Posts Tagged beer

National Beer Day–A fine time for fun facts and paying homage to a wickedly smart brewer from Guinness

Yesterday marked the end of American prohibition of beer in 1933, albeit only up to 3.2% alcohol by weight. This date every year in the USA has become a day to endorse President Roosevelt’s observation at the time that “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”

It’s also a great time to pay homage to master brewer William S. Gossett of Guinness–the “student” of the Student’s T-Test, a method for extracting the essence of discovery from small samples of data, such as that he generated from his experiments on dry stout. For the whole story, see this wonderful writeup by Priceonomics on The Guinness Brewer Who Revolutionized Statistics.

“He possessed a wickedly fertile imagination and more energy and focus than a St. Bernard in a snowstorm. An obsessive observer, counter, cyclist, and cricket nut, the self-styled brewer had a sizzle for invention, experiment, and the great outdoors.”

– Stephen Ziliak

Glory to Gossett—a brilliant boffin of beer! Beyond recognizing him, here are other fun facts and figures that I gleaned from the International Business Times from their post yesterday on National Beer Day :

  • If an empty beer glass makes you fearful, you suffer from Cenosillicaphobia. Say that after having a few.
  • Women “brewsters” pioneered beer making 5,000 years ago. Let’s tip our caps to these wonderful ladies.
  • Guinness estimated that at one time about 93,000 liters of beer was lost in the beards of Englishmen every year. Gross! Along those lines a brewmaster in Oregon developed a brew using yeast collected from his own beard. Yuk!
  • In ancient Babylon if a person brewed a bad batch, he was drowned. Come on, lighten up!

Cheers for beers!

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Cheers for Czech beers

This is the view of the Charles Bridge in Prague from the usual vantage point of a fellow like me who likes his beer.  As reported here by Radio Prague, the Czech Republic leads the world by drinking 160 liters per person per year.  With half liter cans of Urquel going for less than 35 Crowns–only about $1.50 in US dollars, I can see why this alcoholic brew has achieved such popularity in this country.  Bottoms up!

A fine beer may be judged with only one sip, but it’s better to be thoroughly sure.
-Czech Proverb
Czech pilsner

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Extreme brews and better ones that stay within more-reasonable limits

While in Antwerp last week I sampled many good beers but none as good as the Trappist-brewed Orval pictured.
Oval Belgian Trappist Beer
The locals love it so much that demand far exceeds supply from the ever-shrinking ranks of monks who brew it at the monks at the centuries-old Abbey of Notre Dame d’Orval. It is lip-smacking good, or as the Belgians in this Dutch-speaking region say—smakelijke.

On the flight home I watched several episodes of Brew Dogs, which features a pair of zany Scots who go for extreme craft beers. For example they took a blond Belgian ale and freeze distilled it many times to a level of 55 percent alcohol by volume (ABV)—a new record for beer. However even with it being infused with nettles from the Scottish Highlands and fresh juniper berries, this over-the-top brew must go well beyond the bounds of good taste.and … then put in a bottle created by a taxidermist.

A few years ago I headed over the border to Hudson, Wisconsin* to pick up a bottle of the then record-holder for ABV at a now-paltry 22 percent**—Dogfish Head’s World Wide Stout. With some coaching from my number one son, I poured it into a brandy-glass and sedately sipped it.  I rate it zeer smakelijke. However, I am happy to go for far more reasonably high ABVs of 8 percent or so that come with tripel Belgian abbey ales. A few mugs of that provide a very good buzz. Proost!

*Many great beers do not achieve distribution in Minnesota due to liquor not being allowed for sale on Sundays and especially not growlers of craft-brews—all this being defeated again in May by State Senate. It seems that hell will freeze over and the Vikings will win the Superbowl before we can drink on Sundays. Until then it’s on Wisconsin.
**See this beer well down the list of strongest beers in the world.

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Not the usual boring statistics conference—attendees called to duty for developing an optimal blend of beers

Earlier this month I attended the 5th European Design-of-Experiment User Meeting in Cambridge, England, which, considering the topic being statistical design of experiments, turned out not to be as dull as one might think.  All the credit for the pizzazz goes to our colleagues across the Atlantic—PRISMTC; in particular Paul Nelson and Andrew Macpherson.  They conjured up an in-conference experiment that developed an optimal blend of three local beers (all made by Milton Brewery and sold in bulk by Polypins (36 pints) from £56, Firkins (2 polypins) from £84), a pale ale called Cyclops (30-80%), a bitter under the label Justinian (20-70%) and a dark mild named Medusa (0-50%).  Prior testing by these two boffins of stats and zymurgy (that is, the study of yeasty concoctions) led them to constrain the ranges of the three brews to the ranges shown in parentheses.

Paul and Andrew laid out a clever design that, via balanced incomplete blocking, restricted any one taster to only 4 blends, while testing enough combinations often enough to provide adequate power for discerning just the right formula.  The fun bit was them asking us conference-goers to provide the necessary data prior to an atmospheric dinner at Magdalene (for some reason pronounced in English as “maudlin”) College.

This limitation on beer was one departure from a similar mixture experiment on beers that I ran* with my two sons and son-in-law as the tasters (little chance them going along with such a sensible restriction).  The other wrinkle was them requiring all of us to taste a strip of paper that ferreted out about a third of the tasters being “super tasters”—those who immediately recoiled from the bitter taste (many thought it just tasted like paper).**

It turned out that the bitterest blend, in contrast to the mildest of the beer mixtures, was not greatly liked.  I think this must be an acquired taste!  You can see this on the triangular, 3D response surface graph of the predicted response—the lowest corner being the B:Bitter.  Surprisingly, mixing in some A:Ale makes a relatively tasty brew—these two beers synergize, that is, provide much better results than either one alone.  But the tastiest blend of all is the peak at the C:Mild corner, with 30% of Cyclops, 20% of Justinian and 50% of the Medusa, some blends on a ridge through the middle of the triangular mixture space look promising.

3D Response Surface of PRISMTC Beer-Blend TasteThree cheers for three beers and hats off to the brilliance of Paul and Andrew of PRISMTC for pulling off this fun, clever and informative taste test.  See their full, illustrative report here.

*See Mixture Design Brews Up New Beer Cocktail—Black & Blue Moon

**Check out this BBC report and short video on testing for super tasters

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Machine provides the perfect pour for Japanese beer

IMG_20130822_163553_466Awaiting a flight out of Japan’s Narita Airport, I came across this beer-pouring machine in the Delta lounge. See it in action here.  It turns out that there’s a science to pouring beer as I reported in this article explaining how UK Boffins Pull Off Brilliant DOE on Beer.  The only drawback of this machine is that it lacks conversational skills.  I found it a bit awkward sitting there with my perfectly poured beer and no one to talk to while enjoying it. 🙁

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Slugging down beer—which brew preferred by shell-less terrestrial gastropods

Inspired by my new web-based “Launch Pad” to the book DOE Simplified, PhD biologist Gaston Habets put his new statistical know-how to good use in his own backyard out in California by offering a choice of beer to the slugs eating up his garden.

Being a native of a cold clime I’d no idea how troublesome slugs could be until some years ago when my cousin in the Bay Area had me out to her place for dinner and asked me to help her gather up greens from the garden.  The size of the slugs surprised me: The Pacific banana slug approaches a foot in length according to this New York Times science blog.

Given their gentle nature and top speed of 0.0055 miles per hour, one need not fear these slimy creatures.  The only thing is that they eat up the gardens.  So that sets the stage for the humane solution of sidetracking slugs with a bowl of beer.  But which brew do they prefer?  Gaston did his bit for the sake of garden science by setting out eight trays at specific locations around the vegetables and randomly pouring either Bud light or alcohol-free O’Doul’s.  He repeated this experiment over four nights in a way that blocked out any differences in the nocturnal feedings.*  The graphic shown here shows the outcome: By nearly a 3-to-1 ration slugs preferred Bud Light over the O’Doul’s.  They did not get thrown off by the random location of the beer—the slugs found their favorite bars and bellied up.

*Gaston’s data showed a maximum slug count on Saturday night, but then they dropped off to a minimum on Sunday.  My conclusion is that slugs party hearty.  Who knew?

SlugBeerFest_Model Graphs of R1Slugs

Slugs prefer Bud Light over O’Doul’s

P.S.  It seems that slugs from coast to coast really do prefer Bud from what I see here.

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Irish Times says “serious issue settled” — Guinness does indeed travel badly

Lab Times author Thirsty O’Leary provides this summary of a scientific study by Liam Glynn, et al, that proves Guinness beer does not travel well.  Some say it’s a conspiracy of the Irish—them drawing off the cream from the barrel.  Although Guinness is not my cup of tea, I admire the work that went into this experiment.   These zealots for zymurgy went all out!  And, as those of use students ; ) of stats know, Guinness goes down well with quantitative research of this sort.*

“Each pint is like a child. You have to mind it through the entire process.”

— Fergal Murray, Guinness brew master

*See Guinnessometrics: Saving Science and Statistics With Beer


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Getting a head of beer

With winter winding down my thoughts turn to warmer times ahead when the cover comes off the grill and a cold beer hits the spot.  Last weekend my daughter and her husband motored down to New Ulm for Schell Brewery’s Bock Fest—a sure harbinger of Spring (and the desperation of home-bound Minnesotans). Increasingly I find myself turning to this next generation for keeping me on the bubble for brews.  For example, I now know that it’s helpful to carmelize freshly-tapped bock beer by poking it with a red-hot iron—preferably one laid among fiery logs until glowing hot. 

But never mind that, I want to pass along some results from another of this younger set, Tracy Lenz, on a more mundane aspect of drinking beer—achieving just the right head of foam on the pour.  For a graduate class in industrial engineering at Arizona State University (ASU) taught by DOE-guru Doug Montgomery, she used Design-Expert® software to experiment on foam height. A local microbrewer suggested that Tracy’s project team study keg pressure, temperature at keg and using Biofoam to make the brew more ‘sudsy’.  The team included two very different beers in the same experiment design, which turned out to be problematic for modeling, so let’s concentrate on one—an American red ale.*

It turns out that red ales foam readily so they need no encouragement with Biofoam.  Take a look at this response surface plot from the ASU study.  Figuring on 2 centimeters of foam as a good head puts the sweet spot (shaded green) at the no biofoam (-1) side with pressure needed to be set low (-1).  This result is achieved only if temperature is maintained at low level.

So there you go—a vital problem (especially for graduate-engineering students) solved.  Just one catch though—how you pour the beer into the glass may be the biggest factor for achieving a good head.  Here again the next generation comes to my rescue, for example last summer at an outdoor reception that featured a beer wagon with my favorite on tap: Lift Bridge Beer Company’s Farm Girl Saison ale.  My glass foamed over no matter how I positioned it under the tap.  It turns out that the trick is pouring along the side and then at just the right moment straightening up the glass while turning off the flow.  See what I mean via this Youtube video.  I found it easier just to stand by the beer wagon with an empty pint and a forlorn look until one of the younger fellows took pity on me.  Cheers!

*I learned from one of my sons that an ale ferments at the top, whereas a lager ferments at that bottom.  This is just one of many differences that are detailed by this beer-faq.

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Fun summer-time experiment: Super-cool beer so it instantly freezes solid

It turns out that if a bottle of beer is put in the freezer for long enough, and then removed while it is still liquid and, lastly, given a sudden shock, the beer will instantly freeze solid.  I saw this confirmed by the pop-science TV show Mythbusters in their episode 153, originally aired on 11/10/10.  Based on trial-and-error experimentation their Build Team found that 3 hours of cooling time sufficed to create the delightful phenomenon.  See the instant beer-freeze demonstrated by here.  For detailed instructions on how to try this at home or in a classroom, plus a nerdy explanation (think PVNERT) by physics and math teacher Daryl Taylor, check out this website.

Of course I had to try this for myself.  However, not being one who ever leaves well-enough alone, I tried light beer (Miller, bottled in clear glass) side by side with the recommended Corona – two of each.  Could this be a factor (light versus regular brew)?  After being careful to wait at least 3 hours for the quartet of brews to super-cool, I brought them out for a family party.  Two of the beers crystallized when smacked on our kitchen cutting board, but the other two did not.  Here’s a twist, though: None of the bottles were uncapped first, so how does that gibe with the PV-nerd’s explanation?

Alas, one of the light beers crystallized and the other did not – ditto for the Corona, so my results, albeit semi-successful, were indeterminate on the issue of light vs regular brews.   The good news is that we salvaged two bottles of beer (the frozen ones become undrinkable).

Feel free to weigh in with your theories and experimental results from this beer trick.  One thing I learned from my first try – a lot more beer would be good, along with a walk-in freezer (or the backyard in mid-winter).



Pushing the limits on alcohol levels for holiday cheer – higher the better (?)

Just in time for holiday gift-givers to the guy who already owns everything, Boston Beer Company (BBC) — brewer of Sam Adams lager — announced this year that they’d achieved new heights for alcohol content – over 25 percent by volume.  Alcohol levels traditionally have been capped at the 14% level due to natural limits of the yeast that drive fermentation.  However, the beer boffins at BBC applied their wits to the zymurgy and came up with “Utopia,” which can be purchased at $599.99 a mini-kettle via this internet purveyor (warning: it’s banned in 13 states!).   Otherwise you can await the next batch of ten thousand bottles or so of this potent beer to emerge in two years from the 15-year aging cycle.*

Perhaps this holiday season you may restrict yourself to tamer drinks than high-alcohol beer, such as the traditional eggnog — a “sweetened dairy-based beverage made with milk, cream, sugar, beaten eggs (which gives it a frothy texture), and flavored with ground cinnamon” (according to Wikipedia).  However, my plans to pick up our annual eggnog after Thanksgiving were dashed after listening to a recent radio broadcast of NPR’s Science Friday by Ira Flatow.  They warned about people (like me) risking salmonella-induced food poisoning by milking their ‘nog clear through Christmas.  The show posted this video reporting results from microbiologist Vince Fischetti on his challenge tests** in a lab at the Rockefeller University (RU).  I’ve seen these at food clients of Stat-Ease and they gross me out, so I know the end result of dosing up a dairy product with spoilage organisms and pathogens cannot be pretty.  Fischetti compared the results after one month of storing a spiked eggnog made by a traditional RU recipe (equal parts bourbon and rum to a 20 % alcohol level) versus one purchased commercially (no alcohol).  See the outcome by watching the video – it may encourage you to keep a bottle of spirits on hand.  (I’ve got a supply of tequila – just in case.)  Being a devotee of DOE, I must say that Fischetti’s findings appear to be based only on sample-size 1.  But to his credit, he expresses the desire for grant money leading to more definitive studies.

So whether you hoist a beer or a ‘cheered-up’ glass of eggnog to give your seasonal salute to your friends and family, here’s hoping you all a happy holiday!

*Source for news about high-alcohol beer: 11/30/09 article by Russell Contreras of the Associated Press, seen here as published by the Huffington Post.

** For all the gory details see this posting of Microbiological Challenge Testing by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT).  The “Phoenix” phenomenon is particularly worrying (lethal bugs rising from the ashes of sterilization).

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