The Existential Brewery – Brewing Philosophy and Brewing Business: Part Three of an Interview With Black Bridge Brewery’s Owner

This is the final segment of the actual interview with Tim.  The conversation continued after the official questions stopped and some of that conversation may be posted here as an appendix to this interview for it contained some interesting insights and stories.  But for now, peruse this and ask yourself how you can support your local brewery.

As always, thanks for reading and sharing.

If you need to catch up:

Interview, part 1

Interview, part 2

***

Let’s talk about your brewing philosophy. What is it you want to accomplish with your beers?

Uh, money.

No, every business is money driven. What do I want to accomplish? I want people who come in and travel and they go to breweries – and we do get a lot – it’s nice to hear, like, when they buy a flight and they tell me that every single beer is great. That’s what I want to accomplish, you know, that people that are seasoned beer drinkers, that understand craft beer and that have a developed palate and they can separate out different flavors and tastes and they can pick up flaws, when they tell me that all six that they had are great, you know, that’s what it’s about for me.

My regulars are great, I like my regulars. Like you have your one or two that you always drink. The travelers coming through, they try everything, they’ll get two flights. When I can hear from them that everything was great, that’s pretty awesome.  There’s always a [contemptible person] who gives me a half a star on Untappd on one of my highest rated beers and I just know he’s being a [jerk] or he doesn’t know [Stone] from [Corona].

Other than money, what is it you hope to accomplish with your brewery?

I wanted to bring something to Kingman with the brewery. I wanted to improve the daily life of the community. I wanted to bring something unique. I love this town, it’s my home town, so that’s what it came down to. And I needed a job.

So, when you’re making – lets say you want to make a new beer, what goes into formulating your recipes?

Years of understanding percentages. When I talk about beers to home brewers and they tell me, ‘eight pounds of this and two pounds’ – I’m like, no, no – percentages. What percentage of your base malt or what percentage of this. So when you understand what percentages are and how they apply to all the different beers it makes it really easy to design new beers.

Like, for a typical dry stout it’s a 70-20-10, which, all added together it equals 100 percent. Seventy percent two row, twenty percent flaked barley and ten percent roast [barley]. That’s a perfect stout recipe. Thirty IBUs of one bittering hops at sixty minutes, you’ve got a phenomenal beer that’s a ten out of ten. And that’s just one example. Pale ale same way, IPA, you know, depending if you’re doing English, East Coast, Denver style or West Coast. Understanding percentages of different styles of beers, and then tweak those up or down on each one a little bit and then make it your own and make it unique. Designing a recipe is [ridiculously] simple once you have an understanding of percentages.

So where did you get all this experience and understanding? What are you drawing on?

I brewed a lot of bad beers as a home brewer. You have to fail to succeed. That and I had a mentor, Jason Fuller. He had been brewing for fifteen years before I met him. So, he’s brewed a lot of bad beers in his day and so he took his knowledge on how to make a good beer and he helped me to understand. He didn’t just give me recipes and say, “oh just do this and you’ll be fine.” He taught me percentages, how to understand this style means that percentage of, you know, medium crystal, but no higher than eight percent, no less than six.  In that range. Or whatever beer it was, percentages, and how to formulate recipes. It’s simple after that.

You going to go into any kind of brewing program?

I don’t do well in school.

So, you wanted to bring this to Kingman because Kingman needed something like this. And I agree with you. Something where people can relax –

Something homegrown.

Yeah, exactly, somewhere they can hang out. So what do you need from the community to make this place successful?

I need them to come in the door … and enjoy, you know, the artwork, the free wi-if to do their homework, the sports games that we have. There’s a lot of music that we try to bring down. Things like that. And it seems like, at times, they don’t, they just don’t care. And it’s disheartening. There’s days we have more tourist that come through than locals. And no bar can survive on that. Locals pay the bills and that’s the way the models have always worked. There’s no getting around that.

What do you think it’ll take to get that done?

A good friend of mine owns a jewelry store and when the economy went down his business suffered because he’d been accustomed to selling just the best of the best. He quickly realized to maintain business and pay his own bills and his employees and be relevant in the marketplace he would have to have a portion of his business selling less than ideal stuff – silver, sterling silver, lower quality gold, turquoise, things like that. So he ended up doing one case selling lower quality stuff and it started selling and his revenues went up. So now he has four cases in his whole jewelry store, that sells what he calls [crap].

We were having dinner at Mattina’s about a year ago and he said, “What I realized, Tim, is: if [crap] sells, sell [crap].” I’m not saying that I want to sell [crap] but as that translates into my business- like what you’re drinking, Go to Helles. It’s a yellow fizzy beer, it’s really good. We put it on tap and we’ve been flying through this, more than Evil Red, more than our other beers. So maybe I need to switch some of my focus onto … [crap]. Which is a yellow fizzy. And I think, you know our local demographic – we’re not Portland, we’re not San Diego, we’re not Fort Collins. They’re not open to drinking large amounts of craft beer, but if I had more Go to Helles on tap maybe they would come in more and more just to drink that.

So let me ask you about that. So you talk yellow fizzy beer and just – anyone who likes craft beer just doesn’t like it, they have almost this instant hatred for it. Is it really a bad beer, or is it the corporate ethics behind the beer?

Which beer?

Budweiser, Coors, any of these big industrial-

There’s nothing wrong with that. They don’t taste bad. They don’t taste good. They just don’t taste. But the corporate – you know, I hate when people say “oh, corporations.” I’m an S-corp, the same classification. So corporations aren’t a bad thing.

No. There’s a different mindset when you get into large industrial corporations. And that was my thought – I spent so long just dismissing the beers out of hand because, well, they’ve got adjuncts in them –

They do.

I know, so I just dismissed them because of that. If you just drink the beer by itself it’s not necessarily … bad.

When I go to sporty’s I drink Coors Banquet, and I love it.

It seems to be the ethics behind Big Beer that turn people off to that.

Yeah, Big Beer and InBev specifically, the way they’re doing their buyouts, they’re very strategic the way they drive down the costs. The cost for a retailer of a half barrel of IPA – like Goose Island IPA you can get from the local Budweiser rep for $85 and you can get a half barrel of my IPA for $205. Well, of course you’re going to buy the Goose Island IPA because dollar for dollar it’s a lot less money and you’re going to sell it for the same $5 a pint. Why would I spend $205 when I can spend $85? That’s how they’re hurting guys like me. But, luckily I’ve developed a personal relationship with my accounts to where they’re okay spending that and giving me a tab because they believe in the product and it does sell faster than any of their [beers].

Yeah, and I guess that’s where I was going. You were talking about making more Go to Helles because it’s a “crappy” beer. It it’s not really a bad beer, just like theirs aren’t bad, it’s just the intention behind the beer, I think.

It’s the American mindset of what beer is. I can down it. I can consume it. “Oh I drank a thirty pack today. I can drink a lot of beer, I’m tough.” It’s that kind of beer even though it is almost six percent.

Yeah, I guess I’m just trying to say it’s not necessarily a “crappy beer.” If it sells and you’re making it with the right intention –

It’s not a crappy beer. Go to Helles is very good. I really like it.

So if that’s where you need to go to keep everything successful …

If it’s selling. The second it’s not selling, it’s gone. That’s not true for all the beers. Like Locomotive, I’m brewing on Thursday and that will have been two months since I brewed it.

Yeah you really should not ever get rid of Locomotive. I might not ever come down here again.

It’s a fantastic beer. Stouts just – with every brewery they’re the slowest selling beer. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s a phenomenal beer. Stouts just sell slowly. That’s all it is. I’ll never take it off tap. It’s a great beer.

So what’s the future for B3? What do you wanna do? Anything we haven t talked about yet?

That is yet to be seen. There’s one of two ways it’s going to go in the next few months. One’s good and one’s not so good.

 

Beer Love, Beer Hate, Beer Growth: Part Two of an Interview With Black Bridge Brewery’s Owner

Here is part two of my interview with Tim Schritter, owner and brewer at Black Bridge Brewery here in Kingman.   The previous segment was the B3 Origin Story and we learned a little about Tim, too, and his goals.  This segment will focus on the beers, the favorites and the distribution.  Cheers.

***

What’s your favorite beer, outside of here?

Samuel Smiths Taddy Porter. It’s my number one favorite beer of all time. The late Michael Jackson – not the child molester –

The Beer Hunter.

-the beer connoisseur proclaimed it one of the five top beers in the world ever. I was drinking it before he said that. But I always thought, man this is great, I love this beer. It’s always been a go-to; I always have it at home. It stores well, it ages well, it tastes great and it embodies a lot of what I wanted to make when I made a porter. I’ve never come close. I’ve made some good porters. I don’t generally have them on tap. I feel like I, really, I need to go back to home brewing to really hone in and fine tune some of these recipes that I have that are just like, ‘something’s off a little bit’ because I want to achieve the greatness that Taddy Porter is. It’s gonna be difficult. I need to get their water profile. It’s very technical. It’s science. I feel like I need to do that. It’s on my bucket list, up there with bowling a 300. And I’ve bowled a 299 a few times. And I’ve brewed a few good porters a few times but I’ve not made it to the 300 mark yet.

What’s the best beer here, favorite one at B3?

My favorite one at B3? As far as a seasonal, or …?

Just in general.
(Insert pause.)

Probably Katastrophic Humiliation that I have a glass of right here. That’s a hard one. I desire this the most.

What are the characteristics of B3 beers that you like the most? Aside from the fact that you make them. What makes them special, why do you desire this one? What flavor profiles do you like in the malt, yeast, etc.?

As different as all my beers are, I think they all have a common theme – all the beers that I do are kinda different from the status quo or what the guidelinees say they should be, or what other breweries do. You go to every brewery and they’ve got a golden, a pale, an IPA, a stout and an amber. We have an amber, it’s Evil Red, but it’s not a malty amber, its’ a hop forward SOB. We have a stout, but it’s not just your typical stout. We use a ridiculously high amount of English roasted barley. That’s why it’s so black and it’s so bitter; it’s not from the hops, its from the roasted barley. And then our west coast citrus IPA, Rive Ale, that’s pretty much the closest beer, other than 80 Shilling, that I make to style. I guess what sets our beer apart or what’s unique about them, if this even answers your question – my beers are kind of an extension of myself.  They’re a little bit different, a little bit off. But they’re good. Hop forward, but they’re all dry. I don’t like malty sweetness, under attenuated.

So what’s the best seller here?

Evil Red.

Which one are you most proud of here?

(Insert another pause.)

That s like asking me, in front of my four kids, which one I like the most while they’re sitting there staring at me. But in secret I tell them all that they’re my favorite. Uh, which beer am I most proud of? (More pausing). So, this is gonna sound weird, but it’s the yellow fizzy Go To Helles. It’s the first yellow fizzy beer that I’ve ever made that I really enjoy and I’m proud to have people drink and taste. And I’m really super happy with it. It’s got a great profile. It’s got a malt forward-ness but there’s a little bit of hops in the background. But it’s not sweet; it’s a nice dry finish. I really, really love it. Obviously, the barley wine I love, too. And Evil Red I love. And Rive Ale. I mean, they’re all really good beers so it’s hard to … I have my top five favorites that are tied for first.

I can tell you easier which one I don’t like as much.

All right, tell me that.

Wicked Poison.

Seriously?

I (vehemently) hate it.

Really?

I can’t stand it.

That’s funny.

I sample it weekly, just like all of my beers, just to maintain quality and make sure everything’s fine, like I did today. There’s not a flaw in the beer. It’s perfect and it’s exactly what it should be and it sells. We have people that just love it and that’s all they drink. It pays its own set of bills. I will have maybe one glass a year where I actually order a glass. If I’m having a really bad day and I just wanna get … I’ll have a shot of wicked poison. But now I have Katastrophic, so I’ll just go to this because I actually enjoy this. It’s not just about the booze it’s about the flavor, too.

Interesting. Wicked Poison is one of the reasons I stay down here. It’s not, necessarily, that I like it – well, I do – but it’s one of the beers my wife likes. It was her first so she would always come down here to get that.

Yeah, we’ve converted a lot of wine drinkers because of that [beer]. We’ve converted people that say, “oh, I don’t like beer.” Well here, try this. “Oh my god I like that, what’s that?” Well, that’s beer. “Holy …  I do like beer. You’re right.”  What you don’t like is what you think beer is. And people say “I don’t like beer” and I say, “Really? You’ve experienced all 36 different categories and all the sub-catergories within those categories; you’ve tried every single beer? You can tell me that you don’t like beer?” They’re confused, they don’t understand what I just said. What I’m saying is, shut your mouth, open your mind, try something new. And then if you don’t like it, fine. But I’m pretty sure I can find something here that’ll please just about everybody.

Ok, distribution. How far are you going with your distribution? How far are you right now?

Flagstaff. Well, Scottsdale.

Plans for the future?
After this weekend*, we’ll have about 30 half barrels freed up, because we’ve been buying new kegs and getting them filled and stored for the festival this weekend.  Once the festival is over, we’re going to have a surplus of new kegs and so we’re gonna double our accounts to over forty. That’s the idea.

Just inside Arizona? Are you trying to move outside Arizona yet?

We don’t have any states connected to us that I can self-distribute to. I have to sell to a distributor which I’m not going to do. I don’t have enough volume to make that even financially possible.

How many other outlets do you have in Kingman?
Thirteen Kingman accounts. Three in Flag, between two and three in Williams. One of them is constantly on tap, the other two are kinda whenever we get up there they’ll get another keg and throw it on until it’s gone and the next time we get up there they’ll take a keg. Then Scottsdale; we had an account in Tempe, World of Beers, but they went out of business. Nationwide. There’s still a couple of stores still open. The one in Gilbert is still open. And then Havasu, we’re occasionally on tap at College Street. We’re occasionally on tap at Outlaw. And we’re constantly on tap with at least three taps at the Place to Be restaurant but we’ve been up to five of their eight taps at times. they love our product and it moves fast.

***

End of segment two.  There’s only one more to come and we’ll talk brewing philosophy and expectations.  Maybe more.

_______

*The weekend referred to was October 7 & 8 when the Brats & Beer Oktoberfest was held.  You can read a little about it here.

Brats & Beer Oktoberfest in Kingman

Brats & Beer Oktoberfest in Kingman

img_3811This year was the ninth Brats & Beer Oktoberfest in Kingman. It started on a Friday afternoon, October 7 and I arrived around 3:30, about half an hour after official start time. Not much was going on yet as I entered the gate. There were about fifteen booths compactly arranged and forming a corridor leading to the large tents where the food was served. A slight clearing in front of the food tents made a small cornhole game possible.

 

I stopped at the Smiley and Bee Enterprises table first. We talked honey (since that is their ware), mead, blindness and guide dog. The guide dog is the titular Smiley. It was a nice chat, good way to start the festival. Other booths featured a local writer, some key holders in the shape of classic cars, exotic healing stuff, kettle corn and Italian food. I purchased some pasta and sauce from them. On Saturday, the wife and I bought some of the kettle corn and it was superb. My son went with me on Friday and as we approached the food tent the band Push was wrapping up their set. They had a great sound, very tight, worked well with the crowd. They should be kept for future use.

img_3813img_3810But I was there for a little food and some beer. Therefore I ordered a bratwurst. It was pleasant, tender, not too strong, slight fennel in the aftertaste. It was topped with sauerkraut and mustard, but they did not overpower the sausage. It was paired with a schwarzbier from Black Bridge Brewery.  B3 was the sole beer vendor which was a brilliant decision and certainly made me enjoy this Oktoberfest much more this year. It was a much better choice than just serving boring national beers. The scwharzbier was dressed in a beautiful brown hue that was complimented by the sunlight. It had a medium body and absolutely nothing offensive or controversial, either via hops or malt or yeast. It is my definition of a session beer, an easy drinker. I feared then that it might cost me more money than usual. There was also an altbier on tap. It was a cousin to the schwarzbier, lighter in color, heavier in body and still tasty. Also being served was B3’s Octoberfest. Just. Great. I really don’t know how else to expound upon that beer. It’s Evil Red without the bad temper. Rive Ale, their IPA, was sold out by Saturday night.

If you can scrounge up a handful of friends, the Brats & Beer festival is a tranquil diversion. It would consist mostly of eating, drinking, chatting and listening to the band. It was pleasant. Now, from a younger viewpoint, my son did think it was a little boring – not much variety in the vendors, not much to look at. Nothing to make you want to stay. Interestingly, he also noted that it might be better with more beer, like out of town craft beer.
But, really, no complaints – it seemed well organized and controlled, it was a good addition for down town activities. Keep it up.img_3898

A Conversion, A Party, A Business – Part One of an Interview With Black Bridge Brewery’s Owner

A Conversion, A Party, A Business – Part One of an Interview With Black Bridge Brewery’s Owner

Early in October, Tim Schritter consented to be interviewed. Many of you out there may already know much of the story and many of the facts he related to me regarding himself and Black Bridge Brewery. It was all new to me and I thank him for the time he spent answering my questions.

This is just one segment of the interview, there will be more to come. Part one is a brief origin story of Tim as a brewer and Black Bridge Brewery as a business. Further segments will go over his beers and brewing philosophy, some distribution, and most importantly what each of us in Kingman can do to make it a success. As if you don’t know that bit already …

***

When did you start brewing and why?

I’ve told this story a million times, it should be easy … so, I was dating a girl and it became pretty serious and the way things happened it ended up we were going to have a kid. And her dad – who didn’t really know me or probably like me since I was dating his daughter; he only had two daughters, this is his oldest daughter, so this is his baby girl – called me up and invited me over to meet him and brew a beer and I thought, “well I like beer, I drink Keystone Light like it’s going outta style.”

Keystone? (slightly incredulous and appalled)

I was ‘Keystoned’, that’s what they nicknamed me. –

So I go down there – it’s just downtown here – and he’s got a little seven gallon aluminum kettle pot, like a turkey fryer, on a burner and he’s got extract syrup and probably an ounce of hops and some dry yeast and a bucket. So we’re boiling water, adding the syrup and we’re just talking about beer, and my lack of knowledge about beer, and he’s like “hey do you wanna beer?” and I was like, yeah I want a beer. I’m thinking it’s going to be like a Coors or a Budweiser or something. He breaks open a bottle of Stone’s Arrogant Bastard. I never had that before in my life. That was the worst [stuff] I’ve ever tasted. Ever. Period. Ever. Ever. It’s now in my top five, I love Arrogant Bastard and it has become a huge inspiration for something like Evil Red, for instance, that big malt, hop forward type of style.

So, we brew this beer, I drink the nastiest [stuff] I’d ever had. I went home later that night and I’m drinking a Keystone Light, sitting on the couch, and I’m like, I’m not tasting anything. And I’m really starting to not enjoy this and not know why. I don’t know if it’s a bad batch, the cans are bad, what? So I crack open another 12 pack and I open one and I just don’t like it anymore. Like, that immediately something switched. So two weeks later I go back to his house and bottle this off and I take half the bottles home and I let ‘em sit in my closet then I put them in my fridge – it was just an American wheat – and I cracked that first one open and, oh, it was so good. I was hooked. I can do this. I can brew. There is nothing to this. And there is a lot to this, but overnight I developed a knack and a severe passion for wanting to have great beer. I didn’t know what great beer was but I knew the [sub-par liquid] I was drinking was not it. All it was doing was making me pee a lot, there was no satisfaction out if it, it was wasting money, it sucked.

I took my skills of fabricating and I built me a little stand and I got me a little stainless kettle and a bucket and a fridge and some temp control and just a little bit at a time. I brewed two batches, extract, and I bottled both batches – and I immediately became tired of the hobby because I didn’t want to bottle anymore. I said, if I’m gonna do this I’m gonna keg and that’s when I met Jason Fuller. He gave me a Williams Brewing magazine and a Northern Brewer magazine and I started buying a couple of kegs and a draft system I built and I had two or three beers on tap and built me a bigger brew system, gravity fed, three tier. I went all grain after my second batch, well third batch technically, but the second I had done on my own, I went all grain. And I’m on system number five now. After ten years of brewing.

img_3323
What made you want to start a brewery, do it professionally?

It was a combination of things.

I had people come to my house, because in my garage I eventually set up this bar; I had my draft system, I had my ferment fridges, I had three TVs in my garage, it was insulated, it was climate controlled, it was like a bar.

My garage was a bar.

I never once parked my vehicle in the garage. I had people over all the time and they would just drink a beer and we’d watch sports; I had a grill and I’d cook food for people. It just became this thing, like, why don’t you do this, why don’t you start a brewery? I was always told, like, there’s no way you can do it. You’re never gonna make money. Turns out, they were actually very accurate. So, it was just a culmination of that.

And then, with the economy turning south my other business, that I still operate, it’s a demolition landfill, with a lack of construction comes a lack of demolition – which translates into a lack of funds for myself. I lost my house, both vehicles, I ended up living with my kids in my dad’s house, which is very humbling when you’re 28 years old. The only thing I really kept was my brew system and my stuff. And he’s got a big detached garage and so I started brewing there because I couldn’t find a job, I needed to do something. My other business was still operating enough to give me money. So I started brewing again and I put an open sign up out on the highway, it was on Hualapai Mountain Road, and people would just (say), “what’s this?” and they would pull in and it’s, oh, yeah, I make beer, try it out, it’s free, and they would leave tips. And it became this big following and every weekend it was this huge party at the Garage Days, which is what we called it, and I began to see a huge desire for craft beer in Kingman and there was no place to get it other than the few gas stations. There was no place for people to go sit down and have a variety of craft beer. So that’s when I said, you know, if the bank will give me a few dollars, I’m gonna do this. So I went and talked to the bank and I got a few dollars and I did it.

Who else is involved down here, is it just you?

I am the sole owner. Of course, my dad is around and he helps, and I’ve got Karry, and I’ve got a great crew. We all operate as one; no one here is above anyone else. There’s no boss. I mean, we joke; I call Lee “Mr Boss Man” and do the same thing to Karry. But as far as anything goes, we’re all the same. I guess, ultimately, the responsibility comes down on me.


So tell me this story: the Black Bridge name. I know it’s for a local landmark, but why is it signifies for you?

It’s a railroad bridge. If you go down 4th street,here, the second one (bridge) – there’s three – is THE Black Bridge.

In high school we had a few party spots; Black Bridge was the best because it was completely hidden, it was off the beaten path and yet you could get to it in a Honda Civic. You didn’t have to have a truck, like the other three places. So it was the most accessible for everyone to go party and have a good time at and it was completely hidden from the highway to where the the cops couldn’t see the bonfires and all the vehicles and everything. I didn’t know this at the time, but, for generations high school students have been going to Black Bridge. That bridge has been there since, I think, the ’10s or the ‘20s. It was there, you know, when the railroad came through and that’s what created Kingman. That bridge was there.

And then, coming up with a name for this place … “oh, that’s a great name,” I’d Google it – taken! I’d come up with another name, Google it, taken! I went months, looking for a name that wasn’t taken. Then something came up, “hey remember back in the days when we used to go down to Black Bridge.” So I Googled Black Bridge Brewery. There was Draw Bridge Brewery, but no Black Bridge Brewery, so I said that’s it and we got that name. And it made sense because it’s a local party spot, so now I feel like, in essence, I’m bringing a party to downtown in a legitimate business that generations of Kingmanites will recognize the name by and say, “okay, that’s what this is.”

I’ve thought about looking into that, about names and breweries, because I think some of the best ones are tied to something specific in a community.

There’s two trains of thought about that. If you want to start a brewery and someday have a goal of distributing nationally, well, you don’t want a local reference because no one across the state is going to understand that or know what it is. Think of Stone [Brewing]. Well, a stone is a rock and everywhere you go there’s a rock or a stone. So that doesn’t have a significance to one area, which is Escondido. If it was Escondido Brewing it wouldn’t make sense to sell it in Quahog, you know, Maryland. So Black Bridge is – and I’m not saying that my goals aren’t someday to be huge and be everywhere – but it’s very much a local landmark type thing. But I could always just rebrand to something else.

Black Bridge would work; even if went beyond local. It’s got a good cadence to it. Think about Russian River, that’s somewhat localized but people know it.

Russian River is also very, um, well known river as well.

Yeah, but it’s tied to a locale.

That also goes to show if you have lots and lots of money to develop a lot of products and have amazing labeling and marketing you can do anything, anywhere. I mean, there is literally a company that sells (poop) and you buy it and they’ll send it to someone you don’t like and they don’t know who it came from. It’s called poopsenders.com. I kid you not.

***

End of Part One

Next we’ll talk favorite beers and the singular quality of B3 beers.

The ill feelings caused by Hodgon’s business practices drove Indian merchants to the Burton breweries for their more ethical business practices and more consistent beer supply. 

IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale by Mitch Steele
A bittersweet sentence, I say. Both a warning about bad business ethics, which the beer world continues to have, and a harbinger of the need for consistency 

The Role of Beer Books In Contributing to Beer Culture

The Role of Beer Books In Contributing to Beer Culture

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” ― Haruki Murakami

I don’t really know who that author is; I found that quote on Goodreads. It seems a good fit for The Session this month. The beer blogging Friday host Joan Birraire posited this for a subject:

“The discussion at hand is “The Role of Beer Books”. Participants can talk about that first book that caught their attention, which brought them to get interested in beer; or maybe about books that helped developing their local beer scene. … I believe that their importance for the beer culture makes books worthy for another Session.”

I am certain that the “culture” referenced above is not of the sort found in the pages of this book: Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation.   It would refer more to this kind of culture: “the ideas, customs, and intellectual and artistic conditions of a society or group.” – This definition contributed by Vocabulary.com. The following are the books that have influenced me and that I feel added to the ideas, customs and intellectual conditions of beer and brewing.

Do you remember the Star Trek episode, “A Piece of the Action?”  Yes, the one where Kirk and Spock get to act like caricatures of gangsters from the 1920s (it also introduced the geniotic card game, fizbin, but that doesnt play into this story, so never mind that part). The entire species on the planet the Enterprise crew was visiting had been influenced by a single book that a previous starship had left, Chicago Mobs of the Twenties.  So, Joy of Homebrewing is that book for home brewers. It has influenced, maybe not the planet, but a huge percentage of the home brewing population. Just a few days ago I was commanded to follow the Papazian Mantra – relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew – and that’s, what, about thirty years post-publication! Good show, Mr Papazian. The book is full of great advice and technique, to be sure, and it has a little history, and certainly it contains the home brew philosophy that many of us live by, especially on Brew Day. As far as importance to culture, I put it at numero uno.  

  • A side note: the Trek episode reminded me of this treasure from Retroactive*.  (Wink-wink, nudge-nudge, Black Bridge – Def Leppard Friday’s should be a Thing!)

As far as quick reference goes, Miller’s book, Brewing the World’s Great Beers is fantastic, in my opinion. It is categorized in sections for extract, partial mash and all grain, quickly lays out the basic grist bill and instructions for all the basic beer styles. It’s often where I start in recipe formulating. I like the sparse nature of the book, too. No fluff, just beer stuff; knowledge at your fingertips. Like the JoH above, this book has served me well for years of successful home brewing and has survived two children, several dogs, and lots of Brew Days. 

I am enthralled by Belgian beers so it was a lot of fun to read Brew Like A Monk. There are recipe breakdowns throughout, but also brief histories of breweries and the philosophy of the brewers. I am more beholden to beer styles than I realized, though I like to consider myself more creative than to be restricted by rules since they are, like time and reality, just societal constructs and from what I got out of this book the monk brewers are not interested in styles. They make a beer over and over and know it and treat it like a living thing that must be cared for. As far as culture of beer goes, it seems to me that these monks possessed a proto-Papazian RDWHAH thinking.

Randy Mosher enjoys uncovering the arcane secrets and tastes of beer, firing the desires of other brewers. I’ve only read Tasting Beer, but it was enlightening. It again provided some history and discussed the derivations of various beer types. I’ve also been able to hear some of his talks from the home brewers convention. He seems to be always searching for beer knowledge and wants to correct inaccuracies in technique or folk knowledge or wherever so that all can enjoy true beer. 

History flavors culture. At least, it gives us context which is vital for insight into character, decisions, goals. It is the first step to subtext. You can navigate life without being aware of context, but it just makes you appear egotistical, foolish or a bully. No finesse. So books like Ogle’s help provide context to the beer world. Ambitious Brew was a fun read about brewing history in the United States. It provides a glimpse of the goals of those we refer to now as Big Brewers. What stood out to me was their need to expand. Expand. Expand. Take over. Etc. Now, a century later they still expand, by buying independently owned breweries. Stop helping them do that! I think books like this can serve as caution tape for craft brewers who are huge. While it’s nice to have good beers available nationally when do you draw the line between beer passion and building empire? I remember a time when it was the thing to mock Bud for being the SAME product from one end of the country to another. No character, as it were. Now I can pick up a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale anywhere and it’s gonna taste the same – granted its still a better taste than Bud. Before all the proverbial hackles are raised, this is not any kind of indictment, I am not qualified to make a judgement like that about brewery business and goals. What I’m really saying is history books can add to beer culture because it can make us discuss beer ethics. Ethics are the reason I choose to avoid big beer whenever possible. It’s not the taste, it’s the … context. It’s also why I prefer to drink at a local brewery whenever that’s an option. Speaking of local:  this will be out soon, Brewing Local.

To all the beer book authors out there: Thank You. Your work is being appreciated. You are affecting people’s thinking about beer. Cheers. 
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*A cover, I know. Sweet.  

“That Charming Social Hour” – Sunday Brunch At The Local Brewery

For a time, my schedule permits me to visit Black Bridge on Sunday’s around noon, a beau ideal for a beer session.  First, the beer is always good and, second, brunch is served.  And the brunch is always good, too.  Aside from knowing that “brunch” is a portmanteau of breakfast and lunch I knew little about the meal. 

Evidently it’s an import from Britain.  According to History.com and the Smithsonian the word first appeared in 1895 in an article by Guy Beringer, a British writer. He “suggested an alternative to the heavy, post-church Sunday meals in favor of lighter fare served late in the morning,” writes the Smothsonian.  ”Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting,” Beringer says. ”It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.” – Read more: The Birth of Brunch: Where Did This Meal Come From Anyway?

”Brunch is much more eclectic, although I would say that it has to be on a weekend, it has a festive aspect to it, and it’s social. You never have brunch alone, while breakfast for one is perfect, in my opinion.” – At Brunch, The More Bizarre The Better – New York Times

A local brewery or pub, or taproom, seems an appropriate spot for such an event. They are inherently social.  And, of course, beer expedites the removal of stress and worry when consumed appropriately.  There is a hint of elitism in the history of brunch and so I think that is another reason that it’s good to hold such a meal in a local pub venue. Everybody’s equal there and just hanging about to enjoy themselves. 

 The Joy of Cooking:  All About Breakfast and Brunch calls the meal “that charming social hour.” And then it goes on to say, “along with coffee and tea, it is customary to serve something alcoholic with brunch such as white wine, Champagne (or the combination of Champagne and orange juice known as the Mimosa), or a pitcher of Bloody Mary’s.”

Our local demonstrates they understand the custom and have put their brand on it.  The brewer becomes the chef and offers several plates of ambrosial brunch fare: a breakfast quesadilla, a fried egg sandwich on sourdough, a chorizo breakfast burrito.  They sound simple, which is an important factor considering there is only one cool at the moment, Black Bridge’s brewer. But theses unassuming meals are excellent and certainly comes from somebody who loves to cook.

Bartender Mike recommended to me the breakfast quesadilla and I’ve had it twice in a row now.  It’s eggs and bacon and bell peppers and cheese in a toasted tortilla. There’s a jammy sweetness to the plate that I can’t place, but I love it. It makes me think the bacon is cooked in grape jelly; my drinking companion says it is bacon with brown sugar.  He may be close to correct since Tim did make an enigmatic comment about “bacon jam” some weeks ago. Well, whatever it is I can’t get enough. 

 If all goes right, our party will double in size this coming Sunday, so at least two more people will get a taste of the brunch and the beer.  Speaking of the beer, what works with brunch?  The Joy of Cooking, mentioned above, states that Mimosa’s are traditional for brunch.  Black Bridge provides beermosas (beer and orange juice) and they are delicious – I prefer mine made with B3 Wheat instead of Wicked Ginger; it’s like a creamsicle in a pint.  If you want just a beer, I completely recommend 80 Shilling, the Scottish export.  

If you’re not familiar with the style here are a few notes regarding it.  All About Beer magazine said: “There is nothing fancy or overblown about Scottish ales, but they are instead simple, smooth and genuine.”  This reserved, malty delight thus steps aside and let’s the food be the star while still giving you a beer fix. Over and over, since it’s relatively low in alcohol content. 

The Beer Bible, by Jeff Alworth, makes Scottish ale sound breakfasty.  He writes, “Scottish session ales are closely related to English cask ale; they’re balanced and smooth, designed to keep the palate interested over the course of three or four pints. … Scottish session ales can be read as tiny treatises on the expressiveness of malt flavor. With reserved hopping, you can see the way soft, fruity esters play off a refined woodiness. You find all the classic malt adjectives in different brands—toffee, bread crust, walnut, biscuit—and yet they fail to capture the more evocative elements that spring to mind when you’re pondering these unassuming little ales.”

See, unassuming again. And malty sweetness, a little fruit, yes just a spectacular beer.  It is the consummate companion to the B3 quesadilla.  Now, the brunches come with pozole and your choice of salsa. I always request the hot green salsa and if that’s what you like, Cliff Dweller, the double IPA, accentuates the heat. Very cool.  Well, very hot.