Sunday, October 25, 2015

Wild Heaven = Wild Creativity



A View of Wild Heaven 
By Owen Ogletree

Eric Johnson, co-owner and brewmaster of Wild Heaven Craft Beers in Georgia's Avondale Estates, smiled as he dumped buckets of mission figs marinated in Madeira into the kettles of his Autumn Defense Märzen. Eric explained, "This brew is a real lager with four weeks of cold conditioning - a horribly expensive idea for a small brewery. To me, great malt and hops are a canvas, and the fig addition provides an added layer of nuance, complexity and originality."

Proud of Eric's ability to be wildly creative and buck style trends, Wild Heaven's founder and co-owner Nick Purdy said, "Eric has a really hard job - making unique, esoteric beers that  appeal to a wide range of people. Because our beers don't fit styles very well, we'll probably never win much at the Great American Beer Festival."

Claiming to only be a small part of the Wild Heaven story, Nick Purdy sees Eric Johnson's inventiveness as the essence of the brewery's success. "I started Paste Magazine as well, so people know me," Nick mentioned. "I left the magazine because I was blown away by Eric's unbelievable uniqueness and creativity as a brewer. He doesn't see problems - he sees opportunities. Eric's an artist and a scientist, and his understanding of beer on a molecular level is like a highly trained lab guy."

Contract Origins

Eric and Nick began contract brewing the initial Wild Heaven recipes at Thomas Creek in Greenville, South Carolina in September of 2010, with their high-gravity Invocation and Ode to Mercy ales first being sold in the Belgian bar at Brick Store Pub in Decatur.


Eric found contract brewing complex beer recipes in another state quite a challenging process. "Through the whole contract brewing experience, it was tough to even consider launching any new brands," he noted. "We always wanted to be dynamically involved in the brewing process. Now that we finally have our own facility, we can taste the beers daily to figure out when to cold-crash, dry-hop and package. Even with a great contract brewer like Thomas Creek, you're essentially handing your kids over to someone else and hoping the finished product will turn out great."

Fitting Into a Community

This year, Wild Heaven completed its own brewing facility in a warehouse in the Avondale Estates neighborhood next to beer-centric Decatur, and Eric and Nick were hands-on in doing a ton of work to make the edifice attractive and aesthetically pleasing. "One of our investors came across the building," Nick said. "It's probably one of the best rent deals in the Southeast, and we are so happy that Avondale Estates has been so supportive. The city is kind of reinventing itself right now, with lots of renovation and even a new distillery."

When asked about the value of being a part of a local community, Nick replied, "Avondale and Decatur are becoming a craft beer destination. We aren't "Beer Town USA" just yet, but we're getting there. The density of walk-able craft breweries on this side of Decatur is impressive."


Nick and Eric see craft beer as a communal product that can hold a fundamental role in a creative, social community. "There's so much beauty, art and passion in the flavors and camaraderie that surround craft beer and make it a social beverage," said Nick. "We always have new people come to our brewery tours and say, 'Wow - I didn't know beer could be like this.'"

Passing the Craft Beer Torch

Eric fell in love with brewing years ago while setting up an impressive brew system at home. With three adorable one-barrel, glycol-jacketed fermenters, this homebrewery now serves as the convenient test-batch system at Wild Heaven, and allows Eric a means to produce small batches of unique brews that will only be available at Wild Heaven tours.

Fortunate timing allowed the guys at Wild Heaven to purchase Terrapin's old brew system and move it from Athens to Avondale Estates. Eric even got to brew on the system at Terrapin about three months before it was decommissioned. "I knew the system well when we plumbed it in," noted Eric. "Terrapin got lots of free labor, and I got a free education. Our White Blackbird saison was the first beer I made on the system back in May after moving the vessels to our new facility, and the brew day was like hanging out with an old friend again."


Before Terrapin owned the brew system, it formed the original brewhouse for SweetWater. Eric sees this as "passing the craft beer torch around local breweries," and he appreciates the fact that the system is quite manual with low automation - just the way he likes to brew. Eric also installed a new heating calandria, lauter tun false bottom and control panels.

Recipes for Inventiveness

Wild Heaven's current lineup includes Invocation Belgian-style golden ale, Ode To Mercy imperial brown ale, Eschaton Belgian-style quad, Let There Be Light American pale ale, White Blackbird saison and Civilization English-style barleywine. Seasonals and barrel-aged specials are always on the brewery's radar.

With Wild Heaven, Eric wants to be distinctive and add to the lexicon and landscape of beer. "I want to come up with something new and exciting, and not try to 'out IPA' all the IPAs out there. Unlike winemakers, who can basically just tweak watering and when they pick the grapes, brewers have a tremendous range of opportunities regarding the variety of beer we can make, and something new and exciting that expands boundaries is always coming out - morphing with the evolving and maturing taste of craft beer drinkers. With craft beer, we just never bored."

This article was first published
in Southern Brew News.


Friday, October 9, 2015

Sierra Nevada Visit: Asheville Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference


By Owen Ogletree

A stand-out among the numerous memorable experiences at last summer's Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference in Asheville, NC had to be the epic tour, tasting and picnic at Sierra Nevada's massive new facility located in Mills River, NC.

Dressed in a traditional Bavarian jacket, Sierra Nevada owner/founder Ken Grossman met our tour bus in the parking lot and shook every blogger's hand before leading us through his sparkling new brewery. Ken worked tirelessly to make sure that this facility came out as close to perfection as possible, and pride oozed from his pores during his tour.

After the brewery visit, Ken led the substantial group of beer bloggers down a nature trail behind the brewery to a green festival site located on the river. We were met with an oompah band, German food buffet, a tent pouring Sierra Nevada's remarkable Oktoberfest lager, and a handful of guest German brewers, also in traditional garb. 

Sierra Nevada looks to explore the roots of Germany’s fest beers each year by teaming up with a different German brewery in the production of a traditional Oktoberfest lager. This year, Ken chose the award-winning Brauhaus Riegele of Augsburg, Germany for the collaboration. Sierra Nevada's website explains, "Together we created an authentic Oktoberfest beer, true to the roots of the festival, that’s deep golden in color and rich with complex malt flavor from the use of traditional German Steffi barley."

The blogger group could have stayed at Sierra Nevada for the rest of the evening, nibbling sausages and sipping the luscious Oktoberfest beer. Everyone was extremely impressed. Be certain to try the beer this fall.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Savannah Craft Beer Sojourn

By Owen Ogletree

Savannah, Georgia in 1985: No brewpubs, no breweries, no craft beer bars. With this picturesque and historic coastal city's Celtic heritage, many visitors often remarked that Savannah would be an ideal spot for a few traditional pubs. Alas, about the only option 30 years ago was Kevin Barry's Irish pub on touristy River Street that sold Guinness alongside a limited variety of bland lagers.

Savannah, Georgia in 2015: The city houses an award-winning brewpub, three craft microbreweries and some of the finest craft beer bars in the state. Still crave a Celtic theme? Savannah now boasts English-style pubs and a Scottish tavern. Even the patrons at Kevin Barry's can now enjoy a variety of craft beers to sip during live Irish music.

Moon River Brewing's owner and brewmaster John Pinkerton explains, "Since 1999 when our brewpub got started, Savannah has come a long way in terms of the availability of great craft beer. The fact that Moon River is located here in this magical, mysterious city is a big part of our appeal."

Housed in what was once Savannah's oldest hotel on busy Bay Street near the center of downtown, Moon River brewpub makes the perfect first stop for any visiting craft beer lover. "In terms of our beer, I'm most proud of our core philosophy of diversity and balance," says Pinkerton. "I don't want to be boxed in to one kind of beer style or theme. I want to make a broad spectrum of flavorful beers, so we try to keep at least ten different beers on at a time. We always have exciting seasonals like our upcoming Savannah Berliner that's barrel-aged with Brettanomyces."

Crafting New Breweries

Southbound Brewing began production in Savannah in 2013 in a location just a couple of miles west of downtown. Southbound's flagship Hoplin' IPA is the top tipple during tours, but brewmaster Smith Mathews also offers pilot mini-batches that are only available in Southbound's tasting room. "This experimentation has been extremely fun and exciting, with some of the special beers being straight-up hits," remarks Mathews. "Many times we'll revisit these recipes and make a big batch. Seeing a huge interest in our wild and Brettanomyces beers, we decided to do one on the large system. It'll be called Loving Cup - a Rolling Stones music reference. It's dry-hopped with Simcoe, and we're doing it as a collaboration with local radio station Rock 106.1."

L-R: Southbound's core team of Chris Geerlings, Alex Breard,
Carly Wiggins and Smith Matthews

Southbound's marketing director Carly Wiggins adds, "All our beer names are music-oriented and based on a band, a song, an album or singer. It's a fun part of our business when people understand the references. Visitors who make it to our tasting room to tour the brewery and sample our beers usually comment on what wonderful people we have working here. Our philosophy at Southbound is to make great, approachable beers and just enjoy life."

Community Spirit, Local Flare

Savannah's Service Brewing celebrates its first birthday in September with the release of SBC 1 - an 8% ABV American strong ale with blueberry juice, vanilla, coca nibs and local honey. Service's extraordinary production brewery and vast, gorgeous tasting room are just a half mile walk from downtown Savannah, and craft beer locals and visitors flock there to taste the beer range, chat with the friendly staff and pet brewery cats Chinook and Black Hawk. Service Brewing's CEO Kevin Ryan relates, "We have a phenomenal space - extremely thoughtful in design - in a building that's over 100 years old. We even got a preservation award this year from the Historic Savannah Foundation."

Service Brewing CEO Kevin Ryan and brewery cat Black Hawk

Along with making an excellent assortment of beers, a goal at Service Brewing is honoring those who serve in the military. "We are a veteran-owned brewery," notes Kevin Ryan. "Out of 24 investors, 20 of these are vets of the army, navy or marines. Our head brewer and assistant brewer served in the army, and so did I. In our first year, we've raised over $15,000 for charities that support military, police and fire services."

Located a few miles from downtown in a small industrial park, Coastal Empire Beer Company usually offers four exciting specialty beers in the tasting room, along with the regular lineup of Savannah Brown, Tybee Island Blonde and Coastal Pale. Look for a vanilla-forward, barrel-aged brown ale at the brewery in August, along with the delightful Praline Amber Ale that's mashed with pecan flour from Mascot Pecan Company in Glennville, Georgia. Check the website for newly expanded tasting room hours.

Brothers Kevin and Chris Haborak own Coastal Empire. Kevin serves as brewer, while Chris heads up sales and marketing. The brothers grew up in Charleston, South Carolina and named their beers after coastal themes and Savannah landmarks. Chris' personal so far has been Kevin's Dawn Patrol mole stout. "Kevin took the black malt out and replaced it with dehusked chocolate malt," explains Chris. "I had my doubts, but when I tasted the end product, I knew we had something amazing." Dawn Patrol went on to take a bronze medal at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival in the herb/spiced category.

Brothers Chris and Kevin Haborak set the tone
and keep the fermenters full at Coastal Empire


Pubs Aplenty

Savannah has also gained a reputation as a foodie destination, with Top Chef television celebrity Hugh Acheson's new gastropub The Florence generating a substantial buzz. The Florence features an adjoining coffee shop, large bar and dining area and a small seating section overlooking the kitchen. Acheson points out, "The Florence is a beautiful place to go for a panoply of reasons. Whether you want a great multi-course meal with stellar wine or a simply perfect pizza with a local craft brew, the Florence has you covered. The surrounding arts district is booming, and the space is stunning."

 Julia Volen manages The Distillery pub

Visitors will not be at a loss for superb craft beer pubs in Savannah. Located next to Moon River Brewing, Churchill's Pub serves up hearty UK pub grub to munch with a tantalizing range of draft and bottled beers. The historic décor at Molly MacPherson's Scottish pub is quite impressive, as are the beer and single malt menus. Enjoy craft beer and authentic Greek cuisine at the time-honored Crystal Beer Parlor, then walk four blocks to The Distillery pub for the best craft beer selection in the city. Don't miss other pub standouts that include the Belgian and German-themed Bier Haus, hipster-favorite World of Beer, and the quaint Abe's On Lincoln.

Savannah's craft beer week culminates with the popular Savannah Craft Brew Fest that's usually held on the first Saturday of September at the Savannah International Trade & Convention Center across the river from downtown. Take the fun Savannah Belles Ferry across to the fest from the landing on River Street to enjoy two-ounce, unlimited sampling of craft beers from around the world combined with food, beer seminars, live music and a cornhole tournament.

Need a few "non-beery" reasons to visit Savannah? Join a ghost walk to tour historic squares filled with live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Gaze at the impressive talent on display at the museum of art of the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD). Drive out to the unpretentious beaches of Tybee Island or take a hike through the acres of hauntingly beautiful grave markers of Bonaventure Cemetery. Savannah truly ranks as a must-see destination for lovers of history, charming architecture, distinctive pubs and flavorful, home-grown beers.

This article was first published
in Southern Brew News.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Georgia Craft Brewery News

By Owen Ogletree

Red Brick's newly released 22nd Anniversary Double IPA boasts nine different hop varieties added at four pounds per barrel. Also check out the fall seasonal Divine Bovine Chai Spice Milk Stout - a 6% ABV sweet, dark ale brewed with five spices. Red Brick's Tyler Cates adds, "November brings our re-release of the classic Vanilla Gorilla Imperial Porter. This 8% porter is brewed with Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans and has been put into annual rotation as our fall Brick Mason release."



In October/November, visit Max Lager's in downtown Atlanta to sample the brewpub's Max Fest Oktoberfest and Na'Zdravi Bohemian Pils. "These great lagers were made with floor-malted Moravian malts, and are simply divine," notes Max Lager's John Roberts. "Also on tap will be Hula Hoop, a kettle-soured IPA lush with tropical flavors derived from careful hop selection and a special Brett yeast. This fall, folks can also check out the return of my IMOS - Imperial Mocha Oatmeal Stout."

Hampton's JailHouse Brewing releases its winter seasonal this fall. Breakout Stout is an 8% ABV American-style stout with powerful chocolate and espresso flavors backed by an impressive hop bitterness. Also look for Last Request in late November - a bourbon barrel-aged version of Breakout Stout that marks the first vintage of this release.

Reformation Brewery recently added Sunday hours (2-4 pm) to their weekly tour and tasting schedule, so visit soon to check out Reformation's new fermenters and brite tank. "We started brewing one barrel (31.5 gallons) batches nearly 18 months ago," explains Reformation's Spencer Nix. "Today we can craft 80 hectoliters (2000 gallons) a day into one of three new fermenters."


Seek out Jekyll Brewing's fall seasonal Seven Bridges Oktoberfest - the brewery's only lager. This draft-only, Märzen-style beer sports copper hues, moderate bitterness and a bready, toasted malt backbone. "The beer's name is a nod to a ghost story from Rome, Georgia," explains Jekyll's Lacey Pyle. "Legend has it that when traveling west on CCC Road in Rome, travelers will count seven small bridges, however, on the return path, travelers will only count six."

Carbonation Quandary

By Owen Ogletree

I'm going to make a crazy statement here. I've come to the conclusion that American craft beers are over carbonated.

After making several trips to the UK in the last several years and judging at the Great British Beer Festival in London, I've come to really enjoy the lack of fizzy, biting carbonation in cask-conditioned English ales. The tongue is not numbed by loads of artificial CO2 pumped into the beer, and the taster can actually appreciate and savor the malt, hops, fermentation character, along with a soft, subtle, natural CO2 sparkle.

I know that Belgian and German beers contain quite a bit of carbonation, but knowledgeable waitstaff in these countries know to pour these beers into over-sized glasses and release as much carbonation as possible. It's a part of the ritual and enjoyment of these brews.

American craft beer is often forced carbonated with a huge amount of artificial CO2 and poured quietly into boring 16 ounce pint glasses right up to the rim. There's little to no release of gas and no possibility of swirling the beer for aroma. Upon the first sip, the mouth fills with foam, the CO2 bite disables the taste buds, and the drinker swallows a gullet full of gas. Intense bouts of burping follow. Maybe these carbonation levels are leftover from the days of super fizzy yellow beers after Prohibition. Perhaps the general public does not really want to taste their craft beer, and the intense CO2 helps achieve this questionable goal.

If I lived in the middle ages, my name would have been "Owen The De-Gasser." Skeptical? Try it yourself. Order a craft beer and ask for a clean, empty pint glass. Pour one third of the beer vigorously into the empty glass and swirl it around to release even more gas. Let the head settle on the agitated beer and then sip from each glass. I guarantee you'll be shocked at the different flavors and mouthfeel of the same beer from the two glasses. One will taste like malt and hops (AKA beer), and the other will taste like a mouthful of prickly, astringent, artificial CO2 with an undertone of malt and hops.

I appeal to craft brewers to simply try and crank back the CO2 a bit -- start to wean the American public off its excess CO2 addiction. Pub owners should also try to lower CO2 pressure on serving lines to make the beer pour a bit softer. Imagine the lowered costs of using less carbon dioxide. Imagine how many more beers will be consumed because customers are not filled up and bloated with gas. Imagine experiencing the wonderful flavors of craft beer without too much CO2 getting in the way. 

The Beer Lover's Four Perfect Days in London

By Owen Ogletree



London, England makes for a superb first trip to Europe - everyone speaks our language (mostly), the tube makes for easy transportation around the city, hundreds of hotels offer decent rates, and, most importantly, the beer and pubs are delightful. 

In a classic London pub, always order at the bar and be sure to focus on the hand-pulled, cask ale taps that pour cask-conditioned "real ale." These beers are naturally carbonated, unfiltered, unpasteurized products served without artificial carbon dioxide gas. Expect a subtle, elegant pint served at a cool cellar temperature of 50-55 degrees F with smooth, soft, light carbonation. Contrary to rumor, English cask ale should NEVER be flat and warm.

In terms of UK cask styles, look for malty English bitters, hoppy golden ales, chocolately dark milds, and black porters and stouts. Even though most English cask ales rank as lower alcohol, session-able beers in the 3-5% alcohol range, it's usually wise to order half pints - especially on an extended pub crawl. 

Kegged craft beer will also be on offer in many London pubs, and these differ from classic cask ale in their higher level of artificial carbon dioxide gas and thorough filtration and pasteurization. 




Day 1 - Central London

After getting through customs, make your way to the airport's train station to head to your hotel to drop off bags. Resist the intense urge to take a nap, as you'll have far too much to see and do this day.

Purchase a one-day, unlimited tube (underground/subway) pass at any station and proceed to the Westminster stop. As you emerge from the station at the Bridge Street exit, Big Ben will be the massive structure across the street, with the River Thames and London Eye to the left and Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey to the right.

After visiting one or more of these touristy must-see spots, pop into the superb St. Stephens Tavern (10 Bridge Street, Westminster, SW1A 2JR - next to Westminster station) to sample their range of Badger cask ales and nosh a meat pie or fish & chips. If the bar is full, ask if the upstairs dining room is open.

Walk north on Whitehall Road past 10 Downing Street and the Horse Guards Parade toward Trafalgar Square and The National Gallery. If you must see the outside of crowded Buckingham Palace, take a detour west through St. James park. 

After getting pooped on by pigeons in Trafalgar Square and sticking your head into the National Gallery, walk through the theater district for a mouth-watering cask ale or two at The Harp (47 Chandos Place, WC2N 4HS).

Jump on the tube for Euston station where you'll find these top cask ale pubs just a few steps away...

  • Doric Arch, 1 Eversholt Street, Euston Square, NW1 1DN. Classic railway pub.
  • Euston Tap, 190 Euston Road, NW1 2EF. Craft beer pub in an old railway observation tower.
  • The Bree Louise, 69 Cobourg Street, NW1 2HH. 

When satiated with real ale, check out the street behind Bree Louise for a dozen or so friendly restaurants serving tasty Indian cuisine.



Day 2 - South of the Thames

Walking from London Bridge tube station, arrive at the amazing Borough Market around 10-11 am (closed Sundays) and try not to drool at the expansive selection of cheeses, meats, desserts and street food. Be sure to nibble outstanding cheese samples at Neal's Yard Dairy store. After a grazing lunch in the market, hit up these pub favorites for a variety of half
pints...

  • Market Porter, 9 Stoney Street, SE1 9AA.
  • The Rake, 14a Winchester Walk, Borough Market, SE1 9AG.
  • The Wheatsheaf, 24 Southwark Street, SE1 1TY. Try the refreshing Young's Bitter.
  • Barrowboy & Banker, 8 Borough High Street, SE1 9QQ. Handsome Fuller's pub housed in an old bank building.
  • The Royal Oak, 44 Tabard Street, SE1 4JU. Taste the entire range of Harvey's historic cask ales here.
  • While in the area, fit in a quick visit to the fascinating recreation of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre (21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, SE1 9DT).



Day 3 - Cheery Chiswick

Book an afternoon tour in advance at the iconic Fullers Brewery in the London neighborhood of Chiswick. Exit the Turnham Green station on the District Line for the easy walk to Fullers. Before the tour, have a pint and savory meat or mushroom pie at the Mawson Arms brewery tap, which is also the meeting spot for your tour. 

The Fullers tour concludes with a grand tasting in the brewery's Hock Cellar museum and tap.

After the brewery visit, walk east along the north bank of the Thames (toward Hammersmith tube station) for a scenic, evening river pub romp that includes...

  • Old Ship, 25 Upper Mall, W6 9TD.
  • The Dove, 19 Upper Mall, Hammersmith, W6 9TA.
  • The Salutation, 154 King Street, Hammersmith, W6 0QU.
  • Andover Arms, 57 Aldensley Road, Hammersmith, W6 0DL.
  • The Blue Anchor, 13 Lower Mall, Hammersmith, W6 9DJ.
  • The Hop Poles, 17-19 King Street, Hammersmith, W6 9HR.
  • The Swan, 46 Hammersmith Broadway, W6 0DZ.


Day 4 - Museum, Meals & More Ale

After a full morning of taking in the sights at the massive British Museum (near Russell Square tube stop), head across the street to the Museum Tavern (49 Great Russell Street, WC1B 3BA) for a pint of rich, malty Theakston Old Peculier.

Now walk east into the Holborn area to sample pub grub and ales at these glorious locales...

  • Holborn Whippet, 25-29 Sicilian Avenue, WC1A 2QH. Inspired pub fare.
  • Princess Louise, 208 High Holborn, WC1V 7EP. Ornate Victorian pub with Sam Smith's classic Brewery Bitter on cask.
  • Penderel's Oak, 283-288 High Holborn, WC1V 7HP. Part of the massive Wetherspoon pub chain, this place offers a variety of cask ales and inexpensive food choices.
  • Ye Old Mitre, 1 Ely Place, EC1N 6SJ. Historic pub tucked down a tiny alley.
  • The Craft Beer Company, 82 Leather Lane, EC1N 7TR. Features craft kegs alongside casks.
  • Jerusalem Tavern, 55 Britton Street, EC1M 5UQ. Rare London outlet for casks ales from St. Peter's Brewery.





Saturday BONUS Brewery Day

If you love adventure and a good walk, use an entire Saturday afternoon to explore London's new "Brewery Mile" - a stretch of old, elevated train tracks with a number of young, craft nano-breweries housed underneath or nearby. These breweries seem inspired by American craft beers, and all have tasting rooms open only on Saturdays.

Although it involves a little backtracking, below is my suggested order for walking the Brewery Mile, based on brewery opening hours. Bermondsey is the closest tube stop to your starting point at Kernel. (Editor's note: Kernel may have suspended Saturday visits for a time. Check their website.)

  • Kernel Brewery - 9am-2pm
  • Partizan Brewing Co. - 11am-5pm
  • Brew by Numbers - 10am-5pm
  • Fourpure - 11am-5pm
  • Anspach & Hobday (Bullfinch) - 11am-6pm


There you have it - four or five beery days in London - all set up in an easy-to-follow schedule. Plan a trip soon, and email Owen your feedback. Cheers!

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