Brewer’s Exchange: Francesca’s Blog Part 4

From January through March, Francesca Guzzetti of Northern Italy’s Birrificio Italiano and Henry Myers of Colorado’s Left Hand Brewing will step into the other’s shoes, experiencing each brewery’s operations and culture.

Francesa has made her return to home with Henry in tow! Stay tuned for our next post, sharing Henry’s first week at Birrificio Italiano.

High Fives, Absent Eagles, & Shotgunning – Fra’s Final Thoughts

 

So my adventure at Left Hand ends: but Sharevolution goes on, with Henry coming to Birrificio Italiano this week! So it’s time to gather my final thoughts on the experience, the analogies and differences between brewing craft in Italy and in Colorado. Enjoy!

Beer Tech

At Birrificio Italiano we use movable piping, so moving the beer from point A to point B is quite easy from a logical point of view. At Left Hand, the tech is quite different: fixed piping is used, each out letting to a specific nozzle located on a panel. Each pipe and nozzle link two specific points of the brewery (kettles, tanks etc.). This means that the pipe map at Left Hand turns out to be a real maze for a newbie; although once the system is mastered it makes the brewing operations a lot easier. After having gotten lost multiple times while following the path of a pipe with my eyes, I’m glad to say I learned to manage the fixed piping, with its loops, panels and nozzles. I also learned to hi-five like a pro American brewer. Both these things are precious!

Absent Animals and Alternative Discoveries

I spent my month in Colorado searching for bald eagles and raccoons. In order to get a glimpse of them I also went to Overlook Hotel (yes, the one from The Shining). I found a good number of specimens, that is, zero. In return I found out what shotgunning is (piercing a hole on the bottom of a beer can, then opening it and flashing the beer at zero friction in a matter of seconds). I only did this once, that one time maybe some eagles and raccoons passed me by, but I didn’t notice them at all.

Clamps and Swearing

The bracket used in a brewery to conjoin two pieces of piping is called a clamp. It’s basically two pieces of metal held together by a screw, and it must be positioned around the two ends of the pipes and tightened in order to keep them together. Now imagine you’re holding the ends of the two pipes with one hand, using another hand to place the clamp and a third one to tighten the screw… Always keeping in mind you don’t really have three hands available. Besides, the clamps at Left Hand are slightly different from the ones we use at Birrificio Italiano. During my month in Longmont I learned to use them – Left Hand’s staff, in exchange, got from me a free Ph.D. on Italian swearwords.

Craziness

We were chatting one night. “We roast the hops for Nigredo” I say, almost worried of how crazy that would sound. “Well… we SMOKE THE MALT” the guys at Left Hand admit, as if we had suddenly turned into a self-help group. So I’m encouraged to let myself go: “When we brew Scires, we spend DAYS de-pitting the cherries…” – Left Hand: “and we spend days juicing pounds of ginger for Good Juju!”. Tears. Commotion. Group hugs. (Jokes apart: craziness – which consists in going through very complex and time-consuming processes just to obtain a perfect result rather than one that’s merely satisfying… That’s the craft. That’s Love!).

Music

Exactly like we do at Birrificio Italiano, at Left Hand heavy metal is played in the brewhouse and reggaeton in packaging. Choose your dance floor!
Dreams

One thing I’ll never envy enough of my fellow brewers at Left Hand is the small pilot brewhouse, they have available for their passion projects. Wow!

Another great thing was seeing all the beer cold-stored in fridges at the supermarket: it would be great to see such attention to the product and the culture of freshness spreading to Italy; but likely it will still take time for such a thing to happen. In return, though, the same supermarket kept fresh cheeses at room temperature. Well you can’t always get what you want…

Luggage

I’m not telling how many amazing experiences I’m taking in my metaphorical luggage, nor how much of my heart I left in Longmont: I put in my very material luggage quite a load of beers, and I left in Colorado a good share of the clothes my suitcase and a pair of shoes. To make room for the beers, of course.

Conclusions

Sharevolution is a challenge: a thing on which I’d bet by instinct, which is gonna change the rules if it works like it should. But maybe it is working already… As it let me meet people with the same “thirst” I feel… A beautiful thirst, which just needs the right beer (to drink, or to brew) in order to spark a light inside. Sharing this passion is something unique and huge, and no words can really explain how we feel when it’s on. So let’s aim for the future, pop another bottle open… And Cheers, Left Hand, “alla vostra”!

 

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Brewer’s Exchange: Francesca’s Blog Part 3

Francesa has been a busy woman! This past week, she spent time with our Logistics and Sales teams, learning how we forecast sales and plan for materials, and what the world looks like for our beer when it leaves the brewery. Her adventures have taken her to Odell where she learned more about how they store & use hop cones, to Avery to learn more about the barrel program, and to Falling Rock where she met two team members that penned Italy Beer Country! Her latest food samplings have included fried pickles and chicken wings, and a pancetta er – bacon flight in Denver. Read more about her time with the Tetris masters and her 12 account visit in Denver!

Learning about Logistics & Sales

At any moment, a brewery is immersed in rigid order and total chaos.

While for a brewer, order and discipline within the kettles and tanks are the ONLY rule, the one that allows for good, consistent beer to be made… What’s happening AROUND the kettles and tanks, well, that’s the aforementioned chaos.

Several processes are happening at the same time: cleaning, brewing, packaging, dry-hopping, sanitizing… Tools, information, materials, people are moved around constantly, and it’s hard at times to find that exact thing (or co-worker!) you are looking for.

Here at Left Hand, the answer to this classic needle-in-the-haystack problem is called Pete: he is the Tetris champion in charge of the management of warehouses where ingredients, tools and finished beer are stocked.

Pete works by one “simple” rule: “The right thing, at the right time, in the right place, the right quantity and the right condition”. God knows how he can keep track of everything, but well, he does.

The Five R’s named by Pete are what keeps a brewery secretly running. My idea is that they apply not only to work inside the brewery, but to sales and the craft beer market in general: what’s a better commercial strategy than delivering the right beer, at the right time and place, in the right quantity and – especially – in the right condition?

This is easier said than done, but a good scheduling and knowledge of the market make it possible to find viable solutions to distribute the beer in ideal conditions, to the right places, with a good timing; so that it can reach a widespread audience at its full potential.

Both in the USA and Europe beer corporations, empty in contents and soul, seek new sources of revenue by acquiring craft breweries; in order to fill the said “voids” which are in their nature. Nick, my guide among Left Hand’s customers in Denver, told me that he feels this is an opportunity – rather than a threat – for craft products. “Why?” – I asked. “So any regular Joe can enter any bar, order both beers, taste the difference… And never come back!” was his reply.

As you may have noticed in the past blogs, one of the things I tried to do most during my time in the USA has been finding for every field I explored a silver thread which links members of the craft movement worldwide. So I wanted to understand more in depth the situation of the market, and when I asked how can the American craft brewers stand out in an industry which day after day grows more difficult to decode for the average drinker, and why does he think a huge number of breweries go craft notwithstanding the hard work and possible hardships… Nick smiled, picked a bottle and showed it to me; his finger pointing to the wording “RIGHTEOUSLY INDEPENDENT”.

So is written on every label at Left Hand. So we want our beer to be. So we, the brewers and craft drinkers, feel. All of us.

Read Blog 1 and Blog 2.

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Brewer’s Exchange: Francesca’s Blog Part 2

Left Hand Brewing Co. and Birrificio Italiano have partnered for Sharevolution: a Brewer’s Exchange program, sending a brewer to each other’s facility to cross-train, promoting mutual enrichment and idea sharing. From January through March, Francesca Guzzetti of Northern Italy’s Birrificio Italiano and Henry Myers of Colorado’s Left Hand Brewing will step into the other’s shoes, experiencing each brewery’s operations and culture.

We will be documenting the exchange, sharing both Francesca and Henry’s experiences. Check out Francesca’s second week at Left Hand! (Previous – Week 1)

Alchemy & Quality – a fine balance

Let me start this second post about my experience in Colorado with a simple but deep statement: “You don’t really “make” beer. You get everything ready… Then the beer makes itself”.

Clear, huh? Easy as 1-2-3? …Ok, I get it… Maybe not so clear? Let me explain then.

The brewer is a one-of-a-kind craftsman, as the real trick of his trade – what makes a brewer a good brewer – does not consist in manipulating the finished product with corrective measures, but rather in knowing and creating the ideal source conditions for the ingredients, recipes and fermentation to EVOLVE into the beer he originally imagined. A brewer needs to observe nature, to know the best environment for the yeasts, to understand the chemistry and physics behind every malt, every hop strain, every process; and how minimal variations in pH, temperature, oxygen influence the beer’s flavor and texture.

Once a brewer knows by heart what does what, he needs to pull the handles and adjust the brewing conditions so that the elements may combine accordingly and eventually bring into being the original concept behind the brew. There’s a single word we use to express this complex concept: the word, as Agostino (head brewer and founder at Birrificio Italiano) says, is Alchemy – the natural magic of brewing. Yet.. there are many variables and infinite human error around every corner that can throw off the perfect balance for alchemy to occur.

The solution is in the hands of people with skills and tools which let them peek inside the magic cauldron: they are the people in charge of quality control, whose task is to ensure the Alchemy is delivered to the drinker the way it’s supposed to be! Back at Birrificio Italiano we all do our part in this field (remember: it’s only the 14 of us!). But in the enchanted forest of tanks, machinery and piping which is Left Hand Brewing Co. – the specific responsibility falls on two mythological characters: Brynn and Jim. Jim is chief at Quality and the absolute yeastmaster: he has control on the microscopical beings, mightiest (and hardest to deal with!) allies of the brewer. He treats every specific strain with amounts of knowledge and respect worth of a kung-fu master, his engineer-ish excel sheets crammed with data. Brynn coordinates the laboratory and reminds me of an Elf: she and her staff at the lab seem to understand empathetically the deepest nature of things… Looking in the samples they check. Fantasy speculations apart, the lab people is fabulous: you feel a special enthusiasm as you step inside, into an atmosphere made of good music, good work, loud laughter.

Similar to what I shared the first week about the universal truths of brewing, so have I found to be the case with beer quality. Both Left Hand & Birrificio Italiano test for gravity, pH, oxygen, etc., but we have slightly different processes and tools based on our different production layouts and styles. But I must admit, I would love to get my hands on a spectrometer! One thing I have quite enjoyed and would like to initiate at my brewery, is a sensory training program. I like how Left Hand encourages its team members to train their palate and practices daily quality testing by employees from all parts of the brewery. After all, who knows your beer better than the people behind it all?

So, let’s have a toast to Quality. Which is of course the ability to have a steady, consistent, fresh product coming out of your brewery… But also, in a way that’s equally important, to brew beers which are flavorful, imaginative, distinctive. With a hint of magic.

Odds & Ends

Tuesday I got to brew my first West Coast IPA with Henry! I chose Carawheat for the malt and Mosaic for the hops because I have never worked with either and this trip is all about trying new things, right? Henry, my Brewer’s Exchange partner has been a helpful and lively host, always keeps me laughing. Soon, Henry will be leaving for Italy to brew on my turf! I am excited for him to see how we brew (and to eat plenty of delicious Italian food!).

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