When did you take the revolutionary step into ales?
Well, our second beer was the hefeweizen, so that’s an ale. But I know what you mean. It was kind of hard to convince the beer aficionados that a pilsner was a perfectly reasonable craft beer. They were clamoring for pale ale, pale ale all the time, so we finally made a pale ale. Then, some of those same people who’d clamored for the pale ale were, like, Nah, I really kinda like the pils better. We’d won them over.
A couple of years later, we had a winter seasonal IPA, which we called Liberation Ale. We dry hopped it, and it became super popular. We eventually discontinued the pale ale, and we go with Liberation now.
In spite of that, even with the way people are with pale ales and IPAs these days, our biggest selling beers are the Big Bark, the hefeweizen and our pils. Everybody else’s biggest seller is their pale ale or IPA. With our beers, people don’t get confused. We’re not doing a light, medium and dark ale. We’re doing three very different beers.
So your year-rounds are the pilsner, the amber and the hefeweizen.
Big Bark is the name of our amber lager. I might even quit calling it an “amber lager.” People shorten that to “amber,” and I think, in general, when people describe their beer with color names, it has less to do with the flavor than other desciptors.
So “Vienna” is more appropriate?
I like that better.
Are other breweries waking up to craft pilsners?
There’re aisles of pilsners. Most of the time, it’s an ale brewery that wants to do something different, so they’ll throw one out there. But people who do pilsner all the time, and it’s their mainstay, I can only think of Victory.
The hefeweizen is another beer that’s taken off. Back in ‘97, it was hard to give them away. Nowadays, I believe it has officially taken over our top-selling spot.
And you’re using traditional Bavarian yeast?
Oh, yeah. It’s a hefeweizen, not an American wheat beer. I take exception to American wheat beers being called “hefeweizen.”
But you can order a hefeweizen and sometimes get a beer with no hefeweizen character—no banana, no clove…
If I had a restaurant and I put bratwurst and sauerkraut on the menu, but I brought out a hot dog and coleslaw, people might object. And I don’t think it’s adequate that my defense is “Well, that’s our version of sauerkraut, it’s just a different version.” Well, no, it’s not. It’s not sauerkraut. It may be 95 percent cabbage, but they way that it is made is entirely different.
The word is torturously difficult, no one can pronounce it or knows what it means, but hefeweizen describes a very particular style of beer. So you can’t call coleslaw “sauerkraut,” and you can’t call a wheat beer a hefeweizen. That’s what I think.