Saturday, April 23, 2011

Down to Brass Tacks

During my first two weeks in Denmark, I had the opportunity to explore Ålborg and spend a good amount of time with the new friends I've met here. Over the last week, however, life at the brewery has become quite busy and hectic, requiring not only many working hours but an even greater acceleration of the learning curve.

Adding hops and orange peel to a batch of White Cat.

I'm taking the challenge head-on, though. I've now brewed several batches of beer solo on the 10 hectoliter Kaspar-Schulz system, with which I'm getting more and more comfortable. I've also spent a great deal of time on the bottling line, including labeling some bottles whose original labels were delayed. Doing this requires a fair amount of manual labor and process acrobatics. Instead of baby-walking me through all the steps, head brewer Kasper Malmberg mainly supervises my work right now, and leaves me to my own devices quite frequently. Thursday I brewed a batch of Klosterbryg - the Søgaards bock lager - along with filling 36 kegs of Beer Here's Skråplan (their double IPA), cleaning a few tanks and scrubbing the floors. I knocked an unsecured CO2 tank onto my foot while cleaning, but my foot managed to break the regulator instead of the other way around. Today, I'm in the brewhouse alone, finishing up a batch of the Jomfruhumle pilsner so that we'll have nothing but full tanks again.

Although Kasper leaves me some big shoes to fill (both figuratively and literally!) once he resigns, I'm confident that I can adequately fill them, and will work to improve things at the brewery. First order of business is to switch from the current practice of using dried yeast, to using liquid cultures - including a propagation and testing setup at some point - for fermentation. My boss has been wanting to do this for a while now, and it's something I would have done anyway. Liquid yeast simply produces better beer, not to mention that it ferments faster (making management of our cellar considerably easier), gives us a greater selection of cultures, and will ultimately be cheaper. It's a win-win situation, really. Along with that, I'm seriously clamping down on organizational and logistical matters, since some aspects of brewery and warehouse operation need improvement. My boss has also given me permission to change some of the recipes if necessary, and while the majority of the beer here is good, some recipes could use some tinkering.

Brewhouse in repose.

Not that I've spent every second of my time here working, of course. I'm still a regular at the Wharf, and have spent some time exploring Ålborg and meeting people. One of my barmates, Alan, has offered me an apartment he's renting out, so as of next week I'll finally have a residence of my own. It's another garden/basement apartment, but it's in decent shape and Alan is renovating it before I move in. It's within a few kilometers of the brewery, so biking to work won't be as Herculean a task as it sometimes is now. Plus, while my boss and his family have been gracious, generous hosts, it will be far nicer to have a place of my own.

Good Friday, Good Beer: A glass of Crouch Vale Amarillo at the Wharf.
Now that spring seems to have finally arrived (Denmark apparently had a winter almost as long and gruesome as Chicago's), I've been riding my bicycle quite a bit. The 14-kilometer ride into Ålborg runs through some very nice countryside next to the fjord dividing Ålborg from the northernmost part of Denmark. I biked home late Thursday night, which was a breathtaking experience: After living in Chicago for most of a decade, the utter darkness and silence of rural Denmark at night were almost shocking in their intensity, and I could see more stars in the sky than I have in a long time. It was an eerie, beautiful trip.

Danish farmland a few kilometers outside of Ålborg.
Today I'm heading down to Fanø to visit my friend Ryan Witter-Merithew, brewer at Fanø Bryghus and the man who put me in touch with Søgaards in the first place. I'll definitely post about the trip when I return. Until next time - vi ses!

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