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...