Friday, May 31, 2013

Three Scrutineers – Black Husky Brewing

                Slowly but surely, I am making it through the entire Black Husky line-up, and every beer that I have had from Brewmaster Tim Eichinger so far has been excellent.  Every beer from Black Husky Brewing is a unique experience, so I was pleased when I found a bottle of the most recent Beware of the Dog series beer, Three Scrutineers Tripel.

                Tripels are moderately strong beers (7.5-9.5% ABV) that are yellow to golden on color.  They often have black pepper, or clove in the aroma paired with citrus or banana notes, floral or spicy hops and spicy alcohol notes.  The flavor, like the aroma, often has hints of black pepper, citrus fruit and spicy or sweet alcohol not. The style often has a high level of carbonation, leading to a persistent effervescence, which accentuates a dry, moderately bitter finish.  When done right, a Tripel is an excellent beer.  On to the review!

Three Scrutineers does not currently have a score on either Beeradvocate or ratebeer.

They Say:

When the College of Cardinals elects a new Pope, three are chosen to inspect the ballots and they are called the Three Scrutineers. An effervescent and pungent ale, get a bottle and with three friends, scrutinize this beer like Knight, Papa and Fish. Pope hats are optional.

               8.5% ABV

26 IBUs


I Say:

                Three Scrutineers pours a brilliantly clear gold with a moderately thick, creamy white head that holds moderate retention, falling back into the beer after 5 minutes, and leaves light lacing in the glass.  The aroma has black pepper phenolics up front, transitioning to mellow banana, mango, pear and lemony fruity esters with sweet alcohol notes in the finish.  As it warms, the phenolics fade and the fruity esters become more prominent.

                The flavor is very complex with moderately sweet, biscuity malts, tons of fruity esters including melon, orange, pineapple and lemon, with a slight note of peppery phenols and spicy/sweet alcohol.  The finish is peppery and semi-dry.  Three Scrutineers is medium-bodied and slightly creamy with a moderately high level of effervescent carbonation.

                Three Scrutineers is everything that a good Tripel should be, it has wonderfully complex fruity esters, spicy phenols, and a very pleasant effervescence.  It is definitely a well-brewed Tripel that deserves to be mentioned alongside many of the more well-known commercial examples, like Westmalle Tripel and Tripel Karmeliet.

Tim Eichinger consistently releases excellent beers, and Three Scrutineers is no exception.  There might still be a few bottles in stock at either Three Cellars in Franklin or Ray’s Wine and Spirits in Milwaukee, both are excellent liquor stores with a huge craft beer selections.  If you don’t live in the Milwaukee area check out the “Find our Beer” page at Black Husky Brewing to find it near you.

If you would like to find out more about Black Husky Brewing, click on the “Black Husky Brewing” label below this post to see all of my Black Husky reviews including my recent interview with brewmaster Tim Eichinger!

That’s all for today!  Have a great weekend, and if you are at the World of Beer Festival tomorrow, stop by the Belle City Homebrew tent to say hi!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Interview with Rob Mullin - Grand Teton Brewing - Part 2

Thanks for checking back for the second part of my interview with Grand Teton Brewing’s brewmaster, Rob Mullin.  In the second part of the interview we focused more on the Cellar Reserve series, Rob’s thoughts on beer, recommendations for homebrewers, and recommendations for anyone interested in breaking into professional brewing.  Enjoy!

Part one can be found here:

On to Part Two!

WIBG:   Will the tradition of bringing two standbys out for the Cellar Reserve series every year continue?  If so, can you offer any hints on what the styles for next year’s Cellar Release beers might be?

RM:        For years we did a series of different beers in our Cellar Reserve series.  The new ownership has focused us on traditional styles.  One of our new owners, Steve Furbacher, likes to say that we “don’t want to get too far out in front of our skis,” meaning that we need to do what we are good at and work with tried and true recipes.  We have learned a lot about cellaring beers over the years.  Some styles cellar better than others.  We quickly learned that we were not happy with how hoppier beers aged.  Originally, our Lost Continent Double IPA was a cellar reserve series but we learned that was a mistake.  The hoppy beers tasted great at bottling, and up to four months later, but after four months they were no longer a beer that we could be proud of.

                Going forward with our Cellar Reserve series we decided to stick to traditional styles that we believe will cellar well for one or more years.  We have a hard time coming up with new summer Cellar Reserve beers, beers that will be crisp or light enough to enjoy on a hot summer’s day, but also improve in the bottle for a year or two. We are constantly getting requests to bring back retired beers as part of the Cellar Reserve program.  Since this year is our 25th Anniversary we wanted to mine some of our best beers, so we released our Double Vision Doppelbock in January, our Oud Bruin in May, and our Bone Warmer Imperial Amber Ale in September.

                We want to remain true to traditional styles while also developing interesting new styles and new beers so that our brewers can expand their knowledge.  Going forward we want to do 1 to 2 new beers, and 1 to 2 old beers, including our Coming Home beer in November, which changes every year.  To determine the next year’s cellar reserve beers we get everyone in the brewery together and brainstorm.  It’s getting harder to come up with new ideas.

                I think the biggest challenge for the Cellar Reserve series is the summer release.  We want to have something that’s drinkable and refreshing in the summer that we release it, yet we want something that can be laid down for a few years to age.  It’s a tricky balance to hit.  For Snarling Badger we took a classic style, and amped it up.  Typical Berliner Weisse beers come in around 3%, and are meant to be enjoyed fresh.  However, for our release we made a 7.5% Berliner Weisse.  It is our ideal summer Cellar Reserve release.  After I brewed it, I bought a few cases and continue to open a new bottle every month.  It is continuing to become more tart and refreshing in the bottle, getting continually better with every new bottle I open.  I would love to be able to do Snarling Badger every summer.  Perhaps we could make it a summer seasonal, but then we would have to find a way to cut back on the 6 month, secondary lactobacillus fermentation.  I am thinking about trying a sour mash technique to see if that can produce another good Berliner Weisse without the long wait.

                This year, our summer Cellar Reserve release is Oud Bruin, we first brewed the Oud Bruin in 2007 and I modeled it after the base beer for a Flanders’s Style lambic that I won Gold with at the GABF with when I was at Commonwealth.  That was an amazing beer, and that year I beat out New Glarus and New Belgium in the Belgian- & French-Style Specialty Ales Category, which was quite an accomplishment.  It was a great experience to be mentioned in the same group as those breweries

                I am nervous about the 2014 summer reserve beer.  The way we are growing, I don’t think we are going to have the space on site to age it for six months, so it probably will not be a sour beer release.  That leaves the question of what it will be wide open.

WIBG:   As the Brewmaster, do you have full creative control over new recipes and releases?

RM:        I wouldn’t say that I have full control. I mean I do take full responsibility and literally sign off on every new release, but we work very collaboratively.  The owners are extremely supportive and give the brewers free range as long as we remember that the Grand Teton is all about traditional styles.  However, there is a lot of room for variation in the traditional styles.  I am hoping to play around more with a small barrel program over the next couple years.  I would also like to work more with wild yeasts, and bacteria like lactobacillus and pediococcus.   My dream is to build a coolship and develop a wild fermented 100% Teton beer with all local ingredients.

One of our brewers, Chaz Hansen is working on a Belgian Dubbel on his homebrew system for an upcoming release.  He is working with different malt, Belgian candi sugar and yeast combinations to nail down a solid recipe.  He brews a batch, and brings it in for everyone to try and give opinions on.  It is great to be working with such excellent brewers.  They have a lot to offer and I really appreciate it.

WIBG:   Was Snarling Badger your first foray into sour beers?

RM:        I have been playing around with sour beers since 2000, although tI haven’t had a lot of opportunity to do it because it requires so much space for aging.  I currently have a beer barrel going with over $2000 in fresh huckleberries.  I dosed the beer with brettanomyces and lactobacillus, and it’s been developing in barrels for about three to four years so far.  I feel bad about tying up funds and space with this project, and it was the first beer that I questioned the possibility of sales on.  However, its coming around now and we are planning to release it in extremely limited quantities this summer.  All that’s left is federal approval on the recipe and the label.  It is the most complex sour beer that we have produced yet and I think everyone will enjoy it.

WIBG:   Is there additional information that you can provide about the upcoming Cellar Release, Oud Bruin?

RM:        Oud Bruin Is still alive and changing in the bottles.  Every week when we taste it, it continues to evolve and change.  It is considerably different now than it was when we did the first batch of bottles.  When we bottled it, it was very complex, malty, and a little fruity, but probably not sour enough for an Oud Bruin.  Honestly, I am a little nervous about what it will be like when it is released on May 15th.

We used the Rosalaire Red yeast blend, which is supposedly the Rodenbach yeast.  It is an excellent yeast blend that continues to evolve and reaches its peak after about two years.  In two years, the Oud Bruin will be a very different beer, it will have a tart and sour complexity while hopefully maintaining the malt and fruity ester complexity that it currently has.

WIBG:   How many brewers are currently on staff?

RM:        We have a very interesting staffing.  The goal is to have everyone on our production crew be able to do every job in the brewery.  Right now we have four guys who brew, mash, and work on the cellar program and we have a fifth guy on the filler.  We are sending all five to Siebel for their Associate program, and then on to the second part of the program at the Doemens Akademie in Germany.

                We also have four employees working on the bottling line, and we want to get them up to speed as soon as possible so that they can become more involved in the other processes.  We want them all to become brewers in the long term because we want to make sure no one feels like they are stuck in a rut with no room for career advancement.  It is important to us that that everyone feels fulfilled and gets a chance to be heard.

WIBG:   Are you planning any upcoming collaboration beers with other breweries?

RM:        We currently aren’t planning any collaborative beers.  We are very busy, trying to keep up with the current demand and I‘m not sure how to work a big collaborative project into the schedule.  I would love to work on a collaborative beer with some of the excellent breweries that are out there.

Of course, it’d be a natural to work with John Mallett or Ron Barchet, but there are dozens of breweries I’d be honored to work with. I have some connections in Belgium and Scotland, too.  It’d be a blast to send some of our brewers over there to work.

WIBG:   What is your favorite beer style?

RM:        Right now I’m really into sour beers, but really I don’t have a favorite style.  I am more into matching the food that I am eating, or the mood that I am in.  I usually cycle through a variety of 8-9 different beer styles over a couple weeks.  It is all very situational.

WIBG:   Is there one brew of yours, including past beers that may have been phased out, that you would say is your favorite?

RM:        The favorite beer that I have brewed?  That’s like asking me to pick my favorite child.  I think if I had to choose it would be Snarling Badger.  I knew that when we put it out it was a little young and not quite as tart as it should be, but I knew that it had great potential.  I bought two cases and continue to drink a bottle every month.  It’s becoming more interesting with every bottle. It’s a lot of fun to see how it is continuing to change.

                I really like brewing a living beer that continues to develop complexity over time.  When we first released Snarling Badger, it rated poorly on the ratings site because it wasn’t like a Berliner Weisse.  It was too big, and not sour enough.  I wish we didn’t have to put a style reference on our beers and that we could just describe what we were going for long term.  It started sweet, but its drying out considerably.

                I am also starting to like working with barrels.  I’ve been aging stouts in bourbon barrels since the Old Dominion days, but a few summers ago we started aging bees in wine barrels.  I am finding that the lighter beers are great in wine barrels.  So far we have aged our 2011 Saison Cellar Reserve, Snarling Badger, and the 2011 Coming Home Trippel.  We tried an Imperial Porter in a Syrah barrel, and an Imperial Wit in a Chardonnay barrel.  For the Imperial Wit, we added extra grape juice for a secondary fermentation; it was a very cool wine/beer hybrid.

WIBG:   Is there a particular brewer or brewery that you look up to, or that you see as a main driver in the industry?

RM:        There are two brewers that I really look up to, John Mallett and Ron Bachet, the two brewers who taught me how to brew professionally.  I am really inspired by what Ron Barchet has done at Victory.  He built his brewery from the ground up by brewing beers that he wants to drink and brew.  John Mallett is a leader in the industry, always looking to move forward and improve.

                If there is a brewery that I wish we could be, it’d be something like Odell’s.  They have a gorgeous brewery, they are the perfect size, and they always offer us excellent advice whenever we ask.

WIBG:   Do you have any advice for home brewers that can help them brew better beer more consistently?

RM:        Make friends with a local brewery and use brewery yeast, good, high quality brewery yeast.  If we don’t see activity within a couple ours, we expect there is a problem with our yeast.  It is extremely important to use high quality, healthy yeast or you will get off flavors in your beer.  Here at Grand Teton, we encourage local homebrewers to come in with a sanitized container for yeast.

WIBG:   Do you have any advice for someone who is interested in starting a craft brewery?

RM:        Don’t do it!  It is a tough time to start a brewery, and the only way to be successful these days is to have the money to focus on quality and consistency.  That said, many brewers would be very happy to put out 20 gallon or even one barrel batches, but it would be very hard to make a living at that scale.

                What it comes down to is that if it’s something that you love recognize that you need to sacrifice a lot for it.  It is almost impossible to get rich and catch lightning in a bottle the way New Belgium did.  True, some areas need a good local microbrewery, but it requires a lot of hard work and a lot of sweat to be successful and make a living.

                The next best thing you can do is work in a brewery to get experience.  There are a lot more options now than I had.  Hard working, passionate people get their start at the bottom, cleaning the equipment, mopping floors, and working on the bottling line.  We have promoted all our brewers from the bottom.  All breweries are looking for hard working, dedicated people who enjoy what they are doing.

I think its nuts though that some breweries are expecting people to come in and work for free!  If you want someone to do the work you are requiring them to do in a brewery; that work is worth paying for.  Quite frankly I think that expecting someone to come in and work for free degrades and devalues the work that everyone else does.  What are they doing paying anyone else if they expect someone to come in and work for free, or even pay them for the experience.

If we want o be considered professionals, we need to make sure that everyone around us is a professional, we need to recognize the hard work that they are doing and be able to reward them for their efforts.

WIBG:   Is there any additional information that you would like my readers to know about your brewery?

RM:        The biggest news is our upcoming 25th Anniversary part on June 29th.  We are doing a big tap takeover, and releasing nine barrel aged beers.  There will be food pairings for all of our beers, and live music.  It is going to be a week long party that coincides with the Teton Valley 4th of July party.  I recommend that anyone who can make it out makes the trip.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Interview with Rob Mullin - Grand Teton Brewing - Part 1

                A while back I sent out an interview request to Grand Teton Brewing's brew master Rob Mullin. Little did I know that we would spend four hours, over the course of two days talking about beer and brewing. It was a blast talking to Rob, and the time really flew by. I really hope that you enjoy reading my interview with him because I really enjoyed talking to him. Sadly, I have to break it into two separate posts to keep it at a readable length

WIBG:                   Many professional brewers get started with home brewing, when did you get your start brewing and what led you to take up the hobby?

Rob Mullin:        I first started to homebrew in 1988 when my girlfriend at the time gave me a homebrew kit for my birthday.  As a political campaign worker, I had a hard time finding time to brew so one Sunday I turned off my phone and brewed my first beer, a dry stout.  Brewing became an escape from a stressful job that was responsible for 20-hour workdays and insomnia.

                In 1988 after losing a primary election in a run-off I took a vacation to the Tetons where I had one of my first exposure to Grand Teton beer, which was then Otto Brothers Brewing, Moose Juice Stout.  It was great to fill a growler with beer and explore the Tetons.

                After coming back from vacation, I went back into work campaigning.  Following a loss in the 1990 campaign season, my sister who worked for Green Peace and knew about my love of beer introduced me to John Mallet at Old Dominion Brewing Company in Ashburn, VA.  He hired me to drive the delivery truck and work in the brewery.

WIBG:                   Prior to joining Old Dominion Brewing in 1990, did you have much exposure to craft beer?

RM:        I drank my first craft beer in a small wine and beer shop in Asheville, NC.  while working for a Congressman there in 1988 It was an Amber Lager from Hope Brewing Corporation.  I remember it because the shop hosted occasional beer education courses that really turned me on to flavorful beer.

WIBG:   How long were you with Old Dominion, and what role do you believe they played in developing your own brewing philosophy?

RM:        I was with Old Dominion for almost 9 years and it played a big role in my career.  I was originally hired to help with deliveries, but within a year I became more active in the brewery.  It was a fantastic place to learn how to brew professionally.  In my time at Old Dominion, I worked with two of the best brewers in the business, John Mallet (who now works at Bells’sBrewing) is, in my opinion, among the best American trained brewers in America; and Ron Barchet (who founded Victory Brewing), who I still believe is one of the best German trained brewers.  We had long conversations on the merits of decoction vs. infusion mashing, yeast management, recipe formulation, etc.  John taught me almost everything that I know, including that I should be open to new ideas and willing to try new techniques as they are developed.  From Ron I learned about traditional, proven, German brewing techniques and the German brewing heritage.  In my time at the brewery, production grew tenfold to 25,000 barrels per year.

                I was very lucky to learn to brew at a great east coast lager brewery, surrounded by great east coast lagers like the Old Dominion Dortmunder Export, Penn Pils, Stoudt’s Dortmunder Export and Theo DeGroen’s Pilsner.  At that time, ales were more of a west coast phenomenon, probably due to all of the additional equipment required to brew lagers and the increased capital requirements that come with lagering beer.

WIBG:   After leaving Old Dominion, can you give me a quick rundown of your brewing experiences prior to Grand Teton?

RM:        After leaving Old Dominion, my next stop was the Commonwealth Brewpub at Rockefeller Center.  My bride and I had just had our second child and we moved there to be close to her sister.  It was pretty interesting, fun, and exciting to live and brew in New York City.  Unfortunately, the owner was a real estate developer who sucked cash out of the brewpub to open a bistro.  One day I showed up to work to find the doors padlocked.

                Around 2000, I started at Trap Rock Brewing in New Jersey; it was the ideal brewing job.  At Trap Rock, a 5-star restaurant, I had the privilege of working with Bruce Johnson, a true artist.  Named the best chef in the state by the New York Times, he developed an amazing menu and I was tasked with brewing beer to match his creative cuisine.  When I arrived, Trap Rock was brewing three beers, a light, an amber and a dark.  After I arrived, I developed nine new beers five times a year as the menu changed.  We had long discussions about different flavor pairings that could complement or enhance the flavors in his meals.  That was where I developed my interest in beer and food pairings.  I was constantly trying to brew beers that would enhance and compliment the food.  I tended to brew a lot of lagers to compliment the more delicate flavors in the seafood dishes.  While at Trap Rock, I also brewed a really fun Double IPA that we served at Michael Jackson’s 60th birthday party, it was modeled after a beer we brewed at Old Dominion called Tupper’s Hot Pocket Ale,  it had a massive amount of dry hops.

                While at Trap Rock, I also learned a lot about online rating sites, we would get horrible reviews from people who were angry that they could not order a hamburger and fries in our restaurant.  To them, it wasn’t what a brewpub should be.  The most absurd was a review that gave us zero stars.  The author of the review drove up, was offended that we offered free valet parking, got back in his car and drove away without even coming in and trying our food or beer.  It highlighted the dark side of customer reviews.

                That aside, my time at Tap Rock was an amazing experience, my wife and I were ready to buy a house in the area so that I could cut down on my 3 hour round trip commute, and then 9/11 happened.  We could see the smoke from the brewery, and I will never forget that day.  Unfortunately, the 9/11 attacks led to New Yorkers leaving Manhattan, and driving up the price of homes outside the city, so we were unable to find home that we could afford on a brewer’s salary.

                Fortunately in early in 2002, Charlie Otto was advertising a brewmaster position at Grand Teton Brewing.  Having spent time in the Grand Teton area 12 years earlier, and having loved the area, I jumped at the opportunity.  I immediately flew out to the brewery, spent time at the brewery with Charlie and was hired as the new brewmaster in May.  Luckily I was able to convince my wife to move out of the city, to Victor, Idaho.

WIBG:   The first recipe you developed for Grand Teton was Bitch Creek ESB, right?  What were your thoughts when you developed it and did you think that it would as big of a success as it has been, winning medals at competitions almost every year since its introduction?

RM:        When I arrived at Grand Teton, Charlie was in the midst of a trademark dispute over his Moose Juice Stout with MooseHead Brewery out of Canada.  They thought having Moose in the name of our beer lead to confusion.  We were joined in the lawsuit by Big Sky Brewing who was producing their Moose Drool Brown Ale.  In the end, Big Sky chose to pay royalties and continue brewing Moose Drool,  and we chose to cease production of Moose Juice.   At the time, Moose Juice was the only dark beer that we brewed, so Charlie and I were hoping to replace it with another dark beer. 

Charlie wanted to brew an ESB, like Redhook.  I had previously brewed an ESB at Commonwealth in Manhattan that received a good review from Michael Jackson, and I think that’s what he had in mind.  However, I had just moved out to the Rockies and I was darned if I would brew a British Style in the middle of the country.  I was ready to move on and try something new.  I really wanted to work with some of the new, flavorful west coast hops that were being developed at the time.

That year, we went to the GABF to try all the ESBs that were being served.  Charlie and I stopped at every brewery that brewed an ESB, taking notes and comparing our opinions.  No single beer did it for us.  At the end of the day I found one beer that had the malt profile I wanted, and another beer with the strong hop profile that I wanted.  I found Charlie, combined the two beers into one glass and gave it to Charlie, telling him, “This is the beer I want to make.”  He thought it was great.  It didn’t taste like any other ESB that we had ever tried and we knew it had to be our next beer.

Back at the brewery, we brewed a beer to match the flavor profile that we experienced at the GABF.  I thought of calling it a Mahogany Ale, but Charlie wanted the reference point of an “ESB,” which at that point hadn’t yet been reclassified as “Extra Special Brown.”  We had a local contest to pick the name of the new beer, which was won by the owner of the local flyfishing shop / soda fountain with the name Bitch Creek, after the local river and in part because it’s the name of a fly fishing fly that is popular in the area.  Her shop had donated one of the prizes for the first place winner and she ended up winning it back.

Two years later a local homebrewer joined our team and suggested that we enter Bitch Creek as an American Brown Ale at the GABF.  That year we won the gold in the category.  I really feel like Bitch Creek helped to define what an American Brown is today, although at the time that definitely wasn’t our goal.   We didn’t brew it to fit a style; we brewed it because we liked the way it tasted.  It was useful to bring a homebrewer on who could guide it into a category after the fact.  I think that is a huge testament to our local beer drinkers.

                I don’t think the success of Bitch Creek lies in the medals or awards that we have won with it.  To me the proof of success is how many cases we sell of it every year.  It quickly became our flagship beer, only being surpassed last year by our Sweetgrass Pale Ale, which took the lead because of draft sales.

WIBG:   What can you tell me about the Grand Teton brewing philosophy and distribution strategy?

RM:        We had a lot of early adopters demanding our full flavored beers.  However, there are only 3,000 people in the county and we are 6 hours from Boise.  We simply don’t have the local market to support our production.  Because of that, we have to ship our beers in order to grow.   I know that seems like a backwards business model, but it is what’s been working for us.  We ship to places that have fantastic local breweries and have to compete in someone else’s local market.  We knew that we couldn’t try to ship a cream ale to Wisconsin to compete with New Glarus’ Spotted Cow, for instance.  Why would someone want to buy our cream ale in the store when there was a well-brewed local cream ale available?  We knew that to compete we would have to brew beers with extra flavor, beers that would stand out on the shelf and give consumers something they couldn’t get from their local breweries.  That worked at the time, because it was before all of the breweries started to go with big, bold, flavorful beers.

However, there was still some confusion about why our beers were selling.  When we launched Bitch Creek, I think our marketing director was convinced that Bitch Creek sold because of its name, that locals were buying it because of the local reference, but beer drinkers in other markets were buying it because they thought it had a risqué name.  In that vein we put out an organic Blonde Ale called Au Naturale that had a nude lady on the bottle.  However, it didn’t succeed because at that point the organic niche wasn’t big enough in our market.  The thought at the time was that if we could build a better, more risqué marketing campaign, we would sell more beer. 

Fortunately, four years ago when the new owners purchased Grand Teton, that approach didn’t appeal to them.  The company refocused on the tradition of the brewery and beer.  They weren’t going to put up with risqué things for the purpose of being risqué either on the labels, or in the name of the beer.

They wanted to focus more on the beer and believed the only way we could succeed was to brew high quality beer rather than focus on a marketing gimmick.  Our continued success is to focus on quality first.  I think that was the problem during the first craft beer boon in the mid 90’s, a lot of breweries were starting up, fueled by venture capital, not brewing.  A lot of the new breweries were unable to brew consistently good beer, which caused them to go out of business. 

Now in this latest craft beer boom, there are tens of thousands of great brewers entering the market.  These are some great professionals, but they lack the capital to set up a laboratory and hire a good quality manager.  The next big shakeout is going to be the breweries that can’t expand to the point where they can afford a quality control department.  Quality is really the most important part, brewing a consistently good beer.  The craft beer market originally grew at the expense of imports; it is only in the past few years that craft breweries have started converting domestic beer drinkers.  That one bad bottle that makes it out of a good craft brewery could ruin that Budweiser drinkers experience for all of us.  That one bad beer, which a craft beer drinker would be willing to accept, could lose the craft beer movement an additional convert.  The industry has huge potential and if we can convert domestic drinkers with consistently good beer, there is no limit to the growth craft beer will experience.  It is so important to focus on quality; it’s the next big challenge that the craft beer industry will have to face moving forward.

WIBG:   Water plays a huge part in the development of a beer and many breweries utilize reverse osmosis to strip the minerals out of the beer, working to develop a water profile from scratch.  How has the water profile in Teton Valley influenced the beers you brew?

RM:        All of the recipes when I started included an acid adjustment.  The first thing I did when I started was to get rid of the water treatments.  We quickly realized that affected the beers that we brewed.  However, we found that our untreated water produced really good, malty beers because our water profile is close to the water in Munich.  All of the water in the area is from the mountains, it is 3-500 year old glacial runoff that filtered through Teton Mountain granite and limestone before it comes up at a spring half a mile from the brewery.  There’s very little chlorine in our water and we add nothing.  I actually have a really hard time traveling because water in the rest of the country tastes chemically to me.  Our water on the other hand has a slightly sweet flavor.  The greatest success we have had with it has been with our Double Vision Doppelbock, a full, malty German-style lager.  Double Vision was brewed as a testament to our water.

                In the last five years we started to brew hoppier beers, but our water doesn’t let us get the same amount of bitterness out of the hops that a different water profile would allow.  We could treat our water, but decided that we could just add more hops to get the extra bitterness.  I think that’s what sets our hoppy beers apart.  We get a fuller hop aroma and flavor from the increased amount of hops.  It can also be hard to get the yeast to fully attenuate in our hoppy beers.  The common denominator though is that our water allows us to brew well balanced, flavorful beers.  The key is balance and the goal is to never get extreme bitterness.

WIBG:   Is it an homage to traditional brewing that you leave the Teton Valley water as it is rather than treat it?

RM:        I am very interested in traditional techniques and use modern technology periodically where we can.  Recently I learned about hop products, for example.  We can use hop extract which is nice because we can add more bitterness without losing wort in the hop matter.  For flavor and aroma additions however, we stick with pellet hops.  We use dextrose in Lost Continent and Pursuit of Hoppiness to get extra fermentable without the added body.

                Water is something that I don’t want to compromise on.  I like the idea of terroir being important.  That 100 years ago, every city produced different beer.  Styles had to change and be defined based upon the local water and local ingredients.  I would love to develop a local Teton Valley style.

WIBG:   I have read that there are term plans to source all hops and barley locally, is the move to source locally a new initiative, or is it part of a long term growth plan that is now receiving more focus?

RM:        We are also very proud of our barley.  This area is recognized as growing the best malting barley in the world.  All of our base malt is grown and malted within a couple hours of the brewery at a maltster in Pocatello, ID.  We have been unable to get locally sourced specialty malts.  We would love to find a local source, and it would be fantastic to get a small maltster here in the Teton Valley so that the farmers didn’t have to ship their barley far away, to get it malted so that it could be shipped back here to our brewery.  All that money and production could stay here in our local economy.

50% of the hops that we use are Idaho hops, and we are hoping that within 5 years, close to 90% of the hops that we use will be local.  There are a couple of the new proprietary strains that we currently use that we have been unable to find locally.  South Idaho has a great climate for growing hops.  It’s dryer than the Yakima valley with long, sunny days that are great for hop growth.  The proof is in taste testing; Idaho hops are as good as if not superior to hops produced in other parts of the country.  Because of that, we try to contract all of our hops from an Idaho source whenever possible.  The conditions here are also conducive to high alpha hops.  Chinook, Galena (both of which were developed in Idaho) and Centennial have really taken off here.  Ten years ago, they were used exclusively for bittering additions, but they are now increasingly being used for flavor.  Compared to the old 4% Alpha Acid Cluster hops, Chinook, Galena and Centennial are huge.

                Recently three of our brewers and I went to spend a weekend with four of the families that provide our hops. We went boating up Hell’s Canyon, toured their farms and had a great time. They are great people and produce some of the best hops in the world. Until recently they were tied up in a big Anheuser-Busch contract, but recently got let go. The Busch family was probably the most conservative in the business, they were determined to not fail like Schlitz did, by altering their ingredients. They didn’t want to change from the 14 varieties of hops used in Budweiser. Because of that they helped prop up legacy hop varieties. When InBev dropped their contracts, that gave us access to those great hops for the first time.


                Be sure to check back on Friday for the conclusion of my Interview with Rob Mullin where we discuss the Cellar Reserve series, his thoughts on beer, and his advice for homebrewers who are aspiring to open their own craft breweries!

                Happy Drinking!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Oud Bruin – Grand Teton Brewing

                OudBruin, originally released in 2007, is making a repeat appearance for Grand Teton Brewing’s 25th Anniversary Cellar Reserve series line-up.  The Grand Teton Cellar Reserve series is the epitome of what good craft beer should be.  The only downside is that the beers in the Cellar Reserve series suffer from a limited distribution, and are often hard to find too long after the release date.  Periodically a bottle can be found; I just picked up a bottle of Snarling Badger, the 2012 summer release a month ago; and found a 2010 Coming Home last November.  If you can find any of the Cellar Reserve back catalogue in your local liquor store, it is definitely worth the purchase.

                The summer Cellar Reserve release is, like last years a sour beer that is meant to be aged for the full sourness to develop.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t open it as soon as you get it, I sure did.  All that it means is that this beer has some evolving to do in the bottle, yes this is a beer that you will want to pick up a case (or at least a few bottles) of, try some now and age the rest.  Good Oud Bruins are hard to come by and it will be exciting to continue to try this one as it ages and becomes increasingly sour and more complex.  Although, I really shouldn’t be jumping into the review up here, I am getting way ahead of myself.

                The 2013 Cellar Reserve release of Oud Bruin does not have an ratings on Beeradvocate or ratebeer because it hasn’t been released yet.  The previous iteration has an 81, with a 90 from the Bros on Beeradvocate.  Over at ratebeer, it has a surprisingly low 44 overall with a 5 for style.  I can’t say I am too surprised by the ratebeer rating because the ratings there are woefully inconsistent when it comes to good beer.  On to the review!

They Say:

2013 marks the 25th anniversary of Grand Teton Brewing.  In celebration, we’re bringing back three of our favorite styles for this year’s Cellar Reserve Series.  Our Oud Bruin was first brewed in 2007 and quickly became a brewery legend.

The “Oud Bruin” or “old brown” style beers, brewed in & around Oudenaarde, on the Scheldt River in East Flanders, are notable for their complex combinations of malt, long boiling times (which provide caramelization of the wort), and multi-strain, top-fermenting yeasts, some with lactic and acetic character.  These are often “provision beers,” bottle-conditioned for cellaring, to be brought out when they can be savored.  Their thirst-quenching sweet-and sour character makes them perhaps the most refreshing beers in the world.

Our Oud Bruin lies firmly in the East Flanders tradition.  We used American 2-Row barley and German melanoidin malt (for red color) as well as maize (to lighten the body).  The wort was boiled in the kettle overnight and hopped lightly with Idaho Galenas for balance.

We fermented with a Flemish blend of yeast and bacteria cultures, including Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, and Brettanomyces.  It took six months at cellar temperature for the culture to achieve the style’s characteristic quenching sourness.  The beer is unfiltered, so we expect the flavor to continue to develop and become even more complex over the next two years in the bottle.

Because of its lactic and acetic sourness, this is a wonderful beer for cooking and pairing with food.  Unlike any wine, Oud Bruin complements vinegary dishes such as salads or even pickles.  Its flavors will enhance those of shellfish, liver, rabbit, and game birds like quail.  The acidity of the beer tenderizes beef and is ideal for braising—try it in the classic Belgian Carbonade Flamande.

Original Gravity (Plato): 17˚
International Bitterness Units: 17
Alcohol by Volume: 6%
Color (Lovibond): 23˚

Oud Bruin will be available May 15th, 2013 in 1/2 and 1/6 bbl kegs and bottle-conditioned 750mL cases.

Brewmaster Rob Mullin adds:

Oud Bruin is still alive and changing in the bottles.  Every week when we taste it, it continues to evolve and change.  It is considerably different now than it was when we did the first batch of bottles.  When we bottled it, it was very complex, malty, and a little fruity, but probably not sour enough for an Oud Bruin.  Honestly, I am a little nervous about what it will be like when it is released on May 15th.

We used the Rosalaire Red yeast blend, which is supposedly the Rodenbach yeast.  It is an excellent yeast blend that continues to evolve and reaches its peak after about two years.  In two years, the Oud Bruin will be a very different beer, it will have a tart and sour complexity while hopefully maintaining the malt and fruity ester complexity that it currently has.

Oud Bruin Tasting Video from Grand Teton:

I Say:

                Oud Bruin pours a very clear brownish/cranberry red with a moderately thick light tan head that holds excellent retention, lasting even until the last sip and leaving behind exquisite, thick, Belgian lacing.  The aroma has notes of raisins, figs, treacle, toffee, a hint of sweet sherry, and a low level of caramel, rounded out by a slight sourness at the back end.  As it warms, the aroma picks up an orange note.  It has all the pleasant malt and fruity ester complexity that is key to a good, solid Oud Bruin.

                The flavor is moderately malty with toffee, caramel and hints of milk chocolate.  This beer has tons of complex fruity esters: figs, dates, plums and raisins; as well as very low level spicy phenols, that blend into the flavor well and a low to moderate sourness in the finish.  There is a slight funkiness in the aftertaste.  Oud Bruin has a medium body, with a moderately low level of carbonation.

                This is an excellent beer that will be moderately sour and refreshing this summer and continue to pick up added complexity as it ages.  I highly recommend that you pick up at least a few bottles, one for now and two for aging.  I know that I’m going to be picking up at least three bottles, if not more depending on the local availability and bottle limits.  Check for it in stores on or after May 15th!

                That’s all for today, but be sure to check back later this week when I will have a very cool interview with Rob Mullin, the Grand Teton Brewing Brewmaster.

                 Happy Drinking!!