bar with friends or while drinking eggnog at a holiday party so they can ultimately stay safe.”

Drinkers Stay Warm with Alcohol: Most Alcohol Consumed During Winter Months

BACtrack found that between December 1st and March 31st, the average BAC is higher than any other time of the year.

  • The average BAC is above 0.06% nearly 75 percent of days during this time period; the rest of the year, the average BAC is above 0.06% only 50 percent of days
  • More than five out of every seven days have an average BAC above 0.06%

What makes this particularly interesting is that research shows drinkers are “buzzed” and experience stimulating effects such as increased energy and self-confidence when they have a BAC of 0.055% or lower. At 0.06%, drinkers reach peak stimulation and the euphoric effects of alcohol take place. Once they surpass the 0.06% threshold (called the “Point of Diminishing Returns”), the depressant effects of alcohol, such as fatigue, lack of balance and poor coordination, begin to kick in and drinkers are more likely to appear “drunk” to those around them. They are also more likely to have horrible hangovers.

BACtrack also found that 14 of the 15 biggest drinking days of the year, all of which have an average BAC of 0.08% or higher, fall between December and March.

  • The days with the highest average BACs include: December 6th and 7th (0.087% and 0.088%); New Year’s Eve (0.094%); January 18th and 19th (0.090% and 0.088%) and January 25th (0.093%); Super Bowl Weekend – February 1st and 2nd (0.090% and 0.091%) and February 15th – the day after Valentine’s Day (0.092%); March 7th and 8th (0.088% and 0.088%) and St. Patrick’s Day Weekend – March 14th and 15th (0.087% and 0.094%)
  • The only other day out of the entire year with an average BAC of 0.08% or higher in 2014 was the Saturday before Cinco de Mayo – May 3rd (0.090%)

Highest BACs? East Out Drinks West

When it comes to the highest average BACs for the month of December, the top five cities and states fall on or to the east of the Mississippi River.

  • The cities with the highest average BACs include: Waltham, Massachusetts (0.133%); Jersey City, New Jersey (0.132%); Champlin, Minnesota (0.124%); New Orleans, Louisiana (0.123%); Greenville, South Carolina (0.111%)
  • The states with the highest average BACs include: Iowa (0.122%), Arkansas (0.113%), Alabama (0.112%), Maine (0.107%), and Tennessee (0.106%)

When it comes to the lowest BACs, every region is covered.

  • The cities with the lowest average BACs include: Brighton, Colorado (0.006%); Walnut Creek, California (0.013%); Huntington Beach, California (0.013%); Columbus, Ohio (0.014%); Redwood City, California (0.015%)
  • The states with the lowest average BACs include: Mississippi (0.026%), New Hampshire (0.029%), Wyoming (0.031%) and New Mexico (0.036%)

This is the second Alcohol Consumption Report BACtrack has released that provides insights into drinking habits throughout the U.S. You can view the first report here.


Data was collected anonymously from users of the BACtrack app, which syncs with both the BACtrack Vio and BACtrack Mobile smartphone breathalyzers, and represents nearly 300,000 unique BAC tests collected over 13 months. Data used in the report was collected from users with location services turned on and does not represent data from all users.

About BACtrack

San Francisco­‐based BACtrack is the U.S. leader in breathalyzers, offering a full range of innovative products for both personal and professional use. Founded in 2001, BACtrack helps people monitor their Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) and make informed decisions about alcohol consumption. In 2013, BACtrack launched BACtrack Mobile, the world’s first smartphone breathalyzer that uses police­‐grade fuel cell sensor technology and Bluetooth connectivity. It has since won Popular Science’s 2013 ‘Best of What’s New’ Award for its innovation in health, and an Edison Award for Industrial Design. BACtrack breathalyzers are available in 20 countries and at over 15,000 store locations, including Walgreens, Costco and Best Buy stores, and can be purchased online at Amazon,, and BACtrack products have been featured on Oprah’s All Stars, The Dr. Phil Show, The Doctors, and MythBusters. Connect with BACtrack via Twitter and on Facebook. For more company information, visit

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Posted by on December 18, 2014 in Beer Education


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Central Michigan University to offer fermentation sciences certificate

cmuThose seeking a formal education in the art and science of brewing beer will have another choice next fall. Central Michigan University’s College of Science and Technology plans to offer a certificate program in fermentation science. The program is only the sixth program like it in the United States.

For more information read the official press release below:

MOUNT PLEASANT, Michigan, Sept. 23, 2014 — Central Michigan University’s College of Science and Technology is tapping into the art of brewing and is working to create a certificate program in fermentation science.

CMU’s program would be the first of its kind in Michigan to provide a hands-on education focused on craft beer and the sixth such program in the United States.

Students would take a mix of advanced sciences such as biochemistry, chemistry and microbiology, with lecture-based and hands-on laboratory courses that cover brewing from farm to glass. An internship of at least 200 hours in a production-scale facility would be required.

Two local businesses, Mountain Town Brewing Co. and Hunter’s Ale House, are key partners in the proposed fermentation science program, which is going through the academic curriculum process and is expected to enroll its first class in fall 2015.

According to the Brewers Association, only three states — California, Oregon and Washington — offer brewing education programs, found at the University of California–Davis, University of California–San Diego, Oregon State University and Central Washington University.

“As of 2013, Michigan ranked fifth in the nation in number of breweries, behind only California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington,” Ian Davison, dean of the College of Science and Technology, said. “This growing industry contributes significantly to the state’s economy, supporting jobs in breweries as well as in farms producing barley and hops. In 2012, the Brewers Association calculated that Michigan craft brewing contributed 11,666 full-time equivalent jobs and had about a $1 billion economic impact.”

In addition to the growing number of breweries in Michigan, two malt houses, a brewing yeast supplier, a brewing system manufacturer and hundreds of acres of hops have emerged during the past five years.

Yet educational opportunities for Midwest brewers are limited primarily to the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago and the Master Brewers Association of the Americas in Madison, Wisconsin. Prospective students often face programs with long wait lists.

“The undergraduate certificate in fermentation science will fill a need in the state and across the region for students to learn the science and technology underlying brewing,” Cordell DeMattei, CMU director of fermentation science, said. “This opportunity expands CMU’s leadership in the sciences and provides the training needed by future leaders of the craft brewing industry.”

The program is expected to appeal to students both in and outside the sciences as well as to brewery employees looking to advance their careers. Those who take the program would be prepared for industry wide certification tests such as the Institute of Brewers and Distillers General Brewing Certificate and their Diploma in Brewing Modules.

Students studying fermentation science would gain real-world experience at the Mountain Town Brewing Company Tap Room.

“I am most excited about developing the scientific research component with CMU,” said Jim Holton, a 1995 CMU alumnus and owner of Mountain Town Station Brewing Co. and Restaurant and Mount Pleasant Brewing Company. “To me, the more beer you brew, the better you get at it.”

The facilities at The Tap Room are currently for brewing but Holton hopes eventually to expand into winemaking and distilling. In the meantime, he and Mountain Town Brewing Company’s brew master, Kim Kowalski, are passionate about teaching others the nature of fluid dynamics, the importance of safety and quality control, how to identify problems faster and craft better beer, and develop new brands, packaging and styles.

“What once was a hobby to brew beer requires more skills than ever to exceed customer expectations. I believe CMU is on the cutting-edge of a great program to help educate individuals on the art and science of brewing with an emphasis on fermentation science,” Holton said.

Likewise, Cheryl Hunter, owner of Hunter’s Ale House in Union Township, said she’s pleased to be partnering with CMU on this program for hands-on student experiences as well.

The eatery’s expansion into brewing is almost complete, with the recent installation of a 10-barrel brewing system from the Saugatuck Brewing Company. Hunter also has developed an urban hop farm, with 90 plants in a dozen varieties growing in front of the restaurant.

“The brewing of a malt beverage is very scientific … Hunter’s Ale House brew master and Michigan Malt Co. founder, Wendell Banks, and I appreciate the opportunity to share our knowledge and professional experience of how great craft beer should be made,” Hunter said.

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Posted by on September 24, 2014 in Beer Education


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Growler fight subject of short documentary film

beerbattle-300x165 (1)On a more serious note, readers of this blog are familiar with the fight going on in Florida over growler size. For those who are not up to speed on this issue, in a nut shell a group of mega-brewery beer distributors have been maneuvering to block all attempts by Florida’s craft beer producers and community to legalize 64-ounce growlers.

State law in Florida currently allows both 32-ounce (one quart) and 128-ounce (one gallon) growlers. But, because of “safety and public health” concerns the state — under pressure from powerful lobbyists from the above mentioned distributors — has torpedoed all  challenges to the current law.

The fight has been the subject of many articles and news accounts and is now surfacing as the topic of a short documentary shot by Florida State University student, Hunter J, Truman. Truman shot the film for a school project and includes interviews with Joey Redner of Cigar City Brewing Company, Byron Burroughs of Proof Brewing Company and Josh Aubuchon, lobbyist for the Florida Brewers Guild.

Beer Battle from Hunter J. Truman on Vimeo.

The Jax Beer Guy has partnered with the UBER car service in Jacksonville. Because of this partnership, you can receive a $20 credit for your first ride by simply using the promo code “JaxBeerGuy” when you register for UBER on your smartphone.

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Posted by on August 11, 2014 in Beer Education


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