Expansion

RoganandEndrespic

Everyone, I am really excited to finally officially announce our second location!  Our new big brewery will be located at 22455 Davis Drive in Sterling and feature a 10 BBL brewhouse and 1,400 sq. ft. tasting room!  Our system is currently being manufactured, and we are just about to begin construction.  From day one, the plan was to always go bigger.  I want to thank everyone that believed in us, and all of our customers who have made our little nanobrewery a success!

So, what does this mean?  First, we are keeping our existing location.  The nano will get 10 new taps, a cool remodeling, and some additional seating.  The 3 BBL system will be put to work brewing sours, helmed by Brad Erickson.  We’ve been pretty heavy on sours for a while now, with a lot of interesting kettle-soured and brett beers.  We’ll also be doing some cool spontaneously-fermented stuff.

Our new location will be at 22455 Davis Drive in Sterling, right off Sterling Boulevard and Route 28.  With 7000 square feet, we will have plenty of room to both brew and seat customers, a welcome change from cramming our entire operation into 600 sq. ft!  Our new spot is right down the street from Beltway Brewing.

At the new location, we’ll begin brewing our core beers and seasonals.  Our three year-round beers will be Red Kolsch, Cherry Cayenne Storm IPA, and Verdant Force double IPA.  This is based on feedback from customers, our distributor, and our personal goals as a brewery.  Being on a 10 BBL system, we will have some beer for distribution, but this system is considerably smaller than a lot of other breweries.  This system size means two things.  First, you will see our beer in distribution around northern Virginia and DC.  Second, without having huge batch sizes, we are free to continue brewing the interesting beers we are really proud of, without having to worry about selling huge quantities.  Having 60 BBLs of smoked imperial porter or hibiscus saison to distribute would make the prospect of brewing these beers less appealing, but on our smaller system, we can brew whatever we want.

Our seasonal selections will include one new session beer per month, and one more high ABV offering.  We’ll bottle our bigger beers in 750 ml bombers, so expect to see beers like Shadow of Truth, Supernatural, and Machismo in bottles.

Also, expect to see special attention to sours at both locations.  Sour IPA and sour saison should make regular occurrences.

In the meantime, look for limited distribution from our nano as we put our new 3 BBL to work.  We’ll begin laying the groundwork for our expansion with draught distribution of kolsch and Cherry Cayenne Storm, and some more runs of bottles.  I’ll be updating you with pictures of the build-out as we move along.

On a personal note, I just want to say how happy I am.  We worked so hard to make this happen.  There have been some really tough times, but things are finally moving forward.  A key difference for us is that we have had to build our business from the ground up, and did not start out with any money.  We have greatly outgrown our small space, too, which has been a real challenge.  However, I think that has forced us to be a lot more creative, and we are better off for it.  When I started the brewery, I had very different ideas for what I wanted to do.  With nearly three years under our belts, we have a much better focus and idea of the mark we want to make on the beer scene.  Oh, and about twenty absolutely killer recipes thanks to three years of nanobrewing.

Special thanks to the folks at Lost Rhino, Ocelot, Fair Winds, and Pale Fire for all of the help and guidance along the way, and to our great customers, who have made Crooked Run a place where everybody knows your name.

 

 

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Sour IPA

IMG_20160729_143208Today, we put the latest version of our sour IPA, Empress, on tap.  Each time we’ve made this beer, we use a different fruit.  This version used a huge amount of fresh pineapple.  Feedback on the beer has been really good, so I’d like to take a minute and discuss this difficult style and what I think is the best way to do it.

First, what is a sour IPA?  There are various examples, but I believe that a sour IPA is a beer that exhibits both sourness and IPA qualities–some hop bitterness, and a firm dry hop.  A sour IPA is not just a dry-hopped sour.  That style has been done really well, but it is different, because a sour IPA also has some bitterness, and that is a key difference.

Sour and bitter don’t go together.  You may have heard this before, as well as some of the reasoning: in nature, bitter and sour together indicate a poisonous substance.  Whatever the reasons, most people do not like the combination.

Since that’s the case, how do you make a beer that exhibits both?  Here’s the recipe for Empress:

OG: 15 P

17 calculated IBU

85% pilsner

15% flaked wheat

8 oz per BBL Amarillo @ whirlpool

8 oz per BBL Simcoe @ whirlpool

12 oz per BBL Amarillo dry hop, added during fermentation

12 oz per BBL Simcoe dry hop, added during fermentation

Bring wort to a boil, cool to 90 degrees.  Add a healthy starter of lactobacillus plantarum.  Allow beer to reach 3.4 PH.  Bring to a boil.  Proceed with flameout hops.  Ferment out with S-04 yeast.  Add dry hops during fermentation.

So, the key element of this beer is the low IBU.  Some people believe a 17 IBU beer cannot be called an IPA, but I can attest that this beer is plenty bitter.  In fact, the base beer without fruit is too bitter for me, although some people enjoy it.

Most importantly, this is only calculated IBU.  I have no idea what the actual IBUs are, since we have not gotten this beer tested yet, but we plan to, since I want to add this to the offerings at our big place.  Furthermore, recent research suggests that dry hopping does add to IBUs, so the big dry hop could definitely contribute.

So for this beer, in order to get the balance right, we need to assume that increased bitterness increases perceived sourness, and vice versa.  So despite the low IBUs, this beer tastes plenty bitter, and despite the relatively low sourness, it tastes plenty sour.

I have tasted some examples and made a sour IPA with higher IBUs.  I did not enjoy any of them, and I have no problem drinking a 100 IBU IPA.  I think this delicate balance is key.  A local brewery makes a really good Berliner that is 13 IBU, and tastes far more sour than I have ever been able to achieve with plantarum and 0 IBU.  But it doesn’t taste bitter.  Why?  The bitterness is exactly enough to tilt the balance in favor of the lactic acid.

I am really excited to bring this style to more people.  When I left the tasting room tonight, this beer was all anyone was drinking.  It’s a tough beer to pull off, but the results are worth it.

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Thoughts on IPA

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IPA just went to 33% of total craft beer share.  That’s up from 25% a few years ago.

Back in 2013, I was 25 years old–fresh-faced and younger, and with plenty of room between the ears.  I was excited to bring some new styles to people’s palates.  Our flagship beer was going to be a Belgian single, and we were going to open people’s minds to older styles.   Now people are debating whether flagships are dead, and whether IPA’s pervasiveness is leaving other styles either dead or over-hopped.

I don’t think either is the case.  We still want to have three flagship beers at our new brewery, with lots of rotating, non-hoppy styles.  But two of those three year-round beers are IPAs, and Belgian single isn’t among them.  What changed?

First, I love all beer styles, but it’s without a doubt that IPA rules.  Three years ago, I didn’t think that not only would IPA remain firmly in place, but it would expand so far beyond the bounds of what anyone would think is possible.  The traditional west coast IPA, with firm bittering and grapefruit hops, is here to stay.  For years, the east coast was in the shadow of these beers.

However, in the subsequent years, the east coast style of IPA has now taken the spotlight, to the point that breweries that do the style right regularly sell out of cans on a weekly basis.  These juicy, super dry-hopped IPAs are pretty low on IBUs in comparison, but a massive amount of late-addition hops keep these beers from being considered anything close to sweet.

Brewing beer is my sole source of income, and I will make anything that sells well.  I don’t think anyone can argue that we have made some interesting and risky beers: cherry cayenne IPA, hibiscus saison, our range of adjunct beers using local produce and sour brett beers.  I am not certain, but I think we were the first brewery to make a black tripel.  We’ll continue to offer some great non-hoppy styles.

Over our time in business, however, we’ve moved away from trying to get people on to traditional English and German styles.  Our new year-round beer, Verdant Force, is a juicy double IPA, made with a staggering amount of proprietary hops.  It’s a great beer in that vein, and the feedback has been very positive.  I was initially excited to get people to try some really great traditional beer styles, but the love just wasn’t there.  We still make a nice traditional English bitter and a Vienna lager, but over time, we’ve axed a lot of traditional beers we used to make.  Does this mean there is no room for these beers?

Absolutely not.  The beer market in northern Virginia is not very mature.  In other places I have visited, there is room for small breweries that totally kill it on non-hoppy styles.  Not only do they brew these beers well, they do great sales.  If you’re in a city with dozens of breweries, you can carve out a niche doing great traditional styles.  One of my favorite breweries in Denver, Hogshead, just nails it with English style and cask ales.

Let’s not forget national sales.  Hype in craft beer is not indicative of what really moves.  Allagash White.  Oberon.  Many breweries, us included, do a year-round kolsch.  With the limited distribution we have done, Red Kolsch has been the easiest beer to move.

Furthermore, more bars are popping up with a heavy focus on European imports.  Old becomes new once again, as many Americans have never had a chance to try some pretty incredible beers being made in Europe.

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Gold Medal

supernatural.jpg

On Friday, we got a gold medal at World Beer Cup for Supernatural, our imperial hibiscus saison!  Great news and perfect timing, as we get ready to brew and bottle this as the next beer in our line of bombers.  Big ups to Brad Erickson, who designed this very unique and tasty saison, and the rest of the team for making some great beer!

Supernatural has always been one of my favorite beers we make, sort of a “bartender’s favorite.”  Clocking in at 10%, it’s extremely dry and a bit tart, which makes it super easy-drinking.  It’s got a bright pink hue and lots of hibiscus flavor.  A wine-like finish, aided by Nelson hops, makes a beer that is hard to forget.  It changes flavor in a very interesting way as it ages–hazy and yeasty at first, it eventually gets bright as glass, subtly darkening in color and becoming sweeter, with a candy-like finish.

This win for me is some nice validation.  We’ve never had much money or marketing hype, and with such limited distribution, we’re kind of a little secret in Leesburg.  The hype train is probably my least favorite part about the beer industry.  We get zero cred in that area, but I think people that know what’s up know that we’ve been putting out some great and extremely unique beer for some time.

I’m excited to get to work on some new bottles of Supernatural.  The label is looking great!

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La Resaca Gose

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Since we got our new system, I can finally start doing sours again!  Specifically, kettle sours.  If you’re unfamiliar with a kettle sour, it is a process that can be used to make quick, clean sour beers in a controlled manner.  Beers such as Berliner weisse and gose can be made with the kettle sour method, using a bacteria called lactobacillus that creates lactic acid very quickly.

Gose (pronounced goes-suh) is a style I am very interested in exploring.  Our second big batch of gose is coming up.  Resaca Lima is a gose made with limes and pink Himalayan salt.  Gose is an old style of German wheat beer that has a light level of salt, tartness, and clean fermentation character.  The taste is really nice–a lot of refreshing flavor at only 4% ABV.  We’ll have other variations all summer long–Resaca Naranja, made with navel oranges, and Resaca Negra, a dark version.

You may have already tried some commercial goses that have cropped up over the last year.  Some of these beers are made by adding food grade lactic acid to the beer, vs. using lactobacillus to sour.  The difference is that beers soured with lactobacillus have a softer, more complex flavor.  You get less harsh acidity and touches of lemon and white wine.  I think it makes a much better beer.

So, how does the process work?  I’ll explain now in-depth, in case you want to try this at home or on a professional scale.  Whichever the case, I highly suggest that you join the Facebook group Milk the Funk.  It is a great resource of home and pro brewers focused on sour beer production.  There is a fantastic wiki that brings a more scientific approach into an area of brewing that is too often left to random chance.

To kettle sour, you first perform a standard mash and transfer your wort to your boil kettle.  After that, you bring your wort to a boil, then chill to the appropriate temperature for the lactobacillus strain you are using.  Then, you add your lacto, close up your kettle, and let it sit at the correct temperature until you hit your desired PH.  After that, you bring to a boil, chill, and transfer to your fermenter.  The beer is capped at the desired PH, and the lacto is killed so that you don’t run any through your other equipment.

Simple enough.  Some other key information…

First, lactobacillus shouldn’t form a krausen.  If you see one, you probably have an unwanted organism at work, which probably means your beer is wrecked.  If there is a stomach acid or cheesey aroma, it should be dumped.  Number two, it isn’t necessary to purge oxygen from the beer before adding your lacto.  Some people think it prevents isovaleric acid or butyric acid from being formed.  Those are caused by other organisms such as clostridium, not by lactobacillus.  Third, it’s pretty hard to overpitch lacto, but you can underpitch, so a big starter is a good idea.  Lastly, the most important part of a kettle sour is a clean kettle.  Without a sparkling clean kettle, you are running a serious risk of contamination.  Many things will out-compete lacto and ruin your beer, so keeping things as clean as possible is integral.

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Starter with Swanson’s Plantarum Pills

My current favorite lacto strain is plantarum.  It works well at 85-95 degrees, so it’s a good option for homebrewers.  It can even work lower than that.  It’s also easily available in probiotic drinks and supplements such as Goodbelly or Swanson’s probiotic pills.  I’ll take a bottle of 30 Swanson’s pills, and dump it in a 5 liter starter and let it sit for three days before pitching the entire thing in to a 3 BBL batch.  Plantarum will naturally cap out at 3.2-3.4 PH, so no need to worry about it over-souring.  I will go ahead and start to boil when it gets under 3.4.  For a gose, 30 grams of salt per 5 gallons is the perfect amount to add during the boil.

I will do a 15 minute boil to make sure everything is hopefully dead in the beer and drive off a little DMS.  Afterwards, just chill the wort and transfer to your fermenter.  For a gose, you should select  a neutral ale yeast.  US-05 is perfect.

Checking gravity is a bit difficult because lactic acid is dense and interferes with readings.  I still need to look into how to check gravity…I’ve noticed that fermentation appears a bit more sluggish on kettle sours with US-05, maybe since the acidity inhibits the yeast a little bit.  Other strains such as French saison have no problem, though.

I’m really happy with our gose, and I think it is a terrific example of a style that I really enjoy!

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There Is No Craft

The lines between craft and macro are disappearing.  Craft breweries are selling out, and big breweries are starting to throw their weight around.  I am writing this post in response to Devil’s Backbone, one of Virginia’s largest breweries and a very active member in the Virginia Craft Brewer’s Guild, selling to AB-Inbev.

Right now, a lot of people in the industry are too guarded, nice, or afraid to really tell it like it is.  This is my opinion, but these are also the facts.

Yes, it matters that Devil’s Backbone sold to AB.  “But the same people are still making great beer.”  Great, but the same people aren’t in charge of running the business.  Here’s what AB-Inbev is planning to do.  You can read all about it–offering big incentives to distributors that sell 98% of their brands by volume–but that’s pretty much par for the course for what big businesses do.  They use their money to squeeze out smaller competitors.  With AB’s plans to triple yearly growth, it pretty much demands that smaller brands get pushed out.

And that’s just public information.  Other incentives, pay to play, it’s all being done by bigger companies and distributors in the beer game.  And soon, the AB-Inbev SAB-Miller merger is coming.

Also, it’s not just big macrobreweries.  Many larger breweries are opening east coast plants, with welcome arms from area beer fans and sweetheart deals from local lawmakers, but similar motives–cut costs, take taps.

AB-Inbev knows that Bud Light is on its way out, and the only way to succeed is to acquire craft brands.  Larger breweries with craft roots have huge war chests from the craft beer boom, and will put them to use in the same ways that AB-Inbev does.

You have a choice.  I’ll be shelving Vienna Lager from now on.

 

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The Best Setup for Homebrewing

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Since we got our 3 BBL system, we’ve started brewing more ten gallon batches in order to have a greater variety of beers on tap.  I’d like to run through what we use to do these smaller batches, because I think it represents the best and most economical system for homebrewers.  There are better setups available, but in my opinion, there isn’t much of a reason to go beyond these items unless you have money to burn.

Burner: Bayou Classic Double Jet Burner.  This burner sounds like a jet engine, but it is so fast, at nearly double the BTUs of standard burners, if you blink you’ll overshoot your temperature.  This is my favorite item and makes brewing a small batch so much quicker.

Boil Kettle: We use a keggle (kettle made from cutting the top of an old keg off with a plasma cutter).  However, if you don’t have an old keg lying around, please don’t do this with a keg from a store.  Breweries charge a deposit that isn’t even close to the value of the keg, so if someone doesn’t return it, they lose money.  A better choice is just a 15 gallon stainless steel pot.  Avoid aluminum since it shouldn’t be cleaned with caustic cleaners such as PBW.

Hot Liquor Tank: Igloo 10 gallon beverage cooler.  Pretty straightforward.  Take out the spigot, install a weldless bulkhead and ball valve.

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Mash Tun: 70 quart cooler and copper manifold.  This mash tun will allow you to brew higher gravity 10 gallon batches, or super high gravity five gallon batches.  The copper manifold is easy to build with a sawsall and half inch copper pipe, with horizontal slits cut for drainage.  When you need to clean it, just take pop it apart.  We’ve never had a stuck sparge, even with heavy amounts of rye and no rice hulls.

Thermometer: Thermoworks RT301WA digital thermometer.  Accurate, fast, inexpensive.

Pump: Chugger pump.  Not absolutely necessary.  Before, we would lift our mash tun or boil kettle onto the top of the brick wall outside and use gravity to transfer.  However, you need a pump if you don’t have a second person to help with this.  I’ve done it by myself, but usually end up burning myself a bit…having the pump is nice, especially for vorlaufing.  This pump has a steel head and is rated to 250 degrees.  Get yourself some quick disconnects and hoses, and you’re good to go.  An on/off pedal is nice, too.

Fermenter: Speidel 15 gallon plastic fermenter.  We actually use 15 gallon conical fermenters, but that’s just because we can afford to splurge on something that in my opinion just isn’t necessary for homebrewers.  The appeal of the stainless conicals is that you can dump yeast and transfer under CO2 pressure.  However, the limited exposure to oxygen that you will get when transferring the beer out of the Speidel is not really a problem, and isn’t worth spending an extra $400.  The Speidel fermenters are made of a much higher quality HDPE plastic than your run-of-the-mill bucket fermenters.  They are very air tight, and the racking arm works great.  Speidel is a fantastic company that just does a great job on everything they make.

I am not sure if this has finally sunk in with the homebrewer community, but please, skip the secondary fermenter.  Totally unnecessary for anything other than a sour.  You’re just exposing your beer to more oxygen for no reason.  Dry hops, oak chips, etc, can all be added directly to the fermenter.

 

So, there you have it.  That setup will make a nice amount of beer for home consumption quickly, effectively, and for a reasonable price.  You can save your shiny Blichmann stuff–it won’t really help you brew better beer.  I omitted some extras: a good PH meter, oxygen stone, flask and stir plate are all nice things to have as well, but not essential.

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