Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Those Magical Micro-organisms

As part of our ongoing quest to gain more knowledge about the world around us (funny how the world around us is usually a bar,) we decided to sign up for a brewer's yeast class at the Brooklyn Kitchen. Ever since our knife skills class, Heather has had her ear to the ground for new and interesting classes. (Since that class they have been expanding. When we took our first class the instruction happened at a crowded counter toward the back of the store, which was slightly nerve wracking as we were all using sharp objects within inches of each other. Now they have opened a completely separate space a few blocks from the original store on Frost Street, complete with two full teaching spaces and a high end butcher shop. They have also included retail sales at the new location, mostly of consumable goods but some kitchen equipment too. The bulk of their kitchen tools still remain at the old space on Lorimer Street.) The instructor was a guy named Chris who works as a brewer at the Brooklyn Brewery.
The class was close to three hours long, but I found it pretty helpful. Even if I'm hearing a lot of the things that I've already read about in my beer book, it's good to hear it from an actual human being. It give me reassurance that people actually do these things. Much of the class was practical advice about the role of yeast in brewing, specifically home brewing--the history, the science behind fermentation, the differences between strains, the flavors it can add or subtract from the beer, the ideal conditions for yeast to remain healthy, and so on. Some of the specific subject matter was a little over my head but much of the class was made up of neophytes like me, so many of the questions were ones that I had too.
A fringe benefit for taking this class was the tastings. In order to illustrate a point about a flavor or a style of beer, we were given small glasses of a beer that demonstrated that quality. For example, to show the difference between a lager and an ale, we were given Brooklyn Pennant Ale and Brooklyn Pilsner. He also gave us tastes of some of Brooklyn's premium beers called Local 1 and Local 2. Earlier that day, he took some of each from the tank at the brewery and allowed us to try those against the finished product of each. These particular styles are fermented in the bottle with a different yeast than it's first fermentation. This illustrated the significance of secondary fermentation. We also tried a hefeweizen and a beer called "The Wild One" made with a strain of wild yeast called brettanomyces. He mentioned before we tried it that it had kind of a hay, barnyard, horse blankety kind of flavor. It was hard not to notice it after he said it. It was interesting and kind of good, but was not my favorite. My favorite--for the record--is the Local 2.
Midway through the class we took a five minute break to wander around and go to the bathroom. Before we started again, Heather asked about a bacon flavored beer that Brooklyn Brewery put out. An impish smile crept across his face as if to say, "Yes, we did that." He briefly outlined the process of doing that, adding, "It was pretty good, but you wouldn't want to drink a lot of it."
Towards the end of the class, Chris showed us how to calculate the viable yeast cell count by looking at a sample under a microscope. Now I can delude myself into thinking that I will put the effort into many things, but I can't imagine ever caring enough to actually do this. I suppose in a yeast class we're bound to get around to cell division and such. I peeked over at Heather's note but all she had were doodles of lightning bolts and smiley faces.
After the class, our instructor stuck around to answer questions. I stuck around to hear some responses and then joined Heather in the store. The Brooklyn Kitchen sells a fairly large amount of brewing supplies and ingredients. They have an entire corner dedicated to home brewing along with a big ass fridge at the other end of the store filled with yeast and hops. The beer bottles they sold caught my eye. They have the standard 12 and 22 oz. sizes along with the swing top or grolsch style bottles but they also sold these tops with little metal straps to convert a regular bottle into a swing top. I bought one and attached it to a used champagne bottle I've been saving and it fit like gangbusters.
Heather and I caught Chris before he left and I told him I was brewing an IPA. He thought that was a good beer to start with and told me to e-mail him and let him know how it turns out. (The people at Brooklyn Kitchen all have a great friendly vibe, they know a lot about food and drink and are excited to discuss it with like minded people. It certainly keeps us coming back.) To make the night complete, we topped the experience off with a pint at Barcade. We never miss an opportunity to take advantage of all Williamsburg has to offer--at least when it comes to beer and video games.

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