Today was a MUCH better day, not so much because of the material, but because John Mallett was back and he made the material sound a lot more exciting than it actually was. We spent some time talking about the historical materials that were used for brewing, such as clay pots, wood, copper, and now stainless steel. I have been intrigued about fermenting in wooden vessels for a while now, so it was fun to talk about that. The advantages and disadvantages are the same things for wood. The wood is porous, so micro-organisms can settle in well in wood causing potential contaminations, but the contaminations have potential to give desirable flavor contributions. Wood breathes, so the beer will oxidize, but that too could be desirable in beers that will age for a long time. There are also unique flavor compounds from the wood itself, but that could be a desirable character or an undesirable character as well.
As far as copper goes, I am still convinced that a copper kettle could produce better beer than stainless steel, but it is much harder to maintain, and when trying to crank out beer, that drawback probably outweighs the marginal flavor benefit of removing some sulfides.
When we talked about stainless steel, John showed us a lot of pictures of vessels that had imploded and vessels that had exploded. I have always thought that people would be surprised if they knew how often these types of accidents occur, even in large breweries. One of the tanks was actually from Bell's and was caused by the fermenter being completely closed without pressure relief valves. When. I get back, we will definitely be doing a re-training of all the employees to talk about how to deal with even small amounts of pressure. John showed us a picture of a tank that imploded just as the result of a siphon creating a vacuum effect when a tank got over filled.
We ended the day doing a sensory evaluation. We were handed 7 samples of Budweiser with unknown compounds being added. Surprisingly, I got 6 out of 7 compounds correct, and 4 of the ones that I got right came on smell alone. I had always thought this was something that I was bad at, but today I learned that tasting off flavors is actually a strong point of mine. I guess I have had a lot of beer in the last 3 years though, so maybe that shouldn't have been as much of a surprise as it was... Speaking of drinking beer...