March 22, 2012

Interview: Thomas Kolicko, Director of Crafting a nation (part 2)

This is the second of a two part interview with Thomas Kolicko director of Crafting a Nation and Beer Culture the movie.

HBC: Why did you choose to make films about the beer industry?
Tom:  I grew up in New Jersey I moved here (Colorado) when I was 22 years old. Jersey doesn’t have too many craft breweries, there’s a bunch, and I follow New Jersey craft brewers on Facebook. I want to go back there and see what they have because I know their scene has been growing. The county I grew up in didn’t have a single craft brewery in it, not one. Just recently I found out that one did get founded its supposed to open up by the time I’m planning to head back, they also have a homebrew store there so the seed has been planted.
I have always loved craft beer, but in jersey you go to a bar and you see bud, Coors, miller, corona, Stella and they have Yuengling. In Colorado you see red left hands, you see red A’s, you see odells all these tap handles I hadn’t seen before the Budweiser one was the little black nub hanging out, like the bar was embarrassed to serve it. I wanted to figure out why. I took a class in documentary filmmaking and I wanted to figure out what the beer culture was and the project grew traction from there. I didn’t realize how much support people give these breweries, being a filmmaker; it was cool to see when we launched our trailer how much support we got from telling the story of these guys and I’m like “okay were on to something here, this is really cool”
Beer culture started out to be a 15-minute short project just a general overview. When we released the trailer the amount of emails we got we were like okay, the final cut was 55 minutes. What I liked about beer culture was how it transformed from a film about beer to a film about the American Dream. 
HBC: How do you define craft beer? People have lots of different definitions.
Tom: I like that question.  I always ask a question with my interviews that stumps everybody I guess this is one of those questions. You know? I would say a craft brewery is a business that is committed to improving the quality of life to a community. There’s beer aspect to this film but the story follows craft brewers but it’s really about the growth of the small business right now in America. What were trying to say is these craft breweries, these small businesses that are socially responsible, sustainable and are committed to making a quality product that in every facet will improve the quality of life in these communities. I think that’s a craft brewery.
You mentioned Widmer, you mentioned the big guys. That can be a slippery slope to go down but they all started somewhere, people go into business to make money and we live in a capitalist society. You as a consumer or people as consumers have a right to support the business you want to support. It boils down to where you want to spend your dollar, who you want to vote for with that dollar. Personally I want to vote for the little guy I want to see the little guy succeed. That’s something I believe in, it’s the reason I want to make this film.
That’s what I think a craft brewery is. A business somebody can believe in and want to see succeed as long as that business is smart, sustainable, responsible and morally conscious that’s the answer to go with.
HBC: Are you a homebrewer?
Tom: I am a homebrewer. That was one of the coolest things about making beer culture. I went from extract to all grain in like 8 months. I’m still working hard so I don’t get to brew as much. Luckily the beers I brewed over break have to age a little so I wont be bottling them until April.
HBC: How are you planning on getting the word out about the film?
Tom: Numerous different ways. Were really focusing on the growth of new media in film. It seems like the traditional system of distribution is kind of going out of the mix. Were looking into several different avenues.
Our deadline for the first final cut is December 12th with intended distribution through whatever medium around January.
What were trying to do for marketing right now is utilize the tools our web site can give us. Search engine optimization, were doing the whole webisode thing were trying to increase everything that’s new and cool. We have a bunch of avenues that are opening up I really can’t go into too much detail right now. Were going to be doing promotional events, a lot of community outreach starting out here in Denver and branching out nationally from there. Were looking to partner with a lot of small businesses, It’s getting the community involved to get the film out there.
HBC: Anything else I should have asked?
Tom: I wanted to go back to my inspiration to make the film. You talked about my passion for beer, prior to my getting involved with beer I had a job in New Jersey, the last job I had in the state. I was working for a farm to table operation prior to that I never really understood this independent part of the market. That job really gave me inspiration for how small business works, how trade works, how collaborating works. I think that was one of my main inspirations for a “return to normality” as I like to call it. 

The film will not be out for a while but there is plenty of activity on Crafting a nations Facebook page and website to keep you interested until then. Additionally, Beer Culture is out and available for download here. I want to extend a big thank you to Tom for taking the time to give me an interview I'm looking forward to checking out Crafting a Nation. 

March 16, 2012

Taking Notes

One of the most important parts of brewing is taking good notes. Aside from printing out the recipe you're brewing there are a bunch of other things that you should be writing down, in three months you're probably not going to remember if you were one degree high or low on your mash or how good the crush was on that bag of grain.
I was used to miss some important details when taking notes and I was unhappy with all the spread sheets I was finding online so I decided to make my own note taking sheet.
This is what works for me. The Variables table is for the amount of strike/sparge water as well as the temperature, I use this website to fill out the table, it takes it's calculations from Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels.
There is a space for your water adjustment information you can note the amounts of chemicals you're adding and the final water profile for that beer. To get this information I use the EZ water calculator V3.0. It can be downloaded as a spreadsheet.
The averages table is something I developed in response to using a RIMS system and having multiple data points for my mash. Home-brew mashtuns are notorious for not holding a uniform temperature throughout so I average 3 of my data points (center grain bed, RIMS output, blichmann thermometer on my mashtun) throughout the mash. I take these average readings and average all of them to get what i call my mash temperature.
The bottom table has a space to keep track of all your cellar activities (racking beer, dry hopping, temperature changes, gravity changes) as well as your attenuation and alcohol by volume. Here I also keep track of my kegging activities (date, C02 pressure applied) and bottling information (date and number of bottles)
Aside from all the tables there is a space to write down your starter information, a space to write the beer you're brewing, the version and the date, and a space to make notes for a starch conversion test.
Usually any other notes I need will be put on the back of the page or on a separate blank page, usually this is where i write information on my flow rates, crush information or anything else that comes to mind. I attach this to the recipe I have formatted in beer alchemy and printed out as well as the receipt from my home brew store giving me a complete picture of the beer.

March 12, 2012

Interview: Thomas Kolicko, Director of Crafting a nation (part 1)

A few weeks back Thomas Kolicko was kind enough to grant me an interview to talk about his latest project Crafting A Nation. Tom also directed the film Beer Culture an expose on how craft brewing embodies the american dream. I want to extend a big thank you to Tom for taking the time to be interviewed.

HBC:  What’s Crafting a nation about?
Tom: Crafting a nation is a feature length documentary about how the American craft brewers are building the economy one beer at a time. After Beer Culture the movie came out the biggest criticism we received was “why was it only Colorado?”  so after thinking about it for awhile we were at Oskar Blues we were about to do a screening of Beer Culture and we said “lets do a national version”. We understand the story, we know the story the best and I think we can tell it the best and if we don’t do it somebody else will.
 Crafting a nation evolved out of there its come down to more of a social cause kind of project, we going to have a very interactive website that backs up everything about the film. You can find more about other breweries; start up businesses and webisodes, business profiles. All types of features that back up the film and support the films message.
HBC: What breweries did you visit?
Tom: For Crafting a nation we just got back from Texas and Saint Louis. We also are following a couple breweries here in Colorado, our main characters are here in Colorado as well. Beer Culture was more of a multi character expose figuring out there is beer culture and why people are supporting it. Crafting A Nation does that to a certain extent but heightens what we initially set out to do with Beer Culture. This ones going to be more character driven, were following three main story lines right now.
In terms of breweries we’ll start with Texas. There’s freetail brewing company, north by northwest, jester king, thirsty planet, there’s so many… Austin beer works, hops and grain. In Saint Louis there’s schlafly, four hens, urban chestnut, perennial and, civil life… I think I got them all. And then out here in Colorado were going to be following a couple brewers that have not opened yet there expected to open within the next month to two months. That’s the cool thing, most of the breweries were going to be talking to have been open for less than three years. Were really trying to focus on how these businesses are growing, why they’re being founded and just showing the economic benefits of craft beer in America.
HBC: Do you have any favorites?
Tom: We definitely have our main characters. We have been in research and development since August trying to hone in on who our main characters are going to be. We narrowed it down by region, in terms of characters we have Scott Metzger of freetail brewing company; I think he still is an economics professor and full time brewer/owner of freetail brewing company. Then Ron Extract from jester king, a cool experience, really revolutionary beer.
On the beer side perennial in St. Louis, artisan ales they have a cool story. I cant talk to much about our main characters I can say that there our main characters for a reason, they are all young, most of the this them is their first big business venture. Its cool to see the amount of spirit these guys have to go out into the world now with the economic times the way they are and try to pursue their dreams and passion.
HBC: You guys had a kickstarter fund, was that always part of the plan?
Tom:  Were independent so funding is whatever we can get. Without going into too much detail we have hit a little snag with our funding, were planning to over come that. This film is going to be made regardless were going to knock on every door once if not twice to try to get this thing funded. We have really cool and kind sponsors.
For the film we have raised about 25%. Kickstarter was always part of the plan because it’s a really cool platform where people can get involved with the project, that’s exactly what crafting is. I want to give back to the people that inspired me to make this film.
Its not cheap, we have a really tight knit crew. When you think film crew you think a lot of people, but it’s a couple guys. I recently had to expand, Beer Culture was originally made with five core people and I recently had to add three more.
HBC: So Crafting A Nation is your full time job then?
About two months in (to beer culture) I was working a random nine-dollar per hour job and my company was founded. There was too much of a difference and I took the leap of faith and make this my full time gig. I haven’t paid myself that much yet and the crew is the same were doing this out of passion.

Look out for part two of the interview coming up soon, in the meantime check out to watch some trailers and contribute to the production of the film.  

March 8, 2012

Concise Course in Brewing Technology Review 2/3

Recently I reviewed the first part of my introduction to professional brewing. I have been keeping up with the course work without any real problems. The weekly chat sessions were condensed because not as many people were showing up as the instructors wanted which means I have to try to do the chats at work so I'm not getting quite as much out of them.

The topics on the life cycle of yeast, yeast management and control of fermentation temperatures were really useful and interesting. The material was presented in a way that the biochemical aspects did not make me feel like I was going to pass out. The filtration chapter was probably the hardest I have come across so far, I feel like the provided material was not terribly clear in describing how a filter operates (in terms where wort flows and where the filtration medium is deposited) but my instructor provided me with some additional information that cleared up my questions.

This week I finally read the module I was most interested in, recipe formulation. There was not a lot of hard data on formulation (there were some slides adapted from Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels). There were however a few good things to think about regarding the difference between professional and home brewing, like the focus of recipes and brewing in general "homebrewer: art and craft, professional brewer: craft and science" and "The process of consistently producing the beer within defined specifications separates professional brewers from amateurs". The chapter also gave some good tips on taking notes during brewday. It was not what I had in mind but it was still a really useful read.

March 5, 2012

Beer Alchemy Review

Recently I had the idea to review my brewing recipe software of choice, this got me to thinking about the other types of software out there and I decided to get some other bloggers involved to review the software they use.
I use beer alchemy for all my recipes, I liked the look of the interface and the fact that it was mac native was attractive as well. The software retails for $29.95 and gives you the ability to install the software on up to two computers.

Admittedly I don't use all the features the software offers. I mainly use it to write out my recipes and get a target for original gravity, IBU, and color. All of the measurements have options for which method you choose to calculate them. You can keep brew day notes, a record of what you brewed and when and track your inventory. (these are the features I don't use) The software is really easy to jump in and start using, It's fully customizable to your batch sizes, extract or all grain, and addition of new ingredients. To get your recipe onto paper you can either export the files through email, PDF, or as a webpage (I use the webpage so it prints nicely). Additionally you can change the alpha acid amounts on the hop additions, and formulate your grist bill by desired pre boil gravity and percentage of the individual malts and you can create custom mash schedules. It really has all the features you would ever need.
Additionally there is a mobile version of the software available. The mobile version has all of the same features as the desktop version, however, it's not quite as user friendly as the desktop version.

All in all I think the software is totally worth the $30 price, I have no interest in doing all these recipe calculations by hand. I think the simple interface makes it easy to jump right in and start designing recipes.

Here are some links to my collaborators blogs:
BrewMate- Beer & Garden 
iBrewmaster- Homebrew Academy
Beersmith 1- Atomic Donkey Brewing
Brewtarget- Shegogue Brew