Why every restaurant needs beer education

As craft beer becomes a more mainstream product, restaurant and bar owners need to prepare their staffs for a new customer demographic, the educated beer drinker.  When wine exploded in the 1990s, there was a demand for educated wine professionals in the service industry.  Restaurants began to build thoughtful wine lists of popular items that paired will with the food on offer.  As craft beer continues to surge throughout the United States, restauranteurs are again faced with building their businesses based on their customers' interests or being left behind as others grow.

More taps doesn't mean better beer

More taps doesn't mean better beer

Not every restaurant has to be a "beer bar".  That knee jerk reaction to the growth of craft beer has produced a few success stories, but has also led to an overabundance of 100+ tap pubs with no passion for the products they serve.  I think this stage of growth is one where we can look to the wine industry for support and a clear path.  Incorporating and integrating beer into the overall restaurant experience is a far more achievable and rewarding goal than out-competing one another for "most taps".

This integration is where beer education comes into play.  As restauranteurs become more knowledgeable about beer, they will make better decisions for their businesses.  Choices will be made based on the food menu rather than on what the distributor had on special. 

Once the beer is in house, knowledgeable staff will do a much better job describing flavors and making recommendations. This product knowledge will result in more sales and greater revenues for the restaurant.   Proper presentation and draft system maintenance will enhance the appearance that the establishment is proud of its offerings. 

BREW-ed was established to help restaurants with this transition into the world of craft beer.  Through on-site staff training to consulting services for business owners regarding products, menus and equipment, BREW-ed is able to help prepare for the continued growth of craft beer.


Why BREW-ed? Why a brewery tour of Asheville?

I get asked these questions fairly often, so I thought I'd write a post about it here.  The truth is that I started BREW-ed for a few different reasons, but all of them revolve around beer and Asheville so BREW-ed is the glue that keeps them together.    

The main reason I started BREW-ed was to help bring Asheville bars and restaurants into the new local economy that Asheville is going to see over the next few years.  The city of Asheville is expecting an additional 800,000-1,000,000 visitors a year because of our beer scene, once Sierra Nevada and New Belgium open their Asheville area facilities.  That is a HUGE number.  In comparison, the BIltmore Estate brings in an estimated 1,000,000 visitors a year.  Currently, that is the biggest attraction in Asheville and has been one of the main economic drivers of the area since the house opened to the public more than 80 years ago.  With all of these dedicated beer travelers descending upon our city, there is going to be an expectation that service staff in bars and restaurants are knowledgeable about the beers they are selling and that the beers are served properly.  Also, Asheville is not as far ahead as many cities when it comes to beer and food pairing.  We have an AMAZING restaurant scene, but many of the nicer restaurants don't have a beer list that even comes close to matching with the food menu.  Typically restauranteurs stock a few popular beers, including some locals, and that's about it.  Again, this is an area that I can help with, and I truly believe it will be expected when people go out to dinner in the near future.       

Second, I want BREW-ed to be a resource for people who are truly interested in learning about beer.  I will continue to post some general articles about beer knowledge, but I want to make sure that anyone visiting the site knows they can ask me anything about beer via e-mail or form submission, and I will answer it to the best of my abilities.  I have also decided to offer one on one and small group beer tutoring.  If you want someone to guide you through the unbelievably complex subject of beer and point you in the right direction of your learning, I am here to help.  I will begin offering in-person and web-based learning sessions within the next few weeks.    

While the primary focus is on teaching people about beer, I also want to make sure people are enjoying it as much as I do.  Because of this, I also offer entertaining private event packages.  If you are hosting a private event in Asheville and would like to include beer, BREW-ed can help.  I can keep it as simple as consulting with you on beer selections for the event, or I can go so far as to provide the beer, glassware and guide your event goers through a custom tasting.  You tell me what you have in mind, and I will make it happen.

   It's this enjoyment of beer and of Asheville that led me to create BREW-ed's Brewery & History Walking Tours.  I love talking to people about beer and about the city I live in, and for a number of years I thought about how I could tie the two together. BREW-ed's Brewery & History Walking Tours were the answer.  I wanted to create a unique tour experience that I would want to go on.  When I travel, I am fascinated by the local culture and history of the cities I visit.  And if I take a tour somewhere, I want to learn a lot while enjoying it.  That inspiration created a brewery tour where you learn not only about beer, but about Asheville as well.  I jokingly say it's a nerdier beer tour than the average, because when it's over you will have learned a lot, guaranteed.  

Hopefully, this post answers some of the questions about why I started BREW-ed and why I offer walking tours of downtown Asheville's breweries.  It's because I love Asheville, and I love Asheville beer. I want to share my knowledge with my community to help us all grow and succeed.     


What's the difference between an ale and a lager? - Basics of Beer

I spent a lot of time working behind bars and would have the following interaction at least once a week: 

Customer:  "What's good?" 

Me:  "What do you think you're in the mood for?" 

Customer:  "Well... I like ales and I like lagers..."   

At this point I always thought about suggesting they just point at something, because ALL BEERS ARE EITHER ALES OR LAGERS*.  (If you're thinking "What about hybrid styles?", we'll get to that later).  

The differences between lagers and ales only have to do with the yeast used to ferment them.  Other variables like color, alcohol strength and flavor have nothing at all to do with whether a beer is a lager or an ale.  This is one of the most common points of confusion for consumers, so I want to make sure that everyone understands the difference.  This article will address what happens during fermentation and how lagers and ales are different.  Finally, we'll confuse matters a bit by talking about hybrid styles.



An old saying goes that, "A brewer makes wort, but yeast makes beer."   What this means is that everything that the brewer does on the hot side of the brewery where the kettle and mash tun are is production of wort.  Wort is the sugary, bitter liquid that the brewer has prepared as a hospitable environment for yeast to feed and reproduce.  While the yeast are doing that, we get the bonus of them making us beer.

Yeast "budding" before reproducing

Yeast "budding" before reproducing

Simply stated, fermentation of beer is the process by which yeast consumes simple sugar molecules and produces nearly equal parts of ethanol (the tasty kind of alcohol) and carbon dioxide.  That's all the yeast does.  It doesn't care if the wort is light colored, dark colored, etc.  It will eat the sugars and make alcohol and CO2.   When it's done doing this it falls asleep and falls to the bottom of the fermenter,  just like after Thanksgiving dinner.

So, what makes an ale an ale and a lager a lager?


Ales are fermented with different strains of the yeast family sacchromyces cervisiae or literally "beer sugar fungus".  Within this family there are different strains that have different characteristics.  Some strains are very tolerant to alcohol while others are not.  Some of these yeast strains produce fruity smelling esters  or spicy phenols  while they eat those sugars and make ethanol and CO2.  Some of them are capable of eating longer chain sugar molecules than others.  Though they have their differences, they are all considered to be the same species and they all share certain characteristics.

Temperature  is the biggest common shared trait and the biggest contrast to the family of lager yeasts.  Ale yeasts like to eat sugar at temperatures between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit, though some ale yeasts might even do the job at slightly cooler or slightly warmer temperatures.  Ale yeasts cannot withstand very cold temperatures and most will go dormant below 48 degrees Fahrenheit.

 Time it takes to get the job done is another shared trait that is different from lager yeasts.  Ale yeasts will typically take about 7 days to finish the primary fermentation of a beer, though they can take up to an additional week or more to completely finish the job.  Lager yeasts, as we will discuss, take considerably longer.  This is the main reason why many of your favorite craft beers are ales.  Small breweries typically don't have the fermenter space to produce lagers on a regular basis.

 Ester production  is another way ale yeasts differ from lager yeasts.  If you've ever smelled banana, pear or juicy fruit gum coming off of your beer, those aromas and flavors were produced by the ale yeast strain that fermented it.  Belgian beers are especially known for their fruity and spicy aromas and flavors.  These are produced by strains of yeast that Belgian brewers employ that produce a lot of esters and phenols.  Lager yeasts are not known for producing many esters.

Fermenting ale with krausen

Fermenting ale with krausen

Often the term "top fermenting" is also used to describe ale yeasts.  This goes back to the days before people really had an understanding of how fermentation happened.  Before the rise of the microscope in the 17th century, yeast was a bit of a mystery.  However, brewers knew that if they took the bubbling krausen  from the top of a fermenter of an actively fermenting batch of beer and put it onto another batch of wort, that wort would start fermenting also.  Therefore the beers were considered to be "top fermenting".  In fact, there are yeast all throughout the wort fermenting it from the top to the bottom.  The krausen is simply a visible cue that fermentation is happening.  Because ale yeast ferment wort rather quickly, the release of carbon dioxide is visible and gets trapped in wort proteins and hop resins to create a frothy layer of foam on the top of the fermenter. 

Historically speaking, most ancient beers were produced as ales, as this yeast strain thrives in the same temperature range as humans do in most of Europe.  It wasn't until much more recently that lagers were produced. 


Lagers are fermented with yeast belonging to the family sacchromyces patorianus, sometimes referred to as sacchromyces carlsbergensis after the Carlsberg brewery where the yeast was first described.  Lager yeast is believed to be an ancient hybrid of a wine yeast known as sacchromyces bayanus and the ale yeast sacchromyces cervisiae.  Within the lager yeast family we see a lot less variety than in the ale family.  Lager yeasts are also capable of consuming some sugars that ale yeasts cannot, such as melbiose.  Lager yeasts are generally described as "cleaner"  than ale yeasts in this respect, and that "clean" character is sought after among lager producers. 

Temperature  is again of utmost importance to the successful fermentation of a beer with lager yeast.  Lager yeasts like to work at much cooler temperatures with the primary fermentation taking place below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  The warm temperatures of an ale fermentation would be detrimental to the health of the lager yeast. 

Time becomes a factor after the primary fermentation.  The beer is typically cooled to just above freezing and held at that temperature for 6-8 weeks.  It is this process that earned the beer family the name lager  as lager  literally means "to store"  in German.    It is for this reason that most small breweries do not produce lagers.  Small business owners can't afford to take up valuable tank space for nearly three times as long to produce a batch of beer.  Unfortunately, consumers are not willing to pay three times as much for a glass of lager as for a glass of ale. 

 Ester production  is minimal to nonexistent in well produced lagers.  The cooler temperatures of the lager fermentation keep the yeast from producing esters or adding any real character of its own to the beer. 

In contrast, "bottom fermenting" is often used to describe lager beer fermentation.  What this really is is a result of the cooler fermentation temperature.  Yeast metabolism is like many other processes in nature in that the warmer the temperature is the faster it goes and vice versa.  Lagers ferment more slowly and though the same materials that create krausen on top of a batch of ale are being produced, they are not as abundant because it is happening so much more slowly.  To the brewers who worked before yeast was better understood, it seemed logical that the fermentation was happening at the bottom of the fermenter.  This is also where they would find the yeast at the end of the fermentation to be used in the next batch.

Lagers like it COLD

Lagers like it COLD

The history of lager production is much more recent than that of ales.  Though there were some lagers being produced before the 16th century, a 1553 amendment to the famous Bavarian Purity Law of 1516 outlawed brewing in the warm summer months.  City leaders were concerned that the beers produced during the summer often tasted sour (due to increased bacteria levels in warm environments).  The solution was to only allow beer to be brewed from September 29th to April 23rd each year.  Though they didn't know it yet, they accidentally legislated that only lager yeast could ferment beer in Bavaria, as it was too cold for ale yeast to do well in those months. 


I told you above that I was going to muddy the waters a bit at the end, but even hybrid styles each technically fall into one of the above categories.  Hybrid styles are those that use one species of yeast (ale or lager) but are processed like the other species. 

For example, Kolsch style ales are native to the region around Cologne, Germany.  They are fermented with an ale yeast strain that likes the cooler end of the ale temperature spectrum and are then lagered for several weeks before they are packaged.  The result is a crisp, clean, clear beer with very few esters. 

On the other hand, the California Common style, popularized by Anchor Brewing of San Francisco, California, is produced with a lager yeast fermented at the cooler end of the ale temperature range. 



From the discussion above I want to make abundantly clear that there are a wide range of ale and lager styles.  Some ales can be very light in color and low in alcohol like the American Cream Ale, and some lagers can be very dark and high in alcohol like the Baltic Porter.  Americans typically think of lightly colored, low alcohol beers when we think of lagers, because the beers of the larger commercial breweries in the US are all lagers and all fit that description.  However, all of the contributing factors that make a beer dark or high in alcohol are done before yeast is added to the wort.  The species of yeast used and the way the beer is fermented determine whether or not the beer is an ale or a lager, nothing else.  


If you'd like to learn more about fermentation,  contact BREW-ed, or join us on a Brewery & History Walking Tour.


* If you were thinking about beers fermented with Brettanomyces, that will be covered in another post. 





The Origin of Craft Beer and The Brewer's Daughter

When people think of the birth of craft beer in the US, many brewery names are thrown around.  Heads will be nodded in the directions of Sierra Nevada, Boston Beer (Sam Adams), Anchor Brewing and a few others.  One name that is often left out of the conversation is New Albion.  Though the brewery ceased operations over thirty years ago and never got beer into markets farther than a day's drive from their Northern California location, New Albion and its founder Jack McAuliffe earned the title of first craft brewery in the US since the repeal of prohibition. 

Jack McAuliffe hard at work

In 1976,  Jack McAuliffe, a former Navy man, opened a small and ultimately unsuccessful brewery in Northern California.  He didn't have much money, but he did have the ingenuity and mechanical skills to take old dairy equipment and other salvage yard items and turn them into a brewery capable of producing great beer.  The name New Albion was a reference to the name Sir Francis Drake gave to Northern California when he explored its coast.  The logo on the bottles was of Raleigh's ship, The Golden Hinde.   The beer inside the bottles was the first American Pale Ale.  Bright citrusy hops grown near the brewery were used for flavor and aroma in a way that brewers hadn't used them before.  The result of McAuliffe's work was well received but a lack of financing kept him from being able to produce enough beer to turn a profit.  Investors at that time didn't know what to think of a man who slept in his own brewery and made a product that no one had seen before.  It was difficult to convince people that though he had no intention of competing with the big brewers in St Louis and Golden his hand crafted product could be profitable.  New Albion ran out of money and closed its doors in 1982. 

In those six years though, New Albion helped pave the way for other craft brewers.  First, one of the major obstacles to New Albion's success was legislation in California that prevented McAuliffe from selling his beer on the premises of the brewery.  He had to sell it to a retailer who would then sell it to customers.  Working with Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing and with many vineyards throughout the state, McAuliffe successfully  petitioned the state to change the law making tasting rooms for wine and beer possible. Still today, many small breweries rely on the higher profits of on premise sales to fund their operations.

New Albion Label

Also, McAuliffe's brewery was an inspiration to those who visited and continues to be used as a model for underfunded brewers starting in the business.  One of those underfunded visitors was a young man named Ken Grossman.  He visited New Albion several times and used it as a model to start a brewery called Sierra Nevada.  In fact, the pale ale Sierra Nevada brews was inspired by the one Grossman had at New Albion.

Though personally unsuccessful, New Albion's legacy sparked the craft beer movement in America.  When the brewery's name came up for auction several years ago Jim Koch of Boston Beer Company bought the rights.  This past year Boston Beer brewed a recreation of New Albion's pale ale and packaged it with the same logo McAuliffe used thirty years ago.  Not only did Koch bring this craft ancestor back from the dead, he is working toward making sure that it doesn't disappear again. 

Though McAuliffe now lives off the grid somewhere in Arkansas, his daughter Renee DeLuca is working to revive her father's brand.  Interestingly, it was only recently that she found out that McAuliffe is her dad.  After finding out that McAuliffe had an heir, Jim Koch contacted her and gave her the rights to the New Albion name.  In a final interesting twist, DeLuca is in talks with Mendocino Brewing, the company her father went to work for after New Albion closed, to contract brew New Albion beer for her until she builds her own facility.  If you would like to keep up with the future of New Albion, DeLuca runs a blog called The Brewer's Daughter.

The story of Jack McAuliffe and New Albion is one that I love to tell.  That ingenuity, determination and creativity is still alive in craft breweries all over our country.  Also, the collaborative efforts of brewers around the country for the betterment of the whole is rare in this competitive, undercutting business world.  Koch's offer to give a valuable name to De Luca wouldn't happen in many other industries.  I am constantly inspired by the kindness and generosity of those I meet in the beer world. 

If you'd like to hear more craft beer stories over a pint,  join me on a BREW-ed tour.