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The Official Blog of Cape May Brewing Company
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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 Keel in Video and Print

Take a look inside the sour brewery at CMBC! In our new video, you’ll hear the guys talking about The Keel, barrel-aging, what else is going on in the sour brewery, and some of the unique fermentations we’ve got going on.

And Brian talks about the future of sour beer: “Everyone talks about wine being the complex drink. These sour beers blow wine out of the water. That’s where beer’s going. These sour beers; these adventurous beers. It’s challenging the pallette.”

And The Keel just got a pretty great review from MyCentralJersey.com!

“Last month, the brewery released its first bottled offering, a 6.6 percent ABV American wild ale named The Keel. Chocolate funk greets me as I eagerly take the first sip that reveals a light wood character mixed with a puckering wine grape tannin assertiveness. There’s a caramel sweetness that serves as a steady bass line in the background, while letting the other flavors: a lactic bite, earthy pepper and dried red stone fruit step forward. And maybe it’s just because of where the beer was made, but there’s a perceived saltiness, like that first breath of sea air in the morning down the shore. Pair with a good French triple crème cheese.”

The Keel in your Galley

IMG_8714Now that you have your three bottles of The Keel, are you wondering what to do with them? Well, besides drink them, of course. Our Head Chef JP Thomas comes through again, creating a scrumdiddlyumptious three-course meal, with each course containing The Keel as an ingredient. Cook ’em up and down what’s left during the meal.

Tomato Mozzarella Salad

Ingredients
3 Whole Tomatoes, sliced
12oz Buffalo mozzarella cheese, sliced to match the tomatoes
Fresh basil
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Keel Balsamic Reduction

Directions
Layer tomatoes and mozzarella slices, sprinkle with torn basil leaves, salt and pepper. Drizzle with oil and The Keel reduction to finish.

Keel Reduction

Ingredients
1 cup Balsamic Vinegar
1 cup The Keel
1/2 cup of light brown sugar

Directions
Mix over medium heat, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved completely. Bring to a boil, and reduce to low heat. Simmer until volume is reduced by half and coats the back of a spoon. Cool before using.

JP does his thing
JP does his thing

Grilled Steak with Chimichurri Sauce

Ingredients
3 lbs steak — your favorite cut for grilling: NY Strip, Flank, London Broil, T-Bone, Sirloin, etc.

Chimichurri Sauce

1 cup fresh cilantro
1 cup fresh parsley
5 cloves of garlic
1/2 Tbsp red chili flakes
2 Tbsp shallots
2 oz The Keel
3 limes, juiced
Salt, pepper, and oil as needed

Directions
Place all ingredients in blender until smooth. Slowly add oil to help sauce puree.

Place half of sauce in a bowl, set half aside.

Add steaks to bowl and rub to coat. Allow to marinate for at least 20 minutes, then place on a pre-heated grill. Grill over medium heat until done to your preference. Baste meat while grilling with marinade.

Allow meat to rest 5 to 7 minutes before serving. Drizzle with remaining sauce.

Cheesecake with Raspberry Keel Sauce

Ingredients
5 cups fresh raspberries
1 1/2 cups cane sugar
4 oz The Keel
2 oz Chambord or other raspberry liqueur

Directions
Make your favorite cheesecake.

Place all ingredients (not the cheesecake!) in a small pot over medium low heat. Stir slowly and use back of spoon to crush raspberries. Simmer until volume is reduced by half and coats the back of a spoon. Strain, cool, and serve.

Excuse us. We need to get to the kitchen. Now.

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.

Top Ten Reasons to Line Up for The Keel

#10 — Because you have a deathwish and need to brave tornadoes near and far. (Yeah, CMBC is still reeling from the tornado that ripped through Cape May. Apparently, we’re not in Kansas anymore.)

#9 — Because you’ve been putting off checking out The Brewtique and you just can’t take it another minute.

#8 — Because you’ve decided to skip your sixth Wawa run of the week. You don’t need coffee NEARLY as much as you need The Keel. (Though… that is some damn good coffee…. Okay. We’ll give it to you. There’s a Wawa around the corner. Be sure to pick up something for Justin Vitti or you’ll never hear the end of it.)

#7 — Because if we don’t sell out of this beer, we could stop brewing experimentally. If we stop brewing experimentally, Hank could become bored. If Hank becomes bored, he could start designing satellites again. If he starts designing satellites again, they could contain a death ray. If they contain a death ray, it could mean the end of the world. You don’t want to cause the end of the world, DO YOU?

#6 — Because longer hours in the tasting room + cool summer nights in the beer garden = seriously happy campers

#5 — Because we want Mop Man to stay proud.

#4 — Because you want to be the STAR of all of the Fourth of July barbeques. Better max your allowance and get three!

IMG_8134#3 — Because Head Brewer Brian Hink is “more proud of this beer than anything I’ve ever brewed.”

#2 — Because of this bottle. Have you seen it? Look at this thing. LOOK AT IT. It’s GORGEOUS. It should be on a runway. Or hanging in the Guggenheim. The bottle itself is worth $20 — AND YOU GET TO DRINK WHAT’S INSIDE!

#1 — Because this beer took us almost three friggin’ years to get to you. Do you really want to wait another minute?

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!

Brian Hink on The Keel

In the short video below, Head Brewer Brian Hink tells us what went into the new release. This brew has been in the works for over two years, and Brian’s particularly pleased with the way it’s come out. “Definitely the most adventurous avenue we’ve explored yet!”

 

Checking In With Jimmy

Our new Director of Brewing Operations, Jimmy Valm, has completed his first week on the job. Has he fallen in love with all things CMBC, or is he hightailing it back to Brooklyn? We caught up with him between mash-ins to find out…

How’s it going so far? It’s been great! I’m really impressed with the knowledge of everyone here, and their commitment to making awesome beer. Everyone is super gung-ho, and ready to jump on any task. It’s fantastic. I’m really excited to be joining the team.

Now that you’ve had a week to settle in, what are you most excited about? Pushing our sour program and the barrel-aged beers. I just saw mockups for the labels of The Keel, and I really dig them. It’s going to be a fantastic beer, branded well. I’m looking forward to coming up with more of those.

Biggest surprise about the brewery so far? It came today, with how extensive this tiny little bottling line is. It hits all the right notes for quality control. Turns out, this little Meheen machine is a workhorse.

How about your biggest surprise about Cape May in general? How nice and friendly everyone is. I’ve spent very little time in New Jersey and I don’t know it that well except for what everyone else says about it. I was hoping it would be like this here, being a small beach town and all, but it’s still a very happy surprise.

Any funny stories from the last seven days we should know about? There’s been some joking and joshing around in the brehwouse already. There’s good energy here.

Now that you’ve had a chance to try more of them, which CMBC beer would you be and why? Corrosion IPA. It’s easy going but a little hyper, a blend of various styles, and goes well with summer.

jimmy

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