Wow! What a difference a year makes. The large, German beer hall-size, room that Brian showed us last time we were here is now an impressive, americanized, beer tasting space. It’s filled with brewania. I suggested they screw everything down: if I were less than honest I’d be tempted myself. This was confirmed by the fact that 30 of their unique beer steins: glass milk pints, had just been stolen a few days before I got there. Damn shame. I wanted to buy one.
The new tasting digs opened up about two and a half weeks from when we visited mid-August. The attention to detail is incredible if you’re looking for “unique,” which I usually do; like beer coasters made out of shale. Local? I forgot to ask, but I suspect so.
There’s a concert stage and a loft to look down upon the whole affair. There’s also a small private room for those who would rather talk without the noise of the rather substantial crowd that now knows this great brewery is here. A giant beer glass is painted on the pavement that serves as the entrance to the barn.
Minnie was selling pulled pork sandwiches amongst other fare’. Brian was off getting more wood for his wood chain sculptures, though he did show up later. A very busy couple with a great business to attend to.
Of the fine ales they had on tap we were most impressed by their I-Bud 59 IPA. (I had avoided it at first because seeing the I-Bud and not “IPA” I thought it was a clone of that vile AB concoction.) Uses Amarillo and Cascade. Pretty much a perfect American IPA with the the right body to support the firm; not Imperial like, hops. The Porter was excellent too. The Scotchtober had a bit too much peated malt sense for me, but Millie liked it.
The most promising thing? Hops strung out back spell even more great taste and “fresh” in the future.
Here is the review I wrote last year that was published by The Score…
Brew Biz: Worts and All
By Ken Carman
22019 US HWY 6 & 19
Venango, PA 16440
Second trip to Sprague after I visited, briefly, last month…
Honda Element filled with Millie, Frankincense the Collie grumping in the back seat because Batmutt the Toy Fox/Chihuahua mix (maybe) is getting more attention while making his usual royal fuss.
This is something new?
Well, Sprague is “something new.” Less than a year old; their very well attended coming out party was July 14th, 06. Sprague Brewery is off to an excellent start. How “excellent?” Well, after our visit, we went to North Country Brewing in Slippery Rock, PA after Sprague and we found ourselves far more impressed with Brian’s brews. It also doesn’t hurt that Sprague had close to a thousand visitors when they had their “just born” party. Now for the middle of west bumnub PA… that’s impressive, though this specific western PA “bumnub” is quite appealing, visually. A lot better than some parts of insect infested “Oh-fly-o” during the summertime. Now there’s a kind of “buzz” I have no interest in.
Ah, the country. Give me a home, where beer is brewed by gnomes, and the smog isn’t stinky all day… if you saw where Sprague actually is, you too would be amazed. OK, skip the “gnomes.” That in no way describes either Brian, Minnie, or their helpers… although I swore I could hear some banging on the door in the cellar asking for mote brewskis. Minnie and Brian would probably deny having such creatures living there (“‘Gnome’-body but us,’ they might insist.)
A month ago I was spinning wheels through a very rural part of Pennsylvania… down 19, South of Erie, northeast of Meadville… looking for new clients, and… WOW! …a huge chainsaw-woodcarving on my right announcing, “Sprague Brewworks?” Who the hell would want to go down this ominous dirt drive where there might be a less than enthused farmer holding a shotgun loaded for trespassers? Ken, that’s who.
I’m still looking out for that farmer with the gun. Hopefully he’s not looking for me.
Instead I found Minnie and Brian Sprague, owners of Sprague Brewworks. Minnie: a mini-skirted, thin, somewhat tall, extroverted brunette… Who the hell would need a “sales department” with her around?
Brian? Obvious this man works out; or at least his other career: chainsaw carving, achieves the same results. While not quite as extroverted as Minnie; more of a brewster, Brian, 49, shifts well from tech talk to schmoozing with clients. With somewhat graying hair, his most prominent feature was, well, let’s just say: “If Ross Perot had had this physique, no one would have ever made fun of his ears.”
I wouldn’t be surprised if this well sculptured body was created by the equally well designed chainsaw sculptures. If you get a chance go to their site and check out the size of the %$#@*! chainsaw Brian is holding!
…and check out his chainsaw sculpture photo gallery!
“We bought the place in 97, and I had had the idea of starting a brewery long before that, but I kept watching trends. Right now we just fill growlers and offer light snacks sometimes, but we’re hoping to serve a little food and sell by the glass. I’m not really after the full sized restaurant concept right now: too many regs. I also want to keep it small enough; controlled enough, that we will always have, true, ‘craft’ beer.”
The upstairs portion of this barn-based operation was probably the size of a small kitchen/dining room with a taller ceiling to accommodate a mash tun, a boiler and a hot liquor tank. Downstairs? A few conditioning tanks. Next to the brewery and the serving room, filled with brewania, is a future display room for such collectibles. Once finished it should be quite impressive. He especially likes to collect serving trays because, “They are so decorative.”
Of all that I saw there that impressed me; and that was a lot: what impressed me the most was how they dumped the spent grain. Designed by an English company run by two brothers that also works with farm machines like the kind that feed cattle, it featured a specifically designed chute that simplifies the raking and wheelbarrow operation. With my bad back I wish I had had one of these when cleaning out all that spent grain at McGuires. (I’d curse those days but being someone’s “beer bitch” does have its liquid pleasures.) This equipment was first bought by Weyerbacher and then sold to Sprague. Quite innovative: Brian uses a small, battery operated garden sprayer to sanitize the tanks, for example.
His Scotch Ale: Scotchtober, because it was originally brewed for the homecoming of “the fighting Scotch;” a local team, had plenty of sweet carmelization. (“a two hour boil.”) It uses Marris Otter, rye and less than traditional unmalted barley.
“I’m not a big BJCP person. Brewing to style is a talent, don’t get me wrong, but part of this whole adventure is making a unique, special product. In fact part of the current trend is brewing high gravity beers. We’d rather go the other way: do a beer where you can have a few; a product where defects can’t be hidden.”
None here, that I tasted.
He is Siebel trained.
I didn’t see the color of the Rustbelt Pale at first when I commented to Minnie that it seemed very Sierra Nevada Pale-ish. But the color, true to its name, was a light brown.
The beer called “Effin…” a running joke at Sprague (“made with this f-in equipment, and this f-in…) was a Dunkelwiezen… seemed a tad short on the “dunkel” to the taste, but obviously has a healthy, yet mild, heffe yeast sense. For this less than wheat-enthused beer drinker it was about right.
They use Fermentis yeast; amongst other yeasts, Best Malts and Baird, Simcoe hops… Cascade and Amarillo; just to mention a few.
Lightning Rod Farmhouse Ale… (Really made in a farmhouse!) …was a little too red for the typical Farmhouse Ale, visually, but otherwise a pleasant Belgian taste to the yeast and sweet to the smell. Again, this goes to Mr. Brian’s wish to be “unique.”
I love unique.
Ale Mary (chuckle) was a little heavier, body-wise, than most American Wheats I’ve had, a little caramelized and not a lot of wheat. Traditional? Hell, no. But just right for me.
Last year, well half a year, they did 125 barrels. They expect to do 400 this year and Sprague is now being served in bars in Pittsburgh and Erie, for example.
We arrived late morning. By mid-afternoon Millie and I were sitting by Brian’s wood carving called “Cold Indian.” We sipped several samples, while chatting with local friends and this superb husband and wife team… while tossing Frisbees to Frankincense the Collie and wishing Batmutt the Quite Annoying would stop barking at absolutely NOTHING. He really could de-quill a porcupine with those damn vocal chords, I swear. Other than the constant; sharp, shrill “woof, woof, woof.”
What would be a more perfect setting for two elderly homebrewers?
The Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to review, discuss and comment on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer, reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer.