Showing posts with label blue mountain barrel house. Show all posts
Showing posts with label blue mountain barrel house. Show all posts

Friday, September 20, 2013

Brewer of the Week

It has been slightly more than 4 years since Mrs V and I pitched our tent in central Virginia. In that time we have seen the beer industry in this area grow and grow. When we moved here there were 4 breweries within easy reach of us, today there are 8 in the immediate area and another couple just beyond that. Within weeks of moving here our good friend Jay came to visit, and we stopped into Blue Mountain Brewing, and I found a pale lager that I could enjoy on a regular basis, and to this day I do so. The gang at Blue Mountain also make plenty of other beers that I enjoy. Today's brewer of the week is Blue Mountain's founder and head brewer, Taylor Smack, a man that does something that worries me, makes a great pale lager without decoction...

Name: Taylor Smack
Brewery: Blue Mountain Brewery and Blue Mountain Barrel House

How did you get into brewing as a career?

Just as almost every single brewer in my generation, I too was a homebrewer first. I homebrewed after college in the mid-late 90s. But the detailed story is so much better; grab a beer while I spin my yarn:

After college and travelling about in Australia and New Zealand, I landed a job at an up and coming internet company in Charlottesville, where I chose to live, putting my English degree to use as a copy editor and then ad writer. The company, Value America, ended up employing 600+ people, going public with their IPO shooting from $18 to $76 on opening day (I was rich!), and then going to $0.10 and then off the Nasdaq within 6 months (I was poor again!). They laid off over half the company two days after Christmas and most of my friends got sweet severance packages. Sadly, I was left on. I begged for release and the severance but didn’t get it. So, essentially, I went all “Office Space” and started playing golf every day, blowing off work, etc. One of the things I did was begin skipping work to go work for free at South Street Brewery under Jacque Landry, the guy who became my mentor and to whom I owe all the good fortunes of my brewing career.
Eventually, I tired of coming in even occasionally to the ad-writing job, enrolled in Seibel Institute (brewing school) and headed off to Chicago. After Seibel, I landed an interview at Goose Island, thanks to my friend Matt Robbins (who became the first brewer for Southern tier and also owns part of Revolution Brewing in Chicago). Matt also set me up on a blind date with this stunning blonde with a ridiculously sweet Midwestern accent with whom he had gone to Marquette University. After this girl drank me under the table (don’t mess with Wisconsin girls) and we had chatted about opening a brewery together, I knew Mandi was the one for me. Meanwhile, I somehow talked my way into the Head Brewing position for both Goose Island brewpubs. I had just turned 25 and my beer was available inside Wrigley Field and I made beer for the Chicago Blackhawks. I was pretty high on life. But eventually the -36 degree winters and the call of the South were too strong, so Mandi and I moved to North Carolina, and eventually back to Virginia, where I brewed at South Street for almost 6 years before opening Blue Mountain Brewery.

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

Physically, the ability to problem solve. Mentally, the artistic spirit tempered with science, and humility in the face of all the brewers for thousands of years before you who have mastered this trade and left their knowledge for all of us to build on.

Before being a professional brewer, did you homebrew? If so, how many of your homebrew recipes have you converted to full scale production?

Yes, and none!

If you did homebrew, do you still?

Well, my home is practically joined to the brewery, so yes? But no, not really.

What is your favourite beer to brew?

Stouts and Porters for the smell, Lagers and Kolschbiers for the care you have to take.

If you have worked in other breweries, which other beer did you enjoy brewing, and why?

All my beers are like my children, but being the first brewer to brew Matilda at Goose Island was very special. Even when you consider I was left behind to mind the shops as the “new guy” when all the other GI brewers took the trip to Belgium that inspired the beer. Greg Hall (former Brewmaster for GI) was like, “Taylor, we had the most amazing time in Belgium, especially at Orval! I want you to brew this idea I have for an Orval clone!” And I was like, “Yeah. Thanks, Greg. Awesome consolation prize. How about next time I go to Belgium and YOU brew the cool clone!” In reality it really was a great consolation prize. And also, I never would have said that to Greg or he may have smacked me upside the head.

Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?

It changes with the seasons. My favorite today will change tomorrow. It’s my curse that I find something great to appreciate in every beer style under the sun.

How important is authenticity when making a new beer, in terms of flavour, ingredients and method?

Well, there’s a time for it, and there’s a time to break tradition. Depends what you’re going for, I guess. Translating your vision to the drinker is what’s key.

If you were to do a collaborative beer, which brewery would you most like to work with and why?

We’ve become friends with Jamie and T.L. at Foothills and have a collaboration slated for sometime in 2014. I’m psyched about that. Those guys are really fantastic, as is their beer. Also, we got a kind pre cease and desist email from Sam at Dogfish (it really was kind…no lawyers) about changing our Local Species trout artwork as he’d heard some confusion with the DFH shark logo. I pushed him to do a collab with us, but he didn’t bite. Then I told him we were going to throw a Groucho Marx-style disguise on the trout, a la 75 Minute IPA’s “Johnny Cask”, but his lawyers didn’t think that was too funny. So DFH is on my list to harass until they collaborate with us!

Also on the slate, a ubiquitous feature of Charlottesville Beer, Brian Martin, convinced Jason Oliver and me to do a collab Belgian Quad, so we’ve got that slated to brew late October/early November. Looking forward to that one.

Which beer, other than your own, do you wish you had invented?

Hmmm…I love the Duvel story, with mutated McEwan’s yeast. Also wouldn’t have minded being the brewer to have come up with Bohemian Pilsner!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Notions Challenged

I am perfectly happy to admit that I am somewhat opinionated, one thing I do hope though is that when someone or something contradicts my opinion then I am open to listen and change my viewpoint.  On Saturday, whilst working in the Starr Hill tasting room, I had two of my preconceived notions given a good battering.

If you have followed Fuggled for more than a few posts, you will know that I have a problem with the whole "black" IPA thing - originally on the basis that the concepts of 'black' and 'pale ale' are mutually exclusive, but mainly because several versions of the 'style' I have tried have overwhelmingly been dreck. In general, my experience of beers where dark malts have been added to a traditionally pale beer have been negative, but given that hope springs eternal I will try most things when I have the opportunity. On Saturday such an opportunity presented itself.

One of the delights of this part of Virginia is that it is an alcoholics paradise, vineyards, cideries, distilleries and of course for the beer lovers there is the Brew Ridge Trail, which consists of 6 local breweries, , Wild Wolf, Blue Mountain, Blue Mountain Barrel House, Starr Hill and South Street. Every now and again the brewers get together to make a collaboration beer and the latest iteration of said brew was on tap at the tasting room on Saturday, it was a 'black' tripel. It really had the potential to be the perfect shit storm of things I am not a fan off (say it quietly, but I don't really dig tripel as a regular tipple, unless it actually comes from Belgium, or Canada for that matter). Dutifully I poured myself a sample so I would be able to explain the beer to visitors, and low and behold I liked it. The dark malt lends the beer a light roastiness which roughens up the sugary sweetness that you expect from tripels and judicious use of Saaz hops gives it slightly spicy edge. It is a very nice beer, though quite how it differs from a Belgian Dark Strong Ale is beyond me. If you are at any of the breweries on the Brew Ridge Trail and they have it on tap, then look it out and give it a bash, it's good.

About half way through a somewhat quiet shift, it was also the Top of the Hops beer festival on Saturday, one of my other notions was thoroughly debased. A little back story first, in 2006 I worked as the Tour Manager for a stag party organising company in Prague for a few months. One thing that always filled me with dread was when we would have a hen party, that's 'bachelorette' party for my American readers. My experience of large groups of girls together is that they were uniformly louder, more drunken and more of a nuisance than a similar sized group of men, I am not entirely sure why. We didn't have a hen party come into the tasting room on Saturday, we had a bunch of girls from a sorority at Longwood University - about 20 or so in total, with 12 doing the tasting. The tasters ended up on my side of the bar, and were good fun, with plenty of laughs and frivolity all round - and I stand by my comment to one of them that the Soviet Union would have won World War 2 eventually without the Normandy invasions. I also enjoyed the ego stroke of most of them thinking I was in my late 20s, early 30s (I am 36, nearly 37).

So there we go, one shift, two preconceived notions thoroughly challenged and by the time I got home, to the blaring tunes of The Jam, The Clash and The Doors it was time to hang with friends on the deck and booze the evening away. A pleasing prospect that pleased immensely.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

From the Source

Think of the great brewing cities of the world, London, Burton, Vienna, Plzeň. Each of them home to a famed type of beer, London its porter, Burton its IPA, Vienna its red lager and Plzen its Pilsner. When we look at brewing history, we look at the malt, hops and yeast that made these styles, we look at the methods employed to create the wort, we look at how long the beer spent conditioning, and then at how it was handled once it left the brewery. One thing though that I sometimes feel is overlooked is the most important ingredient in beer, water.

Whether it is hard water of London, the soft water of Plzeň or the famous sulphurous liquor of Burton, water has played a greater role in the development of beer that probably any other ingredient. As recently as the early 1890s the brewers of Munich were convinced their water would not allow them to brew a pale beer in the Pilsner style.

When I went to the new Blue Mountain Barrel House a couple of weeks ago I was talking with Taylor about the water source they have there - not a common beer lover line of conversation I am fairly sure. Taylor told me that the Barrel House water is insanely soft, on a par with the well at Devils Backbone apparently, while the well at the Blue Mountain brewpub, just a half hour drive, is quite hard.

To taste the difference between water sources, we sampled Blue Mountain's Full Nelson at the Barrel House, and again, half an hour later, at the brewpub, and the difference was very noticeable. The soft water version has a softer, gentler bitterness and hop flavour which I find very appealing, in fact I think I prefer it over the original, the Full Nelson Urquell you could say. That's not to say that the brewpub Full Nelson isn't a moreish, drinkable pale ale, just that the Barrel House version is more so.

It sometimes feels as though the only truly local thing about many beers is the water, given that malt, hops and even yeast are shipped in from around the world. While I understand the reasoning behind tampering with a water supply to recreate the waters of great brewing cities, when a brewery has access to tasty, clean water, I think it is something of a pity not to let it speak for itself.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Date with Isabel

Saturday was hot, and it was hot too. I had a busy day lined up, moving my cellar from our flat to the new house and then picking up some friends for the 40 mile trip to the newest venture of the guys from Blue Mountain Brewery. Shifting all my beer was heavy work, and included moving 2 carboys of fermented beer which involved much car based contortion, but it all got there safely and set up with the minimum of fuss. We went to the house yesterday and I am immensely happy with the room I chose to be the new cellar as it was 64°F, that after a couple of days of 100° temperatures and the AC being set to 78°.

The highlight of the day though was to be a trip to the newly opened, as of yesterday, Blue Mountain Barrel House. I won the trip because they had some problems with naming their beers, basically the TTB thought "Chocolate Orange Bourbon Porter" was misleading in some way and Blue Mountain decided to run a competition on Facebook to have the beer named by their followers. A quick Google search later and I had discovered that Brazil is one of the leading producers of both cocoa and oranges. I knew, in the far reaches of my memory, that Brazil had once had a royal family, so after some digging on Wikipedia I came across the page of Isabel, Princess Imperial of Brazil, whose mother, Teresa Cristina of the Two Sicilies, was a member of the House of Bourbon. Thus Isabel was born.

As I said, it was hot on Saturday, something like 101° and in the aftermath of the derecho that swept through Virginia on Friday night I was half expecting the tour to be cancelled due to lack of power. As far as I know, large parts of the Commonwealth are still within electricity and thus air conditioning, and we have a week of high 90s temperature ahead of us. Thankfully the brewery was open, had power and was wonderfully cool inside. There were four of in our group, myself, local RateBeer guru Dan, Mark the photographer and my mate Ed, a local school teacher.

The tour was taken by Taylor, owner, brewer, odd job man and gentleman. We learnt that at the brewery they are doing parti-gyle brewing, blending runnings into two 15 barrel kettles to make 2 beers with every run. We saw stacks of whiskey barrels in various stages of preparation for receiving the beer that will sit and age in them. In the barrel cold room there is a wonderful smell of beer and whiskey which reminded me of many a public bar in hotels across the west coast of Scotland, I loved it. Having walked around the brewery, geeked out at the equipment, probed Taylor about his setup, learnt that they have a fascinating effluent treatment system (well, I thought it was fascinating) and discovered that it is possible to get relief from extreme heat by entering a boiler room, we took our places at the bar for a tasting.

Virginia has a law, which came into effect yesterday, allowing breweries to sell full pints in their tasting rooms, and at Blue Mountain Barrel House you can do just that, order full glasses of the beers they are producing there, including Local Species, a "Belgian-inspired, American-hopped, barrel-aged pale ale" which is delicious. You can also get, at the moment, über Pils, a strong pale lager with 40IBUs of noble hop delight. Taylor mentioned that the bottled stuff would benefit from a bit of aging, so in my fridge is my birthday beer, to sit until the middle of November.

When the time came to leave, Taylor told us that he was on his way from the main Blue Mountain Brewery and that if we went over he would let us try some of the latest über Pils current sitting in the lager tanks. He didn't need to offer twice, and we jumped in the car to head up winding Virginia roads to Afton. We sat at the bar had a pint and some pretzels and were then invited into the brewery part of the pub to try the lager. It was divine. Simply magnficent, and if I may allow myself a smug moment, as I breathed in the aroma of the beer, I asked Taylor if he had used my old friend Saaz in the hopping, and sure enough it was the aroma hop, an orange blossom and faint hay delight.

A fantastic afternoon and evening was had, and everyone got home safe and sound. I want to thank Taylor and the Blue Mountain guys for being so welcoming and I would encourage everyone who is in the area to swing by for a tour and tasting. If you can't get down to Colleen, but see the beer in the store, buy it and enjoy.

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...