Two Brewers Walk Into a Bar

How our most recent collaboration with one of SF’s best new breweries was born.

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The Good Hop on Telegraph Ave in Oakland is one of several great beer spots in my neck of the woods. With a couple dozen handles, hundreds of bottles to choose from, and a really wonderful staff…it makes for a great hangout spot. For these reasons I was stoked to hear my friend and brewer Erica D. was in town and wanted everyone to come meet up at TGH to see her. Erica was a brewer at FreeWheel Brewing down in Redwood City (who we have collaborated with twice before and sourced wort production from) and has since moved on to Octopi Brewing in Waunakee, Wisconsin and become a strong voice for women in the production side of the beer business. She is often cited for her work with the Pink Boots Society.

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Having made many connections in the brewing world it wasn’t surprising to see brewers, sales reps, and bartenders had all come to see her while she was in town. While sitting at the bar I struck up a conversation with a fella named Rylan who was sitting next to me. Rylan is a brewer at Seven Stills in San Francisco, a distillery known for their craft whiskey and more recently their brewing program. Their customers have an affinity for aromatic IPAs and flavorful kettle sours.

I had never tried kettle souring, and Rylan has not brewed much long-aged sour ale. We naturally got onto the topic of mixed culture fermentation methods, desired flavor profiles, and recipe formulation.

After several conversations over the following week and meetings with the rest of his team, we decided to collaborate.

Our goal was to make a kettle sour beer with a balanced and nuanced acidity. Kettle souring involves introducing lactobacillus… a bacteria that naturally creates lactic acid…. into the unfermented wort before the boiling step where you introduce hops. Once a desired PH is hit (anywhere from 12 hours to 3 days later) you begin the boil which kills all the lactobacillus. This prevents the bacteria from potentially finding a permanent home in the brewery and causing unexpected results in beers they intend to brew with a pure strain of brewers yeast (Sacchromyces). Once boiled, hopped, and cooled you ferment kettle soured wort as you normally would.

This process is not something I have done with other collaborations or plan to do with my barrel aged beers. I have chosen to do a longer, slower fermentation and maturation with a variety of yeast and bacteria in oak. Using this method you can expect a more complex fermentation character and acidity but it takes much longer (6 months to 3 years instead of 2-4 weeks with a kettle sour) and it makes it very difficult to create a “clean” beer.

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SevenStills is as much (if not much more so) known for their clean fermented IPA’s so we could not risk a contamination. I was willing to give kettle souring a shot since I had not tried it before. However, I wanted to create something complex. Rylan and his team were up to the challenge.

Once the wort was created (with the PH carefully monitored) we decided to pitch an expressive saison yeast from our friend Nick at The Yeast Bay and layer flavors into the beer by co-fermenting it with Sauvignon Blanc juice and Nelson Sauvin hops. These factors led to a very dry and lightly tart finished product with flavors and aromatics reminiscent of white wine. We named in ZOUR GRAPES as a play off of the song “Sour Grapes” by The Descendants.

You can still find this beer a few places in the greater Bay Area.

Many thanks to Rylan and the rest of the team for being such gracious hosts. It was great learning a new process and trying all of their beers. Be sure to pick up some of their beer or amazing whiskey.

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ABOVE AND BEYOND (Indiegogo Update)

Many apologies for our lack of blog updates. Although our posts on Instagram and Facebook (@AltBrau) serve as a great way to keep our friends and supporters up-to-date with our projects… we’re happy to have this blog and the podcast (another thing we’ve been neglecting) as a long-form expression that allows us to go into greater detail. Thank you for reading and following along on our journey.

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Our Indiegogo Campaign:

Crowdfunding has a funny stigma for many. Myself included for several years. It often seems to be a money grab from folks who were not motivated enough to write out proper business plans and incapable of securing traditional funding due to poorly thought out concepts. The brewing world has certainly seen its fair share of campaigns, some coming from well established craft breweries with international distribution but most from garage brewers and brewpubs. It’s highly unlikely the backers you seek for your campaign will have ever heard of you and almost certainly have not tasted your beer… making for a questionable investment.

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So it was with considerable hesitation, extensive planning, and swallowing of my ego that I came to the conclusion that crowdfunding was, in fact, my best course of action.

When I considered the idea of bringing on investors or applying for bank loans, I realized that despite a few years of collaborations and some work experience in the beer industry, I had not put AltBrau in a position to show true feasibility and proof of concept. I didn’t want to bring in outside influence with investors or go into severe debt before having some history of sales and introducing product to market. If I could raise a (relatively) small amount of money to get AltBrau off the ground on a small scale, I would have much better leverage later when applying for loans or speaking to investors.

So began the planning.

For six months we built our email list via our pre-launch page, researched trends in crowdfunding, organized brewing/blending collaborations, collected contacts for press releases, brainstormed with videographers, worked with merchandise vendors, and so on and so on.

When the time came to click the launch button, I knew I had already gone too far to turn back. I also knew I had organized and planned the execution of our campaign to the best of my ability. We launched to the public on August 6th.

I cannot possibly put into words how much it meant to me when we hit our goal in only 6 days. My eternal gratitude goes out to my friends and family who contributed and the support I’ve received from total strangers. It has been overwhelming. Thank you all. Sincerely.

During my research into successful campaigns I had read about the emotional rollercoaster that many experience when they do their campaigns. Despite knowing this, I was still a nervous wreck… even after we hit our goal. I knew I had more work to do.

We wrapped up the campaign in September, managing to surpass our goal by an incredible +$7k. Many thanks to all 159 backers with a very special thanks to The Martells, The Armstrongs, Stephen Seymour, Kevin Miller, and Ash Salcido. I also want to thank those who shared our campaign with their friends and family, regardless of whether they were able to contribute themselves. It meant a lot.

In the end there was this funny and confusing combination of feelings. Incredible joy from seeing total strangers put their faith in you, severe anxiety that rushes over you when everything begins to feel too “real”, some disappointment from friends and family who didn’t have any interest in this huge part of your life, guilt for feeling that disappointment, etc.

The experience, in hindsight, showed me that I have an incredible network of friends around the world that are rooting for me even when I have feelings of doubt and that AltBrau, as a brand (for lack of a better term) has caught the interest of beer lovers who are ready to see what we can do.

So what now? It’s time to get to work!

As of this week we finally sent out the last of the merchandise we owed to our backers. We recently took a group on a wild yeast capture hike and in a couple weeks we will be treating our biggest backers to some of the best beers in my cellar, some pizza, and a tour of Shady Oak Barrel House where we are housing our operation. We will be hosting a blending session and dinner with some of our backers in a few months.

This month12 oak barrels have been filled that are destined for AltBrau releases in collaboration with Shady Oak with 10 more coming soon. We picked up some blending and packaging tanks, we purchased a small can seamer, and we are currently researching glassware. In addition to overseeing the production of what will be several AltBrau/Shady Oak releases… we recently released a collaboration with our friends at Seven Stills in San Francisco and we have 3 more collabs to be released and at least one more in planning.

Our goal is to have our first releases ready for the public around September of 2019, but ultimately the beer will tell us when it’s ready.

It’s been an amazing couple of months… and although at times stressful… there is no place I’d rather be and nothing else I’d rather be doing. Thank you for following along.

-Tim

Our Time in Europe...

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Every year, a 5 mile stretch of Amsterdam is invaded by a thirsty gaggle of funky brewers and blenders from around the world. Local breweries and craft bars become classrooms with overhead projectors, their buildings filled to standing room only by dedicated beer nerds. They are not only lining up to taste some of the beer communities most sought after liquids... they also gather to hear lectures by microbiologist, attend live lambic blending demonstrations, and hear about the effects of climate change on spontaneous fermentation and cellar practices.

Carnivale Brettanomyces is without a doubt the most unique beer "festival" I've attended. I put that word in quotes because to us Americans the idea of a beer festival is fairly specific... an asphalt parking lot or perhaps an grass field, fenced in with various booths and food trucks, and long lines for whatever the hyped beer of the day is. Your usual cast of characters stumble by with their pretzel necklaces and blown out flip flops, and the scene repeats throughout the summer all over the United States.

This is not that.

CB is a group effort by a few select organizers and a community of bars, breweries, and restaurants that all host multiple tap takeovers, pairings, lectures, and demonstrations each day. Attendees can plan their weekend around the events they are most interested in and buy tickets (you'd better jump on the Drie Fontienen and De Garde tickets quick) or simply wonder the beautiful streets of Amsterdam and inevitably find your way into a bottle-share or afterparty. Many of my favorite moments were just hanging out between events or having a nice meal with like minded people.

I have never been surrounded by such a passionate yet calm and collected group of beer folks. And it was through this event that I was able to get connected with Tom and Wim... the brothers behind Antidoot Wilde Fermenten... and Aiden, the young Swede behind upcoming farmhouse brewery Bretty Fingers.

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A few hours South of Amsterdam,  in the heart of the Flemish countryside, is an authentic Belgian farmhouse brewery belonging to Tom Jacobs. It's on this 2-3 acre property that Tom and his brother, Wim, tend to their small vineyard, orchard, hop yard, and gruit garden. Their recently licensed brewing operation has already begun to grab the attention of Europe's wild beer scene.

Despite the rustic setting, making one of the best Oud Bruins I've ever had, and using a coolship to ferment with indigenous cultures... the brothers are not interested in maintaining tradition for tradition's sake. They challenge the ideas put forth by puritanical lambic producers by using their coolship outside the recommended season and they test the palates of hop heads by experimenting with bitter alternatives such as gentian root. 

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Joining me in this educational endeavor was Aiden, a Swedish brewer currently building out his farmhouse operation. I was amazed by his brewing knowledge and palate and we had a blast foraging our meals around the farm and smoking his high-end tobacco around the fire late into the night amongst the grave vines.

Aiden, Tamara (my wife and  photographer for most of these shots), and I stayed on the farm and joined Tom on various excursions... walking the empty cobblestone streets amongst buildings that once housed heretical religious organizations, hikes through farmland to the local pub that also serves as a museum housing clandestine medical devices, and gathering pounds and pounds of cherries from an abandoned orchard. Half the cherries were set aside for kriek, while the other half were pressed and are currently fermenting with only the yeast on their skin.

In one of our final days on the farm, we were reunited with friends from Carnivale Brettanomyces for a collaborative brewing session:
- Jan Beekaa Lemmens (De Kromme Haring / CB Organizer)
- Vincent and Mattias (Nevel Artisan Ales)
- Jan Kemker (Brauerei Kemker)

Our recipe concept was a lambic-inspired gruit ale using a small amount of aged hops and herbs/spices foraged from several countries. An "International Gruit Ale" (IGA). With representatives from the U.S., Beglium, Sweden, Netherlands, and Germany it wasn't hard to gather the required ingredients. The coolship at Antidoot was used to steep the herbs and introduce a bit of wild yeast and bacteria. A house culture was pitched and the beer now sits in oak barrels until further notice.

Several additional guests (Raf from Bokkereyder, Dimitri from Brussels Beer Project, and many more) joined us to infuse the herbs in the coolship and a great final dinner on the farm.

This week the dates for Carnivale Brettanomyces 2019 were announced. Looking back on the incredible experiences had... I would be crazy to not go back. I'd better start brewing.

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