Level Up your (Home)Brewing Skills at Metro State in Denver
Scott Kermans is the Director of the Beer Industry Program at Metro State in Denver. Like many other brewers, Scott started out as a homebrewer, hooked on brewing from the moment his brother gave him a kit for his birthday. Unlike many brewers, Scott was just 18.
By 21, he was brewing professionally. He has since had roles in distribution and retail, giving him a unique view of all three tiers in the industry. And he's kept with homebrewing.
Q: Can you tell us a little about the program at Metro State?
A: We started the Beer Industry Program about 3.5 years ago and it has really taken off. We heard from the industry was that many jobs wouldn’t necessarily be in biochemistry and that most degrees or certificates related to beer were essentially biochemistry degrees. So, we based ours out of the School of Hospitality. Because of that we can be very flexible with our offerings and cover everything from Business, to Engineering and I even steal Professors from the Science Department, so we make sure to have every opportunity in beer covered for our graduates.
Q: If a home brewer is looking to learn more about the science of brewing, is there a program for them at Metro State? If not, are there resources you’d recommend for homebrewers?
A: At MSU Denver, we don’t send our students through as one large group, so you can just get accepted and take one or two classes as a non-degree seeking student. And, we actually launched a new course earlier this year called "Intro to Homebrewing and Fermentation". But believe me, by the end of the semester, we are way past introductory information. We are also creating some new continuing ed courses in Sensory that we expect to launch this fall (20190 through our innovative and Lifelong Learning Department).
Q: Is there a method to evaluating hops that a homebrewer can use when they bring packets home from their local brew store?
A: I always advocate making some basic hop teas. Buy an extra packet of hops and steep some water, use a French coffee press to soak the pellets in. After 3-4 min, smell and taste away. If you want to get even better about understanding their tastes in beer, then mix in a small amount of malt extract and just a small dash of vodka and then cool it all off. The vodka will mimic the alcohol notes and the malt extract will balance out some of the harsh hop resins.
Q: If given the chance to visit a hop farm, what should a brewer look for in evaluating the hops and deciding what beer to use them in?
A: Honestly, the knowledge from the farmers will probably be your best bet. Start looking at more than just alpha acid percent. Start looking at your Beta Acids and the Oils available in varieties of hops and don’t assume that the same varieties from different farms (or even fields) are the same.
Q: When designing a recipe, what should a brewer think about or look for in a hop?
A: The old adage was to get your Beta Acids lower so you got less “unpleasant” bitterness, but I think each hop is so unique, it is tough to stick to that anymore. I would honestly go talk to local brewers and see if you can’t borrow some hops from them (along with spec sheets) if they make beers with hop profiles you like. Failing that, I am an advocate of slowly blending in hops to recipes you already know and see what new elements varieties bring.
Q: Do you have any advice on storing hops after you’ve opened them?
A: Three main things. No light, no heat and no oxygen. The first two are usually easy. But try to use a freezer that doesn’t defrost if possible. Never store for longer than 9 months and if you keg, then purge a Ziplock bag with co2 before you store them.
Q: I tend toward relatively simple hop bills, using just two or three varieties and a fairly straightforward hop schedule, do you have any suggestions for helping me break out of that habit?
A: I think sticking to what you know isn’t the worst thing when you are trying new varieties, but if you want to change a beer or a recipe without changing hops, the coolest thing to get into is first wort hopping or whirlpool hopping. Using a coffee French press also is cool if you use whole leaf hops and press them through the beer right as you are serving.
Q: I have seen recipes with nine or ten varieties of hops and additions every few minutes. Is a brewer really getting more complexity doing that, or is there a point of diminishing returns?
A: I think they are getting more complexity, but it is rare for that complexity to be recognized fully and often it actually hurts the beer flavors. I would stick to less than 6 myself and usually keep the flavors of those hops similar.
Q: With the latest trend being New England style IPAs featuring mostly (or only) late hop additions, is there anything a brewer should keep in mind when designing this type of recipe?
A: The style is still so emerging; I would say to play around. However, don’t limit yourself to only late hop (in boil) additions. Think about adding hops when adding o2 or in the whirlpool. Think about a pre-fermentation dry hop and a post-fermentation dry hop and use that French press idea here too. Or, go with a very small amount of VERY low resin hops for 30 min in the boil.
Q: I know that adding hops will sometimes cause beer to start fermenting again. Any other odd or unusual properties to hops that homebrewers might not know?
A: The latest research that shows you can get some isomerized alpha acids without boiling resins at all is interesting.
This article from the Homebrew Association is a good intro to the topic: https://www.homebrewersassociation.org/how-to-brew/effect-post-boilwhirlpool-hop-additions-bitterness-beer/
Q: Can you talk about the process of first wort hopping? How is it done?
A: Basically, as you transfer wort from the lauter tun, add at least 33% of your hops. Usually noble hops work great for this. These hops stay with the wort for the entire boil. The Brewers Association has a great write up on the process.
Q: When they say to use a third of your total hop additions in the first wort, do they mean to calculate your first wort addition and then the remainder of your hop bill to achieve the bitterness and flavor profile you’re looking for? (Instead of figuring the hop bill, reducing it by one third and using that third in the first wort.)
A: In my experience, I would agree you are correct.
Q: Why would a brewer decide to hop before the boil?
A: Many brewers say it adds complexity to the hop profile. Especially in low or moderately hopped beers.
Q: Are the types or varieties of hops that work better for first wort hopping?
A: Noble hops for sure!
Q: Do you have a favorite hop? If so, what makes it special?
A: I love Saaz. Can’t get enough of that spiciness.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: We will soon be leasing out the use of our tricked-out brew setup (still just 15-gallon systems) to be able to be used by homebrewers and homebrewing clubs. It will offer a great professional experience to homebrewers and won’t cost an arm and a leg. You can find out more by emailing our Beverage Lab Manager Katie Strain at firstname.lastname@example.org and she’ll add you to our mailing list. Plus, if you ever want to have your homebrew tested in a professional lab, we can do that for you as well. Same email.
American Homebrewers Association. (2019, August 19). American Homebrewers Association. Retrieved from What is First Wort Hopping?: https://www.homebrewersassociation.org/how-to-brew/what-is-first-wort-hopping/
Metropolitan State University. (2019, August 19). Beer Industry Program Faculty. Retrieved from Scott Kerkmans, C.C., B.J.C.P.: https://msudenver.edu/beer/faculty/
Metropolitan State University. (2019, August 19). MSU Home. Retrieved from Beer Industry Program: https://msudenver.edu/beer/