Sunday, April 15, 2007

Schlafly Weekender



So we went to St. Louis and froze our asses off.


Well, there was quite a bit more than that, but for about a full day it certainly seemed like that. We actually had a really great time, and the folks at Schlafly were amazing hosts. We got invited down to St. Louis to represent Chicagoland beer at their annual Repeal of Prohibition Festival. The drive down was quick, and you know that you are in a different town when you hit downtown on a Friday, at 5:30, and there is absolutely no traffic. It was a pleasant surprise.

Schlafly didn't let us pay for anything the whole weekend despite our best efforts. Once we unloaded our beers, they handed us a pint of theirs and gave us a tour of The Bottleworks, their newer brewpub/production facility.





We socialized with the staff, had a great dinner, and turned in for the night all praying that it might get a little bit warmer the next day. The next morning, it was still horrendously cold. But people still showed up! It was a great turn out. Everyone had great compliments for our Chicago beers, especially the Schlafly brewers, which always makes you feel good.




(Tap room head brewer, Stephen and his wife, Sarah enjoy warm food on a cold day)

After the fest, we swung by this little hole in the wall BBQ place called Smokin' Al's. In my experience, the worse a BBQ place looks on the outside, the better the food is on the inside. Smokin' Al's did not disappoint. They make one of the best burnt ends sandwiches I have ever had. If you are around St. Louis, and you love real BBQ it should not be missed.

We checked out the Taproom downtown, their original location, and got a very cool tour of the facilities there too. More good beer, more good food, more good times. From the Taproom we headed over to Square One, a newer brewpub in St. Louis that is celebrating its first anniversary. We unfortunately didn't have much time to spend there because it was already getting late, but the grand cru I had was tasting good. It's good to see more beer outlets popping up in St. Louis.

But the whole weekend was a very good time, and I hope that some of the Schlafly crew come up to Chicago sometime soon so that we can repay the gracious hospitality.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Tap List 4/11/07

Hoppy Little Gnome (10% a.b.v.)
A beautiful marriage between American and Belgian beer, Hoppy Little Gnome is our nod to Belgian brewers that are nodding right back at us. Chouffe Houblon Dobbelen IPA Trippel and Urthel's Hop It are two belgian beers that are big on American hops. Ours leans closer to Chouffe with it's abbey trippel style dry body but is full of Amarillo, Saaz, and Columbus hops. This is IPA Experiment #2 this year.

Blanche DuBois (5.5% abv)
A painfully delicious Belgian-style wit spiced with coriander and two types of orange peel. Citrusy, crisp, and very thirst quenching, this beer is slightly hazy and perfect for the beginning of spring.

X-IPA (8.0% abv)
You know it, you love it, you ask us for it every time we don't have it on. It's X-IPA, our 100% Amarillo hop bomb. It's not subtle, it's not weak, and if it's at all like our last IPA it won't be on tap for long.


Killer Kowalski Baltic Porter (8.3% abv)
Our deep, dark, full-bodied lager. A slightly bittersweet chocolate aroma with a malty body that hints at dark fruits. It's complex and very enjoyable with a touch of roast finish. This may be the best beer we make all year long.

Social Lubricator Dopplebock (7.2% abv) [almost gone]
A malty, caramel colored German lager with a medium body and a crisp lager finish. Subtle roast and caramel malt aroma that remind you of fresh baked bread or toffee. Loosen up and get out of the cold with a tall glass of this special treat.

House Character Pt. Drei

Some more responses to post:

Stan Hieronymus said...

Shame on me. I came to this topic late, was slow to add a comment and now it is wrapped up.

I hope to see the discussion continued (here and elsewhere). It might be something to talk about as you introduce your beers.

I would argue that the issues of house character and how many beers you can brew well (which is a question I've heard European brewers ask) are different.

Why can't you have a house character and brew a bunch of different beers over the course of a year? You just wouldn't expect them all to show that character.

So you might choose to leave your brewing water unmodified (or less modified), use the same yeast, etc. for some beers. And if you wanted to emulate beer from a particular region then you'd mess with the water, change the yeast and so on.

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Greg Furgason
I don't think having a house flavor is as important as having a reputation for producing well crafted beers, which the two of you obviously have; and rightfully should have. There definitely is a different culture in Europe surrounding beer, ie how it is priced, what is available at which pub, etc. I enjoy a great deal of European beers, but I have the luxury of having the variety of choice at a good liquor store. For a brewery I would say maybe it would be better to not have a house character but a flagship beer. Something that is available all the time that is recognized as a great brew, like the Pullman has been recently. In the past I would say the Iron Horse was the most popular.
Personally I would like to see more specials rotated through. Right now is great because you have 4 on tap. When there are only 2 available it gets tough to choose which beer I want. If you were to analyze sales of the house beers and see which ones were not as popular, I would not be offended to see one or two of them disappear or become specials in favor of a larger rotation of the special/seasonal brews.
Regardless, you both do an excellent job and give me plenty of reason to stop in for a pint and bite to eat.
Cheers!
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I agree with Rich's posting. I think the House Character of Flossmoor Station Brewery is having your 6 or 7 wonderful standards and two or three others to try. It is a bit like Christmas each time we come in and see what is new on the board. We try a sample of each one and decide what we want. When we find something we're nuts about it is a challenge to see how many times we can come back and have another pint or two before it is gone. But when it is gone there are always a couple wonderful new choices from which to choose. There is something for every taste. We've never left disappointed. Keep up the good work!
- Jen
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So in conslusion, there is no conclusion. I heard about a place in St. Louis that uses K├Âlsch yeast for all for all of their beers. I don't know who the brewery is or why they chose to do that, but that would certainly be a distinct house character. I like doing a little bit of everything and I think we do it pretty well. And we have a few medals that say we do a pretty good job too. If more comments or opinions trickle in, I'll be happy to post them.

Friday, April 06, 2007

House Character pt 2

Okay so I have received some responses from you faithful readers. I'm still holding out for more but here is what we have so far.

Just a couple of comments on your "House Character" question.
I tend to agree with you that a wide variety of styles is better. I can't imagine that the brewers at Orval continue to find their profession exciting. They only do one beer. They certainly have perfected that recipe and made a great brew, but my God, how boring it must be to do that every day! A brewery like Three Floyds has their regular lineup that they do all the time, but what makes them interesting for me is the small batch experiments that they do for the pub. Just looking at the variety that they had on tap last week, you had your pick of a coffee stout, an ESB and some kind of weird belgian pale ale experiment. They may never brew those beers again, but that's why I keep going back there. That is also why I keep going back to Flossmoor. Your regular brews are all great, but I've had them all so many times that they've lost my interest. It's the seasonals and the one-offs that draw me in.
Personally I haven't noticed a particular quality that runs throughout all of your beers, which I think is good. I think the only times when a house character is noticeable is when it's not all that pleasant. There is a small brewery here in Indiana that I think has a problem with that. It just makes all the beers taste too similar, and not in a good way.
Just my 2 cents.
Jeff

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Anonymous
Both sides of the debate have valid points I think. In older countries the people would identify more with tradition whereas in the U.S. this is all new. Better to challenge beer drinkers since they come to your brewpub looking to taste new creations. There's always a sad macrobrew that can be spectacularly countered by a far more intense style of craft beer. In Europe the beer drinking culture never collapsed as it did in the late 20th century here in the U.S. until by the force of entropy craft brewing arose.

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Andrew & Matt,
Isn't the problem of a brewery developing a house flavor more like crating your own boring little flavor world? Maybe if you are catering to a small market. But we here in America love diversity. Where would Starbucks be without it? Keep on brewing the fantastic beers you're making now. They're great. Stop worrying and go have a beer.
Jerry S.

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I like it when you have three to four special beers along with your standards. I always like to try the new ones. When I’m with people who may not be as daring or who don’t appreciate other styles of beers, they like your standards.
Rich


I'm still not sure that I have the answer I'm looking for but I appreciate the comments and I will continue to post whatever else comes in. My personal conviction is that while I certainly appreciate house character, I seek it out when I can in the right context, I have experienced it in Belgium, Germany, and other countries, I lean heavily towards diversity when it's up to me to make beer. Unless your house character is "making totally awesome beers," in which case I'm all for that.

I'm just about out the door to St. Louis as I type this. We are serving up our wares from Mickey Finn's, Piece, and Flossmoor down at Schlafly this weekend at their repeal of prohibition festival. I just hope we stay warm.....


Keep the comments coming and maybe I can reach a satisfying conclusion.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Jenlain Beer Supper at HopLeaf / Do American Breweries Need a "House Character"



This Sunday I got a cool chance to meet and talk to a French brewer named Jean-Jacques Giard, of Brasserie Duyck. My girlfriend and I had responded to a message sent out from Shelton Bros. distributor, Ron Extract, inviting us to sup' with Jean-Jacques, (and whomever else answered the invitation), and drink three of the very enjoyable beers that his small Northern French brewery produces. The venue was the Hopleaf, in the Northside's Andersonville neighborhood, long known as one of the best beer bars in Chicago.


(sorry about the darkness of the photos, the French are afraid of flash photography as a people)

Jean-Jacques spoke a little about his family owned, 4th generation brewery, and a little about the beers, two biere-de-gardes, an amber and a blonde, and an abbey ale known as St. Druon French Abbey Ale. They were all solid beers and we certainly enjoyed more than the $20 entrance fee we paid.



When I quizzed Jean-Jacques about why he was in the States, he said that it wasn't really to promote his beer, although the dinner did serve that function to some degree, it was more to try to understand the current American beer culture, especially craft beer culture. I was rather surprised because it seemed like a very ambitious goal, and I'm not sure how long he plans on traveling for.

While we drinking and discussing the large diversity of American beers, Ron brought up that one of his pet peeves, or complaints, or wishes, or something to that effect, is that most American brewers, (re: craft brewers), try to do a little of everything rather than focus on a few different beers and really make them specific to the region or the establishment. In Europe where one brewery might have been brewing for hundreds of years their beers tend to be very specific and have either a local flavor or a very specific house flavor. Bamberg, Germany is known for having "Rauch" or smoked beers. Schlenkerla is on of my favorites and in fact they make a helles that has no rauch malt in it but still has a house flavor of smoke. Ron's example of an American brewery that makes an effort to have a house character was Jolly Pumpkin in Michigan. (They are also the only American brewery that Shelton Brothers distributes.) Pretty much all of their beers are sour beers and the reuse of their wooden barrels and wild belgian yeasts lend to a very specific character.

So why don't most American craft brewers have this kind of house character? I personally think there are a lot of reasons. I also think that here at Flossmoor we do have a house character in our house beers. We use the same yeast strain that we have used since day one for all of our house beers, but we don't really have the facilities to store the yeast in house and use generation after generation of it like some breweries. It's a commercially available yeast strain that any brewer could buy and use so it doesn't really make us that unique.

But, 1) having a specific house character is a bit of a risk. If people don't like it they tend to group all of your beers together into a category of "beers they aren't interested in drinking."

2) We have only been around for 11 years. Most breweries that have distinguished flavors that Ron is looking for have been around for decades or centuries.

3) It's boring to always make the same beers the same ways or to have a handful of beers that all taste similar. Right now on tap we have a belgian wit, an american double IPA, a Baltic Porter, a German Dopplebock, a milk-stout, and all of our house beers. Variety is the spice of life. (I also think that we do a pretty good job with these styles whereas I think some might argue that a lot of brewpubs try to do a little of everything and get nothing right. Jack of all trades master of none kind of thing)

So what does everyone else out there think? I'll be happy to post some of your responses if you e-mail them to us using the "E-mail the brewstaff" link on the right side. I'm interested to hear what yous peoples out there think.