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Winter beer and tasting room update

There’s no rest for the weary as we head into the holiday season. There are four beers pending release in our Winter lineup; and construction is kicking into high gear at our Oasis tasting room location. The wait is nearly over for fans of the Framboos Blonde Ale. Normally a late summer release for us, time and the rest of the world conspired to throw us off schedule. As of Thursday we’ll be bringing in a few hundred pounds of freshly picked local raspberries and mixing them with the beer-to-be.

With a few weeks of aging time under its belt, that fresh berry Framboos will be paired with a complex barrel-aged version that, in typical Uncommon fashion, we’re calling Framboos op Eiken, because the Dutch spelling for “on oak” is way more fun than the alternatives. We aged this beer in a mix of Pinot and Syrah barrels which previously held our High Water collaboration, the Flamenco Roja. Those barrels are inoculated with a refreshingly tart lactobacillus strain which dried out the Framboos op Eiken and brought the ABV up to 7.6%. Stunningly it lost none of the great fresh berry aroma along the way. We’ll be releasing it in cans right alongside the regular Framboos.

The other wholly new beer is our Bavarian Brown Lager. It’s a fun lager, hard to categorize. It began as a flavor study in a new malt, the double roast caramel, which has lovely toasted caramel notes that bring dried fruit and candy notes to an otherwise crisp-finishing lager.

The last of the new beers is a beast, technically marking a return for a long-absent part of our lineup. A few lucky people have tasted our American Special Bitter over the years. It’s another odd duck, a West Coast Strong Ale aged on fresh redwood branches. Hopped up like a double IPA, hot on the nose and malty in the body from the 14.5% alcohol, black as sin, and finishing smooth when the redwood tannins strike and dry off the palate. It’s aggressive and unapologetic. Enjoy and be careful.

The parapet walls went up across the eastern entrance to our Oasis tasting room earlier today. They mark the beginning of the end for structural work and the start of mechanicals. Plumbing and gas have been roughed into the kitchen. The new windows are installed in the southern wall, adding some fantastic natural light to the space. We’re still on track for opening early next year, but don’t have anything more than coming soon to offer as a date.


Mid-summer 2016 update

We’re heading into the end of Summer with a bit of spring in our step. The brewery’s long-awaited and often-requested tasting room is finally under construction. Our optimistic estimate is that it’s going to take us six months to complete the work. We will be shouting loud and clear as soon as we have something more like a real opening schedule for you all. August will also mark the return of the Whiskey Thief in collaboration with High Water Brewing. It’s the same core beer as our initial Band of Gypsies release in 2015, but with a little extra roast from an oak-smoked wheat malt. We’re very excited about getting that beer back out on shelves.

It was more of a slog than we planned for in the brewing, though. In a first for the brewery, we managed to blow up our plate heat exchanger during the knockout transfer. For a few moments before the pumps shut off we had hot wort spraying ten feet in every direction from the blown-past gaskets of our PHE.

That Whiskey Thief blowout Friday evening was a hard end to a rough day. We were already far behind schedule thanks to an awful lauter runoff that went three hours over our expectations. On a normal day the knockout represents our home stretch, when there’s a few minutes to rest and recover before starting the process of cleaning up and putting away the day’s equipment.

The heat exchanger failing at that point put the entire day’s work at risk. We had a whirlpool full of a thousand gallons of hot wort in what is nearly its most fragile state, and no way to safely cool it down. The choice was between dumping the batch, or making some kind of compromise salvage operation.

We had put too much time and effort into making that wort to give up. Fortunately we designed and built our brewhouse to do weird things. There’s a circuitous loop through the hard-piping that leads from the whirlpool backwards into the kettle. Rebuilding the heat exchanger was going to take hours, but with the wort safely held up at sanitary temperatures it could be kept clean and safe for the next day.

A lot of things came together to make that salvage possible. The base beer itself, a strong scotch ale, is often held for extended boils to concentrate and caramelize the malt sugars— leaving it up at temp wasn’t going to break the base style. We had a means in place to run backwards through our brewhouse and gently keep it hot and clean of invasive bacteria and yeast. Most importantly, we were not going to give up.

This batch of Thief should be just as delicious as the last, but for us it’ll taste like victory.

We’ll have another returning beer in August, our Framboos Blonde Ale, as well as a new beer, an India Brown Lager. The Framboos will be featuring even bolder raspberry aroma, thanks to 300lbs of raspberries in the tank. And the lager should provide an element of satisfaction to all the people who’ve been asking for us to make an IPA, without having to make just another IPA. It’ll be featuring CTZ, magnum, chinook, cascade, and summit hops for a balanced bittering to match the brown malts and lager yeast.

What's old is new again

We canned up a batch of Siamese Twin Ale this morning that represents a bit of a throwback. There's an evolutionary process in play with any product like craft beer. Materials and equipment change over time. Our skill set and taste preferences change, too. With the Twin we'd seen some drift that took the beer closer to a traditional Belgian-style Dubbel, using some darker European caramel malts and downplaying our southeast Asian spice profile. The beer has been darker and showing more deep notes of dried fruit in the body than what we used to make.

It was a beer from Against the Grain that swung us into throwback mode. Their Galangal Action used galangal and kaffir lime to produce a delicious and bright southeast Asian character. It was a reminder of where our Twin used to be.

We upped the dose of kaffir lime leaf and lemongrass and dropped most of the Special B from our grain bill. This throwback Siamese Twin Ale is a few shades lighter in color than what we've been brewing for the last few years. It's also brighter in body, with clearer citrus notes in the nose and a more refreshing finish. It’s a continuation of the process, a slow evolution towards an impossible perfection.

Last week's re-release of the Golden State Ale was also a sign of where the brewery is going with our label design. The wrap labels have been hugely popular, for good reason. After eight years on shelves our labels finally look the way they were supposed to in 2008. The first beer with our new label layout was the Steamers Lane Lager. We started using that same basic design for all of our new releases immediately afterwards.

The goal with those labels was to simplify our overall design and make the beer names. In that it was a success, a bit too much of a success. The old main-line labels ended up looking cluttered in comparison. The new Golden labels mark the beginning of our transition to a unified can format that hopefully makes all of the beers easier to find and identify on the shelf.

New Leaf, 41st Ave Liquors, and Shoppers Corner have always been great places to find our beers on Santa Cruz County shelves. Those shelves now include Safeway stores as well. Keep an eye out for our core lineup and seasonal releases in the locals area of Safeway stores in the area.

There will be Long Form Tripple coming back to join the Flamenco Roja for our Spring releases. Look for Tripple to start shipping later this week.