There's a huge difference between brewing mediocre beer and brewing good beer. Next time you sip, pay attention to these 5 key factors that distinguish quality suds.
Brewing beer is actually very easy. Warm up some water, add malt, hops, and yeast and then wait a few weeks and you’ll have some sort of beer. However, making good beer is a different story entirely. If you try your hand at homebrewing and you’ll likely discover a new appreciation for well made beers in these five ways.
1. Malt bills aren’t as simple as they look. When you start homebrewing, you’ll often start with kits that include prefabricated malt syrup rather that using whole grains like the pros. When you make your first extract-only home brew, you’ll find yourself missing all the layers of depth you’d get if you’d used all-grains. Using grains impacts more than just flavor; body and texture are all improved with the right malt bill mix.
2. Clear beer doesn’t come easily. Yeast does not want to separate out. You have to cold crash and siphon -- having perfect clarity doesn’t happen on it’s own. Homebrewers don’t always have access to centrifuges or Coors-style micro filtering tech and many are wary about adding gelatin, resulting in many hazy homebrews.
3. Hoppy intensity takes work. Because of the physics of scale, you get less efficiency and less extraction of hop oils on small brewing systems. So making super crazy hopped brews is really, really expensive. Homebrewers don’t get the direct hookup with hop farms like breweries do, so you end up paying extra high retail prices for your hops. And you won’t be able to get the same variety and ultra high quality hops that commercial breweries get to buy.
4. Non-infected beer is an accomplishment. So much can go wrong as a homebrewer. All it takes is an improperly washed piece of equipment and you’ll have a slightly sour, apple vinegar brew with hints of butter. Unless you’re trained in quality control, you might not even be able to describe what’s wrong other than it just tastes “off.”
5. A good Lager deserves a lot of respect. Making one involves a lot of time and fine-tuned flavors for every element. No one ingredient can overwhelm another. Also, since they take longer to make, creating multiple test batches is a much bigger commitment than with other styles.
Despite the built-in difficulties, the pay off of homebrewing is high! You can build lifelong friendships by joining a homebrewing club and bond over the fruits of your labor. And of course, it will open your eyes to the challenges involved in making truly great beer.
We look to one of our favorite Seattle breweries -- Fremont Brewing -- to deliver the juicy, hoppy haze.
If you’re familiar with the famous Youtube video Nyan Cat, you can begin to understand our high-flying glee when, after almost a year of begging, the brewers at Fremont finally created a beer exclusively for the Tavour community. Let us proudly present: THUNDER KITTY HAZY IPA!
If you’re in Washington, join us at Fremont’s Urban Beer GardenWednesday, August 15th from 4-7pm for the Tavour Thunder Kitty release party! There will be kegs a-flowin’ and cans for pickup at the taproom. For everyone else, look out on the Tavour app to lock down your cans of this special hazy -- you won’t find it anywhere else.
Built on the base of their popular Head Full of Dynomite Hazy IPA series, this juicy meowmer features a diverse cast of hops: Citra, Mosaic, Simcoe Cryo, and Sorachi Ace. Expect a rainbow of melon, sweet pine, juicy mango, and guava to send your taste buds on a ride through intergalactic haze. And according to our source at Fremont, “Nothing else compares to this beer. It is entirely unique.”
Fremont is one of Seattle’s most revered breweries, with a trophy case of awards too extensive to list -- and more Lyft rides taken from the taproom than any other Seattle location in 2017! Their beers have so much personality, if the brewery could be personified by a Thundercat, it’d be impossible to pick one -- it would have to be a hybrid between Tygra, Cheetara, and Snarf.
We couldn’t be more stoked to celebrate this special Hazy IPA with our members -- and if you’re not part of the Tavour family already, we hope to see you at the party. Thunder Kitty lives!
*Thunder Kitty will be exclusively available for Tavour members outside Washington
Kansas City isn’t just about BBQ -- it’s blossoming with new craft breweries everyday. My good friend and craft connoisseur Paul chronicles his adventures through the KC beer scene.
The More You Know: Kansas City is not in Kansas. It’s in Missouri.
Kansas City has the best BBQ (sorry, Texas), the best football fans (sorry, Seattle), and the best (and only) national monument to WWI (the Liberty Memorial). I’m not biased -- I was just born there, spent most of my formative years there, and GO CHIEFS AND GO ROYALS. Nope, not biased at all.
Up until recently, when it came to beer, KC was pretty much about three breweries: Boulevard, Boulevard, and Boulevard. I’m not complaining -- the ‘Vard makes some damn fine beers -- but since I’ve lived in Seattle, I’ve become spoiled on walking less than a mile and having no less than five breweries where I can grab suds. It’s not just about quality. It’s about beer being life itself.
Flash forward fours years, two jobs, and a marriage later, and KC’s beer scene is truly blossoming. My good buddy and beer-lover-about-town Paul smacked me with a little knowledge: “Your hometown’s got the beer goods.”
I told him: “Prove it.” And boy did he -- Paul went on a day-long excursion through Kansas City to show off how much I’ve been missing, photographic evidence and all. Here’s Paul’s boozy adventure:
Located in North Kansas City just across the Missouri River, Colony was originally just a coffee roaster before recently adding beer to their arsenal. Their forte: rotating, experimental, flavor-centric beers. Paul’s Pick: “Uncharted Territory - pineapple and guajillo pepper ale - at 12.5%, [the ABV] should be mentioned every time a glass is poured, because it drinks like 5%.”
Kansas City was the epicenter of the beef industry in years past, and Stockyards honors that tradition by brewing behind a 65-year-old meat locker door in the West Bottoms neighborhood. Their mission? Creating and refining delicious, unpretentious beer styles.
Paul’s Pick: “Cerveza Royale Mexican Lager - corn-forward without the heavy starches, you can drink your fill without feeling full.”
Open less than 6 months, Casual Animal is quickly becoming many locals’ home away from home -- Paul included! Casual Animal is super hardcore about keeping craft independent, adhering to freshness and flavor above all else. With ten constantly rotating taps, you may not always find what you had last time, but everything is so fresh and flavorful that you’ll be happy to try something new. Paul’s Pick: “Mane Event Helles - while every beer on the board could be enjoyed while in a pool, pushing a lawnmower, or watching the game... this Helles is amazingly drinkable and one of a kind.”
Smack dab in the middle of the hip Crossroads District, Brewery Emperial and its thriving beer garden are run by a group of folks with deep roots in KC’s beer and culinary scene. Their experience shows with a diverse range of Euro-beer styles and a foodie’s dream of a menu. According to Paul, “If you stop in here, you’ll enjoy the food just as much as the European-style beer.” Paul’s Pick: “Biscuit - while BE’s darker beers usually win the day, Biscuit is a unique and flavorful English Brown Ale.”
Another North Kansas City joint, Calibration is all about family and community. This father and son team focus on sustainable food and beer. They’re also dog friendly! To further bring together the community, they’ll soon open up a patio area with Bocce ball courts. Paul’s Pick: “Scottish Ale - the flagship brew is a decidedly malty, but mild, delight. At 9.43%, the refreshing finish belies its deep caramel hue.”
Built right along Kansas City’s streetcar line in the bustlin’ River Market, Strange Days brews with inspiration from global cuisine and the “strangeness” of life. Their building has been a home to beer from its foundation, once home to historic Muehlebach Brewery & Schlitz. Paul’s Pick: “Episodes [a rotating single hop Pale Ale series] - “every batch has a different story to tell, with varying hop character and flavor.”
Seattle, Portland, Denver -- you can’t whistle in these cities without a song bouncing off the walls of brewery after brewery after brewery. In just four years time, KC is fast joining these meccas. Beer tourists -- if you visit, definitely live it up “Paul style” and check out as many breweries as you can. Just make sure to leave a little room for burnt ends.
In the craft beer universe, brewery location matters. But if you move into a space formally occupied by another brewery, will you be plagued by a "hangover" from the brewers that came before you?
In the blisteringly hot real estate market of Portland, Oregon, it can be hard to stay in the same location for long.
Even in this beer-crazy city, breweries are not immune from the impact of increasing rents, changing tastes and unpredictable cash flows. Even well-received breweries can fold if the right combination of factors aren't in play. In 2017, while 997 breweries opened in the United States, 165 shut down around the country -- including several in the Rose City.
Portland is home to more than 60 breweries, and with booming residential and commercial construction (and interestingly, stabilizing rents), there are more and more locations for breweries to set up shop.
Why then, do so many new breweries take over the locations where other breweries previously existed? Aren’t breweries worried about a stigma or a “hangover” from a previously shuttered business selling similar product?
Multiple brewery owners said that opening where a previous brewery once was is a way to ease into the business with a built-in customer base.
In northern Portland, West Coast darling Great Notion Brewing moved into the same space as the former Mash Tun Brewing. Paul Reiter, the co-founder of Great Notion, said it was a fruitful decision to purchase an existing brewpub. Even so, the brewery had to make changes.
“I'd say you need to stay relevant, and that buying an existing brewpub or starting one from scratch, either way you need to stay ahead of the curve and heavily differentiate. If you were to open a new brewpub or buy existing - you need to set yourself apart from the crowd,” Reiter said. “You can't buy an existing brewpub that is struggling and come out with the same beers they were serving. If people weren't buying a kolsch from the former owner, why would they buy your kolsch, for example? Our biggest takeaway is that by opening our location with exciting, new styles of beers, that beer drinkers flocked to drink them.”
Fathead’s Brewing, a miniature chain brewpub based out of Ohio with an outpost in Portland’s Pearl District, produced the two best IPAs in the city according to Willamette Week in 2016. It served an expansive menu and was a major tourist stop in one of Portland’s most pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods.
Then the brewery manager, Tom Cook, couldn’t come to an agreement on licensing renewal and so started Von Ebert Brewing in the same location. He isn’t intimidated by the reputation his previous brewery left behind. Instead, Cook wants to focus on a more refined product.
“I think you can have incredible real estate and a mediocre product and do OK,” he said. “But you can have absolutely terrible real estate and an incredible product and just kill it.”
The Pearl District is a former light-industrial and warehouse neighborhood which has become the symbol (for better or worse) of a changing, gentrifying Portland. Along with Fatheads/Von Ebert, there are Deschutes and 10 Barrel Brewing locations just blocks away.
Cook believes these breweries are not competition, rather, the high density of breweries close to a pedestrian downtown core makes it more appealing for more beer tourists.
“I’d actually be a little hesitant to open a location where there are no breweries,” he said. “People want to try different beers, and this is a case where a rising tide lifts all boats. Our number one seller is our sampler paddle, and our busiest weekend at Fatheads was 1.) When we opened, and 2.) When 10 Barrel opened down the street.”
Some Portland brewers are dealing with a slightly different scenario. Charles Porter of Little Beast Brewing recently expanded from his Beaverton location to Southeast Portland, along the hip Division Street. He took over that location from long-time Portland brewers Lompoc, who decided to leave the homey “Hedge House” beer garden location. Little Beast has become lauded in its own right for its Farmhouse Ales, but until the move to Division, had been brewing and selling their beer out of a bourbon bar in the Portland suburb of Beaverton.
By taking over that location, Porter said he has had to make some changes.
“Division is becoming a block of blingy, shiny things, and I’m not that,” he said. “But I will be making an in-house IPA and a Kellerbier. People came to expect certain things from Lompoc there, but this was an opportunity to bring my own beers to a comfortable Northwest-inspired location.”
The Hedge House had become a bit of a neighborhood institution, but making the “old-school” beers Lompoc is known for. Porter is hoping some Farmhouse Ales, Table Beers and Brett-funky fresh brews won’t be out of line in the neighborhood.
But when it comes to totally changing a location’s atmosphere, look no further than two of Portland’s most popular brewing locations.
The Commons was a critically-beloved brewery specializing in Flanders Reds, Saisons and Farmhouse Ales. The owner, Mike Wright, closed down the location but held onto the property. He rented it out to San Diego favorites Modern Times, and that location, dubbed the Fermentorium, packs the industrial space with a whole new kind of energy, including a massive Randy “Macho Man” Savage papier-mâché hanging over patrons.
Both Reiter and Cook said it’s a huge uphill battle for a brewery to open in a neighborhood with no other breweries or little foot traffic.
“However, I would be concerned about this if the location was a little worrisome or if the new owners don't plan on changing much,” Reiter said. “I would recommend either focusing on an already heavily-foot-trafficked street, or an up-and-coming neighborhood about to pop off.”
Tavour partner Stormbreaker has seen the brewery real estate issue from two aspects. When it opened along Mississippi Avenue in 2014, it was taking over for now-defunct Amnesia Brewing.
Dan Malech, co-owner of Stormbreaker, said that as previous patrons of Amnesia, he and co-owner Rob Lutz wanted to be delicate with the change.
“We wanted to do the space proud and make the changes that we wanted to make as seamlessly as possible,” Malech said.
Even with some early doubters and negativity, Stormbreaker got signs things were OK.
“We were looking to get into the business one way or another and we always believed that our products would speak for themselves. We were fortunate to be able to take over this fantastic location that serves locals and tourists alike,” Malech said. “When we were doing our buildout in January of 2014, people would constantly pop in and ask if we were open, despite the thick layer of sawdust, ladders everywhere, and dozens of signs stating we were closed for renovations. That certainly gave us the confidence that we were in a great location.”
Stormbreaker opened a second location in the St. John’s neighborhood of Portland this year, a self-contained outpost in North Portland. While there are breweries up there (it’s Portland, breweries are everywhere!), Malech felt that taking over a new space presented its own set of challenges and rewards.
“We spent a lot of time in that part of town and after we felt like we would have the support of the neighborhood, we just needed to find the right building,” he said. “Our new spot allows us to expand brewing capacity in the future, while maintaining our core mission of being a neighborhood friendly brewpub meeting the community one pint at a time.”
Whether it be a change in branding, a new expansion, a taproom takeover or a combination of all of these factors, the message from brewers is clear. Location is important, but the beer is vital.
“For the amount of change you see in Portland, this is a very mature real estate market, a very mature brewery market,” Cook said. “Real estate plays a major factor, but if the product isn’t there, nothing’s there.”
Live together, work together, drink together! Why family-run breweries choose a life of beer!
As the daughter of entrepreneurs, I am delighted every time Tavour signs a new craft brewery that’s run by families. My sisters, parents, and I all work for the family coffee shop, so I know how fulfilling -- and irritating -- a family-run enterprise can be. This is the introduction to the “It’s Personal” series of interviews with our family-run breweries -- The Good Beer Co., Common Roots, The Ale Apothecary, and Four Fathers. Even though the story behind each family-run place is special, I’ve noticed similarities between different family-run establishments. This article introduces you big ideas -- how a beer business can be family-based and why these breweries love keeping it personal. Look out for individual brewery interviews under the title, “It’s Personal,” on the Tavour Blog!
Like Father, like family
Many of the breweries I interviewed were inspired by generations past: great-grandfathers who owned medical shops, grandparents who ran grocery stores, parents who operated car dealerships, the list goes on. It’s no surprise, then, that their kids are taking interest, as Beth Lacny with Four Fathers describes: “They love this place. It’s a second home to them and they both show an interest in the brewing process and what mom and dad do.” As Paul Arney of The Ale Apothecary says, “[Being at festivals with my wife and daughters] shows, rather than tells, who we are. And that goes incredibly deep.”
Vertical, horizontal, multi-generational
I subconsciously expected breweries to be mostly husband/wife teams. What I found was a wide variety of operational models. Older brothers work with younger brothers, multiple husband/wife team duos work in one organization, fathers and sons leave their day jobs to start a new place together, and little sisters manage Instagram. Most brewers with young kids mentioned that their kids and regulars’ get along like peas in a pod -- or hops in a good brew.
Mom knows best
So many breweries described Mom as having “the final say” on their business development, especially at inception. Even if she wasn’t directly involved in the brewery, she was the secret Executive Branch. Kevin Golden at The Good Beer Co. offers an example: “I asked her if we could move home to Southern California [to open the brewery with his brother]. When she agreed, I happily took the job.”
Family to the rescue
As he explained above, Kevin Golden didn’t expect to be working with beer and/or alongside his brother and sister-in-law. But when the couple’s business started booming and they scrambled to keep up with day-to-day activities, he gladly picked up the slack. Although most breweries started as one person’s vision, their multi-faceted business complexities -- and sheer volume of work required -- drew other family members into the mix. For example, The Ale Apothecary’s multi-family model began when someone’s spouse stepped in to tie string when they got bogged down on a big run of bottles closures finished with a champagne knot. Thankfully, syas Paul Arney, her job role has now expanded.
When asked what the biggest challenge was in running a family-run craft beer brewery, more than one person replied, “balance.” While family members love interacting with one another at “work,” they crave leisure time as a family and with friends. Beth Lacny at Four Fathers explains: “[It is] even more difficult to spend time with other family or friends, but we do what we can when we can -- even if it means we do it at the brewery!” A second oft-uttered challenge was “not to get too big too soon,” as Bert Weber with Common Roots said. Brewers love that their family members are brave enough to tell them when they’re foolish. On the flip side, a family-run space can lead to a false sense of confidence that makes brewers want to go big -- they’re already home! When the entire family is involved in a single operation, the pitfalls of risk-taking can be, well, sobering.
“There is a difference between your friend or family member giving you props and your manager giving you props.” Paul Arney at The Ale Apothecary says in describing the third challenge, and sense of fulfillment, expressed by nearly all breweries I spoke to: expressing appreciation for other family members. One of the biggest benefits to family-run work is that you don’t have to worry about your tone of voice, or your communication style, or your personality quirks the way you would in other businesses. The downside is that many brewers forget to be nice. Maybe that’s why my interviewees jumped on the opportunity to talk about their family members. Each one humbly touted their family’s amazing strength and skill, again and again.
Wouldn’t have it any other way
This is exactly what Beth Lacny at Four Fathers said, just after she admitted that, “there are many subtleties that we never expected. We are continuing to grow and learn about them the longer we are in business.” Family-run breweries enjoy unique assistance from their local communities. “Once word got out that the Webers were pursuing a dream and opening a brewery, we started to see friends and family members showing up to help us build it, giving freely of their time and talent,” says Bert Weber at Common Roots. Entrepreneurs don’t enjoy the normal protections of standard office employees. That’s okay when they have compassionate family members to help, as Kevin Golden explains: “It is great to not only have people with the same values to work with, but also those who are willing to pick up if you have to take time for family.”
With a new head brewer and renewed focus on catering to Seattle’s beer crowd, Urban Family’s fleet of super-fruited barrel-aged Sours and juicy IPAs is making the brewery a delicious staple in the Emerald City.
On a sunny Friday morning in June with a cool breeze floating off Salmon Bay, the warehouse district in Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood is fairly sleepy. But tucked away among the other nondescript industrial spaces, the metallic clang of kegs being washed and the thump of Thievery Corporation blasting through speakers drifts onto the street from Urban Family Brewing.
Porchswingin’ over barrels at Urban Family’s taproom
Milling around in the back behind a legion of oak barrels, brewers prepare for another bustling weekend -- in a matter of hours, the weekend crowd (likely accompanied by a fleet of friendly doggos) will be streaming through the garage doors thirsty for their fix of Fruited Sours and juicy IPAs. Two days earlier, the brewery wrapped up their second iteration of Sun’s Out, Buns Out, a Hazy Double IPA made in collaboration with Portland’s Ex Novo Brewing. The following Monday, they would be heading out to Berkeley’s Fieldwork for another collab.
In short: the Urban Family team is active as hell, and with each project bleeding into the next at a breakneck pace, there’s no sign of slowing down.
“We have a busy, busy future. It’s all about staying sane somehow,” quips owner Andy Gundel.
This momentum wasn’t always the case, though. When Urban Family opened in 2012, they were positioned in Seattle’s densely populated Ballard neighborhood, home to operations like Reuben’s Brews and Stoup. Their initial focus was centered on more of a pub model, bringing in Belgian favorites like Cantillon for Seattle’s beer nerd crowd. Their three barrel brewing system was more of a back burner project. But when the owner at the time wanted to expand, he decided to relocate from the rapidly rising prices of Ballard to sleepy Magnolia.
After the relocation, production ramped up with the brewery pumping out more Saisons, Sour Ales, and IPAs than ever. They started working with 12 Percent Distributing, getting their name out to beer drinkers around the country with a presence in upward of 30 states. But sometimes, boosting distribution for a small brewery doesn’t necessarily mean surefire success; sometimes it spells loss of ownership and quality control of your beer.
“It just wasn’t working... you lose track of everywhere your product goes,” says Gundel. When he was in Nashville for the Craft Brewers Conference this May, he saw “lost children” beers in bottle shops that were over a year and a half old.
It wasn’t until previous owner decided to move back to the East Coast and Gundel took the reigns, that the Urban Family we know today truly began to take form. Searching for a new head brewer, he found a creative match in New Belgium’s Isaac Koski.
“I knew Isaac through a mutual friend who also worked at New Belgium at the time, and she introduced us,” Gundel says. “He flew out here for a weekend, brewed a beer with us, and just jumped on board from that point.”
Simple as that.
At the peak of working with 12 Percent, Gundel estimates distribution accounted for 95% of their total sales, while the taproom composed the measly remaining 5%. When Koski came aboard, he pushed to scale back distro and concentrate on the brewery’s immediate local audience.
“I asked myself, ‘Why are we catering toward a national audience when we’re a Seattle brewery and we wanna focus on our hometown and the local people?’” Koski says. “If you can just cater to them, that’s all you really need.”
Repurposed oak barrel tap handles
Now taproom sales account for a third of the entire operation, with distribution limited to Washington state (and sometimes Oregon, when they have enough beer to spread around). This renewed focus on “keeping it local” has made Urban Family’s quality better than ever.
Koski didn’t simply bring more than 5 years of experience as a brewer and cellarman at one of the largest, most respected craft breweries in the country. He also brought a creative vision and a desire to make the highest quality, smallest batch beers possible.
“It kinda got to the point where I had learned as much as I felt like I could at the time, so I was looking for something where I had a little more creative freedom,” Koski says. “New Belgium is cool and they listen to your ideas, but they’re so big that it takes like 2 years if you have an idea to see it come to fruition. It has to run through the gauntlet of boards and panels. I was looking to keep learning and growing as a brewer, and it seemed natural to take a step back in terms of barrel aging and production size.”
Upon his arrival, Koski “cleaned house,” meticulously sorting through each of UF’s barrels and getting rid of any that showed signs of infection or flaws. He then tripled the size of their program, adding up to 80 barrels, and began developing a house blended culture of different Brett, Lacto, and Pedio strains for both long-term barrel aging and more clean stainless fermented Sours.
Koski has the instincts of a barrel whisperer. He and the UF team regularly sample beers throughout the aging process, getting a collective tasting perspective to move forward and determine how they’ll blend.
Gundel says he had to develop patience waiting for the long-term barrel aged beers to mature. “I made the mistake early on of being like, ‘when’s that gonna be ready? When’s that gonna be ready?! But it’s never going to work like that.”
“Exactly,” Koski replies. “The beer tells you when it’s ready.”
Isaac pours a sample from Urban Family’s foeder, a currently aging Sour Ale with blueberries
Alongside super hazy hoppy beers, Fruited Sours are UF’s jam. They source most of their fruit from Yakima Valley’s Collins Family Orchards, which conveniently has an outpost for their Seattle Farmer’s Market and CSA about a block away from the brewery. Sometimes, when they have perfectly ripe fruit at its peak, they’ll call up Urban Family to utilize it properly -- at its freshest.
Working at such an intimately hands-on operation means a lot of hands-on work.
“Last season I think Isaac had 2 days where basically he just chopped apricots for 16 hours straight,” Gundel laughs.
“Yeah, it was a lot,” Koski retorts.
Barrel wise, Koski and the UF brewing team have some exciting, eclectic projects in the works. In addition to a Golden Sour aging in Chardonnay barrels from Woodinville’s Chateau Ste. Michelle, the brewery also acquired a collection of Gin barrels. One even previously housed Ardbeg Scotch before its Gin-aging lifetime, to which the brewery added a heaping dose of blueberries.
Other than keeping the beers flowing, the Urban Family team is on the lookout for more space as the brewery starts to burst at the seams. Expansion, as Koski puts it, “is imminent, with more tanks.”
For now, though, they’ll keep doing what they do best: churning out delicious beers for the Seattle community in mind, with a crystal clear emphasis on only producing palate-rousing brews.
“We just make what we like to make, what we think is fun, and what we wanna drink,” Koski says. “If we just say, ‘oh, we’re sick of making lactose Pale Ales,’ then we’ll stop making them. But we’re not, they’re fun.”
Urban Family’s collaboration with Anaheim’s Bottle Logic, Aku Aku: A tart Hazy Double IPA brewed with raspberry, peach, guava, pineapple, and lactose sugar, and double dry-hopped with Galaxy, El Dorado, and Citra. Pours thick and tastes like a pineapple-guava-pink grapefruit smoothie, with a bright tanginess and sharp, zesty bitterness. Complex, weird, and immensely enjoyable.
Is there a beer you really want to try, but can't find it anywhere? Do you have to trade the five best brews in your cellar to get it? Then it might be a whale you’re hunting for. Welcome to the first installment in Tavour’s new Whale Watching series, wherein we taste some of the world’s most sought-after beers and dive deeper to see what the hype is all about.
What’s with the nautical name? Whale is a term craft fans use to describe a rare, hard-to-find beer with high trade value. The term comes from Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick, which follows Captain Ahab on his mission to scour the ends of earth in pursuit of the book’s eponymous white whale.
No life jackets are required, but in order to be classified as a whale by Tavour, a beer must meet the following requirements:
Name Recognition: It must come from a highly sought-after brewery.
Hard To Find: Distribution must be extremely limited, most often taproom only.
High Trade Value: there must be a large number of ISOs (In Search Of) floating around craft beer web forums.
Beyond the first three strict rules, other attributes that can account for whale-ability are: one-time only releases; collaborations with other popular breweries; special, rarely seen ingredients; and/or the use of high-end barrels like Glenmorangie or Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon.
When a beer becomes so vaunted and equally hard to acquire that people are willing to spend several times the amount of its retail value, or will trade many of their most valuable brews in exchange for that one bottle, then the beer gains the name “White Whale.” For connoisseurs, collectors, and even just discerning craft fans, acquiring it can become an all-encompassing obsession.
Today’s Whale, Fully Loaded Baked Potato, is an illusive three-way collab NE-Style Triple IPA from some of the hottest juicebomb brewers in the country: Trillium, Monkish, and Other Half. You can’t get any beers from any of these breweries outside of their taprooms, and their taprooms are known for building wrapping lines on release days. Other Half has a history of having beer nerds set up camp in line, outside the brewery, starting at 7 or 8am prior to the 10am opening, but this particular brew drew crowds as early as 2am that morning!
The brewery didn’t disclose the amount of cases of Fully Loaded Baked Potato that they made, but it’s safe to say it was an extremely small batch, due to the fact that it sold out within hours of opening.
There are no actual baked potato ingredients in this brew, the name is a metaphor for how chalk-full of fruit flavors it is. At 10% ABV, this Triple IPA was triple dry-hopped with blood orange-pineapple-like Denali, passion fruit and mandarin Galaxy, coconut lime Kohatu, and tangerine bubble gum Mosaic -- it's got crazy levels of tropical juice vibrant enough to mask its exorbitant amount of booze. It’s also brewed with plenty of oats and wheat for a smoothie-like mouthfeel.
When I finally tried it, this beer was every bit as tasty as you’d expect from a collab by three of the juiciest IPA makers in the country joining forces. Was it worth standing in line at 2 in the morning? No idea, it would need to come with a wish-granting genie to get me to do that. I will say it was definitely worth driving all around Seattle and Portland to get four of the Northwest’s best NE-Style juice-monsters from Great Notion, Holy Mountain, and Reuben’s that I used to make the trade.
The Tavour Blog’s Whale Scale starts with a 1 to describe a highly sought after and traded beer from a very popular brewery that’s available several times a year but limited to the taproom only -- like Treehouse Julius. The scale ranges all the way up to 10 to classify Lawson’s Fayston Maple Imperial Stout, aged in 12 year old Pappy Van Winkle barrels -- it checks the boxes of popular brewery, highly sought after and traded beer, aged in rare, high end barrels, AND a it was a one time release, likely never to be brewed again.
Other Half x Monkish x Trillium - Fully Loaded Baked Potato: Whale Scale 8
Hazy IPAs are clearly the trendiest hoppy beer in the country. Breweries are scrambling to pump out as many as they can, replacing tap lines that used to be dedicated to the classic West Coast IPA with new fruit-forward beers in the New England IPA fashion. The East Coast has toppled the West Coast’s hop dominance.
But this East Coast dominance might be coming to an end soon. A new IPA substyle born in California is spreading from brewery to brewery like a wildfire. It goes by a lots of names -- sometimes called the San Francisco IPA, or a Brut IPA, or a Champagne IPA -- but whatever the name, it’s united by its pale color, bone-dry body and fruity hop aromas. Think of a sparkling glass of dry Champagne but with fruit-forward hop aromas.
The Brut IPA has obvious summer appeal and it’s quickly spreading across the country from its birthplace in San Francisco. The style originated with Kim Sturdavant, the head brewer of San Francisco’s Social Kitchen and Brewery. Sturdavant stumbled upon the idea of a Brut IPA when he was using an enzyme called amyloglucosidase to balance the sweetness in his Triple IPAs.
Amyloglucosidase helps fully ferment all of the sugars out of a beer, an important function for making sure hop flavors shine through the heavy malt bill of a high-alcohol beer like a Triple IPA. That led Kim to ask, what happens when you use this enzyme on a lower alcohol beer?
“I just thought it would be really rad to [use Amyloglucosidase] for an everyday drinking beer, just a bone dry IPA. And that kind of blossomed into what can I do to make this champagne-like and how could I make tropical, sparkling, fruity aromas in a glass of beer?”
The next time Sturdavant got room in his brewing schedule he put this idea to the test. He brewed a lower alcohol pale ale with a fruit-forward hop character (thanks to some Nelson Sauvin Hops) and a completely bone dry body thanks to this special enzyme. He released his first pints of “Hop Champagne” in November of 2017.
The regulars at his pub, located a few blocks from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, immediately took a liking to this new creation and word spread. A few of his brewing friends asked if they could copy the style, he said absolutely, and before long the idea took off. Soon Cellarmaker Brewing across town and Drake’s Brewing Company across the bay both released their versions.
“More and more people in the Bay Area started making them. Then I started getting emails from people in Australia, New England, Brazil, and all over the U.S.,” Sturdavant said.
Sturdavant thought about what to call the style and ultimately landed on “Brut IPA,” borrowing a wine term that signifies that there is very little sugar left in the glass. That also helped differentiate Brut IPAs from Biere de Champagne, a style of beer that borrows the specific sparkling-wine techniques used on Champagne.
Sturdavant has since established a few style guidelines for Brut IPAs: the beer must be pale, extremely dry, highly carbonated, and demonstrate clear hop aromas. Sturdavant said he tends to avoid the most astringent hop aromas like grassy and pine flavors, instead focusing on fruit forward hops.
“I’ve been sticking with higher oil content hops with very tropical aromas that have even a hint of gasoline instead of pine or grassiness aromas,” Sturdavant said. “I associate grassy and piney aromas as having more bite, instead of pineapple and passionfruit.”
The Brut IPA should also be a lower alcohol beer, according to Sturdavant. High concentrations of alcohol can be perceived as sweetness, even if the beer itself is dry, so Sturdavant recommends keeping Brut IPAs below 6% alcohol.
“It’s been really fun tasting other people’s examples of [the Brut IPA] and piking little bits from each one to draw a learning experience,” Sturdavant said. “It’s super cool that I could have a concept that people are so drawn to. It’s kind of like a really cool achievement, I’m pumped on it.”
This beer style probably wouldn’t have taken off a decade ago, when brewers were more concerned with brewing beer free of adjuncts or things like enzymes. Sturdavant said even he would have been against using enzymes ten years ago.
“I would have said ‘You can’t use an enzyme, that’s what Budweiser does,’ but this day and age nobody really cares about the rules,” Sturdavant said. “We’re just trying to make things that are interesting and taste good and make sense. It’s exciting.”
Burial Beer Co. has become synonymous with Asheville NC’s vibrant beer scene, but this standout brewery’s roots are actually far to the West in Seattle.
In the last five years, Burial Beer Co. has gone from brewing on a one-barrel system in a rented art gallery to gaining national attention and making over 10,000 barrels of beer a year. That trajectory has tracked so closely with the explosive growth in the surrounding Asheville North Carolina beer scene that Burial is often considered the prototypical Asheville-born-and-bred brewery. When Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine called Burial a breakout brewery, they even cited its “deep roots in the town’s history.”
But the roots of Burial’s award-winning IPAs and Saisons aren’t in the foothills of Appalachia, but rather 3,000 miles to the west on the shores of Seattle’s Puget Sound. This is where the brewery’s three founders, including head brewer Tim Gormley, met and fell in love with craft beer.
“We got to meet a ton of brewery owners and bar owners and just got a glimpse of the camaraderie that existed there, and fell in love with it,” Gormley says. “We thought ‘we have got to start our own brewery at some point. If we don’t do this we will regret it forever.’”
It was in Seattle where Gormley transitioned out of a corporate job and started working for local breweries -- first Lazy Boy Brewing in Everett in 2009, then a local homebrew store, and then Sound Brewery in Poulsbo. In his free time, Gormley hung out with Burial’s other two founders, Jess and Doug Reiser, diving deeper into craft beer -- collaborating on a beer blog, designing beer recipes, and upgrading homebrew equipment -- until they eventually had a business plan for a brewery of their own.
The three thought Seattle, with both its large local beer scene and easy access to California and Oregon’s beer, would prove too difficult a market, so they looked for another city.
“I was thinking more from a business perspective that it would make sense to get out of Seattle,” Gormley says. “It felt like it was going to be hard to stand out in that market. Just having access to so much West Coast beer -- some of the most diverse selection of beer anywhere in the country.”
So Gormley and his co-founders went looking for a new place to call home and ended up landing in Asheville, North Carolina. But the crew’s plan to find a less-crowded beer scene didn’t pan out. Just as Burial’s founders moved to North Carolina, so did three massive craft breweries: Oskar Blues, New Belgium, and Sierra Nevada. And Asheville’s already established local beer scene expanded with new small breweries as well. Despite the competition, Burial has found a way to standout in North Carolina’s crowded scene with consistently well-crafted and thoughtful beer.
The same probably would have been true if Burial ended up launching in Seattle instead of Asheville. Their beer rarely makes it to Washington state, but it makes a splash whenever it lands. Burial sent kegs to the Emerald City during this year’s Seattle Beer Week and every one of their tap takeovers drew a crowd.
I caught some of their beers at the Slow Boat Tavern in Seattle’s Columbia City. I started with Billows, a hoppy Kolsch that had a nice lightly-toasted grain aroma with a some lemon and light grassy notes mixed in. I moved on to their The Savages of Ruminating Minds, a hazy IPA that was full of stone fruit aroma and flavor with a little bit of herbal mint flavor and a totally soft mouthfeel. Then to their Inverted Fields Ablaze, a Smoked Maibock made in collaboration with 3 Floyds Brewing and Sugar Creek Malt. It was full of smoke flavor with a round, almost sweet body but still a clean Lager finish. My favorite was The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, a dank Pale Ale fermented entirely with Brettanomyces Yeast that tasted like a funky, ripe pineapple.
Burial is in the midst of a big expansion. The company bought an entire complex of buildings called the Forestry Camp, originally used by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. Burial built a production facility in one of the buildings, including two 60-barrel lagering tanks, and they’re getting ready to open a taproom in a separate building on the complex.
Gormley now spends most of his time brewing at Burial’s original location in Asheville’s South Slope location. With the new brewery at the Forestry Camp location meeting most of the production needs, Gormley can explore wild and barrel-aged special releases at his smaller pub brewery. That’s an impressive position for any craft brewer to be in, but especially when you consider Gormley was cleaning kegs at Lazy Boy Brewing in Washington less than a decade ago.
How a juicy IPA brewery decided to break its mold with small-batch barrel beers
Between Grant Bolt and Patrick Jansen, there’s enough visionary brewing expertise (and hair) to go around.
The brewers and co-owners of Matchless Brewing have taken a brewing idea, moved to an odd little suburb of Olympia, Washington, and created some of the hottest beers in the state. The two (who have luscious locks and the beards many of us come to associate with brewers) are making waves nationally: Matchless was named one of Beer Advocate’s top 50 new breweries for its popular variety of brews.
Founded in December of 2016, Matchless was the first brewery to open in Tumwater, Washington since the Olympia Brewing Company opened in 1896, more than 120 years earlier (the Olympia Tumwater brewing facility shut its doors for good in 2003).
What Bolt and Jansen found was a very thirsty population. Matchless quickly moved to make beer people wanted to drink.
“The whole idea was just make beer people want,” Bolt says. “Not rely on the styles we wanted to make.”
What do Washingtonians want to drink? The answer, resoundingly, is fresh, juicy IPAs.
With eclectic offerings like the All Fluff (a NE IPA with orange and apricot juice), What the Fruit? and Hop Nectar (both fruity, hoppy beers without a hint of fruit), Matchless is producing hot-selling beers at a blisteringly fast clip.
Brewers Patrick Jansen (left) and Grant Bolt (right) selecting fresh hops
Bolt and Jansen are turning out 60-barrel batches of IPAs at a time, and the massive space in Tumwater can accommodate much more. In the first year of operations, Matchless hit its 2,000 barrel cap and is expanding rapidly.
“Our capacity is somewhere like a 500-600 barrel system,” Bolt says. “We’ve got a ton of room here, and the construction company who built this place for us can make even more room.”
Matchless is doing more than just pumping out the hoppy goods, they are also winning awards for just how damn tasty these beers are. In the 2017 Washington Beer Awards (again, just months after Matchless opened its doors) they won Bronze medals for Crack a Fruit IPA and Pink Moon (a foudre-aged saison), Silver medals for POG IPA and Bar Cocoa beer and a Gold medals for Shared Table - a spicy Belgian Saison.
Their barrel-aged oeuvre is a little more complex than the fresh, hoppy IPAs they have become known for, but Jansen and Bolt want to add another page to their resumes.
“We are developing our oak program now. We have 200 wine and spirit barrels right now,” Bolt says.
The barrel project is somewhat of a departure for Matchless, but not for the brewers and owners. Before opening the brewery, both Bolt and Jansen worked at Three Magnets Brewing in neighboring Olympia. Bolt tended bar while Jansen made some of Three Mags’ most lauded beers - including the GABF Bronze winner Old Skook Barleywine. They’ve used foudres for beers in the past -- and currently have 40, 50 and 60-barrel foudres in the brewery -- but distinct barrel-aged beers are going to bring a whole new element to what Matchless can produce.
“We’re really excited about working with some more barrels,” Bolt says. “We’re going to work on some sour beer with fruit in it, which will be a fun challenge.”
Matchless plans to release some of its first barrel aged projects around the greater Puget Sound region this month, including a blueberry beer at a few select accounts.
“We make the beer that we know is going to sell fast to make money for our barrel projects,” Bolt says. “We like sour beer, it’s just not budget friendly.”
Jansen will direct his focus to the barrels, while new addition to the brew team Aaron Blonden (previously of Chainline Brewing) will become the Lager and IPA guru in house. Blonden and Jansen’s friendship and collaborative partnership grew out of their first collaboration with the It’s Ake, a Japanese Lager.
Matchless has quickly become a landmark in this small wooded town just south of Washington state’s capital -- they even have a state-sanctioned sign on Interstate 5 pointing motorists toward the brewery.
“We’re just the neighborhood pub, and that’s a place we’ve always wanted to be,” says Rachel Bolt, Grant’s wife.
As for the future? Bolt said he’d like to continue to make some fresh, hoppy IPAs with Blonden while dabbling in the sour and mixed-fermentation field with Jansen, and continuing to expand production and distribution.
“I feel like we are just hitting our stride,” Bolt says. “We kind of expected to be noticed, we just didn’t expect it to be so soon. We’re going to keep up this manageable growth, but we’re excited to be making the beer you love.”