What’s great about this interview, is I get to not only ask a subject matter expert to share some of their knowledge about an interesting subject – but I get to ask an Army buddy of mine who’s pursued a passion. Nicholas Schmidt and I served together, to include a deployment to Afghanistan. Now out of the military, he’s the co-owner of Old Soul Brewing in Fort Myers, FL. A brother I’d gladly drink a beer with, I hit him up on Facebook to learn some about the delicious beverage he’s brewing in his family’s style.
Travis Blair: With so few core ingredients, how does a brewer create beer with distinct flavors?
Nicholas Schmidt: As a brewer you are given parameters on almost every beer style there is. Some beers (like Barleywine or saisons) have a broader spectrum of what is allowed and what isn’t. Style parameters are broken down by Abv, IBU’s (international bitterness units), SRM (Color), Aroma, Mouthfeel, taste, appearance (hazy-clear), and many more.
With this information and some experience, it isn’t too difficult to write a recipe. For instance, if you know a amber ale is supposed to be light copper in color, you now know that you can only use X% of caramel malts, before you ruin it’s appearance.
On top of all that, craft breweries like ours, really like to make a beer our own. Messing with our minerals in our water, our PH levels, and temperatures for mashing, we are really able to make our beer distinct to our brewery. Nobody has your recipe, knows your calcium content, or PH level, and therefore cannot replicate our/your brand/flavor.
This is a science, married with consistency and quality control.
Travis: What is the difference in types of beers that causes the variety of colors?
Nicholas: I think what you’re asking is, 20 breweries make brown ales, why are they all a little different in color? Is that right? Well, I’m answering it that way! HAhA
For the most part, it’s found in the first answer. As a ProBrewer, you know what color you want to produce for your beer. With the different types of recipe software out there, it isn’t difficult to mess with percentages of ingredients to find the sweet spot.
Travis: How do you determine the percentage of alcohol in a beer?
Nicholas: There are a few ways to do this, but I’m going to talk about the common method. Before fermentation, we call the liquid Wort (German word for sweet water). Wort is, in fact, very sugary due to the amount of Maltose (sugar created from malt converting). So, with a device known as a hydrometer, we are able to measure the amount of suspended sugars in liquid. Before fermentation we call this our Original Gravity (OG). Yeast is a living organism that eats sugar. When doing so they create byproducts: Alcohol, Co2, and heat (from friction). Over the course of roughly two weeks (depending on beer style, lagers can take up to five, and some beers like to age), the yeast have eaten most of the sugar in the wort, and in turn created a dryer, alcoholic beverage called beer. At this point we test gravity again to get our Final Gravity (FG). And the equation looks like this.
ABV = (OG – FG)/.75
(and then multiply by 100 to get a percentage)
This is an oversimplified equation that leads to marginal errors, for more accuracy, I use gravity calculators found on the interwebs, like Rooftopbrew.net
Travis: What is one lesson you’ve learned about making beer that you would like to share with others interested in craft brewing?
Nicholas: This is an art form. The second I started treating it as such, I became a better brewer. You will never stop learning in the field. Screw Traditional Style Guidelines, and brew what you want, with the ingredients you want. If it happens to fall into a category, great, but chances are, you produced what you set out for. Someone once told me, “if you can make cookies, you can make beer”, that’s true, but to produce something greater, you need a greater understanding, don’t stop learning. DON’T STOP LEARNING.
Travis: Your brewery features dessert. What do you consider when pairing beer with something sweet?
Nicholas: I typically want the beer I’m drinking to be sweeter than what I’m eating. Without doing so, the beer will taste even less that it should. Triple Chocolate Fudge cake for instance will make a lager taste like water. But paired next to Old Soul’s Sweetness Imperial Chocolate stout, their similarities will play with each other, not against.
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