A Beer-y for a Good Story: Federal Jack’s, Shipyard and Old Thumper

Written by Ken Carman for PGA

Beer-y thumper By the mid-90s my tours as a children’s entertainer an educational service provider had reached as far as Lafayette, LA and Portland, Maine area. Summer, I’m guessing 97 or 98, I was sitting in Shipyard’s brewpub: Federal Jack’s, in Kennebunkport, Maine, looking at very expensive sailboats sail in and out of the inner bay, probably sipping on an Old Thumper, among other quaffs.
  I’ll be honest: I was not impressed, not even in 98.
  Getting ready to brew a Belgian Caramel Apple Wit Braggot at my very small ANYWHERE But Beaver River Brewery, recently, I was cutting up Beaver River wild green apples. A friend, a few weeks ago, brought me a six pack in thanks for my Beaver River Beer Tasting last year.
  Now, the problem is, being pre-diabetic, I am saving my quaffs for competitions: small samples, and my annual beer tasting. Otherwise I may take an occasional sip from my wife’s glass at beer meetings. Or nurse one pint and do the brewer’s samples at homebrew club meetings. Regularly buy a bottle of beer for my own personal use? Best if I don’t do that.
  So, what to do, what to do, with this 6? I was looking for something to soak the apples in as I freeze and then press them: something mead or beer-related. I was trying to keep the two primaries pure. No beer touches a mead, or mead touch a beer, until somewhere in the secondary phase: usually the start of the secondary phase. As an old style homebrewer I have found still using a secondary has its advantages, especially since I’ve switched to crewing mostly braggots.
  “Old Thumper? Hey, I’ve had that already and not a ‘treasure’ to save for Millie, or whatever.”
  Of course as I poured it into the apples I had to judge it, so a sniff and a sip or two and the rest cuddled up close to apple in a deep pan and went into the freezer. Here’s what that limited sampling offered…
  Caramelized malt nose and that distinctive Ringwood yeast up front, as it poured a big, heavy, cloud-like, pillow head. Pillow head is a very light brown, or tan. The srm is probably about 8 or 9: getting into amber territory. Clarity is good.
  I must admit it’s better than I remember, though still somewhat of a dated recipe compared with all that’s out there today. Mouthfeel is low side of medium and, again, carmelized malt, low, slight, bitter: obviously English, more earthy and herbal. Not floral or fruity though there is a hint of fruit to the malt: kind of a slight burnt, caramelized orange or tangerine. Alcohol just a hint hot, somewhat problematic though very, very low “problem”-wise. I just think there’s a hint of higher alcohols here, as if fermented too warm.
  A simplistic quaff that’s “nice,” other than the very, very slight higher alcohol heat. Needs at least a hint of complexity, especially to compete.
  On the professor’s scale I’d have to give it a 3.2 or 3.5, with the caveat that this was a brief taste, less a serious judging. It was also more a decision to use my brewing time to also offer another A Beer-y Good Story, a column which usually includes commentary on a beer from said brewer.
  Back to 97/98… ish.
  I loved Federal Jack’s, the name of their brewpub, and I loved the beatific vision out the second story window over looking that inner bay. The beer? Not “bad.” But…
  Years before this Alan Pugsley brought recipes for what became Old Thumper and other, original, Shipyard entries into the early craft scene. At the time they were like a sudden spring in a dark, one style of lager, beer scene. And I don’t just mean New England. But by 97, 98 (Can’t remember the exact year, to be honest.) they were dated. I remember commenting to the bartender/brew assistant (or so he said) that it would be grand if they had one experimental tap, possibly hand pulled. The next year I read in one of Bill Metzger’s brew papers that Federal Jack’s had just put in a one seasonal, experimental, hand pulled tap.
  Did I cause that? Doubtful. But I have learned to be thankful when I possibly inspire others. Expecting even a “Thanks” is probably too much, and a bit selfish since my goal is to inspire, not to get personal kudos. Is it also “selfish” for those who don’t offer such? I refuse to offer an opinion.
  Ain’t it neat when a writer can offer an opinion without actually doing so?’
  Chuckle.
  Been a while since I’ve seen much Shipyard product in the store, even in New England. But, to be honest, I haven’t been looking. Seems I have seen a few more exotic brews, for Shipyard, yet here’s a company that was early to the scene and with a tad more aggressive approach to product, and product placement, could have been Sam Adams.
  I would ask, “Why do brewers do this?” but having interviewed more than a few, I think I know. They start with good intent but believe their way of doing things, their recipes, their mindset should be good enough. There’s a certain anal, one track, mindset that helpful in brewing up consistent batches that the consumer can rely on: purchase ten years from now and have that same palate thrill they remembered and will recommend.
  Yet…
  The brew scene has moved somewhat away from that. Consistency is still important, but experimentation has become the new infatuation, and I don’t see that changing soon. Craft has become an adventure, and brewers need to juggle both consistency and adventure. Old favs need to be balanced with the newest concoction. And sometimes tired old recipes need occasional spicing up.
  And I hope Old Thumper isn’t an indication Shipyard is still not learning that lesson.

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A Beer-y Good Story is a column by Ken Carman: BJCP judge, author of several columns an beer and Inspection, on social, political and religious issues first published in 1972. A Beer-y Good Story goes where beer reviews don’t: history and perception of a brand being reviewed, as well as personal anecdotes.
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Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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