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The Official Blog of Cape May Brewing Company
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Watermelon Everywhere and So Many Drops to Drink

How happy does he look?!? Little does he know that he and his brethren are about to be slaughtered mercilessly for your drinking pleasure....
How happy does he look?!? Little does he know that he and his brethren are about to be slaughtered mercilessly for your drinking pleasure….

So. Many. Melons.

150 to be exact.

That’s how many watermelons ended up in our batch of Watermelon Wheat this year. At an average of 20 pounds per melon, that’s a ton and a half of melons. “Now that figure includes the rind, which we don’t use,” says Head Brewer Brian Hink, “but it still a lot of fruit weight.”

That’s a big difference from our usual fruit beers. It took about 24 man hours (and woman hours, thanks to our magnificent intern, Paige) to cut and juice all the melons and pump them into the tank. “It took about four of us: JP, Nick, Paige, and myself with a few others on production filtering in and out.”

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Nitro

Nitro. It’s all the rage these days, and most people just sort of nod knowingly when it’s mentioned in conversation. “Why, yessss…,” they say, “Nitro….” They know it’s got a special tap and does… something… to the beer, but really we think that everyone’s just sitting there thinking about the American Gladiator from the 90s.

Can you blame them? That show was awesome. We’d kill at the Eliminator.

Juno_in_front_of_JupiterSo we sat down with our own American Gladiator, Hank, to find out what the deal is with nitro beer. We should know better than to talk to an engineer about anything remotely scientific, but we waded through the science-talk, only seldomly wishing we’d paid more attention in high school chemistry. After quite a bit of chit chat about Juno — you can take the boy out of NASA, but you can’t take NASA out of the boy — we got the lowdown on all things nitro.

In a nutshell, “It’s a flat beer that pours very creamy.”

(Okay, Hank, but we’ve got a whole blog to fill.)

“I spent a good six months before we did our first nitro, just trying to learn everything I could about how to do it and how to do it right. There’s not a lot of information out there,” Hank tells us. “So I went back to old documents, and that’s how I figured out what a nitro beer really is: just flat beer,” he says, laughing. “Flat beer served under high pressure.”

Back in the day, the English were using hand pumps. The Irish thought that hand pumps were alright, but “you’re letting air back into the tank and they’re giant messes, so they wanted a way to push the beer out.” Hand pumped beer is brewed much the same as a nitrogenated beer — very low carbonation, and they’re served through a sparkler, “which makes it nice and fluffy.” Think of that particular stout from St. James’s Gate in Dublin.

This high pressure — two to three times higher than normal — requires nitrogen, because if you serve it under that amount of pressure with CO2, it overcarbonates the beer.

Our beers like to be poured at 10-12 psi carbon dioxide; however, our nitro is poured at 30 psi. If that were CO2, that would put the beer out of equilibrium and you’d have a ridiculously foamy beer. You want a good head on your beer, but a full glass of foam is an entirely different story. The nitrogen lets you boost the pressure to 30 psi without overcarbonating the beer.

Seems simple.

SONY DSC
A vial of glowing ultrapure nitrogen.
(How cool is THAT?)

In the tank, we carbonate the beer less than a standard beer because the nitrogen and nitro tap are going to do the work for us. A regular beer is carbonated to about 2.7 volumes of CO2 — which means that for every keg of pure liquid, 2.7 kegs of CO2 are dissolved into it, creating carbonation. For a nitro beer, that number drops below two.

Since the carbonation is intentionally low within the brew, you need the addition of nitrogen and a special tap to make up for it. In a nitro tap, there’s a small disk with tiny holes called the sparkler.  “It takes high pressure to go through those very tiny holes, and what those tiny holes do is foam up the beer.”

When it goes through the sparkler, it’s not just releasing CO2 and nitrogen from the beer, it’s picking up the nitrogen in the atmosphere. Little known fact: our atmosphere is over 80% nitrogen, so the planet Earth helps to nitrogenate your brew.

We knew it was doing something more than just keeping us alive.

The beer has a very different feel when it’s on nitro. “When a beer is very carbonated, you get a lot of aroma, and it sort of feels like seltzer water. It’s very tingly. When you have a low-carbonated beer, it’s very smooth, it can be very creamy. And a nice creamy head doesn’t hurt. It’s kind of like what an espresso machine does: it whips up the milk.”

Nitros are big these days because they give the consumer another way to experience a beer that they already know. This is a whole new experience for that same beer. “It changes your perception of the beer,” Hank says. “The King Porter Stomp is one that definitely works really well, gives it a whole different mouthfeel. It tastes almost like a milkshake. Honey Porter is really nice on nitrogen, and we’ve got that one coming out soon.”

But IPAs on nitro are really big these days. “Standard carbonation can accentuate the bitterness,” Hank tells us, “so the perceived bitterness in IPAs on nitro can drop down in a good way, but it still has all that hop flavor.”

“All you could ever get on nitro before were heavy beers: porters and stouts,” says Director of Sales Justin Vitti. “When people started to experiment with IPAs — how do you keep the hop characteristic of the beer? That’s what I think draws people to it. After so many years of having dark, heavy beers, now they get to try their old favorites with a new twist.”

So now that you know all there is to know about nitrogenated beer, head down to the Tasting Room and check out some of your old favorites on nitro. We’ve got our IPA, and our Honey Porter taps next week.

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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!

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!”

 

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]

Mooncusser Pilsner

Your momma always told you not to cuss. Some of you listened, some of you didn’t, some of you ended up getting your mouth washed out with soap. Too bad momma didn’t wash your mouth out with our Mooncusser Pils, but, let’s face it, momma was a responsible woman and CMBC didn’t exist then.

This guy was definitely cussing at something
This guy was definitely cussing at something

It’s an intriguing name, no? A mooncusser was, essentially, a pirate. These guys would ransack a nearby lighthouse — like that big, glorious one at Cape May Point — and disable it. Then, they’d set a fire inland, confusing the sailors into believing that the shoreline was much farther than it was. Once the ships ran aground, the mooncussers would pillage the disabled vessel, plundering its wares and triumphantly scurrying off into the night. However, a full moon would render their plans useless, leaving them to shake their fists at the heavens and curse the moon.

“Good pilsners are in short supply, but when done well they are excellent beers,” says Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm. “Brewing a Pilsner is a bit like playing bass: anyone with even the most modest skills can pick up an electric bass and get something out of it, but becoming an expert on the bass — to the level of Flea or Les Claypool — is extremely difficult and requires an insane amount of skill.”

Luckily, the guys in the brewhouse were completely undeterred by the challenge.

Since this is our first true pilsner, so you’re about to get a history lesson. (Okay. Another history lesson.)

Czechs, like the Germans, tend to like naming things after where they came from — as JFK learned the hard way when he didn’t really call himself a jelly doughnut in 1963* — and pilsners are no exception. These golden brews originated in the Czech city of Pilsen in the mid 1800s. A long history as a brewing town, Pilsen began brewing in 1295, but, like most Bohemian brewers — and most craft brewers today — they more or less stuck to the top-fermented ales. The Pilsners founded a city-owned brewery in 1839 and began experimenting with brews in the Bavarian style, including bottom-fermenting lagers.

Josef Groll (We're not sure how he brewed beer without a beard, but thank goodness he did.)
Josef Groll
(We’re not sure how he managed to brew beer without a beard, but thank goodness he did.)

The Pilsen brewery recruited the Bavarian brewer Josef Groll to bring his inherent Bavarianness to Bohemia. Using a combination of brighter malts prepared in an English style, Pilsen’s soft water, local Noble Saaz hops, and Bavarian-style lagering, Groll tapped his first batch of pilsner on October 5, 1842, a clear, golden brew that had the Czechs dancing in the streets.

(No, not really. They’re Czech. They just legalized dancing in 1989. Before the fall of Communism, Czechoslovakia was like that town in Footloose before Kevin Bacon showed up.)

So, if it’s so great, why don’t more craft breweries brew pilsners? Well, for one, they take two to three times as long to ferment, which means tying up a precious fermenter for up to six weeks.

“The pilsner market is still dominated by the macrobreweries,” Jimmy says, “and even I occasionally like a nice, clean pilsner at the end of a long day. We thought it was time to take a short jaunt down more simpler roads and brew these great, crisp lagers as they were meant to be, taking on the macrobreweries at their own game.”

Mooncusser Pilsner is a traditional Czech-style pilsner in the vein of Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen, and Paulaner. While most American pilsners still lean toward the hoppy side of things, Mooncusser is more balanced between the hops and the malt. You immediately sense the crisp, clean maltiness combined with a hint of sweetness, then a bite of Noble hop bitterness comes to meet it. The malt and the hops dance along your taste buds well after you’re done, leaving a lovely, dry finish that lasts and lasts.

We’re tapping Mooncusser Pils on Thursday, June 2. Come check it out in the Tasting Room during our summer hours, 11am – 9pm.

* No, he didn’t! While a “berliner” is a name for a jelly-filled pastry originating in Berlin, everyone listening to the speech knew what he meant. (Three history lessons in one blog post. Boom.)

Memorial Day Barbecue Pairings

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Memorial Day weekend is coming up, and that means barbecues. You know all of the best barbecues will be serving Cape May brews, and we want yours to be the best in town! We know that they always are — your barbecues are classy, fun, with a generous helping of hops. Of course you’re serving Cape May beer!

We hit up our Culinary Special Ops, JP Thomas, for his suggestions for inventive ideas for pairing your best barbecue dishes with your favorite Cape May brews.

IMG_8256Summer Catch (on tap now): With the orangy citrussiness of Summer Catch, you’re looking for something with those flavors. Nothing too heavy on flavor, maybe a fruit salad or a chef salad. If you’re feeling particularly froggy, JP suggests a citrus herb chicken. Marinade that chicken in some orange juice, rosemary, and thyme and toss it on the grill. Done.

 

Beets By May (available May 26): The earthy, umami flavors will go great with a hearty steak. JP tells us that goat cheese is “the best cheese in the world” for beets, so he suggests pairing them both with goat cheese mashed potatoes. And tarragon really brings out the flavor of the beets, so maybe consider spicing that steak with some tarragon or using it to add some flavor to the mashed potatoes.

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Misty Dawn (on tap now): Seafood. Your famous crabs and spaghetti, maybe a cioppino or a bouillabaisse. The French Saison style of Misty Dawn is light, crisp, and refreshing, and lends itself well to anything from the sea. Planning to grill up some lobsters? Perfect. (And you should expect us around 6.)

 

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White Caps (on tap now): The hoppiness of White Caps will go great with anything spicy or smoky, so break out those barbecued ribs! You know that’s why people show up to your barbecues, anyway — they’re the best in the world. The hops also do well with salty foods — a great idea would be a spicy fried chicken.

 

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The Bog (on tap now): The slightly-sweet, slightly-tart character of The Bog would go great with a Waldorf Chicken Salad with walnuts, grapes, and apples. The tartness of the cranberries in the beer would play well with the tartness of the grapes, and the shandy’s sweetness would pair well with the apples. Finish them all off with the nuttiness of the walnuts, and you’ve got a match made in heaven.

 

This should give you a whole ton of ideas for your Memorial Day barbecue. And, if you’re planning to throw this exact barbecue, expect about fifty extra guests, because all the employees of CMBC will be swinging by at some point.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend, and plan ahead! Beat the holiday crowds and swing down to the Tasting Room now and fill those growlers. Stay safe!

Summer Catch

We know you’ve got a summer beer that you turn to every year. It’s light, it’s refreshing, it’s able to be consumed in mass quantities while sitting by the pool. Whichever brew has been your favorite thus far, we hate to break it to you, but… it’s the wrong one. You’re going to have to stop being a creature of habit and check out Summer Catch.

The skies opened up and bestowed unto us all... Summer Catch
The skies opened up and bestowed unto us all… Summer Catch

Dropping May 12, this crushable Belgian-style wheat ale is sure to be your go-to drink this summer, with citrus on the nose and an easy-drinking yet firm body. Aimed at the adventurous beer drinker, Summer Catch is approachable enough for the as-yet-uninitiated craft beer lover.

Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm is more proud of this beer than anything he’s brewed thus far. “Summer Catch is insanely good!”

“It should definitely appease all parties,” Lead Brewer Brian Hink agrees. “It’s refreshing and light-bodied, with hardly a trace of hop bitterness, but a boatload of aroma – think ripened oranges and freshly-squeezed grapefruit. We used our favorite Belgian yeast to give it a touch of extra fruity notes. There’s a hefty portion of wheat in the grain bill to lend a soft, pillowy head to the glass, and to keep a touch of body in the beer.”

What makes it so appealing isn’t so much the ingredients we used, but how we used them, according to Jimmy.  “This beer is all about balance. Between the ripe orange and grapefruit hop aromas, the smooth bready notes of the wheat, and the fruity ester and spicy phenolic character of our favorite Belgian yeast, we’ve used them in an almost Golden Ratio fashion to keep the overall effect in equilibrium.”

Each of these ingredients can easily become overpowering when not handled properly; however, our beautiful bearded beer nerds know exactly what they’re doing.

“We worked very hard to ensure that the bitterness is apparent but not tongue-stripping,” Jimmy explains. “We selected varieties of hops that are complementary, aiming for a relatively smooth bitterness. By adding them at just the right time in the boil, we’ve limited astringency and tartness. And through careful control of the fermentation process, we’ve kept it at a moderate temperature that doesn’t let the little yeasties run wild.”

The result is a yeast character that is distinct but not dominant, hop aromas that are enticing but not off-putting, and a brew that will seduce beer nerds but won’t offend the everyman.

“This beer is pure synergy, the whole being so much greater than the sum of its parts.”

Your new summer beer is here.

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