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Letter from the President
By Chris White

A recent visit to a homebrewing club in Phoenix has me thinking about the importance of regionalism when it comes to craft brewing.

Why? Because everyone was making a Hefeweizen. Homebrewers. Craft brewers. Big breweries. They were everywhere.

And they weren't just imitating other beers. They were coming up with distinct beers and innovations.

They make Hefeweizens because the beers are thirst-quenching, among other reasons. They make German and American styles. One brewer uses three different yeast strains. Everyone has one, and it is year-round.

We can find these kinds of regional differences throughout the U.S. and the world. It is what makes our hobby interesting and fun.

Perhaps the Phoenix crowd teaches us another lesson. Many breweries in America tend to shy away from the more authentic German-style Hefeweizens because people say it is too aggressive. But some of the brewers there believe — and so do I — that craft breweries need to be aggressive.

The only way you can convert people into diehard fans, it seems to me, is to offer them something that they can’t get anywhere else. So go ahead, be aggressive. If you make a pale ale, make a real pale ale that is hoppy. If you make a Hefeweizen, make it a German Hefeweizen. If you make a barley wine, make it a big barley wine. Give your beers character and individuality.

While it is important to think aggressively, it is equally as important to think carefully about the ingredients. This brings me back to my Phoenix visit and how some brewers overcame the local water problems. They get water from six different sources, meaning that the quality of the water can vary greatly from day to day.

That is why some of the better breweries in Phoenix use reverse osmosis to get their water and then remineralize it. They take that extra step. This is important because if too much chloride gets into the beer, it can cause a Bandaid-like flavor.

The system costs probably $5,000, but the results — beers with consistently good flavor — are worth it.

Pay attention to your ingredients, including water, because you want to maximize your flavor impact. That first impression is the most important. The customer should want another sip. If they don’t, they probably will return to drinking commercial beer.

Of course, as you might expect me to say, yeast is one of the most important ingredients in your beer.

We often get calls from brewers asking us about yeast selection, and we enjoy helping people make the best choice possible. If you are thinking of experimenting, give me a call at 1-888-5YEAST5, ext. 223, or email me at cwhite@whitelabs.com, and perhaps we can help you out.

But just remember — I will probably advise you to go bold!

Upcoming events

We will be at the National Brewpub Conference and Trade Show on Oct. 21-23 in Portland, Maine.

The conference offers a great range of services for the professional brewer, with topics ranging from brewing in a restraurant setting to microbrewery management to brewery promotions. I will give a yeast demonstration at 2 p.m. Sunday and noon Monday. It will involve analyzing and checking yeast purity.

Brewers who attended last year’s show in Chicago may have attended my presentation on yeast management. The talk I have planned this year is quite different. Instead of me just talking, this new one will be a hands-on demonstration.

We will also attend the Great American Beer Festival on Oct. 5, 6, 7 in Boulder, Colo. Because it is going to be held at a smaller venue this year, we will share a booth with Alesmith Brewing Company. This great brewery is located just a few miles from our main manufacturing site in San Diego. They produce 15 different beers a year and rotate the selections according to the season. They use a different yeast in almost every beer, and are winning awards around the country, from the Real Ale festival in Chicago to local festivals.

We hope to see you at the festivals!

Beer Congress

We just returned from the World Beer Congress in Orlando, Florida. It was well worth the visit.

This year’s event was different because for the first time since the 1950s, the meeting was held jointly between the American Society of Brewing Chemists and the Master Brewers Association of America. They decided to forgoe their individual meetings and have a joint one in honor of the new millennium.

Specifically, the event drew researchers and brewers from the top 50 breweries in the world. We made some alliances there that we are excited about. We will tell you more about it next issue.

Chris White, who holds a Ph.D in biochemistry from the University of California, San Diego, is president of White Labs. He can be reached at (888) 5-YEAST-5, ext. 223.