Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Great Northeast Brewery Tour

Interview with Ben Keene, author of The Great Northeast Brewery Tour Non-Flash podcast

It seems like more and more quality beer books are being published these days. In the past, aside from Michael Jackson's works, beer books tended to fall into one of two categories:  the more technically-inclined style books aimed at homebrewers and fluffier, basic "beers are either ales or lagers" coffee table books. But in the past few years, the quality of beer writing has greatly improved and there are now plenty of books geared to those with more than a rudimentary knowledge of beer and brewing yet which don't alienate the newcomer. A recent entry into the field is The Great Northeast Brewery Tour - Tap into the Best Craft Breweries in New England and the Mid-Atlantic by Ben Keene with a forward by Brooklyn Brewery's Garrett Oliver.

Ben and his photographer, Bethany Bandera
In his book, Ben profiles 62 breweries in 11 states and the District of Columbia. The profiles give a brief history of each brewery, list the annual production, and provide a list of some of the year-round and seasonal beers. In addition, there are more in-depth descriptions of some of the beers. But what makes this book unique is the well-researched information about things to do in the vicinity of the brewery, making it a hybrid beer book/tour guide.

If a brewery has an adjoining restaurant or is a brewpub, Ben suggests beer and food pairings. If there is no food to be had at the brewery, he lists local bars and restaurants nearby where you can try the brewery's beers. And because life is (surprise, surprise) not all about beer, the suggestions for other activities to do in the area should appeal to a range of interests, whether it's sea kayak tour before or after visiting Marshall Wharf in Maine, Civil War national battlefields near Flying Dog in Maryland, or a visit to poet Robert Frost's farm near the Woodstock Inn in New Hampshire.

If you want to make more than a day trip. Ben also lists a lodging suggestion near each brewery.

There are some notable omissions - Tröegs in Pennsylvania is profiled but not Victory, for example - but at 240 pages, it's not meant to be a comprehensive listing and is slim enough to throw into your overnight bag. I'd suggest doing a bit of your own research on one of the many on-line forums to find out about other breweries nearby and then hitting the road.

As for me, as many times as I've been to New Hampshire, I had no idea that there was a NH Dairy Trail. I know what I'll be doing on our next trip up this summer.  Beer floats anyone?

Each state section has its own map

An example of the profiles found on each brewery page

Monday, March 10, 2014

Peekskill Brewery

Our homebrew club, the Malted Barley Appreciation Society, recently took a trip up the Hudson to Peekskill, NY to visit the Peekskill Brewery. The brewpub is located a short walk from the train station and is an easy day-trip from New York City via Metro North.

We started with some liquid refreshment (hey, that hour-long train trip can take a lot out of you) and lunch before touring the brewery. Most everyone chose a sampler of 4 beers to start off.

My first selection was their Hop Common, a nicely hoppy amber California Common, or steam beer, hopped with Segal Ranch, Nugget, and Cascade

Skills Pils, on their rotating seasonal pils tap, was described on the menu as a winter pils with dark German malts and Polish Lublin and Magnum hops. In reality, it was a malty, roasty schwarzbier and not a pilsner.

Styriana, a Gypsy Lager fermented with Brettanomyces and hopped with Styriana Goldings, was described as "a pale rustic beer" and it did indeed have an earthiness to it along with a citrus finish and low level brett character.

Slow and Low, a smoked lager with German malts and Polish Lublin hops and boiled overnight, had a smoke character which was fairly faint, particularly in the aroma. The light smoke flavor was pleasantly complemently by caramel notes from the malt.

Other crowd favorites on tap that day included the award-winning Amazeballs pale ale and the always refreshing Simple Sour.

All of the beers at Peekskill are unfiltered and head brewer Jeff "Chief" O'Neil tends to use very little bittering hops. instead focusing on late addition hops for their flavoring and aromatic properties.

Refilled beer glasses in hand, we then made our way to the brewery with tour guide Ed and assistant brewer Mike Benz. The current brewery, which they've been in since December 2012 having made a short move down the street, is a 15 barrel system with three 15 bbl fermenters and four 30 bbl fermenters. The brewing vessels and fermenters are located on the ground floor but every batch of beer gets pumped up to the top floor and into a coolship to cool for 1-2 hours. Peekskill Brewery has one of only around 10 coolships in the country. Once in the coolship, a plate circulates the wort and then it rests so that the sediment can settle out and heat from the hot wort is vented out. Once cooled, the wort flows back to ground level and into the fermenters.


The coolship

Most of the beers are fermented with standard ale and lager strains but they also have a dedicated brettanomyces tank. Once ready to serve, the beers are either kegged or put into one of the seven serving tank. The futuristic cool box sends the beer to the downstairs bar and upstairs tap room.
Cool box dispensing beers to both bars
Bill "Salty Dog" Coleman looking happy with his Pruneau

Aside from their regular line up, they plan to have quarterly releases of special beers. The first one in 2013 was with NYC brewery Other Half, Nuggy Num Num and the first release of 2014 will be a pale all, NYPA, brewed with Citra and Mosaic hops. An upcoming release that we were able to try out of the tanks is Pruneau, an IPA brewed with 300 pounds of fruit.

You can find several of the Peekskill beers available on draft at better beer bars in New York City but it's definitely worth the trip to the brewpub to try their other beers that are only available on premise. They do plan to start a barrel-aging program and have a bottle corking machine so hope to have bottles available at the brewpub in the future.

Peekskill riverfront. Not a good day for swimming.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Brooklyn Brewery Sun Don't Shine Garrett Oliver & Mike Steinschneider: Sun Don't Shine (Flash version) Non-Flash podcast

For part 9 of the Worshipful Company of Brewers program, in which members of the Brooklyn Brewery brewhouse staff are given carte blanche to brew a batch of their own making, Michael Steinschneider decided to lighten up a winter beer by darkening up a summer beer. Labeling his "Sun Don't Shine" a Strong Mild, he's basically taken the Brooklyn Summer Ale and tweaked it with some dark carafa malt and dry-hopped it with some hops known for producing a tropical character, including Motueka.
The result is a 4.9% ale that drinks like a hearty winter beer, but is actually light enough to drink two at a time, as Mike demonstrated when addressing the crowd assembled to congratulate and celebrate with him. The subtle chocolate notes and fruity/flowery hops also add intrigue to a very drinkable, satisfying beer.
Justin encourages the single fisted double quaff.
For when you're drinking more than one... at a time.
Sun Don't Shine will be available exclusively at the brewery's tasting room until supplies run out, so be sure to visit on a Friday night or weekend afternoon soon!

Always some tasty cheese at the WCofB releases.
The Illustrious Potentate of the WCofB.
Or is it the Most Worshipful Grand Mashter?
Mr. Sunshine addresses the crowd

Friday, January 3, 2014

Portsmouth Brewery's Tyler Jones

Chat Noir Interview with Tyler Jones of the Portsmouth Brewery (Flash version) Non-Flash podcast  

In December of 2011 we interviewed Tod Mott towards the tail end of his illustrious stint as head brewer of the Portsmouth Brewery (we look forward to Tod's new brewery, Tributary, in Kittery, Maine), and this December, two years later we got to meet and speak with the man who filled those legendary brewing boots, Tyler Jones.
Assistant brewer.
Since we had already covered the Portsmouth Brewery and its sibling Smuttynose, we weren't planning on featuring them again so soon. But then it happened. While visiting Portsmouth over the holidays, which naturally means enjoying some beers at the PB, we encountered something that we never thought possible: a delicious Mint Cocoa stout! We've been sorely disappointed with previous attempts at this elusive style made by other breweries. But once we experienced Tyler's "Kringle's Krook Stout" (6.3%ABV), we knew that we had to meet this brewing genius!
Tyler, a N.H. native with a genealogy that traces back to Capt. Jones of the Mayflower, studied chemical engineering at the Univ. of N.H., which is also where he discovered homebrewing. Someone had left a homebrewing kit in a closet of his college apartment, and being of a scientific mind, he gave it a try. After some time working in his field of study following graduation, he heeded his true calling and enrolled in the brewing school at U.C. Davis, with the aim of building a career in brewing.
Bob, Tyler Jones, B.R.
Upon returning home to New Hampshire, he found that neither the Portsmouth Brewery nor Smuttynose was hiring, so he took up work at Mercury Brewing in nearby Ipswich, Mass., while keeping in touch with the Portsmouth breweries. One day head brewer Mott called Tyler and asked if he could help out in the brewhouse. It turned out to be a working job interview, and it must have gone well, because Tyler got hired. He took over for Mott as head brewer in 2012.
The cold room.
We've been enjoying both the classic (Old Brown Dog, Black Cat Stout, Dunkelweizen) and the unusual (Kvass, Thaizenheimer, Wild Thang) styles of the 20+ year old 7-barrel brewpub since its founding. And among the taps of the ol' familiar standbys we'd often see an exciting new beer. But with the recent addition of more tap lines, the brewery has been freer to explore more variety. We were not only blown away by the Kringle's Krook on cask (made with 6lbs of peppermint candies and fermented on cocoa nibs), but also were impressed by the sturdy Saison l'Hiver (7.2%ABV), a hearty Bière de Garde, a delectable 6.2% ABV Belgian Golden Sour, a malty Bock, and their Ronin, a light sessionable beer made with a grain bill of 30% rice, with added horseradish and ginger, and fermented with Sake yeast and finished with Chico yeast. And on deck -- a Gluten Reduced Saison and a Sour Brune!
The captain at the helm.
I always say, it's a good thing that I moved away from the N.H. seacoast area before the Portsmouth Brewery opened, because otherwise, I probably would have never left! And with the exciting, delicious, expertly crafted beers flowing there now, how can I stay away!
Tight squeeze in fermenter room.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Dave Engbers of Founders Brewing

Interview with Dave of Founders (Flash version) Non-Flash podcast  

On Dec. 9, 2013, The Jeffery hosted a tap take-over by Founders Brewing, and featured such rarities as Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Doom, Sweet Repute, Backwoods Bastard -- which was amazing! -- and many others. The following day at the Blind Tiger we caught up with Dave Engbers, co-founder of Founders, and Tim Traynor, the NY Marketing Manager for the brewery, for an interview.
Bob, Dave and Tim -- all very serious men. (Not really!)
Founders was established in 1997 and originally named Canal Street Brewing after the neighborhood in Grand Rapids, MI which was home to a number of breweries in the 1800s. Eventually, the name became Founders, a nod to those long gone 19th century fore-bearers of beer. Their original location was in a building with some serious space restrictions, which required them to brew with horizontal tanks as part of their ambitious 30bbl system.
Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers, both Grand Rapids natives, met at Hope college, which is where Mike discovered homebrewing. Dave, however, started homebrewing at age 19. Neither went to brewing school or even apprenticed in a brewery before they decided that life was too short to not chase their dream of brewing beer professionally, and after a short stint in the post-college working world, they started their journey on becoming brewing founders themselves.

They wisely hired a professionally trained brewer at the outset. And, as so many of the "first craft beer bubble" breweries did, they brewed pale ales, ambers, and all the rest of predictable styles, in Dave's words, making "technically solid, but unremarkable beers". They thought that this would give them the greatest potential market. But with everyone else making essentially the same stuff, they soon found that they weren't selling enough beer to be profitable. They were behind on rent, late on loan payments. Something had to change.
So, they decided to set themselves apart from all the rest of the pack by brewing something that they themselves were excited about -- a Scotch Ale called Dirty Bastard. And thus began the change in direction away from common-denominator beer and towards "brewing beers that we wanted to drink." The Dirty Bastard was an award winning beer and, more importantly, a sales success! Soon after followed other beers that would remake the brewery's image: Breakfast Stout, Devil Dancer, Curmudgeon Old Ale, Bad Habit. Dirty Bastard was the brewery's biggest seller from 2002 to 2006. Then from 2007-2012 their Centennial IPA was the #1 seller. Currently Dirty Bastard and Centennial are neck-and-neck in sales, and the recently launched All Day IPA has overtaken the #1 spot, a beer that took 3 years to develop.
In 2012 they brewed about 71,000bbl of beer, and they expect 2013's output to be around 115,000bbl. The brewery underwent a massive expansion in 2012, having installed two 85bbl brewhouses, a new packaging line, a new canning line, and a new beer cellar, all of which will allow them to grow to about 320,000 barrels a year!
The brewery started experimenting with bourbon barrel aging beer in 2000-2001. They currently go through about 3,000 bourbon barrels a year. The barrel-aged beers are stored 85ft underground in the old gypsum mines in Grand Rapids -- about 6 miles of mine space! While Dave declined to reveal the source of their barrels, he said that many are barrels that had been aging bourbon for 15 to 18 years. The first beer that they experimented with in a bourbon barrel became Kentucky Breakfast Stout, and they have since gotten quite creative with the barrels. They age some specialty beers in maple syrup barrels -- former bourbon barrels that then were used to flavor maple syrup. Those barrels come from BLiS, a Michigan maple syrup producer, and are used to create the complex oaky, sweet, smokey characters in the rare and highly regarded Canadian Breakfast Stout as well as Black Biscuit, Curmudgeon's Better Half, Bolt Cutter, and Sweet Repute.
While Dave also declined to divulge any of the breweries secret projects under development, he did assure us that we won't have to travel to Michigan to enjoy them -- they'll all make their way to New York City when they're ready! For more information, check out the Michigan Daily's article on Founders from 2011, and a recent article about laid-off Miller workers seeking employment at Founders.