Our intrepid world traveler and Marketing Guru Alicia Grasso headed down to the University of Kentucky this past weekend for a symposium on craft beer writing.
“It was great!” she tells us. “I learned a lot from some big names in beer writing, and the University of Kentucky is a beautiful campus.”
So many of our favorite breweries were in attendance, including Rhinegeist Brewery in Cincinnati, Blackberry Farm Brewing from Tennessee, and the hometown crowd from Country Boy Brewing in Lexington. In addition, many of the University’s students were in attendance — sounds like college students found out where the beer was! — as well as writers from various other disciplines, eager to learn as much as possible.
Heather Vandenegel from All About Beer and Beer Advocate gave a talk called “Beer as Culture: Witnessing and Writing About the Modern Beer Movement” speaking of the need to find your niche in the world of beer writing. Jeremy Danner from Boulevard Brewing spoke on “Beer Social Media — The Bar That Never Closes,” regarding the social media landscape and its importance to the beer market. Joe Tucker of RateBeer gave a talk called “Sensory Language at RateBeer: Use and Utility,” delineating the various ways sensory language is used to write about beer. Julia Herz of the Brewers Association spoke on “Craft Beer Story Ideas and the State of Beer in the US,” regarding the importance for us little guys to be active on the national level.
John Holl of All About Beer gave a talk called “Don’t Be a Beer Writer” — not quite as fatalistic as it sounds, his talk was about being a beer journalist rather than being a beer writer. Since this is what we try to do at Straight to the Pint — we try to create interesting stories that appeal broadly rather than only report on our latest brew and what it tastes like — it’s good to hear that he thinks we’re doing something right.
The keynote speaker was Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø of Evil Twin Brewing. For those who haven’t heard of him, he’s a total rockstar brewer. He owns four companies and is one of the few people on the planet who could be considered a craft beer mogul. His talk was called “The Traveling Brewer,” and he lives this idea to the fullest. Your brewery should reflect your personality and your voice, according to Jeppe, and Evil Twin reflects his rogue, bad boy persona. His talk could basically be summed up with the old Emerson quote: “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path, and leave a trail.”
While Alicia was there, she got to tour several breweries, including Country Boy Brewing, West 6th Brewing, and Ethereal Brewing while sampling Kentucky’s finest. Alicia is nearly always wearing her marketing hat, so she found it interesting to see how other breweries market their wares.
While there are a lot of similarities in what we do with what everyone else does — after all, we’re all trying to get you to drink our beer — Alicia came away from the day with the understanding that we’re doing things pretty well at CMBC. A recent article in The New Brewer was along the same lines as John Holl’s talk — create stories, not reports. We think that Cape May Brew Co. is on point in following the trends in craft beer writing, but we’ll leave you to be the judge.
Avalon Coffee Stout is not only a fan favorite, it’s a favorite of Head Brewer Brian Hink’s, as well. Our man spent some fifteen years in the coffee biz, brewing that other nectar of the gods, so, not only is a coffee stout a match made in brewing heaven, Brian’s subsequent geek-out nearly caused his head to explode.
And, with a four-hour flight to Denver to the Great American Beer Festival, Brian was more than willing to fill that time telling us more than we ever wanted to know about coffee. So, if you’ve ever wondered how our ingredients get into your glass, Brian’s got the scoop! (Of coffee grounds….)
Avalon Coffee Stout is a heavenly brew to drink as these fall evenings start getting colder and longer, as the sun fades quicker, and we’re further removed from the dog days of summer.
Brian on the Brew
Avalon Coffee Stout is a match made in heaven, combing the full-bodied roastiness of our stout with the medium-bodied and rich Avalon Coffee house blend to concoct a brew that is simply perfect. It’s a heavenly brew to drink as these fall evenings start getting colder and longer, as the sun fades quicker, and we’re further removed from the dog days of summer.
African coffee is some of the most underrated out there, oftentimes bringing strong lemon, berry, and floral notes that really add a nice complexity to any blend.
Brian on Avalon Coffee
[Social Media and Graphic Design Director] Courtney Rosenberg and I showed up at Avalon Coffee in Rio Grande at 1pm on Friday the 23rd just as Pete — their main roaster — was ripping through batches of coffee. He was mainly roasting their house blend — a mix of Costa Rican, Colombian, and Kenya — a beautiful blend of beans that hits all the right notes: soft acidity, rich cocoa and nutty notes, and a subtle berry aroma, thanks to the Kenya. African coffee is some of the most underrated out there, oftentimes bringing strong lemon, berry, and floral notes that really add a nice complexity to any blend.
If you haven’t gathered by now I really miss roasting coffee and creating blends!
Brian on Beans
Let me back up a second and talk about coffee in general. There are two types of coffee bean: Arabica and Robusto. Arabica is the higher quality, more flavorful, and less mass produced bean of the two, with Robusto being a little harsher, more stringent, and generally an inferior bean. Arabica grow at higher elevations — 2500 feet above sea level and higher — while Robusto are grown below that.
We’ll focus on the Arabica genus because that’s the good stuff. All coffee is only grown between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, primarily along the equator. Volcanic soil is great for coffee because it has the ideal minerality and pH content. There are three primary growing regions: Latin America, Africa, and Indonesia. Costa Rica, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico are the main Latin American offerings; Kenya and Ethiopia are Africa’s main players; and Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Papua New Guinea are the main Indonesian areas that produce quality beans.
Coffee can either be a single-origin offering — usually you’ll see a Colombian or Brazilian offering — a great coffee that can stand up on it’s own. On the other hand, that can either get boring or not offer enough flavor variety, and that’s where blending comes into play. Much like when we blend our barrel-aged beers: some individual barrels can stand on their own accord, and some are better to contribute to a blend. Sometimes we need the extra acidity of this barrel combined with the softer notes of that barrel to achieve the complexity we’re looking for. Coffee blending is much the same: the dark-roasted earthiness of a Sumatra will be balanced perfectly by the nutty offering of a Costa Rican, and all tied together by the berry floral notes thanks to an Ethiopian – stuff like that. (If you haven’t gathered by now I really miss roasting coffee and creating blends!)
Roasting coffee is much like baking: you don’t just turn on your oven and throw in some cookie dough and hope for the best.
Brian on Roasting
Roasting coffee is much like baking: you don’t just turn on your oven and throw in some cookie dough and hope for the best. You have a set temperature and time, looking for the desired end result. You turn the roaster on and bring it up to temperature, usually around 415-430 degrees.
A roaster is kinda like a dryer, tumbling around with constant heat being applied to the sides of the drum to supply an even and consistent heat source. As the roaster is heating up, you measure out your raw coffee beans — called green beans — and add them in stages at just the right time.
With your oven you can set it to 430 and there it goes; with a roaster not so much. It’s all about controlling the gas flow to control the flame, and also controlling the airflow through the drum — the more air you draw the cooler it gets; the less air, the hotter the drum will be. A skilled roaster looks for a window, and dropping the beans in at exactly the right time is paramount to getting the proper roast: drop the beans in even 5 degrees above or below and you’ll be playing catch up the entire roast — much like our mashing process.
Getting my hands back on the roaster at Avalon Coffee was a great experience and something I had really missed doing.
Ahhh, the Memories….
Having worked at Starbucks for six years prior to coming to CMBC and at Java Jane’s in Ocean City for nine years prior to that, I have an extreme appreciation for roasting coffee and the craft and artistry that goes into it. The owner of Java Jane’s went to the Diedrich Roaster manufacturing plant to take a week-long roasting course and taught me everything he knew back when I was in my early twenties, so getting my hands back on the roaster at Avalon Coffee was a great experience and something I had really missed doing.
So, has Brian’s extensive coffee knowledge paid off? Only one way to find out: come down and check out our Avalon Coffee Stout, pouring now.
Yakima. The name kinda sounds like a cat coughing up a hairball, but our guys have been there all week.
Why? This regurgitive-sounding name is to brewers what Graceland is to fans of The King. What Buckingham Palace is to fans of The Queen. What the Rhombus is to phans of Phish.
It’s where the world goes for their hops.
The Yakima Valley contains nearly 75% of the nation’s hop acreage, accounts for almost 77% of the country’s hop harvest, and exports two-thirds of those glorious hops to the rest of the world. The near-desert conditions of the valley and the cool, clean water provided by the Yakima River are a perfect storm for hops production. Hops usually take up to three years from first plant to full harvest — in the Yakima Valley, new plantings can produce a full crop in the first year.
In a word: it’s hops heaven. (Okay, that’s three words.)
Each year the hops producers of Yakima Valley extend an invitation to honored breweries throughout the country to select their hops for the coming year. Ryan, along with Head Brewer Brian Hink and Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm, flew — in a commercial airliner, thank-you-very-much — out to Washington.
It’s Hops Selection 2016, baby!
On Monday, the guys trotted out to Hopsteiner. These guys have been growing, trading, breeding and processing hops since 1845 — nearly half-a-century before Washington became a state. They’re one of our main hop suppliers, and these guys know their stuff.
The guys gathered in a specially-designed room to inspect the samples. (Oh, the glorious beards that room must have seen!) As a processor, Hopsteiner collects samples from the various farms throughout the valley — they’ll eventually process the hops into pellet form. Most beer is brewed with pelletized hops — ours certainly are. Pelletized hops are basically powdered hops that dissolve faster and have less of a tendency to float, so more of that hoppy goodness goes directly into the brew.
As the guys inspect the hops, they inspect them visually, looking for a bright green color: brown and yellow colors can indicate that the cones were left up too long and the flavor components of the hops may have already started to oxidize and degrade. They are also looking for the moisture content, they need to be dry, but not so dry they crack. So they squeeze the samples a bit, massage them in ways that only hops deserve, looking for a dry feel that still bounces back into shape. They’re also looking for the lupulin glands — bright yellow pollen glands in the center of the cone. The more lupulin, the more intense the aroma will be.
Lupulin is important for good beer. It not only gives it that gorgeous hoppy smell, but it’s one of the chemicals that contribute to beer’s intoxicating effect. You know how a really hoppy session IPA with a low ABV can still hit you harder than, say, a pilsner with the same ABV? Primarily, it’s the lupulin in the extra hops that does it to you. You know how beer makes you feel more relaxed than, say, whiskey? Lupulin. You know how there are no vodka-drinking songs? Lupulin. You know how hops and marijuana are related? Lupulin is to hops as THC is to marijuana — it’s nowhere near as strong, but the effects are similar.
Thank you, sweet lupulin.
The guys did rubbings of five different hop varieties: Cascade (which is named for the larger region where Yakima sits), Centennial, Chinook (named for the Native American nation in the same area), Bravo, and Apollo.
Centennial and Apollo are the primary hops in Coastal Evacuation. “It’s all Apollo for the bittering as well as a bit in the dry-hopping,” Jimmy says, “so we are looking at the overall alpha acid content of that hop, but we also want one with a nice aroma of lime citrus, grapefruit, and a touch of that resinous dank.”
Centennial hops are the main beast for the whirlpool and dry-hop additions in Coastal, so the guys were really looking for aroma. “Centennial can be quite resinous with a very lemon-peel citrus note as well,” Jimmy says. “We have to be careful to select the batch that we not only like the best, but that matches the flavor profile of Coastal Evacuation.”
Cascade and Chinook are the primary hops in Cape May IPA, so the guys were focused on aroma with these, as well. Cascade and Centennial are similar in some ways, but Cascade is fruitier and not as resinous, with a distinct pine scent. “It’s a classic West Coast IPA hop,” Jimmy says.
“Chinook is one of my favorites,” Jimmy tells us. “We’re looking for a fruity sweetness that’s reminiscent of stone fruits like apricots and peaches — there’s also a little peppery kick in there and it is quite resinous. These two hops are what really give Cape May IPA it’s distinct fruity and dank aroma.”
Ryan agreed: “DANK, brah.”
Bravo is a high alpha acid hop — these are the chemicals that supply bitterness — so it’s used in several brews, particularly our Belgian Ales. “Again, here we are looking for a soft bitterness, nothing too astringent, and we definitely don’t want any resinous aromas for these beers,” says Jimmy.
After the selection, the guys toured Hopsteiner’s processing plant. Our guys were seriously impressed by their setup. “It’s incredible the amount of investment in infrastructure,” Ryan said.
On Tuesday, the guys toured a few more plants. Processing plants, that is. First up was Brewers Supply Group (BSG) — “a gorgeous facility,” Brian says. Shane, the Operations Manager, spent about an hour-and-a-half with our guys. BSG has designed their plant with expansion in mind, so these guys have room to grow.
Next up was Yakima Chief-HopUnion (YCH) — essentially both a processing plant and grower’s cooperative. We get all of our Amarillo, Simcoe, Citra, Zythos, Saaz, and a handful of other smaller, more specialty hops from YCH. “These hops make up City to Shore, Summer Catch, Sea Mistress, and a bunch of other ones,” Brian says, “so I was really excited to check out their fields and plants.” Andy, the Northeast Sales Director, showed the guys around the plant, and from there they hopped in one of their vans (blame Brian for the pun) with some guys from LA’s Golden Road Brewing to head out to Carpenter’s Ranch.
We want to go to Carpenter’s Ranch. They’ve been growing hops since 1868 — for those of you keeping track, no, Washington’s not yet a state — and the farm is still very much a family operation. “There were uncles and cousins and brothers and sisters and second cousins and family dogs everywhere!” Jimmy enthuses.
Tyler, a 7th generation hops farmer, took over two hours with our guys, on an in-depth tour of the plant and some of their fields. Carpenter has a patented means of removing the hop bines in the field. Most farms cut the bines and supports at the bottom of the bine, then a combine comes through, cuts the top, and throws the whole bine in the back for processing. At Carpenter, they run the bine through a specialized circular blade that cuts off all of the foliage and spits out the thick bine, making processing much easier. Then, they travel across many shaker tables and belts and pickers, until only the hop cones are left. From there, they’re dried out and sent to a baler, where they’re wrapped into 200-pound, 4’x2’x2’ gigantic bales of hops.
Next, Tyler showed them some experimental varieties they’re trialing. “The hope is that they become the next Citra or Simcoe or Amarillo,” Jimmy says, but right now, they’re just numbered varieties. “I’m very excited for these. Some of them were huge cones with a ton of lupulin glands; usually a very large cone means very little in the way of lupulin glands. They were a touch dank, but had a nice spiciness to them and a lemony citrus. I think they’d be great in a Saison or an Americanized Kolsch.
“Seeing the farms and meeting the farmers and having a detailed view of the processing and pelletizing plants was very informative, and has given me a new appreciation for the process as well as the people involved in harvesting the hops and getting them to us,” Jimmy says. “They’re just as passionate about what they do as we are about brewing, maybe even more so!”
With all this traveling and walking through plants and traipsing through 150-year-old farms, you’d think our guys worked up a thirst, no?
Of course they did!
However, according to Jimmy, there are surprisingly few breweries in Yakima, but there are some great bars with huge selections. Jimmy loved getting back to his roots — having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, is it any wonder he became a brewer?
The only brewery they visited was Bale Breaker Brewing Company, just outside of town. Of course, they grow their own hops. “The President and Owner Meghann Quinn was a great host and showed us their impressive facility,” Ryan says. The guys got to talk shop with the Brewmaster, Kevin Smith, and the Head Cellarman.
Unsurprisingly, “all their beers are hop-bombs,” Jimmy says, “but very good.” Ryan was a big fan of their Bottomcutter Double IPA and their Topcutter IPA.
“It was definitely an IPA kinda week!” Jimmy says.
The guys will be back at work soon, exhausted from their trip, but with wonderful ideas for what they’ve learned. The Yakima Valley has opened up for them, and, ultimately, for you, dear beer drinker. The bounties of the region are for your pleasure, and we’ll keep bringing the best of Washington all the way home to Cape May.
Fall’s a-brewin’ and so are we. But, really, that should come as no surprise. It’s kinda why we’re here. If we weren’t, we’d probably have to change our name.
But we’ve got a superior brew coming up for autumn — something that combines two of your favorite brewed beverages: beer and coffee.
And it’s not just any coffee we’re using. You know of our penchant for sourcing locally, right? Any time we can, we like to support our local businesses — and we’re pretty lucky to have some of the greatest coffee being roasted right up the street at Avalon Coffee.
We’re using their house roast: a blend of 100% Arabica Costa Rican, Kenya AA and Colombian Supremo beans. It’s not just for breakfast anymore!
Head Brewer Brian Hink — in addition to being a genius in the brewhouse — spent fifteen years in the coffee biz, so this is kind of a match made in sweet-aroma’d heaven.
The combination of coffee with a hearty stout is perfection in a glass. “The soft cocoa notes from the Latin American portion paired with the bright and juicy aspects of the Kenya makes it the perfect blend of beans,” he tells us, “wonderfully suited for our full-bodied and roasty stout.”
The really cool thing? The coffee ends up retaining all the caffeine it would have if you were to use it to make… well… coffee. We’re “dry-coffee-ing” the brew — pretty much the same process as dry-hopping a beer. So, we’ll end up pulling all the caffeine, but we’re not using the same amount of grounds that we would if we were brewing multiple barrels of coffee, so it won’t be quite as strong.
“At the ratio we used, you’re getting about a third of a cup of coffee per eight ounces of beer,” Brian says, “which comes out to around 60 milligrams of caffeine per pint of beer.” Still quite a bit of caffeine, “so it’s not recommended for pregnant women or people with heart conditions.” Who probably shouldn’t be drinking beer, anyway.
“Expect a rich blend of cocoa, slightly nutty, and fragrant coffee aromas paired with the roasty and slightly bitter notes of the base stout to create a beautifully full bodied cup of joe… er, beer,” Brian tells us.
They were brewing the Avalon Coffee Stout this past week, and the brewery — which already smells like the happiest place on earth — smelled like Juan Valdez decided to drink all the beer. It was glorious. It’ll be a few weeks before it’s ready, but, as far as we’re concerned, October 6th can’t come fast enough.
But, wait! There’s more!
We’ve got something else brewing that’s gonna knock your stockings off just in time for Christmas. Christmas 2017, that is. We’d get it out to you sooner, but, as you’ve probably learned by now, barrel-aging takes a looooong time. And this one will be so beautifully barrel-aged that the finished product will be well worth the wait.
If you’ve ever wanted to spend Christmas in Belgium — and, let’s face it, who hasn’t? — then this beer will be right up your abbey. A dark ale in the Trappist tradition, we’re just starting to brew this heavenly Christmas concoction this week. It’s unpasteurized and unfiltered, brewed by adding sugar to the wort kettle, then bottle-conditioned.
Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm tells us that “we added Dark Belgian Candi Syrup to the boil that adds a dark color as well as the flavors of plums, raisins, burnt sugar, and a slight molasses note. The candi syrup also makes up a large portion of the fermentable sugars, but contains no unfermentable dextrins like malt, resulting in a very dry body in the beer.”
He’s being pretty tight-lipped on this one, but Jimmy gave us an idea of what to expect. “It’ll have a very complex palate from the spicy and phenolic Belgian yeast, a sweetness reminiscent of caramel and dark fruits of the Candi Syrup, and notes of dried fruits, honey, vanilla, and a slight oak flavor from the Cognac barrels.”
This sounds like a tasty Christmas dessert! And with an ABV in the 9.5%-10.5% range, it’ll be the perfect brew to quaff during one of those large family dinners. Your crazy uncle’s ramblings will be that much more amusing. As Jimmy tells us, “It’ll be warming, dry, sweet, complex, and extremely satisfying.”
As we said, this brew will be coming at you next Christmas, so add it to your shopping list now. You won’t want to forget when it comes around next year. But, no worries. We’ll be sure to remind you. Just keep your eyes on the blog!
If there’s one thing we love at CMBC… well, that would be beer. (We love beer. It’s the best.)
If there are two things we love at CMBC… well, that’s our fans. (We love you guys. You’re the best.)
Okay. We love lots of things at CMBC. One of them is new toys. (We love new toys. They’re the best.)
We just got a doozie of a new toy at CMBC, and it’s really going to put the nerd into “beer nerd”. It’s called a Cellometer, and it’s like Hank at his fermentation-nerdiest crossed with Anthony Michael Hall in The Breakfast Club with a heaping dose of pocket protector and all wrapped up neatly in some headgear. At math camp.
So, what is a Cellometer and what does it do? In the simplest terms and the most convenient definition: it’s a piece of machinery that counts cells. As you probably know, yeast is a very basic single-celled organism, and they’re a little on the fragile side. The nature of the beast is that our harvested yeast slurry will contain some dead (or “non-viable”) cells. The only way to tell how much of the slurry was viable was by looking at it under a microscope and doing our best to count those little buggers.
Now, we can take a sample, shoot it up with two colors of fluorescent dye, and some of that dye will make the living (or “viable”) cells light up, and the rest of it will make the non-viable cells light up. From there, we put the sample in this bad boy, and, with a combination of a fluorescent-sensitive camera and a PC, it counts the cells for us, giving us a total count and a percentage of viability.
And the one we’re getting — the Nexcelom Cellometer X2 — is pretty killer. “The operator can see a preview of the sample as the computer sees it to ensure that it is correct and it is counting all of the cells that should be counted,” says Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm. “So while it eliminates much of the human error associated with cell-counting, we can also eliminate the stringent restrictions of computer-error as well.”
Accurate cell counts of yeast samples are essential to making good and consistent beer. On our end, we really just make wort — it’s the yeast that turns that wort into heavenly, heavenly beer. Inconsistency in the amount of yeast added to the wort — a.k.a. the “pitching rate” — can cause quite a bit of variation in the taste of a specific brew.
“For example, under-pitching will stress out the yeast, which will lead to a sluggish fermentation, which in turn can result in a lower fermentation temperature, which alters the production rate of esters and phenols,” Jimmy patiently explains. “Low pitching rates also result in more oxygen being available to each individual yeast cell, which means they will spend more time and effort turning sugars into new yeast cells (reproducing) instead of producing alcohol, so the ABV ends up low.”
We really can’t blame the yeasties for choosing reproduction over work, but a low ABV is simply uncalled for.
This machine is going to help our production in a multitude of ways. We can ensure that the yeast we harvest is healthy and that subsequent batches of brew are properly fermented. We can track the generations of yeast and their overall viability, allowing us to plan our ordering a little better.
Most importantly, however, we’ll be sure that we’re pitching the correct number of viable cells into every batch of beer. That means that your beer is as good as it possibly can be, dear beer drinker, every single time.
The Cellometer — which we’re thinking of calling CeeLo — will live on the laboratory table at HQ, forever connected by USB to one of the computers over there. Jimmy and Head Brewer Brian Hink will be running the tests. “At the start, we will keep it to just us two so we can be assured the tests themselves are being done the same way each time so we have consistent results,” Jimmy says. “If we have numerous people running the tests, then small variations in the sample handling can result in large variations of the results.”
The dream is to one day have a separate lab that’s a little more extensive than a table set up on the side of the brewery, with a full-time Laboratory Technician running things. So, if you understood all of this blog — even before we wrote it — that could be you!
In the meantime, Jimmy, Brian, CeeLo, and the rest of us will keep plugging away, making your favorite beer. Stop down and say hi!
Just hearing the name makes you thirsty, doesn’t it? It’s dripping with history and pomp and sausages and, of course, beer. And we’ve got our take on the classic Oktoberfestbier currently pouring in the Tasting Room.
“We brew an Oktoberfest because it hearkens back to one of the oldest brewing traditions in the world,” says Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm, “the Oktoberfest celebrations of Bavaria, and connecting with our rich brewing past is a fun aspect of being a brewer.”
We’ve told you about the history of Oktoberfest, but here’s a recap:
In Munich, Oktoberfest is basically a two-week long festival of food and beer and general German carousing. The first one in 1810 was to celebrate Ludwig’s marriage to Therese, and those wacky Germans decided it was so much fun that they’d have it every year.
Little known fact: the first one didn’t even have beer. We’re not sure what they were thinking. It was mostly a horse race. Because, as I’m sure you’ll agree, every wedding would be so much better if it involved racing horses.
It was 82 years before they decided to start serving beer. Eighty-two freakin’ years. The Germans literally added tree climbing to the festivities before they decided to add beer. It’s like we don’t even know who they are anymore. Though, honestly, that was probably a good idea. Climbing a tree after a few steins is not a recommended activity.
Of course, Germans being Germans, the Reinheitsgebot rears its ugly head at Oktoberfest. Only six breweries are allowed to serve beer there — the beer must be brewed within the city limits of Munich and it must conform to the German Beer Purity Law.
Could you imagine if we did that for Brews by the Bay? It would be a short festival. There are only six breweries allowed to serve beer there; we’ll have over forty at Brews by the Bay!
In honor of the greatest German beer festival known to man, and, by extension, Kronprinz Ludwig and his lovely bride, Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen (gesundheit), CMBC is happily donning their lederhosen and kicking up the oompah music to bring you our very own version of Oktoberfestbier.
Clocking in at a delightful 5.8% ABV, our Oktoberfest is a rich and complex amber-colored lager, perfect for the changing seasons. With enough hop presence to show up in the background, Oktoberfest is focused on a grain bill comprised of a blend of Vienna, Munich, Caramunich, Pilsen, and Melanoidin malts, lending the brew a toffee- and caramel-like sweetness with a nutty note.
“It’s clean and crisp” says Head Brewer Brian Hink, “and really makes for an incredible beer to sit around a fire pit as the autumn air turns to hoodie weather. In the summer it’s all about easy-drinking beers that don’t wear out the palate too much, but as the calendar turns to fall and the daylight gets shorter, a fuller-bodied beer that is rich and nutty tasting is really what you want to reach for time and again.”
Jimmy agrees, “It has that classic crisp note of a long-matured lager but not quite as dry or hoppy, and more malt character than a Pilsner, for example. The nutty and caramel-like sweetness from the Munich, Caramunich, Vienna, and Melanoidin malts are at the forefront, but the beer is still light and smooth drinking, so it’s not the malt character from, say, a Porter or a Stout.”
Oktoberfestbier was originally conceived as a Marzen — a March beer. Back in the day, before modern refrigeration, brewers left the beer to cool in icy caves for long periods of time. The beer would clear up as the yeast and other haze-forming particles settled, and, as the beer matured, would taste cleaner.
Since there are no icy caves in Cape May — and, let’s face it, if there were, you guys would find them and raid our stash — we just lager this at around fifty degrees for a week, then cold-condition (or lager) at thirty-two for a few more weeks: the result being a mature, clean, and crystal clear brew.
Technology good. Technology very good.
“Seriously, get a cooler and grab a few growlers of this,” Brian says, “and get out there and go camping, or roast some marshmallows on that fire pit out back that you haven’t touched since May because it’s just been too dang hot.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s back! Mop Water — the brainchild of Mop Man himself — is anticipated patiently by CMBC’s loyal fans each fall. This year, we’re getting a jump on this five-spiced ale and releasing it a little earlier! It’ll be coming at you September 1st, just in time for Labor Day.
Take a look at some of the great things people have to say about Mop Water.
“It’s a really unique pumpkin beer — although it’s not a pumpkin beer and that’s what makes it so unique. We decided to bring in all the best parts about pumpkin pie: you’ve got cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, allspice, and ginger in there. It’s all the best parts about pumpkin pie in a really rich, full-bodied, amber beer. The beer before the spice is delicious. That’s what really sets it apart. A lot of people just make a basic, boring beer, then add spice to it. We didn’t want to go that route. We made a good beer first, then complemented it with spices. It’s just a really unique fall spiced beer.” — Brian Hink, Head Brewer, CMBC
“Pours deeper amber with a light tan head. Aromas of cinnamon, nutmeg, caramel, and tree bark. Smooth and drinkable with nice carbonation. Cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, caramel, sugar cookie, and a full finish. Spices don’t overpower this beer at all! Really drinkable and balanced. Digging this shit…even if it is mop water.” — eelbasher, RateBeer
“Garden herbs and cinnamon, maybe nutmeg, but light and balanced. Nice brew.” — Tom H., Untappd
“It reminds me of fall, so it’s my seasonal beer — it makes me think of Halloween and haunted hayrides. It’s one of those beers that, when you’re watching American Horror Story, you can pair it with any fun fall food, and have people over and say, ‘Hey, let’s do a flight of all things autumn.'” — Courtney Sands, Beertender, CMBC
“Pretty good stuff–the spice combination is interesting, works well with the brown malt and vanilla to create something truly unlike its name. It’s one of the more ambitious and unique NJ beers, for sure.” — ectuohy27, RateBeer
“A bit boozy, sweet with the spices lingering.” — Shawn P., Untappd
“I love the s-load of real vanilla that goes into Mop Water.” — Hank, our boss, CMBC
“Poured a muddy deep brown with an average-sized light beige head. Aroma is malty with dark toast and brown bread along with some nice spicing: mostly cinnamon with a touch of nutmeg. Flavor is the same as the aroma with some nice cinnamon and nutmeg over toast and grains. Really nicely done and not a spice bomb, just the right amount to easily detect but not overpower.” — dmac, RateBeer
“Ooooo… This is really good. Good to know.” — Jason W., Untappd
“I like Mop Water because it’s not a pumpkin beer.” — Richie Rallo, Sales Manager, CMBC
“Very nice spicy beer. Almost a fall/winter blend. Really good spice in the aroma, average pour, & nearly a pumpkin-like flavor. I’m a fan!” — jrodooo5, RateBeer
“Spices blended into a creamy ale. Loved it! Christmas to Summer, hints of vanilla and cinnamon. A+!” — Ryan B., Untappd
“The Mop Man made it!” — Maddie Macauley, Beertender, CMBC
“Murky brown pour with a large soapy off-white head. It does look like dirty mop water. Tastes surprisingly juicy. Lots of spices: Nutmeg. Cinnamon. Cardamom. Allspice. Tasted like a pumpkin beer at first but apparently that is due to a large amount of vanilla bean. Caramel pudding. Butterscotch. Watery mouthfeel, so the moderately high ABV is well hidden.” — NikkTwist, RateBeer
“Mop = swab. Bucket = cadillac. Wall = bulkhead. Recruit, take that swab outta the Water in the cadillac & bring me a beer! Swab Water!” — Woody C., Untappd (Blogger’s note: We have no idea what this means.)
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!”
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.
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.