Urban Artifact Brings Out The Funk in Northside

It’s been well known for some time that the Grayscale Cincinnati project had taken up residence in the former St. Pius Catholic Church on Blue Rock Road in Northside. We learned earlier this year the project was fully funded, the build out was underway and the brewery portion of the project is called Urban Artifact Brewing. Grayscale Cincinnati founders Scott Hand and Dominic Mariano have partnered up with brewers Bret Kollmann Baker and Scott Hunter. The partners were drawn together by similar ideas and complementary skill sets, as well as complementary personalities.

All four indicate they gravitated toward Northside because of its welcoming and engaging community, its special small town feel, with an eclectic urban city presence and the unique opportunity presented by the beautiful and historic St. Pius Church (known at one time as St Patrick’s Church). Bret relocated to Cincinnati from Albany, New York while Scott Hunter relocated from the closer proximity of Deer Park. Besides the church, this Northside property has a spacious, 3-story house that used to serve as the rectory for the priests and more recently the Queen City Cookies Cafe, and a huge gymnasium that will serve as the actual brewhouse. Construction was well underway in mid-February when I visited for my interview.

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The brewery itself will start with an impressive 30 barrel capacity. The complex will include a both a theater and music venue plus a tap house in the church, a restaurant on the first floor of the rectory and a beer garden between the house and the church. Though there will be parking on and around the site, both Bret and Scott Hunter are avid cyclists, who plan on having plenty of bike racks for the cyclists and being very tied into the local bicycling community. Scott Hand is an architect who is charged with overseeing the design of the project. He and his wife Kelly relocated to Cincinnati from Chicago, where they became active in the local homebrewing community.

There will be plenty of entertainment as Dominic, a music professor & noted local musician will be booking diverse local and regional music acts, as well as providing live streaming online for performances. The church will also be home to a local theater group, who will be performing regularly in its spacious interior. But musicians and actors are just part of the entertainment value. Beer will also have a starring role. I sat down with Bret to talk to him about what is in store for thirsty craft beer lovers; Scott Hunter also took a break from construction to join part of the conversation.

Chris Nascimento: “So, Bret, construction looks like it is well underway. When will Urban Artifact Brewing be opening & how many beers will you have on tap?”

Bret Kollmann Baker: “We will be opening in mid-spring, start out with 10 beers on tap.”

CN: “What kind of beers will you be producing? American IPAs & such?”

BK: “Actually, what we will be making beers inspired by sour brewing traditions.”

CN: “So lots of Belgian beers?”

BK: “Not just Belgian beers, but beers with Belgian, German and Flemish influences. What we are producing is more microbiologically inspired. We have a love of microbiology and will be using old world techniques with modern scientific application to increase the consistency & quality of what we produce.”

CN: “So what made you choose Northside?”

BK: “Lots of things, it’s a great neighborhood! Both Scotty and I live here, my wife and I bought a house here. It’s all about the community. Everyone has been extremely supportive, stopping by to congratulate us and asking what they can do to help. People here get the idea of marrying beer & art together. What we are doing really fits the culture in Northside.”

CN: “So what are your backgrounds and how did you decide you wanted to become brewers?”

BK: “Scott & I met at Ohio University, where I also met my wife Stephanie. Scott and I were both chemical engineering majors and founded a homebrew club at the university. We both have degrees in chemical engineering, and I also have a degree in brewing science and technology. After college, I purposely worked in some related industries. I worked for a lactic acid manufacturer, Cargill, working with a special yeast strain. I also spent some time working professionally for a winery at the Farhmeir Family Vineyard and for a distiller, the Albany Distilling Co.” Plus, last year, I conducted a seminar at the AHA National Homebrew Conference a historic lager yeast. It was called “S. Eubayanus: The Father of Lager Yeast”.

Scott Hunter: “I worked in food production. I worked as an engineer for Graphite Electrodes, and I am also getting another degree, working on my MBA.”

CN (incredulously): “So, wait, Scott, you are opening a new brewery AND getting your MBA?”

SH (chuckling): “Yeah. I am getting my MBA at Indiana-Wesleyan, at their campus in West Chester.”

CN: “I love sours & my wife is a huge fan as well. But what will make you guys different and stand out in what you do?”

BK: “All our sour organisms will be caught from the local environment. We will capture them, and then pick our favorite barrels, then use these to start the new barrels. The lactobacillus we are using was collected in the bell tower of the church, and it is unbelievable! We are really excited about it.

CN: “So you will be doing open fermentations?”

BK: “Small scale stuff. We will be doing some spontaneous fermentations, and are installing a cool ship, probably above the brewhouse. It’s all flat, reinforced and that location will work out really well.”

SH: “The real skill is not just in producing the wort, the beer, but in blending it….”

BK: “and having the cojones to dump it if it’s not working. You can’t blend away suck….”

CN (laughing): “I heard Gordon Strong say the same thing about blending mead.”

SH: “We will be working with traditional sours, guezes. Beers with flavor & depth. Flavors from Pediococcus. Beers with flavor & depth. Flavors from Pediococcus and Brettanomyces take time to develop. We want sublime, complementary barrels.”

CN: “So, how big will be the barrel farm?”

BK: “We will be starting with about 10 barrels and will add 30 barrels a month. There will be different barrels consisting of spontaneous fermentations, local mixed cultures and various spirit and wine barrels imparting flavors as well. Our flagships will be done using some special techniques to ferment in the absence of oxygen. We will do this with most of our seasonal beers as well. Our flagships are all made using a modified sour mash technique.”

SH: “To give you an example of a beer of a beer that has inspired us, look at Orval. Orval doesn’t go bad. It starts fresh and hoppy and ages beautifully, becoming funky and wild. I prefer not to drink any Orval younger than 2 years of age.”

CN: “Will you use kegs, serving vessels or some combination of the two in your taproom? And how much beer will you be producing in your first year?”

BK: “We will be using all kegs in the taphouse and music lounge. We will produce 3,000 barrels in our first year (365 days of production).”

CN: “How big could you guys go with the production in this facility?”

BK: “The brewhouse has the capacity to do 45,000 barrels a year. As we grow, if we find we outgrow the present space, especially with the barrel farm, we hope to expand the barrel farm into a warehouse space within Northside.”

CN: “We have a great local brewing community, and many of our local brewers are doing collaborations with each other. Does Urban Artifact plan to do any collaborations with other local breweries?”

BK: “We have plans to do some collaborations with other breweries in the Cincinnati area; as well as elsewhere outside the Cincinnati area.”

CN: “This is all pretty amazing, what else are you doing that is interesting and different?”

BK: “We are working with some new, experimental yeasts with a major yeast manufacturer. We can’t really say what, (Bret reaches over to pull a specially labeled sample out of a nearby fridge and shows them) but here is an example.”

CN: “This is really exciting, guys, I can’t wait to try some of your beers. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!”

I should note that Urban Artifact already has formed some community partnerships as they work on their build out. They have rented out the second floor of the old rectory house for use as office space by Groundwork Cincinnati, who has cleaned up the Millcreek, including developing the Greenway Trail. Jess of Madcap Puppets is renting space in the church, which is very evident by the huge dragon puppet that has taken up space in part of the church. Gaia’s Oasis is also partnering up with them to put in a showcase garden.

The brewhouse is now in place, and Urban Artifact has obtained both their federal and state permits. So far, as of March 13th, Urban Artifact has been through two production brews, with more coming in short order. While I was not given an exact opening date, my impression is that “mid-spring” will be happening sooner rather than later.

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Book Review: Wild Brews by Jeff Sparrow

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When it comes to brewing wild/sour/funky beer, it turns out there aren’t many resources out there. Unlike homebrewing in general, where you’ll find more “how to brew” books than you could possibly know what to do this, the relatively esoteric niche of brewing both traditional Belgian sours and their newly Americanized brethren are sadly represented both in print and online. Online, you’ll find some great blogs like The Mad Fermentationist, Bear Flavored Ales, and brewing sub-forums like Homebrew Talk’s Lambic & Wild Brewing section. When it comes to print, though, Jeff Sparrow’s Wild Brews is pretty much the only game in town.

This might seem odd considering the glut of general homebrew books out there, but in many ways it makes sense. Brewing sour beers is a very, very small niche when you consider how small of a niche hobby homebrewing itself is to begin with. Also, this book has largely been canonical in the world of sour/wild beer brewing. Finally, it’s just not a part of brewing that is particularly well-understood. The use of Brettanomyces and souring bacteria, in my opinion and experience, is much more of an art than a science. You may be able to brew a house IPA over and over and over that you’ve been able to nail down, but on a homebrew level it’s going to be very difficult to brew the same lambic twice. There are just too many vaguely understood moving parts.

Wild Brew is less than 300 pages, but those 200-some odd pages are densely packed with a ton of information. I was concerned that it would be overly “science-y”, but my fears were unjustified. Even at its most scientifically in-depth sections, the average brewer should have no problem comprehending most of it.

The book starts with an overview and history of the classic Belgian sour styles (Lambics, Flanders reds, Flanders browns/Oud bruins), then proceeds to a whirlwind tour of the breweries in Belgium which brew and sell sours. Many of them you’ve probably heard of (Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen, Rodenbach), but there were a handful that were new to me. There is an illustration section which shows photos of many of these breweries.

It then proceeds on to the science of how sour beers end up like they do, describing the yeast/bacteria involved, the life cycle of fermentation, and the effects of different fermentation vessels that pro brewers use. It then wraps up by explaining how you can make this magic at home and provides a number of recipes that you can use to brew these classic styles.

Verdict? Wild Brews really is canonical for a reason. The information contained in it is damn near exhaustive when it comes to brewing classic Belgian sours. It’s an invaluable asset to any homebrewers who want to start down the path of brewing sours or even for the sour beer lover who wants a better understanding of how the beer he or she is drinking was made. The only qualm I have with the book is that I wish that Mr. Sparrow would issue an updated version of the book. I realize it focuses primarily on the classic Belgian styles of sour beers, but a lot has changed (in particular, in the United States) since 2005 when it comes to craft beer and the rise of sour/wild beers. New strains of Brettanomyces and Brett/bacteria blends have been released by White Labs and Wyeast since then, as well. Overall, though, that’s just me nit-picking and it shouldn’t deter anyone from purchasing this book. Available for less than $15, this is easily the most enlightening homebrew-related book I’ve read since I opened John Palmer’s How to Brew and started down this fun path.

Beer Review: Duchesse de Bourgogne

In the bountiful world of beer it can be hard, neigh impossible, to be aware of all the varieties of beers! Duchesse de Bourgogne (think Doo-shay de bore-gone-a) is one such beer that escaped my notice for far too long. Luckily the fantastic Richard Dubé VP of Brewing Operations at Cincinnati’s own Christian Moerlein brought this beer to my attention earlier this year by proclaiming his love for it. I had it first at Wildflower Cafe in Mason and realized I must get a bottle for a review and spread the love!

Here’s the description courtesy of Brouwerij Verhaeghe’s web page:

“Duchesse de Bourgogne” is an ale of mixed fermentation. It is a sweet-fruity ale with a pleasant fresh aftertaste. This ale is brewed with roasted malts and with hops with a low bitterness. After the main fermentation and the lagering , the “Duchesse de Bourgogne” matures further for many months in oak casks. The tannins in the oak give the “Duchesse de Bourgogne” its fruity character. “Duchesse de Bourgogne” has a full, sweet and fresh taste : it is a ruby red jewel of 6.2 % alc. vol., that best is served in a chalice-shaped glass between 8 and 12°C [46 to 53°F]. A perfect beer .

  • Type of beer : West-Flemish red brown ale
  • Color : ruby red
  • Fermentation : mixed fermentation

Beer: Duchesse de Bourgogne
Brewery: Brouwerij Verhaeghe
Style: Flanders Red Ale
ABV: 6.2%

An aromatic combo of acetic vinegar sourness, dark fruits, and malt fills your nose as soon as you bring the glass close with a nice oakyness following after.

The color is an extremely dark red, much darker then anticipated. Though if you hold it up to a strong LED light you can see it’s more of cherry red. The head on here is a nice thick and creamy off-white that stayed around until the very end of the glass.

Flavor has a delightful tang of tartness along a touch of oak and some dark cherries. All of that action is on the more acetic/vinegar side of things but it’s balanced out by a nice malt body and some apple sweetness but the sweetness doesn’t linger which is cool.

Medium body and smooth carbonation with a long dry finish though there is some astringent prickliness left hanging around.

This is a delightful and complex beer that I love to have every so often. I wouldn’t advise drinking this every day, but if you haven’t had one yet you should really try it. It should be easily available at all better bottle shops around town and Richard Dubé keeps it on-tap at the Moerlein Lager House.

Beer Review: Brooklyn Sorachi Ace

Brooklyn Brewery’s Sorachi Ace is a rather unique and special beer. Many brews are made with a combination of hop varieties this beer is very different as it uses 1 single hop from which it takes its name, the sorachi ace. While many hops are hundreds of years old, not so for the Sorachi Ace. It was custom engineered by Sapporo in Japan in the late 70s from a combination of Brewer’s Gold and Saaz hops, both classic varieties. Sorachi Ace hops also shows off one final unique characteristic by having a flavor of lemon and dill, different than the citrus/grapefruit/grass action of many hops.

So Brooklyn Brewery took this unique hop and used it in the somewhat special style of saison. Saisons are a complex style with a wide range of possible profiles, however, most are dry, moderate strength beers that are refreshing on hot summer days. They’re the second runner up for summer beers next to wheat beers like Bell’s Oberon and Sam Adam’s Summer Ale. Per the Brooklyn Brewery website Sorachi Ace is “a cracklingly dry, hoppy unfiltered golden farmhouse ale, but made entirely with now-rare Sorachi Ace hops grown by a single farm in Washington.”

Continue reading “Beer Review: Brooklyn Sorachi Ace”

Beer Review: Rivertown Lambic (2012 + 2011)

Lambics are some what of an interesting style, mostly because of the funk taste but also the nature of the open air fermentation. Back in Belgium, back in the the old days, brewers would leave their vats of beer open and whatever floated by would settle into the beer. The region in Belgium famous for lambics was lucky enough to have some very special yeast floating through the air that gave it this distinctive funk. Of course they didn’t know about yeast and all that back then. Today those special stains of yeast are added in instead of letting them float on by, at least I hope they are. The other qualification for a lambic is a 30% wheat grain bill. Then they are often aged in barrels before bottling once in the bottle they receive a secondary fermentation to keep them going for years to come!

In fact the owners of Rivertown, Jason Roeper and Randy Schiltz, were home brewing lambic style beers for many years before starting RTB. One of Jason’s home brewed Lambic style beers won the Sam Adams Long Shot competition in 2009 (Boston Beer Company now owns that specific recipe) but the current one is very close. Once the brewery got up and running they made it a priority to keep the lambics rolling and have been releasing a yearly batch ever since. On top of that they’ve expanded their sours to include an old sour cherry porter, Ojos negros (a wild ale), and a gueuze (a blending of 2 vintages of lambic).

Beer: Lambic (2012)
Style: Lambic
ABV: 6.3%
Calories: ~189

Nice hazy amber brown color that revels a hint of gold when held up to light, actually quite a pretty brew. I didn’t get any head even off of a more aggressive pour. There were initially quite a few bubbles but they popped away quickly.

The wild, barn yard-esk, smell pairs well with this lipizzaner stallion thing that happens to be on PBS tonight. There are quite a few other small things I’m picking up like some kind of wood, I think it’s oak that they age it in, and of course some sourness.

The first sip of any sour always reminds me of Vincent Price’s line from Thriller “the funk of 40,000 years” which is, in my opinion, an almost perfect way to describe many sours. Though in this case it’s just the funk of 1 year, because that’s how long it was aged. Plenty of tart sourness that throws your tongue for a loop and makes your head shutter a bit. There is more of that oak wood flavor as well as some bread action and lemon zest.

The body is on the light side of medium and there is light carbonation.

One quick note on the label, if you notice it says 2012 on there, but wait… this just came out and it’s 2013, what’s the deal?? Well this beer was brewed in 2012, stashed in oak barrels to age, then bottled and distributed in 2013. I don’t love sours but I do really enjoy shaking up my palate with one of these every once in a while and I can fully appreciate the styles. Sadly many can’t and I hope that changes, it certainly seems to be changing across the craft beer scene. Sours are becoming more popular and produced more often across the country. The sweet thing about having Rivertown make so many nice sours is that they’re easy to get for us, this is currently available at the brewery and is, or will be soon, at stores around town. Another great thing with Rivertown in town is that sours age fantastically, so without further delay I present today’s review of last year’s lambic!

Beer: Lambic (2011)
Style, ABV, and Calories are the same

Pours a curious combo of orange brown and a bit of yellow, kind of like dark honey. Again very hazy but this time around it started with a nice white head but that quickly faded into a ring of tiny bubbles around the edge of the glass.

Picking up more citrus along with that barnyard, funk, and bread. Like eating a fresh biscuit while riding a horse in an orange grove.

Far less of that tart sour kick it to the palate like before. The year in the bottle has really mellowed this out. Still plenty of funky sour flavor along with some lemon citrus, and malt biscuit action.

Plenty of carbonation tickles my tongue while the medium body slides across it.

This is a much more preferable brew to me. Plenty of that funk but none of that initial shock as it hits your lip. Aging is really very beneficial to this beer and I strongly encourage folks to pick up at least 2 bottles, 1 for now and 1 for the cellar. Also may want to pick up 1 to trade. Now you may be saying “dang, I didn’t think ahead last year and didn’t buy 1 to agree. Woe is me!” luckily for you Belmont Party Supply in the Dayton planned ahead for just such an event last year and still have plenty of the 2011 left, hence the ugly vintage 2011 sticker on the bottle shown.

And if you want to go back even farther here is Josh’s review of Rivertown’s 2010 Lambic. I’d like to try one of those today to see what 3 years has done to it!

Many thanks to Randy Schiltz for helping me out with some facts, oh and for brewing this beer!

Beer Review: Rockmill Tripel

Rockmill is a semi-local brewery from Lancaster, Ohio. Lancaster is about 2 hours from here and slightly south-east of Columbus. They make the somewhat lofty claim that their local water ” is nearly identical in mineral content to that of Wallonia, Belgium, where Belgian ale originated.” They also use all organic ingredients in their beers. I’ve seen the Triple, Dubbel, and Witbier at various locations around town for a while now but have resisted trying them due to the $15 price. I drink a lot of beer and that gets expensive fast so when I’ve always opted for the $10 bomber/750 over the $15 one. I’m not sure why I changed my mind and finally picked this up but I’m glad I did!

Sorry for the poor quality

Brewery: Rockmill Brewery
Beer: Tripel
Style: Belgian Tripl
ABV: 9%
Calories: ~270 per glass

Super dense and cloudy orange brown with skim of white head.

Oh man, ultra pungent flowery aroma jumps out as soon as you pop the cork. Lots of spices, banana, cloves, loads of yeast, bit of bread.

Nice classic tripel flavors showing off some floral hops, much more banana taste, some other fruits like lemon and citrus stuff. Really nice and complex flavor.

Medium body with a pretty smooth feeling and a fair bit of carbonation.

No real sense of the 9% which is nice that you can enjoy this without it being in your face. Super awesomely complex aroma and taste are both very enjoyable. I strongly regret waiting so long to have this. $15 is kinda steep and is why I held off so long but honestly for a very small brewery making beers like this it’s not an unfair price. One thing to note was how hard it was to get the cork out. I’m not sure what that means but I had to get out the wine opener and fight with it a bit. Also kinda accidentally poured the yeast in and didn’t keep it separated too well.

This review was just on their tripel but coincidentally and unbeknownst to me  fellow Cinci beer blogger Queen City Beer Nerd has just posted a review of the dubbel. I picked this bottle up at Jungle Jim’s Eastgate and you can check the Rockmill website for other locations around town as there are a few too many to list here.

I enjoyed this so much that I’m going to find some time this summer to get out to the brewery and try their other beers. I will, of course, let everyone know what I discover out in the rural Ohio countryside!

Beer Review: Victory Silverback

After my recent post on Victory’s Storm King imperial stout the comments on reddit brought to my attention a delicious idea I’d never heard before. Turns out that at the Victory brewery you can order a beer called a Silverback, now you won’t find this on any store shelves, it’s a mixture of half Victory Golden Monkey and half Victory Storm King. The white head from the Monkey on top of the black body from the Storm King give this brew it’s Silverback name. I’ve had a black and tan before, Guinness stout & Bass pale ale, and quite enjoyed them. However I have no idea what to expect from a stout and a Belgian tripel except for one thing; both of these beers are over 9%,so I will be drunk!

I poured the Golden Monkey first and ended up using a bit more then half of that before I got to the Storm King. I’d read that this didn’t separate this well like Black & Tans so I tried a trick and poured the Storm King on a spoon over the Monkey, as you’ll see it didn’t layer well either.

Very interesting appearance for sure. Kind of a dark brown or purple color beverage with a milky white head with streams of brown from the Storm King.

Woah, pungent aroma with plenty of roasty malt action as well as some flowery hops. Oh and a strong dose of alcohol.

Taste is curious as well definitely picking more of the stout here then the tripel. Strong malt body and taste with citrus and pineapple hops not found in any other stout I’ve encountered. Hints of chocolate, caramel, orange peel, and lots of “zest”.

Holy carbonation Batman! I’ve had fresh soda flatter than this, man those are some tingly bubbles, all riding atop a smooth medium body.

This has to be one of the most interesting beers I’ve tried. Not nearly my favorite by any means but most interesting for sure, no style has ever come close to this menagerie of taste and flavors. They’re good and all but not great, and that carbonation is a little over powering. This is certainly worth a try just bring a friend to split it with. Remember what’s interesting isn’t always the same as what’s good.