Monday, March 28, 2016

New England explorations: Long Trail & 7 Barrel breweries

1.  En route to New Hampshire last February, the day they all voted, I stopped off in a little town in Vermont when the sign for Long Trail Brewing caught my eye.  First, the name:  The Long Trail is a hiking trail running the length of Vermont, 272 miles from the Massachusetts line to the Canadian border.  The Green Mountain Club started building the trail in 1910, making it the oldest long-distance footpath in the U.S.A.  The trail crosses most of the higher peaks in the state, including Killington Peak, scene of some good downhill skiing  back in my younger days.

The brewery is about eight miles from the entry to Killington.  Founded in 1989, it has grown in a quarter-century to be a regional presence, sold as far west as Ohio. Their standard line is heavy on the hoppy ales, IPAs, pales, etc.  I should pause to praise their Double Bag, a nice dark double alt (7.2% abv, 39 ibu). They do put up some more unusual brews in 22-oz. bottles, while the 12-oz. six-packs get the mainstays out to market.

Long Trail sets up their tour as a self-guided event, on a catwalk above the brewing system and packaging lines.  The fill rate on the bottles is quite impressive.  All the electricity needed to run this equipment they apparently generate themselves, solar and wind.  The Ottauquechee River, which runs out behind the pub on its way to Woodstock, is not tasked to supply any hydro power.

2. On down this valley and across the Connecticut River into New Hampshire, the first town is Lebanon and one of the first sites there is the 7 Barrel Brewing Co.
This is how it appeared on one of the snowiest days of the non-winter of 2016.  This business began in 1994 and soon after opening, one Paul S. White joined up and brewed and ran things until he passed away in 2009.  After probate and all, the business was bought by a group of local beer lovers, they hired Tony Lubold to do the brewing, and he has carried on White's penchant for favoring traditional English styles. The Dark Mild (5% abv, British understatement) was very good, as was a New Dublin Brown (4.5%. 30 ibu).  The pub menu featured Brit edibles like Bangers and Mash and Cock 'a' Leekie Shepherd Pie.
No candidates were campaigning here on election night.  My server said Bernie Sanders could have picked up thirty votes if he had stopped in earlier.  Maybe he figured he didn't need to, Bernie carried the state by a big margin.
(Visited 02/09/16)

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Fegley's Brew Works boost old steel towns' revivals

     When the steel mills all closed in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, about sixty miles north of Philadelphia, the city of Bethlehem must have been looking like the buckle on the rust belt, downtowns looking like ghost towns. Rich Fegley took an old building in the center of Bethlehem and opened a seven-barrel brewery and pub in 1998.  Craft beer started to pick up in the new millennium and Fegley's beer, along with Victory and Sly Fox, began to thrive.  By 2007, Rich brought his parents, Peg and Dick, and his brother Jeff, into the beer business and the family took a five-story building in the heart of Allentown, next door, and turned it into a bigger brewery.
 Fegley's Allentown Brew Works, pictured on the left, has tall windows on Hamilton Street with a good view of the pub area.  Eleven beers have a flagship label, meaning here that they are usually on tap (other brewers use the term for their one best seller or signature style).  The five standards are a blond ale, a porter, a wit, an amber lager, and my choice with lunch, the Steelworkers Oatmeal Stout (5.8% abv, 45 ibu with the single hop East Kent Golding, a very satisfying caramel-y taste).  Four premiums included a couple of IPAs and the Space Monkey, a raspberry saison that was a bit too fruity for my taste buds. It did win gold in a flavored beer tasting, however.

    A long staircase leads up to a second floor where I chatted a second with a brewer busy cleaning one of the 15-bbl fermenters.  He said they have a 30-bbl fermenter down on the first level next to the pub.  They must need a lot of tanks, as the tap list showed six seasonals on the day I stopped by, and perhaps twenty at one time or another throughout the year.  The original brewery in Bethlehem, about ten miles away, continues to produce some of these styles as well, but the Allentown plant is turning out most of the production.

A downtown scene is reflected in the windows opening on the bigger fermenters and the bottling line.  12-oz. six-packs appear to be the primary focus of this line.  Some of the premium styles appear in corked bomber bottles and fetch a premium price.

(Visited 03/15/16)

Monday, March 21, 2016

Crime & Punishment & pass the pierogi (Philly's newest)

     Start with a section of an old city called Brewerytown--a nickname bestowed in the 19th century when this section on Philadelphia's north side had over ten breweries; all gone for many decades now. Bring in a couple guys with some new ideas in brewing and some background in eastern Europe, Poland and Russia particularly.
That's the story of Crime & Punishment Brewing, working out of this storefront on the Girard Ave. trolley line with a seven-barrel brewhouse and an adventurous menu. A couple of brewers, Mike Wambolt and Mike Paul, started this business last July along with Denny Grivjack, who runs the wee kitchen and turns out pierogi and pelmeni dumplings, kielbasa sandwiches, and a variety of pickles of Polish and other styles. The dumplings come with sour cream and fresh dill and are the real deal.
    But food is there to enhance the taste of beer, as we true believers all know.  The two Mikes appear to have a rotation, so they come back to
some favorites, like the Grodziskie Inquisitor, a soured oak-smoked wheat beer from Poland.  This was in production when I stopped by, so I will have to call on these guys again. The tap list last week had some unusual names, like Baikal Insurrection, a Belgian strong dark ale (10.2% abv), named for a breakout of some seven hundred political prisoners from a Siberian gulag in 1866. and the Indecent Exposure, a pale made with a rotating single hop--Mosaic this time, Amarillo will be the next one hop.  "The exposure, decent or not, is to showcase what different hops do all by themselves," Mike Wambolt told me. "A lot of recipes throw three or four hops into the boil and no one gets a chance to stand out."
   Disturbing the Beets is a kettle-soured ale with a hundred pounds of beets in the boil, fermented with brett yeast and coming out with a distinct beety taste, but that's a note over a complex beer (5.7% abv).

   The pub has a few tables and a bar area, with local artists on display in the front and some Russian and Polish posters on the walls back toward the brewing area.  As the Brewerytown neighborhood gentrifies, becomes more trendy, it seems a safe bet that an unusual, adventurous brewery like this will become a big hit in years to come.

(Visited 03/17/16)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Helderberg Brewery: a new twist

   The Helderbergs are hilly country north of the Catskills, south of Albany in eastern New York, and a hundred years ago they were full of hop and barley farms supplying breweries up and down the Hudson River.  Prohibition brought an end to that, and by the time of Repeal, irrigation projects in the Northwest had kicked in and the hops and barley crops moved west.
   Now, the locavore movement has landed into the craft beer boom big-time,  The farmstead breweries, which I noted in the last post, are stepping up the demand for growers to plant hops and two-row.  Here in the Helderbergs I came across a brand-new 20-gallon nanobrewery opened as part

of an effort by a foundation to be a catalyst in the brewer-farmer connection.  Plows to Pints, they say here in Rensselaerville, NY, and the Carey Institute is hoping to jump-start the process.  The Institute has several substantial buildings besides this cottage housing the brewery and pub, and they had just put on a seminar on yeast management for interested brewers. The hundred acres of the Institute lie within a two-thousand acre Huyck nature preserve.
   Pints of wheat beer and Belgian blonde were on tap for the opening weekend of the pub.  "We will be working with brewing teachers at the
community college in Schenectady," said Rebecca Platel, the program manager.  "And it's not just two-row barley; we will brew with rye, wheat, spelt and oats when we can get them from in-state growers."  She indicated the bags of grains around the corner, all labeled to show compliance with the new Farmstead Brewery law.  This law was modeled on a Farmstead Winery category New York set up in the 70's--but while the state grows a lot of wine grapes, beer ingredients will be harder to source. "A typical hops operation will be five, ten acres," a grower said at the recent opening, "just a side operation now."  One report had three hundred acres of hops growing in the entire state, less than a single farm in the Yakima Valley.
Brewer Greg Postash was busy describing his operation during open hours that first weekend. He kegs in sixtels (five-gallon kegs) and will be supplying taps at the restaurant in the village as well as filling growlers here at the pub.

(Visited 03/13/16)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

NY Brewers Assn. does festival well

   The craft brewers of the Empire State put on a nice event March 5 in Albany; squeezing into the courtyard and some side rooms in the Desmond Hotel near the airport, they had close to fifty breweries pouring.  No tokens--the four ounce sample glass could be filled as many times as the consumer wanted.  A couple of notable aspects:
   --Farmstead breweries: enacted in 2012, this law offers incentives to build a brewery that uses at least 20% hops and 20% barley grown in the state (these percentages rise to 90% over the next decade). Several of these operations that were opening this year came to the festival pouring adventurous brews.  Over a hundred farmstead brewers have now been licensed--they do not have to be actual farms or growing their own ingredients.
   --Malting companies. 
Upstate New York may have a passable climate for growing barley (its a lot like England or Germany) but farmers shifted to other crops long ago.  Malting operations are another new business in the craft boom, as brewers, both the farmstead types and conventional brewers who want that local tag, look for local grains.  The festival had aspects of a trade show, as the booth of this malter from Buffalo shows, with samples on display for brewers to scratch and sniff.
Over the past few years of visiting family in this area, I have seen several of the established brewers in the capital region: Brown Brewing in Troy, C.H. Evans in Albany, Ommegang in Cooperstown, Schmaltz in Clifton Park. Saw these at the festival, also more recently met folks like the Davidson Brothers crew, the Mad Jack brewers in Schenectady, and the Druthers breweries in Saratoga and Albany.  A good time.
(Visited 03/05/16)

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Davidson Brothers keep an old brewing tradition alive

     Glens Falls, New York, about forty miles north of Albany and on the edge of the Adirondacks, has always appealed to me with its quaint old downtown--sort of a blue-collar Saratoga,  To discover a brewery celebrating its 20th anniversary there was an extra treat.  The Davidson Brothers, Rick and A.J., wandered into a brewpub in Baltimore in the early 90's, and decided, without any background in brewing or restauranting, to build one in their hometown.
 The original seven-barrel system is still putting out beer in a corner of the snug pub, a block from the roundabout in the center of the town.
They recently opened a 50-bbl production brewery on the edge of town, still brewing on the Peter Austin system. This British innovation works on a single yeast, Ringwood yeast, which turns out a wide variety of ales, from blondes to browns to IPAs.  An Austin system works on a direct fired double-jacket brew kettle and open top flat-bottomed fermenters.  Accustomed to the conical-bottom covered fermenters throughout the west, and knowing the home brewers gospel of keeping air away from the working yeast, I had to know more about the Austin system.  Rick said they just tweak and twist the malted grains to get them to the desired end, and that I should talk to their head brewer, Jason Kissinger, for
the details.
Jason took me into the brewing space in the pub and started with the brick-lined brew kettle.  Space between the bricks and the metal allows for a different caramelization than the modern steam jacket kettles get, he explained. The week-long fermentation in the open fermenters lets the oxygen-hungry Ringwood feast for two or three days, then the chill sets in, forty degrees Fahrenheit.
Austin systems were more popular in North America in the first crest of the craft brewing boom, in the early to mid-90s.  Today the more automated systems are in vogue; a system that calls for a lot of hands-on work is not.  "You really have to like shoveling malt at odd hours to enjoy brewing this way," Jason says with a chuckle. "Good thing I do."
Davidson Brothers is one of 22 breweries using the Austin system in the U.S. today.  The missionary operation is Shipyard Brewing in Portland, Maine, which had been Austin's designated training center for American brewers wishing to learn the techniques; in recent years Davidson  has taken over that responsibility,  The Northeast remains the center for Austin brewing, and the furthest west it goes is
Michigan, to Jason's knowledge.
The method does adapt to large-scale brewing: the new Davidson plant is rated at fifty barrels and Shipyard in Maine is running hundred-barrel batches.  The fermenters seen here with their open tops and flat bottoms ("we don't need conical bottoms because all the yeast we harvest stays on top," Jason says) are at work in that chilly forty degree air.
Precise temperature control is essential to working with Ringwood yeast, according to Jason, as the aggressive yeast loves to generate diacetyls, a compound that often lends a buttery flavor to beers. As a small taste component, a buttery note may be all right in some styles, but the brewing here keeps it under control.
"So is Ringwood the One Yeast to Brew Them All, sort of like Tolkien's Ring?" I asked Jason.  Well, almost but not always, he says. They have a Belgian Tripel in the works, one of their twentieth anniversary commemorative brews, that will be made with a yeast from Belgium.  But almost everything else comes from this sturdy English yeast.
Back downtown, the pub has a nice menu, complete with suggested pairings.  Here is a unique offering, a soup sampler.  Four-ounce servings of the Stout&Cheddar soup (left) and Spicy Buffalo Chicken (right) every day, and the soup du jour (center).  They all paired well with my pint of Coffee Stout (5.4% abv, nice toast notes in the aftertaste).
(Visited 2/19/16).