Photo: Joachim Rode

“Beer is polytechnology”

Friday 19 May 17

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Preben Bøje Hansen
Food technologist
National Food Institute
+45 45 25 75 17

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about brewing and DTU Brewery: 'Beer is really just a by-product'.
DTU Brewery’s founder—Preben Bøje Hansen—is 61 and still busy developing the noble art of beer brewing.

Brewing beer is not for the faint-hearted—especially at DTU Brewery—where most of the process is done by hand and is constantly being refined and used in teaching. Kilos of grain are lugged about in large tubs. For six hours straight, equipment is hosed down and fluids are tapped and weighed, while the phone rings incessantly and people come and go throughout the day.

At the centre of it all is the ever-calm, smiling, and congenial Preben Bøje Hansen—a man always ready to solve any technical challenges that may arise. No wonder he has become a popular practical supervisor on student projects.

It all began as a hobby. Preben was a food technologist at what was then the BioCentrum and tried his hand at making beer and wine. In the basement beneath the department, he found the different pieces he needed for beer brewing. He was allowed to haul the equipment upstairs, and together with a student, he formed a brewing club. Five years ago, however, the club was upgraded to a teaching laboratory.

“At a Christmas lunch, I sat next to then Provost Henrik Wegener (now Rector of the University of Copenhagen). The conversation turned to beer brewing, and I told him that I thought it would be a good idea to use the brewery as a teaching platform. Beer is a polytechnology,” says Preben.

Wegener liked the idea, so the brewery went from small pots to large vats and DTU Brewery became a reality. Here, three-week courses are now held—bachelor students doing final projects, with particularly interested students helping out to gain experience that can pave the way for a master brewer degree—with Preben in the role of patient, knowledgeable teacher. The students brew beer while learning about the chemical processes that transform grains into a tasty beverage.

Photo: Joachim Rode

From chef to brewer

At a young age, Preben worked as bus boy, dishwasher and later apprentice chef in his aunt’s restaurant—Gyngehesten—at the world’s oldest amusement park, Bakken. School was not really his cup of tea—the teachers were all mindless hippies, as he puts it, and mostly let him do his own thing.

“I was really good at backgammon and chess, but my school grades were mediocre at best.”

While still in year 10, he trained as an apprentice chef in Oscar Pedersen’s restaurant De Syv Små Hjem: “I thought I might as well skip the last six months,” he explains. Here, he was often seen flambéing Crêpes Suzettes at the tables.

“I was a dab hand at flambéing and getting the perfect crispy pancake finish—every time. The tips were good,” he remembers.

He is quite happy cooking while others watch—the same goes for brewing. Preben is clearly in his element when talking about the complex brewing process and everything that can be done to improve it.

Strong man

"If you hired five people to follow Preben around, you’d soon have enough project ideas for an entire group."
Jes Hedensted, DTU student

His chef career came to an abrupt end when Preben got shellfish eczema, which ate away at the skin on both hands. When he recovered, he landed a job at Bing & Grøndahl, working the ovens and shifting tons of porcelain over the next ten years. But the industry gradually slowed, and he joined a civil engineering crew.

“I started as shovel driver. When you can show that you can shovel concrete all day, you’re hired. I was strong and I liked working outdoors and seeing buildings through from start to finish”, says Preben, recalling, among others, the Maersk building on Copenhagen’s Amaliegade.

But there were also quiet winter periods which Preben used to acquire more knowledge. He took courses and trained as a sewer contractor, an installer, and worked in levelling and depositing—took evening classes to improve his English and began studying physics and chemistry. And when the building crisis took hold, he switched careers once more, training to become a food technologist—initially as an apprentice and subsequently securing full-time employment at DTU. Here, he has also just completed training as a safety officer and availed himself of the University’s single-course scheme to learn about fermentation. He is currently teaching himself 3D drawing.

Preben has certainly made up for lost time on the education front. He is not content with knowing how to cook a meatball ball or brew a lager. He wants to master the processes and use his understanding to improve them.

Photo: Joachim Rode
The masher with Preben's specially developed filters, where grain is pumped around so taste, sugar, and proteins are extracted into the water. Photo: Joachim Rode.

Inventor

As an offshoot of the brewery enterprise he shares with a colleague at DTU Food—MSc Eng Peter Stubbe—Preben turned to 3D drawing because he has developed a machine that can press more liquid out of mashed grains than any other. A veritable goldmine of fibre and protein, the liquid is an ideal ingredient in bread, sausages, meat balls, and as an additive in curdled milk and yogurt—and Preben has indeed secured interest from Danish food company, Løgismose Meyers.

The pressed residual grain can be used like other whole grain—or transformed into a vegan burger:

“It's all about creating a ‘mince binder’. You add some vegetables that still have a little texture and then you easily have a friable surface. I think this is a viable product,” says the former chef.

The ideas almost pour out of him, and many of them are in the process of being realized in his newly started company Dacofi—a name derived from the words Danish, compact, and filtration.

Business is brisk and Preben soon hopes to hire a couple of employees and inject capital from the Green Conversion Fund and a UK foundation investing in green energy.

“But it’s not money that ends up in my wallet. I’m not in it for the money—my requirements are minimal,” says Preben. He lives all the year round in a colony garden in Herlev, Denmark, in a house he built himself and in which he installed a sewer system.

“I’ve owned a big house with a large plot, but I spent all my time cleaning—and that’s just not me,” he smiles. So the villa was swapped for an apartment, which for most of the year is lent out to one of his children.

Preben has a fair bit of time off in lieu because of the long-term shifts at the draft beer dispenser, so he spends several weeks of spring in a small town in the middle of Italy where he has a house—a great place on top of a mountain surrounded by wild herbs and hops. He has also made the house ship-shape and installed a hanging terrace, where he can enjoy the view while cooking.

When the building is completed, it will be used as an exchange home so that he and his wife can travel to New Zealand without having to stay in a hotel—being confined to a small room for more than three days spells doom for a man as active as Preben.

And as if that was not enough, he also has his eye on a place in Bangkok, where he can build a house boat. “I want a place that’s warm and comfortable for when I get old. I’m planning to be around for at least another 20 years,” he smiles.

Photo: Joachim Rode

Behind the scenes, one of his apprentices is ready to take over the job as brewer—well-versed in the art of brewing, safety, and hygiene. The lines of delineation are blurred in Preben’s on-the-job training, as time is a resource not to be wasted.

However, a new brewer at the helm is not on the cards any time soon. Preben still has lots of ideas—ranging from gluten-free beer brewed from seaweed and oats, and sustainable beer brewed from grain instead of malt—to improvements to the filter press and a great deal more. The man never stands still.

As one of his apprentices, Jes Hedensted, puts it:

“If you hired five people to follow Preben around, you’d soon have enough project ideas for an entire group.”

CV

 Photo: Joachim Rode   Preben Bøje Hansen is 61 and for most of the year lives with his wife in an allotment house house in Herlev, Denmark. Together, they have six children and nine grandchildren aged between four and 23.

2015: Food technologist at DTU Food

2014: Creates the company Dacofi on the basis of a patented filter technology

2013: Full-time brewer and practical supervisor at DTU Brewery

2008: Sets up brewery club at DTU

1996: Employed as a food technologist at DTU Systems Biology

1995: Apprentice at DTU Systems Biology

1993: Food technologist from the Danish Meat Trade College, Roskilde, Denmark

1988–93: Civil engineering crew

1979-88: Bing & Grøndahl

1977: Trained as a chef at the restaurant 7 Små Hjem


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