We had a rare opportunity to chat with Jennifer Glanville, a brewer and the Director of Brewery Programs at Sam Adams / Boston Beer Co.! We discussed the history of steinholding at the Sam Adams brewery and what they have planned for the 2016 Steinhoisting Competition in Part 1 of the interview and then got into some brewing philosophy and beer-intensive topics. Check it out!
USSA: So what is your favorite beer that you make at Boston Beer?
Jennifer: I have to say, even after all these years, it's Sam Adams Boston Lager. I love pairing foods with beer and cooking with beer and if I had to pick one beer to have for the rest of my life that's what it would be. I feel like the balance of malts and hops is perfect and you can do so much with it. I've paired it with everything from steak to seafood to chocolate, so that's always my go-to. My second favorite beer in the world is Sam Adams Octoberfest. I have been fortunate to travel with Jim [Koch] to hops selection every year in Germany and we bring along Boston Lager and Octoberfest. We share it with the hop farmers. They tell us that our Octoberfest is what festbier used to taste like in Munich. It was historically a bigger beer, a lot more malty than you typically see today and with higher alcohol content. For obvious reasons, beers change over time, but these old German hops farmers are amazed when they taste our Octoberfest. They tell us "When I was little and I would go to Munich with my grandfather, this is what the beer used to taste like." And that's got to be the ultimate compliment that we have been able to put together a true, authentic Märzen style.
USSA: With that kind of praise you are definitely doing something right. German styles are absolutely my favorites. When we start getting closer to the fall, I get really excited for beer. Pumpkin beers are a big part of the fall for a lot of people, but for me, it's all about Märzen, Octoberfest, and Rauchbier styles. Steinhoisting really goes hand in hand with Octoberfest festivals. What can you tell us about some of the other German styles that Sam Adams makes?
Jennifer: Obviously we have Boston Lager itself which is more of a Bohemian Pilsner style, but we've had some other Pilsner styles over the past couple years. We've had a Helles which is a style that I personally love to drink when I'm over in Germany. It's a tough style to communicate to people who don't know it well because the American beer drinker's palate has been focused more to hone in on the hop character of big IPAs. So we've tried to do things to introduce styles here with our Brewer Patriot Club and other brewery programs to bring people in and do style tastings. It's cool to see people try these styles of beer that they aren't familiar with and see them enjoy it.
USSA: Talking about lager brewing, from a homebrewing perspective, it is definitely a longer process and obviously there is the lower temperature requirement for lager fermentation as opposed to ale. I've always wondered if there were any shortcuts that larger brewers used to speed up lager fermentation. Can you talk about the timeline for fermenting a typical lager at your production scale?
Jennifer: I would say that it varies. We make some ales that can take months or can take as little as 14 days. The typical ale for us is about 21 days fermenting. We usually go a bit longer because we feel that with our yeast, we get that extra character you get from ale by going beyond the 14 days which is the traditional timeframe. For our lagers, Boston Lager is a 5 week beer.
USSA: You mentioned IPAs earlier. It's pretty clear that the IPA has been the flagship style of American craft brewing for at least the last 15-20 years and like you said, the big, hoppy IPAs are what American craft beer drinkers gravitate towards. I've seen this lead to sort of a hops arms race with smaller craft brewers trying to out-bitter one another by packing in more hops into IPAs, double IPAs, imperials, etc. and trying to make beers at one extreme of the beer spectrum. One thing that I've noticed about The Boston Beer Company is that you've done a good job of being an innovator and you've put out new styles and variations without being ridiculous and over the top. When you're planning new styles to bring to market, how do you find a good balance between respecting a tradition of what a particular style is supposed to be and creating a new interpretation of a style?
Jennifer: For us, when we start talking about a new beer, we have to make some hard decisions about if it is going to be a traditional style or if we want to build a beer around a particular ingredient that we are interested in exploring. With your example of IPAs, I don't like just throwing stuff into an IPA. For me, I like to focus on integrating and showcasing the complexity of hops. We don't just make an IPA to make it as hoppy as possible. We want to make sure that the hops we are putting together from the kettle to storage to dry-hopping are going to get the flavor that we are looking for. A good example is our Rebel Grapefruit IPA. I love that beer. At the brewery, we were talking about grapefruit and how people really seem to enjoy the grapefruit flavors that you get from some hops varieties. We had been making the original Rebel IPA which is a big, juicy IPA that had some of these grapefruit flavors so we thought it was just natural to incorporate grapefruit juice and grapefruit peel. It's all about that flavor integration and the experience where the drinker can drink the entire 12 ounces or pint and enjoy the whole thing.
USSA: You mentioned that most people don't realize how much effort goes into the process of developing a particular beer. In a typical case, from the conception of a new idea to being ready to produce it at full scale, how many iterations of the recipe do you try and change along the way?
Jennifer: It definitely depends on the particular beer, but I would say that we get pretty close on the first attempt. Our team has worked together for a long time at the brewery so we're able to communicate well with each other and that helps us get a good starting point from developing a recipe. When we were developing the Rebel IPA, it was developed in our nano. I think we had well over 40 different recipes because we wanted to hone in on that balance of hops and we wanted to accentuate the flavor characteristics of the hops.
USSA: As a homebrewer, I've found that brewing is both artistic and technical. The artistry comes into play when you're designing a beer and thinking about what you ultimately want the beer to be. The technical side of brewing can be extremely complex given all of the parameters that you can measure and adjust, and I'm sure this is even more prominent in a large commercial scale brewery. Would you say that you are more drawn to the artistic side or to the technical side of brewing?
Jennifer: Definitely the artistic side. When I get interested in a particular ingredient or a process that is technically more challenging to work with, I rely on our brewers who have their PhD in brewing to make a beer happen. I'm definitely more on the flavor side of things and being creative and trying new things there.
USSA: I have an unrelated, selfish question. My background is in biotechnology quality assurance, so I'm curious about what kind of quality systems and control testing do you have in place for production at the brewery?
Jennifer: We have hundreds of controls in place. We have dedicated QA folks here and at all of our breweries. The sensory element is definitely an important part of our controls because we want the beer to taste great every time. So we have folks tasting the beer all throughout the brewing process. Jim Koch tastes every batch of Boston Lager that we produce here before it's bottled. We also have lab support to do micro checks. We have standard operating procedures and production batch records during the course of manufacturing and for cleaning. We also have folks that are dedicated to working with our ingredient suppliers. They do inspections and make sure that our suppliers have the same philosophy around quality that we do. We have controls over everything from equipment to ingredients to testing that continues after the beer is on the market.
USSA: I polled some of my homebrewer friends and they were pretty excited to ask a professional brewer some questions. There was one question that I heard from a couple people: what are some tips that you can give to a homebrewer based on what you've learned as a professional brewer?
Jennifer: I meet with a lot of homebrewers here for the Brewing the American Dream Program and we partner with homebrewing clubs. I think there are a lot of homebrewers who experiment wildly, which I love. I also hear from people who always brew the same styles. Almost every brewer has a flagship type of beer that they love to make. My advice is to master that flagship beer and then branch out with crazier ingredients and new techniques. You'll learn so much from it, even if it doesn't come out great. It takes a lot of time and experimentation to get a beer right.
USSA: So much of the recent growth in the number of small craft breweries in the US has stemmed from homebrewers wanting to turn their passion into a business. As someone who has had such an interesting journey getting to an important position in the brewing industry, do you have any advice for someone who is trying to take their hobby and turn it into a career or a business?
Jennifer: I would say you should do whatever you can to get involved at a community level with beer groups and homebrewing clubs because there are a lot of connections can be made by networking within these groups and associations. Working in the craft beer industry is really exciting and fun and I would never say "it's a job like anything else," because it's not. But working in a brewery isn't always as glamorous as some people envision in their dreams. You need to decide if that's really what you want to devote all of your time to or if you want to try to do something part-time. There are so many opportunities.
Thanks a ton to Jennifer Glanville and Boston Beer Company for taking the time to talk with us and giving us some info on their brewing philosophies and beers! Check out part 1 of this interview where we get more into the history and upcoming Sam Adams Steinhoisting competition!
Find the Sam Adams Steinhoisting locations near you at samofest.com and check out the other cool events that Boston Beer Company puts on at //www.samueladams.com/brewery-and-craft/brewery-events!