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Monday, September 25, 2023

Consistency is brewing in Ireland

S.W. and Rich Hermansen
Guest Writers

With the deadline for this column set for St. Patrick’s Day, we thought it a good idea to feature great Irish wines. That folly led to the shortest wine column in history. The Irish describe the climate in Ireland as wet, cloudy, and cool, almost the opposite of an ideal climate for fine wine grapes. Only a couple of vineyards plant them. Fruit and berry wines, and mead of Beowulf fame, top the Irish wine sales charts. Saying that Ireland is not known as a major wine producer would be an understatement. Wineries in Ireland produce only a small fraction of wine produced in the State of Missouri. Needless to say, domestic beer and ale production in Ireland dwarfs wine production.

We have enjoyed Irish beer on St. Paddy’s Day in Boston; nonetheless, our expertise in Irish beer and ale does not match up well against any random guy in any one of the thousands of Irish pubs that thrive in every city of any size in the USA. We recognize the consistent quality of Harp Lager and Guinness Draught Stout. Especially in the case of Guinness, one of its brewers pioneered industrial quality control, efficient experimental design, and statistical significance while working as an experimental brewer. William S. Gosset had an unusual background for a brewer in that he had studied mathematics and natural sciences and graduated from Oxford in 1899. Guinness was enjoying success as a company using science to maintain a consistent product and was hiring graduates of prestigious colleges to contribute to its growth. Gosset not only contributed to Guinness’ success, he also developed statistical methods on the forefront of the emerging discipline of statistics. But due to Guinness’ concern about giving away its trade secrets to its competitors in the brewing industry, Gosset published his important work under the pseudonym ‘Student’. Gosset defined the distribution of characteristics of ingredients of draught stout, or small samples in the range of thirty of anything for that matter. The distribution function that he discovered became widely known as the Student’s t distribution.

More than a century later, Irish wine production falls below the cut-off for lists of countries that produce wines, but the methods of quality control developed at Guinness have spread among winemakers across the globe. A winemaker will select at random, say, thirty barrels of a wine and measure a characteristic, say alcohol by volume, in each. The Student’s t distribution, for example, supports estimates of the chance of alcohol percent exceeding specific limits. Guinness remains the best-selling Irish beer. We can raise a glass to the memory of Gosset for his contributions to the quality of wine as well as beer.

S. W. Hermansen has used his expertise in econometrics, data science and epidemiology to help develop research databases for the Pentagon, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Agriculture, and Health Resources and Services. He has visited premier vineyards and taste wines from major appellations in California, Oregon, New York State, and internationally from Tuscany and the Piedmont in Italy, the Ribera del Duero in Spain, the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale in Australia, and the Otego Valley in New Zealand. Currently he splits time between residences in Chevy Chase, Maryland and St. Armand’s Circle in Florida.

Rich Hermansen selected has first wine list for a restaurant shortly after graduating from college with a degree in Mathematics. He has extensive service and management experience in the food and wine industry. Family and friends rate him as their favorite chef, bartender, and wine steward. He lives in Severna Park, Maryland.

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