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!).