The Next Chapter…

As I begin to wrap up my experience of living abroad for a year, I thought it would be appropriate to pause for a moment to reflect upon where I started and where I am headed.

It seems almost surreal that just over one year ago I landed in Edinburgh, excited and nervous about jumping off into the unknown to follow my dreams. Sitting in my room on-campus unpacking my19429-63 suitcases I remember feeling very alone, and for that first week before classes began, it started to feel like a year was going to be a very long time. However, soon enough I began meeting people from my course and before I knew it, time began to fly by.

The first days of classes were both exhilarating and intimidating.  It was evident very early on that the course work was going to be rigorous and that some of the material (i.e. thermodynamics) was something I was going to have to work very hard at to understand. In terms of studying, I’ve never had to work harder in any courses I’ve taken, but in the end it paid off and I feel like I’ve learned a great deal.

First semester wrapped up with the most nerve-wracking final exams I have ever experienced; not because I didn’t feel prepared, but rather that 70% of our final grade came down to three 2-hour written essays. The whole experience was really intense. In the end I did really well and having successfully finished my first semester gave me a boost of confidence.IMG_5516

The end of the first semester also gave me the opportunity to void my housing contract and move off campus into the city. I jumped at the opportunity, although things got a bit dicey when the flat I thought I was going to move into fell through. In the end, my friend James and I found an amazing place right in the heart of Edinburgh. Deciding to move into the city was one of the best decisions I made all year. Living downtown helped me feel more connected to Edinburgh as my home and also gave me the opportunity to get two jobs: working in Barney’s Brewery as an Assistant Brewer and as the Head Brewer at The Hanging Bat. Both experiences were invaluable in terms of helping me gain practical knowledge and build my resume.

IMG_5505Second semester seemed to absolutely fly by. It was during second semester that I was introduced to the science and art of distillation for the first time. Interestingly, I came into this program believing that I would focus on brewing as a career, but as I finished up my Master’s project (I examined how varying fermentation temperatures and yeast strains in the wash effected the congener profiles of new make bourbon) I find myself most excited about going home and starting my own distillery in the next couple years.

As I sit in my kiIMG_5469tchen looking out the window into our back courtyard, I feel the same excited nervousness I felt when I first arrived here. There is so much I am looking forward to doing and can’t wait to get started. On September 7th, one year to the day when I arrived at Heriot-Watt, I will leave Edinburgh with a MSc in Brewing & Distilling, ready to begin the next chapter in this great adventure.

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Life in the City

ImageThe past couple months have been crazy busy!  The new flat has been fantastic–the neighborhood is perfect and we recently purchased a grill….not that it’s great grilling weather necessarily, but we’re making it work! My job at the wine shop didn’t work out as I had planned, but a couple weeks ago I put my CV in for a bar tending job at a beer bar called The Hanging Bat, and was hired as both a bar tender and as their head brewer! I’ve done a couple brews so far on the system—an Amber Pale Ale to test the efficiency and most recently a Rye IPA hopped with Pacific Gem and Dr. Rudi—two New Zealand varietals.  It’s been a great experience so far and I’m excited to be working to create some fantastic beers (hopefully!) to sell at the bar.

Besides landing a great job at The Hanging Bat, since January my friend Kirsty and I have beenImage working at Barney’s brewery several times a week. It’s been an amazing experience and I’ve been learning a ton about all the different aspects of working in a small, 5 barrel microbrewery—from cleaning and filling casks, bottling and labeling, performing yeast cell counts to helping with all the aspects of a full brew day. It’s been great to put the material I’m learning in the classroom into practice. 

On a different note, my friend Campbell is an avid coffee drinker and spends a lot of time at a particular coffee shop in Bruntsfield called the Artisan Roast. One of the barista’s and fellow Imagecoffee enthusiasts, Connor, asked Campbell if it would be possible to create a drinkable coffee stout—one that pulled out the favorable sweet, toffee like flavors, but left the astringent qualities that are often found in coffee beers. Those conversations led to Carey, Campbell and I designing and brewing a base oatmeal stout that we paired with several types of coffee brews by Conner, and ended with a beer called the Yoga Chef Stout. The result was a smooth, drinkable beer that had hints of orange, toffee and nutty flavors from the coffee that were complemented by the malty richness and full body of the oatmeal stout.

After enjoying a few bottles among ourselves, we decided to enter it into the 2nd Annual IBD Scottish Section Homebrewing Competition, and last weekend we took 1st place in the Specialty Beer category and 2nd overall in the entire competition! As part of our prize Carey, Campbell and I will have the opportunity to brew a full-scale batch of the Yoga Chef Stout at Stewart’s brewery and it will be sold on the market in Edinburgh this summer!  Now we just have to figure out how to come up with 20 gallons of cold drip….

As I reflect on my time here, I find it hard to believe I’ve been in Scotland for nearly 7 months.  I’ve learned so much from my courses, working and brewing outside of class and from my friends in the program. I’m excited to start working on my Master’s project this summer and anxious to see what comes from this experience when I get back home—but for now, I’m just enjoying every minute of calling Edinburgh my home.

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Winter in Edinburgh

ImageAfter spending nearly a month in the States, it’s great to be back in Edinburgh and starting second semester. It’s been a whirlwind of change over the past month.  Just before the semester ended, the school let us know that they were overbooked in the halls and were letting students out of their housing contracts.  After about 10 seconds of contemplation I jumped at the opportunity to get off campus into a flat downtown. My friend and I didn’t end up finding a place to live before leaving for winter break and I ended up flying back to Madison with nothing locked down, so starting December 17th I was officially without a home to call my own.

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Luckily, over the first semester I made some good friends, and people were quick to offer me accommodation during my continued search for a new flat. Since I’ve been back, I crashed on possibly the world’s most comfortable air mattress at my friend Kirsty and Keith’s place for about a week, and then I moved to my friend Christian’s flat where I have had a nice little lofted bed to call my own. It’s been great having roommates to cook dinner and grab a pint with and share some laughs. And after a bit of searching, I found a fantastic place that I move into with my friend Carey at the end of next week (that’s it in case you’re wondering!)

Today I interviewed at a wine and beer specialty shop in Stockbridge.  It’s a super cool place and seems like a great way to increase my knowledge and work with some awesome people.  Hopefully I get the job!

ImageWe’ve also been pretty serious about knocking out a ton of beer as of late—starting as early as 7am or as late as 8pm—and the results have been fantastic. Some of the styles include a Belgian Wit, a couple Porters in an attempt to make a perfectly balanced coffee beer, an Amber Pale Ale and this weekend we’re going to brew up a Chocolate Stout using a mixture of a few types of dark chocolates bought from a local dessert shop—should be interesting!  Next week I’m planning on leading a brew day for a Belgian Tripel.

It’s amazing how fast the time seems to be going. I can hardly believe I’m half way through all my courses.  I am already excited to someday visit my friends wherever in the world they may end up, and see where their passions have taken them.

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Saccharomyces cerevisiae: A Wort’s Best Friend

The past few weeks have become increasingly more busy with school as our assignments are all coming due; but fear not, I still have found time to relax with friends, toss a Frisbee around, have a pint from time to time and even reflect on the program thus far.

ImageLast week after class, a few classmates and I headed to a small start-up brewery called Alechemy for a tour and a beer tasting. What struck me, besides how delicious their beer is for only being open a few months, was how I left feeling confident that with the education I am receiving along with a lot of hard work and determination this crazy dream of opening a brewery feels within reach.

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Besides this program turning out to be better than I anticipated, except for Thermodynamics…ugh, it has been amazing to meet so many other talented and passionate classmates.  It’s been fantastic to talk about brewing, make beer together and get a fresh worldview from so many different people.

ImageAs the end of the semester draws near, I am definitely excited to finish up and head back to the States to visit my family, friends, special lady and my pup, but I’m already looking forward to starting a whole new set of classes and seeing what next semester will bring!

On a side note, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to say how happy I am that Obama has 4 more years in the White House, and how proud I am of the citizens of my home state Minnesota for voting down referendums trying to ban same sex marriage and requiring voter id. Last Tuesday was quite a night in American politics, and a real win for civil rights all around the country.

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Brew Day!

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Yesterday marked the first time, in what hopefully turns into a weekly tradition, that the unofficial Heriot-Watt Brew Crew—about 6 people ranging from the US, Canada and eventually even a Kiwi—got together to make a ridiculously delicious homebrew….well, that’s the hope at least.  My friend Campbell also showed me how to make amazing homemade pizza, but that’s a whole other story.

The morning started out quite promising.  We secured all the necessary pieces of equipment by 9:30am, and by 10:30am Carey, Campbell and I were on the 45 bus heading into Edinburgh, excited to get started on the day. We popped into Alba Homebrew to grab the rest of our supplies thinking that we’d make a big, American style IPA, but from the limited selection of malt and hops, we revised our recipe to be closer to an English style IPA.Image

After pit stops at a coffee shop and the grocery store to pick up pizza supplies and beer—you really shouldn’t homebrew without cracking open at least one or two beers—we headed back to Campbell’s flat and got the brewing wheels in motion.

Things started out pretty smoothly, but we discovered fairly quickly that the donated equipment we were using wasn’t the best quality, especially when we tried to get our wort to reach boiling temps—which it never really did. Undeterred by a little set-back like liquid refusing to boil, we decided to make a hop concentrate in a small setup on the stove which we then poured back into the wort once we were able to extract all the essential hop goodness.

After eight hours and a whole heap of snafus later, we ended up chilling the wort using a bathtub set-up that would have made MacGyver proud. It certainly wasn’t the prettiest of brew days any of us had seen, but in the end it all came together for what turned out to be a super fun day full of brewing, cooking and eating amazing food and hanging out with some great new friends from my program.

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Five Things I’ve Learned About Edinburgh So Far

  1. Image  Always have a raincoat or umbrella with you—I’ve never lived in a place where the weather changes so frequently.  It can be a gorgeous sunny and 65 degree day, and the next thing you know…BLAM!!!! It’s gusting to 40mph with rain that’s blowing sideways.  Of course just as you scramble to find some sort of shelter it’s sunny again.
  2. Image  Just because you’ve either been a part of or started numerous whisky clubs in the United States, it does NOT mean you are ready for the Heriot-Watt Malt Whisky Society.  Last Friday I stumbled upon the student run, University approved Malt Whisky Society’s first meeting, and after a couple inquiries I slapped down my £12 fee and joined the club. I was welcomed in with handshakes all around, a place at the head table and a snifter. Four hours, 8 bottles of whisky and somewhere in the vicinity of 12 neats later, I vaguely remember asking the president how often we’ll be meeting, thinking a marathon this epic had to be a rare occurrence. He replied, “Oh, at least every other week, matey”…he paused for a moment, smiled and said, “Aye, but don’t worry, we have a bourbon or rum tasting on the off weeks”. This could be the end of me.
  3. Image  Get yourself hopelessly lost. The best places I’ve found around town, be it a hole in the wall pub, a small local market or amazing food cart, have almost all occurred after I’ve decided to wander about for the afternoon.  At first glance at a map, Edinburgh appears really spread out, but once you start walking around you quickly find that it’s a fantastic city to explore on foot and isn’t nearly as spread out as it seems.
  4. Image  Apparently there is an Edinburgh, Indiana, and the weather there is WAY more stable than Edinburgh, Scotland.  So, when you go online in the morning and see on weather.com that it looks like it’s going to be such a fantastic day out that you decide it’s safe to leave the house without a raincoat or an umbrella only to find yourself in a torrential down pour two minutes after stepping outside, just remember the #1 thing you’ve learned thus far….and learn how to type the right city and country into weather.com, that couldn’t hurt.
  5. Image  The Scottish people take their holidays very seriously.  After working in higher education for the past four years I have become accustomed to a base level of services available on a college campus during holidays—i.e. food services, health services, custodial services, etc. Well, in Scotland, when it’s a National Holiday, entire institutions basically shut down. After working through the mild frustration of finding that essentially all services on-campus were non-existent for the day, it was refreshing to discover that a holiday over here means you actually are expected to take a complete break from work.  Luckily for me, intermittent bus service was still available, so I found myself in a pub off the beaten path enjoying a book and a pint—which seemed fitting.

    Until next time,

    slàinte mhath!

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Let the Adventure Begin!

ImageAfter nearly a decade of home brewing, I jumped the pond and moved back to Scotland to earn my MSc in Brewing & Distilling, in hopes of fulfilling the dream to one day open my own establishment.  “Why Scotland?”, some of you may ask.   Well, quite frankly, in terms of sharpening my brewing skills as well as learning the artisanship of crafting a complex and drinkable Whisky, there isn’t a better place to be…except maybe Germany in terms of beer…but they’ve got nothing on the Scot’s for making delicious aqua vitae!

It’s been quite the adjustment moving back to campus–especially after working in Student Affairs for the last four years. My, let’s call it an “apartment” for fun, isn’t quite what I was expecting in terms of size, but it’s cozy in that cinder block, college dorm sort of way.  The rest of campus is absolutely amazing and Edinburgh is as spectacular as I had remembered.

Our first week of classes started slowly and easily, but have steadily progressed to near impossible as we’ve started to delve into calculating fluid dynamics using various algebraic formulas that have long since passed out of memory. Even with the challenges, the material has been fantastic, and I’m looking forward to what the year brings!

ImageTomorrow I’m off to my first University sponsored whisky tasting and next Wednesday we’re taking a day trip to several breweries around Edinburgh.  It’s a tough job having to go to all these tastings for class, but if I have to sacrifice a little now in order to be able to make better brew later, then so be it.🙂

Until next time,

slàinte mhath!

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