Thursday, September 25, 2008

Local Hops at the BBC Harvest Festival

Harvest Festival this Saturday at Bluegrass Brewing Co. Shelbyville Rd. from 3:30 to 7 pm. Showcasing beer from BBC, Browning's Brewery, Cumberland Brews and New Albanian Brewing Co. using some of these locally grown hops. Three canned goods for Kentucky Harvest is the price of admission. See you there.

Friday, September 12, 2008

What's the Matter Colonel Sanders? Chicken?

By The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The secret's out at KFC.

Colonel Harland Sanders' handwritten recipe of 11 herbs and spices was to be removed Tuesday from safekeeping at KFC's corporate offices for the first time in decades.

The temporary relocation is allowing KFC to revamp security around a yellowing sheet of paper that contains one of the country's most famous corporate secrets.

KFC hired off-duty police officers and private security guards to whisk the document away to an undisclosed location in an armored car.

The recipe will be slid into a briefcase and handcuffed to a security expert.

For more than 20 years, the recipe has been tucked away in a filing cabinet equipped with two combination locks in company headquarters.

So important is the 68-year-old concoction that coats the chain's Original Recipe chicken that only two company executives at any time have access to it. The company refuses to release their names or titles, and it uses multiple suppliers who produce and blend the ingredients but know only a part of the entire contents.

Sanders developed the formula in 1940 at his tiny restaurant in southeastern Kentucky and used it to launch the KFC chain in the early 1950s.

Sanders died in 1980, but his likeness is still central to KFC's marketing.

"The recipe to him, in later years, was everything he stood for," said Shirley Topmiller, his personal secretary for about 12 years.

This news story ran on Sept. 9 2008. I thought it was interesting how tight fisted old Harland Sanders was about his precious 11 herbs and spices. But what's really in a recipe? I would say it is just a list of ingredients and quantities and methods? Recipes are good in a way, they breed consistency in the end product and continuity that carries over from one cook to the next. But recipes can also hamstring you somewhat. If you are a slave to a recipe you never adjust to changing raw materials or different equipment or new technologies, thereby actually being less consistent. This holds true for beer brewing as well. The actual ingredients and quantities in beer recipes are just part of what effects beer flavor. The four main ingredients in beer fluctuate all the time.

We'll start with the most prevelent ingredient: Water. Mineral content in water can flucuate year to year and season to season. When I was brewing in Michigan we got water analysis done once a quarter because the mineral content changes every winter. We theorized that snow took longer than rain to seep through the ground to the water supply, thus picking up more minerals. I don't really know if we were right but it made sense to us. When I was in Lawrence, KS they would switch periodically their mix of well water and water took from the local resivoir, thus the mineral content changed all the time. Here in Louisville we get our water from the river and it seems to always be consistent, but the temperatures sure do vary out of the tap. In the dead of winter we can get water at about 40 degrees, whereas the end of summer we are at about 85, which can sure make it hard to cool our wort down. All these changes require us to pay attention and adjust the mineral content in the water and schedule brews appropriately soas to maintain consistency.

Next two ingredients are Malt and hops: These being agricultural products, their quality is effected by growing conditions. Unusually hot, cold, dry, wet conditions affect the barley malt and hops that we recieve. Also pests and disease factor into the type and quality of malt and hops available to us small brewers. We recieve a malt analysis for each shipment of grain we recieve and alpha-acid ratings on our hops. We use this information to adjust the recipe in order to maintain the beer's quality and flavor profile.

Yeast is the final ingredient that has several variables. First of all maintaining superior yeast health and viability is one of the most important jobs in a brewery for consistency and quality. But as yeast is used over and over there is a condition called "strain drift" which is when the yeast become accustomed to the conditions you are placing it in during fermentation. Strain drift is not neccasarily a bad thing, but there is slight differences between the same yeast strain used at one brewery and another, and also slight differences between a new pure yeast culture and one a brewery has been using for a number of generations.

And finally there is variabiliy in brewing systems. The design and shape of different fermentation vessels and the caramelization and malliard reactions differ between direct-fire and steam systems,these are just a few things that can effect beer flavor and color. Also the accuracy of process measurement can vary tank to tank and brewery to brewery. There are countless other differences between what we do here, what other breweries do and what you do at home, they all effect beer flavor, aroma, color and consistency.

What I'm saying is, recipes matter and they matter a great deal, but they are not the only factor in what comes out in the final product. So what is KFC holding onto, a marketing gimmick I guess. But the Sober Brewer doesn't have any secrets, so I will take the lead and give you a recipes to three of our award winning beers. Brew them if you like and share them with whomever, because if you only use the same ingredients, you might get close, but it will never be exactly the same.

never trust The Sober Brewer
Jerry Gnagy

Smoked Porter (Gold medal 2003 GABF)
47% Pale Ale Malt OG 15.3 77% IBUs 90 min Nugget
29% Wyermann Smoked Malt IBU 38 15% IBUs 30 min Fuggle
6% Munich Malt Boil length 90 min 8% IBUs 15 min Kent Goldings
6% Caramelmunich 80 Attenuation 75%
6% Caramelmunich 120 American ale yeast
6% Chocolate Malt

Dortmunder (Bronze medal 2003 GABF)
80% Pilsner Malt OG 14.5 59% IBUs 90 min Northern Brewer
8% Best Caramel Malt Light IBU 28.4 20% IBUs 30 min Spalt Select
6% Carapils Boil length 90 min 21% IBUs 15 min Hallertau Tradition
6% White Wheat Attenuation 80% Whirpool hops Spalt Select
Munich Lager yeast

Oktoberfest (Bronze medal 2006 GABF)
48% Pilsner Malt OG 14.5 39% IBUs 90 min Hallertau Tradition
30% Munich Malt IBU 18.6 41% IBUs 30 min Czech Saaz
9% Carahell Boil length 90 min 20% IBUs 5 min Hallertau Tradition
6% Carapils Attenuation 72%
7% Caramelmunich 60 Bavarian Lager yeast