Yankee Brew News June/July 2014 : Page 1
R E THE LAGER VIVAL By Jack Kenny The Hendler Brothers: Eric, Sam and Jack. PHOTOS BY JORDAN GRIFFIN B Jo By J Jordan o rd r d an a G Griffin r ff in ri J ILLUSTRATIONS BY: HANS GRANHEIM The ratio of lagers to ales in the U.S. is wildly skewed toward lager beers. If you remove commercial brews from the equation, the scale tips sharply toward ale. The American craft beer industry has been ale happy from the day it started, most likely because few or no good ales had been available to drink, and because they are cheaper to make. Where has lager been in the craft brew mix? With some notable exceptions, it hasn’t been exactly the life of the party. Certainly one can point to Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Brooklyn Lager, Blue Point Toasted Lager and other successful brands in the ack’s Abby Brewing has built -its reputation as being the lead-ing specialty lager brewery in New England. It’s beat out German breweries at the World Beer Cup, nabbed two gold medals at the last Great American Beer Fest, was named Massachusetts’ best brewery by RateBeer and has numerous beer and business awards hanging in its taproom. In just three years, the Hendler family’s brewery has revitalized the legacy of the lager in the craft beer industry, though Jack’s Abby’s propensity for creating one-of-a-kind lagers came more from neces-sity than a thought-out business plan. See Lager p. 3 INSIDE Events Calendar....... 2 Alehouse .................. 9 Tasting Panel ......... 10 Homebrew .............. 12 Maps/Directory .. 18-23 State by State News E. Massachusetts ..........14 Boston ............................16 W. Massachusetts .........24 Maine ..............................26 New Hampshire .............28 Connecticut ....................30 Vermont ..........................32 Rhode Island ..................34 NYC/Long Island ............36 Upstate NY .....................38 Before Jack’s Abby, the Hendler family business was the Saxony Ice Co., founded by Brienne Allan spinning the racking arm the brothers’ grandfather, Richard Hendler, in 1964. As Eric recalled, the three brothers worked at the business as a summer job from you could possibly get into? Beer.” when they were “old enough to lift a bag of Using his contacts from the ice busi-ice.” When Richard retired, the business was ness, Jack got an internship cleaning kegs at handed over to Paul Hendler. Naturally, Jack, Greenpoint Brewery in Brooklyn, N.Y., in Sam, and Eric assumed they were next in line. 2005. “I got a phone call in my junior year of col-“We used to deliver ice to the Heartland lege from my father, telling me he had sold the brewpubs. Greenpoint brews all the beer for family business,” Jack said. “I thought, what them, and I was able to make contact with the the hell am I supposed to do now? I hadn’t brewing side of the business,” Jack said. made any plans other than going into the fam-After working at Greenpoint for two ily business. So it’s junior year, you have no months, Jack took a job at Boston Beer Works. career goals or ambitions up to the time you’re 20 years old. What’s the most interesting thing The Beginning See Jack’s Abby p.4
The Lager Revival
The ratio of lagers to ales in the U.S. is wildly skewed toward lager beers. If you remove commercial brews from the equation, the scale tips sharply toward ale. The American craft beer industry has been ale happy from the day it started, most likely because few or no good ales had been available to drink, and because They are cheaper to make.<br /> <br /> Where has lager been in the craft brew mix? With some notable exceptions, it hasn’t been exactly the life of the party. Certainly one can point to Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Brooklyn Lager, Blue Point Toasted Lager and other successful brands in the Category. Overall, however, lager has been the quiet sister, serene and mature, biding her time. Will she gain strength and assert herself more in the craft scene? Some folks think that she already has.<br /> <br /> Making a Comeback<br /> <br /> “Lagers are absolutely making a comeback,” said Andy Schwartz, brewmaster at Stony Creek Brewery in Branford, Conn. “It’s being driven mostly by the new wave of sessionable beers, lower ABV (alcohol by volume) beers. These are back in style again. Balance is back in style again. My generation has gotten a little older, and we don’t always want to drink the high strength beers. So we are seeing a rise in pilsners, helles lagers and amber lagers.”<br /> <br /> Stony Creek launched in 2012 with two IPAs, called (203) and (860). Stony Creek 203 Lager made its debut last year and has become a strong performer for the new brewer. Schwartz, a 20-year industry veteran, most recently with Craft Brew Alliance in Portsmouth, N.H., joined Stony Creek in the spring of this year.<br /> <br /> Schwartz also credits the consumer’s education and quality lager beers for the revival.<br /> <br /> “It’s a smarter consumer base,” Schwartz said. “People are more knowledgeable about beer styles and breweries than they have ever been. Many of them come from being commercial beer drinkers to trying higherend lagers, such as Stella Artois and Pilsner Urquell. People realize that there are differences, and they want to know what’s available.”<br /> <br /> Continuing education for consumers certainly has to include the broad gamut of styles that comprise the lager family. Post- Prohibition breweries jettisoned nearly all but the pilsner style — and a shadowy pilsner at that — in the interest of expansion and competition. The lager palette is rich with variety, flavor, body and reward, but it’s pretty much an undiscovered country for most consumers. Helles, dunkel, schwarzbier, bock: most folks don’t know what these are, let alone that they are lagers.<br /> <br /> Which brings up the question of the two basic beer types. Today’s small brewers get to meet lots of people during plant tours, and they find that the majority of tourists can’t describe the difference between a lager and an ale. The brewer finds himself in the position of educator, and learns fairly quickly that mention of bottom- and top-fermenting yeast usually doesn’t make a bit of difference to the average consumer.<br /> <br /> “We want to emphasize what differentiates an ale from a lager. When we explain yeast and fermentation, that can be over people’s heads,” observed Jack Hendler, cofounder of Jack’s Abby, a lager-only brewer in Framingham, Mass. “We try to emphasize the clean, crisp nature of lagers. While ales produce a lot of flavors, lager allows us to highlight certain flavors: the malt, the hops, the yeast. Lager doesn’t muddle the flavors.”<br /> <br /> When he gives tours at Thomas Hooker Brewery in Bloomfield, Conn., President Curt Cameron asks visitors if they know the difference between lager and ale.<br /> <br /> “The vast majority doesn’t know,” Cameron said. “The general consensus is that lager is Smoother, less complex, but the public doesn’t know the intricacies of the difference. They think it’s smoother tasting by reputation. A different yeast? Most people don’t know what the term means.” <br /> <br /> Stony Creek’s Andy Schwartz slips in the fermentation details in simple terms when he talks with consumers.<br /> <br /> “I tell them that lager is fermented more slowly,” Schwartz said, “and because of that it tastes much cleaner and crisper. Ale is a lot more fruity, spicy and estery because of the warm fermentation.”<br /> <br /> Up in Skowhegan, Maine, Oak Pond Brewery has been run by the Chandler family since 2003. They do a brisk business with their ales, but Adam Chandler said that they are crafting more lagers than ales these days.<br /> <br /> “Our volume on ales is pretty tied up,” Chandler said. “It takes up so much sales volume. So on the lager side we can afford to play a bit, to experiment.”<br /> <br /> He sees growing interest in lagers.<br /> <br /> “Typically the craft brew consumer wants to try the ales. Sometimes they can be dismissive of the lagers at first, but then they realize that this is not the light lager that they were used to. They associate lager with a light beer, not with a bottom fermented cold aged beer. But they come to understand that nice clean finish, and that there is a great deal of malt profile inside the beer itself, but not necessarily a lingering aftertaste.”<br /> <br /> Oak Pond brews four lagers (aside from the experimental brews that they’re having fun with): Somerset is a German pilsner offered year-round. The seasonals are an Oktoberfest, Storyteller Doppelbock and Laughing Loon Lager (a Munich dunkel). All beers are available in 22-ounce bottles, in growlers and in kegs. Chandler said they are working on an India pale lager in small batches — “Hoppy continues to be a best seller.”<br /> <br /> Brewing Lagers<br /> <br /> Is brewing lager beer any more challenging than brewing an ale? The brewing process is pretty much the same for both, but what takes place after that is noticeably different. Ales ferment quickly, usually in about three weeks, give or take. They also require a climate on either side of room temperature. Lagers are different: Fermentation is much longer, and the optimal temperature is quite a bit lower.<br /> <br /> “There certainly is a challenge on the cost side,” noted Chandler. “For us, it’s 2:1 to brew lagers versus ales. Energy consumption is higher, particularly during the warmer months when we have to keep the tanks cool to fully condition the lagers. And it also ties up the tanks for a longer time.”<br /> <br /> “Lagers take longer,” said Cameron of Thomas Hooker. “We’ve been making them for so long that I don’t really see a challenge other than the time they spend in the tank. They really do well sitting in the tank. From a business perspective, though, tying up a tank for four weeks is significant.”<br /> <br /> Hooker just released its newest lager: Defiance India Pale Lager, which clocks in at 8.2% ABV.<br /> <br /> “We’re going to put out a new variety pack called The Pale Pack,” Cameron said, “which features Hop Meadow IPA, our old standby; Old Spinster, a single hop pale ale; and Defiance IPL. We call it Defiance because being a double IPL it defies conventional wisdom.”<br /> <br /> Hendler at Jack’s Abby senses a growing consumer interest in lager beers, but he’s not sure that the craft brewing industry is going to alter its production to push that interest.<br /> <br /> “I don’t think there’s going to be a big shift in breweries putting out a lot of lagers,” Hendler said. “There isn’t the tank space available to emphasize lagers. It really is an economic factor. People assume that lagers are cheaper to make. They are completely wrong. They are more expensive, they require more infrastructure, more capital investment and a lot more work to make a lager than to make an ale. It requires twice the cooling time. A lot of factors make it much more expensive.”<br /> <br /> The brewhouse at Jack’s Abby is a busy place; usually 12 beers are on tap there for tasting, many of them the products of experimentation. Distribution is in Massachusetts, upstate New York and northern Vermont, but Expansion is under way, and the beers might already be available in Connecticut by the time this issue of Yankee Brew News is available. Hendler said he foresees full New England distribution in two years.<br /> <br /> The best selling Jack’s Abby beers are Hoponius Union (an IPL), and the summer seasonal, Leisure Time Lager.<br /> <br /> Experience has shown the Hendler family that brewing lager beer can pose one other challenge, and that is in the recreation of styles.<br /> <br /> “Some beers are impossible to master,” Jack Hendler said. “It can be challenging for us sometimes. It’s one thing to create beers that are unique and which have interesting flavors, but when re-creating beers it can be difficult. It’s an effort to be true to style for certain beers and to examine it from a lab or quality control standpoint, to determine what’s positive, what’s negative and to try to move forward with the recipe.”<br /> <br /> Manny Rodriguez, one of the principals of Stony Creek, said that the brewery’s lager is the result of three occurrences.<br /> <br /> “First, I think we’ve all forgotten what a lager tastes like,” Rodriguez said. “Second, no one else is doing it. Third, when the test batch came out it was so delicious. It reminded us of the first beers we ever had.”<br /> <br /> The Stony Creek lager is brewed with four German malts.<br /> <br /> “The Vienna chocolate malt adds just the right amount of sweetness, though this is not a sweet beer,” Rodriguez noted. “With ales you are playing around with a lot more spiciness. With lagers you are not. Lager takes us back home.”
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No, It's Not an ABBY<br /> <br /> Jack’s Abby Brewing has built its reputation as being the leading specialty lager brewery in New England. It’s beat out German breweries at the World Beer Cup, nabbed two gold medals at the last Great American Beer Fest, was named Massachusetts’ best brewery by RateBeer and has numerous beer and business awards hanging in its taproom. In just three years, the Hendler family’s brewery has revitalized the legacy of the lager in the craft beer industry, though Jack’s Abby’s propensity for creating one-of-a-kind lagers came more from necessity than a thought-out business plan.<br /> <br /> The Beginning<br /> <br /> Before Jack’s Abby, the Hendler family business was the Saxony Ice Co., founded by the brothers’ grandfather, Richard Hendler, in 1964. As Eric recalled, the three brothers worked at the business as a summer job from when they were “old enough to lift a bag of ice.” When Richard retired, the business was handed over to Paul Hendler. Naturally, Jack, Sam, and Eric assumed they were next in line.<br /> <br /> “I got a phone call in my junior year of college from my father, telling me he had sold the family business,” Jack said. “I thought, what the hell am I supposed to do now? I hadn’t made any plans other than going into the family business. So it’s junior year, you have no career goals or ambitions up to the time you’re 20 years old. What’s the most interesting thing you could possibly get into? Beer.”<br /> <br /> Using his contacts from the ice business, Jack got an internship cleaning kegs at Greenpoint Brewery in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2005.<br /> <br /> “We used to deliver ice to the Heartland brewpubs. Greenpoint brews all the beer for them, and I was able to make contact with the brewing side of the business,” Jack said.<br /> <br /> After working at Greenpoint for two months, Jack took a job at Boston Beer Works It was there he started to learn about the brewing process.<br /> <br /> “I was extremely lucky to work with five brewers who combined, had 50-plus years of brewing experience,” Jack said. “I absorbed everything I could and asked all the questions I could think of. It was an unbelievable opportunity to learn about the art, science and leadership involved in operating a brewery.”<br /> <br /> While at Boston Beer Works, Jack took a one-year leave to attend the World Brewing Academy — a joint degree program offered by the Siebel Institute of Technology, run out of the Goose Island brewpub in Chicago, and the Doemens Academy in Munich, Germany.<br /> <br /> At first, Jack’s brothers were skeptical of his newfound affinity for brewing.<br /> <br /> “During Jack’s training, we thought it was just a fun thing,” said Eric. “But after a couple years while he was learning how to brew, we tried some of his beers and realized it was actually really good.” <br /> <br /> With Saxony Ice long gone, the Hendler brothers saw an opportunity.<br /> <br /> “We grew up in a family business, and it just seemed natural to go for it,” Eric added.<br /> <br /> Planning and Strategy<br /> <br /> In 2009 the brothers began to form the new family business. Originally, they wanted to start a brewpub, but quickly realized they didn’t have enough experience to run a restaurant. They put their heads together, and decided to build a production brewery. <br /> <br /> “There were a million variables up in the air. What equipment? How much space do we need? Where will we build it?” said Sam. “Jack spearheaded most of the decisions as far as equipment. A lot of the business decisions we made together, and our dad was really a driving force ensuring we were making sound choices.” <br /> <br /> The brewery’s location, in Framingham, was a strategic move. The brothers knew they would be self-distributing when they first opened the brewery, and delivering beer to Boston and western Massachusetts is a much easier endeavor when centrally located. Also, real estate is much cheaper in the ‘burbs than in the city. <br /> <br /> After the Hendlers signed a lease on the 12,000-square-foot warehouse space in February 2011, brewing equipment was on its way to fill it. Then the question became, what to brew?<br /> <br /> As the brothers began to draw up the beer list for Jack’s Abby’s debut, they noticed that most of the beers on the list were lagers.<br /> <br /> “We knew we wanted to brew a pilsner as our flagship beer, and that was the first beer we brewed,” Jack said. “The idea was as soon as we could we’d start brewing ales, an IPA, a stout — whatever. The plan wasn’t to be a lager-only brewery.”<br /> <br /> Most breweries have a beer profile that includes ales, and some exclude lagers altogether due to the lengthy and laborious production. Longer fermentation times mean less production and/or more equipment, all of which ultimately effect a brewery’s profit margins.<br /> <br /> “If we decided tomorrow to make ales, we would double our production without having to change anything,” Eric said.<br /> <br /> “As soon as we started brewing, we were brewing so little that it was unrealistic to get a second yeast strain in,” Jack said, who at the time, was the only brewer. “Then we thought, if we can only have one yeast strain, how can we make the lager work for what we want to do here?”<br /> <br /> Helping Jack create some of the brewery’s first beers was seasoned homebrewer, Mike Gleason, who discovered Jack’s Abby while drinking a Red Tape Lager on a dinner date with his wife.<br /> <br /> “I did some research on where Jack’s Abby was, and went by and took a tour,” Gleason said. “I really liked it and wanted to work there. I gave them an offer they couldn’t refuse, which was to work for free.”<br /> <br /> Gleason worked at the brewery as an intern for four months. In September 2011, he was hired as a brewer, and he was Jack’s Abby’s first employee. Lashes Lager, a hopbock, and Boston Steam Pie, a California common steam beer flavored with chocolate and vanilla, were both Gleason’s creations.<br /> <br /> “There’s so much you can do with lager yeast,” said brewer Matt Cohen, Jack’s Abby’s second employee and former brewer at Opa Opa Brewery in Southampton and Williamsburg, Mass. “And we’ve had such great success doing these hybrid styles.”<br /> <br /> “Once we started getting a name for ourselves for brewing these interesting and eccentric lagers, that had to be our marketing plan,” Jack explained. “Why fight it?”<br /> <br /> The name for Jack’s Abby is a play on words. Abby is Jack’s wife’s name, and her name is a nod to European abbey-style pubs.<br /> <br /> Three Initial Accounts<br /> <br /> The day the brewery opened in July 2011, Jack’s Abby had three accounts: The Framingham Tavern, British Beer Company (Framingham location) and the Horseshoe Pub in Hudson, Mass.<br /> <br /> “The BBC and Horseshoe were really beercentric places that were interested in offering new and different beers to their customers,” Sam said. “They didn’t even taste the beer before we showed up with a keg. They were willing to take a shot on us.”<br /> <br /> In the early days, Sam used the family pickup truck to make deliveries and solicit accounts. As the account list grew, Eric — and Mike, when he wasn’t busy brewing — would pick up the slack.<br /> <br /> “Jack would try to help,” said Sam. “But his strong suit is not talking to people. His strong suit is making fantastic beer. I’m not sure if he helped or hindered.”<br /> <br /> Regardless of who might be the better salesman, the number of businesses carrying Jack’s Abby’s beers has skyrocketed. Since the brewery’s inception, accounts have grown from three to around 850 package stores and 500 draft accounts. And instead of the pickup truck, they now use a distributor. In October 2013, they expanded distribution to New York State along I-90.<br /> <br /> “They have a vision of where they want to be, but they don’t grow too fast,” Gleason said. “They’re smart about putting money back into the business, getting more tanks and growing that way.”<br /> <br /> Looking Ahead<br /> <br /> After a recent delivery of four 100-barrel tanks, Jack’s Abby is now a 22-tank brewhouse that’s projected to produce 16,000 barrels this year. A 1,000-square-foot walkin refrigerator is under construction, and a 2,000-square-foot warehouse across the street was rented as extra storage space. The recently revamped taproom sees at least 500 visitors each Wednesday through Saturday.<br /> <br /> “The reality is we can probably only grow here for another two or three years,” Jack said. “If we see the same kind of growth, we’d like to think about opening a new brewery, but we’re not in the planning stages for that yet.”<br /> <br /> Plans are in the works for distribution in Connecticut, as are new beer recipes such as Barrel Aged Cherry Berliner, to be released in late May, and the third Anniversary Lager, which is set to be released at the end of June.<br /> <br /> As far as creating a niche in the craft beer market, the brothers feel confident with their efforts.<br /> <br /> “There’s no one else stupid enough to do what we’re doing,” Jack said. “I’m not saying there’s not going to be someone trying to put out a ton of lagers, but I think the way we’re doing it is unique.”<br /> <br /> “We’re focused on making sure we’re a significant brand in Massachusetts that can stand the test of time,” Sam added. “I don’t think we’re there yet, but we’re definitely on our way.”<br /> <br /> Jack's Abby Brewing, 81 Morton St, Framingham, Mass. (508) 872-0900. Tasting Room Hours: Wednesday - Saturday: 12 pm – 8pm. Tours on Saturday: Hourly, 1-5 pm.
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