The Lupulin Reunuless at the Brickskeller
Round three or four of the brewery young guns slam fest got seriously toned down this year. From previous years’ mash-ups, with heavy doses of bathroom humor, this beer maven summit transformed itself into an historical, sociological, political, aesthetic feast of rare talent gathered on one platform. Of course, it took the legendary Dave Alexander, Brickskeller and RFD proprietor; to bring everyone together into a room packed with beer geeks and beer scribes.
Here’s young Dave on the cover of our first redesigned issue:
Picture this – Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co), Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head Brewery), Kim Jordan (New Belgium Brewery), Rob Tod (Allagash Brewing Co), Greg Koch (Stone Brewing Co.), Bill Madden (Mad Fox Brewery), and Bob Pease (Brewers Association) – all jammed together on the podium to present on fifteen different beers.
With this level of fire power it’s easy to see how the conversation rambled throughout the new brewing landscape. Two dominant threads were industry education and history. Between the brewers and Bob from the association, the audience got a short course on the economics of running a small brewery and the valued work of the trade association, particularly the latest initiative to reduce the excise tax burden.
Ken talked about the early days and how few of those pioneers were still around (besides Sierra Nevada, would you believe only 1!) and the many crossroads he’s faced in the intervening years. His early benchmarks, and the origins of his equipment, were eye opening given his stature today. One of his progeny, Brian, was in the audience indicating a long future for the company.
Kim Jordan, perhaps a leader of the next generation of craft brewers, noted the cost to fund growth rates. Going from today’s numbers, which exceeds 10% in many markets including Washington DC, would require such a massive infusion of capital to build the equipment infrastructure to create, distribute and market that next few percentage points of growth. Bob Pease joined in with a discussion of the trade association’s efforts to get the excise tax reduced for small brewers in the interest of funding this expansion. As with Ken, Kim had a brewing offspring in the audience with Zak Danielson sitting amidst the New Belgium gang.
Often associated together along with goombah Adam Avery of Avery Brewing, Greg, Sam and Rob talked about getting their companies going some during the implosion of the late 1990s. With an industry established, these “pioneers” moved in rather unique ways to fulfill their personal mission. Greg’s aggressive defiance, Rob’s quiet almost monkish aesthetics, Sam’s raucous flavor explorations have all lead to legendary profiles that have rocked the foundation of craft beer expanding the tent in exciting dimensions.
And then Bill reminded everyone of the roots or our industry as he talked about opening his new brewery in two weeks. Although a long standing brewing stalwart of the DC brewer community, Bill is launching his own place reminding all of us that the pioneering passion continues generation after generation.
A few notes from the 15 beers presented:
Vintage 50 Wee Heavy – Not from the unopened Mad Fox, but from Bill’s private stash. The last keg in existence of one of his legendary creations, which takes six hours to mash. This was the ultimate statement of a wee heavy.
Oaked Arrogant Bastard – Greg says this is not barrel aged, but aged on oak chips which rounds out the hops taking the edge of the well respected in-your-face beer.
Eric’s Ale – New Belgium blended a dry sour beer, aged in oak with a more sweet, alcoholic beer, with a secondary fermentation using peaches. smooth and characterful
Bourbon Barrel Belgian Style Stout – not a real style, but Rob liked combining Belgian funk, with mocha from Jim Beam barrels and linking them with the stout bitterness.
Namaste – the only time served outside of the Dogfish Head tasting room. Started with a Tois Fountain sort of beer and added stuff chosen by Mariah, Sam’s wife, including lemon grass and actual oranges.
Life & Limb – celebrating the brewing renaissance and the family that goes into a good brewery, Ken and Sam blended Ken’s own barley and Sam’s own maple syrup. This too was the last cask and almost got dumped before someone figure out what it was.
There were numerous other beers and hours of conversations worthy of a short book, not a too long blog. Watch for round four or five same bat-time, same bat-channel.