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.
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.
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.”
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
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.