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.

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