Friday, December 20, 2013

Dave Engbers of Founders Brewing

Interview with Dave of Founders (Flash version) Non-Flash podcast  

On Dec. 9, 2013, The Jeffery hosted a tap take-over by Founders Brewing, and featured such rarities as Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Doom, Sweet Repute, Backwoods Bastard -- which was amazing! -- and many others. The following day at the Blind Tiger we caught up with Dave Engbers, co-founder of Founders, and Tim Traynor, the NY Marketing Manager for the brewery, for an interview.
Bob, Dave and Tim -- all very serious men. (Not really!)
Founders was established in 1997 and originally named Canal Street Brewing after the neighborhood in Grand Rapids, MI which was home to a number of breweries in the 1800s. Eventually, the name became Founders, a nod to those long gone 19th century fore-bearers of beer. Their original location was in a building with some serious space restrictions, which required them to brew with horizontal tanks as part of their ambitious 30bbl system.
Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers, both Grand Rapids natives, met at Hope college, which is where Mike discovered homebrewing. Dave, however, started homebrewing at age 19. Neither went to brewing school or even apprenticed in a brewery before they decided that life was too short to not chase their dream of brewing beer professionally, and after a short stint in the post-college working world, they started their journey on becoming brewing founders themselves.

They wisely hired a professionally trained brewer at the outset. And, as so many of the "first craft beer bubble" breweries did, they brewed pale ales, ambers, and all the rest of predictable styles, in Dave's words, making "technically solid, but unremarkable beers". They thought that this would give them the greatest potential market. But with everyone else making essentially the same stuff, they soon found that they weren't selling enough beer to be profitable. They were behind on rent, late on loan payments. Something had to change.
So, they decided to set themselves apart from all the rest of the pack by brewing something that they themselves were excited about -- a Scotch Ale called Dirty Bastard. And thus began the change in direction away from common-denominator beer and towards "brewing beers that we wanted to drink." The Dirty Bastard was an award winning beer and, more importantly, a sales success! Soon after followed other beers that would remake the brewery's image: Breakfast Stout, Devil Dancer, Curmudgeon Old Ale, Bad Habit. Dirty Bastard was the brewery's biggest seller from 2002 to 2006. Then from 2007-2012 their Centennial IPA was the #1 seller. Currently Dirty Bastard and Centennial are neck-and-neck in sales, and the recently launched All Day IPA has overtaken the #1 spot, a beer that took 3 years to develop.
In 2012 they brewed about 71,000bbl of beer, and they expect 2013's output to be around 115,000bbl. The brewery underwent a massive expansion in 2012, having installed two 85bbl brewhouses, a new packaging line, a new canning line, and a new beer cellar, all of which will allow them to grow to about 320,000 barrels a year!
The brewery started experimenting with bourbon barrel aging beer in 2000-2001. They currently go through about 3,000 bourbon barrels a year. The barrel-aged beers are stored 85ft underground in the old gypsum mines in Grand Rapids -- about 6 miles of mine space! While Dave declined to reveal the source of their barrels, he said that many are barrels that had been aging bourbon for 15 to 18 years. The first beer that they experimented with in a bourbon barrel became Kentucky Breakfast Stout, and they have since gotten quite creative with the barrels. They age some specialty beers in maple syrup barrels -- former bourbon barrels that then were used to flavor maple syrup. Those barrels come from BLiS, a Michigan maple syrup producer, and are used to create the complex oaky, sweet, smokey characters in the rare and highly regarded Canadian Breakfast Stout as well as Black Biscuit, Curmudgeon's Better Half, Bolt Cutter, and Sweet Repute.
While Dave also declined to divulge any of the breweries secret projects under development, he did assure us that we won't have to travel to Michigan to enjoy them -- they'll all make their way to New York City when they're ready! For more information, check out the Michigan Daily's article on Founders from 2011, and a recent article about laid-off Miller workers seeking employment at Founders.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Jonathan Moxey of Perennial Non-Flash podcast   

On Dec. 6, 2013 Proletariat hosted Jonathan Moxey of St. Louis' Perennial Artisan Ales. And while it wasn't quite the extreme tap take over by Perennial at Barcade earlier this year, there was plenty of great beer and good cheer to welcome Jonathan back to the city where he discovered the art of brewing!
Full house on a rain drenched Friday night.
Jonathan explained to us how a friend introduced him to homebrewing while working as an editor for the financial services industry in New York, biding his time as he sought to discover what he really wanted to do for a career. He immersed himself the craft brewing world, joining the NYC Homebrewers Guild, becoming a beer judge, brewing scores of beers, entering contests, and taking in all things beer. His success in contests gave him the confidence to return to his hometown and apply for an internship at St. Louis' Schlafly Beer. After an arduous month of brewery hard labor, he applied for a position at Perennial Artisan Ales, where he interned for 6 weeks before being hired on full-time.

Currently, Perennial brews at a full capacity of 2,000 bbls per year on their 8 1/2 bbl system. The brewery is tiny in size, but enormous in stature, brewing some of the most interesting, delicious, intriguing and creative brews you could imagine. A big part of the brewery's identity is their use of fresh, local ingredients. Their Peach Berliner Weisse, which in late summer annually, utilizes local Missouri and Illinois peaches -- 750lbs per batch! Jonathan explained that while they could brew the beer with less expensive and more readily available Georgian peaches, their concept source as many ingredients as possible from local producers.
"Needs more bird!"
B.R. ribbed Jonathan a bit by asking if Perennial uses Cardinals in their Vermilioin Winter Ale. He played along and noted that it is their only non-vegetarian beer! More seriously, he noted that their Walnut Dunkel Weisse uses Black Walnuts from Stockton, MO, and that Woodside honey from Maplewood, MO goes into their triple, and said that coffee is specially roasted for them by local roasters Sump Coffee for their Sump Coffee Stout.
B.R. has that Perennial glow.
When asked about any special brewery projects, Jonathan told us that he recently took part in the blending of Perennial's La Bohéme, which involves fermenting a Belgian Brown Ale with Michigan tart cherries in used wine barrels, allowing the naturally present bacteria and Brettanomyces to transform the beer into something magical. He also mentioned an on-going project involving an all-Brett version of their Aria Strong Belgian Ale. They take a portion of the aging beer out of the barrels each year to bottle and keg, and replace it with fresh beer, adding layer after layer of depth and complexity to the beer over time.
Cory of Proletariat, David of Hearth, B.R., Jonathan and beer writer Chris.
We spoke with Jonathan on day two of the Belgium 2 Brooklyn fest at Mugs Alehouse on Sunday Dec. 8, 2013 and learned a few new things about the brewery, owned and run by Phil Wymore, which adds to our knowledge from previous blogposts on Perennial.
Same crew, different pose.
Bob and Jonathan at Mugs Alehouse.

Menu at Proletariat.

John of the NYC Homebrewers Guild at Proletariat.
Jonathan and Chris O'Leary.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Good Beer 3rd Anniversary

Interview with David of Good Beer (Flash version)

Non-Flash podcast   

Good Beer celebrated its third anniversary on Nov. 9, with complimentary pours of Single Cut 19-33 Queenslagerrr! on draught. We did a very limited post on Good Beer in June of 2011, when first discovering the shop, which has become a near daily ritual. Since the summer of 2011, in addition to the already then established Bierkraft, Whole Foods and New Beer, we're seen an explosion of bottle shops/growler filling stations in NYC. Alphabet City Beer Company, Top Hops, Beer Boutique, Breukelen Beer Merchants, City Swiggers, The Jeffery -- the list goes on, and continues to grow.
David with a rich pour.
Good Beer stands out for their extremely carefully curated selection and fair prices. Their stock is about 80% American craft beer and 20% from countries with established brewing traditions, such as Germany, Belgium, the UK and Scandinavia. Patrons are welcome to purchase both bottles and growlers to go. But only sample sized glasses and pints may be enjoyed on premise, along with light snacks, as a condition set by the Community Board in approving their request for a liquor license. Their food menu consists of organic, local or heritage chorizo, kielbasa, vegan sausage, pretzels, jerky and hot dogs.
Good Beer has also become known for their fantastic events and tap take-overs: Founders, Perennial, Allagash, Dogfish Head, etc. Most of their events take place on Tuesdays during after work hours. They're very vigilant about keeping their BeerMenus listings updated, and you can keep up to date on their events and specials via their Facebook page. In this installment of the podcast, we speak to owner David, as well as some regulars who we know from the Black Top Street Hockey adult rec league, which plays in near-by Tompkins Sq. Park during the warmer months.

A surprised André.
A sign of good beer.