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  • Let's go to the Chemistry Lab!

    The "let's go to the" series of posts is back, it has been too long and I figured it high-time to take a trip to the chemistry lab. It's a wonderful and welcoming place that offers lots of science-y stuff to look at: Anton-Parr machines, beakers, Erlenmeyer flasks, pipettes, distillation columns, Hoffman Foam Stability Testers, round bottom flasks, the list only gets nerdier from there... But the coolest thing in the lab, by far, is the Gas Chromatograph with a Spectrum Detector and Olfactory Port, or as I like to call it– the Smell-O-Meter.

    The Smell-O-Meter is an amazing tool. It can profile finished beer, in process beer, or raw materials (along with anything else you want to really (like really-really) smell). It takes a small sample of (let's say) finished beer, heats it up and then breaks it down into isolated chemicals that can be analyzed individually. And by "analyzed" I mean smelled, with your nose. The machine is huge, probably 3'x4'x3' and has an external, touch-screen PC attached to it to read and comment on the analysis. And then it has a tube that protrudes from the side that you stick your nose in and smell what the machine is cooking. Here is a close up shot of the tubular, protruding olfactory port, or, as I like to call it, "the nose hole."


    This machine is awesome, but I don't want to just talk about how awesome it is, I wanted to convey the full Smell-O-Meter experience. So, a few days ago I accompanied my co-worker, Cody, into the lab and we had Grant the Chemist walk us through the process. That day's sample was Belgo IPA, and some real fun ensued. So let's get to the meat of it all, let's go to the chemistry lab!

    It was a Monday morning and Grant the Chemist was ready for us in the lab. Here is Grant the Chemist:


    Before we got there he had prepped the sample of Belgo. To prep the sample Grant the Chemist has to use a weird-looking-syringe-type-thing. It pulls just the right amount of beer and readies it for the machine. Here's a look at the weird-looking-syringe-type-thing full of Belgo:


    Then you plug that sharp end into the big machine and it starts breaking down the sample. As the Smell-O-Meter breaks down the chemistry of the beer it starts sending the individual part's aromas through the nose hole to take in through your own nose holes. Here is Cody giving it a go:

    After Cody got some smells in we cranked the Turbo Speed to 100 (I am not sure what that means (or what it does)) and then I sat down for some smelling:

    The aromas starting coming through, and as they come through you press the touch screen to describe what you are smelling:

    The sample's individual smells come through the nose hole one at a time. When you smell something you hit the button that best describes the smell in your nose, and then the intensity of that chosen smell. Each smell lasts for a few seconds and then the next one comes through. A total sample run takes about 40 minutes and the number of smells possible is very huge. When I asked Grant the Chemist how many there could be he said "not really sure, might as well say a trillion." Out of those possible smells, and looking at that touch screen, you can see that some are good smells, and some are not. If you break anything down that far the mix of total smells that make up the whole smell will be large and diverse. When something like "pineapple" comes through the nose hole it is like pure, unadulterated pineapple. You hit the right button and then say to yourself "I wish the inside of my nose smelled like this all the time!" But then something like "pungent" comes through and you make this face:

    So the job isn't all roses and candy. It's hard and takes a lot of training. Cody and I used the Smell-O-Meter for the first time and we found 36 unique smells we could name (or guess at) in Belgo IPA, Grant the Chemist found 60 on his previous run of the same beer. It's clear, he is a much better smeller than the two of us.

    As Cody and I were going through the 40 minute process we were discussing that we may achieve better results in a more relaxed environment. The Smell-O-Meter has a regular chair to sit in, the lights in the lab are exactly how you would imagine lab lights to be (very bright), and the music situation could be improved. Not to mention the window that looks into a high-traffic hallway (you get gawkers):

    As we got to talking about how to improve the area, and therefore improve our results, Cody got to drawing. He designed the Smell-O-Meter environment required for us to succeed:


    As you can see from this blueprint, in the new Smell-O-Meter environment, the smeller would be face down on a massage table with the machine's nose hole coming through the underside, the lights would be low, and the smeller would be wearing noise-cancelling headphones attached to a stereo playing the relaxing (and complete) musical catalog of Enya. In this type of situation I would have brought my results to 48 unique smells (at least).

    When the 40 minute run was finished we looked at the graph of every smell we picked out, and it showed us the actual part of the aroma we were smelling, how much was present and when we smelled it in relation to everything else:

    This molecule (do I call it that? Compound maybe?) was at minute 9.094 and it was found in the sample of Belgo at a level 200ppb. Pretty cool, and way over my head.

    And then there was this thing, it glows, it's blue and I have no idea what it is. But I thought you should see it:

    The Smell-O-Meter is a pretty great machine, we use it to make our beer better. We can use it to pick out hop aromas in order to optimize dry-hopping, we can make sure the yeast is producing all the right levels and spectrum of esters, we can use to make sure we are getting the full potential from raw materials, and we can use it to maximize process consistency. The possibilities are (almost) endless, and really fun to talk about.

    At the end of our smelling session Cody and I realized that we had a long way to go before we could be chemists (I'm a blogger and he is a statistician). As it turns out it takes more than a lab coat and access to a nose hole. But Grant the Chemist was helpful, funny and OK with us wasting his time, and we appreciated that.

    Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed going to the chemistry lab...

    Until next time,



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  • I went to GABF and lived to tell the story...

    HOLY SMOKES!  I almost didn't make it out of there alive.  GABF has come and gone for 2011 and it was truly a success.  But as promised, I took some photos and jotted some notes and I would love to present that information to you... and if there is time, my predictions for some of the categories winners (even though the medal ceremony is over and all the winners have gone home already).  This is a long one so hang on, here it goes--->

    I was running late, like super late, I was coming off giving a tour of NBB HQ and my ride was waiting and my phone was dieing and I felt flustered.  Her car was parked in the loading zone and she started to roll off as she lowered her backseat window and I jumped in (head first (like superman (only larger and conspicuously cape-less))).  But upon the thud of landing we were headed to Denver.  We had a couple scheduled stops (again, mostly my fault) but we made it there just after the doors to the festival opened.  Last year I had a real nice lanyard (credentials baby) which granted me access to the door without a line, but this year was different, I had a mere ticket which relegated me to the back of the line (and boy-howdy, that line was huge).  We found the back of that line eventually and then started making our way towards the entry door.

    Upon getting in to the big show I decided it prudent to head directly towards the New Belgium Booth to take a look see and start my evening of with a delicious Belgo IPA.  My mind was immediately blown.  That new booth had everything: gorgeous art, lots of tap handles and a line of people to back it up.  The folks who designed and built this booth (Ryan and Troy and Karen, et al...) should really be high in their boots right now because they did a tremendous job.  And as my plan would suggest I started my evening with a 1oz pour of delicious Belgo IPA.  Now, if you read this blog (even sometimes) you should know that I love Belgo IPA.  Truth be told I just love Belgian style IPA's but Belgo is my favorite and that small plastic glass of love was the right way to start out my GABF tasting adventures.

    After that quick NBB stop I promptly headed towards the Midwest.  I hail from the great state of Missouri and I love tasting the beers from my hometown as well as other adjacent Midwestern cities.  Town Hall had a lavender explosion of wonderful-ness in LSD and O'Fallon's Pumpkin was great too.  I made stops at Boulevard and Mother's and many other great USA-centered breweries before heading into the wilds of the Northeast.  Allagash (as always) provided unbelievable beers and great companionship.  To the dismay of the building line behind me I stayed up front at the Allagash booth chit-chatting and sipping some amazing beers.  The Curieux was great, as was the Coolship Resurgam, wild and crazy and quenching and awesome. 

    Now at this stage in the GABF game I was plan-less.  Last year I stuck with sours and had a fun time (and by the end, a stomach ache), but this year I was hoping to just mosey about until a plan presented itself.  35 minutes in and no ideas had surfaced so I figured I'd better head into the great and hoppy wilds of the Pacific Northwest before my aimless ways blew out my palate prematurely. I stopped first at Breakside Brewery and upon tasting my first sample there a plan became clear.  I drank Farmhouse Grisette and from that moment on (GABF and otherwise) I wanted to drink nothing but sessionable saisons. This beer was somewhere hanging about 3.2% ABV and the saison characteristics were still very present.  There was a touch of fruitiness, a light, delicate balance of the funk/tart, and it was drinkable till daybreak.  I absolutely loved this beer and it set the bar for my new favorite style (sorry Belgian style IPA's). The problem with this plan, however, was that over the next two and a half hours of this GABF sipping time I found less than a couple other low alcohol saisons; (Fort Collins local) Funkwerks Saison is one great beer but the 6.2% ABV removes it from the front porch sessionability of a great low-octane beer.  So thanks to Breakside I was heartbroken and then further heartbroken when I realized my next trip to Portland isn't even planned yet, so who knows when I will get to enjoy their wonderful beers again, sigh...

    But my GABF Pacific Northwest wanderings were not quite done.  I have been a fan of Deschutes since my ill-fated move to Bend, Oregon in the year 2000.  I left Bend a mere 8 months later but my love of their brews continues today.  I stopped by to try the Deschutes/ Boulevard Collaboration: Conflux number 2. The beer was amazing, flat out, a wheat IPA, so good.  And then I noticed that Deschutes had a branded spit-toon.  As I was stepping back to try it out (fresh cheek full of chaw) Alicia from Deschutes politely asked to keep the spit-toon for beer related spits only.  Which I guess I can understand, but I bet I could have hit that thing from 10 yards (I have been practicing and the spit accepting hole on that spit-toon was huge).  I also had 1oz pour of Stoic while at the Deschutes booth and was blown away (again (every time I have that beer it is a borderline religious experience)).

    Then, as typical at this stage in the GABF game, my palate went the way of the Kangaroo Island Emu and I could no longer taste anything, so I set out to snap a few more photos before my phone died (and took my camera with it).  I have an affinity for pretzels and outdoing people so I brought this as my pretzel necklace (see image to the right).  It tasted like plastic and wasn't very filling but man, it was huge and it grabbed people's attention.  I also thought it relevant (based on my love of pretzels) to head on over to the Snyder's of Hanover booth to say hello and talk about the ancient art of pretzel making (a study of mine).  It was here that I ran into my long lost German relatives Ingrid and Bert.  I have not seen these two since their last trip to the USA and I had not expected to see them at GABF.  I mean sure, they are beer lovers (and fancy dressers) but Germany is a long ways away.  Needless to say it was nice to see them.  We are all pictured together and the photo caught the moment in which I was explaining my family relations and their outfits to the Snyder's of Hanover spokesman, they were super impressed that my cousin Bert had our family crest on his lederhosen.

    It was then (walking from the Snyder's booth) that I ran into Eric from www.focusonthebeer.com.  He is a good friend and truly a gifted beer blogger.  If you don't read Focus on the Beer already follow the link over and check it out, great stuff.  Anyway, Eric and I were talking about GABF and the great beers we had tried to that point (he talked about the Coche de Medinoche from Elysian (or was that me (I don't know)).  We were also trying to make plans for some beer sipping after GABF closed for the night.  It was the heat of the moment, I was so excited about running into him and the possibility of hanging out with him later and the mood caught me just right.  Yep, I kissed him.  It was a big moment and luckily it was caught on camera.

    Then the 2011 edition of the Great American Beer Festival ended, some of us headed to the bar and some of us headed home.  It was a good session and fun was had by all (but especially Eric (look at that face)) and now we can all start looking forward to 2012 and the 31st GABF.

    As far as my predictions for the medal winners go, I have none (I was just joking about that).  But I am super excited to say that Le Terroir, New Belgium's own dry hopped sour ale took home GOLD in the American Sour category and in total Colorado craft beer took home 39 medals. It's really is amazing to be part of this beer community and to be able to call American Craft Beer home.




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  • I tasted Belgo IPA, and it is delicious.

    So a few weeks ago I mentioned that when Belgo IPA came out I would do a tasting and tell you all about it.  Well it's out and I tasted it and now I am going to tell you all about it.

    I poured this beer off the tap, a big globe glass.  The head was bright, like super bright white, just beautiful.  I managed to pack about 2.5 fingers of foam into the tapering top of that glass and it wanted to hang around.  It was a few minutes between the pour and the first sip because of the photo opportunity (and the slowness of my camera phone) but the head was hanging tough.  A small amount of dissipation but overall the head retention was superb.  The color of the beer itself is the next wonderment, just dazzlingly bright and almost slick looking.  The amber is amplified by swirlyness of the hoppy beer sheen, it is almost as if I am staring at the sun when I look at Belgo, but it doesn't make my head hurt.

    Then I took a couple long and luxurious sniffs at that glorious head and came away excited.  The sweet, fruity esters of a Belgian beer were dancing a slow jam with the punchy citrus personality of the IPA level hops... It was as if Belgo had two sides (like Two-Faced (the best Batman villain ever)). 

    Then I went in for the first sip. and the fruity tones of the yeast started the whole thing out.  It was all Belgian all the time: banana, plum, spicy clove, and bubble gum jumping out all at once.  Then as these flavors started to fade the citrus world of the Amarillo, Centennial and Cascade hops came blasting though with dominance, wiping out all the previous hints of the yeast.  The finish was crisp, dry and enlightening.  My mouth was watering and my tongue was calling out for more.

    As I finished the glass of beer the lacing was great and the carbonation stayed.  Overall a really nice beer (like an A (9.5 out of 10)), pretty well perfect.

    Now I have to admit my bias here, I am a New Belgium employee and I get paid by NBB to write this blog and on top of all that the Belgo IPA I was drinking was free.  All of these things add up to a positive review.  But I like to think that even if those things weren't true I would have said the very same about this beer.  It is an amazing brew and a wonderful addition to this emerging style. 

    You should head out into this great world and find yourself some Belgo IPA.  Or if you don't live in one of our distribution areas try find something else in this style, maybe a Piraat or Green Flash Le Freak or maybe go to beeradvocate.com's style guide on Belgian IPA's and see what you can matchup with, you will not be disappointed.

    This is a great beer style and Belgo IPA is a great example, get thirsty and take a sip.


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