Saturday, July 20, 2013

Carton Brewing: And so it gose

For the post about Carton Brewing's gose beer click here ...

Reminder, this blog page is being phased out with a upcoming website relaunch (see below).

Friday, July 19, 2013

Big change coming for Beer-Stained Letter

Within a few days, Beer-Stained Letter will relaunch as a fuller, easier-to-read website with better features.

For now, you can get a sneak peek here.

It's way overdue for a shift from a blog site, and this forthcoming change will accomplish that. This blog page will continue to exist, but will be labeled as an archive for Beer-Stained Letter:

No new posts will go up on after the relaunch. The blog will be solely an archive of the past 6 1/2 years of writing about New Jersey's craft brewing industry. All posts on it will continue to be searchable and accessible.

Think Jersey, drink Jersey
Jeff Linkous, July 2013

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Bolero Snort rye beer forthcoming

July looks to be a pivotal month for Bolero Snort Brewing.

The Bergen County beer company expects to have a second fermenter installed at its contracted brewer, High Point Brewing, within days, a move that will put a third Bolero Snort beer on the market.

The beer, There's No Rye-ing in Basebull (yes, it's a take on Tom Hanks' line in 'A League of Their Own') will be a 4.2% ABV quaffable pilsner-like rye beer, available in bottle and draft and available in late summer.

Bolero Snort co-owner Andrew Maiorana expects the forthcoming brew to play to a wider audience of beer drinkers, enticing to, say, Bud Light buyers, but still tasty enough to satisfy craft beer fans.

"This is going to be our take on a lighter lager, but still flavorful, and it's going to be a rye beer," Andrew says. "We were always hoping we would be able to put the rye beer out during the summertime, and it just so happens that it's working itself out, because we're going to get this second fermenter."

The second 30-barrel tank is due to arrive for installation at High Point by next Monday, if not before. The rye beer will likely be the brew that christens that fermenter.

"We hope to be selling it late August. We have the approval on name, we have the approval on the label, the keg collars ... everything is good to go," Andrew says. "We just have to get the fermenter."

Andrew and co-owner Bob Olson launched Bolero Snort, based in Ridgefield Park, around the beginning of 2013, striking a contract-brewing agreement with High Point (known for the Ramstein brand) and putting a 30-barrel fermenter in the Butler (Morris County) brewery. That tank enabled Bolero to enter the Garden State's craft beer market in March, first with draft amber and dark largers, Ragin' Bull and Blackhorn.

Bolero's draft business was followed soon afterward with bottled versions of the two brews. But the company was still left with only a pair of brews in the market, while Andrew and Bob's advance marketing efforts in 2011 and 2012 gave beer drinkers in North Jersey (Bolero's primary distribution area) reason to expect a wider footprint from Bolero. (You'll notice by the printing on their case boxes that a porter is part of their plans.)

The answer to that constraint has been to dress up those two launch beers, like the maple-pecan version of Ragin' Bull that Bolero offered for a cask festival at Uno Chicago Grill and Brewery in Metuchen late last month. Such treatments, in effect, have been a way for Bolero to have different brews in the market and hold beer drinkers' interest, despite the capacity limits of a single fermenter.

"Right now, we can't produce a third with the single fermenter. One of the two (labels) would suffer," Andrew says. "There are accounts that take just Ragin' Bull; there are accounts that just take Blackhorn, and you'd be surprise by how many accounts take just Blackhorn – a lot, actually."

Thus, the new tank is the source of plenty of anticipation for Bolero Snort, a crucial step toward growing the brand and distribution.

"We're pumped. We're really excited," Andrew says, during a stop at High Point last Saturday to drop off case boxes and some empty sixtels. "This third beer is going to put us into another level, and increase our recognition in the state. With that, we'll also increase our distribution throughout the state. We're going to spread a little more south, a little bit more west. We're going to try to keep working the boundaries.

"We've been opening up accounts here and there, a bit more out of our immediate distribution area," Andrew says. "We get requests from people, even as far as Cape May, who say they have liquor stores, or ask 'Where can I find your beer?' Unfortunately, we can't accommodate those people right now."

Monday, July 15, 2013

A Ramstein one-off, plus Oktoberfest

Another foray into one-off beers by weizen beer specialist High Point Brewing, which also for the first time bottled a non-wheat beer under its Ramstein brand.

Additionally of note for High Point: The brewery has gotten the earliest jump ever on producing its signature Oktoberfest seasonal.

Released last Friday, High Point offered up a new one-off brew, a bourbon-barrel aged version of its 6.5% ABV maibock, taking the beer beyond its German traditions and big malty profile by giving it a pleasing tang with the addition of some lactobacillus and oak characteristics from the whiskey barrel.

The brew made for a well-received follow-up to a Belgian-style chocolate cherry sour ale that High Point brewed at the end of last year.

For quite a while now, craft brewers up and down the state have been whiskey-barreling some of their beers for maturation and flavor effect. But the Buffalo Trace distillery oak High Point got its hands on was an inaugural effort at bourbon-barrel aging a Ramstein beer. 

The maibock, like the chocolate cherry sour, were tasting room treats, extras for tour patrons who show up at the Butler brewery for the Ramstein lager and wheat beers.

The jazzed-up maibock went fast, gone by early Saturday afternoon, reflecting the potential of craft brewers' tasting rooms to engage the public with small-batch beers that also give breweries and their tour patrons an additional beer theme to take up. It's all part of what lawmakers in Trenton enabled last year when they updated the rules for Garden State craft breweries.

"We had four kegs that we allocated for the brewery. We were open for four hours, and we sold out of them," says High Point owner Greg Zaccardi. "(It's) the excitement we have now with this new law. Let's be honest, we can make a few more dollars, but we also have to make it interesting. People are going to come here and buy the beer only if it's really worth coming."

The flavor profile of the barrel-aged maibock featured caramel-like signatures against a bright citrus quality, plus bourbon and vanilla from the wood.

"It had that tartness, that yogurty tang," he says. "But the nice thing about it is, you get that thirst-quenching sensation, then it stops to a clean finish of bourbon and vanilla."

Giving the maibock the barrel tweaking, taking it outside its traditional construct, put an emphasis on the sensory elements of beer.

"This was a way for us to get to people, get them to come in and think about what's going on – and they're educated," Greg says. "It draws attention to all the elements of beer. People start talking about aroma, they start talking about texture, they start talking about balance, complexity, depth of flavor."

The beer was a one-off, and though it's gone, there's more where that came from, so to speak.

"I'm not saying we're going to make a beer like it every week. But I would like to believe that every other month or so we're coming out with some sort of unique way of making beer taste different that what you're expecting," Greg says.

Meanwhile, High Point already has its top-rated Ramstein Oktoberfest in kegs. July has historically been the month High Point began brewing the märzen for its annual release on the second Saturday in September. (For years, the brewery has made a tour-day event of the märzen, ceremoniously tapping an Austrian oak keg to salute Oktoberfest.)

Over the past year few years, High Point has begun brewing the 6% ABV märzen earlier and earlier, reflecting increased demand for the seasonal, which, as a lager, requires the requisite longer conditioning time. This year, brewing began right after Memorial Day so High Point could both boost production by about 20 percent from last year and better work to distributors' needs.

"In May, we got a list of pre-orders for Oktoberfest from our distributors. They said, 'We'll pick it up in July if you have it,' " Greg says. "So why would we not brew it, if we had bona fide purchase orders for it? That's really what drove us to adjust our production schedule."

Meanwhile, the märzen's junior sibling, Ramstein Amber Lager (5.5% ABV, also called Northern Hills Amber Lager), was recently bottled for the first time ever, a moment that also marked the first instance of High Point bottling a beer other than its signature Blonde, Classic dunkel and doppelbock wheats. (Ramstein Oktoberfest, maibock, imperial pilsner, and golden lager are draft-only brews; the same goes for a 6% ABV pale ale that works its way in and out of High Point's lineup.)

"The beer is a hoppy, slightly lower-gravity sessionable version of our Oktoberfest. We have a lot of interest and (accolades) for our Oktoberfest, and we thought about making it year-round. People always ask us to make it year-round. It's just not designed for that," Greg says. "We wanted to make something that was in a similar vein but could be consumed year-round, and that's what this beer is."

Some of the amber lager, which is a favorite among Ramstein's Facebook followers, is destined for the festival Mondial de la Bière Europe in France Sept. 12-15. It's at least the second time Ramstein beers will be at the event.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Rinn Duin gets OK from federal regulators

Tokens on tasting room bar
 Rinn Duin Brewing cleared a key hurdle last week, with federal regulators signing off on the company's brewer's notice.

That happened on Monday (July 8th); Rinn Duin's application to the state for a brewing license is still pending.

Founder Chip Town says once the ongoing brewery buildout wraps up, he hopes state regulators will be able to inspect the brewery and issue a license quickly.

"I'm expecting by end of August, beginning of September we'll be out on taps," Chip says. "We're that close now. It's a matter of finishing this (buildout) in the next couple of weeks and getting the testing done. Once that's done, a couple of weeks to make the beer, keg it and get it out the door."

Rinn Duin founder Chip Town in the
Toms River brewery's tasting room
The 25-barrel brewhouse, mash tun, 50-barrel fermenters and other tanks began arriving at the brewery in Toms River (Ocean County) late last month. The fermenters and other tanks are upright; the brewhouse is in place, but still needs its scaffolding erected, plus some other installation work.

"Everything is approximately where it should be. Now what we've got to do is tweak the exact position because the piping is all premade," Chip says. "The technicians are here. One is doing the piping, the other one is doing the electrical installation, all the control panels, all the motors. It's probably going to be 15 to 20 days to do the complete installation.

"Once we've got all the piping and the wiring done, I can call for a (certificate of occupancy), and then the ABC will come in and do their inspection."

Brewhouse, assembly required
Forty-four draft accounts have been expressed interest in Rinn Duin's session brews – a blond, a brown, Irish red and smoked Scottish ales. Getting those brews into bottles is going lag behind the draft business a little bit, Chip says. He forecasts bottling to get going in the fall.

Rinn Duin's six-tap, 500-square-foot tasting room was finished during the springtime and is stocked with glassware (shaker pint glasses and growlers). Beer drinkers can expect plenty of brews exclusive to the tasting room.

"Those taps are going to have a lot of different beers in them that you aren't going to see in the bars right away," Chip says.