Even when I’m not working on my business plan, I’m usually thinking about Panic in some way. I ride the El to and from work each day and have plenty of time for thinkin’. I purposely don’t read on the train because I want to mull over various aspects of the brewery. One of the main aspects I think about is the damn beer. I’m really not overly concerned about getting the brewery open. I know there will be many hurdles to overcome, not the least of which will be the impending funding process, but as I’ve written many times, all problems will be mowed over.
Truly, my biggest “worry” is the beer. I don’t want to just get a brewery up and running and produce beers. I want to brew world class, award winning beers. Like GABF/World Beer Cup gold medal beers. That’s not to say I’m interested in brewing just to win awards, I just want to brew beer that I know people really enjoy and awards are just a part of that validation I guess. Obviously there are hundreds of amazing beers out there that haven’t won those awards, but this is one of my goals. If my beers never win, which is highly possible, at least it won’t be for trying. I will always be researching, reading, learning, and experimenting to get my beers to that level, regardless of the outcomes.
Before I get to that point however, I need my initial beers to be … I don’t know…great? Good? Well liked? I don’t want to sell my beer to someone just because it’s local (although during the first couple of years, hey, whatever it takes, right?), I want people to seek out my beers. Is that possible at launch? Well, probably not right out of the gate, but I will strive for that every day, I assure you.
What I’m taking a long time to say is I’m really working hard on my two initial flagship beers. That means I’m CONSTANTLY thinking about recipe and process tweaks while being acutely aware of certain hop varieties availability. So here’s the lowdown on my beers as of today, keeping in mind this might very well completely change over the next few months:
Flagship Beer #1: This was originally going to be a Belgian rye ale. Very, very pale, very dry, easy to drink. After much experimentation with various amounts of malted and unmalted rye (up to 25% of malted rye), I decided that the taste of the beers weren’t matching the flavors I envisioned in my head. So I decided to move more in the direction of a simple Belgian ale in the vein of Westvleteren Blonde, one of the best beers I’ve ever had. Very dry, very easy to drink, very refreshing. I’ve been experimenting with different Belgian strains, always comparing them to the yeast that Westvleteren uses, which happens to be Westmalle’s yeast (White Labs WLP 530/Wyeast 3787). I love the flavors derived from this yeast and one very interesting thing I’ve discovered is that although it attenuates very nicely, it also flocculates incredibly well. That means very clear beer without filtration or finings. I’ve also used Wyeast 3522 Belgian Ardennes yeast. It too creates wonderful flavors, attenuates nicely, and flocs quite well (although not quite as well as Westmalle, but I like a little haze in my beer personally). Then a few weeks ago I had a Dupont Saison on tap. Now, I’ve had Dupont many times, even on tap, but usually it’s been from those stupid green light-struck prone 750ml bottles they use. That skunked flavor and aroma really detracts from that beer for me (or any beer). The one I had on tap, however, was beautiful. I guess it had been awhile since I had Dupont Saison on tap, but this one was just beautiful: dry (I love dry beers. Love them.), crisp. effervescent, lovely earthy flavors. Just a world class beer. So now I’m experimenting with saison yeasts. Perhaps this Belgian ale I’m working on will be closer to a saison than anything else. One caveat for me, however, is that I usually don’t care for American craft beer saisons. I try as many as I can find, I’ve yet to find one that really comes close to the nuanced loveliness of Belgian ones, except for Jolly Pumpkin’s Bam Biere. Love that beer. They all seem to come off as too fruity/estery and, well, klunky. Does that make sense?
So where am I with this recipe? I just kegged 10 gallons of my latest version split into two 5 gallon batches, one with Westmalle, one with Dupont saison. My verdict thus far is that the Dupont versions reminds me of every other American saison (save Jolly Pumpkin’s of course). It’s good and my hop schedule could use a lot of tweaking, but all in all I’d say I’m not overly impressed. A little too estery/fruity, not earthy or dry enough for what I’m looking for. I’ll use the yeast again and try some really low mash temps, much like Dupont does, and I’ll change my hop schedule, but if I can’t get closer to where I want to be with this beer, I might just hold off on launching with a Belgian ale, and I’m totally ok with that. I’ll get it right some day and I’ll sell it, but until it’s where I want it, I’m not doing it.
Flagship Beer #2: If I could get Citra hops on contract when I need them, this recipe would be damn near done. But alas, that’s not the case. So now I’m trying different hop combos and using some hops I’ve never used before. It’s been really fun researching and trying different hops, so I see this as a very fun and interesting problem to solve. And the worst thing that will happen is I become a lot more knowledgable about hops, something I feel I definitely need, and that can only happen by experimentation. This beer will be the hop forward beer of the initial Panic portfolio. Very pale and lots of late hopping for flavor and aroma. I think people will really enjoy this one once I’ve figured it out.
Flagship Beer #1B: So if I decide to not move forward with my Belgian recipe, I’m going to need another flagship beer, right? Right. What will it be? Well, I have a special place in my heart for a certain style of beer and there’s one American craft beer version that I feel gets it right. I think maybe we need another one. That, however, is under wraps for now. .
I hope it’s apparent that I’m putting a lot of effort into these beers. I’m not just trying to get a brewery up and running and push out some overly hopped IPA’s that hide any flaws in the recipe. I’m trying to create highly drinkable, nuanced beers that are at least a little different than what you can find in the market right now, at least in Chicago. Will I get there? Oh yes, I will. That doesn’t mean everyone will agree with my idea of what “highly drinkable, nuanced” is, but the great thing is it’s American craft beer and there’s definitely something for everyone. I’m just trying to add my somethings.