5 Beers for 5 Years

Congratulations & respect to Black Bridge for making it to the five year mark.  That milestone, no easy task for any business at any time, will be commemorated this weekend.   The little powerhouse of a brewery has accomplished so many things in the past half decade … never pouring a bad pint, securing medals, spearheading the renaissance of downtown Kingman, flashpointing a community of brewers, other stuff I’ve not listed here.  Sincerely, it’s a wonderful place deserving of all its success.

Some markers of success for a business:  1) solid business plan; 2) realistic growth plan; 3) attracting a successful staff; 4) desire to succeed; 5) good product that creates repeat customers.  Mission accomplished, so here’s a big Cheers to Five Years!  A virtual high five, as it were.

Since this my blog I’m going to write about what I say are the 5 best Black Bridge Beers from the past Five Years.  And, of course, I will be right about them all.  Leave a list of five more in the comments.

Locomotive Stout
Alas, this stout is no more.  It has been replaced with Hooley Stout.  To be sure, that is a good beer as are Stresstout and Angry Elf.  But nothing will replace Locomotive.  It contained a ridiculous amount of hops and a ridiculous amount of roasted grain, according to Tom.  That made it ridiculously dry and ridiculously tasty to me.   When I couldn’t decide which beer to have, when the bloody huge taplist just overwhelmed my brain, it was always the choice.  Just the right amount of body, session level alcohol content.  Yeah, it’s pretty much the beer that made me a fan of Black Bridge.

Wicked Poison
It looks like an unassuming, delicate pint of pilsner with a hint of turbidity.  It is not.  Wicked Poison is disingenuous wheat wine and it’s alcohol content combined with an ephemeral drinkability will bring you to a reckoning if you are not careful.   While your local brewer does not personally like the beer, there is no arguing that it is still talked about five years on and almost everyone else in Kingman loves the thing.  It is actually a good gateway beer – wine drinkers, especially, and many who just don’t think they like beer will consume some Wicked Poison and the scales fall from their eyes.  The beer adventure begins.

80 Shilling
I still remember standing at one end of the bar in Black Bridge and Tom at the other and he yelled out “80 Shilling will be ready Tuesday!  I promise!”  Because for a while it was 80 Shilling and Locomotive that I drank and that day they were out of the quiet little Scottish export beer.  It truly is an unassuming selection at B3.  Orangey-red in color, nice sustainable collar, malty sweet and smelling of light caramel and toast it’s just an easy beer to love and drink.  It’s been on tap from the beginning, it seems.  Never bad, never off, always fantastic.

Scorched Earth
One of my first craft beer experiences was Crazy Ed’s Chili Beer.  And it was awful.  I survived, I persevered.  Eventually I had Ring of Fire from Dragonmead Brewery.  That was good.  Then Tom took Evil Red, his hoppy amber beer, and shoved an idiotic amount of peppers in it.  And it was Good.  No, it was better than that.  I still have no idea how he made habanero and ghost chili’s palatable but he did.  Yeah, it takes a little while to drink a pint (if you’re smart) and it numbs your lips.  But there is no better chili/pepper beer.  The brewing of Scorched Earth has become an event in these parts and word is getting out to the rest of the state and even Las Vegas.

Legend of Tom
Coffee Porter.  It takes all the porters B3 has done and combines them into one drink, and makes them all better.  It makes coffee better.  Decent alcohol level,  luscious coffee scent; the first iteration was barrel aged and had the added benefit of the flavor and aroma of spirits.  It’s only been on tap twice but it was brilliantly done both times.  Locomotive made me a fan, Legend of Tom made me a loyalist.

Those are my five picks.  Time and space would fail me if I went on to recount the goodness of Holy Water, Wagonwheel, Smokebox, Chichester, Evil Red, Katastrophic Humiliation.

Need a beer now.

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Rejoice, It’s National IPA Day and All

Today beer snobs can be celebratory since their ballyhooed libation is all center stage and such. Unlike, of course, the rest of the year when it’s only the most popular craft beer style in the world. Well, maybe just the US.  Anyway, yay.

The IPA is for beer snobs. We either cherish it as a gift from the children of Dionysius or revile it as the product of spoiled hipsters and palate starved brewing pioneers. There seems to be little in between areas. No one says, oh an IPA, how quaint; or, how meh, I’ll just have a stout please.

No, IPA fans will slather at the bar and demand vicious levels of IBUs. IPA haters will gather at the end of the bar and roll their collective eyes and mutter invective about mainstream craft beer Hops Hunters. Because IPA is mainstream beer.

And I may be a believer.

I have not forsworn my Belgians and my stouts. But I do grok the place of IPA.

Enough of that!  Drink what you desire and if it be IPA then go forth. There are some wonderful options in Kingman. At Black Bridge I recommend Rival and Cliff Dweller.  Rival is just, well, fantastic. Beautiful color, just the right level of hops, subtle alcohol presence.  At Rickety Cricket, Enigma of Your Imagination. It’s well done, with a very dry finish and some interesting plum and mint flavors that surprised me.

The Barrels

The barrels are on cradles in a back corner of Black Bridge Brewery by the roll up door leading to the patio.  One looks charred and beaten, the other is oakishly white and new-ish.  Both contain beers – as you would expect in a brewery.  The weathered barrel is a from a 10 year old Knob Creek whiskey and it holds the newest iteration of Katastrophic Humiliation.  The other barrel is from Desert Diamond Distillery, used for their 5 year reserve rum; the barrel now contains an aged Old Pretender.  Both barrels were carefully drilled into recently and a few ounces were released for sampling to the small group that bloomed around the barrels.

Old Pretender was brown, like a beer bottle or growler.  It’s hard to expatiate the flavors that were happening in that sample.  The rum definitely holds a presence, some commented that they tasted chocolate.  It’s a rich drink, plenty of complexity to satisfy a good beer snob.  Katastrophic is continually a brilliant beer.  The aroma from the barrel, bourbon and vanilla, will enhance it’s reputation no doubt.  It was very, very dry and a pale bronze color and I don’t remember a lot else about it.  It’s still very young and has to further mature.

Look for both at the Real Wild & Woody beer festival in Phoenix, July 28

Brew Day at Black Bridge

Supporting your local brewery can lead to great beer and brewing experiences. Recently the good folks at Black Bridge Brewery let me spend a day with them and brew K-Town, their understated and charming weissbier.

I arrived there on a Friday at approximately 8 am. Kevin was there, transferring some of their old ale into kegs for transport to an event later in the day. Hops, the the fawned-over-feline and possibly official mascot of Black Bridge, peeked around the stage shortly after my arrival to see who was present to worship him. Well, Kevin was there, so …

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A little before Tim was to arrive he called and had Kevin start up some mash water, so I followed him over to the vessels and watched him work a couple of valves and, voila, hot water started to fill up one of the tanks. Once Tim arrived with more malt we fed that into the grain mill which had been attached to the mash tun. I’m used to working with around five pounds of malt instead of fifty and I usually purchase mine already cracked and have never milled it myself. There’s nothing complicated about that step in the process, dump the bag in the hopper and let the electric drill attached to the crank do the hard work, but at least I can say I have milled grain now. I’m sure there are other aspects to it, such as determining how fine you want the barley cracked, but that was not part of this brew day.

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Once the grain was milled the hot water was transferred to the mash tun and the grains were stirred and temperature reached and …. time to wait, just like brewing at home. While waiting I got to see some new sound equipment that had been delivered and tried to help research a couple of other pieces the brewery was seeking. Around this point, Heather arrived and started going through her routine of opening up for the day.

Then it was time to sparge – rinsing the mashed grains with more hot water to extract all the sugars out of the grains. After recirculating a portion of the mash water a copper ring is attached to the mash tun. Hot water is sprinkled from this arm onto the mash and mash water is transferred to the boiling vessel.  The hot water is added via this sparge arm at the same rate the mash water is transferred into the boil kettle. It was nice to see this method, continuous sparging, in action. I’ve read about it and understood how it was supposed to work. But in my home brewing I’ve used the batch sparging method. So, in a sense, this was new for me, too.

Once the mash tun was drained it was time to clean it out while waiting for the temperature to rise in the boiling vessel. That’s right, cleaning and waiting. Just like home brewing. Oh, and of course there was some beer consumed. K-Town, in fact. I adhered to the head brewer’s pattern of drinking what was being brewed. Good call.

By this time, the doors were open and people were arriving. Tim was mingling with his customers, Heather was pouring beers, Kevin was either playing with Hops or cleaning some fermenting vessels. I think I tried to help him a little, but I may have just had another K-Town.

Speaking of hops, once the boil was reached the hops addition was measured out. I was taught the proper way to tie a string around a mesh bag. The hops, in the properly tied bag, were immersed in the boil. And then there was more waiting. Finally it was time to chill the wort and transfer it to the fermenter. After adding the yeast strain to the fermenting vessel, the wort was transferred through the plate chillers to the fermentation vessel. And we were done.

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All this is just an every day routine for brewers, like Tim (and he did keep reminding me about that).  But it was great fun for me. I was able to see some brewing methods at work that I’ve only read about.  Professional nano-brewing is like brewing at home, just on a bigger scale.  There is much waiting and relaxing and drinking.  Sure, maybe there was not pH testing of mash or water treatment or refractometers – but whatever. The end product speaks for itself.

Tim would be a good educator, by the way.  He walked me through his steps, explaining each valve and why he wanted it to do what it did, explained his motors, talked about the equipment he’d like to have and how it would change his process. While eating lunch with his friend and mentor, Jason Fuller (to whom this town owes a debt of beer gratitude), he talked about hops experiments he did and how those did or did not change the bitterness and aroma values of the final beer.  He was encouraged, during his mentoring, to question everything he reads or hears about brewing, test it, and just brew beer that is his.

I learned a thing or two I can incorporate in my brewing.  I also feel a little more invested in the product being served at Black Bridge.  In addition to all that, it was enjoyable getting to know Tim and the crew a little more.  So thanks to all for the day of brewing.  Now I wanna brew more … another beer at B3 and plenty of my own.

Get to know your local, people, you never know what cool things can happen.  And if you are new to home brewing, definitely get to Black Bridge and hang out.

P.S.  The day after the brew day above we checked fermentation on this batch.  Well, that yeast was vibrant and healthy and working away.  Can’t wait to have some of this batch of K-Town!

 

Old Pricks by Black Bridge Brewery

“They are to varying extents dark, rich and sweet, typically with suggestions of soft, curranty fruitiness and blackstrap molasses.”  – Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion

What’s new is old again.  An old ale will be on tap this weekend at Black Bridge.  It’s called Old Pricks, which is an homage, of sorts, to the prickly pear beer brewed by the women of B3.  That one is called No Pricks Allowed.  This one is brewed by the old men of B3 and they wish to release it just prior to tax day.  I’ll leave you to suss out the pun therein.

What do we look for in old ales?  They’re beers meant to be cellared, or aged.  So you would taste that time in the body.  There will be some oxidation giving it a papery, stale, sherryish flavor.  Imagine an amber or brown beer kept in a cask for several months or more.  They would pick up the quality of the wood.  Additionally, any leftover yeast would act on the beer, continuing to ferment and bequeathing a winy characteristic.   The beer family these ales reside in, mild and barley wine, are oft considered “winter beers,” so releasing during early spring is … bold, maybe?  It’s cool, to be sure, craft beer will be unleashed whenever brewers decide it is their desire.

It should be a malty, complex, stale delight.

That Smell ….
Muted and subdued.  Mostly, I could identify bread.  The pale malt comes right through in the nose.  As successive glasses warmed there was maybe a little caramel  and a slight ester character.  I want to say it was prune that I pinpointed, but I’m not that positive.  It was that kind of “dark fruit” smell, at least.

In Appearance …
Old ales should be darker beers.  Not stout level but a it should have some woody chromatics.  This has a gorgeous spectrum of red, orange and brown and possesses outstanding clarity and sports a sound ivory and tan head.

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But the Taste …
Strong malt sweetness.  Not overpoweringly so.  Also a dry-ish finish.  The oxidation, the staleness I sought was a specter in the aftertaste.  I’d like to see that more pronounced, but that’s a subjective wish, isn’t it?   The body does seem a bit light.  Aging for extended periods can produce such an effect so in that regard, well done.  It was only aged for 3-4 months, maybe some ruggedness will appear.  If not, it does have a slight creamy mouthfeel that is pleasant and at 6.6% abv it does produce a warming alcoholic effect.

In Conclusion …
Another corking entry to the B3 taplist.  It was only aged a few months, so I really want to see what this will be like when it gets a good amount of age on it in the keg but I really enjoy it now, too.  It’s reminiscent of 80 Shilling, neither aggressive or assertive.  Perhaps you remember the bready goodness of Oktoberfest; Old Pricks is like that, darker in overall tone, color and flavor.  B3 has done an altbier in the past to which this might be similar.  I could only find this note about that beer:  “It was a cousin to the schwarzbier, lighter in color, heavier in body and still tasty.”  Old Pricks is just as tasty.  But it resembles some of the barley wines, mostly, though heavier in mouthfeel and not quite as hefty in alcohol.

History indicates an old ale should be nurtured quietly in the glass, near a fire and steeped in quiet conversation or contemplation.  Old Pricks has that character.  It adds to the pub culture engendered at Black Bridge, not requiring in depth analysis to enjoy but not fearing it either.