Beer Schoolby brandon / Oct 19, 2012
Editor's Note: Our friend and regular blogger, Professor Brandon "Old Time" Plyler, takes some time here to explain the genesis of his Beer School series, co-organized by CBX and Kudu. Fall classes are under way, so don't miss out on sessions 3 & 4! -ETP
About 2 years ago I began instructing at the Culinary Institute at Trident Technical Community College.
This was a natural extension of spending years in retail answering old beer questions and researching new ones. Today, the Beer Basics class is a component of the Beverage Certificate program within the Hospitality Department. All that sounds super official, I know. Essentially, the class, which most folks find fascinating and enthralling, has to be consistent in material every semester. It’s easy to understand the glazed, half-dead look in the eye of my high school Algebra 2 teacher. Sorry, none of it stuck...
Some elements of the lessons seemed to be a little more interesting than others. Some turned out to be verbose tangents that would consume a lot of class time framed for another topic. When Scott, of the Charleston Beer Exchange, started to throw around the idea of a relaxed, for-the-public education series, several ideas sprung to mind.
What is Beer? Beer History
Believe it or not, most people have no idea what beer is. When students leave any beer class they should firmly have an idea of where beer gets color, alcohol, bubbles, body, bitterness etc. What are hops and why are they used? It’s also important to sprinkle in the history of a beverage that has not only served as the foundation for civilization, but also saved most of European existence before germ theory was known. Louis Pasteur’s work was funded by the Brewing industry. Barbarians drank narcotic-laced brew while they attacked the Romans in the nude and earned their name. Women were the predominant brewers for most of history, etc.
The German language, even though very related to English, can be a terrifying one. This is especially true when a word refers to a medieval consumer protection law issued by one small state, and particularly when this word restricts one of the largest brewing cultures in the world. This class picked apart the components of the law, the original intentions, and what can exist through practice and innovation. Flaming rocks tossed into a wooden tun to bring wort to boil and freezing beer to make Eisbock where explored. Also the lacto-soured Champagne-like wheat beers of Berlin and the IPA-hoppy weisse beer from Schneider got poured. Hopefully the take away is that good brewers will persevere even in the face of 4 ingredients.
Sour: A Blending Class
Obviously, a rather slutty trend towards History can be detected here. Delving into the past, one quickly realizes that fiction has nothing on the real deal. Prior to some of the more major advancements in sanitation and temperature control, any beer that wasn’t extravagantly hopped would have gone sour in a short period of time. Dumping the beer and starting over was never a popular answer in the early days of brewing. Many styles that exist today probably would have had some notions of tartness. Of course, in order to conform to the new, popular tastes of the time, and produce a stable, consistent product, the brewing community latched onto stainless steel and steam-cleaning and hasn't let go since. Blending sour or stock beer with a fresh beer would have been used to create a complex and consistent product in the mean time. Porter, Dubbel, Fruit Beers, Wheat Beers, Old Ale - many of these would have had a lactic, oaky edge to them. This class explores that and gives the student a chance to see these developments right before their eyes. (This class has yet to take place and spots are still available.)
As an overview, these classes are spin-off ideas that either strike my fancy or form the basis of themes and rants that have occupied the brain for a while. Prepare to learn a lot; prepare to have a lot of questions. Student questions seem to guide the direction of the class, and that works out in a very good way. Simply put, ask the questions you’ve always wanted to know the answer to.