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Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Tiny Factors and Their Large Effects

This is a bit of an oddity, but I thought you might appreciate it. I was reviewing the recording I made at Brasserie Dupont and found this little nugget I'd forgotten about. It is one of the dozens of examples I heard on my trip of a tiny little observation a brewery had made that affected their beer. The more you think about how many ways there are to do things and how every brewery must make hundreds of decisions in the way they set up their equipment, it boggles the mind.

The topic is how to conduct bottle conditioning at the brewery. After bottling, Dupont lets all of their beer rest six to eight weeks. The question is, bottle up or laying down. Answer: laying down. The speaker is head brewer Olivier DeDeycker:
“It’s mostly important for us to initiate secondary fermentation in this way. If we start the secondary fermentation like so [here he makes the gesture of an upright bottle], we have a totally different beer. The yeast multiplies very differently. Not the same. It seems to be only a small thing, but the impact on the taste is really big. We made different trials, and the conclusion was that we need to continue like this. It’s very difficult to manage [on the bottling line], difficult to automatize. Actually, we put the bottles by hand [on their side] in crates. Next month we have a robot who will put the bottles lying down. We had to wait a long time to be able to buy it.”
I recorded this in November, so presumably Brasserie Dupont, a brewery that was until a few years back using a mid-19th century mash tun, now has a robot to lay its bottles down for secondary fermentation. Modern technology put to strangely antiquated ends.



  1. It's quite interesting because the common knowledge is bottles should be lying down, on the other hand, I've only read this in relation with aging...

  2. I know I'm stating the obvious, but you always have to return bottles to upright position for some period of time prior to drinking. Otherwise, all that spent yeast on the side of the bottle pours right into your glass. In my homebrewing experience, it was sometimes difficult to get the spent stuff to fall to the bottom once it stuck to the sides. So I stopped using that approach.

  3. Here is where I am disappoint Nathan Myrvold is not a beer drinker. A perfect example of the type of thing that would lead to an examination in 'Modernist Cuisine' of the science of 2ndary fermentation and have very nifty graphs of surface, yeast and reaction area, resulting in fermentation rate over time.

    Anecdotally, I would guess, the yeast needs a larger surface area to ferment more completely, and that standing up, some of the yeast is covered by other yeast and dies; yielding a different amount/rate of fermentation and flavor profile.

  4. Pete, I've got to point out that there are two ways to avoid that problem. If the bottles are undisturbed then the yeast should be fairly compact and resistant to pouring... as long as you DON'T set the bottle upright.

    First way is to pour the whole bottle in one go, which is no problem if you're sharing (or, I guess, happen to be drinking from a very large glass).

    Second way is to invest in one of those wine/lambic baskets that allows you to keep the bottle on its side, yeast facing down, between pours. Some googling around will turn up a few places to buy those baskets.