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November 17, 2014 at 10:28am

Beer science and history with Three Magnets Brewing's head brewer Pat Jansen

Three Magnets Brewing's head brewer Pat Jansen checks the status of his sours in his barrel room. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

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For a high schooler with designs on coolness, there's only one peer-sanctioned response to a long lecture on organic chemistry: boredom. Notebook doodling, loud gaping yawns - perhaps even a head slumped on the desk, for good measure - until, of course, the instructor drops organic chemistry lab phrases such as "three-way stop-cock" and "prying open the bung hole," then you laugh along ensuring fellow teenage classmates there isn't some geeky girl-repelling chemistry kit in your closet.

Yet, there's always that one kid in class who views the science as more essential than oxygen. That kid grows up to be a head brewer at Three Magnets Brewing Co. in Olympia.

Science mystifies Americans, while art seduces them. It's a phenomenon that Pat Jansen - head brewer and local sourcing liaison at Three Magnets - has a hold on both. Having studied soil chemistry for 10 years, Jansen knows how soil pH levels ultimately affect beer and other science behind brewing beer - and by science I mean he knows the isomerization path of a-acids into iso-a acids during the boiling stage of brewing - the chemical breakdown of humulone into isohumulone - as one of many examples. It's gaping yawn garble unless Jansen is disseminating the subject. He's a one-man show. Hands are flying. His body jerks and twists. His face morphs through 15 different expressions. He shows great passion in brewing beer.

I've been Jansen's audience member twice now. Once, during a Three Magnets brewer's night at Dillingers Cocktails and Kitchen, down the street from the brewery, and a second time Thursday night on a progress tour of the brewery, which has opened - the brewing and bar side of the business are in operation while construction continues on the family dining section. Jansen's stage show was restricted to body gestures at Dillingers due to space constrictions. Inside the brewery, I had to run to keep within listening distance. At one point, Jansen had Three Magnets co-owner Nate Reilly, assistant brewer and bar manager Jeff Stokes, kitchen manager Nancy Bickell and Weekly Volcano sales executive Nikki McCoy and I performing in his stage production, The Barrel-Aged Bung Hole Peek Conga Line. Early review: It's a lively production that should produce some tasty cherry and currant cherry sour ales down the road.

While Three Magnets has a Farmhouse Saison named after Helsing Junction Farm in Thurston County and an Autumnal Saison on tap, most of the farmhouse and Belgian-style beers brewing at the downtown Olympia brewery are for future barrel projects.

"The goal is to put them in barrels and age, to be reinoculated with wild yeast or fruit or a combination of what lives on the fruit with wild yeast," says Jansen. "I have been waiting for the first frost, which means the bacteria load in the air will die and stop reproducing and lose its aggressiveness. Bacteria will tolerate 110, 120, 130 degree temperatures. Yeast will tolerate down to freezing. Bacteria, however, doesn't like freezing temperatures. Once we get to the freezing point, I can take raw wort from a brew, take it up on to the roof of the brewery, and set it in large shallow pans to start collecting cold tolerant wild yeast and bacteria - which means we can make indigenous sour beer, instead of buying cultures from a lab." (If you could only see the short jump and raised hands during this speech.)

The 14 barrels in Three Magnet's auxiliary room have purchased or home-procured wild yeast and wild yeast from fruit. Most of the barrels are from Doug McCrea's Salida Winery in Thurston County, with a couple from Columbia Crest. The room, located off the open kitchen and behind the family dining area, will eventually house spirits barrels too, with the barrels arranged to allow tastings and other private functions.

Running Beer Man

In addition to brewing, Jansen also shows passion for brewing history, especially old English beers and traditional brewing processes. He's interested in making "real ale," and running a firkin off the countertop in the brewery's bar area.

"In the 1700s and 1800s, British brewers were making pale ales, bitter beers and porters," explains Jansen. "In the 1900s, technology allowed for stewing malts - to create crystal malts, which means coffee and toffee forward malts, red fruit character malts - red cherries and currants, and purple character malts such as prunes and figs. And the British made a beer that you could make quickly and drink it fresh. They were called running beers. ...

"Anyway, because the UK beer market began pushing products of low flavor and overall quality onto the consumer, such as Budweiser and Stella Artois, four stodgy British guys basically said, ‘we need to form a society, and petition the government and save traditional-styled beers.'" (Jansen made a stodgy facial expression during this explanation.)

Campaign for Real Ale, or CAMRA, was formed in March 1971 by the four men from the northwest of Britain to save traditional, flavorsome beers promoting fermentation in the cask from which they were served and give British beer drinkers a better variety and choice at the bar. CAMRA's core aims are to promote real ale and pubs, as well as act as the consumer's champion in relation to the UK and European beer and drinks industry.

Jansen explained that toward the end of the 19th century, brewers built large estates of tied pubs. They moved away from vatted beers stored for many months and developed "running beers" that could be served after a few days storage in pub cellars. Draught Mild was a "running beer" along with a new type that was dubbed "Bitter" (3.4-3.9 percent ABV) by drinkers. Bitter grew out of Pale Ale but was generally deep bronze to copper in color due to the use of slightly darker malts such as crystal that give the beer fullness of palate. "Best" (4 percent and higher) is a stronger version of Bitter but there is considerable crossover.

Jansen explained the tradition of blending back-aged beer into young beer went away in the early decades of the 20th century, mostly eliminated after the two World Wars. In Britain, the running beers gave birth to the cask movement but, generally, no blending of old beer with young is done.

"Rodenbach beer (Flemish Red ale) is probably the closest beer around to traditional English porters these days. Rodenbach pasteurizes the beer so it doesn't turn and get sour or tart."

Jansen began telling the story of Rodenbach and Eugene Rodenbach, grandson of the founders, who traveled to England to learn about barrel aging and blending from English porter brewers. The methods Eugene learned, while no longer in use in England, are still used by Rodenbach today. Rodenbach is known as a "mixed fermentation" beer, meaning it's fermented with a mix of regular ale yeast and a cocktail of wild yeast and bacteria. This mixture then goes into large wooden barrels called foeders. ...

"OK, back to running beer ... the tradition in Britain wasn't to keg off beer and push it with CO2 because during the war there wasn't a lot of it around due to conversation, so they took beer from a large tank right before it finishes fermenting so there is just enough sugar to carbonate the beer, then put them into metal casks, sometimes wood casks, bung it for a pressure seal," Jansen explains. "For example, if you let our Smoked English Porter sit for a half-hour it would taste like a freshly tapped cask of British style beer would taste like back in the day - low carbonation, around fifty degrees warm."

The British brewers would make the beer, put it in a cask, and ship it out to the publican - the keeper of a public house or tavern. Then, the publican would finish the brewing process by aging the beer properly and placing it on the bar counter and presenting it properly.

"Today, the brewers have to do that work because the American consumer wants aged beer," says Jansen.

Two casks, or firkins, currently sit on Three Magnet's bar. Jansen hopes to launch a firkin program in several weeks. He's still pondering on the correct way to proceed.

"There are two ways of doing it," he says. "If you know you have a crowd that can kill a cask quickly because they want it or have a bartender who can actually sell beer worth a damn, you can actually put the cask on and sell it over a three-day period - because that's the amount of time before oxidation affects the character of the beer. After that, it gets really cardboard-y, a little too over sherry-ish and you get vinegar. It's terrible.

"The second way to run a cask is to put a cask breather on it where you get a slow blanket of CO2 on it and you're not over carbonating it, and continues to present the right way for a week."

Jansen has taken his interests and binary compounds and brewed an exceptional Smoked English Porter and Brewers Best English Pale with Jeff Stokes, who often acted as an interpreter during Jensen's lightning-fast verbal dissertations. Also on tap are a Rye Meridian, Citra Wet Hop Ale, Mosaic + Citra Wet Hop Ale, Session IPA, Rainy Day IPA - named after Rainy Day Records -  and Brotherhood Brown Ale, named after The Brotherhood Lounge. A quarter of every pint sold of the last two beers goes to Thurston County charities. SafePlace benefits from the Brotherhood - and the popular downtown Olympia bar kicks in another 25 cents per pint. Helsing Junction Farmhouse Saison sales are part of the local causes program, too.

The history of the building, brewery owners Sara and Nate Reilly's history with their Darby's Café and the reason behind the Three Magnets name was covered when we announced the brewery this past spring. Also, look for a follow-up story on Three Magnet's menu on this blog soon.

Until then, drop by the downtown Olympia brewery and drink some science and history. And, while nobody has yet won a grant to explore brewer fringe theater - if such a grant comes to fruition - it's certain to be named after Pat Jansen. He makes science go down as easy as a Three Magnets classic British-style brew.

THREE MAGNETS BREWING CO., 600 Franklin St. SE, Suite 105, Olympia, threemagnetsbrewing.com

Filed under: New Beer Column, Olympia,
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Served, a blog by the Weekly Volcano, is the region’s feedbag of fresh chow daily, local restaurant news, New Beer Column, bar and restaurant openings and closings, breaking culinary news and breaking culinary ground - all brought to the table with a dollop of Internet frivolity on top.

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