Does this make sense?

So I was watching Brewmasters on The Discovery Channel the other night (about Sam Calagione and the Dogfish Head Brewery) and the episode was “Grain to Glass”. The “B-plot” of the episode dealt with a batch of their 120min IPA in a stuck fermentation back in June where the batch started at about 32 Plato and never got below 9 Plato. They were trying to figure out what the problem was, so they went back and pulled some bottled 120min IPA from storage and tasted them. I don’t know how many they tasted, but there was one from 2008 and one from 2006, at least. They decided the one from 2006 had the characteristics they were aiming for, and then implied that they used the notes from that brew to influence the recipe for the brews going forward.

The problem is, beer is not a static and shelf-stable product. Unless the beer is kept cryogenically frozen (generally -80C or less), it will degrade. Even the “bigger” beers which use many dark malts and have high alcohol will be altered during storage, for better or for worse. While some beers may be altered less than others, it seems a bit foolish to base recipe modifications on a sample of beer which is no longer representative of what that beer tasted like when it first hit the market.

Of course I could be missing something. Television editors are known for spinning the story in whatever way they want, and their lack of familiarity with the subject matter would make it easier for them to accidentally mislead.

On a side note, I also noted that Dogfish Head “tested” their sensory panelists with the FlavorActiv standard for “Musty” (trichloroanisole – “cork taint” for you wine enthusiasts). They must have intentionally picked that particular one for filming day, since Musty is literally one of the two easiest FlavorActiv standards to identify at the usual 3X threshold level, and it would have looked better for the camera if all their panelists were seen picking the right one. Now if they did this with FA’s “Kettle Hop”, “Grainy”, or “H2S” standards, I’d be impressed.

And while I applaud the presence of the craft brewing industry on television, I can’t help but think that this show is just a giant ad for Dogfish Head…

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8 responses to “Does this make sense?

  1. Amen on the commercial comment at the end. Still a good watch though.

  2. I agree that the storytelling sucks. Those charts indicate that Dogfish Head was monitoring the gravity throughout the many weeks of fermentation, while the TV story was more like, “OMG, what happened?”

    To change the subject slightly. Ratebeer.com lists the abv of 120 at 18%.

    (Quick aside: Kudos to you for capturing the numbers. Those of us watching it live and Twittering a bit did not see those specifics.)

    According to my math, to get to 18% abv when you start at 32P means you’d need to finish about 2P. Did I screw the numbers up? In any event, if you’ve tasted 120 you know it is nowhere near that dry – surely 6P or or above. Going from 32P to 6P is still a hefty 15+ . . .

    What do you think of the numbers?

    • The numbers look good, so I’m not sure why they don’t make sense with the perceived final gravity. I have to say I’ve never tasted it (or analyzed it), so I’m not sure what to think about it. I noticed that they have an Anton-Paar Beer Alcolyzer, so their density and alcohol numbers should be accurate (as opposed to just calculated, or even the distillation method).

      Thanks for reading.

  3. I see it as a bit of an ad too. I saw a commenter on a homebrew forum I frequent say he’s going to send Sam a bottle of iodine for christmas. I also saw the retooling of the recipe as a chance to act like they’re being proactive and making adjustments. Personally I think they’ll stay with the same recipe as always, but get the right grainbill this time. I could be wrong, I’m no pro brewer. Maybe since they scaled up in brew size they need to adjust the grains.

  4. If you can look past the obvious television and production aspects of it, the show is interesting in itself. At least they’re focusing most episodes on whatever random odd beer they’re trying to make rather than the mass production of 60-Minute IPA. The business side does interest me and I’ll probably buy Sam’s book in February, I guess to a degree I applaud him for advertising and promoting his business with some actual content, rather than just buying the typical television ad space like an InBev brand or Sam Adams does.

    Thanks for keeping up on this blog, I’m trying to pretend to be a homebrewer and plan on going through the same college program as you and was sent here by a mutual friend – very informative and I appreciate the work you put into it.

    I agree that it was probably a lot of tv production with their recipe adjustment. Go figure that a strong aged beer would taste different years later – these guys seem smart enough to realize that, I’m sure most of it was for TV, that or they’ll look at the recipe and go “Oh crap, it’s the EXACT SAME AS THIS YEAR’S”, and figure out what they screwed up and move on.

  5. Dogfish doesn’t do it for me

  6. I don’t see it as an ad, I see it as a reality show on a craft brewery. They’ve involved other breweries (EPIC collab) and major beer events in the show and they tend to focus in on the dramatic problems that happen while making beer at their brewery, which isn’t something you would put in an ad.

  7. But the fact remains the entire purpose behind him making this show, much like participating in Beer Wars or putting out his books, is to get his brand out there. Showing epic brewing failures or losses only endears you to your audience.

    No one would support them if they had a show where they counted stacks of money from sales of 60 Minute IPA.

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