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Professor Jimmy

Looks like a classroom full of interested and engaged college students, right? Well, it’s difficult to suppress your laughter around our Director of Brewing Operations, Jimmy Valm.

Jimmy was invited to do a guest lecture at Ryan and Hank’s old stomping grounds of Villanova University last week. They’ve recently instituted a class called “Introduction to Beer and Brewing Technology” as part of the Chemical Engineering program, so Professor Michael Smith invited Jimmy to talk to the students about recipe creation.

Professor Smith had been interested in beer for awhile. During a stint at duPont, he began homebrewing.

“Over about 15 years,” he says, “I figured out what I was doing, and I made some good beers and I’d give them away to friends.”

After leaving duPont, he considered opening his own brewery, even going as far as taking the short course at Seibel. He came in a little too early to really see where the industry was going, so he opted for grad school and academia.

Craft beer’s loss is Villanova’s gain, as the students now have a knowledgeable and excited instructor teaching them about brewing. And judging from the syllabus, they’re getting a relatively decent crash course, including a chance to try their hand at the process.

We headed up on a rainy Friday to White Hall. Unfortunately, because of the rain and Jimmy’s head cold, we couldn’t really explore the rest of Villanova’s beautiful campus, but the view from room 116 of Mendel Field — the large, green expanse in the middle of Villanova’s campus — was, well…, wet.

The rain didn’t dampen Jimmy’s enthusiasm, though. Like everyone else in this business, if you get us talking about our favorite subject, it’s difficult to get us to shut up.

With a subject such as recipe development, it’s important to know how your ingredients will affect the finished product, so Jimmy had some interactive activities at the ready.

He demonstrated to the students the hot steep method recently developed by the American Society of Brewing Chemists to taste the flavors in malts: raising the temperature of water to 65 degrees Celsius and steeping the malts for fifteen minutes. The students flocked to the front of the room to sample the liquid.

“If I burn the place down,” he told the kids, “it’ll just be our little secret.”

Jimmy brought along some pelletized hops and demonstrated how he rubs the hops between his hands to extract the aromas from the oils. Honestly, it’s difficult not to fall in love with rubbing hops — the entire room was filled with the smells of Citra and El Dorado. The smells even caught the attention of one of the passing professors — in our conversations after Jimmy’s lecture, she mentioned that she grows hops at home.

He spoke on creativity — referencing Notes on Creativity by Ferran Adrià. Walking the students through Adrià’s steps of creativity, he discussed the lowest level — repetition: simply getting a recipe and following it to the letter. In this respect, the creativity is borne of the creation — you have created something that hadn’t existed previously.

The next level is tweaking that recipe: making it your own. Perhaps you’ve decided that the particular IPA recipe you’ve followed needed more Citra. Or a different malt bill. Or a different ingredient altogether. You take your basics and switch up the design a bit.

The third level of creativity is inventing a new style — which is kind of difficult when it comes to brewing. After 5,000 years of brewing, it’s more or less all been tried. These days, we get a lot of new takes on old styles, but coming up with something completely groundbreaking is next to impossible.

“You’re getting here a bit late,” Jimmy said.

The final level of creativity involves creating a new technique — and in today’s technology-driven arena, this is the aspect most ripe for innovation. For example, he referred to Dogfish Head who’d devised “The Randal,” a new method of extremely-late-in-the-process-dry-hopping — essentially keeping a stash of hops in the draft line so that the beer pours directly through a supply of hops as it’s poured.

The talk turned to Jimmy’s own method of recipe development, from the initial idea to the final brew. To design a recipe — for example, Jimmy’s favorite of Summer Catch — he sits down and says, “Okay, I’d like it to have these flavors,” — delineating an initial concept of what he wants the finished product to be.

Then, he gets into the process details: “How do I get those flavors that I want in Summer Catch into the beer?” Using his wealth of knowledge of ingredients — and the two processes he demonstrated for the students — Jimmy can identify what his malt bill will look like and which hops he wants to use.

Once he identifies which ingredients will supply which flavors, he gets into specifics, determining the ratios of ingredients and what parameters he’ll be using.

Then — brew it! That’s the only really way to test a recipe, and at our level, he’s got to brew up a 30-barrel batch that may or may not come out to be what he’d had in his head.

One of the things we’d always wondered is why the guys don’t try new recipes out on our little 1-barrel pilot system. It seems like you could brew something on a small system then scale it up to our 30-barrel system. However, Jimmy explained, this won’t work because the equipment is quite different. For example, temperature controls on small fermenters are crazy expensive, and, since fermentation creates heat, the process is going to be warmer in a smaller fermenter, creating more esters and phenols than there would be in our larger system. And, as Professor Smith frequently tells his students, “the devil is in the details!”

So, once he’s got a finished product, Jimmy asks himself, “Did this come out as I expected?” If the answer is yes — like with Summer Catch — then he does a little happy dance and goes on his way. More times than not, though, the answer is something less than yes.

It may not be that the beer didn’t come out as we expected, but we’re always looking for ways to improve our product. For example, White Caps: the beer came out great last year, but we found ways to improve it. This time around, the brew is juicier, smoother, and more drinkable — and what more could one possibly want?

Question time — and, of course, at Villanova University, they all had questions about Demisemi.

“Where did the inspiration for the Villanova beer come from?”

Jimmy told the class that the inspiration came from the name: once he learned that a 175th anniversary was the Demisemiseptcentennial, it became pretty clear that Centennial hops needed to dominate the hops bill. From there, they sought to balance the hops presence with a strong malt bill, with pilsner malts filling the need nicely.

After the class period was over, Jimmy was kind enough to bring some Cape May IPA for the students — all seniors and over 21 — to sample. That’s where the real discussion began. Beer brings people together — whether it’s strangers sitting at a bar or a professional regaling students, that’s why we do what we do.

And drinking after a class at Villanova is quite a change from when Ryan and Hank were in attendance!

Throughout the course of the day, we met a few students who are interested in our summer internships! One young lady had zero interest in brewing before she took the class, but now she’s hooked… and we don’t blame her. Brewing is interesting. It’s artistry and science and craft and knowledge all rolled into one delicious beverage.

Hopefully the class at Villanova is helping to brew some potential brewers, whether they end up having a love for homebrewing or working for CMBC or opening their own independent craft brewery. Doesn’t matter to us. New, young blood in the game is always a welcome addition.