A Devilish Brew
It’s one of our most-dependable brews, delighting fans since the early days of CMBC. While most of our beers have evolved over the years, not so with Devil’s Reach.
“It was a one-and-done recipe,” Hank says. “It’s pretty much unchanged since the day we first brewed it.”
“Every other beer has at least received minor tweaks here or there,” says Head Brewer Brian Hink, “but Devil’s Reach is still exactly the same today as it was when it first came out over four years ago.”
Back in the early days of CMBC, before we got the 15-barrel brewhouse up and running in March of 2013, we used to get a new pitch of yeast for every batch of beer we brewed. That process can get expensive.
“Once we moved up to the big leagues — or so we thought at the time — we knew we needed to get more mileage out of our yeast,” Brian remembers, “so Hank started to re-pitch yeast for a few generations to help generate some cost savings, but also to ensure we always had a steady supply of yeast on hand. After brewing up Cape May Saison — as Misty Dawn was known then — he wanted to come up with another beer that would utilize that strain of French Saison yeast.”
Hank did a little research and devised the recipe for Devil’s Reach.
“I went to the yeast supplier’s website, and it had other classic styles to brew with the yeast,” Hank says. “It had ‘Belgian Golden Strong Ale’ as a suggestion.”
Hank got to work whipping up a quick recipe that would be simple enough to showcase the yeast, but different enough from the Saison so that they weren’t the same beer.
“The highlight of the beer is the yeast,” Hank tells us. “So, while the flavors are complex, that’s all from the yeast. It’s all about giving the yeast a good base.”
He kept the grain bill restrained, lightened the mash temperature, and went for a gentle helping of Czech Saaz hops to brew up the first batch of Devil’s Reach.
Traditionally, Belgian Golden Strong Ales are named after the devil. Duvel, brewed by Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat, is Dutch for devil. Lucifer, brewed by Brouwerij Het Anker, is another obvious reference to the lord of the underworld.
“I started searching the web for some sort of connection between ‘Cape May’ and ‘devil’, and Devil’s Reach kept on coming up,” Hank tells us. “It worked out perfectly. It’s a cool name.”
After naming the beer, Hank went a little overboard researching the origin of the name.
“I got obsessed with Devil’s Reach for a week,” he says. “Right now, it’s the name of a marina and it’s a little cove. It didn’t make sense: ‘Why would this be called ‘Devil’s Reach’? So, I looked at old charts before the government put the giant harbor in, and there was this little creek that serpentined its way to Schellenger’s Landing where the Lobster House is, and you had one last turn that was a complete 180, a hairpin turn just before you got to Schellenger’s Landing. And with a river or a waterway like that, a ‘reach’ is just a section. I’m guessing that this section, because it was such a hairpin turn for anyone going through without a motor, it must have been a pain in the ass. I’m assuming that’s why it was called Devil’s Reach.
“Then they dug out the harbor and dug a direct route to Schellenger’s and it just became a little cove,” he says, a little mournfully.
To everyone’s surprise, the beer was a huge hit.
“We all thought it would be a one-off beer,” Brian says.
“It was an experimental beer,” Hank says. “I just wanted to brew something else with the Saison yeast and people really loved it. I don’t know if it was the ABV or what it was, but people loved it.”
The first batch sold out in a few weeks — maybe a month, tops.
“At the time, it was pretty crazy for us,” Brian says. “We’re going back to a time when it was just Chris and Ryan — who had just recently become full time, he was still in NYC up until a few months before this — Paul who was our driver on Thursdays, our only delivery day, and did kegging and cellar work the rest of the week, and myself and one other full time employee in the Tasting Room.
“We figured it would be a one-and-done brew, maybe we’d make it again the next time we brewed Saison. Little did we know our regulars were going to go crazy over it!”
We brewed the Saison again a few months later, and it was a no-brainer that we were going to brew Devil’s Reach alongside it. Since then, we’ve tried to always have it available since our fans are consistently clamoring for it.
When we began bottling, Devil’s Reach was an easy choice to be one of the first. With its big 8.6% ABV, there’s a good amount of built-in protection from beer spoilers, and with its little residual sugar, there was almost no chance of over-carbonation resulting in bottles exploding in fans’ refrigerators. The little amount of hops in Devil’s Reach meant we probably wouldn’t end up with an oxidized, cardboardy mess on our hands if our bottler didn’t have primo oxygen levels.
“It was the perfect beer to get our feet wet in regards to packaging,” Brian says. “It was nice to know we didn’t have quite so much to worry about.
“And Victor Grasso came up with a helluva label for that brand, which made it even easier to justify putting it into bottles.”
Victor riffed on an antique illustration of natural history — the shark jaws in the logo — and designed something for us. However, his first attempt was a too-literal interpretation of “Devil’s Reach.”
“Originally, he put an upside-down cross in the jaws,” Hank remembers, laughing. “We were like, ‘Hey, maybe we tone that back… What if you change it into a pitchfork?’”
With its similarities to Poseidon’s trident — he is the god of the sea, after all — the imagery was two-fold, incorporating both the reference to the devil and a nod to the brew’s nautical namesake.
With our recent redesign, we’ve had to let Victor’s original label design fall by the wayside. However, the replacement icon — this uber-rad octopus — is one of our new favorites.
Nonetheless, that’s literally the only thing that’s changed about this beer since we first began brewing it. Devil’s Reach has been a stalwart mainstay, satisfying our fans since we first brewed it four years ago.
“It’s been a standby since its beginning,” Hank says.