Brew Biz: Werts and All

Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay and Music City Homebrewers, who has been interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast for over 10 years.

We had to go to South Bend, Indiana, on business. So what do we do? Stop by brewpubs. Of course, being Friday night and Saturday, I didn’t get to interview the brewers, or see much of the brew equipment.

So many brewpubs have come and gone in this area. Nine G., Mishawaka Brewing… we were lucky to find the few we did.

The first target was Shoreline Brewery and Restaurant in Michigan City: seemed to be the only real brewpub in the close to South Bend area as far as we could tell. More on the “real” comment later.

Brick exterior, apparently an old factory or something that, on the outside, needs some refurbishing. A few blocks from Lake Michigan itself. The inside yellow-ish/pine like wood. Promising. They even had a barley wine in bottle. But I left without one.

You know that’s absolutely not a good sign, right?

Not being a lager fan we started with the ales. Oops. The lagers were drinkable. The ales had banana esters out the wazoo. This had to be an in-house yeast problem, I would think. Appropriate in some wheat beers, but when their strongest ales seem tainted? A big problem.

The only exception was the Lost Sailor Russian Imperial Stout. Now I have had RISs that use lager yeast; not really “to style” but they do exist out there… but most likely there’s just so much here you can’t taste the banana. Or maybe it predates the problem, whatever it is. Excellent. Everything you’d expect from an RIS. I saw it rated at 12% somewhere. You’d never know. But they wouldn’t put it in a growler. Fie!

Banana could be an aeration problem, too high fermentation temps, but we had several samples of various ales and, except the RIS, they all had some of that to the taste and, as judges, we decided: probably a yeast problem. I believe we had the Black IPA (Batch 200?) and at least two others. Banana taste in what some call Cascadian? That’s problematic: the malts and hops should cover that taste more than they did.

We had a Scotch Egg: good but a bit pricey, and a burger. Not bad and they did the burger rare, as requested. We do recommend the food.

Maybe you’ll have better luck: could have just been bad batches. Try for yourself.

The next stop was Granite City. Not a true brewpub, by definition, in my opinion, because the beer really isn’t brewed there. Fermented? Yes. They have a master brewer elsewhere who does a mash, a boil and then ships wort (wert) to all the Granites. As far as I know: pre-hopped. They also have to use the house yeasts. The “brewer” pitches the yeast, transfers from tank to tank. But “brewer?” Well, kind of, sort of, not.

I met her. Very nice lady. That’s a plus in an industry with few brewer ladies, and a bigger plus in that she’s African American. If I wanted to make my living as a brewer I would take that as a first brew job in a second, so none of this dis is aimed at her.

I find pub chains that do this aggravating because it’s a step back to the bad old days when all beer was standardized and we simply don’t need that. And I think a brewers creativity is crucial to the love that goes into making a superb product. She told me she can’t make any recipes of her own. Even Gordon Biersch/Big River allows their brewers a tap or two.

I can understand why they do it this way, especially after the Shoreline experience.

The beer was good, though unremarkable: as expected. Rock/shale walls, large tanks for fermenting and dispensing. A beautiful place. I just wish more brewery, less pretend brewpub.

We didn’t eat anything, only because we had just eaten.

On the way up, in Kokomo, Indiana, we saw a brewpub called Half Moon on the west side of Route 31. We couldn’t stop, but previous plans were canceled and we were able to slid back through Kokomo. Yes, it was snowing, so luckily that “slide” wasn’t a literal one.

So on our way back home…

Jackpot!

In a Chilis sized building: the busiest place in town that we saw: Half Moon. Parking was a pain, only due to that popularity. Large waiting room: plenty waiting. We, of course, went straight through to the bar.

Being a bar bound beer lover has its privileges.

We didn’t have time to eat: much. We had their hand cut potato chips and ranch dressing for about $6. Excellent. The beer was better: the Steel Curtain Stout Millie had was deeply roasted, did seem to have the required roasted barley, and just a smidge of Guinness like sour. Also a bit coffee-ish. My Elwood’s IPA was very Cascade/Chinook-ish but had plenty of body support: damn near perfect. They had something oddly described on the board as 8.5 abv yet light: odd because the bartender insisted it was a light beer, even after I pointed out the abv. Our guess: Kokomo Monster is Tripel-like with white Belgian candi sugar, but no Belgian yeast… or at least not that we could sense.

We left very impressed. All this from a mere 3.5 barrel system? Wow.

Pictures here provided by the pub’s sites. My camera simply wouldn’t take them. Digital tech is so spastic.

Who cares if it’s about 80 miles away? If I go to South Bend again I know where I’ll stay, and where I’ll stop, and what you’ll be reading about: Half Moon.

The other two in comparison, at least on this day, seemed half assed.

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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. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer. Essentially, all things “beer.”

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Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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