Chris Rush Cohen

Advanced Cicerone & Beer Consultant

Chris Cohen is a San Francisco based Certified Cicerone. He can help you take your beer service & knowledge to the next level.

Support Chris' KickStarter for the Beer Scholar Study Guides for the Cicerone Program Exams!

I launched a KickStarter to help raise money for an initial print run of study guides for the Certified Beer Server and the Certified Cicerone exams. For all the information you need about the study guides, check out this Beer Scholar FAQ page.  After only a day and a half it's nearly 50% funded! 

If you're a beer geek and want to raise your game by taking the Certified Beer Server or Certified Cicerone exams, pick up a copy during the KickStarter while they're less expensive.

If you know any beer geeks who may be interested, please let them know about it or link it on your social media sites.

Every little bit of spreading the word helps. Thank you!

Recent articles: Sante Adairius Rustic Ales & Beer Certifications & Homebrewing Resolutions

I've written a few interesting article for Serious Eats over the last month or so, check them out:

Homebrewing Resolutions: How to Make Better Beer in 2014 (Serious Eats 2014) is about some of the fun projects you can do in 2014 to make your brew day more efficient and ultimately improve the quality of your homebrew.

Brewery to Watch: Sante Adairius Rustic Ales (Serious Eats, 2014) was a really fun article to do. It's essentially an interview of Tim Clifford, Sante Adairius' very talented brewer. I learned lots by chatting with him and you may be able to glean a little from him in this article. 

Which Beer Certification Program is Right for You? (Serious Eats, 2014) is a helpful article for those of you who are considering taking the BJCP or Cicerone exams or are considering one of the other beer Somm certification programs. It'll help you figure out which is the best bet for you considering what you hope to get out of it.  

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Chris' Thanksgiving beer pairing advice featured in two articles

Serious Eat's has a super cool "Ask a Cicerone" series of articles and in the most recent they asked about the best T-giving beers. I recommended pairing some sweet imperial strength pumpkin beers with your Thanksgiving desserts, check it out - Ask a Cicerone: The Best Beers for Thanksgiving

MainStreet.com, a finance site for regular folks that's associated with TheStreet.com, also featured my Thanksgiving beer pairing advice. Here, I recommend pairing an Octoberfest / Marzen style beer with dinner and serving Anchor's "Our Special Ale" spiced up Christmas beer to go with dessert. Check it out - 10 Best Craft Beers for Thanksgiving

Pssst, these beers all go great with Christmas and Hanukkah dinners, too, not to mention with all those leftovers!

Quoted in a Popular Mechanics article!

I was quoted in an article posted on the Popular Mechanic website (I'm not sure if the article will also be in the  hardcopy magazine). Check it out!

"The primary foes of new brewers are wild yeasts and bacteria," says Chris Cohen, founder and president of the San Francisco Homebrewers Guild. You can do everything else perfectly during your brew day, but if your sanitation practices are poor, you'll likely end up with a beer that's been fermented by something other than brewer's yeast. "The result is typically a bad beer that can be sour, over-attenuated, and can have phenolic flavors," Cohen says.

Read the rest here: 4 Home-Brewing Mistakes Most Beginners Make - Popular Mechanics

Five common mistakes new homebrewers make and how to avoid them!

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**EDIT 10/14/2013 - Very cool! Some of the info that I provide below was used for this Popular Mechanics article: "4 Home-Brewing Mistakes Most Beginners Make", for which I originally wrote the material (I was not made aware that it was going to be used before the article was released, I thought my email just went into the ether!)

I've been homebrewing since 2009 and also organize and judge local homebrew competitions, often for the SF Homebrewers Guild, an organization I founded in Feb 2012. In addition, I'm a Certified Cicerone, which is a certification program for beer service similar to the advanced certifications a wine sommelier attempts to earn. I'm very familiar with the off-flavors that can result from poor brewing technique (they're on parade during any homebrew competition judging!). Part of a judge's job is to give the brewer feedback for how to avoid those errors in the future.

Here's a quick rundown of  the most common homebrew mistakes which result in off flavors and "that homebrew flavor."

1) Not focusing enough on proper sanitation 

Sanitation sanitation sanitation. The primary foes of all brewers are wild yeasts and bacteria. You can do everything else perfectly during your brew day, but if your sanitation practices are not up to par at every stage, you'll likely end up with a beer that's been fermented by something other than your brewer's yeast. The result is typically a bad beer that can be sour, thin bodied, fizzy (bottle gushers!), and can have phenolic flavors such as "plastic" or "band aid" or even other nastier ones (beer with a "fecal" aroma, anyone?). First of all, you need to understand that you can't sanitize brewing gear that isn't clean, therefore it's a two step process - properly cleaning and then sanitizing. Read this bit from John Palmer's How To Brew book for more details on cleaning and sanitizing and the various products that you can use. Also, remember to replace your plastic brewing gear each year - when plastic gets scratched it creates microscopic hiding places for wild yeast and bacteria and it becomes impossible to sanitize the equipment. It's cheap to replace plastic tubing and  buckets, it's not worth risking the beer you put so many hours of work into! Something to keep in mind is that infected or otherwise bad beers can't harm you like home distilled liquor can, they just taste bad, so don't be afraid of tales about people going blind from "bath tub gin!"

2) Use a "rolling boil," do not leave a lid on your boil kettle, & remove your partial mash grain before raising the temp to boiling

Malted barley has precursor chemical in it that, when boiled, converts to Dimethyl Sulfides (DMS), a chemical that tastes like cooked corn and can ruin a beer. Luckily, DMS is very volatile and a good rolling 60 minute boil will drive most of it off - but if you leave the lid on your pot, it will all just condense on the lid and drip back in. Another boiling-related tip - if you're making a "partial mash" brew with extract and a little bag of grain, always remove the grain bag before raising the temp up to boiling. Also, don't squeeze the liquid out of that bag when you pull it out (just dunk it in and out a few times and let it drain). The reason you don't want to squeeze the bag or raise the temp above 170F with the grain in the water is that you'll leach tannins out of the grain husks and it will give your beer an astringent mouthfeel similar to how red wine or tea is sort of bitter and makes your mouth feel dry.

3) Ensure good yeast health

Brewer's don't make beer, yeast does! We just make the wort and manage the yeast after that. Ultimately, the brewer is a yeast wrangler. Use a good healthy pitch of fresh yeast for your beer. For new brewers, packets of dry yeast can be easier to work with, though liquid yeasts offer more variety. If you're making a high gravity beer you'll need more than a single pitch of yeast. For any brew, don't expect some old pitch of liquid yeast that has been in your fridge for three months to do the job, go with a fresh pitch. If you under-pitch or pitch unhealthy yeast, your yeast will be stressed during fermentation and will create off flavors in your beer. To give the yeast a little boost, toss some yeast nutrient (Servomyces) in your wort at the end of the boil. Also, make sure to aerate the wort once it is cooled down and in the fermentor, most brewers do this by rocking their fermentor back and forth for a few minutes after getting the cool wort into the fermentor. Yeast needs oxygen to divide and will absorb it all, this happens very soon after you pitch it in, before you see all the bubbling activity from primary fermentation. That said, don't let your beer have much contact with oxygen after primary fermentation begins or you risk papery-like oxidation off flavors. Here's some additional info, again from John Palmer's How To Brew - preparing yeast, yeast forms (dry & liquid), yeast nutritional & oxygen needs (read the following few pages).

4) Control your fermentation temperature

Next to proper sanitation, there's no question that fermentation temperature control is the most important variable. Yeast likes to work within a certain temperature range, the recipe you're using should give a specific preferred fermentation temperature. Typical American ale yeasts like a temperature of about 68-73F. Fermenting at higher-than-recommended temperatures will typically cause the yeast to create more esters and phenols, leading to fruity or spicy aromas and flavors that may not be appropriate for the beer you're making. Of even greater import is keeping the temperature even for the duration of the fermentation. Wrap your fermenter in a blanket and stick it in a dark closet in the center of your house or apartment to minimize the likelihood of temperature swings. If the temp drops during fermentation, the yeast will likely stop working and you'll be left with a sweet brew that hasn't been fully fermented or a beer with remaining off flavors that the yeast would have scrubbed out had they been given a few extra days to finish the job. You should be able to figure out if your fermentation did not complete by checking your Final Gravity with the hydrometer that came with your starter kit. A target FG should be provided in your recipe, if your FG is much higher than that, you may have an incomplete fermentation. Be careful about bottling such a beer, if the fermentation continues or starts back up in the bottle you could end up with "bottle bombs." There are lots of good reasons to take your gravity readings!

5) Your local homebrew shop and homebrew club are a resource for you

This isn't exactly a tip for avoiding a specific mistake, but it can keep you from making mistakes! The guys and gals at the local homebrew shop or club want to  help you on your homebrewing journey. They have a wealth of knowledge they will happily share, don't be intimidated, ask them all your questions even if you think they'll reveal that you're new to brewing. You can even bring them your homebrew and they will provide feedback. The local shop can put you in touch with local homebrew clubs if you're not sure where to look. So don't worry about saving a buck ordering online, support the local shop and get to know folks in your homebrewing community if you really want to learn more and make great beer!  

BONUS) For the new homebrewer, these are the best books to have on the shelf for brewing information and recipes.

Best source for general homebrewing knowledge: How to Brew by John Palmer (I realize it appears that the full book is online, I even posted links to it above, but the updated paper version has significantly more, and newer, information. Just buy it!)

Best source for tried and true classic recipes: Brewing Classic Styles by Jamil Zainashef & John Palmer

Best source for exciting, inspiring, and whacky recipes: Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher

There are loads of other books out there, but these are all you'll ever need...that is, unless you decide to go deeper down the homebrewing rabbit hole. It goes as deep as you'd like, trust me, one day maybe you'll be testing to become a BJCP judge! One of the beauties of homebrewing is that there's always more to learn, always ways to improve, and that's not to mention the awesome community of folks who are into homebrewing. It's a hobby that can take you as far as you'd like to go with it.

You will be missed, Griz

The longtime owner of SF Brewcraft and local homebrew legend, Greg "Griz" Miller, recently passed away. After hearing the sad news, I find myself surprised at how moved I am when I think about Griz and the way he touched my life, not to mention the lives of tens of thousands of Bay Area brewers. I'm strongly passionate about homebrewing, I began my homebrewing adventure by getting a starter kit from Griz in 2008. In 2012 I founded the San Francisco Homebrewers Guild (SFHG) and have served as its President for the last two years.

The fact that the SFHG already has over 140 annual dues paying members is, in part, a testament to the success of SF Brewcraft's role in building the local homebrewer community long before I came around to organize it (and that's not to downplay the roles of others in that effort, like craft beer gurus such as Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing or now defunct SF-based homebrew clubs like the Bay Area Brew Crew). Since beginning to homebrew and running the SFHG  I've had the opportunity to interact with Griz many times. He was always incredibly supportive of my brewing, as he was for everyone, and also of the SFHG. He was an eccentric, opinionated guy, who knew homebrewing so well that he famously could write you out a recipe for any style of beer by memory. He was a true character, an irreplaceable personality who touched the lives of many people, lots of whom became passionate homebrewers and some of whom even became professional beer makers.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you Griz, for years and years of passionate dedication to homebrewing, you served as a whacky inspiration to me and to many people I know. The SFHG is making  a plaque that celebrates your memory to present to the guys at SF Brewcraft, but I really wish I'd thought to do that last year. 

Here's the post I wrote up for the SFHG website, in Griz' memory:

The San Francisco homebrewing community lost a legend on September 23rd. On Monday night our friend Greg Miller, better known to all as Griz, owner of SF Brewcraft, passed away in his sleep. Griz was a true character, a gregarious and opinionated guy who forgot more about brewing over the years than most of us will ever know. During his 40+ years in the homebrew supply business many Bay Area brewers, both pros and homebrewers, got their starter brew kit from Griz and learned the basics in his class or from his worksheets. We all owe Griz a debt of gratitude for showing us what true passion for brewing looks like and for infusion mashing the SF homebrew community with his hoppy free spirit. Let’s all raise a glass to Griz tonight and dedicate our next brewing adventure to his memory.

Griz was a brewer-philosopher and he left us not only with many great memories, but with loads of fantastic quotes about how you shouldn’t be “anal retentive” when you brew (a little funnier than the old “don’t worry, relax, have a homebrew” quote, if you ask me), “you can’t brew a lager,” and how it was good and comforting to be connected to a craft that mankind had been undertaking for thousands of years, “but turn off your goddamn cell phone before you start because it’s a creative artistic endeavor…where you can iron yourself out.” For Griz, brewing was therapy, it was his meditation. I believe that many dedicated homebrewers know exactly what he means when he says that.

I don’t know exactly what the first bit of the quote below means, but I get the overall gist and it feels profound only two days after Griz’ passing. I think Griz grabbed and rode exactly the wave he wanted to in his life and he rode it all the way home.

“When the bullshit-choking chain gets pulled, ride that wave all the way to the shore. You only get so many of those in a lifetime. And when you grab it, don’t feel guilty about it. Grab on to it and ride that wave as far as it’ll take ya.” – Griz

Here are some excellent videos of Griz, if you feel like reminiscing or are wondering what sort of dude he was:

The Harvest Moon Beer Dinner at Hillside Supper Club

The Harvest Moon Beer Dinner was excellent! The chef-owners of the Hillside Supper Club, Tony Ferrari and Jonathon Sutton, really knocked it out of the park on the food side and if I can toot my own horn a bit, I'd have to say that the beer pairings were some of the best I'd ever had. I know, I know, I'm biased, but seriously, they were freakin' fantastic! In addition, many of the beers I was able to source for the dinner were quite limited and special, which was a very nice touch and I believe is de rigueur for an $80 dinner.

We ended up selling the dinner out with 50 diners attending. Folks come to events like these for a variety of reasons - to support me, to support the Hillside Supper Club, or because the dinner just plain old sounded good to them when they saw the menu (which you can view below). But ultimately,  the proof is in the pairings. We had to give them something that would be better than their already high expectations! Here are some of the tricks I used in addition to the fact that I generally thought the pairings were spot on:

1) A very sour tart beer as an amuse bouche pairing is something I'd never seen before, I thought it was entirely appropriate to serve that super rare Cask 200 sour with only a small bite so folks would really be able to taste it. That said, the bourboned pluots really took the tart nature of the beer down a notch for those who weren't used to sour beer. Cask 200 was the most exciting beer in the lineup, so it was a great way to get folks excited right off the bat. I wasn't worried about setting the bar high immediately because I knew the pairings coming up were going to knock their socks off, too.

2) I used  Anchor Brewing BigLeaf Maple amber for one of the beer pairings in order to make the point that you don't need a rare and expensive beer to do a fabulous pairing. I love that beer, it's gorgeous and it's available at the local grocery store (at least in SF). I pointed out to our guests that  there are amazing beers to be found on the shelves at everyday shops and encouraged them to try  pairing them at home with dinner any night of the week.

3) I served a barleywine with the main course, rather than with dessert as is commonly done. The Almanac Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine is an amazing and intensely flavorful beer, right there on the flavor level of rich saucy short ribs. Not only that, but it has an enormous amount of alcohol presence (12%). When the beer is consumed by itself, the spicy alcohol can prove  distracting for some folks, but when drunk along with rich meat, the alcohol is hardly noticeable, it  becomes the perfect palate cleanser!

4) Of course, the TCHO chocolate cake with pork fat frosting, smoked cream, and chocolate mint leaves paired with the Vanilla Joe was an obvious, yet utterly divine, pairing. It was a bonus that this beer so was so fresh that the coffee and vanilla had literally soaked in it just two days prior to the dinner. The vanilla, espresso, and dark chocolate aromas were just bursting from it! Pairing this relatively dry beer with a rich cake helped make it a great pairing.

I started things out by welcoming everyone and introducing myself, the chefs, and the servers. Then, as service for each course was under way, I would get everyone's attention and tell them about the dish being served, the beer being paired with it, and what to taste for in that pairing. After speaking, I was able to observe the crowd and look for their reactions to the dishes and even catch the occasional bit of conversation. What I saw over and over were folks taking a bite and a sip, looking at each other, and then nodding their heads enthusiastically! By the final two courses, the crowd applauded after I told them about the dish and the beer, before they even got to taste it! The sustained applause at the end when I thanked everyone for coming and brought the chefs out nearly made my heart leap out of my chest! One only gets to experience the feeling of making a bunch of people really happy on the rare occasion, it's a really special feeling!

So, to put it simply, my first beer pairing dinner was a great success. I could not have been more pleased with the results. An enormous amount of credit for the success of the dinner goes to Jonathon Sutton and Tony Ferrari, the chef-owners at Hillside Supper Club, who really delivered with amazing dishes. In addition, Austin Ferrari and Steve Rosemire are servers who could serve at a Michelin star restaurant (in fact, Austin has served at Chez Panisse). I can't recommend more strongly that everyone in San Francisco go to dinner or brunch at the Hillside Supper Club. They're just killing it over there on food, service, and atmosphere. Frankly, after eating there my first time, I knew it would be the perfect place for this beer dinner and that's why I approached them about doing it. And by the way, I put together their beer menu.

Check out the menu and some photos from the dinner: 

 Copyright © Chris Cohen. All rights reserved.  
Made in San Francisco, CA