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The Official Blog of Cape May Brewing Company
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Checking in with The Skeg

Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm and Head Brewer Brian Hink have been dying to check in with our releases in the Barrel Aged Series, and now that The Skeg has just about hit its six-month mark, we decided to let the guys out of the box and have a field day.

“Oooh… that Brett is really starting to speak volumes, now,” Jimmy says.

“It’s definitely more woodsy. I definitely get more of the barrel character, now,” Brian says.

Jimmy thinks that “the flavor is even more pronounced than the aroma. It’s really, really complex.”

Brian says, “You want to go back more to it. It draws you in and treats your palate.”

“It’s aged incredibly well,” Brian says.

“It’s really, really nice,” Jimmy agrees.

Check the video to hear more, and let us know what you think about your cellar-aged brew in the comments.

The Topsail Gets Bottled

The latest in our Barrel Aged Series is just coming off the bottling line and into the Brewtique! The Topsail — a sour Blonde ale with rustic, earthy notes and a firm lactic acid presence — has been aging for nine months in the same barrels that carried The Keel. And now, it’s fresh off the line and into your cellar.

And check out that bottle! Graphic Designer Courtney Rosenberg really out-did herself with this one. The muted reds, blues, and tans come together on this gorgeous 750ml canvas, with the red wax really catching the eye.

“I took the colors directly from a picture of the sunset over Delaware Bay, just a few miles from the brewery,” she tells us. “This bottle is my favorite of the series.”

With plenty of Easter Eggs hidden throughout the design, this bottle is sure to keep you interested much longer than the brew will stay around. And when you’ve got all four bottles from the Bottle Aged Series lined up next to each other, you’ll think you’re sitting back on a summer evening, watching the dolphins breach in the Bay.

The Topsail sails into the Brewtique and into select bottle shops beginning February 18th. Be sure to grab a bottle.

In the meantime, whet your whistle with the video below.

Checking in with The Keel

So, you got your three bottles of The Keel back in June, and you’ve been dutifully sitting on two of them for aging, right? Your cellar thanks you! You’ve shown a remarkable amount of self-control, and you should be congratulated.

If you think it’s difficult for you to sit on such a stellar brew, imagine how the guys in the brewery feel. We’ve squirreled away a few bottles of each of these releases, and will be checking in with them periodically to see how they’re faring. These bottle-conditioned beers will continue to evolve as they age — up to two years — and Jimmy and Brian have been dying to break open a new bottle and check in with its development.

The guys seem to think that the Brett has really come through as it aged. The sour notes have subsided a bit and the rusticity of the Brett has had some time to come through.

“It’s definitely way more balanced,” Brian says.

“It’s gonna keep getting more rustic,” Jimmy says. “The sourness isn’t really dying down, it’s just becoming more of a part of the Brettanomyces flavors.”

Do you agree with their assessments? Let us know in the comments.

The Brew Crew on The Scupper

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On the most gorgeous October day within memory, we grabbed some of the staff at CMBC to find out what they liked about The Scupper.

“It was delicious. It’s got a nice balance between the Brett and the tartness. Nice, well-rounded…. It’s got a nice Brett character to it. It’s got a nice Saison, a little tart, a little funky. It’s just really frickin’ good.” — Brewer, Mark Graves

“It’s good. It’s unique, man. There’s nothing really down here like that, local-wise, and I feel like we’re kind of the first of many starting that out: that whole oaked, barrel-aged process is pretty cool. So it’s neat to see it come out every so often, and The Keel and The Scupper are definitely two really good beers. I’m looking forward to the other ones we’ve got coming out.” — Sales Manager, Bill McCaughey

“It has that nice Brett undertone, but it has a nice fruity flavor to it from the Saison. You get that undertone of fruit flavors.” — Head Chef, JP Thomas

“I thought it was tasty. Good flavor. I like the Saison as the base.” — Sales Manager Chuck Wray

“I thought it was delicious. It had a lot of the wine characteristics from the barrel and it was real easy to drink. Not too much Brett, but just enough.” — Brewer, Andrew Ewing

“I thought the purple on the glass was really pretty.” — Sales and Distribution Coordinator Justin Vitti

Curious? Come down to the tasting room on Saturday at noon and grab yourself a bottle to see for yourself.

Brian on The Scupper

Head Brewer Brian Hink has been pushing CMBC for the Barrel Aged Series more-or-less since he started working here. In this new video, he tells us what to expect from The Scupper. “I’m super happy how it came out.”

A Stormy Design

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With a beautiful brew, you need a beautiful package. The bottles for the first two releases in the Barrel Aged Series — The Keel and The Skeg — were glorious works of art.

CMBC Graphic Designer Courtney Rosenberg delivered yet again with The Scupper.

“This one is my favorite,” she tells us. “The purples really pop on the amber bottle and the fishing boat reminds me of home.”

And “home” is where Courtney has found her inspiration for these bottles. She’s spent most of her life in Cape May, just a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay.

Some of Courtney’s favorite activities in the area contributed to the design: “Enjoy some Salts on the Schooner at the Lobster House, take in a Fall sunset on the Delaware Bay, go for a sunset cruise on a friend’s boat, have an orange crush upstairs at Harry’s overlooking the ocean.

“The colors and the images on these bottles are all taken from these experiences.”

Like the brews themselves, the bottles offer variations on a theme. “The symbols change from bottle to bottle, but the waves, the font, and the style of the artwork are distinct and characteristic to this unique series.”

However, the bottle for The Scupper has a bit of a stormier feel: the sun from previous designs has been replaced by the moon and the clouds are moving in. “The ocean isn’t always pretty,” she tells us. “The sunsets aren’t always pretty.”

Brewtique Manager Emily Bowman loves the new design, as well. “Purple’s my favorite color,” she tells us. She also loved the fact that the design tied into the prominence of the fishing boat. “I love all the nautical themes in it: the lobster and the shell and the compass. The whole design just flows perfectly and its originality really compliments the beer inside.”

What do you think? You’ll have to come down and pick up your bottles when they’re released from The Brewtique on Saturday, October 22nd at noon.

Set sail with The Scupper!

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The third release in our Barrel Aged series is almost here.

If you were fortunate enough to try The Keel before it disappeared, and if you’ve been cellaring your bottle of The Skeg because The Keel blew your mind, then it’s time to open The Scupper.

And if you haven’t jumped on board with the Barrel Aged Series, what are you waiting for?

You may be wondering what a scupper is. (Even if you’re not, let’s pretend that you are.) Is it one who scups? That which scups? How does one scup?

No, it’s none of those things. A scupper is basically a hole in the side of a ship meant to carry water overboard. It’s wet out there on the high seas, and water on the deck can be a problem. You need to have some way of releasing it, and the scupper provides that.

So, are you going to want to dump this one over the side? Not. At. All. The Scupper’s waaaayyyy too good for that.

img_9870With most of our brews, we use one of two yeast strains: either our house ale strain — very clean and neutral, or our Belgian strain — a little more “yeasty” and expressive. We obviously don’t limit ourselves to only these, but the latter is what was used in Misty Dawn, the base of The Scupper.

The concept behind the Barrel Aged Series is to play with different yeast and bacteria to give us wildly different beers, with the lactic acid and sour notes at the forefront. These brews use a much more complex palette of microflora: up to ten different strains of Brettanomyces, some crazy Lactobacillus and Pediococcus, with a touch of Acetobacter in there, as well.

This latest installment of the Barrel Aged Series builds on what we built before with The Keel and The Skeg. With The Keel, we kinda just threw in everything we could find — judiciously and well-researched, of course — and the ultimate effect was, by all accounts, freakin’ awesome. (Yeah, 94 on Beer Connoisseur!)

With The Skeg, the idea was to see what would happen when Brettanomyces could get funky with a really hoppy base. The beer going in was all about the hops (no treble), so the end result focused on Brett metabolizing and evolving the hop character.

However, with The Scupper, we focused on an already-complex base — Misty Dawn will keep your palette entertained for awhile on its own. When we added four strains of Brett in there, it “just completely chewed up and spit out something otherworldly in flavor,” says Head Brewer Brian Hink.

Follow this logic: “If Brett were a world class DJ,” says Brian, “this remix could become more popular than the original song, like in ‘Stronger’ when Kanye sampled Daft Punk’s ‘Harder, Faster, Better, Stronger’ it just took something that was already great and just took it to a whole new level of greatness. That’s what the Scupper is all about.”

Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm agrees. “What we have here with The Scupper is a beer with a very different flavor profile than our previous Barrel Aged Series releases, and also one that will mature and age to a much greater extent than the other releases would, as well.”

img_9886After spending four months in those beautiful French Oak red wine barrels — the same ones that carried The Keel — we bottle conditioned this brew for another three months.

Brian gives us this analogy: “Remember back in college when you’d work for months on a term paper and you would just never be happy with it, and then for another one you would stay up the entire night right before it was due and somehow you managed to pull out your best work at the 11th hour?”

(Of course not, Brian! All of our work was always completed in a timely fashion so that we might be asleep by 9:30 pm.)

“Bottle conditioning this beer for four months under pressure was like pulling that all nighter and doing your best work.”

We wanted to let The Scupper sit for another few months to let the Brett work its brettful magic on the sugars and esters, but instead of putting it in a fermenter or barrel, we put it in a pressurized bottle. The extra CO2 puts a little more stress on the Brett, causing it to work a little more brettful magic. The result is more funky flavors, with “barnyard” and “horsey” flavors coming to the forefront and in higher quantities. As the sugars begin to run out, the Brett starts to metabolize the esters produced during the brew’s original fermentation as Misty Dawn. So, as the Bretty flavors are added, the other esters start to fade in a beautifully choreographed dance, leaving behind a brew unlike anything you’ve ever tasted.

Asking Brian what he likes about any of the beers in the Barrel Aged series is sort of like asking a mother to pick her favorite child. He likes “everything!” about this one. “The complexity, the funk, the vinous notes and slight woodsy character thanks to the barrels it rested in for three months, how it’s bone dry — it has a lower gravity than water, so there’s just nothing left — and yet it has a juiciness to it that leaves you longing for another sip, and even the approachability of it. I think this is the best-looking of the three brews so far, too, but that obviously wouldn’t mean anything to me if the beer didn’t come out right, but for this one it definitely makes it shine that much brighter.”

Jimmy is a big fan of the funky, wild beers. “The terms “barnyard” and “horsey” may not seem too appealing — and in most IPAs or Pilsners they certainly aren’t — but when these flavors are used correctly they can be very tasty, especially when accompanied with woodsy notes from barrel aging, a touch of sour from Lactobacillus, and some vinous flavors. The Scupper is definitely funky, but right now it’s a just the right level of funk that any drinker new to the wild beer scene can latch onto it without being put off by the unique flavor profile.”

img_9876Like all the brews in the Barrel Aged Series, The Scupper is meant to be cellared for as long as you can take not drinking it. (But don’t let it go beyond two years. Please. If you do, we don’t vouch for it… but we’d love to know how it drank.)

Jimmy’s definitely stashing a few bottles in his cellar. “In a year or two it’ll be at that level of funk that makes me smile from ear to ear.  At the moment it’s more leathery with a hint of tobacco. The woodsiness and the slight vinous notes from the red wine barrel are right there, but the horse and deeper funk notes are in the background, tempting the beer nerd in me, and these will further develop over time.”

Brian agrees. “In another few months of proper cellaring — a stable temperature between 55 and 65 degrees and out of direct sunlight — this beer will just keep getting better and better.”

Do you need more than that?

The Scupper releases at noon, Saturday, October 22nd from The Brewtique. Same deal: $20 a pop, limit of three bottles per visit. See you there!

The Guys on The Skeg

Brian tests The Skeg
Brian tests The Skeg

After a few false starts on a rather busy week, we we able to get together over the phone with Ryan, Hank, and Lead Brewer Brian Hink to talk about the Barrel-Aged Series and it’s latest release, The Skeg.

How was The Keel received?

Ryan: Oh, it was incredible, right? It was great. I mean, we got a 94 on Beer Connoisseur, everybody loved it, I thought it tastes great, it was complex, and we give [Head Brewer Brian Hink] full reign in allowing him to do whatever it is he wants to do and explore. So it’s really in the R&D phase for us, to be able to have this mixed fermentation, barrel aging. And to come right out of the gate with a really strong beer is all we could ask for.

Do you think The Skeg is going to live up to the success of The Keel?

Hank: We don’t know.

Ryan: Yeah, we don’t know. We haven’t done a tremendous amount of research but we’re going with our gut. And one point I want to bring up about our R&D stuff is that we invest a lot of money into making that happen and a lot of time into making it happen. We could, otherwise, take that money and use it to increase capacity and make our beer more efficient. But we choose to invest in exploring different ideas and concepts. And that’s what this is.

Quantity-wise, did we make more of The Skeg? Is it as limited as The Keel?

Hank: It’s just as limited.

How does The Skeg differ from The Keel?

Hank: It’s very different. Me and Ryan both tasted it, and I wouldn’t even put it on the same spectrum as The Keel. It’s a whole different flavor profile.

In what way?

Hank: It’s pure Brettanomyces. All the flavor that I get. It’s purely the funk. Without the sharp sourness that The Keel has.

Brian: It’s just a completely different beer. It’s still a weird beer — you can definitely say that about all the beers that come out of that program. They’re definitely different. The beers are very, very different. They’re unified in that sense of it, where they are an adventurous beer. You really gotta go in with the mindset that you’re going to expect something very, very different out of it. It’s not gonna be something that you’ve had before. So, those are some of the similarities, but the similarities kind of end there: the approach you’ve got to take to it.

With The Skeg, we wanted to focus more on the Brettanomyces playing off the hops. So, with that, we took a double IPA with a really simple grain bill that’s all about the hops to begin with, we aged that in the wine barrels for three months. Got a little bit of wine character, got a little bit of the oxygen ingress into the barrels, a little bit of that does come through. So you get a little bit of oxygenation and the Brett does play off of that — the term is “microoxygenation” — just a little bit of oxygen ingress over time. That keeps feeding the Brett. And the Brett just kinda ran wild with it. The Brett really plays off the hops. And the grain bill is so simple that it really doesn’t get in the way. And we didn’t want to make this one nearly as tart as The Keel, it’s definitely toned down on the acidity level. It’s there, it’s definitely more acetic than a normal beer would be, but it’s not a puckering, you-bite-into-a-lemon style sour beer. The tartness is definitely more subdued, more background, more complementary — it’s like adding a pinch of salt to a good steak. That’s what the acidity does to this beer. Whereas the focus, the main course of this beer is definitely the Brett playing off those hops. Four different strains of Brettanomyces in the barrel with the beer for a couple months.

Hank: What strain do you think is the predominant strain?

Brian: There are four different strains, all from commercial laboratories. Two of them are the same, just from different laboratories.

Hank: Which makes them different.

Brian: Which makes them very different, absolutely. Mostly, Brett lambicus and there’s two different strains of Brett bruxellensis, and there was a Brett claussenii. So there’s those four different Bretts playing off each other, and it really influenced the overall flavor profile of this beer.

The Brett lambicus, for example, is what we winded up using for the Turtle Gut and that’s a big influence in a lot of these barrel-aged beers. And that one just brings a whole other level of rustic, funk, all those fun descriptors.

Hank: Scott, have you ever heard the descriptor “wet horse blanket”?

(Laughing) No, I haven’t.

Hank: Tell the consumer that if they want to know what a wet horse blanket smells and tastes like, they should buy The Skeg.

(Laughing)

Hank: I would describe it as musty, very earthy…

Brian: Very earthy, yeah.

Hank: Pungent. Wet hay… You hear “barnyard” a lot. When you hear “wet horse blanket,” who the hell knows what that means. Who knows what a wet horse blanket smells like?

I think we can all imagine.

Hank: Yeah, exactly.

Brian: Leather. And there’s also some bad funk. If you don’t treat the beer properly in the barrel, you’re gonna get some “smoky band-aid” or burnt rubber. Those are things we don’t want. Those are phenolic compounds that happen to Brettanomyces. And we don’t want that. Probably one out of every ten barrels becomes a dumper because of too much ingress of oxygen and too much heat fluctuation. It gets too hot a lot of times.

That was a really long tangent.

(Laughing) It happens.

Hank: It’s awesome. And I think Brian would definitely say that it’ll live up to the success of The Keel.

Our fearless leaders
Our fearless leaders

So how long did we barrel-age The Skeg?

Brian: The Skeg, as I said, spent three months in the red wine barrel. And the only reason it was only three months was that we were hoping to release these beers a little sooner. We wanted to get it right. There was no timestamp. You know, “These beers have to come out NOW.” We wanted to get everything right from the packaging, to the name, to the description. How we package these beers. You know in January, when we wanted to start with all this, we probably would have had more inconsistencies with it. That’s something that [Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm] definitely brought to the table was after filling it, the process that he took to it, where we age it, how we age it, he definitely had a lot of influence on that. And I said it’s good that we waited. 

So after we barrel-aged it, we dry-hopped it after that, correct?

Brian: Yes, once we got it back into stainless. And getting it back into stainless was important because that’s going to halt any further ingress of oxygen. The Brett’s still gonna play around in there, but it’s a more stable environment than in barrels, so it spent a few months in stainless tanks waiting to be packaged. And we held off on dry-hopping it until about two weeks prior to packaging it. That way, if you drink it fresh, it’s gonna drink like a slightly funky IPA. You gonna know you’re drinking something different, because the hops are very present.

Hank: A very funky IPA.

Brian: A very funky IPA, yeah. But the hops are still very prevalent and as it does age out, it’s still gonna be there, but it’s not gonna be the same. The Brett’s gonna continue to metabolize the hop compounds, and it’s gonna convert them — something called “biotransformation” — and that’ll continue to evolve the flavor and the aroma in the finished product. So you’re gonna lose some of that aroma over time, so we did hold off until just before packaging when adding the dry hops to it.

I understand The Skeg has champagne yeast in it?

Brian: Um, yes and no. We use champagne yeast to bottle condition it. It’s a very neutral flavor compound, and that’s just to help carbonate the beer in a very quick manner and to not stress out the Brett. So we just used that to carbonate the beer in a non-stressful environment for the Brett. So there is champagne yeast in the package, but it’s not anything that’s noteworthy.

Hank: It’s not gonna develop flavor or anything.

Brian: Yeah.

Hank: It’s just there to carbonate in a controlled manner.

Fair. So now we discussed how different the two beers are — The Keel and The Skeg. Is that the hope for this series, that they’ll all be completely different?

Brian: Um, yes and no. We want each one to stand on its own. We don’t want, you know, “Oh, this is The Keel. This is A Variant on The Keel. This is Another Keel.” That’s fun, and there’s definitely a time and a place. But right now, we’re new to it. And we wanted to have fun, run wild with it, really let our imaginations really get crazy. The first three releases — The Keel, The Skeg, and eventually The Scupper — are all completely unique on their own, but they do have some similarities tying them all together.

In time, yeah, we’ll probably see some consistency. Maybe we’ll do The Keel once a year, maybe. But for now, it’s like, “Let’s have fun with it and really get creative.” See where we can go with it.

Hank: And, Scott, even if we wanted to make The Keel again, it wouldn’t be the same Keel. It’s always gonna be a little bit different. Even if we followed the same exact process as the first time. With this program, there are things that are out of your control. You know, the barrels can change over time, the weather, maybe the different times of year. There’s so many different variables, and just the concentrations of different bacteria and yeast that we’re using, that even an identical Keel would fail. If we did The Keel again, it would be The Keel of 2017 or The Keel 2018.

Brian: And if we went that route, you know if we’re calling it “The Keel” and keeping the same name, we would attempt to replicate it as much as possible. There will be many similarities, many hold overs, but it would definitely be year-to-year [very different].

Hank: So the engineer in me hates the variables in uncontrolled fermentations like that, and the brewer in Brian loves it.

So how did The Skeg turn out?

Brian: I think it came out great. It has something for everyone in there. I think Ryan’s the biggest hophead I know, and I think he enjoyed it.

Ryan: I loved it. It’s an earthy-funkiness and citrus-hop bitterness with a complexity that makes you go “oh…whoa, did you get that? There’s a lot going on here.”

Brian: If you’re a fan of sour beers, of experimental beers. If you just like a Belgian beer or saisons or a Belgian Strong, it’s definitely going to appeal to you. It really has something for everyone.

Hank: Even the novice. Someone who’s never touched a wild beer or a sour beer or some weird fermented beer, but they’ve heard the word “funky” or “earthy” and they’ve wondered what that meant, this beer is gonna be able to give that to them. It’s got that funky and earthy flavor and aroma that they’re gonna be able to connect the descriptors that they’ve heard with an actual flavor and aroma.

The Skeg releases from the Brewtique at 11am, Saturday, September 3rd. Limit three bottles per person.

Brian Hink on The Skeg

If Brian’s anticipation of Baby #1 — The Keel — was anything, it pales in comparison to his enthusiasm for Baby #2, The Skeg. In the short video below, Cape May Brew Co’s Head Brewer tells us what went into this adventurous new brew. “There’s something for everybody in this beer!”

 

Message in a Bottle

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When you’re proud of the product you create, you package it well. An artist selects his frame to complement his canvas, and CMBC’s resident graphic design genius Courtney Rosenberg created the perfect frame for Head Brewer Brian Hink’s canvas.

“The artwork complements the originality of the product inside the bottle very well,” she says.

Courtney recognized that, since the Barrel Aged Series was completely different from anything CMBC had previously done, the bottle design needed to reflect that. She chose a screenprinted bottle to truly capture the singularity of the brew. Working with screenprinting was “exciting and extremely difficult at the same time. It’s like a tattoo– it’s not a light decision,” she says. “You really have to watch your color limits and line weights, while also considering the permanence of the design.”

And, since the series is bottled in 750 ml bottles, she had quite the canvas on which to create. “We had a unique opportunity on our hands to do something really special. We wanted someone to be walking down the liquor store aisle, stop in their tracks, and feel compelled to pick up a bottle and buy this beer.”

Inspired by the views of Cape May, The Skeg’s bottle is “like a message in a bottle floating in a pint of beer,” Courtney tells us. “It’s nautical, bold, and eye-catching. It really makes you look twice.”

For the uninitiated, Cape May is the oldest resort town in America, with winding streets, fishing ports, and gorgeous views of the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. “The bay is four miles from the brewery, and has some of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen,” Courtney says. “Those sunsets are what inspired the palette for the design.”

unspecified-10Like the Barrel Aged Series itself, each bottle has some similarities and some differences. Each beer in the series is named after a part of a ship, so Courtney reflected this in her designs. Courtney also designed the bottle for The Keel, and she wanted them to feel like variations on a theme.

“The differences are subtle,” she says, “but they’re differences nonetheless.” There are variations in the symbols on the bottles, with each representing a different piece of maritime culture. The waves on each iteration are a different color, and “when the bottles are all lined up, you’ll see a series that represents a crisp summer sunset.”

Each bottle’s design contains three major elements: the part of the boat that gives the beer its name, the waves carrying the boat, and the sky behind it. “I enjoy how the sky changes with each bottle. Our third series release, The Scupper, for example, has a stormy sky which matches well with the color palette and iconography on this bottle design.”

The waves are Courtney’s favorite part of the design, and we couldn’t agree more. “I grew up at the beach and part of a surfing and fishing family and am always drawn to waves.”

One of the challenging things was creating something that wasn’t “cliche Jersey Shore souvenir” — the last thing Courtney wanted was for the bottles to look like one of those shore paintings you can buy on the Wildwood boardwalk and hang over the couch at your shore house. “It had to be beautiful and inspired by our nautical culture. I think we achieved that!”

These bottles are certainly memorable. Courtney’s pleased with the work she’s done: “It’s a huge sigh of relief to hear all the positive feedback from coworkers and consumers on how impressed they are with the artwork.”

And we are, Courtney!

The Skeg releases 11am on September 3rd from the Brewtique. Be sure to pick up your three bottles — you’ll want to hold on to at least one of them.

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