Ask Your Local Brewery, Question #3: If You Could Only Make One Of Your Beers, What Would It Be?

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Photo illustration by Jane Bruce.

In our series, Ask Your Local Brewery, Brooklyn Magazine poses questions to New York City’s beermakers. The latest question is: If you could only make one of your beers, what would it be?

Rich Castagna, Bridge and Tunnel Brewery
If I had to pick only one beer to make forever, I think the beer would be my dunkelweizen. It’s one of the more straightforward recipes that I brew: no adjuncts, no fruit; just barley, wheat, some noble hops, and a good weizen yeast. There’s also a quick turnaround with it, as I can keg it after a week in the fermenter. So as far as brewer-friendly beers, it’s the kindest that I revisit time and again.

Speaking of kind, my dunkelweizen is named Angry Amel, named after a guy who was anything but. In fact, I sort of feel that the guy was the incarnation of evil. He was a neighbor that I had growing up, who lived right across the street from my childhood home. He was this dude that spoke with a very heavy German accent. His corner house was surrounded by a long strip of hedges, about three feet thick and at least five feet tall. He maintained these hedges in a perpetual state of flawlessly manicured right angles, and even lines. Unfortunately, he happened to live on a block with kids who played stickball and football right in front of his house. So he would watch us constantly and if we even so much as stepped on his side of the sidewalk, he’d come out with the clippers and threaten that he was going to cut our ears off if we got near the hedges. And we believed him.

Through the years of playing on the street, we lost foul balls, footballs thrown in error, stickball bats flung too hard. Sometimes, if we were desperate, we’d practically draw straws as to who would be the unlucky bastard to have to dive into the hedges to get them. It sucked. My father used to say that Amel was a Nazi in hiding. Who knows. Some say that by talking about people who have passed on, that it prevents them from properly resting. So if I had to brew my Angry Amel Dunkelweizen over and over again and possibly recall this guy and his antics, or even retell this story, I would hope that in the least, it would time and time again result in a pitchfork in his ass.

Kyle Hurst, Big Alice Brewing
This is a tough one for me. From inception, Big Alice has been about experimentation and integration of flavors and styles. In fact we produced 141 different one-offs prior to our expansion. Even now, we seldom brew anything more than once or twice. The thought of brewing only one beer, even one style, is something I’ve never contemplated. But if I had to pick only one, I think it would be our White Coffee Stout.

White Coffee Stout is a stout that’s appropriate year-round. A “white stout” is interesting and foreign to most people so it would drive conversation and help fill the void of creativity that brewing only one beer would create. I could explain how a wheat- and pilsner-based golden beer can have oats added to provide the full body of a stout and locally roasted coffee from Native Coffee Roasters in Long Island City can add the roasty backbone normally provided by roasted malts. People could still call me crazy and that could still make me happy but, ultimately, I think brewing only one beer would make me crazy.

Shane C. Welch, Sixpoint
If there was only one Sixpoint beer we could make, it would have to be the Crisp. Although it’s not our most popular beer nor our flagship, it’s most definitely the beer that is most technically difficult to make. There is a reason why many craft brewers dare not venture into the lager realm and stick to making IPA or other hoppy ales or sours. It’s because to make good, consistent lager, you need to be on your game. You can’t hide behind hops, sour flavors, or fruit extracts. If you make a mistake or are not technically perfect, you will be exposed. So for us, exclusively making a solid craft pilsner for the rest of our lives would be challenging enough to keep us stimulated and engaged.

We’ve been relentless over the past few years in improving the Crisp, which means tighter raw materials, better fermentation procedures, better yeast control, and better packaging processes. We believe the customers have noticed, and we’ll keep going with our “continuous improvement” mantra on this one—as well as our other beers.

Greg Doroski, Threes Brewing
Without hesitating, I would choose Vliet Pils. While pilsner isn’t the most exciting beer style by today’s standards, Vliet is important to me both intellectually and practically speaking. Intellectually, Vliet gets close to my archetypal understanding of beer. It’s both simple and complex at the same time, depending on how you break it apart and experience it. Further it illustrates that beer doesn’t have to be big and loud to be good. Practically speaking, I drink a ton of Vliet. I think it’s equally suited for crushing at the beach or enjoying at the dinner table.

Travis Kauffman, Folksbier
The funny thing is, I kind of already only make one beer. Well one recipe, anyway. All of my beer is a variation on a recipe using filtered water, super high-quality bohemian malt, and a bouquet of new and old-world hops. The things I change are the amount of grain, mash temperature, hop schedule, and most importantly, the yeast selection and fermentation technique. I’ve used this one recipe to make a rainbow of beers at varying ABVs and currently have a helles, a farmhouse, a schwartzbier, and a hoppy ale fermenting that on paper don’t look that different. Keeping the base recipe simple and consistent helps me concentrate on yeast selection and technique.

If I had to pick one single style to make, I think it would be something like a German pilsner with American hops added. I made a batch of our Sunshine Daydream Pilsner this summer and released 20 kegs, which got consumed over a weekend around the city. I guess folks liked it. It’s hard to produce beers that need an extended lagering period. That one took almost 3 months and could have hung out in there longer; so with limited fermentation space, I’m not able to produce much of this style yet. I think beers that have been expertly lagered have a great depth of flavor and a mellow body making them subtly complex, refreshing, and drinkable. There are a lot of very small adjustments that can be made to this beer to make it different or better including small temperature changes in mashing and fermenting. For me, it offers a very satisfying end product while demanding a high level of technique and attention to detail which makes it more interesting to make—and drink.

Anthony Accardi, Transmitter Brewing
Making a single beer from now until the end of time would seem like a Sisyphean hell to me. It would mean that I would be drinking that beer a lot too. Taking this into consideration, I think I’d have to go with a beer that has some sort of story arc to it in terms of flavor and life: our F4 Brett Farmhouse.

This rustic ale starts its life as a bit fruity with some expression of hops mixed in. Over time the beer moves away from brighter fruit notes to more overripe fruit esters, like tasting a piece of fruit that has been sitting on the counter for a day too long and you eat it anyway. (I do that, at least, but I’ll eat anything.) Finally with some age on it, it gets more earthy and funky as the Brettanomyces yeast cocktail—three different strains—kicks in and starts to really dominate. I feel like I’ve cheated the question by picking a beer that is like several beers in one, given its life cycle, but I’m sticking to it.

Chris Sheehan, Gun Hill Brewing
Even though I love our IPA and a beer like our Gold plays an important role in regards to yeast management, I would have to go with Void of Light stout—not only because of last year’s gold-medal win at the Great American Beer Festival, but also because of past success I’ve enjoyed in the festival’s Foreign-Style Stout category; I have another gold medal and three bronzes.

I’m particularly proud of Void, though, as I feel it’s the best I’ve made. It has garnered nationwide attention and even made a list of the best stouts in the world in Men’s Journal! With this success it would be difficult to select any other beer. Not only do I enjoy drinking it, but I really love that so many others enjoy it too. I often hear people say upon tasting it, “I don’t usually drink stouts but I like this!” It’s so rewarding to make so many people so happy with something that I’ve created. You can’t beat that.

Chris Prout, Greenpoint Beer & Ale Co.
I think we’ve made over 100 different beers in our 21 months of production, so picking just one would be tough. But a beer I think I could make forever, if my soul was sanctioned to work of homogeneity, would be a barrel-aged saison.

As general guidelines, the final beer would be golden in color and offers, among other things, a light floral and herbal hop character. It would be made using a light malt bill, with a grist composed different grains like barley, spelt, and oats. It would be kettle-soured for about 36 hours for an easy lactic acidity, primary fermented with a traditional saison yeast strain, and then conditioned in used French oak wine barrels for anywhere up to 24 months.

We’ve made a beer like this before but don’t get to make it enough given the space restrictions of brewing in the city. One that worked out particularly well that’s similar to the one described above is Motley Brew, our multigrain saison brewed with barley, wheat, spelt, oats, buckwheat, and rye. We filled four barrels with Motley last year, and they each developed in their own unique way. Two of the barrels matured sooner than the other two, and we released those this past spring. The other two will be released this fall; they’ve been in the barrel for 17 months. I can’t wait for the latter pair: an easy vinous character from the wine leached into the beer from the wood, and a little acidity and overripe tropical fruit flavors developed along with a slight funk.

I like barrel-aged saisons because the process is complex and it evolves. Working with wild yeast and bacteria that naturally occur in the oak barrel produces exciting, interesting flavors in the finished beer. Throughout the secondary fermentation, we sample beer from the barrels, judging if it is ready to stand alone or blended. For a balance we might blend one with too much acidity with one that has a softer palette. It’s like controlled unconsciousness or sort of a spiritual process, something you have to feel, which is what I love about the Belgian influence on brewing beer. It’s also a little intimidating at the same time because you can control the process with as much precision as humanly possible, and then open it up to unknown possibilities.

By the way, the beer I’d choose to drink forever while making this beer forever is our English-style bitter, Pottery Hill!

Patrick Morse, Flagship Brewing
I think it would be our Dark Mild. I fell in love with this type of beer while brewing it at past jobs—namely Harpoon’s Munich Dark and Eagle Rock’s Solidarity. It’s not a style that you see very often so I decided to brew my own take at Flagship because I missed drinking it.

This ale is low in alcohol and soft on hops. It’s black in color using a wide variety of roasty specialty malts. It looks heavy but is, in fact, very light bodied and smooth. I enjoy brewing it because it makes the whole brewery smell like freshly brewed coffee. As a bonus, there’s less labor in the brewing process because there’s less overall grains and hops used in each batch. We probably sell more Metropolitan Lager and IPA but it really doesn’t matter because Dark Mild is our go-to beer on long work days. To me that seems like a good enough reason to choose it for this.

Patrick Allen, Keg & Lantern
If I could only make one beer I would probably stop making beer; variety is the spice of life! That being said I would choose my Greeneyes IPA. It was the first IPA and only second beer I brewed at Keg & Lantern when I started last August. Never had I dealt with such a large hop mass and the challenges it presents on a brew day. It forced me to learn the limits of both the equipment and the ingredients and to respect the process.

I haven’t been able to make enough Greeneyes to keep up with demand since that first batch. It has become one of our flagships because our customers demand it and I love brewing and drinking it. Not only does it make the brewery smell great from the six different hops used but it gives me a nice buzz at 7.2 percent ABV in a 20-ounce pint.

Damian Brown, The Bronx Brewery
If I somehow slipped into a Hot Tub Time Machine and landed in a dimension where it was physically impossible to brew more than one of our beers, I think I’d go with Black Pale Ale. The dark, roasted, and chocolaty malts work well with the bright, tropical hops; it’s surprisingly light-bodied and without the astringent or tannic flavors usually associated with dark beers. We release it in the winter but it’s a beer I’d definitely love to brew and enjoy with others year-round.

Kelly Taylor, KelSo
Firstly, I don’t really like the idea of making only one beer forever. Sounds like a purgatory, and not even as great in imagery as a “desert island” kind of thing.

With that disclaimer I’d say our Nut Brown Lager. When Sonya and I first designed this beer, we wanted something that would be a great beer for the foodies, and a great intro to craft to the novice. The balanced toasted and caramelized flavors lend themselves to rich stews, burgers, ribs, aged cheeses, red sauce, and more. The classic hops Mt. Hood and Willamette start tempering the roasted grains, and the lager fermentation cleans the whole thing up likkety split. Nice and clean. Balanced.

I remember bringing this to beer festivals back when we launched in 2006, when it was our only beer. People would come to our table and say, “Give me the darkest beer you have.” I’d reply with, “Nut Brown is nutty and dark, yet finishes light.” Then the same person would follow with, “Give me your lightest now.” I’d reply with, “Nut Brown, finishes light for such a dark beer.” Oh, the hilarity that would ensue. Good times. Anyway, KelSo beers are based on layored flavors and balanced mouthfeel. We always look for depth in beers, and it all comes back to the Nut Brown Lager as the core example of our ideals.

Ethan Long, Rockaway Brewing
Thinking about the question, I am faced with even more questions. I figure that if I’m only allowed to make one beer forever, something catastrophic must have happened. With this line of armageddon thinking my survivalist instincts come into play and I figure I need a beer that can be my breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So I’m choosing a tall pint of my Black Gold Nitro Stout—roasted-malt flavor with a distinct hop and malt bitterness in a light body that is complimented by a smooth and creamy finish—and preparing for the end of the world with a big smile on my face.

Read Question #2: Why Did You Open Your Brewery in NYC?
Read Question #1: What Has Been the Most Influential Beer Of Your Career?

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