Great Lakes Brewing News April/May 2016 : Page 1

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY HANS GRANHEIM By Tina Weymann By Meagan Wilson nce upon a time, people dried their malt over burning wood, lending a smoky character to vir-tually all brews. In defi-ance of modern, “clean’ malting techniques, this custom survives in the Rauchbiers of Bamberg, in the Franconia region of Bavaria. Crack open one of these traditional lagers, and bask in the aroma of summer campfires on the beach, a wood-fired grill on the back porch, and early fall, when people begin to stoke their wood-stoves and fireplaces. It’s a homey, but also somehow wild, scent. Thanks at least in part to Alaskan Smoked Porter, which has claimed a ridiculous number of medals at both GABF (Great American Beer Festival) and the World Beer Cup, smoked beers See Rauch Beers p. 4 Dan Mitchell, President of Ithaca Brewing (left) and Andrew Hausman, Head of Brewing Operations. PHOTO BY TINA WEYMANN Event Calendar ............................. 2 Beer Beacon ................................. 8 Homebrew ...................................... 10 NIPAC Declares Winners ........... 11 Book Review ............................... 11 Map/Directory.........................18-23 Beers To Us! ............................... 33 Illinois ........... 12 Chicago ......... 13 Indiana .......... 14 Ohio ............... 15 Wisconsin ..... 16 N. Wisconsin . 17 Minnesota ...... 30 New York ....... 24 Central NY ..... 26 Western NY ... 27 Ontario .......... 32 Pennsylvania . 34 Michigan ........ 36 SW Michigan . 36 SE Michigan .. 38 he Spirit of the Finger Lakes” is Ithaca Beer Company’s motto, and location has played a key role in its success over two decades. Often hailed as one of “America’s Best Small Cities,” Keeping Up With Demand Ithaca has it all. Nestled at the southern end Partly in response to the burgeon-of Cayuga Lake, Ithaca is an ing popularity of Finger Lakes craft enchanting place of gorges: a brews, a major expansion is narrow valley between hills, nearly complete at Ithaca Beer with steep rocky walls and Company – its third major spectacular waterfalls. growth spurt in the short Two prestigious insti-period of eight years. Nearly tutes of higher learning 24,000 square feet of pack-give the area both a aging, shipping and receiv-youthful, if transient, ing, cellaring, and much-population base and a lib-needed office space has been eral-leaning, cultured core added on the north side of the of faculty and staff. Ithacans existing 16,000 square foot facil-do love their beer, and share ity, freeing up room in the brew-Photo and Design a sense of pride in drinking house to accommodate some new by Tyler Finck local. See Ithaca p. 7 Gorgeous Gorges Home now to over 100 wineries, doz-ens of breweries and brewpubs, and a grow-ing number of cideries and distilleries, New York’s Finger Lakes region has become a mecca for sophisticated alco-tourism. Beer, Wine, Cheese, and Spirits Trails have fueled the passion for exploring a region rich in nature’s bounty and beauty.

Put That In Your Beer And Smoke It : Rauchbier And Craft Brewing

Meagan Wilson

Once upon a time, people dried their malt over burning wood, lending a smoky character to virtually all brews. In defiance of modern, “clean’ malting techniques, this custom survives in the Rauchbiers of Bamberg, in the Franconia region of Bavaria. Crack open one of these traditional lagers, and bask in the aroma of summer campfires on the beach, a wood-fired grill on the back porch, and early fall, when people begin to stoke their wood-stoves and fireplaces. It’s a homey, but also somehow wild, scent.

Thanks at least in part to Alaskan Smoked Porter, which has claimed a ridiculous number of medals at both GABF (Great American Beer Festival) and the World Beer Cup, smoked beers are now a relatively common feature in the American craft brewing scene. But, despite the popularity of smoked porters, the older German style of Rauchbier remains fairly obscure in North America.

Rauchbier can be a polarizing beer type; “Smoked beers…sometimes people really love ‘em, and other people don’t like ‘em at all,” remarks Matt Cole, head honcho at Fat Head’s Brewery & Saloon in North Olmsted, Ohio.

Like many European styles, imported examples are few and sometimes difficult to find. The most readily available—and recognizable—is Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen. Dark and strongly smoky, this cellar-aged lager is often the first example that comes to mind when craft beer enthusiasts consider Rauchbier, or smoked beer in general. Similarly famous, Spezial Rauchbier Märzen also hails from Bamberg, which Cole says is his “favorite little beer-drinking city in the world.” He loves Spezial, and finds it “softer…less phenolic, a much cleaner smoked beer.”

Where there’s Rauch

According to The German Beer Institute, the word rauchbier means “smoke beer.” Going with this definition, any beer made with smoked malt could be considered a Rauchbier, regardless of the style it’s based on, or the smoking woods used. However, if you happen to be brewing an example for an AHA (American Homebrewers Association) competition, you’ll want to keep in mind that the 2015 BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) Style Guide specifies that the category, “6B. Rauchbier” refers to entries in which “Beech wood-smoked malt is used to make a Märzen-style amber lager.”

For this purpose, many homebrewers rely on pre-packaged smoked malt, the most common of which is rauch malt, from Weyermann. But as previously mentioned, many drinkers find the strong flavor of beechwood-smoked malt to be overwhelming, and a large number shy away from smoked beers.

For both commercial and homebrewers, finding the right balance of smoke and malty flavor can be daunting. Matt Cole relates that he needs at least 40% smoked malt in the brew “to taste it”. Matt Conron, Head Brewer at Old First Ward Brewing Company, in Buffalo, went with about half that for his Marzen-inspired Rauchbier, Cremated Remains.

Whether you prefer just a hint of smoke, or something that tastes like a roaring bonfire smells, you don’t have to limit yourself to beech wood, or to pre-packaged smoked malts. Weyermann’s version is the easiest smoked malt to find in homebrew supply stores, but it’s far from the only option, especially if you’ve ever considered smoking your own malt.

Personal Experience

Last fall, my husband and I brewed a smoked ale, using four pounds of hotsmoked, and four pounds of cool-smoked, Vienna malt. For the hot-smoked portion, we roasted the malt in a metal colander inside a Kamado-style smoker, over pecan chunks, at around 270° F, stirring occasionally to make sure the grain didn’t burn. The cool-smoked portion was even easier, since the electric smoker only required pecan pellets, and could be set to the desired temperature of about 160° F.

Once it was cool enough, we put both versions of smoked malt into plastic freezer bags, and allowed it to sit for a few days before brewing.

The result was a Märzen-inspired Vienna ale with light roast flavor, a wealth of malt, subtle wood and smoke flavors, and none of the bacon-like beech wood character that newcomers to smoked beer often find off-putting. Our pecan-smoked Vienna ale took first place in the German beer category at the informal homebrew competition held during UNYHA’s (Upstate New York Homebrew Association) Oktoberfest. Doug Brainard, longtime homebrewer—as in, nearly four decades—and ranked BJCP judge, described it thus: “Nice, very pleasant, smoky background; no actinic bite as is common with smoked beers…I could drink this all day.”

A Rare Find

Commercially produced Rauchbier may be something of a rarity in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. In Eastern Pennsylvania, Victory Brewing Company occasionally makes Scarlet Fire, a 5.7% ABV number that lives up to its name in color, has a distinctive beech wood smoke flavor that manages not to be overdone, and smells like a bonfire on the beach. It is also the only U.S. specimen among the commercial examples given in the BJCP style guide.

A number of breweries in the Great Lakes and nearby states produce German-inspired smoked beers; I enlisted the aid of several Brewing News regional writers to locate a few of them.

Indiana writer Jim Herter pointed me toward Urban Chestnut Brewing, in Saint Louis, Missouri. They make a 7% ABV, “Smoked Bamberg Style Bockbier called Hollermoeffel (a Franconian term for sleepy head),” says Head Brewer and owner, Florian Kuplent. When asked about the smoked malt component, he explains, “Only the Pilsner malt that we use in this beer is beech wood smoked. We don’t smoke the malt ourselves— it is imported from Bamberg. The smoke character is not as pronounced as in Schlenkerla—our beer has a good balance between smoke, malt sweetness and caramel notes.”

August Schell Brewing specializes in German-style brews, including Chimney Sweep, a 5.2% ABV Schwarzbier. According to Minnesota writer James Lee Ellingson, “Schell's Chimney Sweep has just a kiss of Franconian smoke.”

Perhaps taking their cue more from the relatively new American tradition of smoked porters than from Bamberg, Surly Brewing pours Smoke, a very cozy 9.3% ABV brew which Todd Haug, the Brewery Operation Director, describes as “…a Baltic Porter brewed with both beech wood (Weyermann) and cherry wood (Briess) smoked malts. It’s aged on toasted oak honeycombs from Black Swan for 5 weeks.” They’re not bottling Smoke this winter; as of Mid-December, it was on tap at the Surly Beer Hall and Restaurant, in Minneapolis.

I have it from Ohio writer Karen Bujak that Fat Head’s Brewery “makes some excellent smoked beers.” One of these, Kohlminator, is a 7% ABV smoked bock brewed with 55-60% Weyermann beech wood Rauchmalt. Mexicali Smoke is a riff on the same beer, kegged with ancho and chipotle peppers; “It doesn’t take many peppers,” says Matt Cole. They use around four peppers to a keg for that version, which gives it “just the right amount of heat.”

Departing from the German-inspired beers, they also brew Up in Smoke, a 9% ABV imperial porter, with malt they smoke in-house, over alder wood. That one took a Silver Medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2010.

Cole thinks of smoked beer as a good BBQ beer, or for “hanging out around the bonfire,” and likes to have it available as soon as the weather starts to warm up. Kohlminator, the Mexicali Smoke version, and Up in Smoke should be on tap in late winter/early spring.

Western New York writer Jennifer Reed directed me to a couple of Buffalo breweries who are doing interesting things with smoked malts. Branching out from both the Rauchbier and Porter styles, Big Ditch Brewing offers Last Blacksmith, a 6. 5% ABV black IPA using beech wood smoked malt to create a beer that, according to the brewery, “…balances bright orange hop flavor with smooth smoked malts,” and is “complex, yet still drinkable.” It was scheduled for release this January.

At Old First Ward Brewing, Matt Conron designed his 5.5% ABV Rauchbier, Cremated Remains, to provide a good balance of malt and smoke flavors. “What I tried to do was tone down the smoke a tad while pairing it with the sweetness of the malt,” he says. “…this one, you get a really delicate flavor…” of smoke on the back end, “after you swallow.” While they have smoked their own malt in the past, they don’t now, because “we can only produce so much that way.” For their High and Rye Stout, they used 3-5% malt that they smoked over hickory in the smoker at Gene McCarthy’s pub. Cremated Remains uses 20% “Betz malt, a German continental malt”.

Apply as Needed

Smoked beers are a delicious complement to grilled and BBQ foods, and some of the most lightly smoked examples add fantastic complexity to desserts—cheesecakes and custards, for instance. Rauchbiers are traditionally based on Märzen, which was brewed in March, and ready to be enjoyed in the fall. But smoked beers, whether German-inspired or American-style, make for excellent drinking during the cold winter months, inspiring warm thoughts of firing up that BBQ again.

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Idyllic Ithaca Beer Company

Tina Weymann

Gorgeous Gorges

The Spirit of the Finger Lakes" is Ithaca Beer Company’s motto, and location has played a key role in its success over two decades. Often hailed as one of “America’s Best Small Cities,” Ithaca has it all. Nestled at the southern end of Cayuga Lake, Ithaca is an enchanting place of gorges: a narrow valley between hills, with steep rocky walls and spectacular waterfalls. Two prestigious institutes of higher learning give the area both a youthful, if transient, population base and a liberal- leaning, cultured core of faculty and staff. Ithacans do love their beer, and share a sense of pride in drinking local.

Home now to over 100 wineries, dozens of breweries and brewpubs, and a growing number of cideries and distilleries, New York’s Finger Lakes region has become a mecca for sophisticated alco-tourism. Beer, Wine, Cheese, and Spirits Trails have fueled the passion for exploring a region rich in nature’s bounty and beauty.

Keeping Up With Demand

Partly in response to the burgeoning popularity of Finger Lakes craft brews, a major expansion is nearly complete at Ithaca Beer Company – its third major growth spurt in the short period of eight years. Nearly 24,000 square feet of packaging, shipping and receiving, cellaring, and much-needed office space has been added on the north side of the existing 16,000 square foot facility, freeing up room in the brewhouse to accommodate some new fermentation and lagering tanks, boosting the current 50-barrel capacity.

This is not, however, a maneuver meant to dramatically increase production in order to significantly extend Ithaca Beer’s already impressive reach into markets outside New York State. (Ithaca presently sells in eight states, the District of Columbia, and most recently Puerto Rico, and is contemplating moving into Vermont, New Hampshire, and the Baltimore area.) Planned growth is slow, steady, conservative, intended to hedge bets on the volatility of the craft beer market.

The 2015-16 expansion is, rather, an effort to more efficiently meet the already high demand for its flagship brands, like Apricot Wheat, Cascazilla, Nut Brown, Green Trail, and the iconic, best-selling Flower Power, and to provide more comfortable long-term housing for a fleet of barrel-aged brews, like the kegs of Russian Imperial Stout that are currently sandwiched into the brewhouse, and the heralded Anniversary and Excelsior! Series, as well as some one-off creations.

For such a large brewery (output was 24,000 barrels last year), it is surprising that much of the packaging work has for so long been done by hand, creating (pardon the pun) quite a bottleneck. No longer will 6-pack carriers be manually unfolded and inserted into case boxes, nor will the cases be painstakingly put together by hand and bottles inserted. State-of-the-art bottling, canning, and kegging lines are coming in, so that packaging can at last keep up with production, which is anticipated to reach some 30,000 barrels in 2016. With the addition of the new “packaging hall,” production could comfortably exceed that figure in the coming years, but Ithaca Beer is taking a steady-as-she-goes approach.

Food, Fun, and One-Offs

The front end of the house certainly hasn’t been left behind in this great undertaking. The kitchen will be built out to encompass the cramped office space, affording more room to prepare the wood-fired pizzas, gourmet burgers and sandwiches, cheese plates, scrumptious desserts, and other locally sourced delicacies served at the wildly popular Taproom at Ithaca Beer Company. The taproom recently was named as the fifth-best of its kind in the nation by USA Today, and the honor is well deserved.

The bar staff know their beers, and take pride in recommending just what you’ll love. On a recent visit, I overheard an enthusiastic exchange between a server and a homebrewer, and I know that the patron will carry the memory of that conversation and the carefully chosen sampler flight for many years to come.

Best of all, the taproom is the place to experience the myriad Five-Barrel Beers produced on Ithaca Beer’s pilot system. Fans of sour brews will rave about brewmaster Andrew Hausman’s creations like Tart & Soul, a gorgeous, deep garnet hued sour orange porter that is entirely “moreish,” Rind House, a grapefruit gose made with pink Himalayan salt, and Lem Fatale, its refreshing lemony sister. Somewhat tamer Five-Barrel selections are always available, too, like Common Spirit, a perfectly crafted 5.2% ABV California Common style. This year’s special annual release, Anniversary 18, is a must-try Baltic Porter, a slightly smoky, smooth, rich brew created in the lagering method traditional to the style and aged on American oak.

Thursday night is cask night, and it is always fascinating to discover how a beer smoothes and transforms when presented in a well-tended cask. Matt Parsons, Ithaca’s casking specialist, is the magic-worker here, and his extraordinary skill takes the spotlight every week.

An outdoor barbeque pit has been added in the beer garden, and a taco truck is on site to ease the anxiety of long waits during peak times. Shelters have been erected to shield patrons from the elements, but on balmy days families with kids, courting couples, and groups of friends will be out in the beer garden, frolicking and having a grand, happy time.

Crisis Narrowly Averted

Believe it or not, all of this might have been nipped in the bud many years ago. Back in the mid-1990s, founder Dan Mitchell (Cornell class of 2000) wanted to open a brewpub near the shoreline of Cayuga Lake after a customer at the bar where he worked mused that Ithaca ought to have its own craft brewery. Renting space in a former bakery and auto parts shop, Ithaca Beer released its first brews in 1996.

But trouble came soon after. There were complaints that Ithaca’s beers were actually contract-brewed in Chicago. The brewery shut down. Mitchell’s brewing partner quit, and Dan spent a year apprenticing at a pub in Peterborough, Ontario, 300 miles away.


The dream and the plan evolved quickly thereafter. The business got back on its feet, with brewer Jeff Conuel (Cornell ’92) taking over the brewing duties while Mitchell con-centrated on sales. They were joined by executive brewer Jeff “Chief” O’Neill, and eventually the sophisticated, experimental Excelsior! And Anniversary lines of beers were born, bottled like wines in 750-ml bottles. Talk to old-timers about Brute (a golden sour ale that was among the first such styles produced in the U.S.), Le Bleu (a gorgeous sour blueberry), and Old Habit (barrel-aged rye ale), and you could find yourself held captive for hours. One of the Excelsior! Brews, White Gold, continues to be made, now aged in locally sourced Chardonnay casks.

In its first decade, Ithaca’s beers garnered plenty of regional acclaim, and word spread like wildfire. The small facility on Elmira Road was completely rebuilt in 2008. That same year, Ithaca Beer took two medals at GABF and was awarded the prestigious F. X. Matt Cup at TAP-NY.

A second major expansion came in 2012 with the construction of a 16,000 square foot “all purpose” facility and the opening of the taproom and beer garden.

Today’s News and Brews

With packaging, cellaring, shipping, and other mundane but crucial logistical dilemmas soon to be resolved with the recent expansion, founder Dan Mitchell says Ithaca Beer Company is able to fully focus on what it does best as a production brewery: choosing the right styles to brew, and crafting them perfectly.

Over the years, consumers’ tastes have evolved, reflecting a growing knowledge of the wide universe of beer styles. Flower Power – often cited as a “perfect” IPA, and named in November by none other than Playboy as one of New York State’s best beers – overtook Apricot Wheat in sales some years back. Today, both beers are joined in the year-round lineup by the tried-and-true Green Trail, a masterfully balanced American IPA that reflects Ithaca Beer’s initiative to preserve and restore area biking and hiking trails, the legendary Cascazilla, a hoppy red ale, and Nut Brown, the rich mahogany hued English brown ale that many aficionados recall as the first craft beer that made them fall in love.

New in the full-time lineup are Creeker, a 9% ABV double IPA sold in 12-oz 4 packs and on draft, that debuted several years ago in Ithaca’s Box of Hops, with piney and tropical fruit aromatic notes and a full, malty body, and Super Stout, a smooth and robust oatmeal stout brewed with a special special blend of coffee from local roaster Gimme! Coffee; this beauty will be available in limited release on nitro draft in select markets for St. Patrick’s Day.

In March, joining the seasonal lineup will be Happy Pils, a crisp, slightly spicy, refreshing German-style pilsner hopped with German Tettnang and Mittelfrüh varieties. It will be in good company with Daydreamer, a Kölsch-style hybrid that signed on to the seasonal collection in 2015, Cayuga Cruiser, a tart, invigorating, superbly quaffable Berlinerweisse, and Embrr Rye Porter, a soft, warming early-autumn beauty. Coming around Halloween (replacing Country Pumpkin, at least for the coming year) will be Hellish Lager, a Munich Helles style.

Big news! Ithaca Beer Company will hold an Oktoberfest celebration on Saturday, October 15, in the beer garden and spacious “backyard,” complete with polka band, tents, light and dark lagers served in half-liter mugs, and incredible German-themed, chef-prepared food.

Don’t hold your breath, but… we could one day see the return of the legendary Ithaca Brew Fest at Stewart Park! With so much going on, Ithaca Beer had to take a hiatus from organizing the popular annual event. But, Dan Mitchell confides, “my answer is starting to go to yes” in response to the many pleas to bring back the fest. A big boost came recently when an official from the Mayor’s office put the bug into Dan’s ear, promising plenty of organizational and logistical help. Check back on the return of the Fest in 2017!

Meanwhile, stop by if you can for the beer, the food and the growler fills. If you can’t stop buy, Ithaca beer is easy to find on draft and on store shelves anytime.

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