Science That Thing🤓! I'm Back!
Hey! I’m not dead!
While I highly doubt that would be anyone’s conclusion after a fledgling blog went silent for 3 months, it’s fun to be dramatic. Those that know me personally, which I assume is literally anyone who reads this blog, know that my life has been insane since about the last week or so of April (which is about a week after my last post here on NTFO). The impetus being a decision I had made a few months ago that I needed to move on professionally to really start my career in brewing QA/QC. I was offered a job by a brewery in western North Carolina to work as a lab tech. On the day of my 4th anniversary at my old job, I put in my two weeks and began a frantic search for a place to live in western NC. Finding something Taco cat-friendly from 700 miles away on a pretty restrictive salary proved incredibly difficult, especially as I maintained a very full work schedule during my last two weeks.
During this time, my local brewery posted the job I had been searching for, a QA/QC lab position. My sister nudged me a little and I sent out my resume and cover letter with the assumption it was a complete and utter pipe dream. However, in a whirlwind of a few days and an interview, I was offered the position at my local brewery on my last day. This obviously put me in a tough position as I now had to retract my acceptance at the NC brewery. I hated the idea of letting down (see also: kind of screwing over) people who had been nothing but absolutely delightful and kind to me, BUT how was I going to turn down the job I’d been after at an incredible brewery just 5 minutes down the road? I wasn’t. It was too good of an opportunity for me personally, emotionally, financially, and professionally.
I took a week off in-between to both partially unpack my half-packed apartment and take a breath, but it was the same week the online portion of the Oregon State University (OSU) Professional and Continuing Education (PACE) Microbiology for the Brewer + Beer Analysis course started (I was afforded the opportunity through a Pink Boot Society scholarship). I got my pale lazy ass to go to the beach a few times to celebrate staying at the Atlantic. My ghost, paper skin burned in celebration! I also played a lot of Pokemon GO, but as it continues to do, it lost my attention and became tedious and stupid :).
The new job is a dream. I have an entire room that is my lab. I’ve been given a great deal of freedom and decision power to mold it. It is already 100 times better than when I walked in and, as I learn my way around a new production facility and its quirks, the quality program becomes more robust. I’ve worked a handful of 10+ hour days and haven’t minded a smidge. I’m excited to be doing what I’ve been working towards for the past few years.
So, as I started a brand-new job that I was throwing myself into 100%, I moved back to my parent’s house, wrapped up my online course, and made my way to Oregon for the onsite portion of the course. Sunday was a nearly 20-hour travel day, but I had a newly purchased neck pillow and my Switch. I played Breath of the Wild (BOTW) for nearly the entire flight leg of my trip. I was even blessed with an outlet in my seat! I still haven’t beaten Calamity Ganon, but have beaten all the Divine Beasts. I found Koroks, collected materials for fairies to upgrade my armor, and just fucked around. It was glorious. I had also downloaded BoxBoy and some Virtual Console titles onto my 3DS as a back-up (there was an amazing post-E3 sale on the E-shop), but I couldn’t pull away from the Switch.
Then I was in Corvallis, OR. I spent the week in Wiegand Hall at OSU marveling at the resources, facilities, equipment, and research, but also getting my practical brewing science on. The course was incredible. The material, the professors, the graduate students, and the wonderful people I took the course with were beyond expectation. It was a small class of 11 total with a nearly 50:50 split of men and women. Two people from Canada, one from Taiwan(!), one from Texas, one from Washington, one from Minnesota, one from LA, and three Oregonians. I was overwhelmed with a desire to return to school as active research projects were incorporated into the course. I haven’t completely trashed the idea of returning to school, it’s been sitting in the back of my mind since I returned, but I think I need to spend some time at my new post.
The first day was wort and ethanol assessment using tools that measure density and getting a chance to try our hands at distillation. At the end of the day, we got a tour of their greenhouses where they are growing and experimenting with new barley varieties as well as their malt lab and malt house where they employ a small scale malter (#minimalter). We were given naked malt to taste. Naked malt is a variety of barley that becomes huskless during harvest, similar to wheat. These malts can only be used with filtration aids, such as rice hulls, or in a mash filter system (not yet common in the US).
The next day we spent the morning analyzing the bitterness, color, and clarity and the afternoon analyzing packaged gases (dissolved oxygen and carbonation levels). The day was a blur of expensive equipment I one day hope to have in my lab. After class, a few of us made the hour drive to Eugene to visit Ninkasi Brewing, the 33rd largest brewery in the country. They owned nearly every building on the block – like a small campus. It was reminiscent of a tech start-up’s set-up. There was a 3-story rock wall in their administration building! Also, they sent yeast into space… because they could. We got to tour nearly every square inch and I ogled at their giant lab. I thoroughly enjoyed their Helles, Helles Belles.
Wednesday we started into the microbiology. We talked microbiomes of barrels, media selection, the future of accessible PCR, and aseptic technique. We got into the lab and got to see some demos and got our hands on media prep and pouring plates. I enjoyed having experts to bombard with the questions that have crept up from self-doubt during my time as a professional (unqualified lolz) beer scientist. I got a chance to practice plucking a colony from a plate and streaking it out on another. Something I felt I’ve been doing wrong, but apparently I ain’t half bad at! Additionally, on this day, a classmate gave us the phrase "science the thing". I've used it nearly every day since.
In the afternoon we practiced gram staining, a somewhat tricky technique that can often produce some inconclusive results, but an important tool to have in your back pocket. (I actually ended up using it last week to try to solve a problem). Gram staining is used to ID bacteria. Certain bacteria will stain pink and others purple depending on the presence or lack of an outer lipid membrane. The stain and the morphology together will hopefully tell you the problem bugs you might have. After dying every surface purple, we were given ATP swabs and let loose to swab various places in their 2-barrel brewhouse. ATP uses bioluminescence to determine if ATP, an energy molecule used by organisms, is present. The idea being if ATP is present on a surface, it hasn’t been sufficiently cleaned.
At the end of the day, we took a tour of Mazama Brewing, a shocking difference in size compared to Ninkasi, but it felt more like what I’m used to. They had a humble dedicated closet for their lab and I was impressed with its efficiency. The geologist in me was tickled by its Pyroclastic Porter. After Mazama, some of us made it to Flat Tail Brewing for Geeks Who Drink trivia. Our two teams found ourselves in second to last and third to last place. The loss didn’t bother me because I enjoyed Flat Tail’s Dry Hops and Lemon Verbena while we fumbled through every question and category.
Thursday was all about yeast: propagation, counting, determining how much to pitch from that count, and forced fermentations, a process where you add a considerable amount of yeast to wort and allow it to ferment in a warm place, ideally on a stir plate for added agitation, to see what the final gravity of that wort and yeast combination can be. Information from forced fermentations can help guide how you treat that beer in the cellar. The tour at the end of yeast day was at Block 15’s newer production facility, just 10 minutes or so south of campus. They were working on a much-needed expansion; they had already jam packed the building we toured. We drank Sticky Fingers outside on their patio, staring out at the beautiful Oregon scenery. Afterward was a trip to Caves Bier & Kitchen. Very impressive (overwhelming) selection of beers. I happily landed on a Petrus.
As all incredible experiences tend to do, the time flew by like a blur. The last day we talked about statistical process control, something I definitely want to learn more about, and the operations manager at Ninkasi, an OSU grad, talked to us about quality. Some goodbyes were said at lunch, but most of the class piled into a van and some cars to make way to a few farms. The first stop was the OSU hop yard that’s used for research and as a breeding nursery. The second stop was Hyslop Farm’s barley plots. This is where some of OSU barley is grown. I ate kernels straight from the plants; it was very cool 😎. We also got to try some beer brewed with some of the malt they’re breeding while amongst the plots it was harvested from. You can check out some of what they're doing at http://barleyworld.org.
The final stop was at Rogue Farms (aka Coleman Farms). We started our tour by getting ourselves a beer at the tasting room and then making our way to the hop picker, the machine that removes the cones from the bines. We then saw the kiln, where those cones are dried out to keep them from spoiling, and finally, the cooling floor and bailers. Once in bails, they are sold to hop brokers who take the next steps. The tour finished in the field amongst the hop plants and the trellises they were growing up. It was in the upper 90s so we quickly made our way to the shade to have another beer. Before too long, it was time to part ways. It was strange to have it all of a sudden be over.
My flight out of Oregon left at 5 am, which meant leaving my Airbnb at 1:45 am. I arrived at the airport before the ticket counters or security was open. I slept for most of my two flights home, but still got some Switch time in. I arrived in Newark, gross, depressing, pollution-haze Newark, around 3:30 Jersey time. I was back to where my bed is at 4:45.
Since my return, I've played catch up at work, accepted (lol jk I haven't at all) moving back home, and have dived into BOTW's DLC Pack 1! I love the Korok mask and the map overlay showing you where you've been. This summer I have a few goals... I want to catalog my retro collection and re-visit my Gameboy collecting efforts, I want to take a stab at my backlog (but I'll probably just play BOTW), oh, and I want to move back out of my parents' house. Like seriously how am I here again 😭. Sorry, I'm a bit hung up on the issue.
TL;DR: I got a new job and didn't have to move south. I went to Oregon and did science. I live with my parents... again. I can't stop playing BOTW.
I have no idea what kind of time I'll be able to dedicate to NTFO, but I hope I can start carving out time again. If anyone wants to know more about what I did/learned in Corvallis, have a topic you think I might have a somewhat of an interesting take on, or anything else, please reach out!