Friday, April 29, 2011

Saison's greetings

Saisons figure big in the South and Central Jersey beer picture this weekend, with River Horse Brewing pouring one at ShadFest 2011, and Iron Hill Maple Shade releasing its saison to mark a brewing collaboration and fete women beer enthusiasts.

River Horse will pour its Brewer's Reserve No. 7 saison (7% ABV) at the annual, two-day townwide event in Lambertville along with seven of its other brews, the most RH has ever put on tap for the festival. (Here's the lineup: Lager, Hop Hazard, Tripel Horse, Special, Double IPA, Double Wit, Summer Blonde and the saison. As in the past, the back lot of the brewery is blocked off for festival crowds and bands. Beers are sold and poured via a ticket system, and commemorative glasses are available for sale.)

RH's head brewer, Chris Rakow, says the Belgian farmhouse ale is a choice style of the brewery, yet one that had not made it into the production pipeline.

"It's one we always wanted to do, kind of a favorite style of the brewery, and we finally got a chance to do it," Chris says. "It has nice citrus notes, earthy notes, a little bit of tartness to it. But we wanted to accentuate the citrus notes in it, so we used lemongrass. To accentuate some of the earthy notes to it, we did white peppercorns. The white peppercorns give a little bit of funk to it, not much."

The saison gave RH a chance to bring its Brewer's Reserve series back around and settle an issue with the brewery's 12-bottle variety pack. Past Brewer's Reserve beers have ended up becoming either year-round brews (like Hop-A-Lot-Amus Double IPA) or seasonals (Oatmeal Milk Stout, Belgian Double Wit).

"In our variety pack, we always kinda struggle on a fourth beer to put in there. Usually it was Tripel. But Tripel's so popular, it's hard to steal that away from (distribution) orders," Chris says. "Then we were putting Double IPA in there, and then same thing, that was taking off. So we were like, 'Hey we could do a Brewer's reserve, get it out there again, and then we'll have a fourth beer to put in the variety pack along with Special, Hazard and Lager, and then have it draft, too.' "

Four bands are on the ShadFest music bill for the brewery back lot. Look for Chris' band, Ludlow Station, to hit the stage on Saturday. (Chris plays guitar in the group; more on that in a future post.)

Meanwhile, down in Maple Shade, Iron Hill brewer Chris LaPierre's fifth turn at a saison is probably his most endearing. Maybe that's because he made the peppercorn-spiced brew, dubbed Saizanne, with his girlfriend, Suzanne Woods (pictured at left), a Sly Fox Brewing representative.

The beer is an informal collaboration aimed squarely at the pleasure of beer, not trying to break new ground. Besides, saisons are a fav of Suzanne's. (Note: The ale isn't an actual Sly Fox-Iron Hill brewery collaboration. However, a round of Sly Fox's saison yeast was used to make it. "Which is pretty much what we always use for this beer," Chris says.) The brewpub will tap the beer (7% ABV, with a golden hue) at noon on Saturday.

Collaboration beers have been a craft beer industry trend lately. Despite that, Chris thinks they're less about fusion than beer enthusiasts may be led to believe.

"They're more about having fun than exploring," he says. "A lot of the collaboration beers I've seen out there, I kinda have to wonder did they really do anything that they wouldn't have on their own?

"With Suzanne and me, it's a little bit different because she's not a professional brewer. So it's more about her influence in brewing something that she likes, that she really enjoys. She loves saisons, and peppercorns are her favorite spice, so it was kinda more about that."

As part of the beer's release, members of In Pursuit of Ales (yes, its acronym is IPA), the Philadelphia-area women's beer club that Suzanne founded about four or five years ago, will gather at the brewpub. As will Beer for Babes, a South Jersey women's beer club founded by beer and food writer Tara Nurin, with the help of Kate Burns of Haddon Township.

Women's beer groups, Tara says, are a way to nudge perceptions of beer away from old conventions. That is, beer is not exclusively your dad's or granddad's drink. It's for everyone, and the visibility of women who enjoy craft beers for the flavor of the beverage, for their power to pair with food and for the camaraderie is growing.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Turtle Stone picking up momentum

There's a tailwind for Turtle Stone Brewing that's giving the planned South Jersey brewery some new momentum.

Ben Battiata, who's developing the enterprise with his girlfriend, Becky Pedersen, says they've worked out a deal to buy a 9,000-square-foot building in Cumberland County. They've already moved into the site the fermenter and bright beer tanks they bought a couple years ago.

Their 15-barrel brewhouse, picked up from a closed Rock Bottom brewpub, remains in storage in Oregon. The brewhouse will be shipped to New Jersey once he and Becky close on the building, located on the Boulevard in Vineland. Their site is a couple of miles south of where Blue Collar Brewing made pale, blonde and Scotch ales, in addition to a porter and Bavarian lager, before closing shop around 2004.

Finding a viable building was a long time in coming for Turtle Stone, and Ben expressed some relief Monday night at landing a site that will fit current needs and those down the road.

"That was the biggest thing holding us up, finding a place that allows us to grow, because I do anticipate some growth," he says.

The brewery will most likely make use of just over half of the building's space, with the remaining 4,000 square feet to be leased out.

Aside from closing on the building, there's other work to tackle, Ben says, namely paperwork: squaring away Turtle Stone's brewer's notice with federal regulators and getting licensed by the state. Wrap into that securing the blessing of Vineland officials, who Ben says support the project.

"Everybody's pretty into it. Originally, they were hoping we'd do something downtown, be part of their revitalization," he says.

Ben envisions getting the brewing equipment installed over the next couple of months. Turning out the first batch of beer depends on how quickly regulators can give the green light. But striking that first mash could happen in the fall, or perhaps a little sooner.

A stout (think American-style at 6% ABV with a hop presence) and a honey blonde ale (accentuated with green tea and jasmine flowers) are still part of the game plan, but Ben says "I've got couple other recipes I'm working on."

He plans for the beers to be available in draft, then bottle and says the to-do list includes scouting for packaging equipment.

The recent growth in the craft beer industry isn't making that easy, though. "The market for used equipment has kind of dried up. I definitely got my (brewing) system at the right time. I'd probably be paying twice as much for it now," he says.

Turtle Stone has been a pursuit of Ben and Becky for five years now (Becky will handle the business side and marketing, while Ben will deal with brewing). Ben took the brewing course at the Seibel Institute of Technology in Chicago in 2007, spent subsequent years networking and last year hit the Craft Brewers Conference when it was held in Chicago.

He passed on last month's 2011 conference held in San Francisco. "It was right in middle of getting this deal down for this building," he says.