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.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Bavaria Part 1

The usual suspects finally got out of Berlin for a weekend, and it was a big one. We rented a car and zoomed down the Autobahn, making stops in Bamberg, Nuremburg, Mainburg, and Munich. In less than 3 days, I was able to cross 5 items off my list of things to do before I die: tour a maltery, tour a hop farm and processing plant, crash a Bavarian village festival, cruise past the Polizei at 200kmph, and attend a European soccer match! Far too much for one entry, so I'm serving it up in 3 parts.

Bamberg, home of Rauchbier and Weyermann Specialty Malting Company, was our first destination. (Except for Felipe, who just wanted to go to McDonald's). Bamberg was beautiful, had some fantastic food, unique beer (not as intensely smoky as I was expecting), and some very friendly people. At the maltery, Ulrich Ferstl gave us an incredible tour of all things Weyermann, including the entire malting process, the roast malt brewery, the pilot brewery, the logistics center, company history, and more. We are grateful to Ulrich for spending so much time with us on a Friday afternoon/evening, when I'm sure he had better things to do. What a fantastic company!

Afterwards, we all agreed that touring a maltery immediately following the completion of our malting technology course was exactly the thing needed to tie it all together. This is an area where I think VLB could improve a lot. Yes, we have an excursion at the end of the course to some breweries (TBA) and possibly a maltery, but I feel like we are really missing out on a lot of opportunities that an institute of VLB's caliber could surely arrange. For example, our plant equipment professor has mentioned a nearby maltery, our water professor has told us about the ion exchanger at the Schultheiss brewery in Berlin...well, let's go see them! It's one thing to look at pictures and talk about a germination box, but you don't know one until you've smelled one and pulled a sample of green malt out of it. We hung out with hop farmers and maltsters this weekend, and I sure am glad we did.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


This is the largest advertisement I have ever seen (notice the averaged sized human on the street for scale). More importantly, our program is divided into 3 modules, and we just completed the 1st module, as well as the exams that went with it. It wasn't pretty. This was the first time I've had exams in an academic setting in ~7 years. Since Friday, I've consumed too much coffee, learned some things, slept very little, reinforced some knowledge, and done various other terrible things to my immune system, but in the end my international colleagues and I are all a little closer and a third of the way to brewmasterhood.

Focused on the task at hand, I hadn't thought much about what the rest of my day after our last exam would look like, and if anything I assumed it would involve a lot of sleep, but the rest of the class had other ideas and we ended up celebrating the resignation of Fidel Castro (and the completion of our exams) at some Cuban place. Turns out, the owner wasn't as happy about Castro stepping down as we were. Many hours before that and immediately following our last exam, however, we all went to Lindenbrau, a nice little brewpub in the Sony Center, with good beer at tourist prices. It was here that my friend (and future Thailandische Brewmaster Idol contestant), Yoo, performed a chilling version of the Tennessee Waltz and Country Roads.

On the way to the Cuban place, Simon took a terrible fall on one of the giant cheese grater walkways outside of the Sony Center. What idiot thought it would be a good design to put this material all over the ground in an area where it rains half of the time?

I'm not sure that I feel like a third of a brewmaster yet, but then again I probably would have laughed a couple of months ago if you told me that I'd be drawing glucose molecules, discussing the effect of an increased steeping degree on endo-beta-glucanase, or describing the pathway of gibberillic acid to the enzyme rich aleurone layer of a barleycorn.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Keyser Soze

We toured 2 bunkers under Berlin last weekend. The first was a WWII and cold war bunker that offered little chance of survival from any kind of blast and only had 48 hours of fresh air at best. Felipe and I got picked to try to quickly (in the dark) get its ventilation system running by hand crank in the event of a (very likely) power outage. There were no instructions as the bunker was supposed to function just like society - there would be engineers who could do mechanical things, retired military or police to help maintain order, doctors, psychologists, toy salesmen, etc, etc. Who needs instructions when there's people screaming and only 2 minutes of air left anyway? The simulation was scary enough, I can't imagine being trapped down there, waiting to die. ...Good times.

The other one was nuclear bunker, accessed via the subway to protect around 3000 people for 14 days, during the the cold war. The thought was that WWIII would be a short, nuclear war. While more modern, this still would be a frightening place to be trapped and even if it did offer survival during a nuclear war, I don't think there would be much to look forward to above ground 14 days later.

Friday night, a bunch of us went to a bar called Keyser Soze. That's gotta be one of the best bar names ever. If you don't know why, I'm not going to be the one to explain it to you, and you're already on the internet, so look it up. The bar itself was good, but a slight let down (only because the name sets such high expectations). Felipe, for instance, was upset that Kevin Spacey wasn't there. But there were some interesting people (some of questionable gender) and we had a waitress who was like something out of Seinfeld - she looked my age from one angle, and like a grandmother from another angle. We all pretended not to notice for a while, but when someone finally brought it up, Simon summed it up well when he said, "Yeah, she's a bit 60 and 30." We have 4 big exams this week, so don't worry if I don't blog at all, Mom...I'm still alive.

p.s. check out John's cool Pope shirt.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


I literally just drank a Liter O' Cola.

Monday, February 11, 2008

"Not very fine"

I had another Circus experience Friday night. Sometime after 2am I heard the up-until-now extremely quiet and polite Danish guy next door, and some other male voice. I'm thinking, "Why am I hearing two male voices?" It soon became clear that this was one of those situations (I wouldn't know, but I've heard this happens) in which one guy is too intoxicated to make it back to his own room, so his drinking buddy gets him there safely and then leaves him to sleep and/or possibly die of alcohol poisoning. Minutes later I hear stumbling in the hall, some crashes coming from the kitchen and/or bathroom, and eventually some more yelling. Then the massive vomit-fest in the hallway begins, followed of course by more yelling. (I might yell too if I ever have to puke as much as this guy did) Great...Just when I thought I was finally too old to wake to the sound of yelling and puking outside of my door.

Saturday morning I decided that enough was a enough, and I set out to return the Logitech Messenger webcam that I had purchased from a small computer store here in Berlin. The idea was to use it to talk to my girlfriend back home, but unfortunately after hours of frustration with it, my terrible new Dell Inspiron 1501 with Vista (hate it!), and the even more frustrating, less than sub par support that I received from both companies, I decided to throw in the towel.

I planned out what I would say (auf Deutsch) on the way there, and upon arrival I delivered my speech: (translated) "I am sorry, my German is bad. I bought a Logitech Messenger. It is not functional on my PC. I would like to return it." I held my own for at least thirty seconds, and even reminded the young sales associate to not talk so freakin' fast because my German is bad and I need you to speak SLOW-LY. ...PLEASE. Eventually, we hit a wall and he reluctantly said, "I could speak English if you want?" I told him that'd be great and explained that I had spent countless hours communicating with awful support and that while the camera itself is good (I had tested it on another PC) it just wasn't going to work on mine. He disappeared in the back for a while and when he came out, he said, "Vee vill test it on zee Vista machine." I told him that was fine, but I already knew that it would work. It takes about 15 minutes to install (each time) so I stood there and watched. The bottom of the box was slightly torn, where I had opened it, and once the test proved successful he said, "Vee have a problem beecause zee camera works an zee box is not...very fine." After a couple of rounds of that I just walked out. He tried to hand it back to me and I told him to keep it, it wasn't going to do me any good and I didn't ever want to see it again.

Friday, February 8, 2008


I'm still pretty sad about Yogi, but managed to not cry in public today, so that's a good sign. A guy I've never even met sent his condolences from Australia, which I thought was pretty cool. (Yes, the Internet still amazes me.)

We had a great Chemical Technical Analyses (pronounced analyze-es here) lab today. We did the Kjeldahl method again, but this time for soluble nitrogen rather than total nitrogen, using the congress wort from last week. It was good to repeat a lot of the same steps and helped things to really sink in. We also analyzed wort color and boiled wort color from the congress wort sample using 2 different methods. My new favorite German word is Neocomparator, a futuristic name for a simple, old machine used to analyze color.

Katrin (our CTA professor) showed us the Central Lab, which was very cool. We'll do some work there later on, which should be exciting since they have nicer toys. I told her that I appreciated the quick tour because I often feel like there are all of these labs and people working here at VLB, but I really don't know what most of it is. I think VLB could do a better job showing us around and telling us who else is there, what they are doing, and what is going on in the different parts of the facility. (A tour perhaps...? I would have thought that my fifteen thousand dollars might have included one, but whatever.)

Earlier in the week, Burghard said something during class that I was very happy/relieved to hear. He told us about some hop research that someone at VLB is working on and he said that while it was too specialized to cover it in our class, that if any of us had an interest in it that they'd be happy to show it to us. He then said something along the lines of, "Well, you're here to learn and if there is something that you want to know more about, just ask." It was pretty nice to hear that, as it was kind of the opposite of my previous impression. I'm not that interested in the hops research he mentioned, but there are a lot of other things that I do want know lots more about. I have a list and it's not small. Later that day I told Katrin that I really wanted to analyze some water from the new facility in Roanoke and asked if I could do that. She said, "of course," told me to send it immediately and said she would help me with the parts that I already know one afternoon after class and that she would give the rest to the Central Lab. Our energy professor is also helping me design an ice tank (which while old fashioned, will be a huge energy savings on our scale) for the Roanoke brewery, and I think Roland's plant equipment class is going to be a huge asset. I'm just anxious to take in all of this info, so I can finalize my designs.

Micro was rather challenging this week. This was our class: Here are 12 yeast strains on wort agar. By the end of class turn in a sheet of paper with the identity of each strain. I took pictures and would never pass this class without my digital camera. Here they are: (minus Rhodotorula Rubra, which has a red color and is therefore is a dead give away without using a microscope)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Timing is something

There's never a good time to leave the country for over 5 months. Doing so has a dramatic impact on life, career, relationships, finances, etc, etc, etc. But there was never going to be a better time, and that's why I'm here now. I knew that if I didn't do this right now, I never would. And that would mean regretting it and resenting myself for the rest of my life. I know that nearly every aspect of my life will adapt and grow to meet the challenges that come with this experience, that I'll be better off for it in the end, and that I will never regret my decision to be here now.

But even with all of the adapting and support from loved ones, there is still one thing that is almost impossible to swallow. I regret that my sidekick of 15 years won't be there to greet me when I get back, I regret that he didn't die in my arms, but I take comfort in the fact that he was in the care of one of the kindest and most selfless humans on earth. This is a very difficult time for me, but you can't time everything and you can't wait around for the perfect time that may never come. RIP Yogi. You're already missed!

Yogi 5/1993 - 2/8/2008

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Hokie, Karneval, Malt

I had to go into school on Sunday to finish up the practical malting work (our barley is malt now, by the way). I had just left my place and was walking down Schmiljanstrasse when I saw a big bearded guy wearing a Virginia Tech hat. I couldn't believe my eyes...what a weird feeling! It may not sound that weird to you guys back home, but trust me it was. I haven't even seen any Americans at all (other than John from class) since I've been here and there was a HOKIE walking in MY NEIGHBORHOOD! I froze in my tracks and just stared at him. I wanted to say something, but nothing came out. I really wish that I had stopped him, but he walked by really fast and I guess I was just in shock. By the time I unfroze he was pretty far away. I came really close to yelling, "Hokie, Hokie, Hokie, Hi Tech, Tech, V-P-I Sol-A-Rex, Sol-A-Rah Poly-tech Virgin-i-a Ray, Rah, V-P-I Team! Team! Team!" (yes, I was an orientation leader and actually know all the words.) I even had on a VT shirt under my jacket. What are the odds? I hope that I run into that guy again.

We celebrated Karneval in class yesterday...for about a minute and a half. Burghard Meyer (sporting the clown nose above) is one of our more entertaining (better) professors, and he told us that THE place celebrate Karneval is along the River Rhein (Specifically, Köln or Dusseldorf). Wow, I just used a lot of parentheses. (Who do I think I am, Ted L. Nancy?) Anyway, I hope to get to Köln and tour a few Kölsch breweries at some point while I'm over here. Also, FeedBurner tells me that lot of people in Köln read my blog, which is a little weird since I've never met anyone with any connection to Köln.

Here are a few pictures of our freshly kilned winter malt, the machine that is used to break off the rootlets/sort the kernels, the final product, and a kid that I saw walking down the street today with his mom:

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Der Warnstreik

This was the scene all over Berlin Friday morning. The transit authority went on strike. No U-Bahn (subway), buses, or trams = a long, expensive cab ride to school. Fortunately, the strike is scheduled to end at 3pm today. How German is it to schedule and announce an end time for a strike? I wonder how many documents had to be stamped for that? Also, I might add that the English version of the BVG website has no mention of the strike.

We moved our germinating barley into the kiln after lab on Friday. There were a few pretty over-modified kernels trapped at the ends of the baskets where the caps meet. The reason being that water uptake is really high in those areas. It was cool to see what an over-modified kernel looks like though. John from Tennessee got a picture of one, so hopefully he'll put post it on his blog. He also got some good shots from lab today, where we determined the moisture and nitrogen/protein content of some malt and prepared a congress wort.

Also, John complimented Felipe on his shoes Friday night, and Felipe had the best response that I've ever heard to, "Hey, nice shoes, man." He replied, "Anytime." I think I ran the joke into the ground a little, but I thought it was hilarious...those guys crack me up. Certainly funnier than the 2 muffins in an oven joke that John Smith told my girlfriend. I love the diversity of my friends here in Berlin. I'll leave you with a German, a Brazilian, a Canadian, and 2 Americans being ridiculous outside of the snack bar at school.

Friday, February 1, 2008


One of the reasons that I decided to study at VLB over some of the other major brewing schools (U.C. Davis, Siebel, Heriot-Watt, Doemens, etc.) is because the VLB curriculum gives malting a lot of attention. As we progress through our training, I am realizing more and more just how important that is.

VLB has a micro-maltery and we're using it to malt some winter barley. We began steeping on Saturday and this is what our barley kernels looked like on Wednesday (still a little shy of our desired steeping degree). Using winter barley is especially interesting because it is high in protein, and is therefore not normally used for brewing beer (difficult in the brewhouse, lower extract, etc.). But with a global shortage of malting grade spring barley, it is becoming a more attractive option. We'll just have to wait and see how the beer we brew with this malt tastes...

Here are some more pictures of John and I in the micro-maltery, as well as a shot of some Brettanomyces, which some brewers use to make Belgian style beers (yuck). It will be considered a contaminant in my brewery.