An Interview with Brewer Dan Morey

by Brad Smith on January 13, 2010 · 2 comments

This week we we feature an interview with brewer Dan Morey. Dan is the originator of the “Morey equation” for estimating beer color, which is used by BeerSmith and other packages. Dan is also an active brewer in the Midwest, regular competitor and organizer for this year’s Babble Brew-off. Thanks again to Dan for taking the time to do this interview.

How did you get into brewing beer at home?

Dan Morey and Friend

I got started in homebrewing back in 1992. Prior to homebrewing, I had an interest in better beer. In college, I was drinking the likes of Orval, Young’s Old Nick, Samuel Smith Taddy Porter, Anchor Libery Ale, and Lindemans. There was plenty of Huber Bock too, those bottles can in handy later! With plenty of family in Wisconsin, instead of heading south for spring break, I would round up some friends end head north on brewery tours. After a couple of years of tours, I decided it was time to give homebrewing a try. How hard could it be?

My first batch was a lager kit, one of those kits in a 3.3 lb can. The yeast was questionable and it was half sugar. The result? Well it was drinkable. Not bad, not great. But extract brewing wasn’t for me. I felt like I was making orange juice from a can of concentrate. Don’t get me wrong, this hobby is about fun. So whether you are extract, partial mash, or all-grain, keep what you are doing as long as you are having fun. So back to the story. I’d been on several brewery tours and considered myself an above average cook so I took the all-grain plunge. Who needs books anyways? Well my first all grain batch was 100% black patent ground to a flour! Needless to say it didn’t work. That’s when I decided to get some books and read how it was really done. The first books I had were Papazian’s New Complete Joy and Byron Burch’s Brewing Quality Beers. It took about a year, but I finally started making some decent all-grain beers. I’ve been brewing ever since.

You are famous for the “Morey Equation” for estimating beer color. How did you come up with the equation?

I got to admit, I was shocked when I found out “real” brewing software was using the “Morey Equation.” At the time was writing my own brewing software. The original version was in Quick Basic and was really limited. I decided wanted something that was executable and had editable databases, so I went to work on transferring it to Turbo Pascal. One area I was really unhappy with was color estimation. By using just the MCU value I felt my beers were usually lighter than the prediction.

So, Ray Daniels’ article in the NOV/DEC 1995 Brewing Techniques caught my attention. At first, I was going to use the three linear approximations: MCU for the low range, Daniels in the middle range and Mosher at the higher end. But the idea did not apeal to me. I didn’t like the ideas of discontinuity in the curve. So I decided to manipulate the data, so see if I could fit a single curve that approximate the “Z” shaped curve from the assumptions I made. Turn out I was able to get good correlation, so I wrote Brewing Techniques. My hope was that either Ray or Randy would apply the same form of curve to the raw data they used to develop their linear models. Brewing Techniques then contacted me. Turns out there was a lot of interest this series of articles and they wanted to establish a web depository for all the related responses and they wanted to include my work.

I never really thought it would become so widely accepted. I think a lot of it was due to Jeffery Donovan having good correlation between the model and the beers he measured. While the formula was being debated on the HBD, Kyle Druey fit power curves to the color tables published by Daniels and Noonan. The curve fit for Daniels’ is very similar to the approximation I proposed. The fit to Noonan’s rose more quickly and started to taper fairly quickly at 15 MCU. Attached is paper I wrote for my club BABBLE, when they asked me to talk about color.

You wrote a bit for Brewing Techniqies and Zymurgy magazines. How did you get started writing about home brewing?

Actually, I only had the one letter to the editor that was published by Brewing Techniques. I have contributed two articles in Zymurgy. “Maximize your Mash” and “Beyond Barley Wine” both which appeared in 2005. What I enjoyed about writing is it driven some goal I have had in homebrewing. Whether it is studying a topic in depth or conducting a series of expirements. Regardless if the story is for publication or some presentation, it give a focus to the task. For example, the goal behind “Beyond Barley Wine” was to really understand: wheat, rye, and oats. As a judge I find there are still misconceptions concerning wheat and rye among judges and brewers.

So I set out to brew huge beers from 100% malt other than barley so there would be no mistaking the contribution of wheat, rye, or oats. It was one of the funnest projects I ever did. I couldn’t quite pull of the rye, I believe I ended up at 86%, but I did achieve 100% with both wheat and oats. I did my own evaluations and also entered the beers in competitions to get independent feedback so that I could describe the character of these malts. Besides describing the malts, I wanted to give tips on how to brew with them. The oat beer was just cool and it got the best comment ever, “Experiments like this is why people should homebrew!” One project I planned was writing an article on saisons. Turns out Drew Beechum thought so too and beat me to it. But it still drove my brewing schedule for that year – to brew a sasion for every season. One thing I’d still like to try is some simple home test to estimate AA% of homegrown hops. Perhaps titrated acid or pH of hop tea could reveal a correlation. I guess if I had to some it up in on word it would be Passion.

I see that you are a regular beer competitor – do you have any advice for fellow brewers who wish to compete?

Aside from good basic cleaning and sanitation, know where you are going and determine how to get there. Rarely is there a beer you just through together with random ingredients that is a winning beer. It maybe excellent and interesting, but most categories are about meeting styles. Volunteer and local events. Get to know the judges. Talk to them about beer styles you are interested in. I’ve judges many competitions from regional to national including a few NHC 2nd rounds.

One thing is clear, there are regional preferences and local preferences. So if you understand the preferences of the region, your chances of winning are better. Perhaps one location prefers a certain hop character. Maybe there is yeast preference. Do saisons win more often or Belgian pale ales. These are thing you can learn by volunteering. Pick styles you are interested in that maybe less popular. If there are several tables of stouts with a mini-BOS and only one table of porter, you probably have a better chance with porters. Finally continually improve your technique. Look for common threads in your feedback. This should point to real opportunity to improve.

You are the organizer for this year’s Babble Brew-Off. Can you tell us about the upcoming competition?

This is our seventh year doing the Brew-Off. It started out in 2004 as the Leap Beer Brew-Off. In non-leap years, we just use the name BABBLE Brew-Off. We have grown from 126 entries in our first year to averaging over 220 the last four years. Entries come from across the nation and we’ve had international entries. For 2010 we are planning on 31 flights and estimate we’ll have 251 entries. There will be seperate Best of Shows for Beer and Mead/Cider. We are fortunate to be able to draw many excellent judges from the Chicago area up through Milwaukee.

This gives a large pool of judges with several National and Master judges available. Some notable judges we have had: Jeff Sparrow, Joe Formanek, Dave Norton, and Rodney Kibzey. What is also great is the number of excellent brewers who compete in this event. Again the like of Formanek, Kibzey, Michael Shannon, and Dan Schlosser provide excellent competition, it is no easy feet winning. Some of the things we try to do:

  • Get the best judges we can and return results within a week.
  • Besides judging feedback, we try to make sure every entrant is given something donated by our sponsors. Some examples of what we have given out are: yeast, hops, and cleaning chemicals. It is our way of saying thank you.
  • We try to make sure each flight winner recieves a prize beyond their ribbon.
  • We have an Entrant Appreciation Drawing. One participant will recieve a special prize just for entering. Each entry qualifies you, so the more you enter, the better chances of winning. It is another way of saying thank you.

For more information see the BABBLE website (Editors Note: BeerSmith is sponsoring Babble prizes this year)

The Babble Brew-off is part of the Midwest Homebrewer of the Year Circuit – can you tell us how this circuit works?

We joined the Midwest Homebrewer of the Year Circuit back in 2006. Eligible brewers from the following states are awarded points based on their place of finish: Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas. The winner must enter at least 10 different BJCP categories during the yeasr and enter at least four different contests. Only the highest placing beer per category give the brewer points. First place is 8, 4 pint for second, and third place is awarded 2 points. So if someone one second place for a Belgian blond ale, they would be awarded 4 points. If later they one first place for a dubbel, they would get 8 points, but the 4 points for the previous blond would be dropped since they are both category 18.

Finally, they take the raw score (sum of all the highest category points) and multiply that by the winning percentage. So while the 4 points for the blond would have been dropped, the ribbon would count towards winning percentage. Basically the contest is set-up to encourgare brewers to brew a wide variety of styles and it discourages flooding competitions by using the winning percentage. It also limits the impact of someone have one killer beer and continually re-entering it to rack-up points. In the end, the overall winner is awarded a trophy and gift certificate from Northern Brewer. Some notable winners of MWHBoY are: Ray Daniels, Joe Formanek, Curt Stock and Kris England.

Beer brewing has changed a lot since you and I started brewing beer. What advice would you have for today’s brewers to make great beer?

Good question. The basic and simple answer is good cleaning and sanitation practices. But this has always been true. One of the biggest changes has been equipment. Seems like HERM and RIM systems abound today. A lot of brewers are paying good money for fancy mash system and I just don’t get it. I’d like one, but that is not the first place I’d invest a large chunk on money if I wanted to brew better beer. I mean I know people who have dropped $3-5K on these systems.

There is great beer made from all different kinds of wort from 100% extract, to partial mash, and all grain. What I recommend, when you are ready for a big purchase, invest in temperature control of you fermenters. Get a frig or freezer with a temperature controller, a brew belt, or a heated and cooled conical. By controlling the temperature of your fermentation you can do more to affect the quality of the final product. Hit the correct ester profile, get the right attenuation, limit fusels, have repeatable results. The best made wort may not make the best beer when fermentation is all over the place. Focus you efforts on fermentation before worrying about wort.

Why do you brew?

It’s flat out fun! I’ve been playing around with different suagrs lately. I was assigned the dark soft candi on team golden strong when the BBB did the candi sugar swap. I have taken that same basic Belgian golden strong and brewed it several times changing the specialty sugar for each batch. Besides the dark soft candi, I’ve used regular table sugar, date syrup, grape molasses, and maple syrup. There is such anticipation each time you open that new beer. What awaits you? Is it something wonderful? The mystery is waiting to be solved, just open the tap. Homebrewing is an artistic outlet. Some people paint, others make music or perform, even other may work with hot molten glass or sculpt. While they inspire and bring enjoyment, I know no other art that embraces all the senses like beer. I make beer!

Do you have anything you would like to add?

I’m sure I’ve gone too long. I do have a page on MoreBeer Buzz were I try to keep anything that I think might be interesting or useful to homebrewers:

Once again I would like to thank Dan Morey for taking the time to do today’s interview. Thank you for joining us on the BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog. Please don’t hesitate to subscribe, twitter or bookmark us if you enjoyed this article.

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