Sunday, July 6, 2008

The End.

It's been pretty, pretty hectic since I got back home, and certainly an adjustment. After all, I was in Berlin long enough for the neighborhood bakery to have my Mandel Plunder bagged and waiting for my 7:45 arrival, to occasionally give directions, to be a regular with predictable lunch orders, and to find myself criticizing tourists. There are people who I am going to miss quite a lot, but it is really great to be back home, and now I have lots of countries to visit. This is a little overdue, but I promised an overall review of the program and a survival guide for those attending next year's course. By now, surely only prospective brewmasters are reading anyway.

Why VLB?
A lot of people ask me why I chose VLB. Really, it was a pretty simple decision. The options as I saw them were U.C. Davis and Siebel within the US, VLB or Weihenstephan in Germany, or Heriot-Watt in the UK. There are a few other options, but these are the big ones that command respect. I quickly narrowed down the list to Davis and VLB. Siebel is a much shorter program, and has a reputation for having mostly beginners and being a bit more of a party than an education. I think the Siebel program is probably better suited for someone without prior experience, and with minimal time. Heriot-Watt is good but has an emphasis on distilling and (I would imagine but don't know for sure) a pretty big British influence. Davis was a close second for me. It might have been cheaper, but it wasn't in Germany and while I very much respect them, some of Davis' main professors are British. Let's just say that I like British people a lot more than British beer. Germany is the place to study beer if you ask me. Weihenstephan is 100% auf Deutsch, and was therefore not an option for me. If you are fluent, you should look into that program and compare it to VLB.

Good Decision
So I found myself at the VLB surrounded by 13 different nationalities and 28 different backgrounds/levels of expertise. I've had my share of criticisms of the VLB, but overall I still believe that it was the best possible choice for me. If I had the time, I might have done the Diplom- Braumeister program, but I flat out didn't have 2.5+ years to commit. If time is on your side, look into it. VLB staff told me that the Diplom program is quite similar to the Certified Brewmaster Course, but obviously the CBC is much more intensive. I learned a lot in the classroom, in the labs, and from my classmates. I came with a big list of questions and just before graduation I pulled it out, expecting to find a bunch of unanswered ones. I planned to get some last minute answers, but instead I found myself answering most of the questions. So, while there's room for improvement, overall I am satisfied with the VLB experience.

Survival Guide/Advice for Future Participants

  1. Almost no one in Berlin accepts credit cards. Cash is king.
  2. Don't expect to learn or improve your German during this program.
  3. Berlin is a very cheap place to live if you are frugal and avoid the touristy places. Expect to pay around 250-300 Euros a month for rent if you share an apartment. My rent was 170/month.
  4. You want to live in Prenzlauer Berg. If you want to go super low budget, then let me know and I'll put you in touch with the place that I stayed in Friedenau. It is not as cool or close or fun as Prenzlauer Berg, but it is a little bit cheaper and a very nice place.
  5. Using the transit system (a must) will cost you 52.50 Euros/month. Get a weekly/daily passes until school starts and VLB gets you the documents needed to get the aforementioned discount rate.
  6. Every time you hear the phrase "you will come to know this..." in class, write down whatever it is that you are supposed to come to know, and make sure that it gets explained.
  7. Take note of Burghard's motivation curve.
  8. Get in the habit (from day 1!) of briefly reviewing what was taught that day and write down questions for anything you don't understand. Then ask those questions in class.
  9. Do not be afraid to ask questions and to make the class more interactive.
  10. Bring 4 days worth of dress up clothes. You'll only need them for the 2 excursions and graduation. Everything else is casual.
  11. Be prepared for 4 months of very cold, very wet weather, followed by 2 months of paradise.
  12. Use my map in the links section. Add to it (anyone can edit it) and pass it on to future classes.
Well, this has been fun. Thanks for reading & good luck!

The End.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Northern Germany Excursion

Well, I made it back to VA, but I still owe you guys a couple of posts. Here's the run down on our final excursion: First, we arrived in Stralsund and toured the Stralsunder Brauerei. Perhaps the smallest production brewery I saw in Germany, Stralsunder is an innovative regional brewery specializing in dark beers and packing beer in special displays for brewing giants such as InBev. By the way, I say "special" a lot now. It's the German default word whenever they're unsure of which adjective to use.

Next stop, was Malteurop, a massive tower maltery in Rostock. This was a fascinating visit and we got to see much more of the plant than we did on the trip to Weyermann. They even let us take pictures and walk inside (very briefly) of a hot kiln. Here's the view from the roof and the inside of a germination box. I also got some good video of a conical steep being filled and aerated.

The next bus stop was Flensburg, where we toured KRONES and witnessed the construction of massive bottle washers. When in Flensburg, of course you've got to visit the Flensburger Brauerei, famous for their swing top bottles. Ever wonder how they get the swing tops onto bottles? Well, now you can watch right here. I wanted to put this one to circus music, but there's no time for that so just make your own.

On to Hamburg, where Holsten Brauerei wins the award for control room that looks the most like a bank. They made us wear funny suits and hats and they have just about every kind of filter there, except a cross flow membrane. We also saw the massive screens of a huge horizontal leaf filter being replaced post repair. Also in Hamburg, we visited a division of KHS, which manufactures machines for blowing PET bottles.

The final day included a fascinating trip to barley breeding company, KWS Lochow. These guys have an enormous influence on the malt that brewers end up having access to, and it was amazing to learn how little communication and integration there is between brewers and barley breeders. It takes about 15 years to introduce a new barley strain to the market. Our last stop was the massive Hasseroeder (InBev) Brauerei. There was a antique bus full of senior citizens leaving when we got there. Here's a shot of the brewhouse and the bottling line.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Ich bin Braumeister!

There's been a lot of celebrating in the last week. We had a great excursion in northern Germany (thanks to Ingo & Katrin for organizing it and Burghard for leading us!) and I received my diploma yesterday! I've got a lot of cool pictures and videos from the trip that I will put up soon, and I've still got an overall review of the program on deck, as well as recommendations for those of you who are enrolled in CBC 09.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Even More Reviews

Brewing technology was OK, but definitely fell short of my expectations. Too much plant equipment material, and not enough theory. Too much overview of processes, and not enough (quality) detail. The manuals provided (pictured) for just this one class are responsible for about half of the total weight that I am shipping home. There is some good info in there for sure (otherwise I wouldn't be shipping it home, right?) but many slides, graphs etc. don't state assumptions or paint the full picture, and there are too many contradictions in the material. I think there is a lot of room for improvement in this class and I know that I am not alone. I recommend eliminating all plant equipment material from these manuals and doing some major editing and proofreading to improve this course.

We had many engineering type of classes, which for the most part are filed under plant equipment. In addition to Roland Pahl's main plant lectures, we had topics on filling and packaging from George Wenk and Roland Foltz, and Christoph Kunzmann headed up topics like corrosion, CIP, cold processing, and energy. I probably missed something. Although this department wins the award for the most rescheduled/changed/missed/confused lectures, it also wins most likely for me to walk away feeling like I got my money's worth.

Dr. Alfons Ahrens parted the waters for us - water and waste water. Although, the lectures were a little dry at times, Ahrens is an expert and a real nice and patient guy. He helped me and at least one other classmate with special cases outside of class. These classes also suffer from some pretty severe manual disorganization (way too many duplicate slides) but overall I learned a lot and found both classes beneficial.

I'm going to miss Fridays in Berlin. Chemical Technical Analyses (CTA) is what Friday at the CBC is all about. Katrin Preisser was our instructor for CTA and we learned a lot and had a lot of fun in her class. Again, practical work is a strength of VLB. In addition to being one of the better instructors, Katrin One-Value-Is-No-Value Preisser wins the best manual award - it came complete with page numbers (accurate and only one set), an index, and lots of pertinent, practical data that I know I will reference in the future.

More Reviews: Raw Materials & More

The raw materials classes from the first module were pretty solid. The barley class was a great intro to malting technology, a subject that was both completely new and fascinating for me. As I've mentioned in the past, I think that understanding barley and malting is crucial to understanding brewing, so thanks to Burghard Meyer for introducing me to the topic. Burghard was our main instructor and also taught hops, brewing technology, and brewery arithmetics. The latter was pretty, pretty painful and consisted of just copying down error laden practice problems. I found most of the problems poorly worded and it took me quite a while to get used to the German way of arithmetics, which works but is very different from the way that I am used to thinking. Personally, I think VLB should drop this course and add some more quality science hours in its place. If they still have it next year, have fun.

The hops class was also pretty solid and had some good hands-on components, including a special lecture by the renowned Dr. Schildbach and the unofficial practical work in Burghard's hop garden. Nice touch, Burghard. The non-VLB trip to Hopsteiner (thanks Martin!) during our whirlwind Bavaria "pullover" tour, as well as the opportunity to meet arguably the most important man in the business, Mr. Henry Barth (thanks Meg's Dad & thanks Henry!), were also invaluable supplements to my hop experience here in Germany. There are some good people in the hop trade for sure!

In my ideal world, I would have liked to see VLB arrange a trip like ours to Mainburg, but it all worked out for the best in the end. I think one thing that VLB could easily do that would help a ton would be to add some non-holiday Fridays or Mondays off to make independent trips like ours less of a headache to organize. Perhaps they could extend the course a week and add a break in the middle.

More Reviews: Microbiology & Sensory Analysis

Microbiology: I never felt like I was learning a lot during this class, but now that it's over, I can see that I most certainly did. This course is held every week throughout all 3 modules and consists of a regular classroom lecture, followed by the practical work in the lab. It's difficult to breath in the lab with the lack of ventilation and all of those burners...burning, so I often found myself more focused on getting out of the room than learning, but I guess it all worked out in the end. The practical work is a real strength of VLB, and this is one of those classes where how well you do/how much you learn is really a factor of what you put in. Dr. Hinrichs isn't going to hold your hand and lead you through anything, but he's 100% there when you have questions/ask for help. Involve him in your thought processes and problems and you'll be better off for it. Hinrichs is one of VLB's best instructors, and was a definite favorite of our class. He also is hilarious and likes to yell, "Heat-ing-Test!"

Sensory Analysis: Dr. Hardt did a good job with this class, given the amount of time allotted for it, which was insufficient. We didn't actually get into this class until the 3rd module and it's a real shame. I think sensory analysis is some of the most important kind of training there is in this line of work, and while I might occasionally use it as an excuse to go drinking, in all seriousness it is difficult/impossible to train without professional guidance. I think most participants were disappointed that this class ended up being more of an overview to the subject rather than serious actual training. Future CBC classes should put some pressure on VLB to make this course a higher priority and there is no reason it couldn't start in the the 1st module and go for the entire program.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Done.

We made it. I don't know if I passed biochemistry or not, but it doesn't matter. My other grades have been trickling in and are good enough to offset the possible failing grade, so (unless I get hit by a bus prior to the ceremony) I will be receiving a diploma next week! We (the whole class) leave for a whirlwind industry tour in northern Germany at 5am on Monday. Our stops are: Stralsunder Brauerei (Stralsund), Malteurop (Rostock), KRONES (Flensburg), Flensburger Brauerei (Flensburg), Holsten-Brauerei (Hamburg), KHS (Hamburg), KWS Lochow (Bergen-Wohlde), and InBev/Hasseroeder (Wernigerode). Sounds fun, but exhausting. I doubt anyone will get much sleep on the bus with Felipe running his mouth the whole time.

With biodisappointemistry already out of the way, I've got reviews of some other core subjects up next, followed by highlights of the upcoming 4-day excursion and graduation, and finally this blog's conclusion: an overall review of the program and some suggestions for future participants.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Biodisappointemistry

2 days/3 exams to go. We don't have any grades back yet, but with the exception of microbiology, I think all have gone well so far. I found my new favorite restaurant in Berlin (pictured). Too bad I didn't try it sooner. Amazing burritos. I might eat there everyday for the 8 days that I have left here in Berlin. In my links section, I've added a Google map with the best places in Berlin that my classmates and I have discovered (we weren't actually the first humans to go to them) during our stay. So, if you go to Berlin, do yourself a favor and check out our "discoveries." Classmates: if you think of any place that I should add (ie: I don't have a name for the biergarten in Tiergarten) please let me know.

Biochemistry is our last exam. I'm not exaggerating when I say that there is almost no chance that I will pass it. While not ideal, this is OK, because I should still be able to "graduate" based on my other grades, but the lack of knowledge gained in this subject is a source of major disappointment for me and a few of my classmates. Namely, the ones with no previous chemistry/biochemistry experience. Most of my close friends are getting it...or at least enough of it to not be as angry as I am, but that's only after many hours of help outside of class from Felipe, VLB's best (unpaid) teacher, who has nearly retaught the entire course to 4 of us. If you're enrolled in CBC 09, you better make sure they've got another Felipe signed up.

I'm not at all where I wanted to be with chemistry or biochemistry. These were my weakness coming here and they are still my weaknesses leaving. Sure, I've learned some things, but my level of understanding is barely basic and does not meet the expectations that I had coming here. I came here, in part, because the schedule was supposed to be heavy in chemistry/biochemistry and microbiology. While I haven't exactly mastered microbiology, I do feel like I went from zero to a good, basic understanding of what is important in relation to brewing science, and I have plenty of material (and Dr. Hinrichs' email) that I can reference in the future. Biochemistry, on the other hand, has been an incredible disappointment.

Perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect to master biochemistry in under 6 months without prior experience, but I find the setup for learning chemistry and biochemistry at VLB completely unacceptable. I've discussed some of this before, so rather than ramble on, here are the problems with chemistry/biochemistry that VLB needs to fix and how they should fix them:

  • Problem: More hours of the subjects needed in the program. Solution: Eliminate subjects like economics, automation, brewery arithmetics, and other non-brewing science courses to add more chemistry hours to the program. If "Science Generates Quality," then don't waste my time with other subjects only to shortchange me in the science department.
  • Problem: Chemistry/biochemistry are important for understanding all of the other subjects. Solution: Add more (or all) chemistry to module 1 or make college level chemistry a prerequisite.
  • Problem: Not enough repetition, too much time between classes. Solution: Have class more frequently, don't reschedule classes - 2 weeks is too long in between classes.
  • Problem: Subjects are not focused enough on brewing science. Solution: Eliminate DNA, RNA, creation type of topics and focus on the reason why we are here (in the course, not on earth).
  • Problem: Too much assumed knowledge and too fast of a pace. The chemical engineers should be able to sleep through or skip this class. Felipe was entertained by it and my eyes were glazed over the entire time. Solution: This is not a subject where you can teach to the middle ground. Start at the basics, and build up systematically. It doesn't matter what the average background of the class is, start at the beginning.
  • Problem: No reinforcement of what is learned. Solution: Have homework, quizzes, etc. like a normal class.
  • Problem: Not enough teaching/learning. Solution: Don't have us (in a very rushed fashion!) copy down structures that we don't know/understand so we can just memorize them later.
...More reviews (positive and negative) of VLB coming soon, now that it's almost all over with.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

4 more days

Yesterday was a long one. We had the written Chemical Technical Analyses exam at 8am and then the CTA Practical exam from 9am to 5pm (Definitely the longest exam I've ever had). The class is divided into thirds for this one, so some people have it today or tomorrow instead. I'm lucky to have it over with, and the whole weekend to rest and focus on the last 4 days of exams. I can't believe this is all over with on Thursday.

The practical exam was also divided into three parts: water analyses, beer analyses, and the Kjeldahl method for nitrogen/protein content. It was organized as a rotation where 3 people worked (independently and with different samples) on one set of analyses at a time to avoid cramped conditions, cheating, etc. Erica and Felipe also had the practical yesterday, but they started with Kjeldahl, whereas I began with water analyses. I'm glad I didn't have to work in Felipe's group. He knocked over Erica's samples at one point and created several other minor disasters.

Afterwards, Erica, Felipe, and I went to the biergarten in Tiergarten. I'd never been before, but everyone else has been raving about it. It definitely is the nicest of the few I've seen in Berlin so far. The weather is such a contrast from the first 4 months of the program - It's really too bad that the course doesn't start in March or April. If you ever visit Berlin, do NOT come before April. Someone told me a joke the other day: The only way to tell if it is winter or summer in Berlin is by the temperature of the rain.

p.s. It has come to my attention that groups of women in offices worldwide have been discussing the topic of Felipe's beard. To better facilitate this discussion, I have added a second poll in which you can voice your opinion. This poll can be found below the archives list in the right hand column.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My Fragile Mind

I’m not exactly sure when I went insane, but I guess that probably comes with the territory. I don’t think it was before this afternoon, but really, it’s hard to say for sure. I can’t seem to sleep for very long without waking up, and it’s not the good kind of waking up either. It’s the kind where you come to while in a free-fall, think your heart has stopped, become startled by a loud noise, or realize the alarm clock has died, and both the time and your 8am exam moved on without you. Of course none of these things actually occurred, but it takes some time to filter them out of reality.

I remember studying pictures of yeast cells and bacteria colonies from something like 5:15 to 7:30 this morning, which was probably a good thing. The microbiology lottery was fairly good to me today – I got the process water analysis, a culture yeast, and what I strongly believe to have been Zygosaccharomyces (yeast) and Micrococcus (bacteria). The process water analysis is easy as pie (some gets pour plated into Standard 1 agar and the rest gets membrane filtered onto wort and VLB S7 agars), but there’s a bit of a trade off in which, having gotten off light today likely makes for a more difficult analysis of the post-incubation results next week. As long as I don’t screw that up next Wednesday, I should be in good shape for the practical portion.

After the practical, I joined the usual suspects for lunch outside of the imbiss and we lounged around, waiting for the theoretical portion of the exam to begin at 2pm. I didn’t have any idea what the answers were to the first five questions or much of what followed. I didn’t expect to ace this one, but whatever securities I had about my ability to pass it, must have bypassed my clogged reality filter. After struggling through the exam, I turned it in, went outside and took a look at my manual to see what (if any) points I might have eeked out of my guesses. I had made an effort to try to memorize some of the questions that I was clueless about and managed to hold 4 or 5 of them in short term memory, but a quick browse through the manual yielded no answers. I decided to try again once I got home and proceeded to a scheduled meeting with Dr. Ahrens for part 2 of the "him helping me decide how to treat the brewery water in Roanoke" sessions.

Still reeling from the test, I sat down with Dr. Ahrens who began going through lab results, notes, and a schematic…that I had never seen before. I told him that I thought he may have had me mixed up with someone else, but failed to get my point across. I tried my best to wrap my mind around what was going on, thinking that maybe he had new data from the lab, and was taking things in a different direction, so I did my best to follow. We might as well have been speaking different languages. He was just as sure that I had given him the schematic and data table on his desk as I was that I had not. I’m not sure who was more confused when I left, me or him. I walked home blasting Buena Vista Social Club into my ears to relax and hoped that I would soon wake up from whatever messed up dream I must be in.

I took a more thorough look through my microbiology manual when I got home, but only found one answer to the stumpers from the exam. So I’m either blind, have the wrong book, or am still insane. I fell asleep staring at some strange, fast moving clouds through the skylight above my bed. Not 2 seconds after I woke up, an airplane jetted silently across the otherwise cloud free, bright, blue sky. Reaching for my little 2 Euro alarm clock, I knocked it and sent it flying as if I had been trying to grab a moving target. I tossed some returnable bottles in my empty backpack and headed to the grocery store, which I was certain closed in 30 minutes. I turned down the wrong street, but didn’t notice for a while. A bug flew into my eye and became wedged under the lid, adding to my discomfort and disorientation. I got to the store with 8 minutes to spare, but it had been closed for 52 minutes. My eye hurt worse than my stomach, so I walked back home to deal with that rather than eating, which I believe was the original goal. As I waited to cross the crosswalk, a car with a green light slowed, thinking that I somehow had the right of way despite their green light. They were almost rear ended by a fast moving, horn blaring car which would have sent the first car tumbling into me had they connected. I froze. Time to go back to sleep.

I just got some emails from the homebrew club listserv back in Blacksburg discussing a barley wine with a Final Gravity of 1.044. Maybe I’m insane, but that’s a normal Original Gravity. What a waste of extract and an unpalatable sugary hangover in a glass. I can't believe that people make that style of beer intentionally. Is it possible that I am the main character in an unpublished Kurt Vonnegut novel? Plant Equipment final tomorrow. Surely, it can only be better than today.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Funny Signs

It's Tuesday night, which means there's sword fighting on my hall. Perhaps it's more accurate to call it fencing...? Well, Fencing (or whatever it is that they do with the swords) is a big part of the German fraternity where I've been living for the last five months. They even have this whole big room for it just down the hall from my room. I thought it was a little strange when I first moved in, but I barely notice it anymore. Except on Tuesdays. That's when I usually find myself saying, "Who's making all that noise...and what the hell are they banging on?!?" Then after a few seconds I think, "Ooooh...Riiiiight. It's Tuesday." It used to be on Wednesday nights, but I guess they changed their schedule.

My uncle Randy gets a kick out of reading the garbage that comes out of online translation websites, so I thought I'd give the sign on the fencing room door (pictured) a shot to see came out. It gave me: "Swotting soil Entered on own danger." It's normal practice for Randy to re-translate the translation and then re-translate that, you know, just to make sure the online translator is working properly. He's sent me the results from doing this back and forth between English and German a few times and believe me, there are some pretty good reads. Maybe Larry David can make a series of books about it called, "Translations From a Nut." Anyway, I thought I'd give Randy's method a try since I don't like to mess with tradition. Here's what came out the second time: "Swotting ground Come in on own danger." Usually the translation gets worse with each iteration, but I think I may have found the exception.

I guess I got a little sidetracked, but the whole point of this post was to share some funny signs. After only a few days in Berlin (I believe I was walking down Dickhardt Street at the time) it was apparent to me that I was going to have to start a collection of photos of funny signs. The collection isn't as large as I'd hoped it would be, mostly because I've been pretty slack about following through on some of my ideas and taking pictures of all of the signs, but since I'm running out of time...Here's what I've got so far: White Trash restaurant, smoking can kill you, big hamburger street, this no dogs sign looked funnier when we had been drinking, no cars, houses, or parents playing soccer with their 5 year old allowed sign, saw this jar in the windmill, this guy is really happy about coffee in Munich, Queerbeet means journey in English but I'm pretty sure this disco might attract a different crowd back home, and the one that I really regret dropping the ball on is my "Gut" collection. When Germans advertise, they say things like, "Good. Fast. Cheap." That's about as adjectivy as they ever get and they never say that something is the best (Katrin J. told me that it may even be against the law to do so).

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Home Stretch

The weather has continued with its nearly perfect streak, the hops have been growing like mad, and we're almost finished here. We just completed the last full week of classes and final exams begin next week. It's shaping up to be a pretty crazy sprint to the finish, with lots crammed in at the last minute and preparations for some of the more scary exams already in full force. I think we all have the most concern about passing microbiology.

In addition to the theory exam, our practical exam consists of a lottery system. The number drawn corresponds to a place sit where we each will have 2 yeast strains and 1 bacteria that we must identify using all of the methods that we've learned. Then we have to analyze a sample that could be process water, storage tank beer, filtered beer, etc. which may or may not be laced with something. We've learned protocols for identifying yeasts (saccharomyces top and bottom fermenting, non-saccharomyces), molds, aerobic bacteria, beer spoiling bacteria, etc. and we've got micro-filtration, wort agar, lysine agar, standard 1 with actidione, acetate agar, VLB S7 agar, endo agar, lactose peptone broth, gram staining, oxidase and catalase tests, macroscopes, microscopes, entro tubes, Durham tubes, and more at our disposal, but this has serious potential to get ugly. There are a lot of things that have to go right and a lot of exceptions to a lot of rules.

Then there's the 8 hour Chemical Technical Analyses exam. We've been practicing the analyzes the last 2 weeks, which has got all of us feeling better about our chances, but it's still no joke and believe it or not, 8 hours is only enough time to finish all of the required analyzes if few-to-no mistakes are made. I practiced the water (total hardness, Ca & Mg, P&M values) and beer analyzes (color, bitter substances, and distillation for extract, ABV, etc.) last week and the malt analyzes (moisture content and the 4 hour Kjeldahl Method for nitrogen/protein content today. There are a lot of potential pitfalls and plenty of things to screw up in these analyzes...especially when you have to do them all in 8 hours while being watched and graded. I'll be glad once it's all over with.

We managed to slip a VLB arranged brewery tour into this week's chaos. Most of the class made it to the Berliner Kindl Schultheiss Brauerei. The tour was great and the brewery (formerly owned by the east German government) has some interesting history. It was the world's largest brewery under the ownership of Schultheiss in the twenties. The bottle shop was pretty elaborate and one of the more interesting ones that I've seen as it included systems for receiving, cleaning, and inspecting the classic returnable/refillable German beer bottles in addition to all of the normal fascinating processes of high speed filling lines. I wish I had some pictures for you, but everything except the brewhouse pictured here was off limits. I haven't consumed much Berliner Pilsner since I've been here, but it's a good one and I'm going to have to pay more attention to it once exams are over.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Wie heißt du?

Not much time for blogging this week...we've got some extra lectures and a big paper due Friday. Since there's nothing new to read here, perhaps you can help me out with something:

(I have no idea how many of you are also subscribed to the BBC News Feed, so I apologize if this is duplicate info for you.)

Anyway, I've got to hurry up and decide on a name for BBC's future flagship beer, and you can help right here. I'd especially love to hear from Blacksburgers and those with ties to Blacksburg. Serious suggestions only please! Thanks.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Holy Humulus Lupulus!

The weather in Berlin has been amazing lately. So good that we've been checking on the hop garden between classes. Those suckers grow fast (up to 30cm in one day)! Check out this one. The ties on the wire represent only 24 hours.

I have some good news that you probably won't care about. After a couple of weeks of struggle, I finally recovered the bulk of my files from Data Safe. It wasn't pretty and I definitely recommend uninstalling the program if you have it and think it is doing anything good for you. Afterwards, I was so happy that I sent this really nice thank you note to Dell. (And when I say nice, I mean that it was nicer than the death threat that I wanted to make.)

Here's a picture of the bottle inspector at VLB that George taught us about, here's me sterilizing the membrane filtration unit in microbiology, here's Katrin showing us how foam stability is analyzed, and here's Mike preaching the gospel according to MEBAK to us during CTA. This entry feels very John Lane-esque...minus the extra pounds of course. (ouch!)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Scotland: 3 birds, one stone

I have some sort of strange affliction that frequently causes me to try to cram as many things as possible into a trip. It usually turns what could have been a fun and relaxing vacation into a hectic, stressful mess. This time was an exception and a refreshing change of pace. I left Berlin Saturday morning and landed in Glasgow in less than 2 hours. Bird #1: Supposedly, I am of Scottish descent, therefore Scotland was on my list of places to see before I die.

Bird #2: A good friend of mine from high school, Erin, moved to Scotland about 7 years ago. Erin and her husband, Richard, live on the west coast of Scotland in a village called West Kilbride. It's a really beautiful place. I took this picture just around the corner from their house. You can see the coast and one of the many small islands. We had amazing weather and it was the perfect (needed) change of scenery for me. I hadn't seen Erin since about a year before she moved away, so we had lots to catch up on. She's a musician (check out her MySpace page) and it was fun getting to know Richard. I love it when people I care about end up with cool people. We had a great time. On Saturday they took me for a walk on the coast, we had dinner in a little local pub (I had hagus and tried some fish and chips), and afterwards we watched Nacho Libre..."eets da best!"

On Sunday, we drove to nearby Fairlie and wandered through a sheep farm. There are no trespassing laws in Scotland, so it's common for people to hike wherever they want. Richard and Erin said that the weather was only that nice a few days out of the year, so I guess my timing was pretty good. It must have been 70 degrees and I even got a little sunburn. Here's another picture I took on our hike. Afterwards, we went to a BBQ at their friends' house and then it was time for Bird #3: Andrew Bird...

Andrew Bird is one of the greatest musicians on the planet (and possibly in outer space if they have songs there). He plays violin, guitar, other instruments, whistles, sings, often doing three of these at the same time. He performed a solo show in a little tiny venue (maybe 250 people) in Glasgow Sunday night. Erin, Richard, and I got there early and took over one of the few small tables up against the stage. Meg, John Smith, and I had seen Andrew Bird perform with his band last fall and this was quite the contrast. This time Bird played songs that he'd recorded just last week for his upcoming album, some old favorites, and even a song with lyrics derived from a letter that his friend found on the street. If you have small children, you may already know him as Dr. Stringz from Noggin Television, otherwise, check out Mr. Bird right here. The song is about the cycle of life...or more specifically the 26 chickens that he couldn't protect from raccoons on his farm and the sparrows that make nests in his chimney with the feathers they left behind.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hair of the Dog

I Learned something pretty interesting while talking to Mike (one of the staff members of our CTA lab) last Friday. I think most everyone has heard the expression "hair of the dog that bit you," but in the event that it's new to you it means treating a hangover by drinking more of what got you the hangover in the first place. I don't think I know of anyone who's ever actually done this intentionally, and it definitely never happened to me or anyone I know during either the 2006 or 2007 VT football season. Anyway, the science behind HOTD makes for a rather compelling argument:

When you drink, enzymes in your body (ie: dehydrogenase) break down the alcohol. The enzymes will first break down ethanol (if it is available) because it is easier. Then they go after the more complicated higher (aka "fusel") alcohols. The byproducts that result from the breakdown of these higher alcohols are quite toxic. These toxins are responsible for your hangover. This is why expensive liquor (has been distilled more times and therefore has a greater percentage of pure ethanol) generally has more mercy on your body than the stuff that we drank in college.

So, if your body has broken down all of the ethanol and has moved on to the higher alcohols, you can add more ethanol to your system and the enzymes will switch back to breaking down ethanol instead. If you can keep the enzymes busy with ethanol, more of the fusel alcohols escape metabolism and are excreted unchanged in the breath, sweat and urine. This is also why a woman who drank anti-freeze was prescribed whiskey, and why when 3 kids drank anti-freeze, only one of them survived. He lived because he had polished off half a bottle of whiskey prior to ingesting the anti-freeze. So the moral of the story is never drink anti-freeze or cheap liquor, and always drink in moderation (unless of course you just accidentally drank anti-freeze).

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Did I mention that I hate computers?

I'd post some pictures, but I don't have any. In fact, I don't have any files anymore. I bought a Dell Inspiron 1501 with Vista Home Basic before I departed for Germany. It will be the last Dell (and Microsoft) product that I buy. I've had a lot of operating system issues with the machine and on Monday my user profile became corrupt for the second time. The first time it was fixed by a Dell rep who connected to my machine remotely, found my files and fixed the problem. Pretty cool. This time after many hours working with Dell reps remotely, they could not fix the problem and as a result of the many other issues that I was having, they urged me to do a factory image restore (reformat the hard drive).

My computer came with a program called Dell Data Safe, which automatically backs up some of your files weekly to a shack in West Virginia with a telephone line and a Commodore 64. Since Data Safe had run and "successfully" backed up my files Monday morning, I figured hey, no problem. Let's start over with a fresh machine, get Vista's new service pack 1 (which I am still unable to get even though I have all prerequisite updates???), restore my files and get on with life. Of course this meant losing several very important programs, like my financial software, for which the install disks are back home in VA, but if figured I could make do for a little while...especially if it meant wasting less time with Dell support. Well, it turns out that Data Safe is not so #@%&!`* safe. I've logged nearly 30 hours of time that I didn't have this week online with Dell support trying to retrieve my data. Most of it is lost for good. Personal files, business files, school documents, all of my pictures from Germany, the whole 9 yards. By the way, Dell takes no responsibility for data backed up to Data Safe.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Die Sonne scheint heute

There was this strange ball of light in the sky today that made everything really bright and dried up most of the puddles. No rain, snow, or hail fell from the sky, which was also unusual. According to people who talk about the weather, April 2007 was the warmest month in Berlin. An average of something like 27 C. I'd guess that so far the April '08 average is more like 7 C. Today was so nice, I just walked around my neighborhood until my feet hurt. I know what you're thinking...Oh great, he's run out of material and has sunken to a new low in which he just discusses the weather.

I went back to the Fundburo on Tuesday, but they didn't have my hat. I'm starting to come to terms with it being lost forever, but occasionally still scan heads on the street for it and think about what I might say and/or do if I ever see some asshole wearing it.

We completed our 2nd module yesterday, which means we are two-thirds finished, and things are feeling pretty good. I took advantage of a great opportunity yesterday by analyzing some water from the new brewery in Roanoke. I had the owners send me a sample and Katrin let me do some analyzes in the lab before my regular CTA Friday lab. It made for a long day, but was great practice and of course good to have more results ("1 value is no value." -Katrin) for our water parameters so that we can treat it appropriately once I get back. I hope to discuss the results with Dr. Ahrens sometime next week. Ahrens is the resident water expert and he teaches our water and waste water classes. I think my extra practice will also be a big help when it comes time for the 8 hour practical portion of the CTA lab exam at the end of the course. This picture isn't from my water analysis, but it was one of the better looking CTA lab pictures I could find. I think Lane took it.

Last night, we ran into Ingo (our economics professor) at a bar and he was telling me that VLB is considering offering an e-learning chemistry course prior to the normal program for those coming here with little-to-no chemistry background. I think this would be a great improvement to the program. Definitely ask about this if you are considering attending the course in the future.

Finally, you should check out John Lane's report on something really crazy that we saw the other day in a cemetery (especially if you are planing to die in or have your remains sent to Berlin).

OK wait, one more thing...I added a poll on that section over there on the right. It's under the LinkedIn profile button and above the links section. (sorry, I know that's confusing) I'd really appreciate it if you took a couple of seconds to fill it out. You can check multiple boxes. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Eat While You Can.

It's taken months, but I've finally got most of the Germans in my house (and some not in my house) saying "hey." Up until recently, they used to always say "hello" (pronounced ha-lo), but I'm changing them - one at a time. Sure, I've made an impact, but it's not like the mark John Lane has left. He's added an entire new word to the dictionary. Don't believe me? It's true, look here. Felipe's got some great ones too, but nothing in the dictionary just yet. Last weekend he took a few of us to a Brazilian restaurant (since he's Brazilian). He said it was, "Eat while you can." Expecting to be timed (perhaps by the actual soup nazi from Seinfeld), having to fend off attackers who would try to steel my food, or maybe even just impatient waitresses who might try to clear away my plate before I finished, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that none of these were true. It was, in fact, all-you-can-eat. We did that and then some, which naturally led to a discussion about Roman banquets and how the attendees would stuff themselves until they had to use our favorite new addition to the dictionary so they could continue eating. I like to eat, but I can't imagine ever wanting to do that.

p.s. Do you think this obligates me to take everyone out to an American restaurant?

After our exam yesterday, we worked off some steam in the hop garden. Two new plants went in the ground, wire was strung, weeding completed, and Felipe put a hurt'n on some wild hop plants (verboten), but that's a whole other story. The weather was Berlin (aka miserable) but we had a few beers, so it all evened out. Here's a great shot of Sheng, Xiaohong "Joy" from China taking pictures and John Lane drinking while everyone else worked. Oh yeah, you're probably wondering about that first picture...It's from today's Simatic S7 course. We were playing with RTD's (Resistance Temperature Detector), not burning down the automation lab.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

I go New York!

The following is an account of my actual experience obtaining a visa/residence permit to stay in Germany until June 9th.

My 90 days were just about up, but after hearing horror stories of the time commitment and process from many of my classmates, I waited until the absolute last possible day to get my visa. My Canadian housemate, Erica, had done the same so we left the house early Monday morning and arrived at the Abteilung Auslaenderangelegenheiten (no, I am not making up that word) at about 6:40am, twenty minutes before they opened. Erica had tried to go on her own the previous week and was turned away as they were already full. They told her to come back Monday at 6:30am. When we got there at 6:40am, a line of at least 50 people had already formed. When they finally opened the doors, many people behind us started cutting in line and forcing their way in. Once corralled into an actual line inside, the smell of nations filled the room. It's really amazing the fragrances that people choose to have represent themselves. As you might imagine from an earlier post, this process involves waiting for a waiting number. Once you get to the first agent, they issue you said waiting number and a waiting room number.

If the first room had the smell of all nations, then our waiting room had the food of all nations (and I'm not talking about the grocery store in Cville). First it was tuna. Then a very strong bread smell, Indian food, and some things that I just can't classify. The smells weren't all food and from time to time the strong stench of pull-over coming from the hallway would infiltrate the waiting room. After a few minutes, everything seemed routine - another big digital board that would beep and flash when a new number was ready to be served, then you were off to the corresponding room.

After around 20 minutes the board began to display only "F01" and finally went blank. It was broken. After some time someone would occasionally come to the room and shout the numbers. Once the number is called, you get the form (Couldn't they have given this out earlier?). The form was very long, very confusing, and very repetitive, with lots of bad translations. They clearly don't want anyone to be here. Eventually, they call your number again and you take your form and all of your documents (passport, registration with the city, bank statement showing that you have at least $588 Euros a month to live on, letter from school saying why you are here, proof of health insurance, and photos) and turn them in. My photos were rejected because I had a very slight smile. She said, "Kein Zaehne." (no teeth) and told me to get new photos from the machine upstairs.

I go to the elevator and get in. It goes down instead of up. Then it breaks. Everyone gets out in the basement (which is chained off because we're not allowed to be in it). I climb over the chains and up to the floor with the 7 euro (rip off) photo machine. There's a huge line and the machine is slow. I get the photos and take them to the lady. After maybe a half hour of waiting, my number is called again and I go to the corresponding room. In this room, a different lady gives me a plastic card which I have to take to a different floor and use a machine to add cash to the card so I can go back to her and pay her 50 euros to get my passport back which now has the fancy page pictured above. At 9:40am, three hours later, the whole thing is over with and I can officially stay in Germany. I'm not sure that I want to anymore.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Comments On

At the request of my classmates and some yahoos back home (who I really hope keep it clean) I have finally enabled comments.

So you're telling me there's a chance?

Another long week. There seems to be less and less free time each week, and we're getting ready to start the final module which means even more special lectures and longer days in class. Two exams next week, brewing during the weekend, another big paper due shortly afterwards, and then another brewing weekend. I'm trying to fit in work for the Roanoke brewery in the gaps. It's been pretty stressful lately, but it's going to pay off in the end. We just started our Sensory Analysis class and it's quite interesting/fun. Currently, we're identifying our individual stimulus, recognition, and difference thresholds. I think this training is going to be very valuable. Our chemistry professor teaches sensory analysis too, and he's finally started to write a little bigger and use a black marker (rather than unreadable green or red), which means I can actually follow some things now. Speaking of boards, Thomas developed a new (and rather unorthodox) technique for cleaning the dry erase board.

We got a brief glimpse of some nice weather and then it went back to cold and rainy Berlin. It seems to hail at least once a day at my house and if it's not already raining, it almost always begins doing so within 30 minutes after I get home. It's actually pretty good luck on my end that it seems to wait for me to get inside a lot. In the bad luck department, I lost my favorite hat running for the subway on Tuesday. I went to the Fundburo (BVG lost and found) yesterday to look for it. They didn't have it, but man was that place impressive...Hundreds, if not thousands, of lost hats, gloves, coats, whatever, all tagged and organized by when and in which part of the...well, massive mass transit system they were found. They told me to come back next week and based on the scale and organization of this operation, I think I will. "...So you're telling me there's a chance?"

John Lane finally cut his hair and beard. The results from the microbiological analysis of his beard will be posted on his blog (my links section) a week from Wednesday. Also, on Monday I had to extend my visa to stay here in Germany (they said I could stay), but that's a whole other blog entry. The BVG threatened to strike again on Monday and then didn't at the last minute, so we all had to wake up an hour early for no reason. If you're thinking of visiting Berlin, don't come until this strike nonsense is officially finished - it is terribly inconvenient.

Monday, March 31, 2008

McBirthday

Felipe had a birthday last week. I'm not sure if he turned 25 or 5, but since he has a ridiculous obsession with McDonald's, we decided to take him there for his birthday party. He was lovin' it. We asked the cashier for birthday hats, but apparently they don't do that in Berlin. After they said no, John Lane asked if we could just have one of the paper hats that the guy flipping burgers had on. No again! (Stupid birthday nazis.) But it was alright, we drank Bitburger out of paper cups, ate some "schmecktakel" food, and I even talked the cashier into giving us a single fry (we had already eaten all of ours) so that John could light it on fire while we sang happy birthday. Afterwards, we went to the mystery bar that John finally found, where we bought a beer with a sheep on the label and another with a wolf. This resulted in the following video, which isn't all that funny unless you pay close attention to the way that Felipe "barks." It really sounds pretty ridiculous and nothing at all like a wolf. I guess they don't have wolves in Brazil.

Friday, March 28, 2008

I hate computers

It's been a long week. We had a big research paper due today, and I've been fighting with my computer. Many Microsoft Office crashes later, it's finally done. Until about 2 or 3 days ago, I thought that our assignment, which was to discuss the results of the malt analysis on the winter barley that we malted in the VLB pilot plant as well as other research on winter malting barley, was kind of stupid. My complaint was that we didn't have a control sample of spring barley to malt as a comparison, but after having finished the report I see the value in what we did. Writing the paper really helped to bring several of my courses together (they said it would all come together in the end and I'm starting to think they were right), and I feel a lot more fluent in barley/malt analyzes and the issues surrounding the use of winter barley and the global supply of malting barley.

I've got some good material (Felipe's birthday party at McDonald's, witnessing a drug deal) queued up, but I'll have to get to that later this weekend, once I've caught up on some sleep.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Innovations in Personal Hygiene

My friend, John Smith, has been hoping for years that someone would create a product that would dispense some sort of multi-purpose hygienic gel. This all-in-one wonder substance could be used as soap, shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, and shaving cream. (I may have left something out.) Well, Smith, I just wanted to let you know that the Germans are working on it. They're only up to hair, hand, and body so far, but something tells me the rest is coming any day now.

Friday, March 21, 2008

VLB Evaluation

One of the main reasons that I started this blog was because I found it difficult to get insider information when I was researching different brewing schools. I hope this blog serves as a useful tool to brewers who are considering various programs, and I hope that students at other schools will offer similar reviews or blogs (and let me know so that I can link to them) in the future. Since we recently turned in our reviews of the 1st module, since we are almost halfway finished with the course, and since I haven't discussed academics in a while, I thought this would be a good time to offer a review of my VLB experience to date. If you're not a brewer and are therefore reading for the entertainment value alone, you may want to give this lengthy entry a miss.

Before I dive in, I want to point out that I recognize running an international program such VLB's CBC comes with some pretty enormous challenges. That's probably why VLB is the only school in Germany offering such a program. Our class is a total melting pot in terms of nationality, industry experience, and mastery (or lack thereof) of the English language. We have engineers from some of the world's larger breweries, microbrewers, pub brewers, homebrewers, and even a few with little to no prior experience. So that makes an intensive curriculum such as this a bit of a challenge as VLB tries walk the line between basic and advanced concepts. I think that in a lot of ways they do a good job of this, which speaks to the success and popularity of the program so far. But as a guy who paid some serious cash out of his own pocket to be here (the majority of the class is sent by their employer), I can't help but offer some suggestions for improvement. One of the things I really like about VLB is that they are flexible and seem to be interested in reacting/adapting to our feedback, which is probably a pretty good idea since our tuition pays the bills. Here we go...

VLB Best:
Although I'd like to see even more of it, I think the practical work in the lab, malting, and brewing is key. I really enjoy the engineering and energy topics, but wish they had additional info for craft brewers who don't have millions to invest in their plant. I like the amount of focus on raw materials knowledge, especially water, and I love that we learn malting, not just brewing. Understanding the barley kernel and the malting process is crucial to understanding brewing. Hands down, our best professor is Dipl.-Ing. Roland Pahl. He commands attention and never puts the class to sleep as he explains advanced concepts in baby steps so that anyone can understand them. He is organized, speaks great English, and his practical and academic experience is evident when he lectures and answers questions. All of us wish he taught more subjects. Maybe all schools are like this, but you get out what you put in, and while it wasn't obvious at first, nearly all of the staff are willing and able to spend time outside of class if you need help or just want to learn more about specific topics, equipment, etc.

VLB Worst:
While we have a week of excursions at the end of the course, most of the class would like more and/or more timely ones. My trip to Weyerman (and its timing) for instance was instrumental in solidifying what I learned in malting technology, yet I had to skip another class to make the trip happen as we only have weekends and holidays free. It blows my mind that we haven't had an organized, behind the scenes tour of the local Schultheiss Brewery that we've heard so much about in class. We also have been introduced to very little at the institute, outside of our course, including most of the other labs and research/services/projects/programs that are going on at the institute. We finally have a tour scheduled, but some sort of orientation should be added to future CBC courses. We have an economics course and none of us know why. We're not here to learn economics and we could really use the time in other courses (chemistry?). The schedule is less organized than I'd like it to be. It was difficult to plan a visit from my girlfriend because I couldn't get the schedule in advance and once I did, there were constant changes and additions. I would've paid extra for one schedule with everything on it that didn't change. Our manuals suck. They are full of spelling errors and graphs in German, are falling apart, waste too much paper, are not in color (which often makes the difference in understanding a graph or picture), can be difficult to read, will be expensive and a pain to ship home, often differ from presentations or are incredibly repetitive and/or out of order (water!), and lack indexes or page numbers. Electronic versions would solve a lot of problems.

The Biggest Disappointment Award, however, goes to chemistry. I expected chemistry for dummies, specific to brewing. Instead, I have an enormous headache. Less than 2 months before the class started, VLB recommended that I come with some basic chemistry knowledge. Too late. Dr. Rolf Hardt teaches at a level that is way over my head. His illegible stream of conscious notes on the white board are full of errors. The only chemistry I've learned so far has been from Felipe, my chemical engineer of a classmate who finds Hardt's class interesting. If a chemical engineer finds the class interesting, there is clearly a problem with the level at which it is taught. Felipe taught me how to number carbon atoms weeks before Hardt did, which was weeks after we needed to know how to in other classes. Hardt spent at least 2 lectures on quantum physics, which I'm pretty sure isn't as relevant to brewing as the other more important stuff that I still don't understand. I asked Hardt if he'd give me more practice problems since I was struggling. He said no. Even if Hardt was teaching at a level I could understand, there still wouldn't be enough chemistry early on in the program. Other professors assume we have a knowledge of the subject that many of us just don't. It's a mess. Do yourself a favor if you want to attend the CBC and take a semester or 2 of chemistry at a community college first. You'll get a lot more out of the program if you do.

Other Schools and Programs:
There are 3 main brewing schools in Germany. Two of which (VLB and Weihenstephan) are affiliated with technical universities. The third, Doemens, lacks the arguably important university connection and has recently come under fire from the proposed (and eventually withdrawn) buyout by brewery equipment manufacturing giant, Krones. Doemens might be a good option for some, but other programs better fit me and I was never able to get feedback from a previous graduate. Weihenstephan's programs are taught exclusively in German and only offer long-term training such as a Diplom- Braumeister program that takes years to complete. VLB offers similar programs if you want to train at university level for 2 years or more. Most Germans (including many of my professors) go through a 3 year combined academic/apprenticeship program to become Brewer and Maltster before entering into a Dipl.-Braumeister or Dipl.-Ing. (engineer) graduate level program.

Other options somewhat similar to VLB's Certified Brewmaster Course include UC Davis' Master Brewers Program, and The World Brewing Academy's (Siebel Institute + Doemens) International Diploma in Brewing Technology. All of these schools also offer shorter, less advanced programs that are probably a better fit for someone with no experience. The CBC at VLB emerged as the best fit for me (and my experience level) as I researched the options and came to know VLB's reputation within the industry. The CBC has a reputation for more hands-on work where other school's programs tend to be more academic. There's a guy in our class who's been to another program and swears that VLB is the most analytical, especially in terms of water chemistry, practical lab work, and microbiology. We've got another guy who also went to Siebel and likes VLB a lot more. The Brewers Association has a pretty complete list of all schools here. There are even distance learning options at some schools. So far, I am happy with my decision to come to VLB...I just wish I had taken chemistry first.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bavaria Part 3

We arrived in Munich at night and while I had been there 8 years ago, it was especially eerie to walk up to the massive Glockenspiel tower without daylight. After a beer at the Paulaner brewpub, we tried to go to Hofbrauhaus and some of the other must-sees, but (despite the fact that it was only midnight on a Saturday???) everything was closing down. We ended up at a crappy Irish bar where we drank draft Augustiner. I used to work at a brewery that supposedly used Augustiner yeast and always wondered if it really was the same yeast. I can now confirm that it most certainly is - the yeast flavor signature was nearly identical. Our friend from AmBev, however, ruined me forever on both beers when he identified the butyric acid off-flavor after the first sip. I learned in class a few days later that butyric acid (industry term: "baby vomit") is also the main ingredient in stink bombs. true story.

While that night was a bit of a let down, the next day made up for it. We got started with an incredible farmer's breakfast and then strolled around a huge park, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather. The beer gardens were open and packed, so we each had a liter. Afterwards, we went to Hofbrauhaus so that those who hadn't already been could say that they had. We had a hard time getting a waiter to come to our table, but after unsuccessfully attempting to do so by splitting up into different empty tables (I took the shot zoomed in from table 2 and you can see Erica staking out table 3 in the background) and eventually belting out a spontaneous (and pretty, pretty good) group rendition of "Never There" by CAKE, we were eventually served. Hofbrauhaus has a few more beer steins under lock and key than Eschenbrau did (Jan 18 post).

Simon is from Hamburg and since the Munich vs. Hamburg soccer match was that evening, we went to the stadium to see if we could get tickets. They weren't cheap and none of the seats were together, but we went. It was awesome, but honestly (with the exception of the group directly behind the Munich goal tender) had less energy than Hokie football. The subway ride back to center city was a little more crowded than Erica's, (she decided not to go to the game) but at least Munich's subway system wasn't on strike (Berlin's finally ended yesterday!).

Friday, March 14, 2008

The day Felipe didn't eat McBroble's

Our class traveled to Kulmbach this week for the 95th International Brewing and Engineering Congress. It was similar to the American Craft Brewers Conference in a lot of ways, except the crowd was only about a third of the size, it was much more professional, the seminars were more advanced, and the food and beer was a lot better. Most of the lectures were in German, but were translated via headset, so it was kind of like being at the European Union...of beer.

On the way to Kulmbach, we stopped at Brauereimaschinenfabrik (my new favorite German word, weighing in at only 23 letters) company, Kasper Schulz, where we learned about the SchoKo soft wort boiling system and toured their impressive facility. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos inside of Schulz. We had to dress professionally for all events, which also meant that John's compliment on Felipe's shoes (See earlier post) had finally paid off. It was now time for him to collect on the offer to borrow Felipe's shoes "anytime," so he did.

We had the option of touring Ireks maltery or Kulmbacher Brauerei. I went to the maltery, where we also saw a lot of bakery ingredients processing done by giant robots. During a break Felipe and Johns had a beer outside in the quaint little town. We were a little alarmed when this drove right by us.

The ride back home was devastating for Felipe. You see, he has an obsession with McDonald's. It's so bad that we have all banned him from even saying the word McDonald's, so now he says McBroble's and other ridiculous variations. Burghard (our fearless chaperon) had the bus stop at McDonald's and offered to pay for the entire class. Amidst Ronald, Grimace, and the gang, and the distinct mouth-watering aroma, Felipe's euphoria quickly came to an end when we found out that McDonald's didn't take credit cards and we would therefore continue on to the next stop.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Ein Megliner

No, I haven't been on strike (although the BVG has again - 10 days this time!), I've just be spending time with my girlfriend. Meg got here two Fridays ago and we had a great time. We toured around Berlin a little - saw The Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, The Gemaeldegalerie, The New National Gallery, and we went to the Jewish museum where they had Friends, Pope, and Batman yamikas. We went to the movies at the Sony Center, where we had assigned seats and it was a really good thing that we bought our tickets ahead of time.

We also went to Potsdam for a day, which was awesome and not long enough. In addition to all of the enormous old palaces and gardens, Dutch houses, hanging rhino, and Russian village we also toured a historic windmill. We got to see the inside of it (while it was turning!) and went out on the deck and watched the operator reposition the sails. Meg met most of my classmates and I showed her some of VLB, where she even tried out a historic bottle filler. It was great having her here and I sure will miss her.

I still have part 3 of Bavaria coming and some other tidbits, but we're off to the 95th International Brewing and Engineering Congress in Kulmbach in the morning, so it'll have to wait...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Bavaria Part 2

From Bamberg, we headed to Nuremberg, but all of the doors were really small there so we didn't stick around for very long. Saturday morning we drove into the Hallertau region. There was no doubt where we were, even if we had missed the sign, as both sides of the highway were lined with hop farms.

We met up with Martin Schoettl-Pichlmaier at Hopsteiner in Mainburg. Martin's family has a hop farm and part of his job at Hopsteiner is driving around to different hop farms and buying hops from them. He was extremely knowledgeable, very friendly, and gave us an incredible 6 hour tour. After lunch (thanks Martin!) he took us to a 35 hectare hop farm where he showed us the farm's hop picking equipment, kiln, bales of hops, and much more. Next, Martin took us to the Hopsteiner pelletization plant, where we got an impressive, in depth tour of one of the world's largest hop pelletization facilities. We toured the elaborate process for both Type 45 and Type 90 pellets, where one of the plants operators showed us kilns, separators, mills, sieving, cooling, homogenization, packaging, and more. Next stop, was one of the massive Hopsteiner high-rise cold warehouses. The temperature and oxygen content are adjusted to preserve the hops in the fully automated warehouse. After that, Martin took us to the extraction plant where hop extract products are made, and finally we compared some different hop varieties.

That evening, Martin invited us to a small festival in the same village as the hop farm he had taken us to. We were definitely the only non-natives (although there was a German guy who showed us his US driver's license) in the beer hall that night, but apparently Jim Koch had been to the same annual party some years ago. After what was probably the most German experience I've had to date, we made the trip the rest of the way to Munich.