The Growler Standoff

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The Growler Standoff with Zak Rotello and Chris Quinn

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The Growler Standoff: Free the Growler

By Zak Rotello

If you’re already a Mash Tun reader, I highly doubt I need to school you on growlers. But for the uninitiated: growlers began as lidded metal pails that customers (or possibly their kids) would fill up with draught beer at the local saloon. Taverns have been filling growlers since the late 1800s when the term was coined, and in modern times, breweries have used them as a convenient way to get their beer in the hands of consumers without dealing with the complex maze of labeling, licensing, and packaging issues that come with bottles and cans. Modern growlers run the gamut from the ever-popular 64-ounce glass jug, to handmade ceramic works of art, to high tech CO2-pressurized, double-walled, stainless steel vessels.

 

Admittedly, they’re an imperfect container for beer (see Chris Quinn’s counterpoint), but still a useful one. They’re great for our environment, since there’s almost zero packaging waste and they’re reusable. They’re great for enjoying draught beers that may not be available in bottled or can packages. They’re not so great for extended storage due to oxidation and/or carbonation loss. But still, I’d much rather have a 4 day old growler of double IPA, than a bottle that’s been sitting on the store shelf for 90+ days. And if brewers truly thought they were such a horrible container for their beer, they wouldn’t be selling them.

 

Stay with me, this gets a little technical…

 

In April 2014, in response to many requests from their retailers and publicans, the Illinois Craft Brewer’s Guild issued a press release stating, “Filling growlers is a well-established right or special privilege in Illinois that brewers have in order to guarantee and protect the integrity and freshness of their product.” The guild cited a section in the Illinois liquor code that prohibits retailers from “repackaging”, or refilling original containers. Of course, that clause exists for good reason – no one likes the idea of unscrupulous bartenders refilling the Van Winkle bottle with Very Old Barton when no one’s looking. Brewers also expressed their concern over quality. If someone brought in a dirty growler, would a bar still fill it with beer and potentially give their brand a bad reputation?

 

Brewers’ concerns about cleanliness and sanitation are understandable, but that concern should probably be aimed at pub glassware first and foremost. Considering the vast majority of draft beer is served over the bar at restaurants and bars in Illinois, it’s uncertain why the brewers’ concern about draught quality only surfaced when bars & restaurants started asking about growlers. Furthermore, the code they cited doesn’t refer to growlers.

 

A growler is not an original container any more than a pint glass, or a tulip, or a pitcher – kegs are the original container for draught beer. Growlers are purchased separately from the cost of the liquid inside – you might bring your own growler to the pub, or you might need to buy a new one on-site. And if bars weren’t allowed to “repackage” draught beer into another non-original container, there’d be no legal way to enjoy a pint at your local pub.

 

Ok, you still reading? Stay with me….

 

So I searched and searched, and I still haven’t seen anything in the Illinois liquor code or brewer’s licenses that gives brewers any special rights or privileges pertaining to growlers. What I did find, is that per federal TTB definition, filling growlers is considered a draft beer service function, which is entirely different from packaging or bottling. It could be argued that anyone who fills a growler in this state, including breweries, are allowing their customers to leave with an open, unsealed container – something you really don’t want a cop to find in your car. And that’s where we’re at in Illinois. We have this unnecessary standoff over why it’s ok to put beer in this glass, but not that glass.

 

Bored yet? I promise we’re almost done.

 

It’s time we modernized our growler laws to reflect the current market. Other states have made serious errors in writing these laws. Florida consumers were restricted to filling 32oz and 128oz growlers, but the standard 64oz growler was illegal. In California, until very recently, consumers had to have a specific brewer’s growler, meaning you had to make sure you had the right branded growler with you, depending on where you stopped to fill up. Even now there’s a patchwork of interpretations of the law in Chicago – Brewery X will fill this, Brewery Y won’t fill that.

 

Clearly, it can take many years to fix poorly written and vague laws. Right now, the slate is clean, and we have the opportunity to collaborate on a bill that ensures product quality, and skips over the errors that other states have made. Shouldn’t we all be working together to make this the best state to build a brewery, a bottle shop, or a pub? Aren’t we all trying to do the same thing, responsibly sell more fresh, local beer to our guests? At last count, 41 other states allowed growler fills at retail. Do we really want to be the last one to do this properly, just behind North Dakota? Arkansas?

 

So.

 

This is where you, the consumer, come in. If you think it’d be convenient to grab growlers of draught beer at your local, make your voice heard and help us modernize Illinois beer laws, head to FREETHEGROWLERS.COM, read the spiel, check out the links, and sign the petition. Tell your favorite brewer that you’d buy more of their beer if you could get it closer to where you live. Ask them to work with the storeowners and bar managers that sell their beer. It’s time that we ended the growler showdown. Let freedom ring.

If brewers can fill growlers in a sanitary way, other businesses can too.

 

Zak is the beer dictator at Olympic Tavern in Rockford, IL Follow his hairbrained bliss on Instagram at @zakrotello and @olympictavern.

 

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The Growler Standoff: Nix the Growler

By Chris Quinn

 

First and foremost, I would like to say that I have a good deal of respect for Zak, and I feel his reasons for wanting a change in the growlers laws in Illinois are legitimate. That said, unlike almost every beer retailer I know in the state, I am not a fan of growler sales. This isn’t to say that I am a fan of growlers at breweries but not at bottle shops and bars. I don’t like them, period. However, I do feel that growlers play an important role for many breweries here in Illinois, which I will get into later.

 

To me, the primary reasons I hear for growler sales to be legalized for licensed retailers can be summed up as, “If they can do it, then I should be able to as well” and “Growlers could represent a significant source of extra sales (read: money) for me.” I agree with both of these points. I think it isn’t fair that taprooms have growlers and retailers can’t, and I also agree that they could potentially lead to increased sales, or at least higher-margin sales. So, then, why exactly don’t I like growlers? Because they are bad for the beer.

 

Quite simply, of all the ways one commonly drinks beer, a growler is at the very bottom of the list, right alongside those tabletop self-serve beer towers you occasionally find at sports bars. So right off the bat I think we are fighting for an inferior type of packaged beer. And before we get any further, I think it needs to be made clear that growlers are not a form of draft beer, they are a form of packaged beer and should be compared against other forms of packaged beer.

 

It doesn’t take much more than a common-sense look at the system for filling growlers to see why it’s always better to get a beer from a bottle or can if you are getting beer to go, all of which revolve around the fact that breweries spend a ton of money, time, and energy on their packaging lines. I would argue that the packaging of beer is the most crucial part of the process – whether a beer is going into a keg, bottle, or can. This is because it’s during packaging that so much can go wrong – much of which can quickly and drastically decrease the quality of even the best beer in the world.

 

Craft breweries literally spend millions of dollars on their packaging lines to ensure that their beer gets to you in pristine condition. To think this can be matched by some bartender sticking a piece of vinyl tube over the faucet of a system designed from the ground up to serve beer for immediate consumption, and opening it up to dump into a glass jug is silly. Draft beer is meant to be consumed within minutes of being served. Not 24 hours. Minutes. After that, the carbonation will rapidly start to leave the beer. Shortly after, it will begin to take on oxidized flavors and quickly bear little resemblance to what the brewer originally intended. People say that a growler is fine as long as you drink it the day you bought it. I’ll concede that point – the beer will taste fine. Not great, but fine.

 

Want to get an idea for how a growler tastes? Open up five bottles or cans of beer, pour them all into glasses, then take one to drink and set the other four back in the fridge. By the time you are on the fourth and fifth beer, there will be noticeable differences in the carbonation of the beer. “Who cares,” you say? I do! And you should too. Why settle for a less than ideal experience when you can just open up a new bottle or can each time? Those vessels have been counter-pressure filled specifically to hold their carbonation until opened. This is not the case with growlers.

 

And this isn’t even beginning to get into the area of cleanliness. Beer is pretty much a sugary dream come true for many wild bacteria, yeast, and molds that can’t wait to infect your beer. Then there’s the fact that the last beer in your growler was a cinnamon chili stout, and now there’s a pilsner going into it. A quick rinse under the sink isn’t going to remove either of these things. To remove these flavors a thorough washing is required, ideally followed by a quick sanitization to make sure there’s nothing bad left in your growler. If this doesn’t happen, will it ruin your beer? Most likely not – although vinegar-producing acetobacter, which is pretty much everywhere and on everything (including dirty draft lines), can turn a beer sour within a few days. But the risks of contaminating the beer in your growler are orders of magnitude higher than they are for bottled or canned beer. If you tell someone you got an infected bottle of Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, it’s a national story. If you tell someone your growler of BCS was infected, they wait for you to get to the point of your story.

 

So, what would a “good” growler system involve? Above starting with clean vessels, I think having a counter-pressure filler is a must (if your customers expect to use their growlers like they would any other packaged beer). The problems with counter-pressure growler fillers is that by design, they fill beer under pressure – and almost all growlers are not pressure-rated in any way. This means if you filled normal growlers on this system, eventually they will fail (i.e. explode.) This is seriously dangerous, especially when you consider the fact that people are most likely going to be handling these growlers at the time they explode. Even pressure-rated growlers can conceivably fail after prolonged use. To me, the answer is to only fill metallic growlers – which are pricey and put an extra burden on consumers and retailers.

 

Another problem with counter-pressure fillers is that just as draft systems are designed for pouring beer for immediate consumption, counter-pressure fillers are designed for packaged beer – meaning you really need to have separate lines to fill growlers versus draft beers. So it’s not exactly like everything you have on tap is necessarily available for sale in a growler. So do bars have duplicate lines and duplicate costs for each beer they serve? I don’t see that happening.

 

So why are growlers a good thing for some Illinois breweries? Because they are highly profitable. The revenue generated by a small brewery’s taprooms, where they are able to sell their brews for 25 times the cost it took to make, is at times essential to their survival. If their ability to have exclusive rights to fill growlers with their beer helps them survive through the early years, then let’s not take that away from them.

 

We are in a time where there are more choices of bottled and canned craft beer than there has ever been, and I think you would be hard pressed to find any brewer who would rather have their beer served out of a growler than having the same beer out of a bottle or can from a professional packaging line. On top of it all, there are small breweries out there that need the extra margin that comes from direct sales in their tap rooms. So we’re fighting to serve worse beer, while at the same time hurting some of our smallest local brewers. Why do we want this so bad again?

 

Chris owns The Beer Temple and hosts a weekly radio broadcast on Lumpen Radio called The Insiders Roundtable, which was once delayed by a Villanova men’s basketball game. 3/24/2016: Never forget.

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April 16, 2016: Mash Tun Journal Issue 009 Release Party

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Mash Tun Journal Issue 009 Release:

4/16/16 at Maria’s, 3-7pm • Free ( 21 and over)
960 W 31st Street Chicago Il 60608

Get Free copies of Mash Tun Journal, Issue 009.
Complementary Korean-Polish fare at 4pm (grilling starts at 3pm).

Mash Tun Journal Issue 009 is here. Get your sweet heinies to Maria’s on 4/16/16 from 3-7pm for the release of issue 009. Attendees will receive a free copy of the journal, tasty Mash Tun-curated suds, and grilled Ko-Po fare for your belly. Maria’s will be featuring beer by brewers who are profiled in the latest issue, offering pours at the bar for purchase and complimentary samples + Ko-Po grub on the patio. Maria’s will also be exhibiting work by Ryan Duggan, our featured artist in the new issue.

Issue 009 tells the story of C.H.A.O.S. Brew Club’s diaspora, profiling homebrewers who made their liquid dreams a reality. C.H.A.O.S. vets include folks from Begyle, Louis Glunz Beer Inc., Arclight, Begyle, Goose Island, Breakroom, Horse Thief Hollow, Vice District, and Marz. Raise a glass with us to their achievements.

Join us for complementary Korean-Polish fare at 4pm (grilling starts at 3pm).

Enjoy some special suds from our special C.H.A.O.S. Diaspora Draft list (beer for purchase):
Begyle J-Bird Pale Ale
Goose Island 2015 Bourbon County Stout
Marz Bubbly Barrel-Aged Duchess de Bridgeport
Urban Legend The King’s Tree Coffee Stout

With Beer tasting samples from:
Arclight Moe’s IPA
Vice District Far From Ordinary Session English Ale

Issue 009 features work by Calvin Fredrickson, Edmar, Zak Rotello, Doug Veliky, Alex Bach, Clarence Boddicker, Paul Durica, Tim Lange, Chris Quinn, and Mike Smith.

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Brew This: Marz Community Brewing’s Bubbly Creek Berliner Weiss

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By Al Robertson

 

So you want to brew some sour beer? Brewing sour or wild ale at home can seem daunting and dangerous to homebrewers and pro brewers alike. When I first ventured into making sour beers at home, I approached them with much trepidation, due to fears of contaminating my equipment and unfamiliarity with the sour brewing process. The first sour beer I brewed was a Berliner weiss, for which I acquired the necessary bacteria from a grain-inoculated starter. The result was surprisingly tasty and relatively easy to replicate at the homebrew scale.

 

When I joined Marz Community Brewing some years later, we decided to have a Berliner weiss as one of our regularly brewed offerings. I was assigned the task of developing the process for creating a Berliner weiss in a production environment while maintaining the quality and consistency of my homebrewed test batches. This proved to be an extremely challenging endeavor because the process I used as a homebrewer was too difficult and time consuming to recreate on a production level. Because Berliner weiss is so low in alcohol, malt presence, and hop character, it is impossible to mask any flaws or inconsistencies. It is truly one of the most difficult styles to produce, despite the simplicity of the recipe.

 

To overcome our initial production inconsistencies, I took one of my grain-inoculated starters to Lance Shaner at Omega Yeast Labs. He was able to identify and isolate the souring bacteria responsible for my successful homebrew Berliners, which was then used for producing the Bubbly Creek Berliner Weiss at Marz. The bacteria are a Lactobacillus plantarum species. As far as I know, no other commercial beer yeast laboratories offer a plantarum species to the public. This strain is well suited for a production environment because it is able to sour beer at room temperature relatively quickly. Other commercially available Lactobacillus strains require extended aging or fermentation temperatures as high as 120°F to produce the results we are seeing in a matter of 36 hours at much lower temperatures.

 

 

The Bubbly Creek Berliner Weiss

 

50% Pilsner Malt

50% White Wheat

 

0.5oz Whole Leaf Czech Saaz

1 unit OYL-605 Omega Lactobacillus blend

1 package of Safale US-05

 

OG 1.034

FG 1.010

pH 3.2

 

Heat water to 160°F and combine in the mash tun with the grains and whole leaf hops at a ratio of 1.3L water per pound of grain. Mash for 60 minutes and sparge with 170°F water. Collect the desired amount of wort and boil for 45 minutes. Chill to 80°F and pitch the Lactobacillus blend. Let the wort sour for three days in the fermenter and then add a package of Safale US-05. The beer will be ready to bottle in one week. Carbonate to 3.2-3.4 volumes CO2.

 

If desired, add whole fruit and/or your favorite Brettanomyces strain after primary fermentation for added complexity.

 

 

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A Conversation with Rick Chapman and Head Brewer Ryan Brooks of Coronado Brewing Company

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Interviewed by Ed Marszewski

 

Rick and Ron Chapman opened Coronado Brewing Company almost 20 years ago on the island of Coronado, across the bay from San Diego. The brewery started as a small neighborhood brewpub around the same time as Ballast Point, Stone, and AleSmith. Together, those breweries formed the San Diego Brewers Guild, and over time Coronado and the guild birthed the “West Coast” beer styles that we have come to love and adore.

 

At the moment, Coronado isn’t as well known to Midwestern beer drinkers as Stone or Ballast Point, but in late-2015 they entered a distribution contract with Wirtz Beverage and have just started rolling out the barrels here in Chicagoland. In 2014, the brewery won best Mid-Sized Brewery and Brewer at the World Beer Cup, taking a prize with their Islander IPA. And if the liquid continues to taste as good as the ones we’ve tried, we expect them to do well here in the beer capital of the Midwest.

 

We hooked up with Rick Chapman and Head Brewer Ryan Brooks at Mash Tun HQ a few days before they were heading to FoBAB and asked them to tell their story.

 

Edmar: How did you start your brewery?

 

Rick Chapman: My brother Ron and I opened the brewery 20 years ago. It had always been a dream of ours to have a brewery. And 20 years ago we put together a business plan, bought the property almost 150 yards from the home we grew up in, and plucked down a little brewpub.

 

Edmar: So you started off with a brewpub that had a restaurant, a taproom, and a small brewing facility. What was the size of your system back then?

 

Rick: It’s a 10-barrel system and it’s still there. We’ve become a brewpub on steroids. We bought the building next door and we put in 13 20-barrel fermenters. We put out 6,000 barrels a year from there until we built our production facility about three and a half years ago.

 

Edmar: So three and a half years ago you opened a production brewery and started making beer to send to other markets?

 

Rick: We started getting into the distribution game in Southern California mostly, but then some other markets outside. Pennsylvania was the first out-of-state market we came to out, about nine year ago.

 

Edmar: Ron, were you one of the brewers back when you first started?

 

Rick: No, we asked one of our baristas, Sean Dewitt, if he wanted to be a partner. He became one of our head brewers. 20 years later, he’s become our director of brewing operations. So, he’s our head brewer but he doesn’t brew any longer – he brews with Ryan’s team.

 

Edmar: Ryan, when did you start at Coronado?

 

Ryan: I worked at a brewing facility about an hour north of San Diego for a few years, and I wanted to get to San Diego where the big dogs were. I interviewed at Stone in the morning and at Coronado in the afternoon, and 15 minutes after I left, Sean, the Director of Operations said, “Hey, you want to start on Tuesday?” That was almost four years ago.

 

Rick: Did Stone call you back?

 

Ryan: After two weeks – and I’d started at Coronado already, so it didn’t matter.

 

Edmar: You were based in California, and you got involved in brewing because…?

 

Ryan: I was cheap. I was playing in a punk rock band touring the world and I liked good beer. But I couldn’t afford a lot of it so I started home brewing.

 

Edmar: That’s a common story. I know many musicians here in Chicago that were homebrewing, and then some of them actually went on to open up nanobreweries or work for breweries. It was pretty fun to go get bootleg brews for $5 a bottle in somebody’s apartment on the West Side.

 

Ryan: It was fun.

 

Edmar: The Coronado portfolio of beers is pretty diverse today. But I bet almost 20 years ago, when you first opened up the brewpub, you had to have your standards: amber ale, golden ale, porter, pale ale, maybe an oatmeal stout. When did you get involved with the West Coast IPA freak out phase?

 

Rick: It was happening when we opened. Stone started doing IPAs. AleSmith did some IPAs. And we were part of that. It was the San Diego Brewers Guild that kept us all together. So everybody experimented and tried different things, and through that process we defined the West Coast IPA.

 

Edmar: When do you think that the dominance of the IPA hit the country? Do you recall when, all of a sudden, you couldn’t make enough IPA?

 

Rick: Probably only about five or six years ago.

 

Edmar: The one thing I hear about San Diego is that it’s just about as easy to grab a fresh craft beer as it is to get a Corona or some other macro beer.

 

Rick: I’ve been on the sales side for years, so that’s where I’ve seen the difference. In the last three or four years you have a lot more access to the buyers, especially the big chains and the big restaurants. Before, we were just pounding on doors and trying to get people to talk to us.

 

Edmar: Glad to hear that people in these corporate chains understand the value that craft beer has in the marketplace. Do you think the acceptance of craft beer in chain stores has been driving the expansion of craft beer volume sales?

 

Rick: That’s a piece of it. On premise, off premise. Working with each other to build brands. But, yes, the expansion of craft beer in chain stores is helping a lot to build brands.

 

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Edmar: Your company is expanding, you have two facilities and a tasting room, and you also make trips to Europe to purchase your hops directly from growers. Do you think that the large macro brewers like the AB InBev and SABMiller conglomerate will make it more difficult for independent breweries like yours? Some have argued that the big breweries are going to make it harder for the craft breweries to purchase the raw materials it takes to make their brews. Do you think any of this is something that you have to think about in the near future?

 

Ryan: Absolutely.

 

Rick: We think about it. I’ve never heard that directly from any of the big guys. So in what I’ve seen from the outside they pretty much let you run the way you want to. They don’t know how to run a craft brewery. We’re entwined in our culture and our communities. But when they do take over your company you have a lot more resources. It’s like Ballast Point. They are growing at 140%. How do you finance that? Go public or …take the other door.

 

Edmar: It’s pretty amazing what happened with Ballast Point and their purchase by Constellation Brands. In light of that, and the purchase of half of Lagunitas by Heineken, do you think there are going to be problems with commodity pricing or shortages because of the growth of the craft beer segment?

 

Ryan: I’m nervous about it. I’ve seen hops going from $4-6 per pound to $15-20 per pound in the past few years. So that’s just something to keep in the back of your mind. It takes time to grow these products, you can’t just say overnight, “Hey, I’m gonna grow more barley and open up these malting facilities.”

 

Edmar: Even on the packaging side, you have companies like Crown Packaging, who are restricting the availability of their cans. They are not opening up any new accounts for people who want to do canning. In general, there seems to be kind of a disruptive moment in the overall macro beer industry, which has seen a period of decline over the past decade. Beer as a total volume of sales of alcoholic beverages has gone down, and of course the craft beer industry has taken over a portion of Big Beer’s overall sales. So it is really a very interesting phenomenon to see how rapidly craft beer is growing, and how some of the larger companies have been absorbed by the Big Beer Borg. Did you ever think that craft beer would become such a raging phenomenon?

 

Rick: Yes, I did. You’ve seen how the market has grown steadily 11-15% over the last ten years. Before the dip. So, yeah, it’s been happening and now there are just more and more breweries. There are also a lot of options in access to financing. The venture capitalists are getting into it, the banks are soliciting us, it’s kinda the same issues we had with the chains. You couldn’t get their attention at all a few years back, but now they’re at every conference, they’re calling us multiple times a week. I saw it coming. And maybe it’s come a little faster than I would have anticipated, but it’s definitely here, and it’s here to stay.

 

Edmar: Yeah, I think so, too. I believe we are entering a larger cultural shift marked by a rejection of mass-produced, monocultural products, especially beer. So I think the craft beer culture and business is going to grow. What do you guys want to have happen in Chicago? You’ve just released a new beer…

 

Ryan: Stingray IPA is a big badass double IPA, not a lot of malt flavors, tons of hops, it’s got Citra, Mosaic, Simcoe, Southern Cross, all the cool sexy hops.

 

Edmar: The dream hops combo potion. So the Stingray IPA is hot shit? What other brews do you make that people would dig out here?

 

Ryan: We’re doing cans pretty soon, too. Those are coming out hopefully in March. We’re going to package the beer we won the award with – the Islander IPA. We’re also doing our Orange Avenue Wit, and a pale ale. I hope in the future we can do a light lager, just so we can crush a lot of beers on the beach.

 

Rick: We like making balanced beers, so the majority of our portfolio, like the Orange Avenue Wit, the Mermaid’s Red amber ale – even our Islander isn’t a big hop bomb – it’s flavorful.

 

Edmar: It’s important to have balanced, clean beers that you can enjoy on any occasion. Do you think that with the coming shortage of Citra, Mosaic hops, etc., that you are going to see a lot of different breweries making these different lighter beers as well?

 

Rick: Belgian style beers don’t require a lot of hops.

 

Edmar: Do you guys foresee yourselves opening up new facilities outside of California?

 

Rick: Eventually. Europe. And an East Coast presence. Maybe five years down the line – we have a lot going on in our home market with room for growth.

 

Edmar: I’m actually surprised that you didn’t try to go completely bonkers 4-5 years ago. What happened?

 

Rick: As far as growth? Growth has to come naturally. You can only push so much, you have to have the pull. We’ve just grown organically and gotten better and better. That’s why we built the production facility to accommodate the growth. But we didn’t build a massive facility because we didn’t have it. You have to keep one foot on the gas and one on the brake. Sometimes the gas is going a little hard. We thought we would get 10 years out of the facility that we are in now, and we’re coming up on year four and we will mostly likely outgrow it next year. Fortunately, we’ve got the property adjacent to it, so we can double that to buy us another four or five years. And that’s maybe where that East Coast presence is going to enter into the equation for shipping and all that.

 

Edmar: One more question: Do you have any advice for the new generation of breweries that are opening up all over the universe, from nano-sized one man shows to investment groups opening 30-50-barrel systems out of the gate?

 

Rick: Do it to make great beer and the rest will follow. Don’t do it thinking you’re gonna get rich, ‘cause it takes a long time to get profitable.

 

Ryan: Quality definitely is important. I see a lot of new young brewers going out and starting businesses because their friends or their mom said they make really good beer. I think you gotta be really critical of your beer and strive for strong quality of the product.

 

Edmar: Thanks, guys!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Get Spent: How Breweries and Homebrewers Are Finding New Uses for Spent Grain

 

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By Alex Bach

 

Anyone who’s ever witnessed a beer enthusiast shamelessly sucking down the last possible drops of nectar from their glass knows beer drinkers are not inherently wasteful people; thankfully, neither are many of the breweries that create these tasty libations. To eliminate wastefulness, brewers are coming up with great ways to cut down on their carbon footprint or contribute to a model of sustainability. Brooklyn Brewery and New Belgium Brewing both utilize wind energy to power their operations. Full Sail Brewing out of Hood River, Oregon brews with 50% less water than standard breweries. California’s Sierra Nevada is 100% solar-powered, with Stone hot on their heels. So it should come as no surprise to learn that many of them find new uses for their spent grain as well.

 

What Are Spent Grains?

 

Mashing is the process of extracting fermentable sugars via hot water from dry starches (grains) to create the liquid wort, which, when fermented, becomes beer. Once the sugars are extracted, the grains play no additional role in the brewing process, and brewers are left with a bulky byproduct sitting in their kettles.

Let’s look at the numbers: Ryan O’Doherty of Half Acre estimates that each batch of beer utilizes anywhere from 1,400 to 2,400 lbs of grain per batch, depending on the style – 2,250 to 3,840 lbs of soaking wet grain after the mash-out. At 16-20 batches per week, that amounts to about 50,000 lbs of spent grain each week. Thankfully, they have a system in place to recycle that amount of still-viable product.

A 3-inch pipe takes the spent grain while it’s still hydrated through 100 feet of the brewery floor, climbing 15 feet to a conduit in the side where it is pumped into an empty trailer. Once a week, when the trailer is full, O’Doherty places a call to a local farmer they’ve partnered with and he drives up with an empty trailer, swaps it out, and brings the spent grains back to his farm to feed his cattle and pigs. The process repeats every week.

 

Kettle-to-Farm

 

What’s fantastic about Half Acre’s model is that it is not an unusual arrangement. O’Doherty, who had previously worked at Yazoo Brewing out of Nashville, had a similar arrangement with a local farmer out there who used the spent grain to feed his pigs. Those pigs would then become part of Nashville’s famed BBQ scene, and sometimes – when the brewers were lucky – they would receive samples of pulled pork and ribs “fattened” off their own grains.

Yazoo and the farmer who receives their spent grain are not the only one to make bucolic pairings. Great Lakes Brewing out of Cleveland, Ohio donates their spent grains to local farmers as well as uses it for composting. Piney River Brewing goes one step further, housing their brewery on-site at their 80-acre farm nestled in the Missouri Ozarks – which means their cattle get the freshest grains, and they don’t have to worry about storing and shipping.

 

Logan-Square

 

One Brewer’s Trash…

 

Some brewers, such as Marz Community Brewing, contribute to farming in a wholly different fashion by donating their spent grains to local composting facilities. Nancy Klehm, of Social Ecologies and Spontaneous Vegetation, is a compost professional who helps distribute compost to a variety of urban farms and gardens from Garfield Park to North Lawndale.

“Grains are a good composting agent for the moisture they retain, and the fact that they attract beneficial bacteria to help break down the grain at a faster rate,” Klehm said. Grains are not without their caveat, however. “Compost is fermentation at lower temperatures,” Klehm said, and just like any fermentation, certain conditions need to be met. Compost, much like yeast, needs proper aeration and acidity levels in order to break down properly.

While brewing grains are rich in nutrients, they need to be spread out and mixed with carbon-based fillers like sawdust, cardboard, and gypsum in order to let the compost breathe. Similarly, certain grain bills, such as those of sour beers, are very acidic and have to be blended in order to balance out the soil.

Just like O’Doherty had talked about with farmer reciprocity, it would be great to see some of those participating farms turn over some of their produce back to the breweries: homegrown berries for a sour, fresh coriander for a gose, or compost-grown hops for a local wet-hopped pale ale.

 

Surf & Turf

 

Though considerably less appetizing than the aforementioned pulled pork, these environmentally conscious uses of spent grain are another option for breweries looking to go green with their grain. Several breweries, like Avery Brewing out of Boulder, CO or Bear Republic out of Healdsburg, CA, have begun experimenting with their wastewater as a means of water treatment, filching out nitrogen runoff. Lakefront Brewery out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin was even awarded a Green Tier award from the state for their various commitments to sustainability, which includes converting 15,000 lbs of spent grain per week into super-soil, somewhere between compost and fertilizer.

 

 

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Fully-Baked

 

Baked goods are another fantastic option for the used-but-not-useless carbohydrates. Many breweries pair with a local bakery to turn their spent grains into breads, which can then be served in brewery taprooms as a supplemental treat. Hewn Bakery in Chicago uses both a brew and its spent grains to fashion delicious breads. Baked goods aren’t just for human consumption, either.

Doggie Beer Bones out of San Diego uses spent grain from local breweries like Green Flash, Societe Brewing Co., and Stone to create a line of dog treats. Their treats are made with barley, peanut butter, barley flour, eggs, and water, but contain no wheat, soy, corn, or hops, which are poisonous to dogs. (This means they have to be critical of the ingredients they use, since not every batch of spent grains will work.)

 

Homebrewer Options

 

While the above solutions are done at a much larger scale than any homebrewer could ever achieve (through definition alone), many of those options are still available. Many breweries allow homebrewers to bring in their spent grains and add them to their farm contributions. Composting is not ideal for urban homebrewers, as the sweetness of the grain makes it veritable catnip for rats and mice.

Baked options are probably the most popular choice, with homemade breads being the most common fare; when making breads, many recommend drying and grinding the grains to break down the hulls (especially if using grain bills with rice hulls). There are also numerous recipes online for creating your own granola or doggie treats. Most recipes for dog biscuits consist of variations on the following:

  • 1-2 cups of spent grain*
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter or molasses (for taste)
  • 1 egg (to bind it together)
  • Mix ingredients together in a bowl and form into biscuits
  • Place biscuits on wax paper and bake in the oven at 350ºF for about 20 minutes

*Remember not to use grains that have been exposed to hops.

 

I’m Spent

 

The territory of brewing comes with a lot of waste products; fortunately, we don’t have to be wasteful with all of them. Finding new uses for spent grain is a great way to invest in sustainability and one that might lead to some delicious returns on your investment.

 

– Alex Bach earned his MA in Fiction Writing from Johns Hopkins University and has been publishing in the US and UK. When not writing he can be found behind the brew kettle trying to hone his home brewing skills.

 

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Brewers on the Cusp of Blowing up

Kimbell Barrel Fermenting

By Won Kim


In a city heralded for its food and beverage scene, it can be overwhelming trying to keep up with what’s new and exciting. Billion dollar acquisitions seem to be happening with a frequency that would make horny rabbits seem sluggish. Amid all the openings and business deals happening, it should be noted that there is still a burgeoning and exciting underground brewing (I couldn’t help it, there will be some puns – unintentional, but effective). Luckily for us, Chicago is large enough for the minor leaguers who are passionate about their craft and ready to showcase their carbonated adult beverages to the ever-growing craft beer world.

Every single seasoned brewer started as a homebrewer, the same way any good chef cooked, or any good artist started with drawing most of his or her life. This is the process to turn any true passion, whatever the creative platform, into a career. I have had the pleasure of working with some of the best homebrewers that this city has to offer. Individuals, groups, and married couples that work hard at their jobs to be able to fund their passion for creating unique and experimental beers. Long gone are the days when you and your buddies would buy a homebrew kit from Jewel and brew that first batch of a pissy pils. You called yourself a brewer and thought that you’d be able to do it for a living until you realized that you would have to multiply the amount of beer produced by a million.

 

I have thrown and organized many beer events in Chicago in the last 6 years with a focus on showcasing homebrewers ready for the majors. From having to drink a ton of sample beers for dinners and parties, to assembling massive public bottle shares, I can safely say that I have had my fair share of beers. Self-appointed beer deity Greg Koch described my beer events as “beer raves.” I took to that title and eventually went on to work with him, Randy Mosher, and Jason Ebel in a homebrew competition called Iron Brew. This was at the height of my curated beer events. Industry-heavy heads actually recognized what was going on and offered homebrewing participants to brew commercially with them as a prize. The best part was that out of the 20 homebrewers, almost all of them would move on to work full time at a brewery. With that in mind, I would like to focus on a few of the brewers I have worked, drank, and blacked out with.

 

Kimbell Ghost Carboys

Kimbell Brewing

These are the OGs that would start me on my Brew HaHa adventures, when they were two of the four members of homebrew collective Lowdive. Matt Kanable and Andrew Lautner would eventually go on to start Kimbell Brewing. These are the guys that took a chance on me and helped organize a private beer dinner showcasing their beer and my food. This eventually led to doing a much more toned-down version of the Brew HaHa at our friend Mike Anderson’s backyard in Humboldt Park, where Tooch [Adam Mattucci] and I would handle food and they would provide the suds. Their beer was something special. From the meticulous marketing of their brand, to the recipes of the beer, you could tell Kimbell’s was “pro” brew. It wasn’t about getting smashed and drunk dialing your ex. It was about balance, trying to get the most out of the ingredients, and maintaining consistency.

 

Kimbell Barrel Fermenting

 

Matt and Drew also know how to take constructive criticism, which allows them to excel in whatever style they choose to brew. My particular favorites from them as of late have been their sours. These beers are wild, tart, and fruity without being too sweet or overly acidic, which a lot of wild-fermented ales tend to be. They schedule brew days and consider beer to be sacred without being pretentious about what it is and what it “means” to them. I love these guys because they know how to appreciate beer, don’t make a big fuss about what it is, and make great shit.

 

Kimbell Ghost Culture

 

Twisted Hippo

Karl and Marilee may be some of the sweetest and raunchiest people I know. I met these two at a seafood dinner thing at Whole Foods, where I was filling in as the cook to test out some recipes to customers. Their friend, Gonzalo, was bragging about their beer rig at home and raved about their homebrew. The picture I saw showed a 16-tap system in a bedroom with a bunk bed over a chest cooler that housed all the beer. I thought it was fake or an Onion article picture, and I told them that I must see it in person. They were so cordial and open to having a stranger over just to share beer and hang out. That kind of openness and genuine kindness is hard to come by these days, so much so that it almost makes you suspicious.

 

Twisted Hippo Beets 1

 

It was love at first site: I visited them at their home in Albany Park and left annihilated, which wouldn’t be the last time I’d leave there not remembering a damn thing. Karl and Marilee have hosted homebrew parties, fried chicken nights, and even let me brew a beer with them. I didn’t do a goddamn thing – I was too hungover, and eventually passed out while they did all the work. I particularly loved their Beeting Heart Kölsch, which was one of the first commercial beers I tried from them commercially (long story). It’s smooth, mildly sweet, and has an earthiness and bright red color that only beets can bring. These guys have been on a hell of a journey to get their beer out there and have worked so damn hard only to have to start over again. Yet, they still do everything with a goddamn smile because they know and truly believe that this journey will all lead to achieving the dream of just brewing beer and making people happy.

 

Twisted Hippo Beets 2

 

Soma Ale Werks

 

Soma_Tom Pouring Beer
 

Despite having bumped heads a couple of times on how to run my events, I know that Tom means well, is generally curious about how things work, and is very concerned with finances. These are good qualities to have, which is probably why he owns a home and I don’t. Tom and I go way back to when Drew [Andrew Lautner] and I met, when craft beer was about to just bust a nut all over this city, probably around 2010. When Dark Lord Day drew barely one thousand attendees, IBUs started being a thing, and when “tap takeovers” started happening. Meanwhile, Tom was brewing beer out of his narrow apartment in Wicker Park. He knows the amount of room he has and utilized every single inch of space needed to get his brews in order. He has been a staple and stronghold in the beer scene by being an active member in Chicago Beer Society, attending or working every major beer event in the country, and planning his vacations around beer destinations. This man is passionate and sometimes outspoken – all for the sake of beer.

 

One of my favorite beers from him is Cucumis Sativus – a saison with cucumbers – which was his entry for the Iron Brew competition, and also one of the crowd favorites. It’s light and refreshing, perfectly carbonated, with just a hint of cuke. The beer is super versatile in its applications. I can see it being used in cocktails, marinades, or just drinking a shitload of it, because you can! Tom’s also super lucky to live with a girlfriend who supports every beer-related thing he does, because she is as knowledgeable and passionate about beer as he is.

 

Soma_Bottles of Soma

 

So, there you have it, three brewers who love beer so much that it makes me fight and advocate for them however I can. These are passionate, creative people that are ready to showcase their talents if just given the chance to. I’m not a Cicerone, nor do I claim to be any kind of beer expert, so I can’t give two shits if you disagree with me. Though I may seem a little jaded on the whole craft beer thing, I’ll never be jaded on good people doing good things.

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Winter Warmer: The Danish Art of Hygge in the Baltic Porter

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By Jenny Pfäfflin of Cicerone Certification Program

There’s a Danish way of living called hygge, a hard-to-translate-into-English concept the Danes adhere to in the colder, darker months (though, it can be a year-round philosophy). In its essence, it means “coziness” – winter hygge can be expressed through candlelit dinners, climbing under wool blankets, twilight coffee dates, pine-scented potpourri, and Netflix binges. But hygge is also emotional – it’s a time to gather with family and friends, to put aside work talk and politics and just be with each other.

It should come as no surprise, then, that one of the indigenous beer styles to the Nordic region is liquid hygge. In the 18th century, the British started to export their porters, who had made them with a higher alcohol content for the trip across the Baltic Sea. Known as the Baltic porter in the relatively modern establishment of beer style nomenclature, Baltic porters were also made under the names Russian stout or imperial stout, as they became the beer of favor by St. Petersburg royals. It all really depended on how the brewery decided to market its beer.

Soon, instead of importing the beers from England, entrepreneurs set up breweries along the Baltic Sea. These new breweries adapted to regional ingredients and processes, and in turn, made a version of these strong, rich beers that evolved from its English roots. Baltic porters made in Scandinavia differ from those made in the Baltic regions. And even then, some Baltic porters are top-fermented, while others are bottom-fermented, probably as a result of adapting to the trends of the time, when lager breweries in Northern Europe were gaining in numbers and using one house yeast resulted in a more simplified and economical production of beer.

No matter what brewers in Nordic and Baltic countries called it, the Baltic porter is unlike what we’ve become accustomed to as imperial stouts in the United States. Domestic versions of Imperial Stouts are characteristically American—barrel-chested and full of bravado, usually ringing in over 10% ABV, roasty, and heavily hopped. But there’s still a warmth to Baltic porters, as they’re usually stronger and fruitier than most porters and stouts. Minimally hopped, dark fruits like plums and cherries fill the aroma of these porters, along with licorice, chocolate, and toffee. Malty sweetness is showcased in the taste, held in check by low bitterness, and restrained coffee roast or slight smokiness. Full-bodied but not heavy, the slight glow of alcohol warms you up as it all comes together as hygge in its liquid form, the perfect accompaniment for snuggling into a snowy night.

Notable Baltic Porters:

Sinebrychoff Porter, Finland

Carnegie Stark Porter, Sweden

Żywiec Porter, Poland

Smuttynose Baltic Porter, U.S.

Jack’s Abby Framinghammer, U.S.

Les Trois Mousquetaires G.C. Porter Baltique, Canada

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Sustainable Beer on Chicago’s South Side: Whiner Beer Company

310FE0D1-B62C-40A3-9271-4456E9528FB5

By Calvin Fredrickson

 

Located in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood, Whiner Beer Co. is housed within a “vertical farm” called The Plant, an almost too-good-to-be-true bastion of environmentally minded business. Folks, it’s the real deal, and its ideology represents a watershed moment in Whiner founder and brewmaster Brian Taylor’s career. More on that later. With 15 years of brewing experience to his name, Taylor had technical know-how in spades. What he needed was a creative partner, someone who could evoke the playful, tongue-in-cheek personality of Whiner’s European-inspired beers. Enter Ria Neri, local hospitality veteran and artist, who embraced Taylor’s vision for Whiner by expressing mutual influences – ranging from 70s French comics to armadillos – through the brewery’s branding and beer labels.

 

By packaging their beer in cans, much of it barrel-aged, Whiner is looking to convey a highbrow-meets-lowbrow aesthetic. Wary of taking themselves too seriously, Taylor and Neri explain that the brewery’s name is a lighthearted allusion to the wine industry. One gets the sense that Whiner is tipping its hat to the world of wine with a twinkle in its eye. As of October, Whiner was still awaiting word from the TTB, and Taylor was chomping at the bit. “We’re basically ready to go,” he said. Indeed they are.

 

Daylight spills from broad windows onto the brewery’s concrete floor and walls, playing off brushed steel fermenters. The buzz and cracks of final customizations echo throughout the brewery, dust hanging in the air. Glowing white Xs punctuate the brewery and cellar ceilings. Taylor joked that people take more pictures of those lights than they do anything else. In their defense, the lights are rad. But Whiner’s story and vision outshine the brewery’s cosmetic appeal. What follows is an overview of Whiner’s stainless and wood cellars, their souring and blending processes, and their role at The Plant.

 

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The Stainless

Whiner’s 30-barrel, three-vessel brewhouse will accommodate step mashing, a brewing process typical of some of the French- and Belgian-style beers Whiner will produce. Two 60-barrel fermentation tanks dwarf two 15-barrel counterparts, vessels that will serve fermentation, blending, and yeast propagation processes. “Everything serves a really good purpose where it sits,” Taylor said, a credit, in part, to Corcoran Fabrication & Design, whom Taylor often contracted for work during his days as head cellarman at Goose Island.

 

For Whiner, stainless plays an important role in producing consistent beers. Taking a cue from beers of years past – Sofie, anyone? – Taylor will be blending four parts clean, stainless-fermented beer with one part wine barrel-aged sour, resulting in a tart, balanced beer. While stainless is a necessary side of Whiner’s fermentation, wine barrels hold mystique for Taylor and Neri in a way that stainless does not. In fact, the first two barrels Whiner received were promptly named after their proud stewards ­­– scrawled in sharpie on one, “Brian.” On the other, “Ria.”

IMG_1344

The Wood

“I think I bought the barrels before anything,” Taylor said. “I had wine barrels in here and nothing else.” The best barrels are Cabernet Sauvignon, he said, which lend to initial fills bold wine flavors and aromas, though Pinot noir barrels are good, too. These barrels also present a relatively inexpensive vessel for long-term aging, something that is impractical in expensive stainless steel tanks. Wine barrels, being porous, allow for slow oxygen ingress, which is an excellent environment for microbial activity. Taylor will be encouraging that activity by pitching strains of Brettanomyces yeast into Lactobacillus-inoculated wort. Doing so will develop intense fruity and sometimes farm-like aromas, along with lemony, yogurt-like tanginess from the soured wort.

 

Whiner’s love for oak is no joke – with 40 barrels in the cellar and counting, Taylor muses of having a foudre or two soon, which can hold close to 400 gallons of liquid. “On a microbiology side, I like the wine barrels, because it’s more about growth; whereas with bourbon barrels, it’s about bourbon character and oak.” Federal and state approval holdups have kept Taylor from filling his barrels just yet, but when he does fill them, lush vinous notes will mingle with the deep oak aromas that have already permeated the cellar.

 

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Souring Process

Several techniques exist for souring beer, including hot- and cold-side introductions of Lactobacillus. One type of hot-side Lactobacillus addition is kettle souring, which usually involves an eventual boil, arresting additional bacterial fermentation in the wort upon reaching a desired pH. Another hot-side Lactobacillus addition involves soaking mesh bags filled with malt – in Whiner’s case, pilsner malt – in 110º wort for 24 hours, a technique Taylor honed while working alongside Jared Jankowski at Goose Island. “Everyone says it doesn’t work, but it worked twice as well for us,” Taylor said. Instead of killing the Lactobacillus bacteria with a boil, Taylor sends the inoculated wort to barrels, where it ferments and develops additional lactic character for the period of about a month.

 

Measuring total acidity – a technique Taylor learned at Boulevard – and blending, Taylor said, will promote greater control of flavor and acid profiles in the finished product. “We want to make sure the sourness of the beer isn’t overly sour or not sour enough,” he said. Once Whiner’s stainless- and wood-fermented Le Tub Wild Saison – one of Whiner’s flagships – is blended in the brite tank, Taylor will pitch Brettanomyces claussenii, a fruit-forward yeast strain that will create additional complexity and tamp down potential Pediococcus activity in the bottle. Pediococcus, like Lactobacillus, is a bacteria strain that creates lactic acid in beer, albeit one that can work more slowly and create off flavors. Recalling his experience processing Juliet wine barrels at Goose Island, Taylor estimated one in ten barrels had to be dumped. Those barrels had become “sick” or “ropy,” resulting in slimy, gelatinous beer, the result of Pediococcus. “It’s dangerous as hell,” Taylor said.

 

Sulphur sticks, potassium metabisulfite, and citric acid are among the more common treatments for barrel maintenance – and they’re all methods Taylor eschews in favor of a simpler, water-based method. His approach to barrel maintenance involves steaming and rinsing – no chemicals used. It’s an approach that would have some cellarmen quaking in their boots. A confidence like Taylor’s doesn’t develop overnight, however. It comes with years of experience, and a foresight in making one beer out of many. That process, all-important to Whiner, is called blending.

 

Blending

Balance and depth of flavor are two qualities Taylor wants to impart to Whiner’s beer – an effort, he feels, that can be accomplished through careful blending. “Our plan here is to have a massive blending program,” he said. Many brewers, particularly of wild and sour beer, point to blending as being a critical part of beer production, a sentiment Taylor shares. He pointed to Belgian lambic producers as being inspirational to his process. “We plan to have a real gueuze program,” Taylor said, which will involve aging and blending one-, two-, and three-year-old beer. As complex as it sounds, Taylor says Whiner’s aim is simple: “We want to make sure we’re blending down what tastes good.”

 

Being an American beer producer, Taylor’s usage of the terms lambic and gueuze is sure to make style purists bristle. Admitting that he uses the terms loosely, Taylor shrugs off the earnestness of detractors to his appropriation: “I mean, what are you gonna do? Obviously we’ll never be the Belgians with anything. We still inoculate each barrel with what we want, which is not what they do.” By describing these efforts as lambic and gueuze, Whiner looks to pay homage to such traditional styles, not co-opt them. “We don’t have 300-year-old barrels with 20,000 different wild yeasts and bacteria thriving in there,” Taylor said. “We’re starting on day one.” In saying so, Taylor depicts the relative youth of America’s craft beer boom, the progress it’s made, and the ground yet to cover.

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The Plant

Described as a vertical farm and business incubator, The Plant is home to numerous businesses rooted in sustainable food production. Among them are a prawn farm, a beekeeper, a bakery, and a roaster called Four Letter Word, which is helmed by Neri. Apart from being home to Whiner, The Plant also represents an ideology valued by Taylor, who characterized the brewing process as being “super wasteful.” Taylor reflected on his time in the industry: “I’ve been in this business 15 years and I know how much water I waste, grain I throw away, chemicals I’m dumping down the drain.”

 

Working with Ian Hughes at Goose Island changed how Taylor approached brewing. “Hanging out with Ian all those years totally changed my mind about all that,” he said. “[Ian] was able to get a yeast collection started, and spent grain sent out to people who actually use it.” Looking back on brewing days gone by, Taylor said, “Honestly, I was that guy – I didn’t give a shit, like, five years ago.” He definitely gives a shit now.

 

Whiner hopes to improve upon the conventional wastefulness of breweries by using The Plant’s anaerobic digester and CO2 collector. Spent grain and yeast, for example, can be added to the digester, which will create methane gas from organic matter that can be used to power Whiner’s boiler. “Methane burns much harsher, and at about four to five times higher a rate than natural gas,” Taylor said. Since Whiner’s boiler is natural and methane gas-compatible – as simple as the flip of a switch – its interior is stainless steel, which allows it to handle the dirty gas.

 

“We also have a CO2 collector,” Taylor said, another sustainable effort that will benefit tenants of The Plant. After Whiner degases emptied fermenters through a pipe into an algae tank, algae will eat up CO2 and create O2. Then, Taylor said, “We can degas into the [rooftop] greenhouse for the plants, and that’s where my kettle stack goes, so they’ll have some humidity control year-round.” On the future of brewing, he said: “The water usage is crazy. Eight barrels of water for one barrel of beer? You know, you just can’t continue that way for the next 50 years or you’re in trouble. That sort of thing is very important to us.”

 

The Future

If all goes to plan, Whiner hopes to have beer in cans and kegs across Chicago by year’s end, with Le Tub Wild Saison and Rubrique-a-brac Biere de Garde leading the charge. If Taylor’s previous beers are any indication, the near future has in store some seriously tasty South Side beers. And if Whiner’s tact takes hold among brewers, the next 50 years might not look as grim as Taylor predicts. They might look green.

 

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Whiner Beer Co. is located at 1400 W 46th Street. Chicago, IL. 60609. See Whinerbeer.com for more information. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram: /whinerbeer and @whinerbeer.

 

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Mash Tun’s Top 5s for 2015

We drank some good beers in 2015. Here are a few selections from four Mash Tun cholos. Some of the beers were released in 2015. Some weren’t. Forget a gym membership. Track down these beers.

Calvin Fredrickson’s Picks:

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The Commons Brewery – Urban Farmhouse Ale: When I visited Commons this past summer, their menu was loaded with tons of low-ABV, flavorful, and expressive beers. Urban Farmhouse Ale was a standout. My girlfriend and I enjoyed a couple bottles while camping along the Oregon coast.

de Garde Brewing – The Boysen: Boysenberry funktown. Yogurt and berry goodness. Moderate acidity, tannic, and boasts a beautiful color. It’s beer’s purple drank.

Anderson Valley Brewing Co. – The Kimmie, The Yink, & The Holy Gose: Gose hit its stride in 2015. This one carried the banner. Kimmie was my go-to. I brought it to BBQs, bought it at divey concert halls, and drank it at home. I don’t understand Anderson Valley’s nomenclature. I do understand this beer. Very well.

Half Acre Beer Co. – Pony: It’s local, it’s hoppy, and it’s always fresh. I drank buckets of this stuff in 2015. I expect 2016 will be no different. Pivo, I love you, but…

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Spiteful Brewing – Vote of No Confidence: Dankness and tropical fruit with a creamy mouthfeel. Dangerously drinkable. This beer fueled some good times.

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Doug Veliky’s Picks

BrickStone Brewery – American Pale Ale:  Some call it the Zombie killer [3 Floyds Zombie Dust]. There are definitely similarities, but this one has more malt backbone, and, most importantly, it lasts on the shelf for more than 30 minutes (for now).

deathbucoconut

Oskar Blues Brewery – Death by Coconut: This is the type of beer that could convert casual beer drinkers into enthusiasts, if only they could get their hands on it. Very approachable at 6% ABV, with big coconut and rich chocolate flavor.

Spiteful Brewing – Barrel Aged Malevolence Chocolate Caliente: Spiteful has always been on the map of Chicago’s enthusiasts who seek out the freshest beer possible. Their FoBAB winner in the category of Speciality Strong Porter/Stout puts them on the radar nationwide with this well-integrated, big-bodied, spiced chocolate stout.

 

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Desthil Brewing – Dosvidanya: Like a Russian nesting doll, each layer stacks perfectly into this Russian imperial stout, aged in bourbon barrels. Be prepared for a big fudge brownie, covered in rich chocolate sauce.

Moody Tongue – Steeped Emperor’s Lemon Saison: Pair this complex, flavorful Moody Tongue saison with your next meal featuring chicken or fish to really enhance the dining experience. Bright grassy and lemon flavors, mild cracked pepper, and bready malts.

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Chris Quinn’s Picks

jungleboogie

 

Marz Community Brewing – Jungle Boogie: One of the most original beers I had all year, Jungle Boogie seamlessly intertwines the juicy, dripping flavors of exotic U.S. hops with rooibos tea.

de Garde Brewing – Hose: A trip to de Garde Brewing earlier this year was an eye-opening look at the cutting edge of American wild ales. A 100% spontaneous fermentation brewery, de Garde somehow manages to brew a clean, lactic gose. It takes them a year to produce and they sell it for $6 per 750ml….I still don’t know how this beer is possible.

Penrose Brewing – Wild X with Cherries: Perhaps the best American wild beer I tasted all year, Penrose took the already stellar Wild X and turned it into something magical.

Scratch Brewing – Spring Tonic: My introduction to Scratch came by way of this beer. Technically a gruit, spring tonic is a vibrant, light, and refreshingly quenching beer. It’s a perfect introduction to one of the more innovative and ambitious breweries in the country.

August Schell Brewing Co. – Starkeller Peach: Yes, you read that correctly. August Schell, the brewer of Grain Belt lager, decided to start a sour program. And they killed it. I’m as confused as you are.

 
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EdMar’s Picks:

I decided to review my favorite beers of the 2015 by thinking about how they pair with video gaming, the frequency of their ingestion, and expressing yearnings for those whales that come only once a year. I also picked one of my favorite beers by the brewery I work at. And I used lyrics written by Morrissey of The Smiths to describe these selections.

alleytime

Spiteful Brewing – Alley Time:
Punctured bicycle
On a hillside desolate
Will Nature make a man of me yet?

When in this charming car
This charming man

Why pamper life’s complexities
When the leather runs smooth on the passenger seat?

 (The Smiths, “This Charming Man”)

Almanac Beer Co. – Barbary Coast
When it comes down to virtue and truth
No one can hold a candle to you
And I dim next to you
No one can hold a candle to you
When it comes down to old-fashioned virtue

(Morrissey, “No One Can Hold a Candle to You”)

abraxas

Perennial Artisan Ales – Barrel-Aged Abraxas
Haven’t had a dream
In a long time
See, the life I’ve had
Can make a good man
Turn bad
So for once in my life
Let me get what I want
Lord knows
It would be the first time

(The Smiths, “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want”)


Marz Community Brewing – Jungle Boogie
You shut your mouth
How can you say
I go about things the wrong way ?
I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does

(The Smiths – “The Boy With the Thorn in His Side”)

Maine Beer Co – Lunch
And if a double-decker bus
Crashes into us
To die by your side
Is such a heavenly way to die

And if a ten ton truck
Kills the both of us
To die by your side
Well, the pleasure, the privilege is mine

(The Smiths – “There is a Light That Never Goes Out”)


Bonus Track! 
3 Floyds – Broo Doo
Dear hero imprisoned
With all the new crimes that you are perfecting
Oh, I can’t help quoting you
Because everything that you said rings true
And now in my cell
(well, I followed you)
And here’s a list of who I slew

Morrissey – (The Last of the Famous International Playboys”)

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The Anti-Craft of Letherbee Distillers

Photo by: Clayton Hauck for Letherbee

All Photos by: Clayton Hauck for Letherbee

 

The Anti-Craft of Letherbee Distillers

Interviewed by Calvin Fredrickson
Brewers use the phrase “craft beer” to connote authenticity and quality. In recent years, other uses for the craft tag have been popularized. Craft coffee. Craft pizza. Craft cocktails. But you seem to resist that tag, and you’ve gone on record as calling Letherbee “anti-craft spirit craft spirit.” What do you mean by that?

“Anti-craft” is definitely a reaction to the spirits industry specifically. The world of craft spirits has quickly become so formulaic and standardized that “craft” has essentially become a meaningless buzzword. There’s a cookie-cutter effect ingrained in the business model of most new distilleries that does not conjure innovation or craftsmanship nearly as much as it fosters marketing plans, ROI, investor relations, brand building, etc. Big business (corporate) methods and philosophies are prioritized over craftsmanship and it’s all disguised as “craft” to get the enthusiastic consumers to buy. It’s a race to scale up as quickly as possible to attract a buyout or further capital investment.

You have to also understand that the spirits world has less integrity than the beer world. We not only have to deal with brand reps and bartenders whose opinions are bought and sold, we also have to deal with marketing companies that simply source bulk spirits and sell it in shamefully misleading ways to convince the consumer that it’s being made at a distillery like mine. Can you imagine a local brewery buying bulk beer from A-B [Anheuser-Busch], then packaging it in their own bombers, and selling it as though it was a special craft beer? The brewers would be outraged! Violence would ensue! But in my world this is considered sound business. I think you’re starting to get the picture… I often ask myself, “Where are all the honest weirdos?” So, I envy the beer scene.

How else have you seen craft movement appropriated? For good or for ill? Or are you Indifferent?

I see it everywhere.  “Craft” seems to have found it’s way into pop culture. It’s ubiquitous, so I find myself indifferent.  But don’t get me wrong – I’m very grateful that it’s a movement.  I just hope it’s a sign that consumers have deeply become more curious and thoughtful.


Constellation, A-B InBev, and other Beer Big Dogs have shown interest in successful, independent brands for their profitability and fervent fan base. Each month brings news of another buyout, joint venture, or consolidation, with the Big Dogs usually buying some part of the Little Dogs – and that’s got consumers worried. From a spirits side, how important is distillery/brand ownership to your average spirit or cocktail enthusiast?

It’s building more and more. But the spirits fans have been slower to respond to craft spirits because most people drink whiskey, and most craft whiskey is not as good as the big brands. Look, your whiskey might be crafty as fuck, but it’s a crafty turd aged for a short time in small barrels and you are lucky people are so generous to support you by spending far too much money on your well-marketed turd. Imagine how slow the craft beer movement would have been if nobody could make better beer than A-B! The spirits world did not have the same quality vacuum that beer has had. So, new start-ups catching up to the value and quality of America’s Bourbon industry is no small feat. It will take a generation’s time and lots of capital. Keep your eye on Whiskey Acres in Dekalb, IL. If anyone has a chance, they do.

Clayton Hauck for Letherbee

Does distillery independence matter to you?

Absolutely. The value that’s slowly been built into my brand is partly due to the fact that I don’t have to answer to anybody. Not one person. I’m sure you, at Spiteful Brewing, understand this. Our ideas don’t get watered down by other people who have input in the process. And we certainly don’t have investors to consider when we want to make horrible decisions!


Another concern for beer enthusiasts is origin of liquid: “was this made by the brewery themselves, on their premises?” As a result, contract-brewed beer has long bore a stigma for critical drinkers, often on principle, a stigma with little regard for the liquid itself. Do you sympathize with that unease over contract scenarios? 

I personally don’t like all the contracting stuff. But I envy the gypsy brewers. They live the dream, don’t they? I prefer the Spiteful model. It’s the same as the Letherbee model. It’s obviously much more authentic to build a little tiny production space in the basement of a shitty factory building. And this authenticity is the hot knife that cuts through the shit-butter of “craft” marketing.

Clayton Hauck for Letherbee

But does origin matter so long as the liquid’s good and the marketing is honest?

Marketing honesty is the most important thing to me. Making delicious product is becoming easier and easier. Some asshole can make delicious beer but I won’t drink it more than once if he/she is an asshole. The rest of the story has to add up. I have much fewer reservations about drinking someone’s branded MGP [Midwest Grain Products Ingredients, formerly LDI] whiskey when they’re completely honest that it’s MGP-sourced.


Tell me there isn’t dishonest marketing in the world of spirits!

There’s actually more deception than honesty. It’s disgusting. People are sick. It trickles all the way down the supply chain, and the brand reps and bartenders that get their pockets lined are happy to perpetuate the deception. They’re all too shortsighted to understand that this behavior actually degrades their reputations and future possibilities as individuals.


Craft beer consumers are more critical than ever, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Drinkers want to know what, if any, ulterior interests exist, and they are quick to abandon ship if they sense inauthenticity. Since craft beer consumers have so many options, brand loyalty takes a different form than, say, a macro beer drinker who drinks one brand for life. Craft beer drinkers drink hundreds of brands in a year and may feel affinity for them all. What can be said of loyalty of spirits drinkers?

I can’t necessarily affirm we are headed in the same direction.  Again, I envy the beer world.  It’s passionately supported from the bottom up.  We need spirits drinkers to become more critical and investigative.  At the same time we need to nurture the idea that value and price are as important as “craftiness”

Clayton Hauck for Letherbee

Clayton Hauck for Letherbee


How about a political analogy? I think craft beer culture trends toward meritocracy; good beer beats mediocre beer. As permanent tap handles become scarcer, brewery clout becomes less important, while beer quality and uniqueness takes precedence. The spirits industry, however, trends toward plutocracy. Money and power yield inordinate benefits to spirit producers, the likes of which craft beer producers don’t seem as entrenched in. Should I send that idea back to the stupid pile or is there somethin’ to it?

I think you nailed it. Craft beer is a populist movement while spirits are still stuck in Reagan-era trickle down economics. I also like to make music analogies. Craft beer is reveling in the digital streaming era, while spirits is still stuck in the era of top 40s and FM radio. Cocktail bars are the radio stations and bartenders are the DJs, which is where the phrase “pay-to-play” actually comes from.


Within the spirits world, I seem to hear of
quid pro quo for beverage directors and bartenders more often than I do within the beer world. What kind of incentives are we talking about, and who is offering them?

It’s often simply cash.  We’ll write you a check for $1000 if you put our vodka in your well for the next year. Or the distributor’s sales rep comes into the bar and has no time to eat/drink so she simply has the bartender run the distributor’s credit card for $500 as a way to say “thank you”. Then there are the vacations. You want to go to Mexico and visit some mezcal distilleries, all expenses paid?  All you have to do is promise to make this your primary mezcal for the next year. You’re opening a new bar? We’ll pay for the bar build-out and installation of all the bar hardware (refrigerators, tap systems, etc.) if you sign this agreement saying that 80% of the product in your bar comes from our distribution company. This shit is “pay-to-play” at it’s finest.

 


Let’s talk local. How does Chicago stack up to spirits culture around the country? 

We’re solid. Just like we are with bars/restaurants, music scenes, art galleries, etc.


You guys are in Europe, too, right? Do they have “craft cocktails” there?!

Of course! Gin is huge in Berlin and in Spain. The company Letherbee Imports was started with my friend in Berlin. This way the whole thing stays familial and community (not industry) driven. He basically has a couple hundred cases of Letherbee products in the basement of his apartment where he’s built out a little tasting room. I think it’s really funny that we are not open to the public in Chicago but we have a dedicated tasting room in center of Berlin. This atypical method perfectly fits in our “anti” philosophy.

Are we still friends after this? This is long enough. Let’s be done now.

We’re good. I’ll see you at work tomorrow prancing around in your hot little short shorts.
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Letherbee Distillers is located at 1815 W. Berteau Ave. Chicago, IL. 60613. For more information, see Letherbee.com. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: /letherbee, @letherbee, and @letherbee_distillers.

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The Growler Standoff

The Growler Standoff with Zak Rotello and Chris Quinn _ _ _ _ _  _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _  _ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ __ _ _ __ __ _ _ _ The Growler Standoff: Free the Growler By Zak Rotello If you’re already a Mash Tun reader, I highly doubt I need to school you on growlers. But for the uninitiated: growlers began as lidded metal pails that customers (or possibly their kids) would fill up with draught beer at the local saloon. Taverns have been filling growlers since the late 1800s when the term was coined, and in modern times, breweries have used them as a convenient way to get their beer in the hands of consumers without dealing with the complex maze of labeling, licensing, and packaging issues that come with bottles and cans. Modern growlers run the gamut from the ever-popular 64-ounce glass jug, to handmade ceramic works of art, to high tech CO2-pressurized, double-walled, stainless steel vessels.   Admittedly, they’re an imperfect container for beer (see Chris Quinn’s counterpoint), but still a useful one. They’re great for our environment, since there’s almost zero packaging waste and they’re reusable. They’re great for enjoying draught beers that may not be available in bottled or can packages. They’re not so great for extended storage due to oxidation and/or carbonation loss. But still, I’d much rather have a 4 day old growler of double IPA, than a bottle that’s been sitting on the store shelf for 90+ days. And if brewers truly thought they were such a horrible container for their beer, they wouldn’t be selling them.   Stay with me, this gets a little technical…   In April 2014, in response to many requests from their retailers and publicans, the Illinois Craft Brewer’s Guild issued a press release stating, “Filling growlers is a well-established right or special privilege in Illinois that brewers have in order to guarantee and protect the integrity and freshness of their product.” The guild cited a section in the Illinois liquor code that prohibits retailers from “repackaging”, or refilling original containers. Of course, that clause exists for good reason – no one likes the idea of unscrupulous bartenders refilling the Van Winkle bottle with Very Old Barton when no one’s looking. Brewers also expressed their concern over quality. If someone brought in a dirty growler, would a bar still fill it with beer and potentially give their brand a bad reputation?   Brewers’ concerns about cleanliness and sanitation are understandable, but that concern should probably be aimed at pub glassware first and foremost. Considering the vast majority of draft beer is served over the bar at restaurants and bars in Illinois, it’s uncertain why the brewers’ concern about draught quality only surfaced when bars & restaurants started asking about growlers. Furthermore, the code they cited doesn’t refer to growlers.   A growler is not an original container any more than a pint glass, or a tulip, or a pitcher – kegs are the original container for draught beer. Growlers are purchased separately from the cost of the liquid inside – you might bring your own growler to the pub, or you might need to buy a new one on-site. And if bars weren’t allowed to “repackage” draught beer into another non-original container, there’d be no legal way to enjoy a pint at your local pub.   Ok, you still reading? Stay with me….   So I searched and searched, and I still haven’t seen anything in the Illinois liquor code or brewer’s licenses that gives brewers any special rights or privileges pertaining to growlers. What I did find, is that per federal TTB definition, filling growlers is considered a draft beer service function, which is entirely different from packaging or bottling. It could be argued that anyone who fills a growler in this state, including breweries, are allowing their customers to leave with an open, unsealed container – something you really don’t want a cop to find in your car. And that’s where we’re at in Illinois. We have this unnecessary standoff over why it’s ok to put beer in this glass, but not that glass.   Bored yet? I promise we’re almost done.   It’s time we modernized our growler laws to reflect the current market. Other states have made serious errors in writing these laws. Florida consumers were restricted to filling 32oz and 128oz growlers, but the standard 64oz growler was illegal. In California, until very recently, consumers had to have a specific brewer’s growler, meaning you had to make sure you had the right branded growler with you, depending on where you stopped to fill up. Even now there’s a patchwork of interpretations of the law in Chicago – Brewery X will fill this, Brewery Y won’t fill that.   Clearly, it can take many years to fix poorly written and vague laws. Right now, the slate is clean, and we have the opportunity to collaborate on a bill that ensures product quality, and skips over the errors that other states have made. Shouldn’t we all be working together to make this the best state to build a brewery, a bottle shop, or a pub? Aren’t we all trying to do the same thing, responsibly sell more fresh, local beer to our guests? At last count, 41 other states allowed growler fills at retail. Do we really want to be the last one to do this properly, just behind North Dakota? Arkansas?   So.   This is where you, the consumer, come in. If you think it’d be convenient to grab growlers of draught beer at your local, make your voice heard and help us modernize Illinois beer laws, head to FREETHEGROWLERS.COM, read the spiel, check out the links, and sign the petition. Tell your favorite brewer that you’d buy more of their beer if you could get it closer to where you live. Ask them to work with the storeowners and bar managers that…

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April 16, 2016: Mash Tun Journal Issue 009 Release Party

Mash Tun Journal Issue 009 Release: 4/16/16 at Maria’s, 3-7pm • Free ( 21 and over) 960 W 31st Street Chicago Il 60608 Get Free copies of Mash Tun Journal, Issue 009. Complementary Korean-Polish fare at 4pm (grilling starts at 3pm). Mash Tun Journal Issue 009 is here. Get your sweet heinies to Maria’s on 4/16/16 from 3-7pm for the release of issue 009. Attendees will receive a free copy of the journal, tasty Mash Tun-curated suds, and grilled Ko-Po fare for your belly. Maria’s will be featuring beer by brewers who are profiled in the latest issue, offering pours at the bar for purchase and complimentary samples + Ko-Po grub on the patio. Maria’s will also be exhibiting work by Ryan Duggan, our featured artist in the new issue. Issue 009 tells the story of C.H.A.O.S. Brew Club’s diaspora, profiling homebrewers who made their liquid dreams a reality. C.H.A.O.S. vets include folks from Begyle, Louis Glunz Beer Inc., Arclight, Begyle, Goose Island, Breakroom, Horse Thief Hollow, Vice District, and Marz. Raise a glass with us to their achievements. Join us for complementary Korean-Polish fare at 4pm (grilling starts at 3pm). Enjoy some special suds from our special C.H.A.O.S. Diaspora Draft list (beer for purchase): Begyle J-Bird Pale Ale Goose Island 2015 Bourbon County Stout Marz Bubbly Barrel-Aged Duchess de Bridgeport Urban Legend The King’s Tree Coffee Stout With Beer tasting samples from: Arclight Moe’s IPA Vice District Far From Ordinary Session English Ale Issue 009 features work by Calvin Fredrickson, Edmar, Zak Rotello, Doug Veliky, Alex Bach, Clarence Boddicker, Paul Durica, Tim Lange, Chris Quinn, and Mike Smith.

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Brew This: Marz Community Brewing’s Bubbly Creek Berliner Weiss

By Al Robertson   So you want to brew some sour beer? Brewing sour or wild ale at home can seem daunting and dangerous to homebrewers and pro brewers alike. When I first ventured into making sour beers at home, I approached them with much trepidation, due to fears of contaminating my equipment and unfamiliarity with the sour brewing process. The first sour beer I brewed was a Berliner weiss, for which I acquired the necessary bacteria from a grain-inoculated starter. The result was surprisingly tasty and relatively easy to replicate at the homebrew scale.   When I joined Marz Community Brewing some years later, we decided to have a Berliner weiss as one of our regularly brewed offerings. I was assigned the task of developing the process for creating a Berliner weiss in a production environment while maintaining the quality and consistency of my homebrewed test batches. This proved to be an extremely challenging endeavor because the process I used as a homebrewer was too difficult and time consuming to recreate on a production level. Because Berliner weiss is so low in alcohol, malt presence, and hop character, it is impossible to mask any flaws or inconsistencies. It is truly one of the most difficult styles to produce, despite the simplicity of the recipe.   To overcome our initial production inconsistencies, I took one of my grain-inoculated starters to Lance Shaner at Omega Yeast Labs. He was able to identify and isolate the souring bacteria responsible for my successful homebrew Berliners, which was then used for producing the Bubbly Creek Berliner Weiss at Marz. The bacteria are a Lactobacillus plantarum species. As far as I know, no other commercial beer yeast laboratories offer a plantarum species to the public. This strain is well suited for a production environment because it is able to sour beer at room temperature relatively quickly. Other commercially available Lactobacillus strains require extended aging or fermentation temperatures as high as 120°F to produce the results we are seeing in a matter of 36 hours at much lower temperatures.     The Bubbly Creek Berliner Weiss   50% Pilsner Malt 50% White Wheat   0.5oz Whole Leaf Czech Saaz 1 unit OYL-605 Omega Lactobacillus blend 1 package of Safale US-05   OG 1.034 FG 1.010 pH 3.2   Heat water to 160°F and combine in the mash tun with the grains and whole leaf hops at a ratio of 1.3L water per pound of grain. Mash for 60 minutes and sparge with 170°F water. Collect the desired amount of wort and boil for 45 minutes. Chill to 80°F and pitch the Lactobacillus blend. Let the wort sour for three days in the fermenter and then add a package of Safale US-05. The beer will be ready to bottle in one week. Carbonate to 3.2-3.4 volumes CO2.   If desired, add whole fruit and/or your favorite Brettanomyces strain after primary fermentation for added complexity.    

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A Conversation with Rick Chapman and Head Brewer Ryan Brooks of Coronado Brewing Company

  Interviewed by Ed Marszewski   Rick and Ron Chapman opened Coronado Brewing Company almost 20 years ago on the island of Coronado, across the bay from San Diego. The brewery started as a small neighborhood brewpub around the same time as Ballast Point, Stone, and AleSmith. Together, those breweries formed the San Diego Brewers Guild, and over time Coronado and the guild birthed the “West Coast” beer styles that we have come to love and adore.   At the moment, Coronado isn’t as well known to Midwestern beer drinkers as Stone or Ballast Point, but in late-2015 they entered a distribution contract with Wirtz Beverage and have just started rolling out the barrels here in Chicagoland. In 2014, the brewery won best Mid-Sized Brewery and Brewer at the World Beer Cup, taking a prize with their Islander IPA. And if the liquid continues to taste as good as the ones we’ve tried, we expect them to do well here in the beer capital of the Midwest.   We hooked up with Rick Chapman and Head Brewer Ryan Brooks at Mash Tun HQ a few days before they were heading to FoBAB and asked them to tell their story.   Edmar: How did you start your brewery?   Rick Chapman: My brother Ron and I opened the brewery 20 years ago. It had always been a dream of ours to have a brewery. And 20 years ago we put together a business plan, bought the property almost 150 yards from the home we grew up in, and plucked down a little brewpub.   Edmar: So you started off with a brewpub that had a restaurant, a taproom, and a small brewing facility. What was the size of your system back then?   Rick: It’s a 10-barrel system and it’s still there. We’ve become a brewpub on steroids. We bought the building next door and we put in 13 20-barrel fermenters. We put out 6,000 barrels a year from there until we built our production facility about three and a half years ago.   Edmar: So three and a half years ago you opened a production brewery and started making beer to send to other markets?   Rick: We started getting into the distribution game in Southern California mostly, but then some other markets outside. Pennsylvania was the first out-of-state market we came to out, about nine year ago.   Edmar: Ron, were you one of the brewers back when you first started?   Rick: No, we asked one of our baristas, Sean Dewitt, if he wanted to be a partner. He became one of our head brewers. 20 years later, he’s become our director of brewing operations. So, he’s our head brewer but he doesn’t brew any longer – he brews with Ryan’s team.   Edmar: Ryan, when did you start at Coronado?   Ryan: I worked at a brewing facility about an hour north of San Diego for a few years, and I wanted to get to San Diego where the big dogs were. I interviewed at Stone in the morning and at Coronado in the afternoon, and 15 minutes after I left, Sean, the Director of Operations said, “Hey, you want to start on Tuesday?” That was almost four years ago.   Rick: Did Stone call you back?   Ryan: After two weeks – and I’d started at Coronado already, so it didn’t matter.   Edmar: You were based in California, and you got involved in brewing because…?   Ryan: I was cheap. I was playing in a punk rock band touring the world and I liked good beer. But I couldn’t afford a lot of it so I started home brewing.   Edmar: That’s a common story. I know many musicians here in Chicago that were homebrewing, and then some of them actually went on to open up nanobreweries or work for breweries. It was pretty fun to go get bootleg brews for $5 a bottle in somebody’s apartment on the West Side.   Ryan: It was fun.   Edmar: The Coronado portfolio of beers is pretty diverse today. But I bet almost 20 years ago, when you first opened up the brewpub, you had to have your standards: amber ale, golden ale, porter, pale ale, maybe an oatmeal stout. When did you get involved with the West Coast IPA freak out phase?   Rick: It was happening when we opened. Stone started doing IPAs. AleSmith did some IPAs. And we were part of that. It was the San Diego Brewers Guild that kept us all together. So everybody experimented and tried different things, and through that process we defined the West Coast IPA.   Edmar: When do you think that the dominance of the IPA hit the country? Do you recall when, all of a sudden, you couldn’t make enough IPA?   Rick: Probably only about five or six years ago.   Edmar: The one thing I hear about San Diego is that it’s just about as easy to grab a fresh craft beer as it is to get a Corona or some other macro beer.   Rick: I’ve been on the sales side for years, so that’s where I’ve seen the difference. In the last three or four years you have a lot more access to the buyers, especially the big chains and the big restaurants. Before, we were just pounding on doors and trying to get people to talk to us.   Edmar: Glad to hear that people in these corporate chains understand the value that craft beer has in the marketplace. Do you think the acceptance of craft beer in chain stores has been driving the expansion of craft beer volume sales?   Rick: That’s a piece of it. On premise, off premise. Working with each other to build brands. But, yes, the expansion of craft beer in chain stores is helping a lot to build brands.     Edmar: Your company is expanding, you have two facilities and a tasting room, and…

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Get Spent: How Breweries and Homebrewers Are Finding New Uses for Spent Grain

  By Alex Bach   Anyone who’s ever witnessed a beer enthusiast shamelessly sucking down the last possible drops of nectar from their glass knows beer drinkers are not inherently wasteful people; thankfully, neither are many of the breweries that create these tasty libations. To eliminate wastefulness, brewers are coming up with great ways to cut down on their carbon footprint or contribute to a model of sustainability. Brooklyn Brewery and New Belgium Brewing both utilize wind energy to power their operations. Full Sail Brewing out of Hood River, Oregon brews with 50% less water than standard breweries. California’s Sierra Nevada is 100% solar-powered, with Stone hot on their heels. So it should come as no surprise to learn that many of them find new uses for their spent grain as well.   What Are Spent Grains?   Mashing is the process of extracting fermentable sugars via hot water from dry starches (grains) to create the liquid wort, which, when fermented, becomes beer. Once the sugars are extracted, the grains play no additional role in the brewing process, and brewers are left with a bulky byproduct sitting in their kettles. Let’s look at the numbers: Ryan O’Doherty of Half Acre estimates that each batch of beer utilizes anywhere from 1,400 to 2,400 lbs of grain per batch, depending on the style – 2,250 to 3,840 lbs of soaking wet grain after the mash-out. At 16-20 batches per week, that amounts to about 50,000 lbs of spent grain each week. Thankfully, they have a system in place to recycle that amount of still-viable product. A 3-inch pipe takes the spent grain while it’s still hydrated through 100 feet of the brewery floor, climbing 15 feet to a conduit in the side where it is pumped into an empty trailer. Once a week, when the trailer is full, O’Doherty places a call to a local farmer they’ve partnered with and he drives up with an empty trailer, swaps it out, and brings the spent grains back to his farm to feed his cattle and pigs. The process repeats every week.   Kettle-to-Farm   What’s fantastic about Half Acre’s model is that it is not an unusual arrangement. O’Doherty, who had previously worked at Yazoo Brewing out of Nashville, had a similar arrangement with a local farmer out there who used the spent grain to feed his pigs. Those pigs would then become part of Nashville’s famed BBQ scene, and sometimes – when the brewers were lucky – they would receive samples of pulled pork and ribs “fattened” off their own grains. Yazoo and the farmer who receives their spent grain are not the only one to make bucolic pairings. Great Lakes Brewing out of Cleveland, Ohio donates their spent grains to local farmers as well as uses it for composting. Piney River Brewing goes one step further, housing their brewery on-site at their 80-acre farm nestled in the Missouri Ozarks – which means their cattle get the freshest grains, and they don’t have to worry about storing and shipping.     One Brewer’s Trash…   Some brewers, such as Marz Community Brewing, contribute to farming in a wholly different fashion by donating their spent grains to local composting facilities. Nancy Klehm, of Social Ecologies and Spontaneous Vegetation, is a compost professional who helps distribute compost to a variety of urban farms and gardens from Garfield Park to North Lawndale. “Grains are a good composting agent for the moisture they retain, and the fact that they attract beneficial bacteria to help break down the grain at a faster rate,” Klehm said. Grains are not without their caveat, however. “Compost is fermentation at lower temperatures,” Klehm said, and just like any fermentation, certain conditions need to be met. Compost, much like yeast, needs proper aeration and acidity levels in order to break down properly. While brewing grains are rich in nutrients, they need to be spread out and mixed with carbon-based fillers like sawdust, cardboard, and gypsum in order to let the compost breathe. Similarly, certain grain bills, such as those of sour beers, are very acidic and have to be blended in order to balance out the soil. Just like O’Doherty had talked about with farmer reciprocity, it would be great to see some of those participating farms turn over some of their produce back to the breweries: homegrown berries for a sour, fresh coriander for a gose, or compost-grown hops for a local wet-hopped pale ale.   Surf & Turf   Though considerably less appetizing than the aforementioned pulled pork, these environmentally conscious uses of spent grain are another option for breweries looking to go green with their grain. Several breweries, like Avery Brewing out of Boulder, CO or Bear Republic out of Healdsburg, CA, have begun experimenting with their wastewater as a means of water treatment, filching out nitrogen runoff. Lakefront Brewery out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin was even awarded a Green Tier award from the state for their various commitments to sustainability, which includes converting 15,000 lbs of spent grain per week into super-soil, somewhere between compost and fertilizer.     Fully-Baked   Baked goods are another fantastic option for the used-but-not-useless carbohydrates. Many breweries pair with a local bakery to turn their spent grains into breads, which can then be served in brewery taprooms as a supplemental treat. Hewn Bakery in Chicago uses both a brew and its spent grains to fashion delicious breads. Baked goods aren’t just for human consumption, either. Doggie Beer Bones out of San Diego uses spent grain from local breweries like Green Flash, Societe Brewing Co., and Stone to create a line of dog treats. Their treats are made with barley, peanut butter, barley flour, eggs, and water, but contain no wheat, soy, corn, or hops, which are poisonous to dogs. (This means they have to be critical of the ingredients they use, since not every batch of spent grains will work.)   Homebrewer Options   While the above solutions are done at a much…

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Brewers on the Cusp of Blowing up

Kimbell Barrel Fermenting

By Won Kim In a city heralded for its food and beverage scene, it can be overwhelming trying to keep up with what’s new and exciting. Billion dollar acquisitions seem to be happening with a frequency that would make horny rabbits seem sluggish. Amid all the openings and business deals happening, it should be noted that there is still a burgeoning and exciting underground brewing (I couldn’t help it, there will be some puns – unintentional, but effective). Luckily for us, Chicago is large enough for the minor leaguers who are passionate about their craft and ready to showcase their carbonated adult beverages to the ever-growing craft beer world. Every single seasoned brewer started as a homebrewer, the same way any good chef cooked, or any good artist started with drawing most of his or her life. This is the process to turn any true passion, whatever the creative platform, into a career. I have had the pleasure of working with some of the best homebrewers that this city has to offer. Individuals, groups, and married couples that work hard at their jobs to be able to fund their passion for creating unique and experimental beers. Long gone are the days when you and your buddies would buy a homebrew kit from Jewel and brew that first batch of a pissy pils. You called yourself a brewer and thought that you’d be able to do it for a living until you realized that you would have to multiply the amount of beer produced by a million.   I have thrown and organized many beer events in Chicago in the last 6 years with a focus on showcasing homebrewers ready for the majors. From having to drink a ton of sample beers for dinners and parties, to assembling massive public bottle shares, I can safely say that I have had my fair share of beers. Self-appointed beer deity Greg Koch described my beer events as “beer raves.” I took to that title and eventually went on to work with him, Randy Mosher, and Jason Ebel in a homebrew competition called Iron Brew. This was at the height of my curated beer events. Industry-heavy heads actually recognized what was going on and offered homebrewing participants to brew commercially with them as a prize. The best part was that out of the 20 homebrewers, almost all of them would move on to work full time at a brewery. With that in mind, I would like to focus on a few of the brewers I have worked, drank, and blacked out with.   Kimbell Brewing These are the OGs that would start me on my Brew HaHa adventures, when they were two of the four members of homebrew collective Lowdive. Matt Kanable and Andrew Lautner would eventually go on to start Kimbell Brewing. These are the guys that took a chance on me and helped organize a private beer dinner showcasing their beer and my food. This eventually led to doing a much more toned-down version of the Brew HaHa at our friend Mike Anderson’s backyard in Humboldt Park, where Tooch [Adam Mattucci] and I would handle food and they would provide the suds. Their beer was something special. From the meticulous marketing of their brand, to the recipes of the beer, you could tell Kimbell’s was “pro” brew. It wasn’t about getting smashed and drunk dialing your ex. It was about balance, trying to get the most out of the ingredients, and maintaining consistency.     Matt and Drew also know how to take constructive criticism, which allows them to excel in whatever style they choose to brew. My particular favorites from them as of late have been their sours. These beers are wild, tart, and fruity without being too sweet or overly acidic, which a lot of wild-fermented ales tend to be. They schedule brew days and consider beer to be sacred without being pretentious about what it is and what it “means” to them. I love these guys because they know how to appreciate beer, don’t make a big fuss about what it is, and make great shit.     Twisted Hippo Karl and Marilee may be some of the sweetest and raunchiest people I know. I met these two at a seafood dinner thing at Whole Foods, where I was filling in as the cook to test out some recipes to customers. Their friend, Gonzalo, was bragging about their beer rig at home and raved about their homebrew. The picture I saw showed a 16-tap system in a bedroom with a bunk bed over a chest cooler that housed all the beer. I thought it was fake or an Onion article picture, and I told them that I must see it in person. They were so cordial and open to having a stranger over just to share beer and hang out. That kind of openness and genuine kindness is hard to come by these days, so much so that it almost makes you suspicious.     It was love at first site: I visited them at their home in Albany Park and left annihilated, which wouldn’t be the last time I’d leave there not remembering a damn thing. Karl and Marilee have hosted homebrew parties, fried chicken nights, and even let me brew a beer with them. I didn’t do a goddamn thing – I was too hungover, and eventually passed out while they did all the work. I particularly loved their Beeting Heart Kölsch, which was one of the first commercial beers I tried from them commercially (long story). It’s smooth, mildly sweet, and has an earthiness and bright red color that only beets can bring. These guys have been on a hell of a journey to get their beer out there and have worked so damn hard only to have to start over again. Yet, they still do everything with a goddamn smile because they know and truly believe that this journey will all lead to achieving the…

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