Great Lakes Brewing News April/May 2012 : Page 1
ILLUSTRATION BY: HANS GRAHNEIM SMALL BEER: Roaring Past 20 at . . . Back in Session Rohrbach Brewing Co. be the norm, while lower alcohol content craft beers were becoming the exception. As homebrewers continued to push the extremes of flavors and alco-hol in their beers, many craft brewer-ies—new and existing—joined the fray with the explicit intent of conjuring big-ass, bodacious brews. Why? Maybe because many of the craft brewers lead-ing the charge toward bigger beers were from the same pool of home brewing hobbyists. Either by design or happenstance, these beers displayed greater maltiness and residual sweetness; a by-product of the ‘ballsier’ malt bills that also resulted in higher alcohol. With more residual sweetness came more hops and the requisite bittering units to balance sweetness. Or did the introduction of new floral, pungent and high alpha acid hops in larger quantities require more malt as a foil and subsequently result in higher alcohol? Irrespective of the cause, beer judge, writer and blogger Lew Bryson feels that I By Jim Herter n the 1990s a patron could belly up to the bar at most every brew pub or craft brewery tasting room and be treated to a variety of beer that had low to moderate alcohol (4% to 6% ABV— alcohol by volume). These lower alcohol beers made it easy to socialize with a fellow student, friend, co-worker or significant other for hours while imbibing multiple pints, and still maintain a good mea-sure of civility and sobriety. When an American beer drinker bought a beer in excess of 5% ABV prior to the 90s it was most likely called Old English 800 or Colt 45 and came wrapped in a brown paper bag. In the 90s—the earlier days of the craft brewing renaissance—beers that exceeded the 5% ABV were reserved for special occasions, holiday celebra-tions or as seasonal treats. Beers like Seven Mules Strong Ale or Two-Hearted Ale were considered ‘big’ because the potency measured around 7% ABV and was not meant to be consumed in large volumes over a prolonged period. But something changed as we exited the nineties. High-alcohol beers that were once considered special treats increasingly seemed to That’s Creepy ROHRING 20 S . The crew at Rohrbach, from left to right: David Woolever-Brewer, Ryan Guererri-Intern, Eric Bishop-Brewer, Mitch LaGoy-Brewmaster, John Urlaub-Owner, Steve Haag-Packager, Mike Stahlbrodt-Head Brewer. PHOTO BY STEVE HODOS By Steve Hodos Rohrbach's current brewmaster, Mich Lagoy, ochester's oldest brewpub, Rohrbach Brewing Company, is the secretary of the local chapter of the Master Brewers of the Americas Association; is celebrating 20 years in Rohrbach just finished hosting a meeting for business. Rohrbach is a trail-the group. And since 1996, Rohrbach has held blazer: They were one of the the Flour City Beer Festival. Before Flour first craft brewers to brew City, Rohrbach ran one edition of the Finger a special beer in a baseball Lakes Beer Festival at Sonnenburg Gardens in park (Red Wing Red Ale, for Canandaigua. Frontier Field); the brewery Other annual was also the first in events include some the area to market special Lenten meals growlers. Early on, and an Oktoberfest they added pre-filled menu. growlers at retails John Urlaub, the stores to the mix. The owner, got into the brewery and restaurant brewing business when have consistently won his employer, Kodak, local consumer prefer-offered a buyout. John ence awards from the Rochester, got a retraining grant Rochester Democrat from Kodak and took and Chronicle and City New York a course at the Siebel Newspaper . Institute. He came The brewery has back to Rochester also paid back the intent on opening a brewing community. brewery, but he soon realized that the market Three of its former brewers have moved on for craft beer was not well developed. John to be brewmasters at other New York brew-determined that he needed a restaurant where eries. Dave Schlosser at Naked Dove (and he could serve his beers and win over drinkers, formerly at Genesee), Bruce Lish at Custom so he decided on a brewpub. Brewcrafters, and Jim McDermott at Genesee. R See Session p. 4 The Beer Queendom .......................... 8 Homebrewing ................................... 10 Beer & Health ....................................11 Beer Beacon ..................................... 12 Jolly Giant ........................................ 17 Map/Directory .............................. 18-23 Cooking with Beer............................ 25 State by State INSIDE Michigan ................ 14 SW Michigan ......... 15 SE Michigan .......... 16 Indiana ................... 24 Chicago ................. 26 Illinois .................... 27 Wisconsin .............. 28 N Wisconsin .......... 29 Minnesota .............. 30 Ohio ....................... 32 New York ............... 33 Pennsylvania ......... 36 Ontario .................. 38 See Rohrbach p. 7
Small Beer: Back In Session
In the 1990s a patron could belly up to the bar at most every brew pub or craft brewery tasting room and be treated to a variety of beer that had low to moderate alcohol (4% to 6% ABV— alcohol by volume). These lower alcohol beers made it easy to socialize with a fellow student, friend, co-worker or significant other for hours while imbibing multiple pints, and still maintain a good measure of civility and sobriety.<br /> <br /> When an American beer drinker bought a beer in excess of 5% ABV prior to the 90s it was most likely called Old English 800 or Colt 45 and came wrapped in a brown paper bag. In the 90s—the earlier days of the craft brewing renaissance—beers that exceeded the 5% ABV were reserved for special occasions, holiday celebrations or as seasonal treats. Beers like Seven Mules Strong Ale or Two-Hearted Ale were considered ‘big’ because the potency measured around 7% ABV and was not meant to be consumed in large volumes over a prolonged period. But something changed as we exited the nineties. High-alcohol beers that were once considered special treats increasingly seemed to be the norm, while lower alcohol content craft beers were becoming the exception.<br /> <br /> That’s Creepy <br /> <br /> As homebrewers continued to push the extremes of flavors and alcohol in their beers, many craft breweries— new and existing—joined the fray with the explicit intent of conjuring big-ass, bodacious brews. Why? Maybe because many of the craft brewers leading the charge toward bigger beers were from the same pool of home brewing hobbyists. Either by design or happenstance, these beers displayed greater maltiness and residual sweetness; a by-product of the ‘ballsier’ malt bills that also resulted in higher alcohol. With more residual sweetness came more hops and the requisite bittering units to balance sweetness. Or did the introduction of new floral, pungent and high alpha acid hops in larger quantities require more malt as a foil and subsequently result in higher alcohol? Irrespective of the cause, beer judge, writer and blogger Lew Bryson feels that beers have gotten bigger: “I think the big beer trend has grown out of the idea that ‘if big is good, bigger is better’. Before craft beer came along, the only beers generally available over 5. 5% were malt liquors and some rare imports, like Samichlaus (a 12% specialty lager) and some big English ales like Traquair House and Samuel Smith Russian Imperial Stout. When craft brewers started up, they exercised their freedom by ranging all over the scale, but still generally hung below 6% (ABV) until competition started.” <br /> <br /> Many craft beer brewers, judges, writers and cognoscenti began to ask themselves: “What happened?” Bryson, who has judged at a number of local competitions, both commercial and homebrewing, and several national competitions including the Great American Beer Festival and the Mondial de la Biere, has a theory as to one of the possible causes for the ABV shift. “Speaking as a beer judge, when you're faced with 12 pale ales and asked to pick three top choices, the ones that are going to pop out are the ones that are more flavorful, more aromatic, more bitter...and the way you do that is by throwing more stuff in. You throw in more hops—you're going to throw in more malt to balance it. We call it ‘category creep’ and the beer rating websites are clearly affected by it as well.” <br /> <br /> Although there is little more than anecdotal evidence available to prove that beers are bigger now than they were a decade ago, craft beer writer Ken Weaver queried the RateBeer (a large online beer advocacy and rating site) databases from 1999 to 2009 and reported that, “Over the last ten years, about 30-40% of new international beers have had alcohol levels with 5. 5%+ ABV, while the proportion of U.S. beers with this characteristic has steadily risen to nearly twice that. Today, more than 70% of new American beers are bigger, bolder, less sessionable beers.” <br /> <br /> From 1999 to 2009, while non U.S. beer ABV rose from an average of 5.3% to 5.8% for this time period, the U.S. debuts had an average of 5.9% in 1999 and a significant rise to 7.2% in 2009. Is this progression in gravity and bitterness wise or sustainable? Alan Moen, a writer for the American Brewer and The New Brewer magazines, commented: “The caveat for both brewer and beer drinker is that it's really not possible to economically produce, or reasonably consume any great quantity of very strong beers.<br /> <br /> They should be treated differently in the marketplace, where over-consumption, even by craft beer drinkers, is still the norm. Consumers evidently want big bottles, too, but smaller servings of strong beers in pubs still makes a lot of sense — especially for pub owners who wish to avoid liability for DUIs. More should mean less!” <br /> <br /> Although these statistics do not necessarily mean that the number of lower alcohol beers being offered in the market has diminished, it can be reasonably deduced that since there is only so much shelf space and so many tap handles, most likely, something had to give.<br /> <br /> Dubbels, Tripels and Imperials, Oh My!<br /> <br /> Truth be told, there is a place and a desire for big beers: Most craft beer drinkers enjoy them. This fact is certainly born out on the two largest online beer rating sites: RateBeer and BeerAdvocate. The ABV of the Top 50 beers for 2012, as voted on by thousands of independent beer raters on each site, averages 10.4% and 9. 5% respectively. And many craft beer fans that have attended a beer fest, even on the hottest summer day, certainly have been witness to the frenzy that occurs when the gravity gargantuans and lupulin leviathans are tapped. So is it any wonder that brewers have continued to ramp up the vitals of their beers?<br /> <br /> What difference does a little higher alcohol in those ales and lager make? The average U.S. male who weighs 180 pounds with a metabolic rate of .015 (a burn-off of alcohol resulting in a decline .015 BAC per hour) can consume three 16 ounce servings of 4.5% ABV beer within one hour and maintain a BAC of approximately .071%. The same amount of servings would result in a BAC level of .087% in the average 135 pound female.<br /> <br /> Bump the ABV of the beer for the same session by just 1%, apply the same factors as above and both the average female (.109% BAC) and male (.09% BAC) would be in violation of drunk driving laws in every state of the union.<br /> <br /> Cue the Session Beer <br /> <br /> To many, the answer to this potency conundrum appears to lie in having more ales and lagers that fall within the 4-5 % ABV spectrum, beer that is appropriate for a protracted session, beers like those that were brewed in the old days—the 1990s!<br /> <br /> Even though the term ‘session beer’ has been around for many decades—and there is little doubt that it was first used in England—it is a nebulous expression for most craft beer drinkers in the U.S. Merely defining 'session' seems to be ambitious and enigmatic all at the same time. In Great Britain the term ‘session beer’ is commonly associated with beers that register a sub 4% ABV. However, a session that involves beers that are higher than 4.5% ABV is common in the U.S. and other European countries. Zack Hubbard, a beer writer recounted the following: “My first two years of college were spent in Munich, a place where there’s a totally different school of thought on session beers. The local yokels there would classify virtually any Munich lager as a session beer, even though they all generally exceed my 5% ABV threshold. The “Müncheners” certainly drink (these lagers) in quantity!” <br /> <br /> The session movement does not seem to be driven by a desire for light beer or thin beer, per se. Americans have seen the wretched results of that experiment. If ‘session’ were to be simply defined by lower alcohol content, then many of the light American pilsners would fit the bill. Rob Caputo, brewer and co-owner of Flat 12 Bierwerks in Indianapolis, says defining the session category by alcohol content alone opens up a Pandora's box of macro beers that are nowhere close to the craft category in flavor and complexity. “Essentially, defining the category by alcohol content alone blurs the line between macro and craft beer. The fact that Bud Light Platinum is a 6% version of Bud Light shows that even the macros are trying to get away from the session beer alcohol content to generate revenue.” <br /> <br /> Brewing well-made lower alcohol beers requires great skill. The majority of professional and amateur brewers alike agree that it’s more difficult to brew a low-alcohol beer that is balanced, interesting and absent of flaws. Fans of an artfully crafted Kölsch, a clear, refreshing ale from Köln, Germany will certainly attest to the fact that any flaws whatsoever would be exposed immediately in a lower alcohol beer.<br /> <br /> The Stepping Stone <br /> <br /> While the mega breweries have lost market share over the past several years, craft breweries have continued to show double-digit growth.Where are these additional dollars coming from?Neophytes for certain! But the impact of a limited selection of accessible low-alcohol craft beers for this group of adventuresome light American pilsners drinkers may be stunted momentum or lost opportunity altogether. Charles Stanley, Head Brewer from Upland Brewing Company concurs: “When every other beer sold in the US (is) from one major brewer, primarily a session beer in all regards, there is a huge market segment (that) craft brewers have the opportunity to sway… While barrel-aged beers, sour beers, imperial styles, etcetera all have enthusiastic fervor (and are) the flashier brighter patches of the (beer) quilt-work, a majority of the fabric is composed of session-able beer.” <br /> <br /> Other brewers across the U.S. have reached the same logical conclusion that offering session beer is just good business sense.New Glarus Brewing Company in Wisconsin has found a lucrative product in their 4.8% ABV Spotted Cow Cream Ale. This beer could easily be renamed ‘Cash Cow’ because 90% of the brewery’s sales come from this ale. The proceeds have undoubtedly funded other business objectives for New Glarus Brewing, such as the opening of a beautiful hilltop rural brewing, tasting and specialty retail facility.<br /> <br /> Many a publican, brewer and craft beer devotee alike has heard a light American pilsner drinker say: “I don’t like those dark beers. They are too heavy!” And because humans eat and drink with their eyes, any beer one shade darker than wheat straw is one of those ‘dark’ beers to most American light pilsner drinkers. But every seasoned craft beer drinker who has ever tried to influence a non craft beer drinker’s beer choice knows that the challenge is less about the color and more about hop bitterness, residual sweetness and ‘buzz’ factor. If potential converts are faced with mostly high gravity beers with elevated bitterness and alcohol, they may try craft beer once and never try it again.<br /> <br /> The Name Game <br /> <br /> Many craft beer drinkers seem to feel that they are being cheated out of quality and quantity if they are served a small beer. Some craft beer advocates feel as if ‘session’ itself has been hijacked and misused or bastardized a fine old drinking concept, the ‘session’. Jerry Sutherlin Head Brewer at Rock Bottom, downtown Indianapolis, has played the name-game with low-alcohol beers: “In my shop when I have brewed session ales and tried to use low alcohol as a selling point, they have not moved. So, I will still brew nice session-able beers, I just won’t advertise them as ‘session ales’!” <br /> <br /> Moving in the Right Direction<br /> <br /> A survey of internet activity reveals that there has been a great deal of focus on session beers since the turn of the millennium. There are blogs and web pages that have been dedicated to low alcohol beer for several years. RateBeer has a Low/Moderate Alcohol section. There are blogs named Very Small Beer and The Session Beer Project™ that pay homage to low-alcohol beer. Alan Moen, although in concurrence with this movement, still feels as if there is a ways to go. “For me, it's been good to see a bit of a counterrevolution of some excellent session beers now coming out, like 21st Amendment's Bitter American (4.4 % ABV.) But these brews still don't often get the high ratings of their highgravity brethren, and that's a shame.”<br /> <br /> A ‘session’ is more about the experience and not the buzz. Although it may be difficult to get every American craft beer drinker to agree upon the definition of session, there is little doubt that there is a large and continuing movement to offer flavorful lower-alcohol beers that have character. So the question may not be ‘What is to be done?’ but ‘What is being done?’ Although the craft beer scene may have leaned more heavily toward bigger beers over the past decade, it seems that in the current market there are an increasing number of breweries offering smaller, more session-able beers. And that is a wise and good thing for all parties involved.
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Rohrbach Brewing Co.
Rochester's oldest brewpub, Rohrbach Brewing Company, is celebrating 20 years in business. Rohrbach is a trailblazer: They were one of the first craft brewers to brew a special beer in a baseball park (Red Wing Red Ale, for Frontier Field); the brewery was also the first in the area to market growlers. Early on, they added pre-filled growlers at retails stores to the mix. The brewery and restaurant have consistently won local consumer preference awards from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle and City Newspaper.<br /> <br /> The brewery has also paid back the brewing community.Three of its former brewers have moved on to be brewmasters at other New York breweries.Dave Schlosser at Naked Dove (and formerly at Genesee), Bruce Lish at Custom Brewcrafters, and Jim McDermott at Genesee.<br /> <br /> Rohrbach's current brewmaster, Mich Lagoy, is the secretary of the local chapter of the Master Brewers of the Americas Association; Rohrbach just finished hosting a meeting for the group. And since 1996, Rohrbach has held the Flour City Beer Festival. Before Flour City, Rohrbach ran one edition of the Finger Lakes Beer Festival at Sonnenburg Gardens in Canandaigua.<br /> <br /> Other annual events include some special Lenten meals and an Oktoberfest menu.<br /> <br /> John Urlaub, the owner, got into the brewing business when his employer, Kodak, offered a buyout. John got a retraining grant from Kodak and took a course at the Siebel Institute. He came back to Rochester intent on opening a brewery, but he soon realized that the market for craft beer was not well developed. John determined that he needed a restaurant where he could serve his beers and win over drinkers, so he decided on a brewpub.<br /> <br /> One of the Few<br /> <br /> John was comfortable with his skills at brewing but was concerned about running a restaurant, so he worked for a time as a waiter at the Spaghetti Factory and then as a manager at Oscar's in Penfield.Interestingly, both establishments featured craft and imported beers. Both are long gone, but they gave John what he needed.<br /> <br /> The corporation was formed in 1991 and the doors opened at their original location in May 1992. The brewery is named for a small town in Germany that John and his wife Patty lived in for two years (there is no Mr. Rohrbach).<br /> <br /> Rohrbach was always a strong supporter of local brewing and even before it officially opened provided space for Upstate New York's first Beer Judge Certification Program exam.<br /> <br /> Rohrbach first opened at the historic German House on Gregory Street in Rochester's South Wedge neighborhood.They were there for 10 years. Rohrbach opened a second location (now their primary brewpub) on Buffalo Road in the Town of Gates in 1995. John Urlaub, the owner, has a strong bond with the City of Rochester and opened a bigger brewery on Railroad Street near Rochester's Public Market in 2008.<br /> <br /> There were only a handful of brewpubs and craft brewers in New York when Rohrbach opened, and only one, the Buffalo Brew Pub, that is still in business.<br /> <br /> Food and Beer<br /> <br /> John has always felt that enjoying beer with food was an important part of the beer experience and jumped in early with beer and food pairings. The current pairings, which have been running for over a decade, are held on the second Tuesday of the month at the Buffalo Road location.They are always sell-outs. Casual beer tastings, called Brewtopias, are held on the last Thursday of most months. These, too, often sell out in advance.<br /> <br /> Rohrbach markets mostly in the Rochester area and self-distributes. John feels this keeps him in touch with the market.For an expansion to the Buffalo market he chose a local distributor, Tryit.<br /> <br /> The brewpub location on Buffalo Road has about a dozen taps, the tasting room on Railroad has a few less.Rohrbach's biggest sellers to other bars and restaurants are Highland Lager (an accessible amber brew that is moderately hopped) and Scotch Ale (a dark strong malty brew). The Scotch Ale developed a cult following right from the start that continues to this day. Other big off-site offerings are Vanilla Porter and Blueberry. And during baseball season, Red Wing Red Ale.There is also a regular rotation of seasonal beers with some new ones appearing about quarterly.<br /> <br /> Editors note:<br /> <br /> Steve Hodos bought the first round when Rohrbach opened. He also proctored the BJCP exam held there and lead the first beer and food parings at Gregory Street.
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