Saturday, October 23, 2010


If you were trying to view the website over the past 4 hours, sorry for the absolute lack of content. The site was offline as I desperately struggled to install WordPress. Since I'm posting on Blogger now, I'm sure you can surmise how that went. Anyone know how to do a manual install of WordPress? I'm sick of Blogger and I want WordPress but the Computer Dieties have aligned against me in this feat. If you're willing to help for an equivalent exchange of whisky-sodden hugs and/or high fives, drop me an email.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

An In With Bacchus Guide: Collegiate Brewing

Many of you labor under the grandiose delusion that I don't do a whole lot here. I don't know how you got this fanciful idea into your heads but there are those that stick to the idealization that all I do is drink, wallow in my own filth, and occasionally stop drinking long enough to hand in something resembling work...only to commence filling my gaping maw with aqua vitae and brewskies. This is not true. Well...semi-not true. Hangovers suck and I prefer not to get them so it is occasionally warranted to just continue drinking. To me, it is easier to keep the ball rolling than to stop it and then try to kick it. It's all about the momentum. Looks better, I tell you.

In order to quell the vicious rumors that my liver has sought political asylum in Sweden, I figured it would be appropriate to document one of the exciting days of my life. I will spare you the hours of lecture that would be incredibly interesting if the room wasn't stifling hot. I will also forsake you the pleasure of describing how the department thought it would be a good idea to do tasting panel right before we had a lab working with fire and razor blades. Today...we brew.

You have two classes for Wort Boiling, Fermenting and Maturation. One involves an intro distilling where we take a fermented wort and process it through our two glass stills. The other is brewing the beer (that will later be used in the tasting panels). Both are all-day affairs where we get up at 8am and work until 4pm with the occasional break in between. So, here we go. An In With Bacchus Guide to My Life.

We start out here, at the front door of the brewery. It is festively decorated with the "International Brewing and Distilling Science Brewery", like everything inside is dipped in gold and run by butlers. It's not. It's run by grad students who need a degree.

We then enter the brewery.  It is shiny and pretty, like a penny in the sun. Oh look, our sign!

Aww, hello department of ICBD. I love you, even though you take all my money.

Hello cereal cooker!

Hello mash tun/wort kettle/whirlpool filter!

Hello lauter tun!

What's that, fermentation tanks? You're woefully empty? Be patient, my sweet. Tender loving beer is on the way.

Here at the ICBD, we take drinking seriously. We are professionals. We evaluate for taste, color...and a bunch of other stuff too. See? We even have our own tap.

And look at our bottle collection.

Oddly enough, it doesn't scream "frat house". More "my brain is suicidal and my liver is a masochist". Same thing, right?

Ok, ok, let's get down to business. To defeat...the Huns. And by Huns, I mean sobriety. We start out by forming up our mash bill. Our first beer is a "premium" lager. First we need some corn grit (8 kg).

And then some crystal malt (.577 kg).

And then we take our big ole bag of lager malt (24.4 kg) to...the mill room!

This is our 2 roll mill. Technically, it's meant for agricultural (read: cow food) use but we fudge it a bit. Our efficiency isn't so hot but what the hell, it's cheap and it didn't have to be custom made. We mix the crystal and pale malt together in the hopper and turn the sucker on. It's pretty loud and it gives off a lot of dust that leaves us all coughing. We get a pretty coarse grist out of it, due to the fact that there's only 2 rollers, but it's adequate for us. Technically, anything we make here we can't drink. It has to be dumped down the drain. But we can do quality assurance tests. To, y'know, make sure it's tasty. We then take the two bags of grist and put them into our mashing unit.

The mashing unit above consists of a variety of things. The big blue section is a hopper with a screw in it. The corn grit is loaded into the hopper on top. The corn grit then falls into the grooves of the screw which is turned by a motor in the back. This pushes the grist forward at an even rate into a cylindrical cone where it is mixed with hot liquor. Like this!

Wait, hot liquor? No, not scalding hot Jamesons. Much to my utter confusion (and slight disappointment after all the signs) liquor is water in the industrial brewing world. This delicious porridge like substance is then pushed into the cereal tank by the pump on the bottom and this hosing attached to it.

You can actually see it speed by in the clear section of hosing that they installed. We then cook the cereal for some time to break down the starches in it (we rise by 2 degrees C per minute until 85 where we hold for 5 minutes, then boil to ensure starch breakdown). We then change the hose location (everything is pushed through hoses or piping) and fill the hopper with our malt grist. The same thing happens as with the corn and we then pump this into our mash tun/kettle. This gets a delightful 48C rest to activate the enzymes (I won't bore you with this part). After, we then add the cooked cereals (coooorn) to the mash tun. We do it this way that way the extreme heat of the cooked cereals (which was boiled) doesn't kill off the enzymes we need to break down the starches in the malt. Then we  rest at 65C to deactivate the previous enzymes and engage new ones. We let it sit for 45 minutes while we go get lunch.

We come back to this.

Ewwie? Ewwie! No, sir or madame, delicious. This is the sugary sweet mash. It's been percolating for 45 minutes, stewing in its own juices (enzymes) to form a deliciously sweet liquid. It's almost like a thin porridge. Very tasty. Then we increase the temp from 67 to 71 and perform...

The iodine test. Iodine reacts with starch (which is not what we want) but not with sugar (which is what we want). So, a heavy starch solution (top left) turns squid ink black but the all sugar solutions (bottom right) are squeaky clean! This means that we've gotten all of the fermentable sugar we can out of it so we can filter out all the chunks. How do we do this?

The lauter tun. Basically it's a huge tube with a false bottom. The bottom plate is perforated so that the little tidbits of malt don't fall through. I'm sure you're asking "but there will be pieces smaller than that!". It's true...but here's the cool part about malt. It forms its own filter. We broke down the endosperm, the sugars that the plant would use to sustain itself after germination but before it has grown chloroplasts (component of chlorophyll for photosynthesis). We let the barley seed think that it's going to get to grow so that it germinates and begins breaking down all of the starches to long chain sugars it an use to fuel itself. But then we bake the shit out of it and kill it. This means that it broke down all of the sugars for us but it can't use them ('cause it's dead). The enzymes needed to do this are still in the grain so when we heat it up, these enzymes reactivate and break the sugar down even further. What's left is the hull/husk and variety of other shit that doesn't get broken down. These beautiful little bits end up forming a cake at the bottom of the lauter tun that filters the smaller particles.Here's the lauter tun filling with the chunky mash.

You can see those little particles swirling around. Those will be the filter later. In the meantime, we decided to multitask and do some quality assurance. This is a stout that we weren't sure would pass the muster.

It was good but I heard a funny tale. I heard that beers occasionally will get better the closer to the bottom of the glass you get. Something about the "awesome" having a higher density than the beer so it all sinks. Gonna have to pour another glass just to test this theory.

I think this hypothesis is correct. However, being a true scientist, a sample size of two just isn't enough. Three should do it.

Perfect. Hypothesis = delicious.

After quality control, the lautering had finished. We'd lautered first (by recycling the original wort back into the tank until it ran clear through the tubing at the bottom) and then sparged (after we drained the wort into the kettle we then started to spray hot water/liquor over the grains to get every sugary bit). Here's a good picture of the separation of the soon-to-be wort and the grain cake at the bottom.

See? Forms its own filter.

So, we've got our wort (clarified mash). Now we boil the shit out of it. It's just a hop, skip, and a jump to the finish, now. Emphasis on hop. HAHA, I MADE A FUNNY. We use two types of hop on this one: Zeus and Tettnanger.

The Zeus were our bittering hops, which are boiled for the entire duration to give the beer it's bitter flavor.

The Tettnanger were the aroma hops: added in the last few minutes of boil to provide aroma to the beer.

We boil and boil for an hour while we all go take a break in the form of a cuppa and a read of the newspaper. When we come back we finish up things. We first clean the lauter tun by removing the bottom and watching as all that crazy grain leavings fall to the floor. Here's the cake at the bottom:

And here's the cake on the floor:

The hot, hoppy wort is sent across the room (via pipes) to the plate chiller.

The hot liquid enters from one way and cold water enters from the opposite, cooling the liquid down before it enters the fermenter. We also add oxygen to it to promote yeast growth, even though you don't want oxygen after you ferment. Finally, it gets sent to the fermenter and we pitch the yeast (a Tennents lager yeast).

So, that's the day in a nutshell. For those of you who still say that I don't do a damn thing in this degree, you're wrong. So wrong it hurts me!

I take pictures.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Boru Vodka - Sunday, Oct. 10th

I'm cutting to the chase on this one: Irish Vodka. You don't really associate the Emerald Isle with vodka, do you? I don't. I associate lush green fields, sheep, pine pitch-like pints of Guinness, Murphy's, and Beamish. Some nice poitin or, even luckier, some nice Irish pot still grain or malt whiskey. Yummers. But I don't think vodka. Which, honestly, is why I was pretty skeptical about Boru Vodka when they sent me a bottle. 

Named after Brian Boru, an Irish king that dissolved the High Kingship of Ireland, which was a politically schemed royal line that ruled Ireland for hundreds of years.  You can find more of the history here. I'll be honest here. I was downright SHOCKED when I found out what it was made of. I immediately assumed that it was made from potatoes. Because that's what we Irishmen like to eat. Seriously, what's an Irish 7 course meal? A six pack and a potato. But it's NOT MADE OF POTATOES! (insert collective gasp here)

It's made of wheat.

Really. An Irish vodka made of wheat.

Yeah, I was flabbergasted too. Made from wheat and proudly announcing it's distilled 5 times, it comes in a clear bottle with an obvious Celtic motif.

Warrior chic.
I'm going to chill this and pour it over Lucky Charms.

And here's one of the whole ensemble. The whole kit-and-kavodka, if you will:

Boru Vodka: 100% Potato Cruelty Free.

Here, have some tasting notes on the house. I tried it both warm (to get a sense of the spirit) and cold (to get a sense of how most people would drink it):


Nose is clean and simplistic. Definitely a wheat based spirit; it has a grain sugar smell to it. It smells rich and slightly creamy too, almost like that dairy smell coming off of half-and-half.

Taste isn't bad. Slightly creamy, rather sweet. It ain't a slouch in the alcohol department but for 80 proof it's a bit rocky. It doesn't go down without a coup d'etat in the throat. This bastard wants freedom, damn it. Oppression by the High King of Ireland known as "the Stomach" isn't want it wants. It yearns for the free and open skies, the warm sun, and that cozy little bottle it calls home. Ok, well, maybe it's not as inspired as Brian Boru...but it has it's rough edges about it. After the fire comes a touch of chocolate too.

Warm, it's ok. When I shared some of the bottle with friends, my cameraman went "It's ok". My other friend said "It really cleared out his sinuses" but continued to drink it as we played video games.


Nose: It's pretty blank which is to be expected. A slight alcohol tinge and grapefruit. Other than that, a pretty blank palate.

Taste: Chocolate and grass. It's become pretty syrupy too at this point. Thankfully it's smoothed out some since it's been chilled. It fades to a pleasant warming sweetness. The fire on the finish is gone too.

So....summary: Drink it cold. Warm it's a touch roughshod and rambunctious but cold it's a decent vodka. Not particularly stunning but quite serviceable. Also, it's about $18 a bottle (750 mL) which is a fair price for it, if even a bit cheap. I could see this being sold at $20 and people buying it. I still think it should be made out of potatoes though. Maybe I'll make a sweet potato infusion out of what's left to give it some potato-y character. I'd do normal potatoes...but that'd just be down right vile to drink.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

State of the Blog

Following the State of the Blog(ger), I think it's time to talk about the state of the blog. I'm sure most of you have noticed that I've done...well...fuck all about the decor in this joint. Sorry folks, I'm not very good at making things pretty. I'm an engineer. I destroy pretty things.

Especially whisk(e)y. I destroy a lot of pretty whisk(e)y.

However, I am dedicated as all hell to bringing good content. I figure that decent content sorta makes up for the lack of eye-catching icons, suavely styled headers, and general spiffiness. Well, not makes up for, really. More like "helps you forget". The look of the blog has been on my mind and I may actually drop some cash into sprucing it up. First and foremost would be getting a signature representation of Bacchus, drawn by one of the coolest illustrators, Dr. Bamboo. I really enjoy his style of art and I think it would fit in with the cheeky air of the blog. So that's first and foremost.

But what I'm writing to you today is mainly about the content. I am in the motherland of booze. Everywhere I go, I could huck a rock at some sort of beverage. Beer, wine, cider. Hard liquor. It's all for the taking. I've got a few things packed away in the "things I'd like to do for the blog" annals but I'd like your feedback. What do you want to see me cover? Here's a short list of things that I'm planning on covering but it's not complete and far from finished:

UK Rumfest 2010: Mid-October (16th and 17th). This one is on the ropes but I may go. Mutineer Magazine wants me to cover it but it's gonna be a pretty penny to get to London. Unless I can learn to fly in a few weeks. Progress is slow but scientists feel that I might be able to gain flight in the next couple of years and sans a few (hundred) pounds. It is exactly as the name suggests: a pig's trough of rum. Its a toss-up between having money or acting like a pirate for a weekend. I'm thinking acting like a pirate is winning at this point.

Edinburgh Boutique Bar Show: At the end of the month (October 26th). A pretty comprehensive show with talks and lots of tastings. Not specifically whisky centered but rather a broad range of spirits, ciders, and beers. Should be a wonderful time and, best of all, I don't have to go far for it. Cheers to that.

Glasgow Whisky Festival: Mid November (Nov. 13th). I'm actually really excited about this one. They won't know but I've known them for awhile (Mark Connelly, specifically). I was on the Whisky Magazine boards when a whole bunch of them split off and formed the forums. From my interaction with Mark online, he is a great chap. I'm really happy to see that he's been able to put together a whisky festival. It is a serious festival to pull no punches. His exhibitor list reads like a who's who of fantastic whisk(e)y. Amrut will be pouring. That's really all I have to say about that.

The Coup De Grace: I have been entertaining doing the unthinkable. The nigh legendary. I'm thinking about going to Westvletern brewery. It would be difficult to pull off for one reason: you need the license plate number of the car you're picking the beer up in but I'd have to rent a car. There are overnight ferries from Rosyth (close to Edinburgh) to Zeebrugge, Belgium. From there, I'd have to rent a car to get there (luckily, they drive on the correct side of the road there). The problem is I'd never know the license plate number until I rented the car. I'd probably get a case of all 3 expressions (which would end up being about 100 euro total, plus deposit). Once I got them, I'd bring them back to Scotland. I would have a bottle of each etched with "In With Bacchus"...and then I'd give them away on the blog. I'd get them etched not for vanity, but to prevent people from selling them. The monks don't want you to sell 'em and if the beer's as good as people say...then I'll abide by that. But yeah, this is at this stage a pipe dream. It would cost a lot and be difficult to organize so it's staying on the back-burner until I can get a job over here.

So that's the short list. I'd highly encourage you to share what you want me to cover (as far as distilleries, breweries, etc.). I'm open to ideas. I'd also appreciate it if you'd spread this around as best you can. I really would like some feedback (past attempts have been weak). So, if you could do that, I'll FedEx you a hug. A huge, drunken, whiskey smelling hug.