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Sam Sherwood & Brian Bastow: Perrin Brewing Company

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Brewer Sam Sherwood(COMSTOCK PARK, MI) In the back of Perrin Brewing Company sits a beautiful 30 barrel brewing system with a a few long rows of 30 and 90 barrel fermenters.  Boyd Culver and I (Chris Musil) sit down in the brewers office with a pint of beer to wait for Sam Sherwood, one of the four Perrin brewers while he finishes up for the day.  As we look around the office walls, their giant white boards are filled with brewing notes, schedules, and foul language. It's pretty obvious that they all have a sense of humor and enjoy each others company.

Through the office windows we see Sam wrapping up the last of his duties and he tells us he's going to grab a pint before we begin.

As he sits, he tells us that he was just finishing up brewing a high gravity brown ale that ended up being just over 16 Plato (around 7% ABV).  The brewers will regularly brew high gravity batches on their 30 bbl system and then back fill with water to end up with 45 barrels.  Two batches of high gravity beer equals enough wort to fill their giant 90 barrel fermenters.

Chris: So how did you get started in brewing? 

Sam: It was right after my 22nd birthday.  I basically started out on a bottling line, kegging, and then beer tending at Michigan Brewing Company.  I was attending LCC (Lansing Community College) and my friend Joe Short (of the now Shorts Brewing Company) got ahold of me and asked if I wanted to start working on the bottling line at Michigan Brewing Company.  It was supposed to be two days a week, but I think I worked the two days and then the owner immediately asked me if I wanted to start working full time. I agreed, but I was taking three classes at the same time and it eventually became too much. I really couldn't afford college at the time, so I just continued on brewing beer.

The brewing office door opens and Brian "Boomer" Bastow, another Perrin brewer, walks into the office.

Chris: So Brian, how did you get your start in brewing?

Brian: I started home-brewing in high school and it carried on to college where I eventually got a job at Saugatuck Brewing Company. I started working there when I was around 20, all the while getting my degree.  My “in” with Saugatuck and Perrin was that I helped set up their lab.  So I guess I started off as a homebrewer, and next week will mark my one year anniversary at Perrin.

Boyd: Not many homebrewers were smart enough to start brewing in high school.

Brian: (with a half cocked smile) I was a devious little fucker. I was just trying to make whatever I could, making shitty wine.  Using bread yeast, grape juice, and sugar.  It tasted so horrible.

Laughs

Chris: Where did you go after MBC?

Sam: I eventually went from there to Traverse City Brewing Company, where I worked for those guys for two and a halfSam on Perrins Brew Deck years and then eventually went on to Arcadia in 2003. I was with those guys for about two days.  A head hunter from Black Forrest sought me out and offered me the head positions at their brewery.  They were going to pay me a lot more, so I took it. From Black Forrest I went to Founders, Founders to Waldorf, Waldorf to Perrin Brewing Company. 

Chris: How long were you at Founders?

Sam: Just over two years.  I started there in 2005 and even beer tended for a while.  My longest stint was about 6 years, which was at the Waldorf.  But this (Perrin) is the seventh brewery I have worked for.

Chris: Do you remember the first beer you brewed?

Sam: First homebrew I brewed? First beer I brewed myself? or first beer I brewed on a brew system?

Chris:  How about all of the above?

Sam: (laughs) First beer I brewed, I was just helping out with Joe (Short) doing homebrews, I was just kind of hanging out, learning at that point, watching, but the first beer I actually formulated and brewed was at Traverse Brewing Company and they had a little 1/2 barrel brewing system and I brewed a Mmmmmmumblstiltskin Maple Porter.

Chris: Did you have help, or did you just know what to do after watching all the other brewers.

Sam: I went in there on a Saturday, I was there by myself, I brewed it all myself, formulated it all on my own, did everything longhand, even writing out all the formula.  I didn't start with any kits though, I used their yeast, which was their Ringwood English yeast and I did an all grain mash.  It ended up being like 7.5% ABV.  They ended up tapping it in the pub because I technically made it at the brewery.  I think I got to take a couple growers home but it was gone from the tap house in like two days, if that.  But you have to understand that the Traverse City Brewing Company's tap house had four stools in it. 

First beer I ever brewed up on a big brewing system would've been at Traverse City Brewing Company. Bobby Mason wouldn't let me brew at Michigan brewing Company which is why I kinda took off, because there's no way I would’ve ever become a brewer there, I couldn't even help the Brewer.  I couldn't even go near their stuff.

Boyd: So you didn't make the “bad ass.” (referring to Kid Rocks beer made by the former Michigan Brewing Company)

Sam: No, that was well after me.  Shit, that was probably close to 6 years ago.  

Chris:  So what’s the biggest mistake you see homebrewers making?

Perrin Brewing FermentersSam: Not being clean and not paying attention to detail.  You can’t sanitize something unless you clean it first.  You know a lot of people, they put a lot of time into their homebrew, and you taste it, and we end up tearing them apart.  I don't know how many homebrews I've tasted that have iodine in them. You know they wind up tasting like smoke or like a Band-Aid.  You probably shouldn't have made the solution so strong or you should have rinsed it before putting beer into your fermenter.  Whats the other one you guys like to use? Star San?  It's not supposed to have a carry over flavor and its supposed to be no rinse, but if over mix it,  its not a no rinse at that point, and you have to rinse.  It all has to be mixed properly. Iodine should look like tea, not black.  Its too many ppm (parts per million) at that point.

Also, temperature control.  Homebrewers have a hard time controlling fermentation temperature.  I get a lot of brews that are hot.

Brian: I get a lot of beers that have DMS (Dimethyl Sulfide).  So they aren't boiling long enough.  They aren't driving off all those volatiles and it stays in their wort.  The beer winds up tasting like cream corn or it takes on a vegetable flavor.

Another thing is not using a vorlauf, which is a filtration step. You take the wort form the bottom of the mash tun and recirculate the wort over the grain bed for 10 minutes.  This creates a natural filter and when you're ready to go to your kettle, it clarifies the wort.  I'll go homebrew with somebody and i'll show them how to vorlauf and it changes their world.

Sam: Even two minutes will help, instead of boiling all that grain.

Brian: If homebrewers throw that step in there, it'll make a world of difference.

Sam: Under pitching is another big one.  Not enough yeast.  Poor pitch amounts will lag the fermentation process and if there is any bacteria in there, it will take off and you start getting weird flavors.  Homebrewers don't really have to worry about over pitching.

Brian: You would have to triple or quadruple pitch before getting any off flavors.  Even just activating their yeast is a step some homebrewers skip.  They will use dry yeast, or that yeast that been sitting in the small vials, and just dump it in there.  Yeast needs to be active.  Throw a little bit of wort in there prior to pitching to give that yeast something to feed on.

Sam: Even if its just for a couple hours, it will help start the fermentation process.

Chris: This next question came from Dan Wall, a homebrewer, on our Pints with the Pros Facebook page.  He wants to know "whole cones, pellets, or extracts?  when, why, and why not."  Basically, why would I choose a whole cone over a pellet?

Sam: I wouldn't.

Brian: (laughs) I don't know if I would either.

Sam: Its just more organic material that winds up soaking up your wort.

Brian: You get less acids out of cones and so it becomes less efficient.  Pellets take up less space too if storage is an issue, though not usually a big deal for homebrewers.

Boyd: We know what you mean.  We dry hopped our harvest ale this fall with the hops we grew at our shop and the cones soaked up 2 gallons of wort.

Sam: I would not suggest it for dry hopping.  I like leaf hops for mash hops.  It helps lauter.  Its like adding rice hulls to your mash.  But you have to be careful because mash hopping can lower your color if your using specialty grains.  Its not a big deal if your brewing a pale ale or a golden ale, but if your making a brown ale, you might end up with a red.

Brian:  If feel like its hard to be sanitary with whole cones too.  I used to steam them before putting them in the fermenter.  But we've started using extracts more.

Sam: Yeah, the way the industry is going, it's heading towards extracts.  Especially with dry hopping.  We'll dry hop our double IPA with 55-60lbs of hops in a 26 or 27 barrel batch. And you only get 20 barrels out of it.  So it soaks up 6 or 7 barrels of beer.

Boyd: So if you were brewing homebrew, you would use pellets?

Sam: Yes.  If I had leaves and wanted to use them, I would bag them.  Then at the end of the boil and whirl pooling I could pull it out and drain it.

Boyd: So to wrap up our interview, we need a funny story or a homebrew disaster from your past.

Sam: I have one that I tell a lot.  When I first started at Michigan brewing Company, I think it was my second week Perrinthere, we were moving beers from a trailer outside that was full of packaged six packs on pallets. I think there were 144 cases to a pallet. I shouldn't have even been moving it by myself, but at the end of the trailer there was a little bit of a down slope and a lip that just dropped right off.   I was bringing them from the back of the trailer to the front of the trailer, and Joe was running the hi-low.  I had already moved four or five pallets out and he was moving them inside.  To this day I remember moving the next one and I just got it going too fast.  The momentum was too much for me to handle.  I remember Joe coming around the corner and his jaw dropped.  I had to let go, and it went right off the end of the trailer.  There was glass everywhere. Then I had sort through a 144 cases.  I think out of the 144 there were 12 cases that were damaged.   And the owner just laughed at me.  He asked if I had cleaned up my mess and told me not to worry about it.  Shit like that happens all them time.

Sam and Brian can be seen working alongside John Stewert and Justin Stewert, Perrin Brewing Company's other two brewers, through the huge glass dividers that separate the tap room and brewery.  Perrin currently does not offer scheduled tours, but much of the process can be viewed with ease.   And just for the record, their beer is incredible.

Perrin Brewing Company.  5910 Comstock Drive NW, Comstock Park, MI 49321.  http://perrinbrewing.com.

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