Written by Eamon McCarthy, Cellarman
Recently myself along with brewer, Joe Wilkinson were granted the opportunity to visit Briess Malting in Chilton, Wisconsin to attend a two day workshop/seminar the maltster puts on for it’s bearded brewers from all over the country. We were joined by fellow Michigan brewing bretheren from Founders, Saugatuck, Greenbush. Bells, and Dark Horse. The impressive list of other participating brewers included craft beer juggernauts Sierra Nevada and New Belgium and other reputable brewers reaching as far west as Hawaii’s Kona Brewing, and as far east as Portland, Maine’s Allagash Brewing. The workshop was limited to 50 participants so it was extremely fulfilling seeing Perrin represented with the likes of some of the country’s best brewers.
The three day (with travel) “workcation” began with a short 40 min car trip to Muskegon, Mi. It was here where we were to catch our ferry, which would then take both myself and Joe…and Joe’s truck across Lake Michigan to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where we would then make the subsequent hour and a half drive north to Chilton, which lies about 30 miles south of Green Bay. We made a quick pit stop at Pigeon Hill Brewing Company in Muskegon before boarding the ferry. It’s always fun getting out touring and seeing other breweries. Special thank you to Chad and Chris for the hospitality. After a pint and some food it was time to hop on the ferry and head westward. We landed in Milwaukee and spent an hour or two exploring the Milwaukee beer scene hitting up Milwaukee staples like Lakefront Brewing Company and the Sugar Maple.
We finally made it in to Chilton at about 9pm, a little tardy for the 6 pm welcome reception at local Chilton foundation Play-Mor Lanes, a bowling alley steeped rich in tradition….and anchored by the mean white russians served up to their clientele. Note:tardiness was due to the set times the boat left Muskegon…. not our tomfoolery in transit… By the time we we walked in to Play-Mor, it was evident we were in for a fun couple of days. Beards, Brews and Brats…and bowling(which we missed) in a small town in rural Wisconsin. The bus back to hotel left not to long after our arrival at Play-Mor but me and Joe stuck around shooting the shit with fellow tardy and Michigan brewers from Founders. We then headed back to the hotel only to be greeted by you guessed it, a lobby full of bearded brewers and a bevy of beers. It was great being able to talk to other brewers about frustrations and pleasantries of a profession that only other brewers can comprehend. It was a great first night.
The next morning at 7am, and the morning after as a matter of fact, we were presented with well balanced breakfast spread provided by the gracious folks at Briess to satiate our appetites for a full two days of classroom sessions and Malt plant tours.Classes were being held at local community college and began promptly at 8am. Our first day of class included a general history of the Briess company, (which just celebrated its 140th anniversary!), a seminar on understanding how to comprehend and monitor your malt analysis, as well as a very informative presentation on Briess’s complete supply chain. It’s crazy to think of all the hard work and effort put in before the malt even reaches a brewers hands,or becomes beer in your pint glass. A very in depth presentation was also given by a representative from Bells, detailing formulating malt bills for multiple varieties of stouts in your brewery. We broke for lunch, and then spent the rest of the afternoon at their Manitowoc Production Facility. Wow, was thisimpressive. It was cool to interact with some of the maltsters and hear how some of them are 3rd generation maltsers and having been working there for over 20 years. The 2.5 hour tour ended, and after having my mind blown with a wealth of information i otherwise never would have had the opportunity to obtain, we hopped back on the bus and headed to a nearby golf course where dinner was provided and more comraderie was had.
Day 2 was spent a lot like day one; breakfast, more classroom sessions and a tour of Briess’s other malting facility in Chilton. In the afternoon, a detailed sensory analysis was given to small groups of us brewers getting more in depth with the intricacies of each of Briess’s specialty malts . This was probably my favorite part of the two day session.
Throughout the entirety of the couple of days spent with the folks at Briess, it was evident how passionate they were about their product and how much they cared about the brewers they produce for. Both us as brewers, and them as suplliers were able to exchange ideas about how to build a better working relationship. For as much I personally learned throughout my two days there, it also provided a platform for the people at Briess to learn from the brewers they supply for.
If I only learned one thing (which is nowhere near the truth) from the Briess Workshop, it is that although head retention will be superb, you should NOT attempt making a SMASH beer(Single Malt Single Hop), using Briess Carapils Malt.. We had a great time and learned a lot, shared stories and made connections. I’m thankful I was given the opportunity to attend.