Kevin Broydrick

Kevin Broydrick

Talking Barrel Aging with Barreled Souls

When Chris Schofield and Matt Mills started Barreled Souls and poured their first beers in 2014, they were still a full year out from serving a barrel aged beer. The brewery and taproom in Saco are distinct in that it ferments all of its beer in oak barrels, a technique first pioneered in Burton-on-Trent England in the 1800s, but fermentation and aging are two different things. It wasn’t until the one-year anniversary party that they were able to unveil their first three barrel aged beers. Now the taproom regularly features two or more barrel aged offerings on draft alongside a variety of other styles, all of which are being executed admirably.

 

From the start, Schofield and Mills have been passionate about centering the project on barrel aged offerings, and now with a few years under their belts, we’re regularly savoring the fruits. When I stopped in last week they served me two different barrel aged versions of Deep Space, an Imperial Stout, one aged in Hillrock Farms' bourbon barrels, the other in tequila barrels. In many ways, the experience — having two versions of the same beer aged in different barrels — encapsulated what the entire Barreled Souls project has been about from the beginning. The differences in the beers were immediately striking and fascinating. The bourbon aged stout carried figgy, raisiny notes alongside the characteristic charred vanilla. The tequila barrel version threw vegetal agave and a remarkable associative salinity that cut the sweetness of the stout. Between sips, we talked clean barrel aging.

 

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Gene Beck from Nocturnem Draft Haus at the Barreled Souls Brewery concocting a Rocky Road White Stout with cocoa nibs, amaretto, and marshmallow fluff. 

What different types of barrels are you using for aging?

 

Chris: This most recent release, Deep Space, we had three different types of bourbon barrels, and then a tequila version and a rum barrel version.

 

What types of beers are best suited to oak aging, and do you find certain styles of beer do better in certain types of barrels?

 

Matt: One thing we’ve definitely noticed is that the freshness of the barrel matters. Now we get almost all our stuff from Hillrock [Farms, a small, family-owned distillery in Poughkeepsie New York] because we literally get the barrel the same week that it’s been emptied. We’ve also discovered that some of our barleywines and wheat wines taste really good in rum barrels, but that seems to be everyone’s least favorite barrel when it comes to the stouts. So we try to do side-by-side comparisons because we like to see what difference the barrel displays in the beer directly.

 

Chris: It’s like pairing food and wine or anything, some things work better together than others. Bourbon and dark beers, and then the lighter beers -- we have a blonde barleywine coming out, and honeypot that we make with honey -- those seem to do better in a variety of barrels.

 

You mentioned you’re sourcing a lot from Hillrock, how do those relationships happen? Where did you first start looking around for a stock of barrels you could use?

 

Chris: In the beginning, it was a lot of Matt just calling around to everybody he liked and seeing who responded!

 

Matt: Yeah it’s changed pretty dramatically, six years ago when we first wrote our business plan, we contacted Buffalo Trace and they were like “yep, you can get whatever you want, just let us know, barrels are $62”. And then two years down the line when we opened, all those big distillers now won’t even deal with a brewery directly, it’s all done through a broker. So Hillrock was just a great bourbon I’d had. They’ve been easy to work with to get stuff when we want it. They’re really small, been around for about 5 years now. They grow all their own grain and all their own corn, and they malt it all. It’s nice to know exactly what we’re getting, and when we’re getting it.

The Clink: Checking in with Mast Landing Brewing Company

We’re now up to 89 breweries and counting in the state. While the concerns about an eventual craft brewery “bubble” make for interesting dinner conversation, the industry in Maine has shown admirably few growing pains. It would be one thing if the recent spate of brewery openings was watering down the standard of quality in the state, but what has happened is close to the opposite. The Maine beer industry is now a thoroughly collegial place, where competition is about who can make the best beer, not the most money.

 

Mast Landing Brewing Company, based 15 minutes from downtown Portland in Westbrook, has a familiar origin story. The classic homebrewer makes good. But what sets Mast Landing apart is their commitment to their community and an already sterling reputation for quality across a variety of styles. President and co-founder Ian Dorsey was good enough to answer some questions about his young brewery.

 

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Ian Dorsey.

The Phoenix: At what point did you make the decision to turn a homebrewing hobby into a full blown brewery, and what factors went into that decision?

 

Ian: It was early Spring of 2015 and I was a Financial Advisor at the time. My wife, Kelly and I had just had our first child. Tommy's birth provided a whole new perspective on life. Up until that point, I had spent most of my time focusing on my clients and whether or not they were fulfilled and happy with the direction their lives were going. I never had the opportunity to completely examine whether I was happy with my career or not. It wasn't long after his birth that I figured out that I was not happy with my career and that I needed to make a change. After some lengthy conversations with Kelly, I was finally able to convince her that this could work. Once I convinced her, I quit my job and approached my partners with the idea. They signed on immediately and the rest is history.  

 

What made you settle on Westbrook as a location, and how has the town been to work with?

 

By the time we were ready to find a location for the brewery, there were already 65 breweries operating in the State. Because of this, the inventory of properties that were even remotely adapted to brewing was very thin. When we found the space in westbrook and realized that it had high ceilings, concrete floors, and floor drains, we jumped on it. From day one, the City has been phenomenal to work with. Everyone at City Hall has bent over backwards to help us navigate the hurdles of local government and permitting. The Westbrook residents have also been extremely welcoming and supportive.    

 

Tell me a little more about your brewing system and fermentation capacity.

 

Currently we have a 2 BBL brewhouse with 4 BBL fermenters. We are in the middle of an upgrade to a 7 BBL brewhouse and 30 BBL fermenters.

 

Any plans for barrel aging and/or wild and sour beers in your future?

 

At this stage we are looking at adding a sour program to our lineup. We have started to talk about barrel aging, but don't have any firm plans. We want to focus on this upgrade and stabilizing our production before we shift our focus to other processes.  

 

Will we see cans or bottles of Mast Landing in stores at some point?

 

We will be introducing 16 oz., 4-pack cans to our tasting room and distribution network in early spring.  

The Clink: Checking in with Gneiss Brewing Company

Of all the considerations that go into starting a new brewery, location is one of the most central. Most brewers opt for a spot near the heart of a populous area and do so for two obvious reasons: increased foot traffic and proximity to more draft accounts.

 

But when Dustin Johnson and Tim Bissell, founders of Gneiss Brewing, started brainstorming locations in 2012, they decided to go in a more pastoral direction. The brewery is situated on Dustin’s family’s land amongst rolling farms and forests in Limerick. They started brewing in early 2013.

 The Clink: Checking in with Gneiss Brewing Company

Photo courtesy of the Gneiss Brewing Company.

Gneiss is committed to a concept, the self-coined “agrogeobrewery”. They feed their spent grain to the small farm’s pigs, who in turn help till and fertilize the area where they’re growing hops and malt. Now they’re set for an expansion. I sat down for a Tweiss — Gneiss’s weizenbock, a toasty lager amber in color at 7 percent ABV — with Tim Bissell to discuss the foundations and future of Gneiss.

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Photos courtesy of the Gneiss Brewing Company.

Phoenix: Tell me more about the “agrogeobrewery” concept.

 

Tim Bissell: Dustin’s always been into homesteading and doing as much in-house as possible. We’re on eight and a half acres and we had it logged four years ago. We’ve been getting pigs every year, they turn the land over for us. It’s a beneficial closed-circle thing, and it creates a little more work, but if you’re gonna build a brewery in the middle of nowhere, you might as well do something with all that land. There’s always going to be a consideration to what we can grow on-site and what we can get locally, and how we can tie it into the beer.

 

You’re a few years in and you’ve done beer in a range of styles. Are you more interested in experimentation or refinement at this point?

 

With our size, that’s a tough balance. We always want to be experimenting, but as you create accounts, you have to make sure you have beer available when people want it. As we look at expansion, we’ll be taking our core brands and keeping them going as much as we can, and then filling in the schedule with barrel-aged beers, some one-offs ... keeping it fresh. We want to get more beers in rotation, we just need more tanks.

 

What are some trends that you’re liking in the Maine beer industry?

 

I love the fact that Maine has become known for IPAs, and I like that a lot of those same breweries are starting to branch out and make other styles of beer. The beauty of beer is variety, there’s a beer out there for everybody. If you don’t like hops, there’s a stout for you. If you don’t like dark beers, there’s a pilsner for you. It’s not good enough now to just be a local brewery, you’ve got to be a good local brewery, and I think to prove how good you are you should make a good variety of beer. I’d like to see that trend continue.

 

What more can you tell me about your expansion and the next steps?

 

The back side of our building is now a full-on tasting room. We’ve got 10 taps. It’s nice to have a tasting room where we can host people now, a place where we can enjoy our beer in a little more of a relaxed setting. And we’re closer to the wood stove, which is way nicer. Beyond that, for expansion, we are planning to add on to our production space. Those plans haven’t completely been fleshed out so I don’t want to say too much, but it’s in the future.  

The Clink: Getting to Know Dirigo Brewing Company

If I told you twenty years ago that Biddeford was on its way to becoming a culinary and cultural destination, you probably would have laughed me out of the room. But here we are in 2017 and the “Biddosance," as I like to call it, is in full swing. With outstanding food spots like Palace Diner and Custom Deluxe, galleries and boutiques moving into once-shuttered storefronts on Main Street, and, most importantly, the revitalization of derelict mill complexes, Biddeford has quickly become a hip place to visit.

Add to that list of attractions Dirigo Brewing Company, founded by owner and head brewer Tom Bull, his wife Molly, and business partners Mark and Meesha Paulin. Tom has taken a winding road through the beer world and worked just about every job related to the industry imaginable. Mark and Meesha were all too thrilled to be a part of his return to brewing. Now he’s in a refurbished Mill Space in downtown Biddeford, directly adjacent to the rumbling Saco River falls. Since opening Dirigo in August, he’s brewing European-inspired beer styles with an impressive command. I chatted with Molly, Mark, Meesha and Tom about their new space, ghosts, and the future of the young company.

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Phoenix: What made you settle on downtown Biddeford as a location for the new brewery, and how has the town been to work with?

Mark: We had looked at a bunch of different locations; Freeport, Portland, Biddeford. We had actually found a spot in Biddeford we were going to go with. But then we came down here to the mills, and it was a lot to take in because it was such a project. It almost seemed overwhelming. But we ended up going with this place because of the views [of the river] and the growth that we were seeing in the downtown area.

Molly: In terms of working with the city of Biddeford, the red tape was virtually nonexistent. They’ve eliminated the red tape, I guess would be the best way to put it. They told us what we needed to get all the green lights. The mayor has been a huge fan and supporter and often comes in.

Meesha: The Chamber of Commerce and Heart of Biddeford [a local organization devoted to encouraging economic growth in the downtown area] have also been huge supporters. They’ve had functions here and they’re very interested in helping to support us.

Phoenix: Have you interacted with any ghosts? I hear a lot of stories about these mills being haunted….

Meesha: YES. Bob.

Phoenix: Bob?

Meesha: I dreamt about him, he came to me in my dream, legit! But yeah we’ve heard stories of music going on in the brewery when nobody’s here and it’s all dark. And I have random things that show up fixed, and nobody knows who did it!

Molly: There may be some spirits living in the waterfall behind us. People will learn more about that in the future, I’m sure….

Phoenix: You seem devoted to brewing European-inspired styles historically neglected here in the US. What drives you toward traditional styles, and lagers specifically?

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Tom: I think a big part of it is the fact that they’re neglected, and that they’ve gone by the wayside, and why? They’re phenomenal beers. They harken to those old days, those old brews. Specifically lagers, I’ve always kind of inquired “how come nobody’s doing it?”, especially on the craft scale. I think it’s an important segment of craft that’s been neglected for a long, long time. I like to say that ale is like lager’s rough-and-tumble cousin. That historical element of it, bringing back these styles that haven’t been done in hundreds and hundreds of years, figuring out why they were lost. And also there’s a challenge behind it, to try and recreate those styles and see if we can do something true to what the brewer was intending back then. It’s part of the challenge and part of the fun.

Phoenix: Where can folks find your beer on draft outside of the tasting room, and will we start to see bottles or cans in stores anytime soon?

Mark: We have a few places that are keeping us on tap all the time. I’d say around a hundred places have had us on tap at one time or another. Based on production and sales we should hopefully have packaged beer out in cans by Summertime.

Molly: We’re almost always on at Bull Feeney’s and Brian Boru, and often The Great Lost Bear.

Meesha: Elements [a coffee, beer, and book store] here in Biddeford has also been very good to us.

Mark: We’re looking to streamline, now that we’ve had five or six months under our belts -- different flavors, different designs. We’re trying to figure out what works best and open up to a broader market.

There are no shortcuts to good beer: separating innovation and gimmickry

Today I was targeted on facebook with an ad for a product called “Mad Hops.” Mad Hops are “Flavored Brew Drops.” The idea is that you squirt a few drops of a concentrated liquid into your shitty beer, and the “brew drops” alchemically turn the flavor and color of the cheap beer into something satisfying and not-shitty.

A testimonial from the product’s Kickstarter site (which has already raised around $5k of its $25k goal): "Yep, you’ve turned Coors Banquet into a pale ale. Pat yourselves on the back. It adds hop bitterness, but also a malty balance as well. …” This would be all well in good, if it wasn’t complete horseshit. For starters Coors Banquet is a lager. Pale ale is (wait for it ...) an ale. Lager ferments for a longer period of time at a lower temperature than ale, and turning a lager into an ale is much like turning a pair of headphones into a hot dog, you can’t, and it’s stunningly stupid to suggest you can.

Another that recently popped up was The Oak Bottle, a startup project that is exactly what it sounds like: a small bottle, constructed of oak, with a charred interior. The product purports to allow one to “infuse extravagant aromas and flavors of oak” into wine, beer, or liquor. Most importantly, it supposedly can accomplish this in just “2 to 48 hours.” The audacity of the claim is equal parts brazen and hilarious. Any brewer who has aged her beer in oak will tell you that it takes months and sometimes even years for an oak barrel, puncheon or foudre to do the work of infusing a clean beer with oak character.

Take Allagash Curieux as a close-to-home example. To make Curieux, Allagash ages its Tripel in used bourbon barrels for eight weeks. Brewmaster Jason Perkins has been known to credit barrels as “another ingredient” in the production of his beers, and a product like the Oak Bottle is a transparently ineffective facsimile of a time-honored brewing tradition.

Then there are Pico and Art Brew, the former is a Keurig-style system that uses pods of ingredients to brew 5-liter batches of beer. You simply insert one of the pods into the machine, give it some water, set your brew for things like “bitterness” and ABV, and after a given period of time (interestingly their super slick website doesn’t indicate how long the beer actually takes to be ready) you have your own “fully custom brew.” The machine is in pre-order stage now making it a steal at $700 against what will be its eventual price of $1,000 (note: you could buy a kegerator and your first five kegs of beer for around $1,000).

ArtBrew, which raised a stupefying $701k on Kickstarter after an initial goal of $100k, is similar minus the pods. With ArtBrew (they seem now to be trying to rebrand themselves simply “AB,” due to a copyright dispute, which is hysterical) you choose which style you want to brew, then the machine instructs you on the ingredients to put in, then you press a button and “you'll have perfect beer in as little as one week.” There’s no such thing as perfect beer, and if there was it would damn sure take more than a week to make. The MSRP of the “AB” will be $989.

There is nothing wrong with technological progress, but there are certain things that don’t need to be streamlined. It’s the reason you wouldn’t open a restaurant where all the food is cooked exclusively in microwaves. It’s the reason there are still umpires in professional baseball, despite the existent technology to eliminate them. In each of those cases something fundamental about the nature of the thing would be lost. Brewing is no different. For time immemorial human beings have been brewing beer by combining water, malt, hops and yeast, and letting it ferment.

To suggest the brewing process could adequately be done soup-to-nuts in less than a week, or that two to 48 hours in a little wooden bottle will turn your alcohol into something new and wonderful, or that a couple drops of liquid in a beer will fundamentally alter its quality and enjoyability flies in the face of centuries of tradition and is an insult to brewers everywhere. Rather than spending a thousand dollars on an appliance, spend $150 on a nice homebrew kit. You’ll learn a lot more, and likely make much better beer.

  • Published in Drink

The Clink: Getting to know Fore River Brewing Company

Throw a rock in Portland, and you’re likely to hit a brewery. The city now boasts over a dozen commercial operations that have made it an international beer destination. Double digit breweries in Portland, while South Portland has a grand total of (drumroll ...) one. The newly opened Fore River Brewing Company sits just off 295 and route 1 in SoPo, and I visited last week to get the rundown on their burgeoning operation.

The tasting room is closed on Monday, but co-owners Alex Anastasoff, John Legassey and TJ Hansen were around brewing a batch and they poured me a glass of their outstanding Lygonia IPA. Malt-eschewed, as has become the trend for New England IPAs, but with just enough balance to keep it from hop grenade status, it has a complex aroma with a touch of dankness and a bitterness so subtle it stands apart from its peers. I chatted with the guys about their past, present and future.

 

Phoenix: How did you guys first come together and start brewing?

Alex: Well they (TJ and John) are the brewers, we’re still trying to figure out what I do around here… When I first bumped into them they had been brewing for about 10 years. My wife dragged me against my will to a homebrew competition, which I really didn’t want to go to because I was pretty sure I was gonna be drinking a lot of gross beer. I ran into TJ, who I’ve known for 20 years. I was shocked to find out that his was some of the best beer I’d ever had. John had a rye or something on over there, and I was again very pleasantly surprised. I was so excited about it, and a little bit drunk. Having just sold my business I blurted out something along the lines of “we should start a brewery!” They called me up a few months later and said “we’ve been working on something and it’s not coming together, so were you serious or were you drunk?”

John: We both learned how to brew from the same guy, so TJ and I had worked on a couple beers together, but nothing too serious.

 

Phoenix: What made you decide on South Portland as a location?

John: It worked out that Alex had property here. He was using it for his prior business. So we just added the tasting room, broke some walls down to open the space up.

Alex: Initially they had eyes on Portland but when I came into the picture we were able to add on the tasting room to an existing space. We felt like there was a good opportunity here to be a neighborhood brewery and be part of a neighborhood on this side of the bridge.

 

Phoenix: Right now as a newer brewery you’re focusing on a few key beers, are there plans to expand your palate stylistically, or are you focused on the IPA/Red Ale/Stout triumvirate for now?

TJ: We’re definitely going to be doing multiple styles; we have a farmhouse ale finishing up right now. So yeah, we definitely want to rotate in different styles and different yeast strains.

 

Phoenix: Are there plans for bottling or canning, and if you do start sending beers out to retail will you go with a  distributor or self-distribute to start with?

Alex: We went with Vacationland (Distributors) and things have been going well. We were attracted to the short-term contract because we were struggling with whether we wanted to have a distributor or not, so the fact that we could get a short-term contract with them meant that we could push that decision off. We absolutely will start bottling or canning at some point. We’re continuing to look into figuring out how quickly we can implement it after all the money we spent getting set up. We’d like to sooner rather than later. But already the response has been fantastic. It’s becoming clear that with as many breweries as there are now, making a good product is important, I think that’s becoming more and more important as the years go by. But so far, so good.

Peers, partnership and progress: This Friday’s New England Craft Brew Summit

This Friday a large contingent of some of the biggest names in New England brewing will converge on the Abromoson Center at University of Southern Maine’s Portland Campus for the New England Craft Brew Summit. The proliferation of consumer-facing beer festivals has been by turns a boon and a frustration for the industry over the last few years, but this is not a beer festival. Think of it more as a B2B industry conference. It’s a chance for the pros to come together and share ideas and methods, not to mention a beer or two.  

The day begins at 9am with a “State of the Industry” update of sorts, followed by a keynote from Dick Cantwell, a true industry innovator and founder of Elysian Brewing Company. Cantwell’s road has been a winding one. He founded Elysian in 1995. In 2013 he literally wrote the book on starting a brewery (The Brewers Association's Guide to Starting Your Own Brewery). More recently Elysian sold to Anheuser Busch, a move that was very divisive within the brewing community, and which Cantwell himself vehemently opposed, only to have his stake overridden by his partners. Elysian was viewed as an originator and for some the sale seemed symptomatic of the way “Big Beer” money can influence smaller producers. Regardless of your stance, Cantwell’s talk is sure to be a compelling and instructive one.

From there the bulk of the day will be comprised of breakout sessions, but unlike your typical industry conference, these sessions have subjects like “Reducing/Controlling Dissolved Oxygen” and “Barrel Usage”. The sessions are split between a “Technical Track” and a “Business Track”. Brewers, quality control, and tasting room staff are likely to attend more of the technical sessions, while managers, business operations directors, and finance folks are probably more likely to be at the business-centric sessions.

Sadly, this writer’s 9-5 won’t allow him to attend, but there are a few sessions in particular that I anticipate will be especially fascinating, and would recommend given my knowledge of both the subject matter and the presenters. For starters, go see Jason Perkins’ talks on Good Manufacturing Practices (AM) and Barrell Usage (PM) . The Allagash brewmaster has an encyclopedic knowledge of all aspects of the brewing process, and he’s a dynamic and engaging presenter. I’ve been lucky enough to attend a few talks he’s given on barrel aging and fermenting with wild yeasts and bacteria, and the man knows his shit. There’s also an afternoon session titled “All About Yeast” featuring Joel Mahaffey from Foundation and Vasili Gletsos, the production manager at Hill Farmstead. These are two breweries which, it goes without saying, have a very good grasp on different strains and how they affect the brewing process.

On the business side of things, there are a number of highlights. There is a morning breakout session on Governmental Affairs with Heather Sanborn, Director of Business Operations & Owner at Rising Tide. Heather left a career as an attorney to found Rising Tide with her husband Nathan, and she has been instrumental in advocating for legislative changes that benefit the industry and make Maine a state where more breweries can thrive. There will also be a panel on Business Expansion and Market Growth featuring Kai Adams of Sebago and Dan Kleban of Maine Beer Company, two guys who know a lot about how to expand operations the right way.

The day promises to be equal parts fun and educational, and, as if you needed more incentive, the lunchtime keynote will be given by none other than Senator Angus King himself. So if you’ve ever wanted to slug suds with a federal lawmaker, here’s your chance.

 

New England Craft Brew Summit, Maine Brewers' Guild | Friday, April 1, from 8:00am to 6:00pm | University of Southern Maine, Portland. The New England Brew Summit will be a regional craft beer industry B2B conference and will have something for everyone involved in the craft beer industry. In addition to a world-class keynote speaker, Dick Cantwell, we will fill the day with breakout sessions categorized along two tracks: Technical Brewing, for brewers and production staff; and The Business of Beer, for owners, operators, and business managers. http://www.eventbrite.com/e/new-england-brew-summit-2016-new-englands-craft-beer-industry-conference-tickets-22186691993?aff=ebapi

  • Published in Drink

An Ale by Any Other NameThe Arbitrary Nature of “New Beer Styles”

I drank a beer last week called Cult Rider from Ohio’s Hoof Hearted Brewing. The beer is labelled as an imperial black IPA. It’s excellent: a beer that smacks you in the mouth but also has a ton of depth and which cuts a very long and slow track across the palate. But it’s not an imperial black IPA, it’s a super hoppy imperial stout, or maybe it isn’t.

  • Published in Drink

The Clink: Southern Maine’s most underrated beers

This is an article I wouldn’t have been able to write as of about two years ago, and that’s telling. The proliferation of breweries here at home means it’s never been easier or more satisfying to shop local for whatever style you happen to be craving. Beers like Bissell Brothers’ Substance, Maine Beer Company’s Dinner, Allagash’s Coolship Series, and Tributary’s Mott the Lesser have gained well-deserved attention beyond Maine’s borders, and remain some of the most sought-after beers in the state. But what about just walking into a beer shop or a local brewery and picking up a bottle or a 4-pack of something you don’t have to wait in line for? Fortunately there are many Southern Maine beers flying so deep under the radar they’re buzzing chimneys. Here are a few of the most outstanding.

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