Friday, April 4, 2014

Beer School with Mary Wiles

Note from Nora: Tom's back with a report from the Brooklyn MASH "Beer School" event with Brooklyn Brewing's Technical Director Mary Wiles. I'll be providing a wrap up of the rest of the events I attended in the next couple of days.

Mary Wiles with David Blossman, Mark Burlet, Steve Hindy, and Kirk Coco

When she worked for Anheuser-Busch, Mary Wiles, now Technical Director at Brooklyn Brewery, was responsible for Bud Light Lime, but she asks people not to hold that against her. On April 2nd, 2014, she held court in the upstairs bar at the Avenue Pub to share her extensive knowledge of brewing with anyone who wanted to listen. As is typically the case at any craft beer event, there were plenty of people interested in learning more about beer. Beer geeks seem to have an almost exhausting thirst for information.

After a few anecdotes about her experiences as a groundbreaking female brewmaster, and the time she spent in the belly of the beast that is A-B, including the time August Busch III called her at 3am because he thought he detected a very slight problem with her brewery (he was right, it turned out), Mary opened the floor to questions. There were plenty of them. 

Brooklyn Brewery beers, including a few "ghost" beers that are rarely seen outside of special events, were available in tasting samples, along with a special selection of cheeses from St. James' Cheese Company. One of the beers was Mary's Maple Porter, brewed with maple syrup from Mary's many maple trees. That naturally steered the conversation towards brewing with syrup and other interesting adjuncts, and then onto the pros and cons of aging a beer on walnuts or pecans. Mary favors walnuts, but I don't think she won over a largely pro-pecan crowd. 

Brewing happens at almost every scale, from a few gallons fermented in people's homes, through craft breweries, all the way up to the industrial level practised by A-B InBev and the other large brewers. At heart, though, it's all the same process. Make a sugary wort and let the yeast do its thing. Big brewers will focus on different aspects of the process than small brewers, but at some level, we're all part of the same conversation, and we can learn from each other. 

On the other hand, the difference between smaller operations and the giant breweries was brought home when Mary told the sad tale of Michelob Maple Brown, a beer that she developed with maple syrup in the original recipe, but which, to reduce the cost of brewing, had the real stuff swapped out for an artificial flavoring which turned out to be carcinogenic, causing the beer to be withdrawn from market and never seen again. 

Brooklyn Brewery wisely stuck to genuine maple syrup, and Mary's Maple Porter turned out to be a very tasty beer indeed. Rich, smooth, and flavorful in an old-fashioned kind of way. The grain bill includes brown malt, a once-forgotten ingredient that is making a welcome comeback. 

In the interests of full disclosure, I should reveal that I am a big maple syrup fan and was extremely excited to win a bottle of Mary's maple syrup.

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