Monday, March 8, 2010

You, too, can brew

Friend of the blog John Holl steered us to this piece he wrote recently for his former task masters at The New York Times.

You can sit on the couch and have a commercial tell you all about (bland) triple-hopped Miller Lite (as if most beers don't get hops for bittering, flavor and aroma) or you can put on your work boots and find out for yourself, take at trip beyond the taste and aromas of the finished product.

Scott Cronick of The Press of Atlantic City gave that idea a shot, spending a day at the Tun Tavern in Atlantic City last month to help brewer Tim Kelly create a dunkelweizen that will be served at the Atlantic City beer fest March 2o-21 and, of course, at the Tun, under a tap logo that commemorates the occasion.

Scott has Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale on tap in his kegerator at home in Somers Point. So he's by no means a stranger to craft beer. And his interest in the brewing process comes mostly from a tie-in The Press has with the Tun for its weekend features supplement, At The Shore, which Scott edits.

Still, taking a turn at the mash tun and kettle as a brewer's apprentice did open Scott's eyes to a few things about beer that go beyond bubbles rising in a pint glass to buoy a head of foam.

Namely, there's the enzyme action that happens when hot water meets malted barely (and in this case wheat, too) to convert the grain's stored starch into malt sugar and collectively the wort; the rolling boil of that wort and protein changes that take place; not to mention the boil time necessary to let hops do their thing.

These are all things pro brewers know, and homebrewers, too, have memorized and can chew the fat endlessly over at Big Brew in May. But to the beer enthusiast whose compass doesn't point to beer geek, the experience is a little bit like pulling back the curtain on the wizard to discover some chemistry is responsible for his magic.

"I never realized how much of a science it was," Scott said. "It was eye-opening from a work perspective ... and how everything is so precise."

It's also like cooking and serving a big dinner: Someone has to clean up afterward. Like Scott did, digging out the spent grain from the mash tun. Anyone who has done that can tell you it's a bit of a workout.

But there's no shortcut to quality. And the same goes for brewing quality small-batch beer.

On Monday, Scott said Tim informed him the beer they brewed nearly two weeks ago is coming along nicely, with some aroma notes of banana and bubblegum that you may typically find with such a wheat beer.

All that's left is for the beer to condition a little more and it will be ready for the pint glass.

In the meantime, as part of the Press-Tun tie-in, you'll see mention of the brew in At The Shore. If it's a hit, other Tun seasonal brews and At The Shore tie-ins may follow in the dunkelweizen's footsteps.

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