Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Stillwater Artisanal Ale Dinner

The Stillwater Beer Dinner
With Special Guest Brian Strumke
Monday, June 28 | 5 Courses + 7 Beers | $76

Join us at Birch & Barley on Monday, June 28th as we host Gypsy Brewer Brian Strumke, and pair seven of his delicious and rare brews with a five course tasting menu artfully prepared by Executive Chef Kyle Bailey and Pastry Chef Tiffany MacIssac.

Brian will lead us through the dinner, shedding light on his fantastic beers as they compliment Chef Bailey's menu. This is an extremely unique opportunity to taste some never-before seen Stillwater beers and to meet the man behind the brews. This will be Brian’s first Beer Dinner in DC, so don’t miss out on a truly special Craft Beer experience!

The menu is still being written and we'll be sure to publish it asap - but we know we'll be featuring the following Stillwater Artisanal Ales:

JUNGLE DE RUS (Draft) This is the first time this brew will be featured in Washington, DC! The brew is a collaboration between Stillwater and Voodoo Brewing Company from Pennsylvania. A sort of Black Belgian Wheat Ale, it is brewed with pureed raisins, hibiscus, juniper, rose hips, and Schisandra berries.

RED 33 (Cask) Another Washington, DC debut! This is one of Brian’s prototype beers that has yet to be released to the public, and we hear it is incredible. It is a sort of Flemish Red Ale, brimming with fruit and wonderful acidity.

STATESIDE SAISON (Draft) Stateside Saison pays homage to old world tradition while celebrating new world innovation. Naturally brewed with the finest European malts & fresh aromatic hops from the United States & New Zealand, it is then fermented using a classic farmhouse ale yeast. The outcome is a beer of unique design and exquisite taste, showcasing some of the best attributes of modern-day craft brewing.

STATESIDE SAISON (Cask) w/ Chamomile in the Cask The same base beer as above, but creamier and more aromatic from the firkin. Chamomile adds a nice floral note to an already complex nose.

CELLAR DOOR (Draft) Stillwater’s summer seasonal is a refreshing and light Saison. The same proprietary farmhouse yeast is employed to guarantee aromatic complexity, and white sage is added for a cleansing finish.

CELLAR DOOR (Cask) w/ French Oak & Dry-Hopped with Citra hops in the Cask The same base beer as above, also creamier and more aromatic from the firkin. French oak lends some vanilla notes and a touch of acidity, while the bouquet gains citric, herbal aromas from the dry-hopping.

THE CHANNEL-CROSSING (Draft) A knockout collaboration between Stillwater Artisanal Ales and Pratt Street Ale House in Baltimore. It is an English Strong Ale with full malty flavor and drying, earthy hops. Stillwater’s farmhouse yeast adds a grassy, spicy and citric array to the nose. Excellent!

About Stillwater Artisanal Ales

Stillwater Artisanal Ales is the nomadic brewing venture headed by Baltimore native, Brian "Stillwater" Strumke. A former internationally renowned techno DJ and producer who has extensively traveled much of the US and Europe, he returned home in 2004 to delve into a new passion, brewing. Brian rather quickly made his mark in the homebrewing community for his often odd concoctions and unconventional brewing methods. "I look at brewing as an art form, creating a beer to me is like painting a picture. There are virtually an infinite amount of variables that can be manipulated and my approach to brewing very much parallels how I went about creating my music."

Brian eventually cut his teeth by ranking in some local homebrew competitions, which eventually led to wins in the Sam Adams Longshot and Holiday Competitions, as well as the AHA (American Homebrewer’s Association) Nationals. These accolades were surprising given that Brian’s beers rarely fit into BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) categories; even the more "traditional" beers he made would have some sort of twist. "I am not really into this to reinvent the wheel (or Pale Ale for that matter), so you can definitely expect something fresh and new." These competitions often yielded wins in the more esoteric categories and his intricate use of herbs, spices, wild yeasts, and anything else he could get his hands on often came to judges with both intrigue and enjoyment.

In 2010, after about 5 years of backyard brewing, Brian has taken Stillwater Artisanal Ales to the public. Wary of startup costs for a full-blown brewery, Brian now travels to various breweries in the US and Belgium, hand-crafting small-batch, authentic ales.

Details: Stillwater Beer Dinner at Birch & Barley on Monday, June 28 at 7 PM. $76 plus tax and gratuity for the 5 course menu and 7 Stillwater Artisanal Ales. Please call Call Birch & Barley at (202) 567-2576 to reserve your seats today.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Celebrating Savor: A Huge Week's Worth Of Events

Tonight: East Coast Craft Cask Ale & Draft Rarity Beer Night
ChurchKey | June 1 | 6 O'Clock

Join us at ChurchKey tonight for the first of many big nights this week as we rev it up for this weekend's huge Savor event. We're kicking things off this evening with the beautiful beers of five amazing East Coast Craft Breweries. We will be pouring a bunch of draft rarities, handing out glassware, and featuring a cask from each of the breweries on hand! It's all happening tonight, so grab your gang and join us at the bar!

The Breweries

Harpoon Brewery
Heavy Seas Brewery
Dogfish Head Craft Brewing Company
Flying Dog Brewery
Peak Organic Brewing Company

The Cask Lineup

Harpoon Summer Beer dry-hopped w/ Willamette hops
Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron
Heavy Seas Red Sky at Night
Flying Dog Raging Bitch
Peak Organic IPA

Featured Drafts

Harpoon Leviathan Big Bohemian Pilsner
Harpoon 100 Barrel #31: Single Hop ESB (DC Debut!)
Flying Dog Barrel-Aged Gonzo Imperial Porter
Flying Dog Coffee Porter
Heavy Seas Letter of Marque: Rye Porter
Dogfish Head Fort

Details: East Coast Craft Cask Ale & Draft Rarity Beer Night at ChurchKey. Tuesday, June 1 beginning 6 o'clock. No admission fee. Beers will be priced individually.

Tomorrow: Washington DC Launch of Anchor Humming Ale
Featuring Anchor Brewing Company’s CEO John Dannerbeck
ChurchKey | June 2 | 6 O'Clock

Join us at ChurchKey as we welcome John Dannerbeck, CEO of Anchor Brewing Company, as well as a rarely seen offering from the brewery: Anchor Humming Ale. This will be the first time this wonderful, nuanced American Pale Ale will be available in DC! Originally brewed in 2009 as a commemoration of the opening of their new brewhouse (way back in 1979), this is a sessionable beer brewed with the amazing Nelson Sauvin hop from New Zealand; this hop offers delicious notes gooseberry and grass, and imparts an earthy, drying bitterness to the brew’s finish. We’ll be handing out a limited amount of free glassware as well.

Featured Drafts

Anchor Humming Ale
Anchor Steam
Anchor Liberty Ale
Anchor Old Foghorn

Details: Washington DC Launch of Anchor Humming Ale & Meet & Greet with Anchor Brewing Company’s CEO John Dannerbeck. Wednesday, June 2 beginning 6 o'clock. No admission fee. Beers will be priced individually - free glassware while supplies last.

Friday Night: Sierra Nevada Happy Hour
Featuring Founder Ken Grossman
ChurchKey | June 4 | 4 O'Clock

ChurchKey is delighted to welcome American Craft Beer Pioneer Ken Grossman and his crew for a Happy Hour/ Meet & Greet the night before Savor. We will be giving away Sierra Nevada glassware and pouring a bunch of Sierra Nevada drafts, including barrel-aged rarities and brews hardly ever seen outside of Chico, California. And we will also be showcasing authentic Sierra Nevada cask ales as well as handing out a limited amount of free glassware.

The Casks

Sierra Nevada Porter
Sierra Nevada Stout

Featured Drafts

Sierra Nevada Best Bitter
Sierra Nevada Barrel-Aged Porter
Sierra Nevada Hellraiser Imperial Stout: infused w/ Cocoa & Chilies
Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Ale: Charlie, Fred & Ken’s Imperial Helles Lager
Sierra Nevada Summerfest
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest
Sierra Nevada Bigfoot

Details: Sierra Nevada Happy Hour with Founder Ken Grossman. Friday, June 4 beginning 4 o'clock. No admission fee. Beers will be priced individually.

Next Wednesday: BrewDog Meet & Greet with Cofounder and Head Brewer James Watt
ChurchKey | June 9 | 6 O'Clock

Join us at ChurchKey for a night of “Beer for Punks”! BrewDog is Scotland’s most cutting edge craft brewery and we will be displaying a bevy of their boundless brews. James Watt will be in attendance telling us about his beers and proclaiming his mantra that “beer was never meant to be bland tasteless and apathetic”.

The Drafts

BrewDog w/ Stone Brewing Company: Bashah
BrewDog w/ Mikkeller: Devine Rebel
BrewDog: Tokio
BrewDog: Punk IPA
BrewDog: Zeitgeist
BrewDog: 5AM Saint
BrewDog: Dogma

On Cask

BrewDog Hardcore IPA
BrewDog Paradox Smokehead
BrewDog Paradox Isle of Arran
BrewDog Paradox Springbank

Details: BrewDog Meet & Greet with Co-founder and Head Brewer James Watt. Wednesday, June 9 beginning 6 o'clock. No admission fee. Beers will be priced individually.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Brooklyn Brewery Coming To BBCK!

Huge Monday Night Coming To Birch & Barley + ChurchKey
Brooklyn Brewery's Here Featuring Brewmaster Garrett Oliver
Monday, April 19 | 7 O'Clock Dinner | Rare Casks Upstairs

This Monday night, Birch & Barley will welcome Garrett Oliver, Brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery and recent James Beard Award nominee for Outstanding Wine & Spirits Professional, to our inaugural beer dinner at Birch & Barley. We'll showcase an array of rare Brooklyn beers handpicked by Oliver to complement a tasting menu designed by Executive Chef Kyle Bailey. This is an incredible opportunity for beer lovers and foodies alike to sample extremely rare brews (including a few never-before-tasted brews from Oliver’s private stash) with the brewer himself, while enjoying a sumptuous spring supper courtesy of the Birch & Barley team.

Simultaneously, ChurchKey will feature five ultra-rare cask ales from Brooklyn Brewery. In short, this will undoubtedly go down as one of the coolest events happening in DC this spring - and there's still plenty of room to join the fun.

The Brooklyn Brewery Menu


Brooklyner Weisse

Tuna Niçoise Crudo with Quail Eggs, Green Beans, Olive Salt and Pickled Red Onions
Brooklyn Cuvee de Cardoz 2009

Gnocchi with Rabbit Sausage, Ramps,
Ricotta Salata and Fennel Pollen

Brooklyn Local 1

Lamb Loin with Bulgur Wheat, Asparagus, Peas
and Spring Onion

Brooklyn Local 2

Cheese Course
Grayson with Brooklyn Wild 1 2008 | Pleasant Ridge Reserve with Brooklyn Monster 2008 | Ossau Iraty with Brooklyn Dark Matter

Almond Rhubarb Shortcake
with Mascarpone Ice Cream and Basil

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout 2009

About The Beers

Brooklyner Weisse
This is a rare version of Brooklyn's ode to the Bavarian Hefeweizen. Typically seen on draft, this iteration is refermented in the bottle for a more complex flavor and a gentler effervescence. Brooklyner Weisse still teems with banana, clove and melon, with a whiff of smoke in the finish. This edition is so limited, there aren't even labels for the bottles!

Brooklyn Cuvee de Cardoz 2009
A wonderful release from Garret's Brewmaster's Reserve Series that most had thought they would not get another chance to taste. Luckily, Garret stashed some away for our dinner, and it will be fascinating to see how this brew's flavors have evolved. Already delicious on account of the spicing (Ginger, tamarind, mace, black pepper, coriander, fennel, fenugreek, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and chilies are added) this beer is sure to continue to pair elegantly with Chef Bailey's Tuna Nicoise.

Brooklyn Local 1
This is Garret's homage to the Saison and Strong Golden Ales of Belgium. Brewed with German barley malts and hops, aromatic raw sugar from Mauritius, and a special Belgian yeast, this is enticing and unforgettable. Like the Brooklyner Weisse, Local 1 is refermented in the bottle for a palate of unusual depth.

Brooklyn Local 2 The sister brew to Local 1, Local 2 is brewed with European malts and hops, Belgian dark sugar, and raw wildflower honey from New York family farm. Another special Belgian yeast adds a spicy tone to the dark fruit, caramel and chocolate flavors. And of course, Local 2 is also refermented in the bottle for a dry complexity.

Brooklyn Wild 1 2008 A highly sought after rarity from Garret's cellar, Wild 1 is Local 1 aged in Bourbon barrels. The wood adds caramel, vanilla, and coconut notes to an already complex offering, while two years of aging has mellowed out the stronger flavors and rounded the ale into an astounding refinement.

Brooklyn Monster 2008 A Barleywine that is vivacious when young, this 2 year old bottling has evolved into something much more: caramel, toffee, raisin and red fruit all dry out elegantly in a finish redolent of fine sherry.

Brooklyn Dark Matter The most recent Brewmaster's Reserve release, and one of the best yet. This is a strong Brown Ale aged in both Bourbon and Rye Whiskey barrels then blended to taste. Sweet Bourbon notes mingle with spicy Rye, and all is balanced by the caramel richness of oak.

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout 2009 Dessert in a glass, showing luscious deep dark chocolate flavors. A touch of red fruit is discovered among the nutty, almost port-like flavors this beer has already begun to develop.

Details: Brooklyn Brewery Dinner at Birch & Barley on Monday, April 19. $76 per person + tax & gratuity. For reservations and more information, please call 202-567-2576.

Monday Night At ChurchKey
5 Ultra Rare Cask Ales From Brooklyn Brewery
All Night While Supplies Last

Brooklyn Sabroso Ale: Garrett graciously casked this brew for our event and this is the first time it has made an appearance in the DC area (it is brewed primarily for Danny Meyer's NYC taco bar, El Verano). A refreshing Blonde Ale, with nice hoppy notes (as it is dry-hopped w/ Simcoe) and a touch of citrus (from the addition of orange peels).

Brooklyn Cookie Jar Porter:
For those who you who have bemoaned the limited, one-off aspect of Brooklyn's Brewmaster's Reserve Series, here is a cask version of something we thought we wouldn't see anytime soon. Some call this an oatmeal cookie in a glass, and rightfully so. It is a rich Porter with a touch of roast, brewed with golden oats for a silky texture. Raisins, brown sugar, honey, vanilla-beans and a dash of spice all further the complexity of deliciousness!

Brooklyn Dark Matter: Not only is this the most recent Brewmaster's Reserve release, and one of the best yet, but it is unprecedented to see this on CASK!. This is a strong Brown Ale aged in both Bourbon and Rye Whiskey barrels then blended to taste. Sweet Bourbon notes mingle with spicy Rye, and all is balanced by the caramel richness of oak.

Brooklyn East India Pale Ale:
A take on the classic IPAs of England, this brew is a golden hue from choice English malt, and has big hop aromas of lemongrass, pine and citrus. Robustly bitter, with a warming malt palate, and a clean hoppy finish.

Brooklyn Best Bitter:
This is the cask version of Brooklyn's ever-popular Pennant Pale Ale. It is honey-colored, with a brisk, malty taste, and a nicely balanced hop character. Brewed from Scottish Maris Otter malt, this ale shows biscuity and toasted notes as well as a round smoothness.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Paulus: Another ChurchKey Exclusive

As one first begins to taste and explore the history of Belgian beer, it is difficult to resist a sort of convenient romanticism. The Western mind still tends toward dichotomies, and to the naked eye, and satisfied palate, the Belgian beer tradition seems the ultimate antithesis of “Beer” as it exists in the global parlance. The complexity of flavor, the precious scarcity of product, a national brewing epoch stretching past the Middle Ages, all of this seems to stand in stark contrast to the fizzy yellow empire of adjunct-laden lagers that sprang-forth and became dominant during the hyper-capitalist frenzy of the 20th century; this era saw a bourgeoning behemoth swatting aside all Old World brewing practices in favor of those offered by the technological leaps of Industrialization. This binary pits the independent Belgian Brewers, who presumably continue to make and sell beer according to the necessities and concomitant techniques of a bygone age, against the constantly conglomerating multinational corporations whose beers have only evolved to maximize volume and profit margins.

Intoxicating though such juxtapositions certainly are (to say nothing of how much power has been wielded on account of such systems of knowledge), they deny the fluid nature of opposition. No brewing tradition or beer, like no person, has ever existed in some idealized vacuum, upon an altar untouched by the incessant social shuffle; and while there are plenty of differences between modern Belgian brewers and International Lager leviathans, neither has escaped the realities and demands of modernity.

Trappist brewing is a telling example. At first mesmerized by the spiritual promise of monastic brewing and the delicious ales produced, one soon discovers that not even Monk beer is otherworldly. The demands of the marketplace have visited some compelling realities upon many of the Trappists, and—while they continue to sell their beer for self-sufficiency and charity—they have had to make some changes in order to realize profitability. Among them: primarily using cheaper hop extracts (rather than whole flower hops), installing state-of-the-art brewing equipment (think computer automation) to insure consistency, almost exclusively relying upon secular workers for brewhouse labor (in most cases, the ever-dwindling number of Monks simply could not meet the production numbers of these breweries), shortening the periods of secondary fermentation and conditioning (to sell beer more quickly), and a few even employ mildly aggressive marketing campaigns. While the beers are still (mostly) world classics, sacrifices have surely been made, and the idea of monastic beer is clearly quite different from actuality; more than a few seasoned drinkers long for the old school iterations of Trappist ale over today’s offerings.

Brewing was once a necessitous activity of farm communities and monasteries , and the flavors and nature of those traditional ales and lagers were a result of tireless empiricism; ingredients could only be sourced from the local landscape, and techniques were developed to coerce the finest flavors from rustic techniques. Industrialization brought technological and scientific advances that certainly changed the nature of brewing, but the evolution of economics in a rapidly developing world also transformed what it meant to brew. Sanitation made water drinkable again, and beer—once the staple of thirst slaking (due to the dual antibacterial forces of boiling and alcohol)—now became a luxury item, one primarily produced for selling; it wasn’t long before beer was a commodity, and brewers became motivated as much by perceived public taste and profit margins as they had been by maximizing flavor potential within the confines of provincial life. Sanitation techniques, as well as the wider availability of steel for brewing, fermentation, and conditioning vessels (and eventually kegs), allowed brewers to produce ales—and increasingly lagers—of a higher consistency, bereft of the funkier, acidic flavors that had become old-fashioned.

Even today, many of the breweries that produce fine examples of classic Belgian beers are actually able to do so only because of the success of their more modern styles. Upon visiting some of these breweries, one notices that many have come to produce Pilsner Lagers in order to compete with the marketing behemoths that have so successfully influenced the palate of contemporary drinkers. In fact, it is rare to find successful breweries that do not have their own version of Pilsner, and rarer still to find out that their business is not primarily driven by such a style.

As Pilsner has become the world’s most popular beer style, many Belgian breweries have transformed their brewing apparatus’ in order to fulfill demand and survive. When I visited the Brouwerij Leroy in Boezinge, West Flanders I came face-to-face with this reality.

I settled into a tasting in the family Leroy’s front parlor, in a home that literally abuts the brewery. There I learned that the family’s brewery originally dated back to the second half of the 17th century, but that that brewery was destroyed in the modern mayhem of World War I. When the decision to rebuild the brewery in 1924 was made, a new direction was settled upon. Cutting edge equipment was installed and the brewery committed to brewing mostly bottom-fermenting beers, including a Pilsner and an Export Lager. This decision was made due to the explosion of Lager popularity in Belgium between the two World Wars, and proved a good one when competition became fierce in the second half of the 20th century.

As Belgian breweries began to conglomerate, and then absorb and close many local producers, regional breweries—like Leroy—were in trouble. Larger companies began buying up smaller producers not for the beers they made, but for the pubs they controlled. By ceasing the production of local beers—and often closing the breweries altogether—larger enterprises began to corner the market.

Many regional, family-owned breweries were forced to close under the weight of such dominance, or seek out other markets. Brouwerij Leroy had a number of lagers—and even a few ale specialties—to offer, but increasingly fewer customers interested in such provincial curios. Enter Paul Priem.

Mr. Priem was the man who helped the family insure its survival; he led the charge in securing export markets for beers once solely consumed within miles of the brewery. Leroy did not attempt to undercut the competition of the much larger, and more business-savvy, beer giants by lowering production costs and increasing volume. They continued to make beers of substance and flavor, and merely looked around to see if any others were still looking for lagers and ales of character. Beginning in the late 1960s, Mr. Priem worked tirelessly—often seven days a week—in visiting pubs and distributors in Northern France and beyond, all the while inadvertently helping to set the stage for today’s renewed global interest in craft beer.

Brouwerij Leroy survived by targeting small segments of many markets rather than relying on a larger share of fewer domestic markets. At that time, most people were following the herd, drinking what was dominant and produced to maintain dominance. But all the while, smaller regional—and often family owned—breweries were working hard to tender an alternative; and this alternative offered, and still offers, respite from big business beer. These ales and lagers still work within the framework of contemporary capitalism and modern brewing, but do so in such a way that those few seeking flavor opportunities do not go thirsty.

Fittingly, in 1978, Brouwerij Leroy rewarded Mr. Priem by producing very small batches of a classic Flemish style; the beer they chose was based on the Flanders Oud Bruin—or Old Brown Ale—and they named it after their loyal salesman: Paulus.

Oud Bruin is a blended style, and one that—like all styles available today—comes not from a single era, but from a steady evolution spurred on by interactions with innovation. Once upon a time, before advances in kilning technology allowed for paler malts and paler beers, all ales and lagers were darkish brown in pallor.
Beer would have also been stored in, transported by, and served from wooden barrels, as steel was not yet an accessible material. Over time, wood—with its porous nature and nooks and crannies—encourages the growth of micro flora that impart a wine-like acidity and funkiness to the brew. As publicans served this vinous ale from wooden casks, the beer would steadily develop a more sour character over time, often becoming nearly undrinkable towards the bottom of the barrel. Enterprising pub owners demonstrated their business acumen by pouring fresher beer into the emptying cask in order to not sacrifice the profit potential of the older brew. This ale amalgam perfectly demonstrates how business and pleasure have long been blended in the story of beer, even in beer styles we often look upon as diametrically opposed to the profit driven swill known as Macrolager.

These publicans had also managed to produce delicious ales through this process, and guests enjoyed the new mélange so much that brewers began to preemptively barrel age and then blend their ales. And as modern tastes tended toward even cleaner flavors, and as many breweries installed state of the art stainless steel equipment, the style evolved again. These brewers would let their darkish ale mature in stainless steel vessels before blending, rather than in wood, and what followed was beer with a more subdued sour finish and richer, toasty malt notes. The Flemish Oud Bruin arrived, bearing flavor remnants from the days of rusticity, but certainly a product of capitalist advancement.

This style is still relatively rare in Belgium, not to mention costly to produce (sitting on beer that could be sold and consumed young) and I was never offered a glimpse of Paulus when I visited Brouweij Leroy. Later, while perusing Michael Jackson’s inimitable tribute to Belgian brewing, his Great Beers of Belgium, I learned of its existence and little more. My interest was peaked, and I contacted the Leroy family to inquire as to its availability. They were surprised by my interest and discovery, and told me that, while it is a beer they typically produced in small quantities for special occasions, they would be willing to send some of their Oud Bruin my way.

I am delighted to report that Paulus is now available exclusively on draught in the United States at ChurchKey in Washington, DC. And it is flat out wonderful, beginning with toffee, raisin and raspberry notes, then suggesting hazelnut and cocoa, before finishing with an enchanting interplay of sweet and sour.

Often times it can seem devastating to watch as one’s idealism crumbles, as one discovers that what was presumed pure is in fact closely intertwined with that which had been deemed destructive. But Paulus shows us contemporary craft drinkers that business isn’t always so bad, and that advancements in brewing technology can be utilized for the better. In fact, the beer itself wouldn’t even exist, had a young and determined salesman not been propelled beyond the borders of Belgium to find bastions of artisanal ale drinkers waiting with bated thirst.

Greg Engert
Beer Director

Introducing Stillwater Artisanal Ales

Join us at ChurchKey on Monday, March 15 to taste what is sure to become one of the coolest new brews (and one of the coolest new breweries) of 2010! What’s even better is that this brew, Stateside Saison, will be poured three very different ways. Stillwater’s flagship will be available on draught, on cask, and on a different cask holding a pound of French Oak chips (this is the only French Oak firkin of Stateside Saison in DC!). And Brian “Stillwater” Strumke will be on hand to tell us about the brew, tip a few back with us, and even hand out some glassware.

About the brew:
Stateside Saison pays homage to old world traditions while celebrating new world innovation. Naturally brewed with the finest European malts & fresh aromatic hops from the United States & New Zealand. It's then fermented using a classic farmhouse ale yeast and bottle conditioned to enhance stability. The outcome is a beer of unique design and exquisite taste, showcasing some of the best attributes of modern-day craft brewing. The result is a stunning Belgian Saison / American West Coast IPA hybrid of 6.8% ABV.

About the brewery:
Stillwater Artisanal Ales is the nomadic brewing venture headed by Baltimore native, Brian "Stillwater" Strumke. A former internationally renowned techno DJ and producer, a man who has extensively traveled much of the US and Europe, returned home in 2004 to delve into a new passion, brewing. Brian eventually cut his teeth by ranking in some local homebrew competitions, which eventually led to wins in both the Sam Adams Longshot and Holiday Competitions, as well as the AHA (American Homebrewer’s Association) Nationals. In 2009, Brian was able to take his homebrewing to the next level, without establishing a traditional brewery: like Mikkeller, Brian rents space domestically and internationally in order to produce small batches of many different unconventional ales. He has just returned from brewing up some new beers in Belgium, and is excited to showcase his true flagship: Stateside Saison, the first fruits of his domestic gypsy brewing!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Something Old, And Something New...

The finest beers of the world always defy expectations. Revelations of their historical roots are consistently made manifest, yet these brews froth forth flavor epiphanies as they become unmoored from tradition. Associating a beer with its ancestors is merely the beginning of a journey, one that becomes all the more exciting when that beer suddenly becomes unfamiliar. Intriguing complexities and that sense of something new abounds. The improbable has been actualized.

From time to time, I come across an improbable beer that is actually less unlikely than the brewery from which it springs. In 1997, Brasserie Des Franches-Montagnes (Brewery of the Free Mountains, in ancient French) came to be in Saignelégier, a small village nestled 3000 feet above sea level in the northern range of the Jura mountain region. To be sure it is surprising that a tiny, artisanal craft brewery would appear in the raw landscape of northwest Switzerland in the late 1990s; that a 23 year old, armed with a degree in oenology and penniless, made it all happen seems inconceivable.

But that is exactly what Jérôme Rebetez did. While publically pursuing a degree in winemaking, he was all the while tinkering with that not-so-noble beverage, beer, in the small kitchen of his home. Finally satisfied with the outcome of one of these homebrews, he submitted his first artisanal ale—a Stout, which later became the La Mandragore (with the addition of some smoked malt for the current iteration)—to a Swiss Homebrewing competition, and was awarded a first prize trophy. Jérôme’s true passion, you see, turned out to not be the more socially respected—and presumably more sophisticated—wine, but rather handcrafted beer. Though an obvious Swiss trailblazer in this respect, he was actually following in the footsteps of the countless fiercely independent men and women of the Jura Mountains who had come before him.

Unfortunately, Jérôme’s artistry—no doubt a result of innate talent and a flair for innovation and experiment—almost seemed a curse. With no craft brewing positions available to a man without formal training in brewing, and with the discovery that wine was not his true calling, he had few options; and the aforementioned lack of funding was precluding any possibility for the establishment of his own craft brewery. On the surface, it seems that he had made an unfortunate decision by seeking a degree in oenology, a degree that he could have utilized in finding employment; had he chosen to study brewing instead, he could have at least made a living. But Jérôme didn’t want to simply go to work as a brewer, most likely perfunctorily pumping out Pilseners for the masses. His wine training had given him a different perspective on beer and the possibilities for craftsmanship and flavor. Though unable to immediately put his wine work to use, he had unwittingly set himself up to one day have a great impact on the ever-spinning yarn that is craft beer.

Amazingly, reality television is the savior of this story. Yes, a Swiss reality show called “The Dreams of My Early 20s (in a loose translation)” found out about this young winemaker turned homebrewer; consequently he was invited to compete against 6 other Swiss men and women to convince the judges that their respective dreams should come true. And it was the iconoclastic brewer, longing to produce beers for which there was no market in Switzerland (a country dominated by inexpensive lagers), that received the cash prize of almost $50,000 (23,000 Euros). With this money, Jérôme was able to then borrow $100, 000 more, and Brasserie Des Franches-Montagnes was born in 1997.

For the first ten years, Jérôme was producing beer on an almost unheard of scale: about 600 barrels a year (or 1200 standard (15.5 gallon) kegs). Truly this is an extremely small brewery, producing very limited amounts of beer (many American microbreweries produce closer to 15,000 barrels a year). But this is a level of production wholly in accordance with Jérôme’s brewing ideas and intentions (and so even as the brewery “expanded” in 2008 and will again in 2010, BFM will max out at 1700 barrels per year). Both he and his small staff brew, bottle, sell, and distribute their beers by hand; this artisanal approach is a necessity to a man who discovered long ago that—with the proper care and craftsmanship—beer need not be mass-produced and watered down. The flavors and sophistication that Jérôme seeks from his ales are directly linked to the precious amounts produced; and the artisan’s approach allows him to sculpt each brew to fulfill his elevated expectations.

These expectations are succinctly summed up by the fact that, originally, there simply was no demand for his beer, no consumer niche he was attempting to satisfy; that market had been cornered by the lager brewers of the world. In essence, this granted Jérôme the freedom to make whatever he wanted to make, to explore the possibilities of past and present beer for the future. At its core, the beers of BFM—according to the brewmaster himself—showcase flavors beyond “sweetness and bitterness in beer”. In order to achieve this aim, Jérôme has scoured the annals of brewing to craft a new tradition.

Across the board, his beers demonstrate a touch of acidity and the earthy-funk reminiscent of the ales of old; he attributes this effect to his more rustic, hands-on approach and to the particular yeast employed, which naturally lowers the PH of BFM’s ales. But his beers are never merely throwbacks. He incorporates many unorthodox ingredients into his line-up, and even when some ingredients are borrowed from classic—albeit lesser known—styles, they are innovatively applied. As one sips an offering from the Brasserie Des Franches-Montagnes, one begins to see a modern pastiche of historical brewing curiosities, rewoven into something altogether unique, alluring, and astounding.

The newest small-batch offering from BFM is most illustrative. Outfitted with a simple, approachable acronym-name, B.A.T.S. is literally—and figuratively—much more. It stands for Biere Ambree Parfumee au Tarry Suchong, and is inspired by the aromas of the legendary asphalt mines of the Swiss Travers region. Jérôme has long been captivated by the fragrances he’s observed while wandering the mining tunnels carved into the asphalt deposits of Travers, and set out to evoke them in this ale. Identifying an underlying smoky, almost meaty, quality to the air of the mines, he began by utilizing the beech wood-smoked malt of Bamberg (a fragrant note he had encountered by studying the vestiges of German brewing). But Jérôme found an additional kind of smokiness to the asphalt, one that he could only identify with the tea for which his girlfriend of the time had had a propensity. This is called Lapsang Tarry Suchong, a black tea with big ashy, campfire-like notes resulting from the smoking of the leaves over pinewood fires. By adding this untraditional ingredient, Jérôme was able to temper the meaty overtones of beech wood-smoked malt, add that uncharacteristic bonfire nuance, and even layer some tannic complexity upon the more usual drying hop bitterness. The result is stunning, and not as strange as it may seem: a specialty of the Travers region is Ham cooked in asphalt…and is adored by the Swiss.

Jérôme Rebetez has scoured the beers of the world, with all of their concomitant traditions, and has found a way to make them new again. Many of his beers draw on the oak-aging tradition of Lambic, Flemish Red and Oud Bruin producers, others find inspiration in the Gruit ales of old, while still others incorporate the flavors of classic Bamberg Rauchbier. Yet these once common practices have been reworked and revitalized as he redacts the stories of old to suit an exciting new era.

Greg Engert
Beer Director

Friday, January 8, 2010

Classic American Craft Beer & Great Lakes Brewing Company

Many beer enthusiasts view American Craft Brewing as a recent—albeit eventful—phenomenon. The work of Fritz Maytag at Anchor Brewing Company in the late 1960s and 1970s, and that of the Grossmans at Sierra Nevada in the early 1980s, certainly edified a new generation of American beer drinkers about the possibilities of authentic brewing traditions and ingredients (and commenced the contemporary Craft Beer Renaissance). But this was not the first time Americans had had such an opportunity, this was not some idea that had finally arrived. American Craft Brewing had finally resurfaced, a sort of materialized revenant—rendered spiritless for nearly a century—bubbled anew.

To be sure, the resuscitated Craft Brewing scene focused on Artisanal Ales (Anchor Steam notwithstanding) rather than the Authentic Lagers brewed by 19th century forebears. This was largely a result of the American Home brewers (like Ken Grossman at Sierra Nevada and the Widmer brothers up in Portland) who took their brewing aspirations to the next step; Home brewers had relied primarily on English yeasts and brewing methods for their underground ales due to the relative ease of brewing in this tradition at home. But what had not changed in the hundred some odd years since Craft Brewing last prevailed was the dedication to traditional methods and ingredients, a dedication to quality over quantity, to flavor over the bottom line.

It is well known that German immigrants brought the tradition of craft lager production to the United States in the 19th century, primarily settling in the Midwest. But perhaps just as important is that their traditions of brewing and beer drinking had been—and continued to be—so seamlessly integrated into the cultural lifestyle of these men and women. As temperance movements targeted the evils of drinking in the 19th century, they had trouble vilifying these German people generally, and lager beer specifically. In contrast to the negative effects of strong ale, wine, and spirits, many temperance workers saw beer drinking in a different light. The beer halls of the Midwest were filled with families eating and modestly drinking this lower alcohol beverage. In fact, earlier in the century, as an upstart American Political Party was developing strategies to garner the votes of Americans, they decided to take a relatively relaxed stance toward the consumption of alcohol. The Republican Party, as they had chosen to call themselves, wanted to gain the confidence of America’s ever-bourgeoning immigrant population, a population having trouble deciding upon political allegiance. The Whig party was out, due to their anti-immigrant and temperance movement tactics. The Democrats welcomed immigrants and drinking, but condoned slavery (many immigrants had left Europe primarily for freedom in all of its avatars). The Republicans courted the immigrant vote by working to stop the spread of slavery as America moved westward and by advocating the restrained, social approach to drinking symbolized by the imbibing of craft-brewed German lagers, now brewed stateside.

Ironically, it was this advocacy that led to the demise of craft brewing. The original breweries were small and regional, content to produce beers like they had in the Old World for palates thirsting for the tastes of home. But as railroads blanketed the US, the country got smaller, allowing breweries to expand their shipping reach. Breweries started producing more beer, and began to cut down on production costs; the goal was no longer to produce full-flavored, traditional lagers for a discerning local audience, but to cheaply produce mass quantities of lager for as many people as possible. Macro breweries continued to produce lager, the sort of blessed alcoholic beverage of temperance, but as mere shadows of what they once were.

Nowadays, Craft Brewers tend to opt for sexier styles of beer: higher alcohol and intensely flavored, due to high hopping rates, various flavor additions (chocolate, coffee, fruit), wild yeasts and bacteria, and/or by barrel aging. This is an expected reaction to the watered-down macro lagers that have so dominated US brewing throughout the 20th century, and many of these extreme beers are amazing. But some American Craft Brewers have always sought to return to the roots of Artisanal American Beer, rather than join in the more modern movement toward extremity. Enter Great Lakes Brewing Company, of Cleveland, Ohio.

GLBC has been cobbled together by the traditions of Craft Beer in Ohio. This now Regional Craft Brewery began in 1988 as a brewpub in a building that since 1872 has been occupied by various pubs and restaurants. On one side of the building, faded painted signage from the early days still hawks beers served inside for “Family and Medicinal Purposes” (in keeping with the permissible uses of alcohol of those times). In 1998, when the brewpub expanded for the second time to meet growing demand for their craft lagers and ales, they incorporated some buildings that had once housed the kegging facilities of Schlather Brewing, a Cleveland Brewery dating back to 1878. And when they needed help in formulating their original recipes, they turned to Master Brewer Thaine Johnson (1921-2001), whose 3 decades in brewing had included managing the Christian Schmidt Brewery; Christian Schmidt had been established in 1859 and was Cleveland’s last remaining brewery until its closure in 1987.

Unsurprisingly, Johnson along with brothers Patrick and Daniel Conway (the founders and owners of GLBC) insisted on incorporating the techniques of European immigrant craft brewers into their revivalist beers: they utilize the freshest, most flavorful ingredients and eschew those guarantors of flavor compromise, preservatives, chemicals, and pasteurization. Not only that, but they chose, for their first—and still flagship—brew, an Old World German lager style called Dortmund Export.

Originally called the Heisman (after the famed football star who once lived around the corner from GLBC), this refreshing and clean, yet firm and fuller-bodied lager was an overnight success. Eventually renamed Dortmunder Gold, to further its relation to the authentic craft lager tradition, this beer is all-malt with a subtle bitterness and mildly herbal-spicy aroma American-grown German Hallertauer hops. This style of beer originated in the Westphalian city of Dortmund, and became popular not just in the northwest of Germany, but also in the neighboring regions of what are now the Netherlands and Belgium; thus it was known as Export. This style would have been brought to the US in the 19th century, and GLBC’s version is true to that Export’s classic form. While hoppier than Helles (i.e. Pale) Lagers, it is neither as bitter as a German Pilsener, nor as aromatically hoppy as the Czech variety; while fairly malty, it is dryer than the Helles style. At a relatively moderate strength of 5.6 %, this brew is ever so quaffably sessionable, and yet never boring. The flavors may be subtle, but are enticingly delicious.

The equally subtle and equally impressive Elliot Ness Amber Lager is another brew that hearkens back to the early days of German-American Craft Brewing. Brewed in the Vienna-style, this iteration disregards the current examples of modern American Amber Lagers in search of something more traditional and increasingly difficult to find. Contemporary American examples tend to use some corn or rice adjuncts rather than an all-malt grain, which typically lightens and sweetens the end product. Even those that do employ 100 % malted barely, have begun to use more intensely bitter and pungently aromatic American hops, and often at levels far higher than suits the classic Vienna Lager. These hoppier Ambers are often outstanding, but lack the subtle nuances of the original style. Elliot Ness Amber Lager (named for the most famous patron of the Market Tavern, which occupied the GLBC’s brewpub’s building from 1933-1976) is a true throwback: toasty-bready malt richness predominates, with a gently drying hop finish. Approachable, yet intriguing, this is among the only classic Vienna-style Amber Lagers available year-round in the US.

Beginning the week of January 11, 2010, Great Lakes Brewing Company’s fine lagers (and ales!) will be available in the greater Washington, DC area. All of their craft brews make a welcome addition to the DC beer scene, which seems limitless in its ability to grow and offer the finest examples of artisanal brewing available both at home and abroad. The one question that may come up is why has it take GLBC so long to launch in this market? The answer, unsurprisingly, relates to their bread and butter: classic Craft Lagers.

Because lagers tend to be lower in alcohol by volume and to employ lower amounts the two ingredients relied upon to preserve and extend the shelf-life of beers, (hops and dark malts) special care is needed to ensure the quality of craft lager; both alcohol and hops have an anti-bacterial quality to stave off infection, while darker malts develop anti-oxidant properties key to preventing oxidation. Likewise, lagers tend to have less intense flavor profiles, causing them to show imperfections more glaringly and sooner, once the beer begins to deteriorate. Macro brewers deal with these issues by pasteurizing their beer, which extends shelf life, but deadens the vibrant and fresh flavor possibilities. Due to this, GLBC has insisted that any purveyor who wants to distribute their brews needs to ensure that shipping is done with refrigerated trucks. Once they received this guarantee from a local distributor, they became certain that their brews would remain fresh and taste as the brew master intended upon arrival in the Mid-Atlantic.

And we at ChurchKey are honored to be the first to showcase the myriad fruits of GLBC’s labors. We will pour all five of their wonderful year-round brews on draught Tuesday, January 12 2010. Stop by to taste some contemporary craft lagers—and ales—that can tell us a lot about our past, keep us content in our present, and maintain promise for the future successes of Craft Beer.

Greg Engert
Beer Director