For the past several months I have been semi-secretly working out the details of an educational collaboration with Rob Shellman at the Better Beer Society. I’ve worked with Rob on past events, most recently hosting the fall semester of Better Beer Society University at Republic 7 Corners. This new project stems from our desire to see the education that happens at Minnesota beer festivals achieve the same level of quality as the festivals themselves.
With that in mind, A Perfect Pint and Better Beer Society are excited to announce the “Alliance for Beer Education (ABE)”, a new joint project aimed at providing quality education programs for Minnesota’s beer festivals.
The increased attention to craft beer in the media has brought with it a blossoming of enthusiasm among consumers. New palates are being brought into the fold every day, many of them at beer festivals that happen through the year. Educating these new consumers has never been more important.
Rob and I are both Certified Cicerones® with a combined 11 years’ experience as beer educators. Our credits include the Better Beer Society University, BBS Brown Bag Blind Tastings, The University of Minnesota Department of Continuing Education, Cooks of Crocus Hill, Kitchen Window, and Betty Crocker, as well as countless corporate and private events.
Minnesota’s beer festivals are second to none, and we applaud festival organizers for incorporating education into their events. We look forward to bringing our passion and high level of commitment to beer education tents statewide, beginning with the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild’s Winterfest.
If you are going to Winterfest, please do check out the great programming at the education area. We’ve got some fantastic speakers lined up to cover some really interesting topics.
7:15: Michael Agnew & Rob Shellman – Beer Basics Where do beer styles come from? How do I get the fullest taste experience from beer? What kind of flavors am I looking for and where do they come from? Is there a right way to serve beer? Rob and I will lay out the basics to help you get the best enjoyment from every beer you sample at the fest. 7:45: Josh Havill – The Mighty Hop Josh Havill is an Undergraduate Research Assistant at University of Minnesota, working primarily on the University’s hop research program. He’ll be outlining the utilization, history, and botany of hops, as well as discussing the U’s research on hop growing in the Midwest. 8:15: Gary Muehlbauer – How Beer Saved the World Gary J. Muehlbauer is a Distinguished McKnight University Professor and Department Head in the Department of Plant Biology at the University of Minnesota. He will be discussing the history of barley and relating it to the Discovery Channel documentary How Beer Saved the World about all the good that beer has brought, from the birth of civilization to the development of automated manufacturing. 8:45: Michael Wagner – “The art of selecting: Choosing the right beer for you” Michael is the Manager of Strategic Imbibing a the Four Firkins Specialty Beer Store in St. Louis Park. The world of craft beer can get a bit overwhelming with new choices arriving on local shelves literally every day. Michael will discuss the trends and changing tides of taste preferences. He’ll dispel some myths and discuss how he goes about curating choices specifically for individual people at the Four Firkins. When it comes down to it you should drink what YOU like.
An educated beer drinker is a better beer drinker, and we look forward to expanding your palate and understanding of the world’s finest beverage.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Barbara Degnan, mind the international director of sales for the Paulaner brewery in Munich. Paulaner is also the brewer of the Hacker-Pschorr brand. Over a delightful breakfast at The Freehouse she filled me in on some of the things Paulaner has been up to, thumb including the release of four new-to-the-US beers.
Like so many breweries in the United States, viagra Paulaner is having a hard time keeping up with demand. Work on a new and larger brewery in Munich is nearly complete. It was important that the brewery be situated within the city limits so that the beer could still be served at Oktoberfest. The new brewery is a testament to the importance of water in the brewing process. Paulaner is laying pipe beneath the streets of Munich to bring water from the old location to the new. This might say something about the importance of beer to the Bavarians as well.
Import brands are also not immune to the vagaries of the current US beer market. Just like with American brewers, constant innovation is a must to keep brands front and center in the minds of consumers. With this in mind, Paulaner is bringing in four new, limited-release, Hacker-Pschorr brands spread seasonally through the year. Only 320 kegs of each will be available nationwide. Packaged beer will come in eye-catching, half-liter, swing-top bottles. While these beers aren’t new to the brewery, they are new to the US. The first, Hubertus Bock will be available in March. This will be followed by Sternweisse, Festbier, and Animator Doppelbock.
Hubertus Bock is a blond bock beer that comes in at 6.3% ABV. It’s described by the brewery as having a “robust maltiness, and a well-balanced, slightly sweet hoppy finish.” Sternweisse – which translates as “wheat star” – is a full-bodied, unfiltered, hefeweizen that is a bit darker than the well known Hacker-Pschorr wheat. I had the opportunity to sample both.
Aroma: Bread and lightly toasted bread crust come even before I raise the glass to my nose. Malt dominates, but spicy hops nearly balance – licorice, mint, lemon, hints of currant and cat. Brisk and refreshing.
Appearance: Deep gold and brilliantly clear. Full head of just off-white foam. Excellent retention. Falls slowly into a dense, creamy cap.
Flavor: Like the aroma, malt is on top. Rich, with medium-low sweetness. Bread and light bread-crust flavors. Hints of honey. Hops bring spicy edge of black pepper, with undertones of blackberry. Bitterness is medium to medium-high and is accentuated by the high degree of attenuation. Finishes dry and crisp. Some alcohol is noticeable and lingers into finish along with honeyed bread and spices.
Mouthfeel: Medium-full body. Mouth filling. Warming. Medium carbonation. Creamy.
Overall Impression: Big, but still delicate. Has the feel of a beer slightly bigger than its 6.3% ABV, and yet remains light and refreshing. This would be equally at home with roasted game hens or honey-dripping baklava. Why is my bottle empty?!!?
Aroma: Sharp, wheaty malt. Orange/lemony citrus acidity. Yeast. Bread dough. Banana and clove yeast character is subtle overall, but leans more to the spicy than the fruity. Light floral hops.
Appearance: Medium amber/orange. Nearly to dunkelweizen darkness. Quite cloudy. Opaque. Full stand of mousse-like, off white foam. Excellent retention.
Flavor: Flavor follows on the aroma. Bread crust carries over and is delightfully prominent. Subtle caramel. Yeast character is again subtle and leans to clove and spice, with banana in a supporting role. Bright, lemony acidity grabs the middle of the tongue and stays into the finish. Bitterness is medium-low, but high attenuation gives the beer a sharpness. Refreshing and crisp. Finish is very dry and lingers on lemon, wheat, and clove.
Mouthfeel: Medium to medium-light body. Pillowy and mouth filling. Some puckering acidity. Very high carbonation – effervescent.
Overall Impression: Outstanding! Delightful, citrusy wheat. I love the bright, lemony overtones. This falls somewhere between a hefeweizen and a dunkelweizen. Nice summer patio beer, but enough dark depth to be pretty darn good on a winter evening as well. Wish I had another bottle.
There is a lot of excitement right now around the multiplication of new Minnesota breweries. They are coming so fast and furious that I am having trouble even going to check them out. The Freehouse opened just a short while ago on Washington Avenue. I haven’t yet been to Sociable Cider Works, which started pouring at just about the same time. I still haven’t made it out to Victoria to see the guys at Enki, despite the fact that they have been open for some time. Burning Brothers will start putting their gluten-free beers on the street any day now.
Day Block Brewing Company will open its doors on Monday, January 27th at 3pm. Day Block managed to snag Paul Johnston, formerly of Harriet Brewing and Lucid Brewing, as head brewer. I was under the impression that Paul had left the Twin Cities for opportunities elsewhere. I was happy to learn that he was still in town. Joe Williams from Punch Pizza is running things in the kitchen. He’s responsible for Day Block’s small but intriguing menu of specialty pizzas.
I attended a soft opening last night and had the opportunity to sample the beers and taste a pizza. The crew is working extensively with local hop growers to source ingredients for the beer. Hippity Hop Pale Ale is made with organic Cascade hops from Hippity Hop Farms in Forest Lake, Minnesota. Northern Discovery IPA uses rare Northern Discovery hops grown only on a mysterious, unnamed farm in Wisconsin. My only beef with these beers is that they needed more hops, an unusual thing for me to say given my preference for malty beers. I was told that this was because the brewery hadn’t received their full allotment of hops. That’s fine, but why Paul didn’t adjust the recipes to account for this, I don’t know. I look forward to trying future versions of these beers.
My favorite was Frank’s Red Ale, a malt-forward American amber ale. The caramel malt was nicely balanced by moderate bitterness and light citrusy hop flavors. I also liked the Day Block Porter – a little roasty, a little chocolaty, with some nice earthy and spicy background hop notes.
I had the Commie pizza (I just liked the name), a cheeseless pie with bratwurst, kimchi, and hoisin sauce. It was tasty, but the kimchi could have used a bit more zip. They said that they are still working out the kimchi recipe. The Banh Mizza was highly recommended by several people in attendance. It’s kind of a pizza version of the Vietnamese pork Banh Mi sandwich. All of Day Block’s specialty pizzas are very unique. It was difficult to choose.
Out of State Breweries
It’s not only Minnesota breweries that are causing a buzz. There are also new and exciting brands coming in from out-of-state. Oscar Blues from Lyons, Colorado debuts today at the Beer Dabbler Winterfest. Destihl Brewery from Bloomington, Illinois celebrates its Minnesota launch on Tuesday. I am particularly excited about the latter.
Destihl started as two, upscale-concept brewpubs; one in Normal, Illinois and one in Champaign. I visited both while researching my upcoming Perfect Pint’s Beer Guide to the Heartland. I was impressed by the sleek and elegant décor, the stepped-up variations on standard brewpub fare, and the well-crafted beers. Last year Destihl built a 25-barrel production facility in Bloomington that enabled them to package beer for distribution.
Destihl is especially and deservedly recognized for its St. Dekkera Reserve line of sour beers. These tart and funky creations are spontaneously fermented, unblended, single-barrel brews that stay in oak barrels from one to three years. They have won numerous medals from the Festival of Barrel Aged Beers, The World Beer Championship, and the Great American Beer Festival. I’ve had the opportunity to sample several in the line and they are good.
Destihl beers will initially be available only on draft in Twin Cities market. Sixpack cans will follow soon. St. Dekkera sours and other specialty brews will see sporadic availability, but they will be worth watching for. Destihl’s launch event is happening this Tuesday, January 28th at Smalley’s Caribbean Barbeque and Pirate Bar in Stillwater. I chatted with Destihl brewmaster Matt Potts at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival.
Blended beer drinks have been around forever. The American colonists did it. The Brits do it. Even the purist Germans do it. One such blend of stout with hefeweizen is sometimes called Cream of Wheat. Shandy makers Traveler Beer Co. are recommending a twist on this drink – a blend of Irish stout and shandy. In particular, for Valentine’s Day they are pushing what they are calling a Chocolate Covered Strawberry – a blend of Irish stout with their Time Traveler strawberry shandy.
Like a black and tan, the lighter stout floats on top of the denser shandy, creating that black over gold layering. The mix of sturdy, wheat-beer foam with creamy, nitro-stout foam gives it a head that just won’t quit. And who doesn’t love chocolate covered strawberries?
I gave it a whirl. Here’s my notes.
Chocolate Covered Strawberry The Traveler Beer Co., Burlington, Vermont
Style: Black & Tan made with dry stout and strawberry shandy
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle & 16 oz. can
Aroma: The strawberry very much dominates. Low, wheaty grain. Faint notes of coffee roast. Don’t see how it can be so low since the stout is floating on top, but there it is.
Appearance: Full stand of creamy, white foam. Nitro-foam cascade halfway down the glass. Excellent retention. Top layer is black and opaque – appears clear. Bottom layer is pale straw and quite cloudy.
Flavor: Strawberry fruit hits first with a bit of dry roast coming a second later. The roast gradually takes over from the strawberry with a dry bite at the top of the mouth, but that strawberry is very persistent. Bitterness is medium-low, coming mostly from the stout. The stout’s dry, bitter roastiness emphasizes and clashes with a tart acidity in the shandy. Other impressions include bitter chocolate, acrid black-malt roast, low wheat malt, and Lemon. Finish lingers on chocolate and strawberry.
Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium-high carbonation. Acidity grabs at and dries out the tongue.
Overall Impression: I don’t mind either the stout or the shandy by themselves. Together they are a bit of a sledgehammer of flavors. Mostly a murky mish-mash. The promo material from Traveler recommends a 50/50 split of Time Traveler shandy with a dry, Irish stout. I recommend something more like a 70/30 stout to shandy ratio. The strawberry is much subtler, making the chocolate/strawberry effect clearer. This was interesting to try once, but I’m not sure I would do it again. Nor would I necessarily recommend that you do it once. Some things just aren’t meant to be.
On January 2nd, genericmind Pour Decisions Brewing Company and Bent Brewstillery shook the Twin Cities beer scene with the announcement that they had merged. The Pour Decisions brand was gone and the new conglomeration would henceforth be called Bent Brewstillery. Gone too, orderpills it seemed, online were the Pour Decisions beers. The new marketing pushed only Brewstillery brews. I think very few beer drinkers anticipated this development. More than a few were wondering exactly what was going on.
After a more than rocky start, Roseville-based Pour Decisions launched at the State Fair in 2012. They had initially announced their existence on April 1st, 2011, but problems with municipal regulators led to a delay of more than a year before they were actually able to open. Led by multiple-award-winning, St. Paul homebrewers Kristen England and BJ Haun, Pour Decisions specialized in tweaked versions of classic styles, many of which were based on historical recipes gleaned from old brewer’s logs from some of England’s most revered breweries. They were also known for their excellent revivals of nearly extinct styles like Berliner Weiss and Gräzter. Always extraordinarily well-made, the Pour Decisions lineup was perhaps a bit esoteric for the average beer drinker.
Bartley Blume introduced the Twin Cities to his Bent Brewstillery beers at the 2013 St. Paul Summer Beer Fest. He wowed the crowd with Ghostface Fatha, a version of his strong, black ale infused with ghost peppers, the world’s hottest chili pepper. Blume’s beers were brewed under contract by Kristen at Pour Decisions. The contract arrangement was later changed to an alternating proprietorship as Bent Brewstillery became better established. Blume was in the process of adding a still at the brewery for the production of distilled spirits when the merger was announced.
The taproom at the brewery is currently closed for renovation. I’ve seen the new floor-plan and relatively big changes are coming. The taproom area will be expanded with additional tables to allow for more seating. The still will occupy a space at the front of the brewery near the taproom. The plan is to have the taproom open again in March.
I sat down with Blume at the brewery to get the low-down on the merger and the plans for Bent Brewstillery.
You come to the merger with a set of Bent Brewstillery beers that seem to be the focus of your marketing right now. I know there are a lot of fans out there of some of the Pour Decisions beers. I personally think that Patersbier was one of the best beers being made in the state. How many of those beers are going to stick around?
You know, that’s undecided as of right now. Patersbier, yes, is one of the ones that is going to stick around. It will be renamed into something else. That’s something that Kris and I agreed on as far as the name of it. It will be a patersbier; because that is really a style of beer more than it is a name of a beer. So we’re going to come up with a new name for it. It will be branded, of course, under Bent Brewstillery, but it will continue to be made.
That makes me happy.
I’m sure it makes a lot of people happy. I mean, they’ve got a really big fan base for that beer. The last thing we wanted this merger to do was piss off all the fans of Pour Decisions. So were going to definitely keep that one and who knows really what else. But that was the first and foremost decision made was that we’re keeping Patersbier; keeping that same recipe and moving forward with that.
There are others, too. Maroon & Bold will continue to be a seasonal release. It’s another great beer. We’re uncertain about Infidelity at the moment. Uncertain about St. Whatshername. The experimental stuff like that will still continue to go on. I mean a lot of the stuff that Pour Decisions has made in the past has been one-offs, never to be made again. That is the same sort of thing that we’re going to continue to do, unless it turns out to be something that’s really great and that we want to keep around. Then that turns into a year round beer, too.
Some of the sours, like the Berliner weiss?
The sours are staying around. Which ones I’m not sure. One of the things that I want to do is focus a little bit and start making larger batches of some of these great sours so that we can get them out there on shelves. Put them in 750s or even into 22s and get them on liquor store shelves, and bring them to bars and restaurants, and get them out there to more people as opposed to just being able to get it here in the taproom.
Between me and Kris we have so many ideas. The biggest challenge is pairing them down to what we want to do first, second, third and all that. That’s the beauty of having the taproom and someone who is so experienced, like Kris, as the head brewer. We will be able to make all these experimental things and try them out. Put them in the taproom and see how we like them, and then make our decisions based on that. So we’re really leaving a lot of this stuff open for basic development. As we go we’ll just feel it out and fly by the seat of our pants in this regard. That’s what keeps it exciting. It keeps it new. It keeps it fresh. It makes it interesting and keeps everyone happy.
Let me back up. How did you get into this? I don’t mean this merger. I mean this business in general. How did Bent Brewstillery come about?
About six years ago my wife bought me a Mr. Beer kit for Christmas. I brewed my first batch of beer and I was instantly obsessed. Up until then I enjoyed cooking. So I’m used to putting flavors together and that sort of thing. I’m not formally trained or anything, it’s just a natural ability to put different flavors together to make something different. Even my ravioli, it’s poured out of a can, but it doesn’t taste like ravioli out of a can when I’m done with it. I sauté onions and garlic first and dump it on top of that. I throw in rosemary and basil and all these other herbs and spices and make it something completely different. Even something as simple as that has helped fuel my desire to create beer.
After the first couple of batches of cutting the cans open and dumping stuff in I started saying, “It’s got to be harder than this.” So what’s the next harder step? That’s when I went to all-grain. I started doing all-grain batches knowing that this could potentially be preparation for a career. Not that I had made the decision right there, “I’m going to be a brewer.” It was just, why don’t I take the necessary steps that I would do if I were to become a brewer without buying a brewery and everything like that; without spending a huge amount of money.
What were you doing?
My past life? Well, my education is an electrical engineering degree from Auburn University down in Alabama. So with that I worked with NASA for quite a while. I worked with the Department of Veterans Affairs for a while. What brought me to Minnesota was a job at an aerospace company called Aero Systems Engineering. The company builds high-speed, aerodynamic test facilities, like wind tunnels and jet engine test cells. Things like that. So I started with that company as an electrical engineer and from there was promoted to a business development position with the company. I spent the last twelve years of my life as a business development manager for this aerospace and aerodynamics company. So that gave me a lot of the business background that you need to start a business like this and to grow it into what it needs to be; the exposure, the networking, the sales, the marketing, and all that sort of stuff that you need.
Engineering is one of the big three or four careers that brewers come out of.
It is. Yeah. Absolutely. And I can see why. The creativity gets stifled so much in the engineering field. And there are so many engineers who are creative and who want to have an outlet for that creativity. You think of engineers as being 100 percent right brain. A lot of them are. But the ones who have some of the left brain, some of the freedom and creativity, want to do something other than just engineering. And this is a great way to express that, because you’ve got both. You’ve got process control and the creativity in altering that process that changes the flavor of the beer. It really is the perfect segue into this sort of career. So I did that for many years and I just decided about two years ago that I was going to do this. I had done everything that I can do. My recipes are developed to the point that I think they are just right for the public. The only thing left to do besides incorporating, which I had already done, was to find a space and start building out an extremely small…at that time my business plan was to build extremely small brewery slash distillery with a very small taproom.
So how did distilling come into this?
You know, I picked up a book. I read a book. That’s exactly how it started. After that I was hooked. I read a book about it and I saw all the additional complexities to it. I saw so much room for interpretation of that process. I said, “No one is doing this here in this state.” They are all over the east coast and west coast and places like Colorado. There are all these craft distilleries. How come there are none here in Minnesota? So I look at that as another canvas to paint on. The beer canvas has been painted all over. It’s getting harder and harder to find a blank area that hasn’t been painted on already. So I saw this as another way to get out there and be creative and put some more of my ideas into the market and see what other people thought. To me it’s two things that go hand in hand. I mean really, you need a brewery in order to distill. You can’t have a distillery that doesn’t have half of it that’s a brewery. So to me it seemed like two businesses that should always be hand in hand. The scientific-ness of it, the complexity, it was just great. Brewing is cool. Everybody knows brewing is cool. But distilling, that’s sexy.
This is something that I’m not familiar with. I’ve familiarized myself pretty much with the laws around breweries and brewing. What are the legal issues with connecting a brewery and a distillery?
There are no laws against it, except that they are separate spaces. As long as the distillery proper is separated from the brewery proper, that’s really the only legal requirement. How you do that is really up to you and what your TTB (Tax and Trade Bureau) agent approves. My TTB agent approved me having an eight foot high security fence around the distillery. That was the plan here when I was going to build it in the back corner. After several months of talking with the Pour Decisions guys and telling them my woes of finding my own place for a distillery, BJ said, “Why don’t you just build it here?” So I was going to lease a little bit of space, like 500 square feet, and build my distillery back there. And talking with the TTB, as long as it’s separated and lockable, it’s fine. A lot of people read the regulations that say it has to be separated and they automatically assume the worst. They think you have to have a separate entrance, and walls, and all this other stuff. That’s really not the case. As long as it’s separate, it doesn’t have to be a separate building, or a separate door, or a separate entrance, or anything like that. It just has to be separate.
There is a brewery in Iowa that’s in a winery. It shares the space with a winery. It’s separated by a four foot chain link fence.
Exactly. That’s something that I wouldn’t mind doing as well. I would like to have the trifecta. Brewery, distillery, and winery. Why not? There’s no reason why not. What the heck. Make a little bit of everything. I make several ciders that I think are phenomenal. But it’s something that I can’t make as a brewer or distiller.
How did you initially get hooked up with Pour Decisions?
Well, originally my business plan was to have my own tiny little taproom and brewery, and to have another larger company contract brew for me for distribution. What I made on my own little, tiny, 1000-square-foot premises would only serve the taproom. The distilled products of course would be sent out because that’s the Minnesota law right now, they have to be distributed and you can’t serve them at the distillery. So the idea was I would make just enough for the taproom and I would have another brewery make the beer for distribution for bars and restaurants.
Well, I came in here soon after they were opened and started talking with Kris about it. First it was, “No. Not interested.” I come back in a couple days later or the next week. “Nope. Still not interested.” I came in a couple of weeks later and he was like, “You know what? I was talking to BJ about it the other day and he thinks maybe it’s something that might work. But we’d have to talk about all the details. It would have to be financially beneficial to us to take time out of our schedule to brew beer for you.” So that’s when it started.
We started brewing beer and things were going good. We changed to an alternating proprietorship as opposed to contract brewing. And then we had another alternating proprietorship agreement for the distillery. I just got so integrated here. Everything was good. The relationship was good and everything was rolling along pretty well. And then BJ brought up the idea, hey why don’t we merge and become one company? It’s beneficial to both of us. We don’t compete against each other now. And I think I bring a lot to the table that they were looking for. They needed an outside guy, someone to be out there, to do the promotions, and the marketing, and all that sort of stuff.
What went into the decision as to which name to take?
It was an offer on their side for me to come into this and call it Bent Brewstillery. And I agreed. I was looking for my own company. That was the thing. This is what I’m building. This is what I’m creating for my brand, my image, the distillery and all that stuff. I think they knew that was where I was going to go and they felt like it was probably best for them too to bring it not only under the brand of Bent Brewstillery, but also under my leadership. I’m the President of the new-formed – well it’s not really a new-formed company – but of the rolled-into company of Bent Brewstillery. That was another thing that was to everyone’s advantage, to have someone with business acumen become the leader of the company, become the president. Being that I already had my brand and image and everything, to roll it in under my brand just seemed to be the most logical way.
That business acumen an important part of running a brewery that some don’t have.
Very often when you have friends come together – homebrewers who want to make a business – you have to have complementary people, not similar people. You have to have someone who is logistical, someone who can do the day to day operations, and you have to have someone who will do all the other stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with brewing beer. That’s definitely one of the things that’s required in running a business nowadays. And a lot of people don’t understand the fact that a brewery isn’t just a bunch of people running around brewing beer and drinking it up. To tell you the truth, we don’t really drink that much anymore because we’re so busy doing the things that we need to get done in order to run a business. I’ve been asked that question several times, “How is it that you’re just not drunk all the time?” Well, I’m kind of too busy. I’m running a business. To tell you the truth, I’ve cut down quite a bit since all this happened. It’s a good thing, of course. I don’t miss it. I get my chances in every once in a while. There are always functions that you go to and you have a couple of beers. Things like that. But to me this is just so much fun. I’m enjoying the hell out of it, being creative on my side of things and Kris being creative on his side of things. It’s just a blast.
This is always a hard question because I’m asking you to pigeon-hole yourself, but if you could define the overarching concept, or character, or profile of Bent Brewstillery as it is now, what would you say?
There have been several things that have been thrown around. Bent Brewstillery’s central theme has always been defying the classification of normal beers. Everything we make is a bit of a hybrid. Pour Decisions was “Innovating the traditional.” Kris has been brewing a lot of these beers that haven’t been around for years, decades, centuries; bringing some of these things back to life. So how we’re going to put those two things together is something still to be figured out. But one of the things that we like to say is that we are rebels against style. I’ve never like to be pigeon-holed. That is our pigeon-hole, that we’re not pigeon-holed. If that makes any sense.
Both of our current beers, Nordic Blonde and Dark Fatha, are hybrid beers. Somebody with a lot of experience like yourself or Kris could probably take Nordic Blonde [described as a pale ale/blond ale cross] and find a classification for it. But we like to keep it simple and make it easy to explain. Everyone knows what a pale ale is. Everyone knows what a blond ale is. You start getting into some of the more obscure classifications and people don’t really know what you’re talking about. Same for the Dark Fatha, it’s probably classifiable somewhere, but when I first brewed it I didn’t think about classification. I thought about the things I like about certain beers and combined them into what I thought was a good beer. And that’s really all we’re interested in doing is making good, drinkable beer and not being restricted or feeling like we have to be in a box around a specific style guideline. We’ll be doing the same thing with our IPA. Our IPA will be very different than other things that are out there on the market right now. At least we hope so. But that’s kind of the thing is that we don’t really want to be defined by anything in particular except that we are making beers that really aren’t defined.
I primarily write about beer and I don’t even really drink spirits except gin, but I am interested in what’s going on in the distillery side of this. Talk a little more about your plans for that part of it.
We’re going to be coming out with a whiskey [called Unpure] to start with and a gin. Those two are going to be the first two releases. In the meantime, we’ll be putting bourbon back for long-term aging. Long-term is a relative term. Whether it’s six months or twenty years, we won’t know until we start tasting it after the first few months and see what it tastes like. It’s ready when it’s ready. It’s like brisket. I cook a lot of barbeque. Brisket is done when it’s done. You don’t just stick it on there and say you’re going to take it off in thirteen hours. You take it off in six if it’s hot enough and tender enough. That’s what you’re really looking for, is when it’s done. But the whiskey is going to be an un-aged, pure-malt whiskey. We’re taking the same concepts that craft brewers use – high quality ingredients, highest care in production, not as concerned about efficiencies, but more concerned about flavor – and putting that into a spirit. I think that’s the way you get a spirit that is minimally aged and yet still tastes good and doesn’t taste like white whiskey.
Will it be a clear whiskey?
No, it won’t be.
If you’re not aging it, how are you getting color?
Good question. What I’m going to do is filter it through charred oak and charred apple wood. Both of these woods, as it’s filtering through, are going to impart color as well as filter out some of the impurities. And once it gets to the apple wood, the apple wood is going to impart some sweetness into the spirit as it comes through. So you’re going to round out the edges of a rough spirit, as well as give it the proper color that it should have. But the color really is a psychological thing. It’s a byproduct of aging in a barrel. But it’s something that’s important. It’s supposed to have the right color. It’s supposed to be pleasing, visually appealing. So we’re going to filter it through the two woods like that and get a spirit that’s drinkable right off the bat. I mean, I say un-aged. It’s going to take probably two weeks without the filtering. The filtering will probably take about a week for it to filter through all of the stuff and get to the bottom. And then also there’s a period of settling to get anything that’s in suspension settled out. Then we’ll rack off of that and into bottles. So it will still be a three week or so process.
And what about the gin? Like I say, gin is the only spirit I drink and I really like gin.
You like gin because if the juniper berries?
I like a really herbaceous gin.
Well then you might like this one. Our gin is going to have a minimum of twelve different botanicals in it besides juniper berries. We’re going to focus heavy on the aromatics. Without giving away all of my recipe, lavender will be included in our botanical list. Some citrusy things like lemon peel, grapefruit peel, that sort of stuff. A little something to help sweeten it a little on the flavor side, some Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans. We’re going to add a little bit of spiciness with some tellicherry black peppercorns and things like that. Lemongrass. Ginger. That’s a very small portion of the list of things that are going into this gin create something that’s smoother, something that’s not so focused on the juniper berry, and something that’s crafty. Just juniper in a gin isn’t quite as crafty as it could be. You can get so much more creative than that. We’re going to experiment around with that one too. We’ll probably end up aging some in a barrel. That’s something new actually. I wish I could say that I thought of that originally, but I’d heard of it happening in other places and I thought that’s a great idea. There’s just none made here yet. So getting crazy with the gin is something I’m really looking forward to.
And besides the Unpure being pure malt, it’s going to be smoked malt whiskey, so it’s going to have a fair amount of smokiness to it. It’s not the peat-smoked malt like you get from scotch. It’s going to be more of a cherry-wood, apple-wood, oak-smoked flavor from that. My recipe for bourbon is top secret at the moment, but it is also something that is off the beaten path. By definition it has to be 51 percent corn, but that’s really the only requirement. After that, go crazy with the cheese whiz. We’re going to do something a little bit different than other people do with their bourbons.
So kind of maintaining continuity with the philosophy of the brewing side.
Yes, absolutely. It would be very easy to add hops to the Unpure mash bill and create a beer out of it. We want to be true to our roots of brewing and make something that’s beer inspired. That’s where the bourbon is going to come from. The rye whiskey, we’re going to have something very different for the rye as well. We’re going to experiment will all different types of aging processes and things like that. I hope to make a brandy as well. We’re even talking about making rum out of some local sugar beets. About the only thing we can’t make is tequila. There is no natural source of agave around here. I do want to stick with local things that you would find here. If we were further south in Texas or something it would be great to make tequila, but I just don’t think it fits…
We’re in Minnesota.
Right. We’re in Minnesota. I doubt I’ll ever make vodka either.
Vodka doesn’t taste like anything. There is no point to vodka.
Exactly. That’s the way I feel, too. There’s no point. Nothing against people who make artisanal vodka, but if your goal is to make something with no color, no flavor, and no aroma, where’s the creativity? It’s what you put back in it that makes it interesting.
It’s winter. It’s been really cold outside. It’s good stout-drinking weather. That’s all I’ve got to say.
Here’s my notes:
Heart of Darkness Stout Magic Hat Brewing Company, South Burlington, Vermont
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
Aroma: Medium-level, dry, black-malt roastiness. Licorice and black coffee. Some light-molasses and brown sugar sweetness balances the roast. Low, toasted-bread notes fill in the background. No hops.
Appearance: Black, nearly opaque with ruby-red highlights. Appears clear. Moderate head of creamy, beige foam with larger bubbles interspersed. Moderate retention.
Flavor: Creamy dark chocolate kicks things off with some black-malt, dry roastiness that comes in midway. A touch of caramel sweetness tempers the roast. Bitterness is medium-low from both hops and roasted malt. Low earthy hop flavors with light citrus overtones. Secondary notes of coffee grounds, licorice, dark fruits, and berries. A hint of roasted malt acidity. The dry finish lingers on roast.
Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium carbonation. Low creaminess.
Overall Impression: A smooth stout that falls somewhere between BJCP styles. It’s not quite sweet, not quite dry, and not hoppy enough to be called American. I like the light, background toasty-bread notes of Munich malt. I’m munching on some cheese as I drink this. What I’m missing though is a good, mild, blue cheese. It would be very good with this beer.