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Let's Talk Tap Lists of our Imaginary Breweries

Posted by homebrewdad on 1/19/2017 at 12:50:09 AM

It may have happened the first time you cracked open a bottle of your own beer and discovered that, in complete honestly, it really wasn't all that bad. Maybe it happened when you perfected a clone of a favorite commercial brew. Perhaps when you won that first (or fifth, or tenth) competition medal, you couldn't help but wonder. Maybe the idea arose from the praise of your buddies, or the guys from the local homebrewing club, or picky Jim from accounting. It may have occurred to you after you brewed for a company function, or even for someone's wedding, and got to revel in the satisfaction of knowing how much other people enjoyed your creations. If you brew halfway decent beer (and often, if you simply give away free beer of virtually any quality), chances are that someone will eventually suggest that you should consider brewing in a professional capacity.

Pro Brewery
The stainless steel stuff of dreams.
Photo courtesy of Surly Brewing

No matter where and when the inspiration came from, it's an idea that is nearly universal to homebrewers everywhere - that if you really were to focus on it, you could open your own brewery... and man, it would be amazing. Naturally, that amazing brewery needs a fantastic name - which might be meaningful in some personal way, or it might be clever, or it might be exceptionally punny (after all, many homebrewers have an unhealthy fascination with puns).

How many of us have custom glassware, mash paddles, signs, tee shirts, or other merchandise proudly emblazoned with the name of our fictional brewery upon it? How many of us include the name of our pretend brewery on bottle labels and such (at least for the bottles that we give away)? I personally own a half dozen pint glasses, one stainless steel growler, and one custom wooden mash paddle (which was a replacement for another custom mash paddle that I ruined) - all of which bear the name of my "brewery"; this sort of vanity item is too easy for my wife to pass over when gift buying times arise. Furthermore, I have an artist friend that designs labels for pretty much every beer that I really care to share with other people; I have promised her that if I ever do go pro, she has an actual job (read: one that pays more than a couple of bottles of beer) doing all of my design work. I know that I am far from alone in this sort of vanity.

Oh, sure. Some of you less romantic readers only let this subject cross your mind for a moment before quashing it - after all, you brew as a hobby, and you know that getting involved in it as a job could very well kill the fun. You might be utterly pragmatic, realizing that even a tiny nanobrewery requires shockingly large sums of money to open (seeing as how you have to actually have the facility built before you can even apply for a license) - and that the odds of turning a decent profit are fairly low. Maybe you've done a tiny bit of homework, and you've learned that being a brewer is far less about barley-based wizardry and exciting experimentation than it is about cleaning, cleaning, tons of physical labor, long hours, paperwork, repetition... and more cleaning. Maybe you've figured out that, in order to keep your doors open, odds are that you would end up having the market dictate your brewing lineup to you, as opposed to the other way around - after all, it doesn't matter how fantastic your kumquat lambic might be, the general public will likely by and large skip it in favor of generic IPA #27 from BoringBrewery down the road.

Be that as it may, the fantasy of running your own brewery is an alluring daydream, if nothing else. Me? I love the idea that, provided I was financially independent through other business successes, I could open a small brewery dedicated only to crafting the beers that I cared to brew - not necessarily what the market told me to brew. This dream goes even further, and includes a family component with it; one or more of my children would come to work with me, and while it would be hard, honest work, it would also be a labor of love... and one day, I would pass the brewery down to them.

Hey, if I'm going to dream the impossible American dream, I may as well dream big, right?

Of course, the central subject of any discussion on your imaginary brewery has to revolve around the beers that one would produce at said brewery. We could discuss potential equipment or methods, I suppose, but most of us are envisioning bottles of our beers on our local store shelves or seeing our tap handles in local bars as opposed to musing over the day to day operation of equipment we probably only have a loose concept of in the first place.

For some reason I don't fully understand, I have found my own imaginary beer list bouncing around my head quite often in the past week or so, despite the fact that I have fully accepted that - barring a lottery win or other unexpected landfall - I will never brew in anything by a hobbyist capacity. Even so, I find myself turning recipes over in my head, imagining them on a tap list, that sort of thing. So in the grand tradition of sharing an earworm in the hope of getting it unstuck from your own brain, I will now share my imaginary brewery's beer list with you.

Please do note again that this list is predicated on the unrealistic idea that I have no need for my brewery to actually make money, that I can treat it like I would my hobby beers - in other words, that I can brew whatever I like. You'll note that I am missing two entries that are found in almost every taproom across the country - I lack both a kolsch and a wheat beer, as I simply don't care a ton for either style. Also, before you go any further, I do have one request for after you are done reading - share your own lists! I personally think that it's a lot of fun to see the popular trends - and the odd outliers - in people's brewery lists.

Tap List
What would go on your tap list?
Photo courtesy of Brimstone Brewing

To start with, let's go ahead and list my year round offerings. There are the beers that would be the anchors of my brand, the ones that would always be available.

  • Thundersmoke Brown (English Brown Ale) - 6.16% ABV. This is one of my house beers now, and was the first recipe that I got fully dialed in. While the grain bill consists of a whopping 22% crystal malts, the beer finishes at 1.010. As a result, you get a ton of caramel flavor, but the beer is not at all sweet. The slightest hint of smoky flavor shapes this into a very flavorful, surprisingly easy to drink beer.

  • Oakenbranch IPA (English IPA) - 8.31% ABV. This beer is in the running for the best beer I've ever brewed, and was one I brewed for a big company function a couple of years ago. As an English IPA, it lacks the assertive hop punch of American IPAs, but really has a lot going on. A little rye malt is my secret ingredient, and helps round out a malt profile that really plays well with the earthy, spicy British hops.

  • Wandering Barbarian IPA (American IPA) - 8.19% ABV. I feel like this is the single best beer that I brew, which is funny, as there was a time (not too long ago) that I was convinced that hoppy beers were not for me. This beer has a touch of maltiness up front, followed by some excellent tropical/candy fruit hop flavors, big matching hop aroma, and well balanced bitterness. This is my "international" IPA recipe, featuring ingredients from seven different countries. While that may not be terribly practical to scale up to commercial production, perhaps that would give me a little marketing wrinkle?

  • Enchantress (Irish Red Ale) - 6.31% ABV. I feel like Irish reds are almost criminally underrated in the US craft beer market, and there is no way that my brewery won't feature one. My personal take on the style is a "big" Irish red (gravity is a bit high for the style, with bitterness to compliment), mainly due to the fact that I prefer the more intense flavors you get in a bigger beer. As of the time of this writing, I'm still dialing this recipe in; I had my flavor nigh perfect, but the beer was too brown. The chase of that gorgeous ruby color caused my flavor to drift a bit from where I wanted it; I'll be brewing a new take on this beer this coming weekend (featuring a new secret ingredient), and will keep you posted as to how it comes out.

  • Frolicking Friar (Belgian Blonde Ale) - 6.97% ABV. This beer is modeled after a beer that really got me into craft beer in the first place (Leffe Blonde). I find that this is a wonderful "gateway" craft beer - the flavors are not offensive even to those accustomed to the bland wasteland of American macro lagers, but there is still plenty of flavor there for the craft beer enthusiast. With a light, grainy malt backbone, this beer features both the fruity and spicy notes that Belgian yeasts are capable of producing, meaning that there is plenty going on here.

  • Bawdy Minstrel (Kentucky Common Ale) - 4.98% ABV. Both the newest and lowest alcohol content offering on my list, this beer is also in the discussion for the best beer I've ever brewed. This is my take on a pre-Prohibition historical style, and it just floors me how much flavor this sub 5% ABV beer has. Some upfront sweetness from the corn, some earthy spiciness from the rye and the hops, and some fruity esters from fermenting steam yeast at ale temps; this beer is packed with flavor, yet is dangerously easy to drink.

  • No Name Yet (Helles Bock) - 5.6% ABV. For my "you can drink a pitcher of this one" offering, I'm skipping the kolsch or wheat beer, and going instead with a Munich Helles. My buddy Rob seems to trip over medals every time he enters a competition, and his Munich Helles - at least in my opinion - rivals the best commercial German examples on the market. Malty up front, fairly dry finish, as close to crushable as I think you'd want in a craft beer lineup. He has shared recipes and techniques with me; if I can get mine around, say, 75% as good as his, this would be a very popular brew.

  • Treasure Type "T" (Oatmeal Stout) - 6% ABV This beer revolves around a concept that I love, but have yet to fully execute - so I include it here on the assumption that I will eventually get it right. Since we're assuming so much anyway (i.e. the brewery actually exists), I don't think that this is too unreasonable. The "T" in the beer's name refers to toffee - as in, I want to produce an oatmeal stout that has a pronounced toffee flavor to go along with a reserved roastiness and super creamy, smooth mouthfeel. I want to accomplish this without the use of flavorings - the recipe should be limited to grains, sugars, or similar "traditional" adjuncts. So far, I've gotten great caramel character, but toffee has proven to be much more elusive. I still believe, however, that this is doable, and one day, I will accomplish it.
That gets me to the end of my year round list, though I'm conflicted about one or two omissions, which I will note below. However, I already have a large list - clearly, I'm playing in fantasy land as is.

Be that as it may, let's look at my seasonal offerings next.

  • Swarthy Satyr (Dunkles Bock) - 7.5% ABV. This one was tough to keep off of my year round list, but I don't know how much of a market there would be, say, in the summertime for a beer that toes the line between the old Traditional Bock and Doppelbock guidelines. Full of rich, toasty melanoiden character, this beer is certainly not an easy drinker - it's very much a nice sipper of a brew. This beer has a strong caramel presence, as well as a touch of licorice flavor to it.

  • Hoppy New Year (American IPA) - ? ABV. For the past couple of years, I've found myself throwing just silly amounts of hops (read: up to, and even above, a full pound in a six gallon batch) at a beer to have ready sometime around the turn of the calendar. This is more of an experience beer than a set recipe that I'm in love with; last year, it was Galaxy, Amarillo, and Mosaic hops that were featured; this year, it was Citra and Zythos. I'm finding it fun to do a silly, over the top IPA with whatever combination of hops strikes my fancy at the time, and I'm thinking that this could be a fun annual release for me.

  • Oktoberfest/Marzen - ? ABV. Yeah, I know - everybody and their brother does an Oktoberfest. Here is the US, most breweries put out some sort of malty amber lager that runs closer to the true Marzen style, while in Germany, the focus seems to be more and more on very blond lagers that are now classified by the BJCP as Festbiers. I love both of these styles, and if we're using our imaginations, anyway, I don't see why I couldn't do one of each. If I could offer both a nice Marzen (something like, say, Sierra Nevada or Sam Adams - but not as sweet), as well as a Festbier in the vein of what Hofbrau does... well, I would be a happy guy. I've brewed the former to great success; the latter is proving to be remarkably challenging to pin down.

  • No Name Yet (Munich Dunkel) - 5.5% ABV. Another beer heavily influenced by my buddy Rob, and another beer that I wavered on considering for a year round offering. A proper Dunkel is packed full of delicious toastiness, but is easy to drink. This is another beer that I would have to reach really high to live up to, but if I could come close, people would be very happy with.

  • Spicy Swabbie (Roggenbier) - 6% ABV. You may have noticed my love affair with rye; it has an earthy, spicy character that I feel is a compliment to a wide range of beer styles. This beer, on the other hand, weighs in at over 70% rye malt, and as such, has a massive rye flavor. I really push the banana esters inherent in the yeast for this beer, which along with the clove phenols give it a very unique flavor. However, I have found that the banana fades far faster than I would prefer, so this is a beer best enjoyed young. As roggenbiers can be a bit of an acquired taste, I would have concerns that I would have old beer sitting around, losing its edge, were I to make this a year round offering; as such, I see this as a seasonal release.
That takes us to the end of my planned seasonal releases. Of course, if money is no object, there's nothing preventing me from turning whatever beer the muse is currently prodding me to brew into a special release, now is there?

Well, there you have it. If I hit the lottery one day, this is the sort of lineup that you can expect to find in my brewery... well, until I discover other beers that I like even better. Regardless, I'm hoping that writing about this will help finally get it out of my head again. Again, do be sure to share the tap lists of your own daydreams - I'm looking forward to reading them!

Tags for this post: brewery, going pro, commercial, beer list, lineup

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Wow, why does everything have to be north of 5% abv? An English Brown Ale at 6.16% ? NO such thing. An English IPA at 8.31%? WHY? I don't drink, or brew, beer to get sh**-faced. Why is the craft and homebrew trend in the U.S. toward MORE? More alcohol, more hops and more

posted by mosquitofeet on 1/20/2017 at 02:23:46 PM

I personally tend to brew higher alcohol stuff for one simple reason - I like more intense flavors, and I seldom drink more than one (sometimes two) beers in a given day. As a result, it's not a big deal for me to toss in a little more base grain.

No such thing? That's like, your opinion, man. ;) It's homebrewing, the huge beauty is to be able to do whatever you like.

The market might agree with you, and my imaginary brewery might sell next to no 6% English brown. But since we're playing pretend, I think that it's okay.

posted by homebrewdad on 1/21/2017 at 04:27:35 PM

Love, love, love your topic of choice. It's inspired me to focus on brews that are unique to me and question what I really want to drink day in and day out.
As an aside, I do understand why alcohol content is higher. The market dictates what people will pay for. No one is buying a drink south of 5% when they can get blitz for the same amount of money.

posted by akozdra on 1/21/2017 at 07:44:17 PM

oh! and what is your imaginary brewery named?

posted by akozdra on 1/21/2017 at 07:47:03 PM

Glad you enjoyed it, akozdra. It's definitely a lot of fun to ponder.

My "brewery" is named as a nod to my Southern heritage and the fact that I'm a huge nerd (I still run a roleplaying game website at age forty) - Confederate Dragon Brewing. If you click the link in the third paragraph (the one that mentions labels), you can see the name there, plus some of the label art.

posted by homebrewdad on 1/21/2017 at 07:50:34 PM