Monday, August 23, 2010

'Untraditional for a traditional brewery'

High Point Brewing will soon roll out the 2010 version of its Ramstein Oktoberfest.

Followers of the Butler brewery know the märzen speaks to German traditions of noble hops and a decoction mash for a rich, malty beer. And in a growing Ramstein tradition, the draft-only festbier will be debuted at the brewery's September open house (Sept. 11 this year, 2 to 4 p.m.).

But sometimes tradition can use a little standing on its head, like the West Coast turn High Point took with its draft-only golden lager, another malty Ramstein brand that holds the No. 2 spot behind its top-seller Blonde weiss beer. (The golden lager is brewed as Ghost Pony lager for the Harvest Restaurant group across North Jersey. Charlie Schroeder, brewmaster at Trap Rock, part of the Harvest chain, makes a house version Ghost Pony for the Berkeley Heights brewpub.)

For High Point's Aug. 14th open house, Revelation Golden Lager was jazzed up with a load of Centennial hops left over from a homebrew contest the brewery co-sponsored with The Office Beer Bar & Grill. (High Point scaled up the winning pale ale recipe and brewed it for The Office's several locations.)

"For a long time, we've been known as a brewery that makes very malt-driven beers that are traditional in the German way of making beer," says High Point owner Greg Zaccardi. "I guess what we did a was something very untraditional for a traditional brewery."

Greg explains the late-summer open house feature this way:

"I took an immeasurable amount of Centennial hops and put it into a keg ... then we filled it up with Golden Lager." The citrusy Centennials are "very untraditional for a German beer. It was a total redesign on the aroma and flavor of our traditional lager."

At the open house, unfiltered versions of Revelation – with and without the Centennial hops – were on tap for the monthly brewery tour-takers.

A few diehard Ramstein fans made the grapefruit-hop face upon tasting the West Coast version, but the brew still found favor among the crowd.

"I think it was a big surprise for everybody, including myself," Greg says. "We got a number of people interested in trying it; we sold a number of growlers. I thought it was a great way to explain to people in taste terms what hops can do to beer."

FOOTNOTES: Pictured up top is Ron Clark of Oakland, who makes the obelisk-like taphandles for High Point.

A shout-out to Chuck Kady (left) of Wayne, who sported a Kentucky Ale T-shirt (the brewery is located in Lexington, Ky.).

Chuck was three months beyond a pass through the Bluegrass State, where he visited his brother-in-law, who's stationed at Fort Knox and lives near Brandenburg, Ky.


MillerCoors is looking to gin-up its craft beer holdings by creating a division dedicated to that enterprise. Read all about it here.

Why is this happening?

Because even in the dismal economy we're all enduring right now, there's a taste for variety, and we'd argue that bland beers have offered no comfort. Yet the craft beer labels do. And as the Brewers Association has pointed out, craft beer sales are up 12 percent for the first six months of the year, while overall beer industry sales volumes are down almost 3 percent from the same period last year.

Mega-brewer MillerCoors has picked up on not just that but the fact that its own labels in that market segment – Blue Moon and Leinenkugel – have performed well.

The Blue Moon portfolio is a veritable brand slate of lunar phases. Besides the Belgian white that is Blue Moon, there's Honey Moon, Harvest Moon and Full Moon, all satellites of planet MillerCoors, which has seen its core labels Coors Light and Miller Lite go flat as far as sales are concerned.

Is this a small step for MillerCoors, or a giant leap into a craft beer street fight? We'll just have to wait and see.

It's worth mentioning, though, that some of those brands under MillerCoors control are transition beers and have let Bud, Miller and Coors drinkers take flight from their old mainstays and go a little deeper toward fuller-bodied beers and different styles. The more adventurous drinkers keep climbing toward the revved up IPAs and other exotic craft beers, especially, we've noticed these days, the younger beer drinkers, the folks with no real or memorable attachment to the labels their parents and grandparents stocked the fridge with.

Stay tuned.