Red Kolsch, our flagship beer

10153914_726763284031088_7336673119264758584_nIn about a week, our flagship beer will begin hitting bars and restaurants.  Red Kolsch is a cross between an Irish red and a German kolsch, with a ruby-red color and super-smooth flavor.  Malt-balanced, this beer showcases pilsner malt flavor but with a very light chocolate and caramel finish.

Picking a flagship beer was no easy task.  At Crooked Run, we have had over 30 different beers on tap since we opened, and many people have real favorites that they have told me they would love to see on tap elsewhere.

So how do you pick a flagship?  For most breweries, the vast majority of the beer they distribute are their flagship brands.  These beers need to be either approachable, popular, or both.  Having strong flagship brands helps give you the freedom to experiment with other beers, barrel-aging, and sour programs, which is something that I really would like to get into on a larger scale.

It is my hope that Red Kolsch will be a great flagship because of several reasons.  First, it is a beer everyone likes.  It is light, but flavorful, so it has been a big hit with casual beer drinkers and people who generally go for heavier styles.

Second, kolsch is a style that has been very popular in Virginia.  We even hold an annual Kolsch Cup.  Normally, I would be hesitant to try to sell an esoteric European style to bars.  Other breweries feel the same way, which is why you don’t see a lot of approachable-yet-unfamiliar styles such as altbier or patersbier as brewery flagships.  However, kolsch has become a familiar style to people.  I’ve noticed no one mispronounces it!

Lastly, we offer Red Kolsch on nitro as well.  I enjoy both serving methods, but nitro Red Kolsch is like drinking red velvet.  The good news is that after meeting with many bar managers, a lot of folks are looking to replace Guinness with another nitro offering, and have expressed a great deal of interest in this beer.

Working with Beltway Brewing in Sterling, we produced 60 barrels of Red Kolsch for distribution in the DMV area.  I will also have sixtel and half-barrel kegs available for sale to brewery customers as well, so if you’re looking for a beer for your party that everyone will enjoy, come on in!

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Galaxy Hops

hopbomb

Woohoo!  After waiting a year, my contracts for Galaxy hops are finally ready!  These Australian hops have a really incredible flavor, and I am super-excited to start brewing more IPA’s, particularly our double IPA, Force of Nature.

A little about the hop market: most hops are bought through contracts, which allows farmers to produce the right amount for the market.  Northern hemisphere hops are harvested and processed in fall, and southern in spring.  My other contracts have been in for a long time, but I have waited a year for these Galaxy hops.  Galaxy is a proprietary strain, and, along with Mosaic, the hottest, most in-demand hop right now.  These hops are patented, have some really unparalleled flavors, and are not very easy to get.

I now have 88 lbs of Galaxy to work with each year, which is a bit more than I can use.  This is pretty exciting.  Up until this point, I have been using Centennial hops for IPA’s.  I tend to be a single-hop kind of guy; I like the beer to be a showcase for the hop.  Now, I’ll be switching my American, Belgian, and double IPA’s to Galaxy.  If you ever have had Schlafly Tasmanian IPA, it is a single hop Galaxy IPA, and it is my favorite.

What’s so good about Galaxy?  If you walked in to the brewery right now, you could probably still smell the intense melon and passionfruit flavor from when I merely opened the bag yesterday.  People throw flowery descriptions around for hops all the time, but most of the IPA hops just smell and taste like citrus.  This is not true with Galaxy.  The aroma is just on a completely different level.

What does this mean?  First, I’ll be making more IPA’s.  Second, they are going to be even better.  Third, I’ll be keeping my Belgian IPA, True Vision, on tap as our second flagship beer.  And last, our double IPA, Force of Nature, should start appearing more regularly.

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One Year Anniversary!

oneyear

On Saturday, July 19th, we celebrated the one year anniversary of Crooked Run!  One year ago, Lee Rogan and I opened the brewery for the first time.  At 25 and 26 years old, we were some of the youngest brewers in the business.  We barely had any money, but thanks to the great people that donated to our Kickstarter project, we had built our 1.5 BBL electric system and had just brewed our first two beers.  There may not have been much furniture or even paint on the walls, but it was do-or-die time.  I had two weeks to make rent, and I was completely broke.  I remember the incredible feeling as I drove in to the brewery on that beautiful summer morning.  Wow!

Now, a year has passed, and it has been a great one.  The support from the community, the town, and visitors has been amazing.  I have had the chance to meet so many great people and make new friends.  With a lot of help from you all, and a bit of luck, I am so happy to be where I am today!

The anniversary party was, to put it mildly, “off the chain.”  It was absolutely packed from open to close, and I have never poured so much beer and washed so many glasses.  We had six beers on tap, including our special anniversary beer, Nature’s Wrath, a brett trois triple IPA.  Friends brought in some delicious cake and cupcakes made with Summer Night and incredibly good soft pretzels, which we gave out in appreciation for all the great support.

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I’d like to thank my mom, who helped me bartend until she moved to Guatemala in January, Sean and Trisha Adams, who have helped build most of the stuff you see in the brewery, Mike Clay, who built the system, the Lost Rhino crew, for helping me out every week, Corey, Brent, and Rick, who have helped brew quite a bit of beer, the folks at Hop & Wine, my great bartenders Buster and MT, virtuoso Tim Dugan, Sten Sellier at Beltway,  and my great and supportive girlfriend Brigitte and her family!  A big thank you to all you restaurant managers who took a chance on a little beer called Shadow of Truth.  Most of all, I want to thank my partner Lee.  A man of true character and strength, he has been there from those first days turning wrenches on the system.

There have been some very trying times.  Besides the hours and ramen noodles, two points I will really remember are working my butt off with Lyme disease all through November, and bartending on one foot after my motorcycle crash.  Fortunately, that stuff knocked me down, but not out, and as long as I have a pulse, I’ll keep trying my hardest.

What’s in store for the future?  First, Lee and I are excited to announce that our two flagship beers will be Red Kolsch and True Vision IPA.  It was really tough to narrow it down, but it seems you all enjoy these beers, and I am working on offering these beers in six-pack cans in the not-too-distant future.  Second, some of you may already know that we are working on expanding.  Things are moving along, and I will keep you all posted on our progress.

In the mean time, I look forward to brewing more beer and seeing all of you again, or for the first time if you haven’t had a chance to come by.  So, this is year two–let’s make it a great one!

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Closer Look: Classic American Pilsner

eagle

For this Fourth of July, I’m releasing something interesting.  Classic American pilsner is definitely not a style you see quite often.  Supposedly, it is a beer that German immigrants used to brew, adapting what was available in the U.S. to make a pilsner beer.  The beer was made with a high proportion of corn, six row barley, and native hops such as Cluster, and produced a flavorful-yet-crisp lager much different than today’s domestic pilsners that could stand up to a German or Czech beer.

How much of that is true vs. anachronism, I have no idea.  What I have read is to skip the Cluster hops and six-row and instead use either 100% domestic two row or a blend of two-row and pilsner along with either noble hops or a hybrid American hop.  Makes sense to me.

For adjuncts you want to use around 20-30% corn or rice.  I think corn is the better option, since it can add some actual flavor, unlike rice, which really just adds fermentable sugar.  I opted to use instant grits, since I have heard that grits add a bit more flavor than flaked corn.  You should be able to find them at your grocery store.

There is some controversy regarding whether a cereal mash is necessary with instant grits, since they are partially cooked via steam before packaging to make cooking faster at home.  Since full gelatinazation of the grits might not occur at mash temperatures, I ended up doing a cereal mash just for kicks.  Treat a cereal mash like a decoction mash.  Start it at 150 degrees and gradually increase to a boil, stirring constantly.  In my case, I could not use very much water since my kettle wasn’t big enough, so things got a bit thick.  If you are running a thick cereal mash, using a double-walled pot might be a good idea to avoid scorching.

I also wanted to make things a bit more interesting.  So I made an imperial CAP!  9% ABV, Commando is a massive, massive pilsner.  I packaged this on Sunday and it turned out perfect.  Big, well-balanced, and crisp.  Keep in mind that this is far out of the style guidelines for a CAP.

Recipe: Commando
Brewer: 
Asst Brewer: 
Style: Classic American Pilsner
TYPE: All Grain
Taste: (30.0) 

Recipe Specifications
--------------------------
Boil Size: 14.65 gal
Post Boil Volume: 13.52 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 12.00 gal   
Bottling Volume: 11.25 gal
Estimated OG: 1.086 SG
Estimated Color: 4.7 SRM
Estimated IBU: 54.7 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 72.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 78.0 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Ingredients:
------------
Amt                   Name                                     Type          #        %/IBU         
9 lbs                 Grits (1.0 SRM)                          Adjunct       1        23.1 %        
15 lbs                Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM)           Grain         2        38.5 %        
15 lbs                Pilsner (2 Row) Ger (2.0 SRM)            Grain         3        38.5 %        
2.25 oz               Warrior [18.90 %] - Boil 60.0 min        Hop           4        48.9 IBUs     
8.00 oz               Sterling [7.50 %] - Boil 2.0 min         Hop           5        5.8 IBUs      
1.0 pkg               Saflager Lager (DCL/Fermentis #W-34/70)  Yeast         6        -             


Mash Schedule: Single Infusion, Light Body, No Mash Out
Total Grain Weight: 39 lbs
----------------------------
Name              Description                             Step Temperat Step Time     
Mash In           Add 51.95 qt of water at 162.6 F        150.0 F       75 min        

Sparge: Fly sparge with 7.14 gal water at 168.0 F
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A “Shocking” Lack of Science

scientician

You may have seen two articles floating around recently.  “The Shocking Ingredients in Beer” and “8 Beers You Should Stop Drinking Immediately” have been popping up in my news feed and inbox semi-regularly for the past couple months.  The latter is based on the former, an article written by “the Food Babe.”  Both are alarmist pieces that claim that what you are consuming could be hurting you without you realizing it.  And, like most of these types of pieces, they are almost completely baseless.

I’ve been pretty into diet and exercise for a long time.  Diet fads and scares come and go, but they always leave a remnant of misinformation that we have to battle for years to come.  Carbohydrates and fat are not bad for you.  Gluten won’t hurt over 99% of people.  MSG is fine if you aren’t allergic.  Water bottles don’t leach plastic.  I have to explain these things to people all the time, even when the original poorly-conducted studies that put this stuff out there have long been debunked.

The Food Babe particularly irks me because she represents everything that is wrong with the new attitude in America towards food.  Eating healthy, buying local, and avoiding processed food is a great thing, but there are plenty of good reasons for doing these things without needing to spread misinformation and scare people.  Furthermore, diet isn’t an all-or-nothing game.  You eat well when you can, and if sometimes you don’t, you’ll probably still be fine.

Ranting aside, as brewers, we use and depend on science to create a product.  I am not ideologically opposed to any process; if a method produces measurable results and will not cause any harm, I am open to it.  Telling people to avoid certain beers because they are made with sugar or isinglass is ignorant and misleading, but like most of what she writes about, TFB doesn’t really understand any of it.

I could go on, but some better minds have already done it for me.  Let’s see what some of the top brewers in the country had to say about these recent articles: http://blog.timesunion.com/beer/debunking-8-beers-that-you-should-stop-drinking-immediately/2425/

I’ve spoken my mind, but I’ll just close with this.  Beware of misinformation, don’t worry too much, and have a beer!

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Using Fruit

raspberries

Fruit beers seem to have gotten quite a bad rap in the past years.  Guys will walk up to the bar and balk at the suggestion to try anything with fruit in it.  “I don’t do fruit beers” is usually what follows, as if drinking one is the equivalent of a night of binge-watching Sex and the City.

There really is nothing girly about fruit beers.  I love brewing with fruit.  It is a great way to add complexity to a beer, and contrasting or complimentary flavors.  The key, I believe, is to create a beer that still tastes like a beer.  Fruit flavor is actually pretty one-dimensional; fermentation strips away a lot of the depth of flavor.  Too much fruit will dominate a beer and cover up any malt, hop, or yeast flavors.

There are many different kinds of fruit, but not all are great to brew with.  Raspberries, cherries, blackberries, mulberries, apricot, elderberries, and citrus zest are the stand-outs.  All of these fruits have a strong enough flavor that is not so delicate that fermentation will drastically change the profile.

How much to use?  Everyone has their personal preferences, but what I do is take the conventional wisdom for the amount to use, and cut it in half.  Then I brew the beer, taste it, and adjust on the subsequent batch.  I’ve never actually increased the amount after doing this.  This is a good method because it will teach you subtlety and you won’t run the risk of brewing a beer that is unpleasant to drink on your first batch.

I most commonly use berries.  They are easy and inexpensive to obtain or grow, easy to work with, and produce reliable results.  Here are some guidelines:

Raspberries: Half a pound to a pound per five gallons

Blackberries: Three to five pounds per five gallons

Mulberries: One to two pounds per five gallons

When designing the recipe, keep in mind these two rules:

1. Fruit adds acidity, which can mean tartness.  A light beer will become lighter.  A heavier beer will become lighter.  I prefer to contrast a malty beer with fruit, which may seem counter-intuitive.  A beer with no backbone will become too light.

2. Tartness and bitterness have a synergistic effect.  So if you add fruit, drop the IBU’s.  Five to ten IBU’s less is generally a good rule of thumb.

How do you add the fruit to the beer?  I first freeze the fruit to break down cell walls.  Then I place the fruit in a nylon paint strainer bag (available at any hardware or paint store) and tie the opening shut with butcher’s twine.  I then lower it into the kettle at the end of the boil for about 15-20 seconds to kill off any yeast on the surface of the fruit.  Don’t worry, lightly boiling your fruit will not create pectin haze.  I then place the bag of fruit directly into the primary fermenter and let it ferment along with the beer.  Secondary fermentation is almost always unnecessary and adding fruit after fermentation will restart fermentation and add more time until the beer is finished.

Here is the recipe for my raspberry dark IPA, Summer Storm.  This is a really cool beer that takes you on a rollercoaster of flavors, starting with raspberry and chocolate and finishing with hops.  Notice the lower IBU’s, to account for the fruit and the Carafa malt.

Recipe: Summer Storm
Brewer: 
Asst Brewer: 
Style: American IPA
TYPE: All Grain
Taste: (30.0) 

Recipe Specifications
--------------------------
Boil Size: 8.41 gal
Post Boil Volume: 7.28 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 6.00 gal   
Bottling Volume: 5.25 gal
Estimated OG: 1.064 SG
Estimated Color: 25.3 SRM
Estimated IBU: 55.9 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 87.5 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Ingredients:
------------
Amt                   Name                                     Type          #        %/IBU         
9 lbs 8.0 oz          Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM)           Grain         1        66.7 %        
3 lbs                 Vienna Malt (3.5 SRM)                    Grain         2        21.1 %        
1 lbs                 Caramel/Crystal Malt - 10L (10.0 SRM)    Grain         3        7.0 %         
12.0 oz               Carafa III (525.0 SRM)                   Grain         4        5.3 %         
1.25 oz               Warrior [15.00 %] - Boil 60.0 min        Hop           5        49.3 IBUs     
3.00 oz               Centennial [10.00 %] - Boil 2.0 min      Hop           6        6.7 IBUs      
1.0 pkg               Safale American  (DCL/Fermentis #US-05)  Yeast         7        -             
0.75 lb               Raspberries (Primary 0.0 mins)           Other         8        -             
3.00 oz               Centennial [10.00 %] - Dry Hop 4.0 Days  Hop           9        0.0 IBUs      


Mash Schedule: Single Infusion, Light Body, Batch Sparge
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The Problem With Beer Reviewing

flight2

I am going to get a little controversial in this post.  Please bear with me.  Disclaimer: some of this comes from the natural negative feelings you get when you read poor reviews of your own work.  I’ve served some bad beer at the brewery back when I was getting my process down, but I do know the good beers I’ve made, and it hurts to see them rated poorly.  Take what I say with a grain of salt, but trust that I do have a thick skin, and the following post is really a larger point than just wounded pride.

Untappd.  Ratebeer.  Beer Advocate.  Beer rating apps and websites are ubiquitous these days.  They help connect craft beer fans and can help provide useful information on styles and breweries.  These are good things.  If you use such sites, more power to you.  They can be a fun way to socialize and stay updated on friends and new brands of beer.

Here’s the problem.  Beer reviews aren’t really indicative of good beer.  If a beer misses the mark or has some flaws, it should be rated lower.  We can all pretty much agree on that.  There’s another caveat that we can probably agree on as well.  Critics must be objective.  A film critic may not really care for summer blockbusters, but can still give an objective review of one.  That’s part of the skill of being a critic.

Here’s the list of top-rated beers on Ratebeer.  Almost every single one of the top 50-rated beers is an imperial stout.  The others are mostly double IPA’s or quads.  You’d be crazy not to see a problem with this.  Not a single beer in the top 50 is anything close to a session ale.  Imperial stout, the heaviest style in existence, absolutely dominates.  You may be thinking, “Yeah, bigger beers always take the top ratings.  Tell me something I don’t know.”  I just wanted to point out the sheer ridiculousness of this, but let’s go a bit further.

Here’s the Ratebeer page for Devil’s Backbone Vienna Lager.  Devil’s Backbone is an excellent Virginia brewery, and their flagship beer, a Vienna lager, is all over the place in the state.  It’s a very nice beer, and is one of my go-to’s if I am out and about.  Unfortunately, it has a score of 47/100.  Basically, an F.  Comments are mostly along the lines of “bland,” “boring,” or “thirst-quencher.”

It’s a Vienna lager.  A nicely made one.  It is supposed to be a malt-forward, easy-drinking lager, with good flavor from German kilned malts.  It is not supposed to be over-the-top.  The problem is that a lot of reviewers are comparing it to imperial stouts, double IPA’s, and other beers.  To give objective reviews, you need to be familiar with the style, even if it isn’t your favorite style.  This is my larger point…if you want to review beers, take it upon yourself to broaden your horizons and educate yourself on the different styles of beer.  If you absolutely hate a style and cannot give an objective review, maybe it’s best to not review it.  This is just my opinion, but I think that it would create a better beer-reviewing culture.  A lighter beer is not unequivocally worse than a heavier style.

That aside, Vienna Lager was the top-selling beer in Virginia last summer.  This is because, in my experience, the beer reviewing crowd isn’t really representative of the beer-drinking crowd.  If they were, Russian imperial stouts would be all you would see.  Most people want a good, easy-drinking style.  The strongest beer they will drink is an IPA.  With the rise of session ales, we are going to start seeing the lines between light lager drinkers and craft drinkers converge.  It’s a good thing.

 

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