Monday, July 27, 2020

R.I.P. Matt, My Friend

I was very sad to hear that Matt Callahan, former Director of Brewing at Toit - he really detested the title “Brewmaster”, thinking it was used far too liberally - lost his battle with lung cancer on April 29 and peacefully passed away at his new home in Ireland with his loving wife Mariefe by his side. 

Matt arrived in Bangalore in mid 2012, shortly after I did with the recommendation of Toit’s Brewing Consultant & Engineer extraordinaire, Phil Kelm - you can always tell a brewery is run well and in good hands when the reigns are handed off from one brewer to the next with a “seal-of-approval”. Matt was at Toit for 7 years and leaves behind many much-loved beer recipes, expanded capacity and some very large brewers boots to fill!

Matt got interested in brewing after getting a home brewing kit as a birthday gift. The new hobby grew into a passion which prompted him to move to England in 1998 for a certificate in Brewing Technology at the University of Sunderland. After apprenticing with some breweries on the Isle of Man he started his globe-trotting brewing career as an assistant brewer at the Irish Brewing Company in Newbridge, Ireland which ironically was one of my early consulting projects! He would spend a some time brewing on a 23HL system that I helped install. We would sometimes reminisce about this when getting together.

In Dec 2000, he accepted a position at the Palau Brewing Co. as Brewery Manager. The following year he met his wife Mariefe, from the Philippines. 2004 saw the new couple move to South Korea to commission breweries. After that it was Adelaide, South Australia for a position at Barrosa Valley Brewing Co. In 2006, he was off to Denmark and the Orbaek Brewery which would become home for 7 years. Matt really enjoyed Denmark, especially the annual Beer Festival in Copenhagen and the German trade shows - DrinkTech & Brau - which were now much easier to get to. 

Next stop was Bangalore and Toit. Craft brewing was just starting to take off in India and Matt was at the forefront of the revolution at Bangalore’s busiest brewpub, brewing more quality beer than anyone else in town and doing it very consistently. We became good friends and saw each other more as comrades than competitors. Toit was the first craft brewery in town to use “wet” brewers yeast and Matt was instrumental and generous in helping me to get away from the dried stuff at Windmills. It was a big challenge to get wet brewers yeast to India in good condition and always something of a headache but any veteran brewer knows, it makes a superior beer and their are many more varieties to choose from which in-turn adds to more options when designing a beers flavor profile. Matt was also key to starting the Brewer's Association of India (BAI). Without him it would have never happened. Consequently, the brewing community would elect him first president for his dedication and efforts. 

After Touring Geist with me Mariefe and Narayan

In the 1st quarter of 2018, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He faced it bravely and was as quiet about it as he was everything else. He didn’t let it get in the way of his passion for brewing and only a few close colleagues knew what he was going through. In June 2019 he decided to slow down. Matt and Mariefe left Bangalore to settle in Ireland. I had hopes of catching up with Matt someday in his new homeland over a few pints of Guinness but as the saying goes, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. Godspeed my friend. You are missed. I hope the beer is “on” where you’re at.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Revisiting the Pub City

Cold Liquor Tank,  5 /10 HL. Fermenters & Bright Beer Tanks @ Biergarten II

I was in Bangalore a while back to help Biergarten with product and process improvements at their Whitefield location and to get their new brewery going in Koramangula. The results were warmly received! The new brewery opened with more quality beers, that had a greater range of flavours, than what one typically finds. The staff were a pleasure to work with and willing to embrace my changes. The great thing about brewing is that the final product responds very well to tweaking and sensible improvements, wether it be better raw matterials, improved recipes or process changes. And the proof is usually very apparent in the pudding - so to speak.

Me and some of the Biergarten staff

I couldn’t believe how many breweries have opened in Bangalore since I last lived there. With the number and close proximity, Koramangula is ripe for pub crawls - even on foot, the preferred way.

New 5HL. Brewhouse at Biergarten

I get periodic enquiries about brewery consulting and staff positions. I continue to work as a brewery consultant but have prerequisites for participation:

For existing breweries that are having problems - I can spend 2 weeks (or more) on-site and make changes to the process and beer recipes that will result in noticeably better beer. There may be limitations on what can be done due to your equipment and how it is installed.

For new breweries - It's best for me to be involved before all the decisions are made and equipment purchased. This will allow me to have a much bigger impact and consequently, you will get a much better brewery. This is because breweries that are designed and manufactured by someone that has never worked in a microbrewery (like most in India) are fraught with problems that will invariably make them more difficult to operate and this has a negative impact on beer quality. As the one who is responsible for the quality of the beer flowing out the taps, certain things have to be right for my work and beers to meet my standards and be at their best. That old saying "you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear" definitely applies here. 

My start-up services include help with the design of the brewery space, buying the right equipment, sourcing raw materials, getting the brewery operational, providing world-class beer recipes, training local staff how to properly clean, sanitize and brew professionally. Typically I do some work remotely with an additional 3-6 months on-site, depending on how much experience the local staff has. I provide on-going support afterwards and am available for periodic on-site reviews / check-ups. 

Some tips for breweries in planning :

  • A ground floor location is much better than an upper floor. 
  • It’s never a good idea to buy all your brewing equipment from one vendor. 
  • When it comes to equipment, you get what you pay for.
  • The quantity/quality of pumps and various other parts matter - it's not only about the big shiny tanks. 
  • It’s imperative to know or hire someone that knows what you are buying. 
  • My experience with Indian-made equipment is that it’s over complicated and fraught with problems. 
  • I would rather brew on used German equipment than new Indian equipment.
  • Double brews to fill one fermenter should be avoided. 
  • Great brewers make great beer, not great computer programs.
  • It is imperative to hire an experienced brewer with a good track record. 
  • Opening a brewery is not easy, nor is it inexpensive. It requires a great deal of stamina and deep pockets. 
  • Opening a brewery is not a get rich scheme. 
  • Your heart and motivations must be in the right place. 
  • And last but certainly not least, getting the floor and ventilation right are super important but something almost every brewery gets wrong.

Friday, February 13, 2015

My stint as brewmaster at Craftworks in Bangalore is coming to an end and I'll be moving on. It sure has been interesting ride - challenging, rewarding, frustrating and everything in between. In my three and a half years in India I put together one of the sweetest most efficient brewery's to be found anywhere and was around long enough to really make it sing - something that's a little more difficult to do in the developing world. I made about 150 thousand liters of beer (it sounds like more than it really is). A lot of which I'm very proud of. Beers that would hold their own alongside some of the best the U.S. and Europe has to offer. I made some beer styles that have never been brewed in India before, most notably Rauchbier. After brewing so much German-style Hefeweizen, I really came to understand the style and consequently, brew a better example of it. I educated a lot of folks on just how good beer can be, made a few converts and even more friends along the way. On March 6th I will pass the brew-paddle to my very able assistants, Shaan and Amit and expect them to keep the standards high and the beer flowing. Thanks so much for all appreciation and support I received while here! Cheers!

What's Next
I'll chill in the U.S. for a bit and hopefully spend a lot more time on my favorite little island in Maine. I will concentrate on reviving my brewery start-up consulting business - for the past 20 something years I've specialized on Asian projects, opening breweries in Japan, Hong Kong, Macau and Manila. I will probably focus most on India going forward. If you are a prospective brewery owner with funding, a location and looking for help, my contact information is in the "about me" section of the side bar. But keep in mind, it's always best when I'm involved early, before all the decisions are made. This invariably gets the client a better, smarter, more economical brewery and one I have a much easier time getting up and running with world-class beer. 

I'll try and keep the blog updated with new brewery openings in Bangalore, Craft Brewers Association of India news and of course, if I find myself working on other projects in India, I'll pick up where I left off.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The New Hop Crop is in da House

Hop Gathering by Samuel Ireland circa 1793

It’s taken a little longer than I expected but all of the new crop hops that I ordered are finally here. With the global hop shortage and yearly scramble for the most desirable varieties still going strong, I’d say Craftworks did very well indeed. We have hops that many craft brewers in the US were unable to get - Mosaic, Citra, Simcoe, Amarillo Centennial and Saaz. So “Bangalorean hopheads” rejoice. It will be a very hoppy year. The first beer pouring with the new crop will be a classic American-style Pale Ale finished exclusively and dry hopped with type 45 Cascade. Most brewers use and only have experience with type 90 hops. The 45’s are supercharged - twice as concentrated because the hop cones are stripped of the stems and outer leaves prior to processing into pellets. This makes for a more uniform pellet with much more lupulin (oil) and alpha acid (bitterness potential) or in other words, flavor. I liken it to the increased polishing rice goes through to make the higher grades of sake like Ginjo and Daiginjo. This analogy is particularly apt for me because it was in Japan many years ago while working as a brewery start-up consultant, that I first discovered and fell in love with type 45 hops...

I don't get out of Bangalore nearly enough. I blame it on the terrible traffic, not having a car of my own or just simply the amount of time and effort it takes to get anywhere good. But recently I got around all those excuses and found myself in Kombai, Tamil Nadu for a couple of days of hiking and mountain biking with my good friends Naveen and Pei. To say I wasn't a little bit sore when I got back to town would be a lie. The ice cold Craftworks Hefeweizen I brought along and polished off after a long strenuous hike, sure hit the spot...

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Franconian Foray

Not too long ago I was in Germany for BrauBeviale, a brewing industry trade show that takes place in Nürnberg and a little beer hunting in Bamberg. I also had the pleasure to tour the Weyermann Malting Co. and attend a really great party there. BrauBeviale is a nice contrast to the American Craft Brewers Conference and as you would expect, a good opportunity to discover European brewing supplies, manufactures and equipment that is not well known in the American market. There was an abundance of excellent complementary beer on the trade floor and many vendors cooked up sausages for hungry attendees.

Brewery-fresh, Self-serve Pilsner Urquell complements of the Mueller Co.

Nürnberg is an attractive town. It’s hard to believe it was so heavily bombed in WWII. Here is a good pub/brewery guide for those making the trip. Sadly the Andechs Wirtshaus at the Deutscher Kaiser hotel was closed. A real blow for me as Andechs is one of my favourite German breweries. I sure felt cheated out of a few liters which I did my best to make up for on an excellent pub crawl with Frau Lang from Rhön-MalzWe made one pub discovery - Nürnberger Alm completely by chance, just walking by and as as it turned out, they had the best selection of beer that I found in the city. The wild boar with dumpling plate I had to eat was pretty damn tasty too.

At the European Beer Star awards tasting

Bamberg, with it’s World-Heritage city center was all I hoped it would be and more. Drinking Rauchbier (smoked beer) at the source is really the only way to experience it at it’s best (see an earlier post for more info). The bottles of Schlenkerla that I brought back to Bangalore were something of a disappointment. I guess it just doesn’t fare well in the bottle. The Ungespundetes (unfiltered kellerbier) at the cozy Spezial Brauerei pub on the other hand was probably my favourite and most memorable beer of the trip. Honorable mentions to Andechs Helles, Forsthaus Templin Bock - both on the Brau trade floor and Löwenbräu Weissbier at the brewery in Buttenheim. It was here that I had the pleasure to meet Hans Modschiedler - a brewmaster and early pioneer in bringing craft beer to India at the now defunct  Rockman Beer Island brewpub in Gurgaon. It’s sad this one didn’t survive. I’m sure the beers brewed by his hand were the “real deal” and quite good!

The best beer of the trip at the Special Brauerei

The original malt extract evaporator at the Weyermann Malting Co.

While it’s a little late, best wishes for a hoppy and prosperous New Year to all! My crystal ball is hinting at change, opportunity and an exciting year.

Craftworks News
  • A new batch of Stout is on-tap and this one is really tasty.
  • I’ve revamped the Golden Ale because we just don’t have the extra 4-5 days that it takes to dry-hop this beer. Rather than just try and “pull a fast one” we are calling it what it is, a new beer - Helles Ale. As the Golden was an Ale version of a Pilsner, the new beer is an Ale version of a Helles (German for light) lager. But rest assured there is still a pretty good hop smack and it’s still finished exclusively with the best quality Czech Saaz hops.

Friday, November 28, 2014

It's Beer Season

The brewhouse at Big Pitcher

Now that we are past the the annual brewery license renewal date (July), we have several new breweries in Bangalore with beer flowing (see the updated side bar). This brings the total number of brewpubs to 17! The reason for the sudden explosion is that the excise department (regulator of micro breweries) doesn't pro-rate the license fee and the 50% advance payment for excise duty on annual capacity. In other words, open a brewery in June and you will be required to pay a years worth of fees for one month of operation only to pay another years fee a month later in July. It's not really the right way to go about licensing new breweries but it is what it is. 

On a more optimistic note, representatives from all of Bangalore's craft breweries met with the excise department to voice our concerns over unfair and vague regulations. I'm happy to report that we met with some success. No longer will annual capacity be defined by the size of your brew kettle x 365 - none of Bangalore's craft brewers, brewed everyday anyway. It will now be the total volume of all fermentation tanks x 21 (half way between the number of days it takes to produce an ale and a lager). This makes much more sense and most brewers will benefit from the new approach. The exception will be breweries where fermentation capacity far exceeds sales. Moral of this story - build a brewpub in Karnataka, size it right. This should also curb the installation of tiny brewhouses where it takes multiple batches to fill a fermenter - which is just a silly and inefficient way to do things in a brewpub - and something the old definition promoted. From a regulatory point of view, this now makes Karnataka the best place in India to open a brewpub. Maharashtra allows for off premiss sales (something we have to work on in Karnataka) but the production cap is too low and the taxes are too high there.

Craftworks News
The roof-top beer garden is open! We will be serving three beers on-tap from a special keg-cooler that was flown in from the US. This keeps the beer lines short and beers tasting as they should. The food is all North Indian style (my favourite) buffet. Hopefully this extra capacity will make it a bit easier for folks to actually get in. Winterfest - our special holiday ale, is fermenting away and slated for release by December 5.

Craft Brewers Association of India News
Things have been moving slowly but surely. The group last met at Big Brewsky earlier this month. The association changed it's name to The Craft Brewers Association of India to avoid confusion with another group. Our non-profit status has been established with the state and all other requirements are well under way. Our logo has been finalized and the website is up.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

At The Craft Brewers Conference

I recently returned from Denver where I attended the Craft Brewers Conference. It was quite the gathering of brewers, suppliers and manufacturers. This was also a World Beer Cup competition year. While the conference is a yearly event, the competition is biannual. I was pleased to be one of the 219 judges to select the best beers from a staggering 4754 entries that hailed from 1403 breweries in 58 countries. In categories that ranged from Berliner Weisse to Barley Wine. India had four participating breweries, all from Bangalore (Arbor, Biere Club, Toit & Windmills Craftworks) and while none received any awards, it was good to see the country represented. A complete list of winners can be found here. I highly recommend sampling any of these great beers in their home towns when traveling to taste them at their best.

As I missed the last two conferences, this was a great opportunity for me to catch up with lots of old friends, sit in on a few technical seminars, visit some amazing breweries and drink some truly stunning beer. The most memorable were Sierra Nevada’s Ovila on-tap at Falling Rock Alehouse, New Belgium's La Folie in pre and post soured versions at the Brewery and the gold medal winning Kellierbier (Pils) from New Mexico's Marble Brewery in a final-round judging session. I haven't been to Denver in a while so discovering the Belgian beer bar Cheeky Monk was as much a pleasure as the draft Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus I tasted there. Many Colorado breweries are making world-class beer these days and have long since outgrown their micro beginnings and are now large regional producers.

A bit-o wood at New Belgium

One of my favorite seminars of the conference was put on by the German glass manufacturer Spiegelau where beer was sampled and compared in their beer style-specific glassware to that in a standard shaker pint. The difference was pretty remarkable. I was especially impressed with their newish Stout glass. I'll be writing more about these in a future post that deals with tasting in greater depth but one thing I found was that not only did Left Hand's wonderful nitrogenated Stout taste better in this glass, all beer tasted better in it! And if that wasn't enough, Spiegelau very generously gifted six glasses to all attendees.