Day in the Life: A Brewing Student

Les stirring

Day in the Life: A Brewing Student

Les%20Timmersmans2_1.jpgLearning the Craft of the Perfect Pint

Great craft beer has made dreamers out of many of us, and I am a lucky man to be on my way to becoming a professional brewer. In September 2015, after moving from South Korea back to my hometown of Airdrie, Alberta, I entered the Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program at Olds College. I had been homebrewing for a few years while in Korea, and had taken part in regional festivals and competitions. But I was eager for the education to take things to the next level. It was a big move to pack up everything and fly over the ocean with a family in tow. I would be taking on a two-year program that covers ingredients and recipes to the service and promotion of the finished product, and everything in between. It would all be worth it to enter the field of professional brewing.

LesTimmermans1.jpgMy typical day…

8AM – Today is a brew day. It’s still early, but I’m on a tight schedule, and there’s no time to lose! Once the brewing water is set just right in terms of volume, temperature and chemistry, I stir in the malted grain the recipe requires. This is the mash, when starches in the grain are converted into sugars, with the help of specific enzymes. What we accomplish on a brew day isn’t the first step in crafting beer, and it’s certainly not the last. Brewers rely on the careful production of ingredients and a great recipe just to get started.

Students in the program have many opportunities to test recipes by brewing on twin 60L steam-heated brewing systems. Larger commercial batches are brewed on the brewhouse capable of 800L at a time. As both a student and employee of the Olds College Brewery, I’ve been able to learn on and use both systems to produce many batches.

10AM – Once the mash is complete, the sugary wort is transferred into a different vessel where it will be boiled. This is when hops are added which will impart bitterness and all sorts of amazing flavors and aromas to the liquid. At school we have dozens of hop varieties at our disposal, each with unique characteristics. Today I’m brewing a pale ale, one with quite prominent citrus and tropical hop flavors, but with relatively restrained bitterness. How do you like your hops?

11AM – After boiling for an hour, the wort is cooled and pumped into vessels for fermentation. This is where we let the yeast take over and do their thing – namely, to convert sugars to alcohol and produce 100’s of compounds that help make beer taste as good as it does. This stage takes around two to three weeks to complete for ales, and we do our best to keep the yeast as happy as they can be, such as by maintaining proper temperatures.

12PM - The process of beer production involves good housekeeping habits, such as cleaning all the time. With more than 50 students sharing the same brewing space and equipment over the school week, things can get hectic. Imagine sharing a kitchen with so many folks! Just like cooking, brewing involves measures of science, art, and cleaning, to bring about the magic of a great beer.

LesTimmermans5.jpg1PM – Just in time for class. In the 4 semesters of the program, we take courses in chemistry, brewing equipment, packaging, history, ingredients and marketing, among many others. Today, it’s sensory science. By sampling a variety of beers, wines, ciders and spirits (not necessarily in the same class) we assess various flavor profiles and learn how to produce intended results in our own creations.

7:30 PM – Back at home, back at work. Being a student means tests, assignments and deadlines, even on a Friday evening! The best way to take the sting off of that is with a beer you’ve made yourself. With the work my classmates and I put in to studying beer and brewing, we’re primed to enter the ever-growing beer industry and make waves as we bring our knowledge to bear. Attending the Olds College brewing program has been a rewarding experience and I am excited for the opportunities already opening before me.

Les Timmermans is a second-year student of Olds College’s Brew Master and Brewery Operations Management Program in Alberta, and the 2016 recipient of the Beer Canada Student Award.

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