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Archive | February, 2010

Brewing on the high seas – now and then

This kind of brings new meaning to the concept of a “brews cruise,” doesn’t it?

The 827-foot long cruise ship AIDAblu is outfitted with a complete brewery. The brewhouse on deck 10 (of 14 decks) is made of glass and can produce 5 hectoliters a day (132 gallons, about 4 U.S. beer barrels). Copper fermentation and lagering tanks have a capacity of 130 hectoliters (more than 100 U.S. barrels, 3,435 U.S. gallons).

This is not a gimmick. It’s a real brewery, and it’s fair to talk about how beer from this place (even if it is in motion) is different. Certainly German brewmaster Andreas Hegny faces unique challenges. A press release from Weyermann Specialty Malts in Bamberg, Germany which provides all the malts for the brewery, explains system designers configured the brewery vessels so that their contents would not be affected by the ship’s rolling and pitching.

And then there’s the water (how’s that go? “Water, water everywhere but not . . .”). The AIDAblu uses sea water, stripped of its salt content by an onboard desalinification plant. The water is then cleaned and enriched with minerals. “This water is just right for beer making,” Hegny said, “because it is very soft.” (That’s Hegny in the photo at the top.)

Hengy travels with seven Weyermann malts, milling them fresh on brew day. He brews a variety of specialties, pointing with particular pride to AIDA-Zwickel, but also including an Eisbock — a lager in which the alcohol content has been raised by freezing. (The process has been at the heart of the competitition between BrewDog in Scotland and Schorschbraeu in Germany to brew the world’s strongest beer.)

The press release refers to this as the world’s first floating brewery. That’s not quite true. During World War II the HMS Menestheus, a British mine-laying ship, was converted into a floating brewery to supply beer to British and Allied troops in the Asian theater. By the time they got everything in order the war was over, but it was a working brewery. I love this story from the Beer Drinkers Companion (1993, Edinburgh Publishing Co.):

Towards the end of the Second World War, the supply lines to the Far East were dangerously stretched. For the forces engaged in the fighting against the Japanese, certain supplies, such as beer were a rare luxury. In order to maintain morale, and at the instigation of Winston Churchill himself, in late 1944 the Board of the Admiralty decided to convert two mine-laying vessels into Amenity Ships, to include cinemas, dance-halls, shops, bars, and onboard breweries.

These ships — the HMS Menetheus and HMS Agamemnon — were sent to Vancouver in early 1945 to be refitted.

Distilled sea water was to be used for brewing purposes, and malt extract and hop concentrate would be shipped from the U.K. to bases in the Far East where the vessels would call. A 55-barrel capacity brewing copper was to be installed in the forward hold of the ships and heated by steam coils from the ships’ boilers. Six glass-lined fermenting vessels were also installed, and the capacity was an estimated 250 barrels per week. Only one beer was to be produced, a chilled and carbonate 1037 Mild Ale. Beside being sold in the ships’ bars, this was also be be made available in 5 gallon stainless steel kegs

Some of the brewing equipment was lost on the way to Canada so only the Menestheus ended up brewing, the first test batch made on the last day of 1945. Although the war in the Far East was over troops remained. The ship visited Yokohama, Kure, Shanghai and Hong Kong (“with the latter proving a conspicuous success”). Brewing took place at sea between ports of call.


Midweek drinks links

Truth is sometimes I turn these lists into a post so I have the links saved for more careful reading later.

  • Why Should Terroir Matter . . . from a speech by Randall Grahm. I don’t care about “saving” high end wines, but thought provoking. I suspect most of the time we should be happy with beer along the lines of vins d’effort (wines of effort) rather than vins de terroir (wines that express a sense of place). Where still matters in beer, but there must be a better word than terroir. (From the guy who owns the domain name.)
  • Danish shakeup. Knut Albert reports Anders Kissmeyer, one of the pioneers behind the Danish craft beer movement, has been fired by the owners of Nørrebro Bryghus.
  • ‘I brew in A Major.’ Mattias Hammenlind, head brewer at Swedish microbrewery Sigtuna Brygghus is also a drummer in a hard rock band. “My brewing style is a mix of classical British and US innovation,” he says. Also, notice a sidebar with a guide to new wave beers in Sweden.
  • Birra dell’anno awards. Birrificio del Ducato has been chosen “brewery of the year” in Italy. All the results of recent judging, including the best chestnut beers.
  • Beerbot. The New York Times introduces us to “robots designed to serve and cook food and, in the process, act as good-will ambassadors, and salesmen, etc.” Head to the second page for the good part: “One entry, Beerbot, detects approaching people and asks for beer money. When it acquires enough, it ‘buys’ itself a beer. Bystanders can watch it flow into a transparent bladder.”
  • Beer and oysters. In The Washington Post.
  • Curling strategy. This chart will make wagering easier the deeper into a match you watch.



    Golden ales and Bam Bam in the Big Apple

    (Note: This post was amended Feb. 24 to eliminate babbling that got in the way of actual story.)

    Tomorrow’ s The New York Times carries an article about “tasting Belgian golden ales.” Perhaps surprisingly American beers claimed four the first five spots although half of the 20 beers tasted hailed from Belgium.

    The first and fourth favorite beers were from Dexter, Michigan — which as any card-carrying beer geek knows is home to Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales. Jolly Pumpkin’s own Oro de Calabaza claimed the top spot and Leelanau Good Harbor Golden, brewed under contract by Jolly Pumpkin, the fourth. Eric Asimov writes:

    “Both of these beers were unfiltered, giving them a hazy appearance, and aged in barrels, but beyond that they are completely different. While the Good Harbor was funky, the Oro de Calabaza was spicy, fruity and floral, with soft carbonation and fresh, vibrant flavors. Same man (brewmaster Ron Jeffries), different yeasts, at the least.”

    Yes, except of course, for the Dexter microflora, embraced by Jeffries.

    “The primary fermentation does indeed use different yeasts,” Jeffries wrote in an email. “The Oro is our ‘house’ strain, and for Good Harbor Golden I use either a cool fermenting clean ale strain, or ferments with a lager at slightly elevated temperatures. I can’t decide which I like best, so I bounce back and forth between the two. Next batch I might blend them. Now that would be cool.

    “The Good Harbor oak tun (1200 liters) does produce different flavors than the barrels we age the Oro in. Similar but different. If I had to pick, I would say it tastes most like the 2000L we use mainly for Bam.”

    The large barrel that Leelanau bought for use at Jolly Pumpkin is on the left side in the photo above. The rest are Jolly Pumpkin barrels.

    I first tasted Good Harbor in the spring of 2007 for All About Beer magazine’s Beer Talk. We liked the beer.

    After I had written my notes I took the second bottle the brewery sent to share with friends I get together with semi-regularly.

    When you see a bottle holding a brand you’ve never heard of, such as Leelanau, you might as well be tasting blind. But my friend, Bill, took one sniff and declared, “This is Bam.” He knew it wasn’t Bam Biere, the session Saison from Jolly Pumpkin but that was the impression.

    Only problem, I said, this beer is 7.5% and Bam 4.5%. “OK, Double Bam,” he said, suddenly looking inspired. “No, Bam Bam.”

    I don’t think I ever expected to be reading about the beer I’ll always remember as Bam Bam in The New York Times.

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