The Fermenta Meet and Greet Brew Day Extravaganza

The Fermenta Meet and Greet Brew Day Extravaganza invitation said, “Come have fun with us making and talking all things beer!! We will be brewing a hazelnut coffee blonde ale.” Hello, who would turn down that invitation? Not me. 

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Brew Day Extravaganza

Jay Green from Perrin Brewing met us at the door on Friday, August 5, 2022, at the Perrin Brewing facility in Comstock, Michigan. He was a wee bit nervous, you could tell. I think he was hoping we wouldn’t be the only people to show up for the brew day extravaganza. He shouldn’t have worried. The hallway outside the brewhouse was quickly filling with female brewery owners, home brewers, and Fermenta members. More than a dozen people attended the event. 

Fermenta – A Woman’s Craft Collective 

You may be wondering, what is Fermenta? It is a non-profit organization whose mission is to offer networking and education and to empower women in the fermented beverage and food industries. “We’re more than just beer,” said Angie Williams, Co-Founder of Fermenta. Fermenta is for women who are homebrewing or making fermented foods and beverages. 

Through events like this one, women can become more involved in the industry. Throughout the day, women shared their stories. They kindled new friendships. And most important, it was an opportunity to meet industry mentors like Callee Knoll from Archival Brewing and Karen Forbes from Burzurk Brewing Company. 

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Fermenta’s annual fundraiser and anniversary party is on September 17, 2022, at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe in Kalamazoo. Since its inception, Fermenta has awarded $16,000+ in scholarships to its members. The scholarships support things from books for classes to conference fees in their current job or career. You can help support Fermenta by visiting their website and making a donation. If you are interested in becoming a Fermenta Member, you can via their website. 

The Recipe

For the Brew Day Extravaganza, we made a 20-barrel batch of hazelnut coffee blonde ale. Casey, the new head brewer at Elk Brewing, wrote the recipe.

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Did you notice there are 800 pounds of grain?

Making the Mash

Do you remember the board game “Mouse Trap?” Our neighbors owned the game. They’d break it out when we’d visit. We’d spend hours building a mouse trap which was really just a series of chain reactions. As I watched Jay press buttons to move the grain from the silos outside the building and Kate and Eileen pour the malt into the German mill I thought, this reminds me of the game Mouse Trap. The grain and malt moved through the tubes into the mash tun. Some magic was performed with the computer to add the water.   

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Mashing is a brewer’s term for the hot water steeping process which hydrates the barley, activates the malt enzymes, and converts the grain starches into fermentable sugars.

Coffee Cupping

Littlefoot Coffee Roasters from Grandville, Michigan, took us on a coffee cupping adventure during the Brew Day Extravaganza. Alex Burbo, Littlefoot’s co-found was our guide. Ever heard the term coffee cupping? At its simplest, cupping is a way to taste, evaluate, and compare the flavor, quality, and potential of a given coffee.

Alex brought five coffees for us to select from for our hazelnut coffee blond ale:

  1. Dark Forest – Honduras  
  2. Flor De Selva – Peru (Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner) 
  3. Worka Chelbessa – Ethiopia 
  4. Lake Day – Seasonal Blend (this blend included Flor De Selva) 
  5. Bunum Wo – Papua New Guina 

Plus, Alex brought very cute cupping spoons. He set up our coffee cupping table near the door. First, he weighed the ground coffee beans and put equal amounts into a short glass.  

Evaluate Dry Fragrance

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Alex asked us to smell the grounds to evaluate the dry fragrance of the coffee. There was a quick poll and already, there was a winner emerging. 

Heated water was poured into each of the cups and let set for four minutes. Now the interesting part of the coffee cupping adventure started. We got to use the fancy spoons to break the crust which had formed on the top of the coffee. The crust is the gas released from the coffee and is bitter. It masks the taste of the coffee. 

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Break the Crust

Alex said, “Grab a spoon. When we break that crust and take in the aroma it actually stops the extraction process as well. When you get in there, you can get as close as you want. You just want to break that crust up all the way on top and just take in any aroma that comes out of it.” 

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Another quick poll and it was clear there were only two coffees competing to be the winner. 

Tasting

Very deftly, Alex used two spoons to skim off the crust from each of the cups.

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Now it was time to slurp the coffee. Alex provided slurping instructions, “When you taste it, take a spoon full of coffee. You want to slurp it. Don’t be afraid to be loud. You might slurp too hard and hit the back of your throat, and cough a little bit. That’s alright, too. That happens. When you slurp the coffee, it aerates it and sprays it across your entire pallet and it gets your olfactory system going.” 

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Winner, winner, chicken dinner! It was unanimous; Flor De Selva was the clear choice for our hazelnut coffee blond ale.

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It was a fair contest. “Every coffee is on a level playing field. No filter involved; everything gets the same amount of water, all the same, dry amount of coffee,” Alex said. 

The coffee cupping experience reminded me of the sensory evaluation workshop we attended during the Great Lakes Beer Conference in January 2022. Fermenta sent two scholarship winners to the conference in January. An excellent opportunity for anyone wanting to learn more about the beer industry and meet its leaders. 

The HOPS

Casey, our recipe designer, had already picked the hops: Summit, Cascade, and Saaz. Now we needed to find them. I wanted to crawl into Perrin’s freezer, where they keep opened bags of hops. The aroma was intoxicating.  

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Casey’s recipe called for:

  • 2.5 pounds of Summit hops (60 minutes)
  • 2 pounds of Cascade (30 minutes)
  • 2 pounds of Saaz (15 minutes)

Each would be added to the wort at different points, like adding seasoning to a dish at the beginning, middle, and end of the boiling process. As the chef, you know how you want the final dish to taste. As the brewer, Casey knows how she wants to bring out bitterness, aroma, and flavor in our ale. 

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We had a few minutes to wait after measuring the hops. There is a lot of hurry up and wait in the brewing process. 

Lunch

I wouldn’t have noticed if Jay hadn’t pointed out that Perrin’s taproom kitchen is a food truck inside the building. Perrin treated the crew gathered for the Brew Day Extravaganza to pizza and spinach dip in the taproom. I’ll admit the air conditioning in the tap room was almost as wonderful as the pizza. 

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Mashing Done

The mash is moved to the lauter tun, where the wort is separated from the mash. The wort is transferred to the brew kettle. The spent grain is transferred to a silo where it will wait to be picked up. It is used for animal feed or composting. Homebrewers Eileen and Kate snagged some to make dog treats and tortillas when they get home.  

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The Brew Kettle

Jay explained this step. “We’re boiling it to concentrate the wort. As we add the hops, the longer it’s in the boil, the more bitterness you get out of the hops. The first one (the Summit Hops) is going to be all the bitterness. You’re not going to get any flavor. Other than that, you’re not going to really smell that hop. Once you get closer to the 30-minute mark, you start adding the Cascade. You’ll get a little bit of bitterness out of it, a little bit of aroma, and some flavor. At the very end or 15 minutes, that’s going to be a more full aroma (Saaz). There’ll be a little tiny bit of bitterness, but you’re not going to boil long enough to get all the oils out.

Tour of the Building

Again, there was a lot of hurry up and wait. Jay gave us a tour of the Perrin’s barrel rooms while we waited for the wort to boil.

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Measuring the ABV

The recipe’s alcohol by volume (ABV) was 5.5%. Jay used a hydrometer to measure the original gravity before the fermentation process and another will be taken afterward (the final gravity). Using those two reference points the ABV can be determined. 

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Bus Ride to Fermentation

Since the smaller fermentation barrels were on the other side of the brewhouse, Jay connected a series of hoses to transfer it. It’s like getting a bus transfer to move to another location. Jay sent a note after we left to say, “The beer is already showing some activity. I’ll let everyone know when it’s ready to be tapped.” 

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Brewing Reflections 

I’m not a home brewer but I have brewed beer before. Stiggs Brewing invited us to brew a beer with them in January 2022 over a fire in the snow. It was cold, to say the least. We took the sweet stout we made to the 16th Annual Winter Beer Festival. It was great fun but vastly different from brewing beer in a production facility like Perrin. I am deeply appreciative I’ve had both experiences. 

Here are my parting thoughts. If you love the craft beer scene join a homebrew club like the Cass River Homebrew Club. It is the oldest homebrewing club in Michigan! Connecting with others in the craft beer scene will deepen your appreciation of the amazing beer Michigan has to offer. Maybe you’ll love it so much that you find yourself joining Fermenta. 

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More Pictures

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We’ve got a few more shots of the Brew Day Extravaganza in our gallery. Please take a peek and let us know what you think. Leave a comment and show some love by sharing this post. 

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