Sunday, December 12, 2010

Kvass and a Transition

We were recently interviewed by our friends at Basic Brewing Radio in support of the article and a link to the audio stream is below:

Streaming mp3

For more of our writing read Nathan's DesJardin Brewing and Mike's The Mad Fermentationist.

Apologies for our long silence. We've got a long article on kvass in the current (Dec.) issue of Brew Your Own magazine on the kvass we brewed with Scott Smith at East End Brewing Co. in Pittsburgh. This article is a transition of the BrewLocal good beer-travelogue-apprenticeship-oral history spirit into print and we'd encourage folks to let Chris Colby, the editor at BYO, know if it's something you enjoy and would like to continue to see in print (really lay it on thick, let's bury the guy with e-mail). These trips are great fun, and wholly inspiring, and we're working hard on lining up some more good'ens.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Interview with Bill Madden of Mad Fox Brewing Co.

Bill Madden will very excitedly be opening his new brewpub Mad Fox Brewing Co. soon and in preparation for the opening we sat down with him for a relaxed and informative interview covering a lot of territory.

Best of luck Bill...sure we'll be seeing a lot of you at the new place.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Mad Fox Brewing Co. Preview

A few weeks back, local brewing legend Bill Madden was kind enough to have us around to the current construction site that is his soon-to-be-open dream brewpub Mad Fox Brewing Co. (an amalgamation of his and his wife's last names) in Falls Church, VA. Bill has a reputation as a craftsman brewer, producing flawless award winning beer: a stalwart of the local brewing scene, having run brewing operations at Capitol City Brewing Co., the short lived Founders (Alexandria, VA) and Vintage 50.

Bill is the definition of a community minded brewer, having organized local beer festivals for years, and is intimately linked with the local, long established, homebrewing club Brewers United for Real Potables (BURP), where he met his wife, his business partner for Mad Fox, and many of his most loyal customers. He sees his main role at Mad Fox as not only head brewer, but as a "European publican", a sort of approachable man of the house who will cajole you with a story and coddle you with a pint.

Bill got to work from a blank slate with Mad Fox: a huge modern space in which he could build to his specs, including a brand new 15 BBL brewhouse from Premier Stainless Systems, (6) 30 BBL fermentors, and (7) 15 BBL serving tanks . Everything is in it's right place, and there is plenty room for storage of cooperage and materials.

Bill has planned an ambitious cask program, having ordered 6 traditional handpumps and 50 casks from UK Brewing Supplies in Pennsylvania. His idea is to practice proper cask cellarmanship, keeping 3 casks pouring at all time with the remaining 3 available on-deck, properly settled, vented, and ready when needed.

We were excited to hear Bill has big plans for barrel aging and experimenting with wild fermentations. He hasn't had the opportunity to delve into the wild in any of his former positions and is chomping at the bit. He has curtained off space for barrels and is building in dedicated pipes to carry beer to-and-from the brewhouse to the barrel room.

Bill has garnered much acclaim for 2 beers in particular that have become his signature: A very traditional, impeccably drinkable Kolsch, and a brawny Wee Heavy that is built to age (and we'd imagine will be a candidate to see the inside of one of those barrels). Along with these staples, he has conceived a seasonal beer board that will allow room for variations on key beer themes of color and body, and he will continue his tradition of stealth beers for those in the know.

Bill gave us a walking audio tour of the construction site.

the future brewhouse

the stage, lounge area

brewers storage room (imagine casks and kegs stacked to the ceiling)

Bill and his beloved dumpster (he's paid his dues)

Bill recently had the brewhouse installed and we will have a broader interview with him up on the site shortly. It's going to be great having a new, ambitious brewpub in the metro area ( and just blocks from the Old Dominion Trail for us cyclists).

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Stillwater Single

Brian's version of a Belgian single has a solid malt bill with a solid amount of hops.  Not sure if this recipe will ever be released as part of his commercial Stillwater Artisinal Ales, but it certainly looks like it would make a great summer seasonal to me.

Stillwater Single

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 9.13
Anticipated OG: 1.048
Anticipated SRM: 3.6
Anticipated IBU: 24.8
Brewhouse Efficiency: 74 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

85.0% - 7.75 lbs. Pilsener
11.0% - 1.00 lbs. Wheat Malt
4.0% - 0.38 lbs. Munich Malt

0.50 oz. Czech Saaz (Whole, 3.40% AA) First Wort Hop
1.00 oz. Hallertauer Mittelfruh (Whole, 4.10% AA) 60 min.
1.00 oz. Czech Saaz (Whole, 3.40% AA) 10 min.
0.25 oz. Czech Saaz (Whole, 3.40% AA) 0 min.
0.25 oz. Hallertauer Mittelfruh (Whole, 4.10% AA) 0 min.

White Labs WLP575 Belgian Style Ale Yeast Blend

Water Profile
Profile: Baltimore

Mash Schedule
Saccharification Rest Temp : 45 min @ 149

Sparge with 170 degree water

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

At Home with Stillwater Artisanal Ales

Brian Strumke is an East Baltimore native, ex-techno dj/producer and current Belgian beer fanatic. Michael had met up with him a few years back to talk homebrewing sours, but this time around we wanted to talk to Brian about Stillwater Artisanal Ales, his new commercial venture. So we headed up from DC to Baltimore after work to meet up with Brian at his house in Brewer's Hill, appropriately in the shadow of the old National Bohemian Brewery (Natty Boh). As an added bonus, noted Belgian beer expert, and Brian's East Baltimore neighbor, Chuck Cook joined us for the evening. Chuck told us a great story about how he smuggled a bottle of one of Brian's sours over to Belgium and into the hands of that godhead of Belgian beer arcanery Tim Webb, who when pressed to identify the beer, mistook it for one brewed at one of the tradition lambic houses.

Brian is one of the most passionate and naturally talented homebrewers we've encountered. He has won awards at both the NHC, with an extraordinary Cabernet Sauvignon Lambic, and at the Sam Adam's Longshot competition. He understands flavors and recipe development in a way that few homebrewers do, drawing on his music background and synesthesia to construct beers unlike any others you are likely to try. What strikes you most about his philosophy is his insistence upon doing things "right": the idea of the inauthentic (like adding lactic acid for a hint of tartness), or cutting corners with less expensive malt or hops horrifies him. As an example he had just secured a couple thousand dollars worth of hopback hops to increase the aromatics on future batches of Stateside Saison and he insists on bottle conditioning.

Brian has just bottled his first beer under the Stillwater banner at the Dog Brewing Co. in Westminster, Maryland. Brian's vision is for a travellin' brewer setup similar to Pretty Things, whom Brian had not heard of until just recently, in which he rents time, space and resources at an established brewery. This has allowed him to start brewing commercially for a much smaller cash outlay than it would have to buy the tanks and equipment necessary to start brewing from scratch. It also allows him the flexibility to brew a smaller amount of beer, or switch brewing facilities if a better situation comes along. He has also teamed up with 12% Imports which will be taking his beer all across the country with shallow/wide distribution. Brian hopes to complete against similar Belgian operations which are highly sought after, but hard to come by.

We started out the night by cracking his second bottle of the just produced Stillwater Stateside Saison. Brian had drank the first bottle earlier in the night after letting it sit for several days to settle, but with this second bottle he roused the yeast. He preferred the character of the bottle with the yeast mixed back into suspension and is considering adding that as a suggestion on the label (much as hefeweizen bottles do). We told him we'd help spread the word, so SHAKE WELL!!!

The beer was beautifully dry, (thanks to the Wyeast 3711 French Saison yeast strain sourced from one of our favorite's Brasserie Thiriez) with firm hops. Many American versions of the style don't come off as crisp and hoppy as a fresh example from Belgium; we're not sure if they are too low in IBUs or just not dry enough. The yeast influence was nice: lightly spicy, with complimentary fruit notes. Overall a great first commercial batch.

Nathan got the chance to try a special dry hopped cask of Stateside that was produced for Max's Belgian Fest a few weeks earlier; the dry hopping added an IPA-like, brashly American hop assault that changed the focus from the yeast derived flavors of the bottled version.

Next up we had samples of a test batch saison Brian had brewed that wasn't even finished fermenting when the 30 bbl batch of Stateside was brewed. It was a different beast entirely: with a bigger, fruitier hop nose (from more high alpha acid Nelson Sauvin hops than he was able to get for the big batch) and some definite Fantome style rustic qualities. It was an interesting beer, with more complexity, though not nearly as accessibly drinkable as the commercially produced version.

The other beer he had on tap was another one that he hopes to brew commercially some day: A Saison Darkly. It's a brooding beer with 7 malts, and 3 herbs, that still manages to find an elegant balance. We also indulged in a couple homebrews from Brian's cellar: including a gruit with nicely restrained herbs and a bit of funk, and a big, dark, Belgian sour with a delightful blue cheese funk that was just about perfect. Stepping down to his basement provided a magical mystery tour: low ceilings and crannies packed full of carboys and corked bottles full of homebrewed lambic aging on their sides.

It seems like Brian is getting off to a great start in fair weather, and we are looking forward to seeing what other interesting beers he comes out imperial stout with coffee from a local roaster was mentioned as a possibility.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Visit to Selin's Grove

The story of Selin's Grove Brewing Co. is the story of a couple of over-achieving, modern day beer-steaders. Steve Leason and his wife Heather McNabb opened Selin's Grove in 1996, at the peak of the second wave of the American Craft Beer Renaissance. They had started brewing together years before in a fisherman's shack on the Maine coast, where they worked as innkeepers. A journey out West, including a stint at the burgeoning New Belgium Brewing Co. in Ft. Collins, Colorado and an inspirational, slapdash trip to Belgium fomented their dream of opening Selin's Grove.

They jumped at the opportunity to house a brewpub in the basement of a very singular property Heather's parent's owned: PA's 3rd governor Simon Snyder's old stone retirement mansion, in the central PA town of Selinsgrove (pronounced CEE-LINS-GROVE). Built in 1816, and archivally preserved, the building is on the National Historic Register.

Heather and Steve have really put all of themselves into the business and it shows: a comfortable historic locale, good food, friendly community-minded service, beer done with an amazing care to detail. They are supported by a enthusiastic local following that had the staff filling up growlers non-stop while we were enjoying our lunch before talking to Steve. It's a lot of work supervising staff, keeping the tanks full, the books balanced and raising 3 young'ens in their apartment above the pub.

Stepping into the basement level Colonial era pub displaces time: dark wood, open hearths and candle glow. Certainly a contrast to most other brewpubs that are modern and bright, but it did make taking photos a bit more difficult.
Steve is really humble and easy going with a literate sense of humor. He comes off as a bit of a hermetic brewer: practical, studious, pseudo-mystic. It seems like every brewer we talk to has something else besides beer that also really gets them going: Steve's current obsession's are mycology and trail running. He didn't want to be recorded talking about a mushroom beer, but we will say when we asked he certainly seemed to have given it some thought in the past

The brewpub started with a patchwork 3 bbl system, that Steve and Heather cobbled together with their tight resources . The 3 barrel system drove Steve to his wit's end brewing constantly to keep up with demand. The upgrade to their current 7 bbl. system was a welcome and necessary investment that re-inspired Steve's brewing.
The brewhouse was relocated to a converted shed behind the pub allowing the brewing to take place at any time of the day, without space restraint (a feature I'm sure the guys at Bullfrog are jealous of). That said, it does require that all of their beer is kegged, and hauled to the pub: no easy serving tanks for their tap system.

Steve does a yeoman's job producing a broad range of beers with precision. He has a definite bent toward organic practices, with 3 organic beers on tap for our visit: Baltic Porter, Shade Mountain Oatmeal Stout (that he has been tweaking) and a really well executed Pilsner. Many of the organic beers we've encountered seem to leave a bit desired; not so at Selin's Grove. Steve has been happy with the quality and diversity of organic malts available, though he admits many organic hops from New Zealand and the US are behind the curve. He looks to Europe for organic hops.
Steve's Stealth Tripel was really exceptional, showing no higher alcohol flavors and lots of honied fruit. He uses a mix of Trappist yeasts: the "Bastogne" strain from Orval and Westmalle's strain to help the 9% abv beer attenuate.

Market Street Fest is a proper, long lagered (5 months), traditional marzen that relies on an extended boil for chewy melanoidins, eschewing the one-dimensional, caramel sweet marzens too often found in brewpubs that rely on excess specialty malts . It is rare to find a brewpub that does lagers this well, they require time and tank space that most small breweries are not willing to invest in.

Another excellent beer was the hop drowned SNAFU IPA. Steve uses judicious amounts of high alpha Amarillo and Simcoe (the same combination that seems to be dominating the IPA market these days) conjuring strong pine and resin, and well balanced with enough malt sweetness to support the booming bitterness. IPAs are all about freshness, and having one fresh, and properly handled at a brewpub is hard to beat.

Steve has a cultish following for his fruit beers. While we were there, they had Saison de Peche which can only be described as being a peach nectar of the gods. Steve let us in on one of the secrets to the success of his fruit beers, he adds fruit juice to the beer late in the process, at a point when the sugars and fresh flavor of the fruit are preserved into the beer in the glass. A friend recently cracked open a growler of Framboise he had hauled back from Selin's Grove and it had the same huge fruit preserves character as the Peche.

Steve has also garnered acclaim for his Pumpkin Ale. Serving it on nitro both gives it creamy mouthfeel and exclusivity (since it cannot be put into a growler). Crystal malt and a late dose of spices in secondary make it one of the top rated pumpkin beers in the country.

As we were winding down and preparing to leave, Steve ducked back behind the bar and reappeared with two glasses of a secret stash of 8 year old Russian Imperial Stout brewed for his son Owen's birth, that Steve hoped would last 'til Owen's 21st (Steve is thinking he'll be brewing another batch to bridge the gap). The space-black beer shows little signs of oxidation, remarkable bitter chocolate and dark fruit depth and drinkability. It's the only RIS Steve has produced and we're thinking of starting a petition to make it a regular seasonal.
Thanks to Heather and Steve for doing everything right.