Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Nanobrewery Interviews: Wolf Hills Brewing Company (Part 1)

While most of us have toyed with the thought of starting up a nanbrewery, others have taken the plunge.  To find out more about who these people are and what makes them do what they do, Jeff and I embarked on a series of interviews with regional nanobreweries to get their stories.

Wolf Hills Brewing Company
Abingdon, VA

For the fourth brewery in our Nanobrewery Interviews, we had the opportunity to speak with Chris Burcher, the "Captain of Concoctions" and founder of Wolf Hills Brewing Company, located in Abingdon, Virginia.  Wolf Hills was founded in late August 2009 and operates a 1 bbl. brewhouse that distributes draft beer to a local hotel (The Martha Washington Hotel and Spa) and through growler sales at the brewery.

Chris began homebrewing in 2002 with a Mr. Beer kit that his wife gave him.  He was brewing all-grain by 2006 and ramped up quickly after that when the brewing bug put him on a path to open his own nanobrewery.  Wolf Hills has been successful in their market and is currently building a larger brewery expansion (more on that later).

Below is the first part of our three-part interview with Chris.

*  *  *

Lug Wrench (LW): What inspired you to start-up a nanobrewery?

Chris Burcher (CB): I retired from my job as a college professor/scientist to stay at home with my three little girls.  We simplified our lives (my wife is a pharmacist) and moved closer to family and so one of us could be with the kids.  I channeled my scientific and other energies into learning more about making beer.  Like many homebrewers, I toyed with the idea of trying to make a go of it.  I came up with a business plan to start very very small and pitched it to anyone who would listen.  As my kids get older (they are 4, 6, and 8) it is getting a little easier and I have a bit more time to do something for myself.

When we first moved to Abingdon, we rented a house on Stonewall Heights where my 3 current partners lived.  They welcomed us with open arms into the community and encouraged my brewing.  When I pitched them the nanobrewery 'experiment' they bought in hook, line and sinker.  And you have to understand, I was giving everyone the real hard sell: it won't make any money, it will be a ton of work, we won't be able to drink free beer, it probably will fail and we will all have to accept the loss of a bunch of money.  They still wanted to do it.  They also had the abilities and connections to convince the town it was a good idea.  So, in short, my wife and her willingness to accept my 'hobby' and 'experiment' and my partners equivalent enthusiasm for just wanting to do it inspired me.

LW: How did you gather the required capital to start the nanobrewery?

CB: We started all of this for less than $25,000, which got us through the first six months of operations (plus revenues generated during that time).  That was the whole plan.  Start as cheaply as humanly possible and see if the demand was there, and if we could do it.  Then, by necessity, we would have to expand if we did find we had the market.

What we were doing was not really sustainable without some further investment.  I can't stress that enough.  There was so much sweat equity, and still will be for a time, that I simply could not keep producing beer of consistent quality using that system.  The plastic fermenters alone are hard to clean, scratch easily, and probably have a limited number of ferments.  Anyway, we got a small business loan from our local bank - who, like the rest of the community, have been very encouraging and happy for us to try this here.

LW: How have you involved the community in your brewery?  Do you interact with local homebrew clubs?

CB: Funny, I didn't mean to lead into this question but our community has literally embraced us with open arms.  From the town council and the planning commission who had to approve microbrewery as a legitimate use for commercially zoned properties (the critical first step for any brewery), to our new landlord who simply wanted us in his building and helped us out with rent.  Our fans/customers who don't mind a slightly undercarbonated growler fill (even though we replace/refund when something happens) due to us carbonating in kegs and being unable to sample each one.  It is just unbelievable.  I am starting to interact with local homebrewers.  The nearest organized club is over an hour away so there is talk of starting one closer to home.

This is a good spot for my spin/take on all this.  First, we are a very rural community.  Washington county has about 40,000 people and Abingdon has about 8,000.  The closest 'big' city is over two hours away and is still small by the nation's standards.  The closest other brewery is over an hour away.  We are in a below-average sophistication level area with respect to craft beer awareness.  I see this as just being a function of the rural 'delay', where trends take longer to arrive.  I often refer to our area as being in the early 90s stage of craft beer awareness.  We, of course, see this as an opportunity.  But, going back to the sophistication level, I am not saying our population is not sophisticated; in fact, we've found much greater interest than we ever imagined.

The problem is with distribution.  We are in a 3-tier state and, in my mind, it simply isn't as worth it for distributors and breweries to send their beer here.  We have largely been underestimated by the industry as to what beers we'll buy.  I, personally, am offended that the perceived lack of potential sales limits the availability of beers we can purchase.  It isn't fair.  We deserve choices and so Wolf Hills, in some part, was established to provide this choice.

An example is the double IPA.  It was on my radar as a homebrewer and the legendary status of these big California beers like Pliny the Elder.  I simply could not easily purchase one locally.  It was unavailable to me and my craft beer loving friends. So, like any good homebrewer, I made one.  It was outstanding and fresh. Other people deserved access to this beer style in the condition it was meant to be consumed.

*  *  *

Part 2 and Part 3 of our interview with Chris Burcher and Wolf Hills Brewing Company have also been posted.

If you want to find out more about Chris or Wolf Hills Brewing Company check out their website or better yet, if you are in southwestern Virginia, stop by the brewery.



Monday, June 28, 2010

Alcohol Tolerance Ranges by Yeast Strain (White Labs)

Below is the fourth and final Yeast Strain Chart in the White Labs series, which visually compares the alcohol tolerance ranges of each yeast strain in the White Labs homebrewer product line.  As mentioned in the first Yeast Strain Chart posting, this project intends to visually compare the critical parameters of each yeast strain to one another.

Click on the thumbnail below to get a higher resolution image of the chart.

In addition to the above, check out the other White Lab yeast strain charts previously posted:
If you'd like higher resolutiom PDFs of this or any of the charts, just shoot me an email.  I'm more than happy to share them.



“Alcohol is good for you. My grandfather proved it irrevocably. He drank two quarts of booze every mature day of his life and lived to the age of 103. I was at the cremation – that fire would not go out.”
- Dave Astor

Friday, June 25, 2010

Poll: What Is Your Favorite "Summer" Beer Style?

Like all our prior blog polls, this post takes a moment to memorialize the results we recieved on our May/June poll.  The responses to the question "What is your favorite "Summer" beer style?" are presented below.

Total Votes: 33

The popularity of IPAs, even as a summer thirst quencher, continues to be seen in the beer communities.  I can't say I'd reach for an IPA while sitting out in the sun at a barbeque, but that's the beauty of the freedom of choice.  If I had my druthers, I'd be reaching for a wheat beer or a lager on the long days of summer.

I'm particularly interested in the 15% of voters who chose "Other" as their style of preference.  Given that that category is such a catch-all, its hard to tell if the voting was just a scatter-shot across various styles, or if there were one or two favorite styles that were missed in the available responses.  If you happen to be one of those voters who chose 'Other' as your favorite, please leave a comment and let us know what style you would have picked.

Thanks to all those that participated.  Please take a moment and participate in our next poll, which should already be up.



"You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline - it helps if you have some kind of football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer."
-Frank Zappa

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Custom BrewCrafters - Honeoye Falls, NY

A few weeks back while Jeff and I were visiting family in Upstate New York, the two of us took the opportunity to visit one of the local breweries: Custom BrewCrafters (CBC)  in Honeoye Falls, NY (just outside of Rochester).   Custom BrewCrafters is a unique brewing business in that it focuses almost solely on contract brewing.  The business, founded by Mike and Luanne Alcorn in 1997, took advantage of the opportunity Alcorn saw in crafting specialty beers for Western New York restaurants.  The company’s value proposition was to help create and brew “house” beers for customers’ establishments.  Alternatively, CBC also offered a stable of their own beers/recipes, many of them award winning, including a two time GABF medal winner.  CBC’s customers accept the beer under specific contract conditions, along with their own label, and serve the beer directly on draft in their restaurants.

All the Custom Brewcrafter beers are brewed within the company’s new brewery location outside of the town of Honeoye Falls.  The facility also operates a tasting room like those found at small wineries.  It has a bar with approximately 20 taps, where people pay a nominal fee (~$3) and get six small tastings.  The tasting room staff is on hand to answer questions, offer tours, and sell growlers pulled fresh from the taps.  Additionally, kegs, 12-ounce, and 22-ounce bottles of several of the beer varieties are also sold on site.  Operating the tasting room, as well as tours of the brewery, seem to generate buzz for the breweries brands, as well as finding homes for any kegs that may not be moving as quickly as otherwise optimal.

Jeff and I found the Custom BrewCrafters business model to be very novel.  It does not follow either the traditional brew pub model or the small/regional craft brewery model.  The company exists to supply local restaurants with local beer; beer that those restaurant owners help to develop.

For many years, contract brewing carried with it a negative stigma in the craft brewing industry.  This negative connotation began when the industry was undergoing massive growth and everyone wanted a piece of the pie.  The results from this period of contract brewing were poor quality beer that were marketed under many names and labels.  It is refreshing to see that contract brewing, as done at Custom BrewCrafters, is shaking the negative stigma.  The beer that Jeff and I sampled was interesting, varied, and of quality.  If establishments like Custom BrewCrafters can continue to prove that contract brewed beer is worthy of the label of craft beer, than that is better for all of us, because it allows more brands with innovative ideas to enter the marketplace.

If any of our readers find themselves in the Rochester, New York area (specifically near Honeoye Falls), I highly encourage you to stop by for a visit.  You will not regret it.



Monday, June 21, 2010

Homegrown Hop Problem - Any Suggestions?

This post is less of a about publishing information than it is a request for information from the readers. Over the past couple weeks, a strange issue has crept up in my attempts to grown hops. If you have any ideas, or suggestions that might be able to help, please post it here as a comment or shoot me an email.

Back in late April, I planted two hop rhizomes in the backyard just for the fun of it – one Sterling and one Centennial.  Not wanting to plant the hops directly in the ground, I elected to plant the rhizomes in containers (following advice from a BYO magazine article).  Within a month after planting, the Sterling plant broke through the surface and began to rapidly climb (the Centennial taking an additional month before making an appearance). However, about 2-3 weeks ago, I’ve noticed that the upper leaves of the Sterling plant have started to become sparse and developed a curled up or wilted appearance. I have no idea what is causing this and I've been scratching my head as I search for potential fixes for the problem.  Below are a couple photos of the plant.

First Year Sterling Hop Plant – Notice how the lower section looks lush and healthy, while the upper portion is wilting and sparse.

Close up of the upper leaves of the Sterling hop plant.

The plants are watered regularly, is in the sun for 8+ hours a day, and the soil is ideal (mixture of potting soil and compost).

Wilt disease – a microbial disease that attacks the plant’s vascular system – is one possibility that was suggested by a coworker who is a bit of a horticultural expert. If it is indeed wilt disease, the only solution I have is to pull the plant and destroy it or risk the disease from spreading to other plants in the garden. Not an ideal solution.

Has anyone else seen this before in their hop plants? What else could be afflicting the plant? I am obviously not enthusiastic about tearing the plant out and starting over, so any suggestions, hypotheses, or ideas are certainly welcome.



"Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza."
-Dave Barry

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Nanobrewery Interviews: Manchester Brewing (Part 2)

While most of us have toyed with the thought of starting up a nanbrewery, others have taken the plunge.  To find out more about who these people are and what makes them do what they do, Tom and I embarked on a series of interviews with regional nanobreweries to get their stories.

Manchester Brewing
Concord, NH

As a follow-up to the first half of our interview with Kevin Bloom, owner of Manchester Brewing, this post presents the conclusion of our Q and A with Kevin.  Manchester Brewering started brewery production in 2008 and has recently start repbrewing after a short reprieve.  Currently, Kevin's beer can be found at select draft accounts in Massachusetts and hopefully soon in New Hampshire and Vermont. 

* * *

Lug Wrench (LW): Where did you get the inspiration for the beers you chose to commercialize? How did you pick your range of offerings?

Kevin Bloom (KB): My tastes are all over the map in beer, I love stouts first, followed by German styles, particularly Marzen, British ales like ESB's, Belgians of all description, and nearly everything else including sahti. (a Finnish beer made with baker's yeast). If I could have my druthers I'd open a brewpub and make every damn thing. If they turn out bad then I'll drink them.

So far, I've been fairly lucky. I made a Peppermint Stout, we sold maybe 14 barrels but we won't make it again because it wasn't that popular---people liked it or hated it, about 50/50. The Cinnamon Stout was a blowout, about 9 of 10 people we tested really liked it. Usually if I like something, I know other beer drinkers will like it too. Although what I like may not be enjoyed by those who drink the mass produced "beer", most beer drinkers like something I make. So I guess what I'm saying is that if I make a beer and it blows my glasses back, it goes on the market. The peppermint stout was sort of different because the first batch I made was the first ever. It's really good on ice cream, though!

LW: How did you gather the capital to start the nanobrewery?  How did you solicit investors?

KB: At first, I sold my interest in Liberty Street Brewing Company to my partners. Then, once I ran out of funds here, I got a couple of investors.  To round up investors, I just talked to acquaintances. That's one of the things covered in the School of Beer class. I found investors in very different ways when we started Liberty Street Brewing. There are very strict limits on what you are allowed to do as far as advertising goes. It's totally illegal to sell stock on the web, and one of the first companies that tried it was a brewery start up. They got into all kinds of legal trouble and were shut down by the SEC. I have a whole section in my syllabus about how to pick a good securities lawyer. Many who say they can do the job know nothing about it. They tend to charge the same as those who do know.

LW: You mentioned you had plans to offer discounted keg sales to local kegerator owners - what's the story behind it?

KB: I would like to have our beer taste the way it was made to taste. If we sell our beer in keg to kegerator owners, there's a good chance that will happen. We'll offer to clean their beer lines as well as the kegs we take in trade. I've had my beer on tap in bars, and strangely it tasted like a whole 'nother beer. Of course, homebrewers can use the system to keg their own beers, and that's a good thing too. Beats bottling two cases of 12 ounce bottles, eh?

LW: If you were speaking to an individual who is considering the prospect of opening their own small brewery, what advice would you give them?

KB: Go for it! (I'd qualify that by saying that if none of your friends like your beer, and you have trouble giving it away, then you might want to reconsider.) Do your homework before you plunge. Spend time and you won't have to pay as much. Research really pays off. Once you think you have your costs nailed, talk to a brewer in the biz and they'll tell you something you DON'T know. This is the best business for getting help. Brewers are a fun bunch, they aren't your competition. There are towns that support 10 micros, the beer drinkers will go to all of them.

I would advise people to sell over the counter, if that's at all feasible. You need that margin and you'll enjoy all the feedback. They make you have a restaurant in New Hampshire, and that sucks. I'm working to get that law changed, by the way. Get involved with your peer group. I have so much advice that we opened a School of Beer recently, we have a one day class where prospective brewers can see a whole batch being brewed, plus a syllabus that includes financing without banks and with no credit, siting, government forms and bureaucrats, sourcing and purchasing equipment, and how to save money all around. I want to have one every two weeks. The first is May 29, the second is June 19.

LW: Many of our readers are homebrewers - would you be willing to give us one of your recipes if people want to give it a try?

KB: I would be happy to provide a recipe, it's simple and a good summer beer. Here are my notes:

El Hefe - German Hefeweizen

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5
Total Grain (Lbs): 14.51
OG: 1.047
IBU: ~18 (Rager)

This is a classic Hefeweisen. The key to making it taste good is the yeast.  You should only use White Labs WLP380 to get the "banana clove" taste.  The carbonation should be relatively high, 2.7 to 2.8 volumes of CO2  The beer should be served at 38 degrees or so, in a tall glass.  (It will not be clear due to the style, and that's just fine.)

5 lbs. Pilsner malt
5 lbs. Wheat malt
(I like Durst malt but Weyermans is good too.)

1 hop addition: I enjoyed subbing the original Hallertau with Amarillo, you could use Tettnang too.
At boil, 0.5 oz Amarillo hops (9.9% alpha) at 60 minutes.

* * *
Part 1 of our intereview with Kevin Bloom and Manchester Brewing can be found here.

If you want to find out more about Kevin, Manchester Brewing, or School of Beer, check out their website or better yet, if you are in the Concord area, stop by the brewery.



“I distrust camels and anyone else who can go a week without drinking.”
- Joe E. Lewis

Monday, June 14, 2010

Most Popular Beer Style Categories: 2010 NHC First Round

Anyone who has entered a beer into competition knows that for some reason, some beer styles always outweigh others in terms of popularity. Year after year, competition after competition, the “darling” styles always receive a good deal of attention, while some of the more interesting categories are left out in the cold.

Given this notion in mind, I figured it might be interesting, and a bit entertaining, to identify the most popular style categories (as defined by the BJCP) and see if there have been any trends in that popularity over the past few years. With the 2010 National Homebrewing Competition Finals is just around the corner, the 5,759 beer entries that made up the first round are the ideal pool of data to examine. 

For this analysis, I’m only looking at the beer categories themselves (my apologies to the cider and mead makers out there). To normalized the data, all categories are given as the percentage of the total entry pool that they represent. From this year's NHC first round, the most popular and the least popular styles are as follows (with the full dataset given below).

 1. American Ales (cat. 10) - 509 entries or 8.8% of total
 2. Stouts (cat. 13) - 476 entries or 8.3% of total
 3. Belgian and French Ales (cat. 16) - 410 entries or 7.1% of total
 4. India Pale Ales (cat. 14) - 386 entries or 6.7% of total
 5. Belgian Strong Ales (cat. 18) - 362 entries or 6.3% of total

 23. Fruit Beers (cat. 20) - 130 entries or 2.3% of total
 22. Dark Lagers (cat. 4) - 144 entries or 2.5% of total
 21. Euro Amber Lagers (cat. 3) - 145 entries or 2.5% of total
 20. Amber Hybrid Beers (cat. 7) - 152 entries or 2.6% of total
 19. Sour Ales (cat. 17) - 163 entries or 2.8% of total

It’s not hard to imaging why Sour Ales trend toward the bottom of the list.  While they have a popularity amongst craft beer fanatics, sour beers take a good deal of effort to perfect and they can take years to finish properly.  But, what about the other four least popular beer styles – they are fantastic beer styles, but seem to get the cold shoulder from the homebrewing community.  There are nearly three times as many beers in the Top Five group as there are in the Bottom Five.

Over the past three years (2008 – 2010), there has been some have been changes in the popularity rankings as some style gain favor and others lose it.  The Top Five slots have been consistent all three years, with the same five beer styles always being represented (although with some jockeying back and forth in position). Listed below are the beer styles that have seen the most amount of movement, either positively or negatively, in the rankings.

MOST POSITIVE MOVERS ('10 Rank / '09 Rank / '08 Rank)
 1. Smoke / Wood-Aged Beer - cat. 22 (Ranks: 11, 13, 16)
 2. Specialty Beers - cat. 23 (Ranks: 7, 10, 11)
 3. English Brown Ales - cat. 11 (Ranks: 14, 19, 17)

MOST NEGATIVE MOVERS ('10 Rank / '09 Rank / '08 Rank)
 1. English Pale Ale - cat. 8 (Ranks: 16, 11, 10)
 2. Dark Lagers - cat. 4 (Ranks: 22, 20, 18)
 3. Light Lagers - cat. 1 (Ranks: 18, 17, 15)
 4. Strong Ales - cat. 19 (Ranks: 12, 12, 9)

The growing popularity of barrel-ages beers and extreme beers has definitely played a factor in the rise in popularity of Categories 22 and 23. However, I was very shocked to see how English Pale Ales have been falling like a rock in popularity.  I personally find this trend very disappointing, as EPA’s (and other session beers) would certainly be on my list of favorite beer styles.  Someday, hopefully soon, this style will see a resurgence back to the limelight.

Without any further lamenting or analyzing, here is the complete data how each beer style category was presented this year…

NHC First Round Entry Rankings by Beer Style Categories

2010 RankCat. #Name# of Entries (2010)% of Entries (2010)2009 Rank2008 Rank
110American Ale5098.8%21
316Belg & French4107.1%35
518Belgian Strong3626.3%53
723Specialty Beers2754.8%1011
89Scottish & Irish2474.3%78
96Light Hybrids2454.3%87
1219Strong Ales2153.7%129
1315German Wheat Beers2063.6%1513
1411English Brown1993.5%1917
168English Pale Ale1863.2%1110
1917Sour Ales1632.8%1821
207Amber Hybrids1522.6%2220
213European Amber Lager1452.5%2323
224Dark Lager1442.5%2018
2320Fruit Beer1302.3%2122

Everyone has a list of favorite beer styles – let us know which are your favorites and how they are represented in the competition scene.



-Homer Simpson

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Nanobrewery Interviews: Manchester Brewing (Part 1)

While most of us have toyed with the thought of starting up a nanbrewery, others have taken the plunge.  To find out more about who these people are and what makes them do what they do, Tom and I embarked on a series of interviews with regional nanobreweries to get their stories.

Manchester Brewing
Concord, NH

For the third brewery in our Nanobrewery Interviews series, we had the pleasure of speaking with Kevin Bloom of Manchester Brewing Concord, NH.  Started in 2008, Manchester Brewing produces 2 bbls batches and has licensing to sell Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachussetts.  However, as described below, Kevin has recently switched the brewery to just draft-only accounts as part of a realignment.  Massachussetts is currently the only state being sold into at the moment, with Vermont and New Hampshire hopefully coming back online soon.  

In addition to running Manchester Brewing, Kevin also runs a class called "School of Beer".  Targetting at individuals who are interested at starting their own small breweries, the class covers regulations, forms, sources, software, equipment, and of course, brewing.  One of Kevin's recent students just got all his federal licensing and will be opening Squam Brewing shortly in New Hampshire.  Anyone interested in finding more information on Kevin's School of Beer can email him for details.

Below is the first part of our two part Q and A interview with Kevin.

* * *

Lug Wrench (LW): What inspired you to start-up Manchester Brewing?

Kevin Bloom (KB): I really enjoy brewing. I came to it late in life after spending most of my time in real estate. After I started homebrewing, my friends kept bugging me to go pro. I went out to all our local brewpubs and kept pestering them until I got an assistant brewer's gig. I did that for a year and a half, then was hired as head brewer at a micro in Northern Michigan.

That place closed, (not because of the beer though!) and I designed several brewpubs, one of which is now open, Liberty Street Brewing Company in Plymouth, Michigan. I found the site, put the plan together, made the deal, and raised the start up capital for that one.  Liberty Street was still partially under construction when I sold my interest in it.  Manchester Brewering actually openned before it did.

LW: What made you select the name Manchester Brewing for your Brewery?

KB: I first incorporated in Manchester and liked the name. However, after a month it became clear that the powers that be wanted us to move into the millyard and there was no inexpensive way to do that. So, after looking at several places I liked Concord best and rented a spot here. Then I tried to get the name Concord Brewing company, but the state wouldn't allow it because there was one of those in Massachusetts once upon a time, and they still had the name, even though they've been closed for years. The state also wouldn't allow me to use Concord Beer Works, Concord Beer Factory, or anything with Concord and Beer in the name.

So since I'd paid for Manchester Brewing, it was easier to just keep that.

LW: What caused the shut down last year that made you regroup before starting the brewering back up in December?

KB: We started with one distributor. We were very naive about believing things we were told, and the distributor agreed to a certain volume of cases per week. They also said we needed to double production in the summer. To meet projected requirements, we spent a lot of money upgrading our equipment. The distributor never took that much beer, and in fact in a couple months stopped buying any beer whatsoever. From June to November 2009 we sold no beer in New Hampshire. If we hadn't gotten Massachusetts when we did, we would have closed down long ago. If any of your aspiring brewery owners should ever hear the phrase "We'll sell all you can make!" that would be a lie.

LW: Why did you decide to move to Keg-Only accounts when you started rebrewing?

KB: The margins are much smaller when you pay for glass, caps, and labels. Plus when you buy glass, it comes on a pallet, and you only get a price break on shipping with two pallets. There are 112 cases of 22 ounce bottles per pallet, which is more than 7 barrels of beer each. Two pallets with shipping are approximately $2500. When your distributor is selling 10 cases a month, all the money you spent on glass and bottling, not to mention beer, are just sitting on your floor. Meanwhile, you end up paying for rent and utilities just as though you were actually selling something. We can sell our beer for less and make more money with kegs. AND draft beer tastes better!

LW: You are a New Hampshire company, but your distribution plans are to supply Massachusetts initially, not NH. How come?

KB: Good question. Our Massachusetts distributor has their own cooperage, so they are sending us clean kegs to fill, and we'll just send them back full. Also our Vermont distributor will do that for us, but the New Hampshire distributors don't offer that option, and we haven't built a keg washer yet.

LW: Is there anything else you would think our readers might enjoy learning about you or your brewery?

KB: Making the labels is the most fun next to doing the recipes. I have a gas with the labels, especially with bad jokes, just like most of my peer group. Lagunitas got WTF beer approved by the feds, but they wouldn't let me have OMFG though so I'm jealous. I did get John Thomas Red and The Devil's Rooster, plus Conspiracy Theory which is my favorite.

On Naughty Nancy's they made us remove the nipples and cameltoe, but we kept the whip and leather skirt. We've been featured in Lehman Brother's legal blog a couple of times for pushing the envelope. We have probably had more labels rejected than most every other brewery, but we won't bore you. All the art is on the web site and please have a peak.

Incidentally, as a Discordian I felt compelled to put a 23 on every label. Good luck finding the 23!

* * *

Part 2 of our interview with Kevin Bloom and Manchester Brewing can be found here.

If you want to find out more about Kevin, Manchester Brewing, or School of Beer, check out their website or better yet, if you are in the Concord area, stop by the brewery.



“I am sure of this, that if everybody was to drink their bottle a day, there would be not half the disorders in the world there are now. It would be a famous good thing for us all.”
- Jane Austen

Monday, June 7, 2010

Importance of Local Homebrew Shops

Disclaimer:  This is an opinion post, a straight-up examination of my feelings on an issue.  There may be disagreement with the basic points I raise here, but that is what opinion posts are all about.  If you disagree, please post a comment and let us know your thoughts – lively debate is a positive effect of such posts in our eyes. 

Local homebrewing shops are critical to the success of the homebrewing hobby.  They cannot be substituted by online shops, who supply more ingredients than one can ever ask for or find locally.  They cannot be substituted by online forums, who can offer advice on every topic imaginable.  Why are local shops so critical?   They offer a human connection to a social beverage; one that cannot be replaced by all the chat rooms in the world.

 I speak with some experience on this opinion, as my home town lacked a homebrewing store for more than 8 years.  I moved to this medium-sized town in Virginia in 2000 and the closest thing we had to a homebrewing store closed down 6 months later (a coincidence, I swear).  We did not have any local homebrewing presence until The Fermentation Trap opened on April Fool’s Day in 2008, the same year my local homebrewing club, CAMRA, formed.  The intervening years were hard, in a way.  While we had access to online brewing stores and resources, there was no personal connection to help push interest in the hobby further.  This lack of connection instilled in me the opinion that homebrewing is beyond all else, a social venture.  It, like the beer it produces, is a social experience that can only be truly appreciated when enjoyed with other people who share similar interests.

Why write an article about this issue at this time?  Today, I had the opportunity to speak with a representative from my local shop.  He expressed a concern about maintaining clientele in the face of strong cost competition with online retailers.  That conversation got me thinking.  I support online retailers, such as Northern BrewerAustin Homebrew Supply, and MoreBeer, because of the variety of products they offer and the sponsorship they provide to my favorite online podcasts.  However, they cannot replace the personal touch offered by local homebrewing shops and the interest they generate in the hobby to beginners and advanced brewers alike.  They cannot replace the personal advice and encouragement offered to someone who expresses an interest in this daunting and intimidated hobby.

Why is this important to you, a reader of the Lug Wrench Brewing blog?  Local homebrewing shops can only survive on local patronage.  They do not usually have the breadth of coverage that the online shops enjoy.  If local support for them dries up, they will fail.  The lack of their services will both be felt when someone forgets a missing ingredient on brew day, as well longer term, when the hobby has fewer new members. 

Support your local shop whenever you can!



Friday, June 4, 2010

The Session #40: Session Beers

Welcome to The Session – a collaboration of bloggers writing on a common beer-related topic.  For the month of June, Erik Lars Meyers from Top Fermented chose Session Beers as the collective topic to explore.  A round-up of all the blog posts will be posted in the near future.  You can read more about Beer Blogging Friday (“The Session”) over at the Brookston Beer Bulletin.

Session beer in the American Craft Brewing scene today is in a strange role-reversal position; they are almost a countercultural product.  Historically speaking, session beers were the drink of the masses.  They sat at the center of pub life and were the reason for the success or failure of public drinking establishments.  Their low alcohol strength and lower cost appealed to blue-collar workers slaking their thirst after a long day.  While brewers also made higher-gravity special beers, these were reserved for special occasions or special people (i.e. royalty).  But, the judge of a brewer’s success was the ability to produce quality session beer, as it paid the bills.

Here we find the enigma.  In the present day Craft Beer scene, brewers are judged by what was once only a special occasion beer - higher-gravity products.  Today's Craft Beer fans are typically most interested in bigger beers.  The brewers who recieve the most praise and accolades are those who are constantly pushing the boundaries ahead, looking for the next bigger and better beer.  This can be seen through obvious exapmles such as Brew Dog's  and Schorschbrau's  battle who has the title for the world’s strongest  beer, which at the time of this post is currently held by the 43% version of Schorschbock (43% ABV).   It is also visible on a less obvious scale, such as the massive increase in popularity in imperial and oak-aged beers.

To like full flavored session beers is counter to the current beer culture.  To actively pursue them and enjoy them makes you almost a rebel os sorts.  How is that for a role reversal?

Session beers have a rich history and importance in our collective beer culture.  They are challenging to brew and enjoyable to drink.  I hope that the session beer rebels can help brew masters remember the importance of the session styles and help pull the extreme and imperial beer trend back towards the middle.

Go out and be a rebel.


The Wallace Brothers

PS - Don't forget to join us next month as Lug Wrench Brewing hosts Session #41 where the topic is Craft Beers Inspired by Homebrewing.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Announcing Session #41: Craft Beers Inspired by Homebrewing

Welcome to The Session – a collaboration of bloggers writing on a common beer-related topic. Co-moderated by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer and Jay Brooks at the Brookston Beer Bulletin, the Session takes place on the first Friday of each month. You can read more about Beer Blogging Friday (“The Session”) over at the Brookston Beer Bulletin.

While we are thrilled at the opportunity to host the 41st “Session” and enamored at the number of participants each month, we approached the act of selecting an appropriate topic with some trepidation. To us, the topic needs to be specific enough to give direction and inspiration, but not be overly constraining. It needed to be focused, but also general.  Demanding, yet welcoming.

As demonstrated in prior Sessions, topics typically come from the host's area of passion – something they have a strong affinity towards. For Tom and I, the real pathway in our appreciation of Craft Beer has been through the hobby of homebrewing. Not only has this hobby fostered yet another reason for two geographically-separated brothers to collaborate (the core concept for the Lug Wrench blog being “a fraternal bond over beer”), it was through homebrewing where we learned what makes a marginal beer and what makes an exceptional beer.  It was the lauching pad for how we came to admire (and sometimes fanaticize) about "good" beer.  So during our discussions of potential topics, the debate kept coming back to homebrewing and how craft beer is connected to the amateur brewing community.

In the end, it wasn't until we got a little friendly nudging by Stan and Jay that our topic for the 41st Session coalesced.  The chosen topic: Craft Beers Inspired By Homebrewing. How has homebrewing had an affect on the commercial beer we have all come to love?  Feel free to take the topic in any direction your imagination leads you.

Write about a beer that has its roots in homebrewing.  Write about a commercial beer that originated from a homebrew.

Write about a professional brewer you admire who got their start in homebrewing before they went pro. Write about a professional brewer who still homebrews in their free time.

Write about a Pro-Am beer tasted either at a festival or a brewpub. Write about an Amateur / Professional Co-op you’ve had the pleasure of experiencing (such as The Green Dragon Project).

Write about commercial brewers using “Homebrewing” as part of the marketing. Write about the Sam Adams LongShot beers, whether good or bad.

Write in the first person. Write in the third person. Have someone else write it for you.

Just write about it.

And on July 2nd, share your contribution with us (either as a comment to this announcement or to our post on that day).  If you don't have a regular blog, no problem - email your story to us and we'll be happy to post it for you.  Then after the first Friday in July has passed, we’ll round up all the contributions, add a little commentary, and post the collection for everyone to enjoy.

Don't just be a passive reader - be a contributor.

Lastly, a quick thanks goes out to Stan Hieronymus and Jay Brooks for organizing, instigating, and directing the Session for the past 3+ years.  Your guidance and perseverance are appreciated more than you probably know.


-The Wallace Brothers

"May your glass be ever full. May the roof over your head be always strong. And may you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you're dead."
-Old Irish Toast
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...