Author: Mike Reidel

(L–R) Toasted Barrel Co-owners Lynn Litchfield and Sage Dawson plan to concentrate on sour beers at their Marmalade District brewery. Photo: Any Fitzgerrell.

The next time you find yourself shopping for beer, take a look around: You may notice that for the most part, your selections are generally variations of English ales and European lagers. Rarely in our market do you come across sour “wild” beers, but this is not to say that they aren’t out there—you just have to do a little more hunting for them. Wild ales are often seasonal offerings and disappear within hours of hitting the shelves. It’s a testament to the Utah beer drinker’s evolving palate and thirst for something new. Toasted Barrel Brewery Co-owners Sage Dawson and Lynn Litchfield would like to make wild beers the norm in their Salt Lake City brewery, placing them above all others.

In 2000, Dawson relocated to SLC from Portland, Oregon. He’d found his beer options limited and turned to home-brewing to satisfy his craft beer cravings. “It was the only way keep my sanity,” Dawson says. Armed with an education in biology and microbiology, Dawson had a unique way of viewing his home brews. “My studies shined a light on the yeast part of brewing,” says Dawson. “I felt that the essence and flavors of the yeast were the primary drivers of what I found to make beers taste exceptional—especially sour beers.” Litchfield agrees: “We’d like the yeast to be the star of our beers, and sours are the perfect showcase for yeast-driven beers,” he says.

As to what about wild yeast makes it so important, “There’s a complexity of flavor that comes from these less-tame strains,” Dawson says. “We’d like to exploit these and create varying combinations that we hope the consumers will be drawn to.” Litchfield adds that they’ll acquire these bugs from standard yeast labs and hope to collect them from different areas of Utah. Dawson says, “We’re proud of where we live and want to utilize the natural yeast from our environment, and we want to make beer that’s sourced from our air.” One of the ways they plan on doing this is through the use of a coolship, an open-air vat that draws upon the natural yeast in the air to ferment beer. “We’re going to fabricate a mobile container on a flatbed trailer,” Dawson says. “Basically, we’ll do our brewday, get our hot wort [unfermented beer] into the container, drive out to the West Desert or up to the high Uintas, then open up the wort to Utah’s beauty and let environment ferment the beer.” After a day or so, the boys will bring the beer back to the brewery and put it into proper fermenters and let the bugs do their job without the help of any other yeast. “It will take a while, probably a year to produce,” says Litchfield, “but we think the end results will be an incredible beer-drinking experience.” Dawson also notes that hitting different times of year in the same spots will cause “variations of different bugs as well.”

These are some serious “old-world” techniques. As far as whether Salt Lake’s beer market is mature enough to appreciate having wild beers available on a daily basis, Dawson says, “We don’t want people to be shocked or offended by the tartness, so education and information will be big priorities for us.” Litchfield notes that they ask for three sips: “The first is overwhelming and shocking,” he says. “The second sip is akin to getting your balance. The third sip gives you the opportunity to explore the flavors.” Dawson chimes in, saying, “The flavors can be very appealing to those with wine sensibilities.”

Though sour beers will be the focus at Toasted Barrel, Dawson says that it’s not all they’ll be making: “Sours will be our focus. We’re going in the complete opposite direction as most breweries. IPA and other non-sour beers will be our side project.”

Since these are time-intensive beers and the brewery is still in the building phase, they need beer to open the doors with. “We’re going to start off with some sour beers that we can get out to the consumer quickly,” Dawson says. “Berliner Weisses, goses, tart saisons. These are beers that can be soured quickly and be ready on opening day.” Opening day looks to be happening later this summer. When you do show up for a pint, you’ll find a tasting room with taps and a cold case full of high-volume bottles to take home with you. “You’ll be able to come in and try a small amount of each of our bottled beers so you can get an idea of what works best for you,” Dawson says. “We’d rather go this route, rather than have you spend a lot of money on beer that may not work for you. Plus, it gives us an opportunity to educate our customers on what they’re drinking.”

Toasted Barrel will be located in the Marmalade neighborhood of Salt Lake City with Red Rock Brewing and Mountain West Cider as neighbors. Dawson and Litchfield are hoping that locals and visitors alike will appreciate the time that goes into crafting their unique Utah beers. “In the coming year, we hope to have 80 percent of our beers barrel-aged, including whiskey-barrel-aged ales,” says Dawson. “We believe there’s an untapped market [with regard] to sour beers. Yeah, there are a few seasonal offerings that come around every so often, but we’d like to have wild beers available every day for people. If you’re not a fan of regular beers, we think you might like these.”

Brian Coleman’s IPA output at 2 Row Brewing demonstrates his hoptitude in the form. Photo: Talyn Sherer.

Over the last decade or so, the American-style India Pale Ale has quickly risen to become the most popular craft beer style since the mid-’80s. Utahns have not been insulated from this trend at all. In fact, our brewers have been keeping pace with the rest of the nation with regard to quality and drinkability. One such local brewery that has been making a name for itself in the IPA game is 2 Row Brewing Company. Owner and Head Brewer Brian Coleman’s take on the bitter ales has been met with anticipation and enthusiasm due to his ability to make world-class beers that stand up against the trendiest beers in America.

You may have noticed an evolution in the flavor of these hoppy beers. “Citrus and tropical fruit flavors are dominant right now,” says Coleman. “The more piney and herbal styles just aren’t selling that well right now.” Brian refers to the hop profiles in IPAs. “Over the last decade, hop producers have been developing hops that create a much more pleasant drinking experience. Instead of harsher and more abrasive bitters, they now take on softer, citrus, berry and even tropical flavors, and that has really boosted their popularity.”

2 Row Owner and Head Brewer Brian Coleman’s take on the bitter ales has been met with anticipation and enthusiasm due to his ability to make world-class beers that stand up against the trendiest beers in America. Photo: Talyn Sherer.
2 Row Owner and Head Brewer Brian Coleman’s take on the bitter ales has been met with anticipation and enthusiasm due to his ability to make world-class beers that stand up against the trendiest beers in America. Photo: Talyn Sherer.

In the brewery’s short two years, 2 Row’s beers have developed a cult following among beer drinkers. ”Even when I was a home brewer, IPAs were my favorite style to make,” Coleman says. Even then, he was known for his professional-tasting beers. ”I was really focused on making them better than the commercial beers that were available,” he says, “and when I was doing IPAs really well at home, that was the same time I knew I was going to start a brewery.”

But having a love for something doesn’t necessarily translate into making it well. “I knew that if you’re going to go commercial, you really have to make excellent IPAs,” Coleman says. “If you can’t do that, you’re not going to stand out with anything else.”

While the ingredients are important, there are other factors that can make or break a great beer. “I’ve always believed that water chemistry is extremely important,” Coleman says. “It’s one of those things that really sets commercial beer apart from home brew.” What is present (or not) can greatly affect hop flavors. “Reverse osmosis, mineral content, even pH levels in the wrong combination can make a great recipe average.”

As we sampled an IPA, Brian admired the beer like it was a pet. ”Another thing that helped take the beer to the next level was oxygen’s role in IPAs,” he says. “I didn’t realize that a little carbon dioxide wasn’t enough to purge all of the oxygen out of the beer.” While oxygen is important to the beer before fermentation, it’s extraordinarily bad once it’s done. “We now have a process where I can measure how long it takes to remove all of the oxygen from the beer,” says Coleman of a costly and time-consuming effort that some breweries may not be able to implement. “We purge the tanks with CO2 10 times longer than we originally did. It takes massive amounts of gas to get the O2 levels down to where we need them to be … It keeps the beer fresher longer. It’s the difference between tasting the ingredients individually versus it tasting muddled, bland and cardboard-like.”

It was becoming apparent to me why my home brews were never on his level. Coleman says, “For me, brewing beer is a matter of getting not just one or two things right, but hundreds of things right. It’s not just recipe formulation or oxygen levels. It’s like conducting an orchestra. Every instrument has its part to play, and the timing has to be perfect for everything to sound right. It’s the same for the beer.” Hitting all of those steps every time is a big reason why these IPAs stand out. “If you’re able to get 80 to 85 percent of those steps, you’ll have a good beer, but we strive for 100 percent of those steps every time.”

All of this great science is cool and all, but if you don’t have the hops that your customers are craving, they’ll probably look elsewhere. “I’ve gone to great lengths to acquire the most flavorful hops available,” says Coleman. “Most are in great demand and can be a little spendy, but they’re so worth it.” As we continue to sample IPAs, it’s clear that there’s a massive variety of hops used here. “We’ve been experimenting with so many varieties of hops that I’m not sure what I want to use six months from now,” he says with a grin. “At this moment, I’m looking for fruitiness in hops. The Northeast style IPAs are really hot right now.” The Northeast style of IPA is far more cloudy-looking and much more fruity and less bitter-tasting. “We’re focusing on those. I’d like to have three different types of those in my cold case at any given time.”

IPAs continue to dominate the craft beer scene. Breweries like 2 Row ensure that consumers are never bored with their beer selections. “I love the challenge of making IPAs,” Brian says. “They’re not the easiest beer to get right, but when you do, there’s nothing in the world like them.”

(L–R) Uinta Head of Research and Development Isaac Winter and Brewmaster Tanael Escartín synthesize creative brew ideas for large-scale craft beer output. Photo: ColtonMarsalaPhotography.com.

If you’ve been following America’s craft beer movement over the last few years, you may have noticed that the trend in brewing has been to break all of the rules and to bend and twist old beer styles into new ones. Locally, one of the more noticeable innovators of craft beer has been Uinta Brewing Company. For many years, Uinta had been playing it safe in the national beer game, concentrating on making traditional styles as technically perfect as possible. They garnered many awards for their beers, but there wasn’t a lot of buzz surrounding their beers like there was for other regional breweries. That all changed last year when Uinta committed to a massive campaign that would change people’s conception of what craft beer could be.

To start, you need people who not only understand beer but who are also aware of why things will or won’t work. They found these qualities in a team of their two senior brewers, Brewmaster Tanael Escartín and Head of Research and Development Isaac Winter. These are two of the most educated brewers in the state—if not the region. Escartín, Uinta’s new Brewmaster, is a native of Venezuela who has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and a master’s degree in brewing science. Winter is a local boy who has a chemistry degree from the University of Utah and also studied at Scotland’s Heriot-Watt University, where he received his master’s in brewing and distilling science. Over the past year, they have been tasked to blast the local and national beer scene with new, ingenious products.

“It was time to freshen up our portfolio and be more innovative,” says Winter with regard to Uinta’s new direction. “In late 2015, we began putting a plan together to see what new beer from Uinta would look like. We looked at new packaging, yeast strains and styles that would make people take notice.” And notice people did. Over the past 15 months, Uinta’s team has been experimenting with sour beers and wild strains of yeast—like with their Brett Sea Legs Sour Baltic Porter—or partnering with local distilleries such as Beehive Distilling on their Jack Rabbit Gin Saison, as well as coffee roasters like Salt Lake’s Publik Coffee in their Stompin’ Grounds Coffee Stout. They’ve even created a pineapple beer that’s puckering and mouthwatering called Flamingose—no small feat for a brewery of their size. “This is what separates the craft breweries from the big breweries,” says Escartín. “The beer industry is getting more competitive, which forces us to become more creative and innovative with our products.” Their brains are hard at work trying to infuse nontraditional ingredients like cucumbers into saisons and coffee into pilsners—even soured IPAs with peach! “It’s nice to challenge our customers with complex beers because you never know what will stick,” Escartín says.

The process of getting all of these new and unique-tasting beers out to the public is a lengthy process when you’re brewing beer in such large quantities. It takes more than just two creative brewers. “We work very closely with our sales, marketing department and the public,” says Winter. “Their data helps guide us in the best directions. Hop Nosh Tangerine IPA is a great example of that: They saw that fruited IPAs were hot around the country. We tried many different variants to see what would stand out, including a melon version and another with [makrut] lime leaf, but we settled on tangerine because it worked best with the hops we already were using.”

Escartín seems to take it all in stride from her perspective as Brewmaster. “I think the only challenge is brewing at the high volumes that we produce at,” she says. “It’s always easier to be more creative when doing small batches, but I think we’ve managed to find a way to exist in both worlds.” Winter adds a little perspective on the challenges that large craft breweries face when developing innovative beers on a huge scale. “When brewing on an average 10-barrel brewing system [1 barrel = 25.8 gallons], you acquire, let’s say, 100 pounds of tangerine per batch of beer. For our production needs, we had to contract for about 35 tons of tangerine puree.” Escartín then adds, “Which can be challenging, to find producers that can consistently meet large-scale quality needs. The grocery store just isn’t an option for us.”

2017 will still see more new options coming from Uinta, though not on the scale we saw last year. We’re already enjoying new brands like Hopscursion Brett IPA, 801 Lime Pilsner and their new Golden Ale Rotating Park Series. In the coming days, you’ll have yet another new beer to quench your thirst this summer called West Coast Style IPA. It will be a filtered, tropical and citrusy IPA that will come in at a relatively light 6.3-percent ABV.

Winter and Escartín are optimistic about what this new direction for Uinta has in store for us and them—as long as they stay grounded in the world that made craft become so popular. “There’s some respect that has to be paid to the world’s brewing heritage,” Isaac says, “but there’s nothing wrong with throwing all those rules out of the window once in a while if it means you can create something new and exciting.”

Fisher Classic Lager, A. Fisher Brewing Co.

Fisher Classic Lager

Brewery/Brand: A. Fisher Brewing Co.
ABV: 4.0%
Serving Style: Draft, crowler

In 1884, a beer brewer by the name of Albert Fisher immigrated from Germany to Salt Lake City. About a decade after setting up roots here, Fisher purchased 15 acres of land on 200 South on the east bank of the Jordan River and established the A. Fisher Brewing Company. Fisher’s brewery quickly became the largest brewery in Utah and one of the largest in the West. Fisher’s brewery thrived—it even survived the dark days of prohibition, and it continued to operate until the early 1960s when it was bought out by Lucky Lager Brewing. Now, 132 years later, four men—Steven Brown, Tim Dwyer, Colby Frazier and Tommy Fisher Riemondy, is one of Fisher’s descendants—recently resurrected Utah’s most historically successful brewery. The new Fisher Brewing is located about a mile away from the original brewery, in the Granary District of Salt Lake. There, the reborn brewery makes all kinds of beers that Fisher’s original brewery couldn’t even conceive of, like a red beet saison beer. One beer that Fisher’s new pilots will always keep the same is their Classic American Lager. This is the tribute beer that pays homage to the lagers that Fisher built his empire on. The beer has proven to be so popular that they have already had to buy bigger fermenters to keep it from running out. So what’s so special about it? 

Description: This American interpretation of a German pilsner pours a lightly hazy, golden-straw color with a nice amount of streaming carbonation that builds up a two-finger, dense, white head. The head retention on this beer is quite strong—the foam creates soapy-looking tendrils of lace that cling down the glass, but it eventually reduces to a nice, thin cap that lasts until the glass is empty. The nose comprises aromas of lemon zest, pear, pepper, apple, cracker, bread, earth, florals, grass and herbal spiciness. It’s complex but fairly mild. The taste starts off similarly to the nose with a bit of lemon zest and pear-like notes. Next comes a bit of peppery yeast and ghostly apple flavors. Cracker flavors from the malt begin to show their dominance midway through the palate, rounding out the previous yeasty notes. Toward the end, the hops begin to take over with flavors akin to grassy flowers, light pine and herbal spices. The finish is lightly grassy and mostly dry, with zero cloying flavors present.

Overview: There are some nice flavor combinations here. There’s a complexity and balance of malt and hop flavors that are subtle but still provide a bit of excitement on the tongue. The carbonation is medium-high and light bodied, with a smooth, crisp and lightly tickling mouthfeel. The light alcohol is well hidden, with zero warming effects. This is a good pilsner-style lager. It’s not a clone of the original Fisher lager, but it’s a good approximation of what that beer would have resembled both in look, taste and aroma. For now, the Fisher Classic Lager is only available at the brewery, located at 320 W. 800 S. in Salt Lake City. Fisher does offer “crowlers,” though. These are a 32-ounce canned growlers that are filled and packaged on demand from the brewery’s tap handles. It’s a little bit of local history in every glass. Prost!

Any beer that you manage to get your hands on has its own little sliver of history to go along with it. I’m not talking about beers being made with the brewer’s “beard yeast” or some crazed fringe zymurgist deciding to throw yak testicles into his latest stout—I’m talking about culturally significant reasons why one region’s beer is so much different than anothers. Looking back on Lenten season (the six weeks leading up to Easter), I thought it would be appropriate to review some beers that were originally designed especially for Lent.

Bockbiers are some of Germany’s bigger beers, and they rank among the heaviest, maltiest and smoothest brews in the world. German monks made these beers primarily for their own consumption to help them get through the fasting that accompanied Lent. So high in calories are bockbiers that they could sustain a band of lonely, smelly monks all the way to Easter Sunday. Now we drink them just because they’re so fucking malty and delicious. Here are some fine local examples.

The Devastator Double Bock
Brewery/Brand: Wasatch/Utah Brewers Cooperative
ABV: 8.0%
Serving Style: 12 oz. Bottle
Description: The Devastator pours dark bronze with orange highlights. Take a whiff and your sniffer gets a huge dose of earthy, dark fruits, overripe figs and strawberries, with just a bit of nutty bread underneath. As it hits your pie-hole, the taste mimics the nose with some highly earthy, overripe dark fruit notes coming on early and a strong, heavy dose of figs, prunes and a bit of red berry. A dose of crusty malt provides a nice bed underneath. Hops are perceptible toward the long finish.
Overview: This is a worthy example of a beer style that can range from “sucks” to “fruitcake”––a great, local, year-round lager.

Double Skull Doppelbock Lager
Brewery/Brand: Epic Brewing Co.
ABV: 9.0%
Serving Style: 22 oz. Bottle
Description: This beer looks nice. It has a hazy, reddish-brown color with a nice, dense, cream-colored head. The nose is of grainy chocolate and toasted caramel malts with some floral hops.  After the Devastator, I was expecting more chewy, dark fruits, but my tongue was happy for a nice change of pace. The taste starts with sweet, grainy chocolate and toffee malts with a little dark fruit rounding out the front end. Some grassy and floral hops come through in the end, leading to a dry, boozy finish.
Overview: As it warms, some nice, leathery notes come out. This is a less traditional example, but it will help turn that six-pack you’re sporting into a keg, toot-sweet!

Cherny Bock
Brewery/Brand: Bohemian Brewery
ABV: 4.0%
Serving Style: On Tap, Cans
Description: This lager is much darker than the others, and it has a black, ruby hue with a fine cap of tan head. As soon as my nose got inside the glass there was lot of dark fruit, as well as some toffee and caramel malt. If you like your beer boozy, you’re likely to be a little disappointed. If you’re all about flavor, you’re going to go “Squeeeee!” The flavor is similar to the nose, with toffee, caramel, cocoa and a lot of dark fruit. There is also a nice, dry nuttiness in the finish.
Overview: For such a light beer, it has a full, round taste that can compete with its much more boozy and cloying counterparts. I’d say that this is more of a hybrid of a Schwarzbier and a Bock—a “Schwartzbock”? You can get it damn near everywhere, anytime.

I have many more daily beer musings in my arsenal. Check out the Utah Beer Blog (utahbeer.blogspot.com) for more of my bullshit.

Cheers!

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