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The Official Blog of Cape May Brewing Company
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The Skeg

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Did you get your three bottles of The Keel? No. Well… too bad. It’s gone! We sold out last week, and there will never be a brew quite like The Keel.

It’s okay, though. Our Barrel Aged Reserve Series wouldn’t be much of a series if it were only one beer. That’s like having only one movie in a trilogy. That’s not a thing.

So, move over The Keel. It’s time for The Skeg.

First: skeg is totally a word. It is. We swear. It may sound like Chuck Wray trying to say “keg” after a few too many IPAs, but it’s not. It’s the section of a boat’s keel that protects the propeller and supports the rudder. Are you noticing a theme with these names? (If you’re not, there is one. They’re all parts of a boat. We’re in Cape May, a town known for a huge maritime influence and a particular connection to the sea. We’ve even got a Coast Guard station. We like boats.)

The names may be similar, but the brews are completely different. Where The Keel was a Flander’s Red/Oude Bruin style, The Skeg started as a batch of Coastal Evacuation which we aged in red wine barrels for a shorter period of time than The Keel. After the aging process, we put it back into a fermenter and dry-hopped it, so it’s almost like a barrel-aged sour IPA.

The result is more woodsy notes and a less vinous character with a pale golden straw color, firm bitterness, exotic and funky Brett-influenced esters, and an incredible nose of mango and tropical fruits thanks to the abundance of Amarillo dry hops. The tartness of the sour plays off the estery character and rounds off with a gentle hoppiness, highlighting how much variation there is to be had in the barrel aging process, and making The Skeg a beast all its own.

As you may know, this series may as well have been called “Head Brewer Brian Hink’s Babies.” The gestational period has been a little longer than that of an elephant, but Brian’s beard is rather trunk-like.

Brian, understandably excited about The Skeg
Brian, understandably excited about The Skeg

So what does he think of The Skeg? “This beer is an enigma wrapped in a bottle — really, it has something for everyone.” Die-hard hop heads will love it. Belgian and farmhouse drinkers will love it. Sour aficionados will adore it. And “beer geeks who make me look like a novice” will love it. “I can really see the uninitiated appreciating the complexity The Skeg brings to the table.”

Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm really likes how light and crisp this beer is: “the hoppiness really plays well with the dryness. The woodsy character really comes through on the finish, just to remind you that this beer had a long way to go to get where it is now.”

If you enjoyed Brian’s first-born, The Keel, you’ll love Baby II: Electric Boogaloo.

The Keel was so well-received that we’re entering it into the Great American Beer Festival competition this October in Denver. Among a host of other glowing reviews, “Moscow” from The Sour Hour praised The Keel on a recent episode of one of the Brewing Network’s most popular podcasts.

Brian feels enormously justified in the years-long process he “kept jamming down Chris and Ryan’s throats.”

“When I first started working at CMBC,” he tells us, “our most adventurous beer was our Centennial IPA, which has since evolved into Coastal Evacuation and Devil’s Reach. Two incredible beers and two of our most popular, but hardly groundbreaking in today’s beer landscape. That was what we had to do at the time though, the craft beer landscape wasn’t exactly flourishing in South Jersey back then — but as we’ve grown more adventurous, our consumer’s palettes have continued to develop and grow with us. The fact that we can release a beer of The Keel’s complexity — hands down our most adventurous beer yet, not only receiving high praise, but also selling extremely well and is now becoming sought after — that excites me more than anything and makes me so excited to see where our loyal fan base follows us to next.”

“We set the bar pretty high for ourselves with The Keel,” Jimmy says. “But that’s one of the things I love about this industry — especially with sour and wild beers — we are always being pushed and pushing ourselves to do better and come out with more amazing beers!”

Brian agrees. “The success of The Keel has encouraged us to push harder and explore deeper into the world of sour beers.”

“If I had to put it one way,” Jimmy says, waxing poetic, “The Keel was like Revolver by The Beatles, and now we are coming out with our own Pet Sounds-esque response; all of this has us now working on our Sgt. Peppers to blow everyone away.” (If pressed, Jimmy will tell you that he thinks that Pet Sounds is the best of those three albums. We tend to agree.)

Like Jimmy’s estimation of Pet Sounds, The Skeg will likely prove to be one of the best of the Barrel Aged Reserve Series. Be sure to pick up your three bottles at The Brewtique when it’s released 11am, September 3rd.

Dripping in This Strange Design

IMG_7143So… there’s been quite a lot of talk at Straight to the Pint about barrel-aging and cellaring and bacteria and all kinds of weird stuff with long names that you don’t normally associate with beer. We admit — we didn’t fully get it at first, either. We’ve been reporting on it faithfully, but it’s kinda like being stuck in a conversation about Game of Thrones with an attractive member of the opposite sex when you couldn’t get beyond the third episode: you’re really just trying to look as good as possible without embarrassing yourself too much.

Beer definitely helps in both of those situations. Mostly, it helps if the other person has had a few too many Sawyer Swaps.

So, we got together with Head Brewer Brian Hink — this is his baby, after all — and Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm to try to make sense of all of this. Namely: what does barrel-aging do?

We’re pretty sure that everyone reading this is familiar with wood. It’s that stuff that literally grows on trees. It’s porous — meaning that air molecules can get through it — and it has gagillions of little nooks and crannies for wonderful bacteria and other microorganisms to flourish and grow like SimCity on Cheetah speed. Barrels, as you’re probably aware, are made of this stuff.

Steel, on the other hand, has none of those things. It doesn’t grow on trees. It’s not porous. It has zero nooks, very few crannies, BUT that doesn’t mean that sterilization is easy. If one little microorganism gets into a steel fermenter, it could have a huge bacteria party (Hell, why not? We just gave it a boatload of beer…) and multiply and contaminate the entire batch. This is not a good thing. This is why we’ve opened a dedicated sour brewery — so that those crazy microorganisms that cause a beer to sour can have a home of their own and multiply like bunnies.

So, we got a bunch of used wine barrels. Yes, used. When it comes to brewing, these things aren’t like cars — newer is most definitely not better. You want them used and abused because the flavors of whatever had previously been inside — whether bourbon, cognac, rum, or, as in the case of The Keel, red wine — are going to leech into the beer. And, since red wine is almost as good as our IPA — almost — that’s a good thing. A really good thing.

Also, that small amount of oxygen that the barrel lets in… changes the beer. It oxygenates. It’s essentially the same chemical process that causes rust — the oxygen combines with various chemicals already present in the beer and out pops some sort of acid. “For example,” Jimmy says, “acetaldehyde, which is present in most beers, although usually at a concentration below the flavor threshold, can be oxidized to acetic acid over time in the presence of oxygen.”

The oxygen also lets those little microorganisms go crazy. You know how you need oxygen in order to live? Well… that’s one thing you have in common with a bacterium. (We won’t go into the others.) Normally, oxygen is the Lex Luthor of beer. (Beer is definitely Superman. Definitely.)

“Like any food product,” Brian says, “oxygen is the enemy and will cause beer to go stale. In a barrel-aged beer with the lactic acid-producing bacteria, and the acetic acid-producing bacteria present, the micro-oxygenation allows for drastically different levels of acid production than the normal closed system of a stainless steel fermenter.”

TA-DA! Sour. Really, really sour.

This is why we wanted to put The Keel in barrels. Better sour flavors, some beautiful red wine flavors, some oakiness from the wood… it’s all combined to make this a truly special brew.

Furthermore, swimming in this real thing we call The Keel are some twenty different little microorganisms (including five varieties of Brettanomyces), this was one helluva pitch to start off these barrels with. Recontaminating things actually makes our lives a lot easier.

Now that you know all there is to know about barrel-aging — at least, you know what we know — what’s the deal with cellaring?

Well, The Keel is a bottle conditioned beer. This means that the beer is continuing to ferment in the bottle. Some beers are pasteurized so that fermentation stops, then it’s bottled — it will taste much the same long after the sun goes supernova as it does today. With The Keel, there’s a little more yeast in each bottle, so it continues to work its yeasty magic.

The cool thing about this? We don’t really know what’s going to happen. We have some educated guesses. We can make some assumptions based upon past successes and failures. We can draw on our knowledge and previous experience with aging sour, wild, and bottle-conditioned beers. All beers change over time in the bottle, but where “clean” beers devolve over time, sours just improve with age. Hops fade, freshness fades, but acid and funk stay forever.

But, unlike a typical release that’s going to taste more or less the same when you drink it in two years because that’s what we want to happen, we want this one to change. We want to see it evolve. We want our customers to be able to come back in a year and say, “You know, The Keel was so different from when I drank it a year ago. I can’t wait to try my other bottle a year from now!”

Jimmy's cellar
Jimmy’s cellar

The main changes will be in the areas of body and mouthfeel. “I had a case of beers that were re-fermented in the bottle with Champagne yeast,” Jimmy says, “and I let them cellar for almost seven years. The beer was like drinking silk.”

This is why we want you to buy three bottles. Drink one today. Drink one in a year. Drink one in two years. Tell us how they changed. Like Hank said in a previous blog, “You become part of this.”

We like you guys. We want you to be a part of what we do. “This is what craft beer and homebrewing are all about,” Jimmy says, “having greater determination over what one drinks.”

We’re going to be aging some ourselves, so long as Hank doesn’t get a little overzealous and drink them all on Saturday. But we want to know what you think.

So, what are those guesses? How do these brewing geniuses expect the beer to change?

“I would predict more souring as the bacteria continue to slowly metabolize some of the compounds,” Jimmy tells us, “but there’s also some Brettanomyces in there so the funky flavors will come more and more to the forefront.”

Brian thinks that “The Keel is going to age very gracefully. The acidity might become more hidden in the blend as the Brett shows off more, and the more rustic and earthy notes will definitely be pushed to the forefront on the profile.”

Like a good Phish jam, The Keel will just get funkier and funkier. This is truly a strange design.

But you need to be careful. After two years or so, the acetic acid will begin to give the beer a vinegar-like flavor. The conditioning yeast in the bottle will eventually die and autolyse — basically, those terrified little yeasties will start to eat themselves because there’s nothing left in the beer for them to live on. Like roadkill, not exactly the kind of flavors you want in your brew. But, since the Brett in the brew are practically immortal, they’ll have less restraint than before and eat those autolysed yeasts.

So, hit the lights and close the door. Keep The Keel in a cool, dark place, upright, at a temperature between 55° and 65° Fahrenheit, and you should be golden.

After all these years, after all of this anticipation, we can’t wait for you to be part of this. It’s been three years in the making, and our levels of excitement are truly through the roof.

We’re thrilled to bring a few companions on this ride.

Saturday, June 25. 11 am. The Brewtique. Don’t miss it.

Ship in a Bottle

Deciding when to bottle a beer is some serious business. Homebrewers have the luxury of sitting on a brew for as long as they want, letting the flavors settle and the fermentations run their course. However, we want to get it out to you as soon as we can. Yet, if we bottle it too early, not only is the beer not the best it could possibly be, but we run the risk of having several hundred cases of slowly-ticking timebombs. No one wants pieces of glass shrapnel getting embedded into their eyes.

So we asked Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm how he knew when to bottle The Keel.

“The only way to know when something like The Keel is ready to be bottled is to taste it,” he says. “Each beer in our sour program has a desired flavor profile; the balance between the tart sour notes, the level of the woodsy compounds or of any fruit added, the kind of acidity coming through from the lactic and acetic acids being produced, and any funk from Brettanomyces yeast that may be present.  We taste these beers often to gauge their progress and keep detailed notes on each barrel.”

In the case of The Keel, that process took about eight months.

“We have a general idea of how long a batch of sour beer should take,” Jimmy says, “but in the end we let the beer tell us when it’s almost ready.  We take note when a select batch of barrels begins to approach the flavor profile we want, inform the rest of the company, and plan out a release schedule.”

There are up to three more brews currently planned for the original batch of sour inoculant that became The Keel, but the release schedule isn’t set in stone. We have a general idea of when we’d like to get them out, but “these are the kinds of beers that will ruin any best laid plans if you’re not careful. The best way to prevent that is to let it just do its thing and release it in its own time,” Jimmy says.

“It took a lot of us a lot of time,” says Head Brewer Brian Hink about the bottling process. It was the first run using our fancy new bottler, “so we were working the kinks out along the way.” It took four of the brewers working a twelve-hour day, with six others jumping in for up to eleven hours each.

Check out the video below. (With some epic-as-hell pirate music by Ross Bugden.)

Timeline of The Keel

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We’re so excited to set sail with our Stow Away Series. Not only because the brews are fantastic, but because we’ve been working on this series for almost three years. That’s a lifetime in the world of craft beer (and pre-schoolers).

Wonder how it all came to be? Head Brewer Brian Hink sets out the timeline for us.

May, 2013 — Sour Beer Visionary Brian Hink begins his tenure at CMBC. “I started bugging Hank about sours. He and Ryan were interested in them, but we didn’t have any excess capacity, and you kind of need that to take the time to brew these beers.”

September, 2013 — Brian starts on the production team and continues being a sour champion.

November, 2013 —  Hank asks Brian if he wants to start on some sour projects. “I said, ‘Hell, yes, I want to start some sour projects! How are you even going to ask that question?'”

December 16, 2013 — The pitch of yeast and bacteria that eventually inoculates The Keel — Bug County, a blend of 20 microflora, from East Coast Yeast — is delivered to CMBC. (“From Al Buck,” Brian says. “The guy’s a frikken genius.”)

Early December 2014 — We get some food-grade drums — 220 gallons each — and Brian starts a half-batch of sour.

January, 2014 — We come out with South Jersey Secession Session Scottish Ale, that Brian sees as the perfect base for sour beers. We spiked four drums of SOJO with the sour pitch.

Winter, 2014 — A makeshift “warm room” is set up in the building that is now affectionately referred to as HQ, and the drums are set out there. 

Summer, 2014 — CMBC had started to make a name for ourselves in sours with the release of Tower 23.

September, 2104 — Turtle Gut, a kettle sour with a secondary fermentation with brettanomyces, is released – starting our journey down the road of mixed fermentations.

November, 2014 — HQ is finished: the floor is complete, barrels and tanks were coming in. (Excess capacity unlocked!)

March, 2015 — Took a 15-barrel batch of SOJO and used one of the original four drums of sour as an inoculant. Each of the four drums will eventually become part of a blend in the series.

f4b97ce6-4de2-46a2-89a8-4e5dd3061c8eMay, 2015 — The blends are deposited into 58 French oak red wine barrels, eight of which become The Keel.

January, 2016 — Eight of the barrels are “good to go”. We pulled them and put them into a blending tank, “and it was spot on. It was great.” Brian pulled a bit out of them and did some small refermentation experiments and yeast trials.

February, 2016 — Discussion on packaging begins, and Ryan falls in love with screenprinted bottles. We decide to “do it right.”

April, 2016 — Labels approved by TTB.

May, 2016 — Bottles arrive.

May 18, 2016 — The Keel is bottled for the first time. We had to get a new bottler in order to accommodate the 750ml format. “It took a lot of us a lot of time.”

May 26, 2016 — The first check on the beer’s bottle fermentation is done. “You never know on the back end of it, one, did the yeast take off? There’s no nutrients in there, so the yeast are really in a harsh environment. It’s a really stressful environment for them, so in that stressful environment, are they going to kick off a lot of off-flavors?” (Hint: they didn’t.)

June 13, 2016 — An organizational meeting takes place at CMBC, coordinating production and marketing, to decide on a release date.

June 25, 2016, 11am — You get your first chance to purchase up to three gorgeous bottles of this long-awaited brew at The Brewtique at Cape May Brewing Company.

June 25, 2018 — Your last chance to return to CMBC and let us know what this brew tasted like after cellaring it.

“The Stow Away Series has kinda become my baby – from originally bugging Chris about making them, to pushing for barrels, to doing all the research into barrel care and then finally the blending of barrels to create The Keel,” says Brian. “As Head Brewer, I couldn’t be happier with the end result.”

We’re confident that all of your hard work has paid off, Bri. Can’t wait to try it!

Stow Away Series Bottle Design

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Our Stow Away series is the most ambitious thing we’ve done here at CMBC, and we’ve created packaging with just as much beauty as the brew inside. These 750ml bottles are pure art — from their imagery to their construction to their execution. With this higher-end release, we were really looking for something that communicated quality to you, our dear beer drinkers, because when we’re asking you to pay $20 for a bottle of beer, we know you want your bang for your buck.

We think we got it.

As with many things at CMBC, we wanted to keep this series to a nautical theme. The name itself evokes that feeling: not only does it refer to the fact that you can stow it away in a cellar for up to two years, but we’ve all dreamed about being a stowaway on a cruise ship to a beautiful and exotic locale.

“We wanted something different than our usual flagship designs,” says Courtney Rosenberg, our resident graphic design genius. And after a few discussions, “I went online and created a mood board — I looked at different packaging, different colors, different nautical looks — to sort of figure out what we wanted to go for.”

Each release in this series will be named after various parts of a ship: and since the keel is the first element of a ship that’s built when it’s being constructed, it only made sense that our first release in this series reflects that. “For every part of the boat that we’re structuring, we wanted that to be prominent in the image.”

After a few false starts — there’s really nothing exciting about a large picture of a keel — the team decided to focus upon the motion of the waves, with each element referred to in the name of the beer given some amount of prominence in the image.

“The waves are my favorite part,” Courtney says. “The waves look really neat, no matter what color they’re in.”

Each release is going to have a different color scheme to go with it, “but they’re all ones that you would see while looking at the ocean or looking at the sunset.”

The intricate designs have various symbols hidden in them, as well. “If you look at the compass, there’s our little New Jersey logo in it. If you look here and there, there are little easter eggs.”

IMG_8134With this series, we decided to go with screenprinted 750ml bottles. Designing screenprinting on a 750ml bottle offered some interesting challenges while also opening a world of possibilities. The colors had to be matched against the amber color of the glass, but we weren’t constrained by the size of a label. “We could do almost a full wrap,” Courtney says. We had the full bottle to use as a canvas.

Screenprinting gives the bottles a collectible feel to them. “You know, you’re not just going to peel off the label and use the bottle for homebrewing, which a lot of people do. It’s ours.”

Another element about the design that has Courtney particularly jazzed is that the tops are capped with melted red wax. “It looks kind of Shakespearean. It reminds me of the skull with the candle lit and the wax dripping.”

Courtney feels that the whole design has a “message in a bottle” feel, as if it’s the type of bottle a stowaway might use to relay a message back to shore.

We’re feeling pretty confident that you’re going to want to hold on to these bottles long after you’ve decided to enjoy the beer, whether it’s to display them on your mantel or bar, or get a message to a faraway land. “When they’re all lined up,” Courtney says, “it’s like a sunset.”

At least three more releases in the Stow Away Series are planned for this year, with the bottle designs having both variation and consistency. “The cool thing is that there are little changes in the design between each release.”

“They’re similar,” she says, “but completely different at the same time.”

Kind of like the series itself: all barrel-aged, sour brews, but all expected to be wildly different from one another.

We’re sure you’ll love Courtney’s work, too! Be sure to pick up a bottle (or three) on Saturday, June 25, at 11am.

Ryan and Chris on the Stow Away Series

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On a very busy day at CMBC — busier than a normal Monday, in fact — we had a chance to wrangle both Hank and Ryan in one room at the same time (for the most part) to talk about the upcoming Stow Away Series release.

It should be noted that during the discussion Ryan munched on some carrots and peanut butter, while Hank searched through copious emails and notes to find out exactly when the original pitch was delivered.

Why did we do this beer?

HANK: Well, [Head Brewer Brian Hink]’s been pushing us. Since he started, he’s always wanted to brew sour beers. I’m very interested in fermentations in general. Just different types of fermentation: not just beer, but vinegar, and lactic acid, and acetic acid. So, I’ve always wanted to do it, but we never had the time nor the capacity. Eventually, he wore away enough and we decided to go for it. I ordered a pitch called Bug County — East Coast Yeast Company.

RYAN: (entering, as Chris is pulled away by Nakeya) Hey, what’s up, man?

Yeah, we’re, uh… talking about where the idea came from, basically.

RYAN: For the Stow Away Series?

Yeah, for the Stow Away Series.

RYAN: Well, we always wanted to do something that was really different and fun. So, the whole genesis of of Cape May Brewery in general is to bring this really great craft beer that we see — especially out West — to New Jersey. So, doing that isn’t limited to just making craft beer. The interesting thing is exploring flavors. Because, ultimately, what are we? “We’re a beverage company,” is the least sexy way to say it. Carbonated alcoholic beverage. And let’s not just stick with the basic flavors anymore. Let’s see what different flavor compound possibilities exist.

So why did we want to do the Stow Away Series in particular?

RYAN: We wanted to do start doing some barrel-aging work with red wine barrels. A lot of breweries do stuff with bourbon barrels, which is great and all, but not too many people are working with red wine barrels. So, we wanted to explore that a little further.

HANK: (returning) East Coast Yeast. And they have a blend of bacteria and wild yeast called Bug County. Sounds delicious, doesn’t it?

Uh, yeah, it does…

Why did we choose to use 750ml bottles?

RYAN: Because we’re doing a bottle-conditioned beer.

HANK: Yeah, you can bottle-condition in any bottle, really, but those are definitely heartier, they can handle the pressure more. Also, it’s a specialty product. I think I related it more to a wine, and it’s priced like a wine, so it’s more of a specialty product with specialty packaging. It’s just premium.

Have we done 750s before?

RYAN: Once, a long time ago.

What did we bottle?

RYAN: Sawyer’s Swap and Devil’s Reach. We had to do it manually. We had a little hand-filler.

HANK: Oh, my gosh, yeah. That was our first bottling run.

RYAN: (With a mouth full of peanut butter) Mm hm.

How’d they go down? How were they received by the customers?

RYAN: It was received really well, but it was just grueling in terms of being efficient.

IMG_8204Have we gotten any more efficient this time around?

RYAN: (Peanut butter) Mm hm.

How so?

RYAN: We got a really nice filler. The whole production staff knows what they’re doing.

They didn’t before?

RYAN: It was me and Hank. I’d say no.

HANK: Say no more. (Finding it on his computer) December 16, 2013, is when Bug County shipped to us, the secondary fermentation run. It was a little bit of a while ago.

So, why did we want to do barrel-aging work? You said no one’s really doing it, so why did we want to do it?

HANK: Like I said before, I’m really interested in fermentations other than standard fermentations. And barrel’s a whole ‘nother level, because not only are we trying to get these other bacteria and yeast to ferment in this beer, but then the barrel itself is letting a little bit of oxygen in, which just changes up everything going on, the chemistry going on in this barrel. It’s just a very unique product. It’s something you can’t replicate, you can’t rush. Some wineries will use oak spirals to speed the process, but they’re looking for oak flavor. We’re looking for so much more than oak flavor. That aged flavor is just so unique. Plus the other fermentations going on over the two-and-a-half year period.

What does that do for the CMBC, getting those red wine barrels in?

HANK: Costs a lot of money. Money you’re not going to see back for two-and-a-half years.

RYAN: Mm hm. (The peanut butter, again)

You think it’ll pay off?

RYAN: I think it’s a great opportunity to show who we are. That we’re not just trying to make the cheapest beer possible. That we’re trying to make good shit.

HANK: That we’re more than IPAs, ales, lagers. As brewers we want to be creative. That’s who we are at heart, right? We started this company as brewers and we want to have fun designing beers, and we want to let the beers do whatever the hell they’re going to do. The scary part about a barrel: you can put beer in a barrel, you never know what you’re going to get. You could get vinegar. You could a really tasty sour beer. You could get nothing.

And that’s my next question. We’re taking a lot of the process out of our hands and handing it over to the customer in terms of cellaring and aging the beer. How do you guys feel about that? What should the customer expect?

RYAN: Well, we’re giving it to them with instructions.

HANK: In my opinion, I’m gonna drink it now. I can’t sit on beer like that.

RYAN: Yeah.

HANK: I have no patience. I do not have a cellar. I have zero patience to cellar beer. The only beers I’ve cellared were accidental.

You forgot about them?

HANK: Forgot about ’em. And the beer’s perfect to drink right now. You can cellar them and see what happens, and then you become part of the experiment. Because we’ve never cellared this beer before, we’ve never brewed this beer before, so you’re part of this. The consumer is PART OF THIS. If you go ahead and age it for two years, you’re gonna come back and tell us it was better… hopefully not worse… the same… who knows? So, I think that’s the pretty unique part of it. We’re all just learning together. The point where it gets into the consumer’s hands? Who knows. As an engineer, I hate leaving things up to chance. That’s probably one reason it took us so long to get into the barrel. I’d say Brian and the brewers are more like artists, but I have an engineering background, I like everything to be very stark. I like to be in control of the process. And when you throw beer in a barrel? You have zero control over what’s going on.

So, why are you guys excited for it?

RYAN: (Who had been answering emails while Hank spoke rather eloquently on risk) Why am I excited for White Caps?

Sure, we can talk about that if you want.

RYAN: I mean, The Keel? Because it’s unlike anything we’ve ever done. (Turning to Hank) You gotta do sound bites, Hank.

HANK: Make sure you tell everyone he was holding a pen in his hand while he said that.

What other barrel-aged beers have you guys tried? Have you gotten any inspiration from any of them?

HANK: We’ve visited so many breweries.

RYAN: The brewery in California.

HANK: Crooked Stave.

RYAN: B-R-U-E-R-Y. Crooked Stave.

HANK: Uh, Cascade? Barrel House? Is that’s what it’s called?

RYAN: Yep, Cascade Barrel House.

HANK: That was our big trip to the West Coast.

That was all in California?

HANK: Cascade Barrel House is Seattle? No, Portland. There’s a bunch of little Belgian breweries — well, they seem little. There’s a good amount out there, now.

Any of them stand out to you as saying, yeah, this one? Or did you take elements from a lot of them?

HANK: We didn’t know where to start. There’s so little documentation out there on how to do this, and when we started this two years ago, there was even less. A lot less than there is now. Now, Brian will tell you all about The Sour Hour, a podcast he listens to, and there’s books you can read. When we started, it was almost a mystery. You know, we’re getting some of the bacteria from this one company, but when to age it? How long to age it? It was all a mystery. This brewer says this, and this brewer says that, and they were completely different. The Keel was just a crap shoot that really turned out well. We tried to control it as much as possible, but it just turned out incredibly well.

The Keel will be released Saturday, June 25, at the Brewtique. For more information, call (609) 849-9933 or email [email protected]

Introducing The First Beer of The Stow Away Reserve Series…

Once upon a time (December 18, 2013) in a land not so faraway (Cape May Airport), we brewed batch number 278. It was 15-barrels worth of SOJO, our South Jersey Secession Session Scottish Ale – malty, medium-bodied and oh-so tasty.

We know what you’re thinking:

Geez, CMBC, you’re up to batch number 572 now! A lot has happened since that December day. This was so long ago, you only had seven employees, compared to the 39 you have now. And you only brewed 1400 barrels a year, as opposed to the 4500 barrels you produced in 2015. Heck, Britney Spears’ “Work Bitch” was still on the Top 40 list back then! Why are you dwelling on beers of winter’s past?

Here’s the thing — We didn’t put that batch of SOJO on tap in our tasting room, at least not all of it. And we didn’t ship all of it off to accounts in Jersey or Philadelphia, either. In fact, this was so long ago, we weren’t even distributing in Philly yet.

Instead, we added 20 different yeast and bacteria strains from a local supplier to 50% (about 220 gallons) of the brew before stowing it away in a warm room ideal for microbial growth, and going about our regularly-scheduled program.

While we kept working – hiring new employees, brewing on a relatively new 15-barrel system, and dreaming about the day we’d be able to move into a second production facility – the beer soured. What ended up fermenting was essentially an early version of Turtle Gut, the delightfully tart American sour made with a slightly different microbial mixture that would eventually kick off our sour program.

On May 29 last year — a year and a half after we brewed batch number 278 and the month we realized that dream of a second production facility — we combined our stowed-away SOJO with a fresh batch of this Turtle Gut, by now a fan favorite. The mixture of aged beer and new — and all of the beautiful bacteria strains therein — was poured into nine French oak, freshly-dumped wine barrels and left to age again.

“I’m happy we had the foresight to sit on it,” says Chris. “We could have bottled it and had a simple release, but we sat on it and blended it and sat on it again. Now, not only do we have a releasable amount instead of a limited one-off, we have a more complex beer that tastes even better than a year ago. This is hard to do. It’s risky because you don’t know what you’re going to get. There could be oxidation or contamination. But we decided to wait it out for the full two years. It takes guts.”

No pun intended.

You know that saying, good things come to those who wait? This week, we tasted from those nine barrels, thrilled to see not only that our patience paid off, but that each barrel produced a slightly different flavor profile.

“Some were more funky, some were more tart, and some picked up on the residual red wine flavor of the wood,” says Head Brewer Brian Hink. “We blended all 530 gallons together in our blending tank, which is where the brew is now.”

Some time in the near future, a six-man team will package this yet-to-be-named beer into 2,500, 750ml champagne bottles, which can handle the pressure of refermentation. (The beer is bottled flat and a refermentation takes place in the bottle to produce the carbonation.) Then we’ll cap them off and introduce them to the world as the first in our brand-spanking new reserve series: Stow Away.

In the meantime, get excited.

“This is serious beer geekery,” Brian says.

Introducing CMBC’s Stow Away Reserve Series

If Cape May Brewery were a fairytale, we’d have all the archetypal characters: the princess (a light and pretty shandy), the prince (a strong but oh-so-smooth Imperial IPA), and the token bad guy you hate to love (Devil’s Reach, perhaps?). You get the idea.

But now, with a new Stow Away reserve series, we’re shaking things up.

“Think of the beers in this line as more Dr Suess-ish,” says Chris. “They’re creative, unique, weird in a good way. These are the unexpected characters.”

When we moved into our new headquarters at Cape May Airport, we freed up our original space for experimental brewing. This means we’re better equipped than ever for tackling non-standard fermentations where funky yeast and mischievous bacteria strains become the protagonists.

And just like with any good story, these beers can take a while to develop. The first in the series, which we’ll tell you about momentarily, has been two years in the making, and we’ve got a few other long-term brews coming up right behind. In fact, the waiting period involved with this sort of undertaking is part of the incentive behind our series’ name. Sure, Stow Away connotes a nautical theme, but it also speaks to a literal stowing away – the beers are infused with exciting, wild-child microbes and left to age under the watchful eye of our brew team.

“Because we’re using hard-to-control ingredients, this is a precarious process,” Chris says. “But the payoff is huge. With a reserve series, the possibilities are endless.”

Watch this space.

Barrels of Fun

Last week, we received 60 French oak barrels from a Colorado company that repurposes high-quality casks from all over the world for use as meat smokers, water fountains, even pet bathtubs. And while we’re not against dogs getting a rustic-chic day at the spa, CMBC’s barrels will be put to a far more exciting use, at least in our opinion. In these bad boys, we’ll be aging our sours, starting immediately.

barrelsWhile it may seem like the Hot New Thing, barrel aging is not exactly novel. From the early centuries AD, beer was brewed, stored and served in wood. With the advent of super-sanitary aluminum and stainless steel kegs, the practice fell largely out of fashion. But now, well… hello, renaissance. (It helps that modern brewers have a better handle on natural barrel-cleaning methods than ancient homies did.)

So what’s the big deal?

You might have heard that beer can pick up the aromas and flavors of the wood it’s in, and that oak lends hints of coconut, vanilla and caramel. While that’s true, it’s not going to happen in our case. You see, our barrels had a first life aging red wine before they were given up by their winemaking guardians. And usually, when a barrel is turned over by a vineyard, it’s because all of the aforementioned flavors have been leeched from the wood already.

We’re cool with that – we’ve got a different agenda in mind, and it’s two-fold.

One, our beer will be able to acquire residual red wine flavor, which will add to its complexity. And two, storing our sours this way will allow them to mature — in some cases up to two years — so that the resulting, beautifully acidic flavor is juuuust right.

A little bit of oxygen will permeate through the cracks, explains Head Brewer Brian Hink, so that necessary bacteria is kept happy. Meanwhile, our team will check on each barrel every 30 days or so, to make sure taste is on point and evaporation is kept in check.

Right now, the vessels are being rehydrated, or filled with water so that the wood of each swells, becoming liquid tight before it’s filled withele beer. The process is tricky, especially considering each 59-gallon barrel weighs 100 pounds empty, and a full 500 pounds when full.  Stack four on top of one another, as we’ll be doing, and you’ve got the weight of a full-grown elephant. It’s not like we can trot a few over to the nearest hose without the help of a forklift or power jack.

But it’s work that’ll be well worth it in the end. CMBC was already the only brewery in the state doing sours; now we’re the only one doing barrel-aged sours, and we’re pretty geeked up about it.

“I was thinking about it from an artist’s perspective,” says Brian. “We’re not just relying on what we create ourselves, but what the barrel maker and wine maker have created. It’s a cool collaborative effort and I’m excited to see where this takes our sour program.”

As always, we’ll keep you posted.

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