Brewer Profile: Fred Karm

Profile by Ken Carman

In the 90s I was touring northeast Ohio and decided to pop into the Thirsty Dog on the northwest side of Akron, back when The Dogs were a small Ohio brewpub chain. Often, after performing as an entertainer, I would stop and write something about what happened during the show. Honestly? It was an excuse to try local cuisine and good beer.

I sat at the bar and asked what they had that was hoppy. I sighed to myself when I heard the answer, “Only an ‘ESB?'” A moment later the tender came back and I sipped a little, wrote a little and… “wait, there’s another hop in here…” wrote a little, and… “Damn, another hop!”

That ESB literally unfolded one hop at a time as it warmed. I immediately asked if the brewer was in. It takes talent, a knowledge of brew science and hops to do that. While I have had some incredibly great hopped up beers over the years, no other brewer’s beer has come close to that amazing experience since.

Fred Karm: short, black hair, beer/brew hyper in an absolutely pleasing way for those of us fascinated with the craft, looks a bit different than the picture from Hoppin Frog’s web site. In fact, if you’ve ever seen Warehouse 13 on SyFy, Stargate SG-1, Unforgiven or Rush Hour 2, he looks a lot these days like the picture of a young Saul Rubinek you see to your right. The height is about right too. I found it a bit spooky.

Last year I wrote a Brew Biz column on Ohio brewer Tim Rastetter and the new Thirsty Dog; my second interview with Tim over the years, and asked Tim what ever happened to Fred. He told me he was at Hoppin Frog. I should have known: I’m a giant fan of extreme beers and have given out samples of B.O.R.I.S., their Russian Imperial, at my two yearly summer beer tastings in Beaver River Station, NY, and at Big Bob’s Barley Wine Bash on Pensacola Beach every September.

Of course I did. How could I resist sharing a beer with a fascinating name, label and such a grand savor: all before I knew it was a GABF Gold Medal winner in 2008?

I promised Fred I would come back and do a Brew Biz on Hoppin Frog in June. Right now they’re expanding and pictures simply wouldn’t do it justice. It may be August, depending upon my schedule. I will stop by though.

Need beer!

For beer tastings!

On my first visit I met brew dogs Lily and Riley and brewer “Goose.” Not sure the origin of that name for a tall, white hair, thin guy. Fred was busy doing marketing on the phone. The other brewers were also busy: I caught them brewing Turbo Shandy. Shandy is popular in Europe. Last year I did a profile on Saranac’s Shandy here at Professor Goodales, if I remember right. Shandy is beer often mixed with lemonade, carbonated lemonade, citrus-flavored soda, ginger beer, ginger ale, or cider, according to Wiki. And, also from Wiki, Rock Shandies are non-alc mixes, some using NAs I would assume. But Fred was having his other brewers help him brew a Turbo Shandy, at 7.5%: certainly no Rock Shandy, though it certainly will “rock.”

“Normally Shandies are light, low alcohol, but we don’t roll that way here at Hoppin Frog.”

Wow. I do enjoy a session beer from time to time, but this is a man after my brew-heart.

Fred started as a homebrewer in 1994 and got his first professional job as a brewer in 1996.

“I was an electrical engineer and had brewed over 75 batches, each with at least four pages of notes.”

No wonder they hired him.

He did take a “small course at Siebel.”

We reminisced about Thirsty Dog where he was the masterbrewer over several brewpubs.

“I was there when they tore out the equipment at the Cincinnati Thirsty Dog,” Fred said.

How sad.

He, by this time during my visit, was busy bouncing between his other brewers involved with brewing Turbo Shandy. His energy was incredible. From moment to moment he was switching topics, fielding my questions and brainstorming the brew.

Fred has several house yeasts, including Fermentis London, Belgian Trappist and “Weihenstephan 3168: the quintessential wheat beer yeast, from the oldest continually operating brewery and brewing school in the WORLD!!!” I looked up the spelling myself and Fred was right. He said he thought that’s what it was, but he never took German.

Fred, I took three years and you did a better job than I probably would have. Guess neither Frau Himes nor Herr Irwin beat me enough.

I did research the yeast a bit and found 3068, but had trouble finding 3168. Wonder if it’s basically the same yeast?

When he heard the hop crisis was about to hit he intentionally took on several hop contracts with hop suppliers.

“I’m the hoppin frog, after all.”

He explained the nickname: others in the brew community knew he was a bit hop crazy and a big fro he used to have. Somehow, I just can’t imagine Fred with a “fro.” Or a twice as big “fro.” Would that be a “two and fro?”

You know what’s so fun about being a writer? Humoring yourself with a play on words to spice up what you’re writing for all, just like brewing for a living while coming up with chuckle filled beer names (“Hop Dam?”) and frog humor-based signs to put up in your brewery can be fun.

Like Fred and his Hoppin Frog beers.

Thirsty Dog closed in 2005. Hoppin Frog opened in 2006. Fred had hoped to put in a brewpub, but the bankers balked. He did get the brewing equipment from Thirsty Dog, and tables, and equipment for the brewpub.

We went into another room when Fred himself had installed the copper piping, “I like to do stuff like that,” and shared a bottle of Hop Dam, a Triple IPA: Summit, Cascade and Columbus, a nice malt background including pilsner, two caras… wow.

Impressive. I immediately bought a bottle. I have a certain guy who goes by the name of Hop Tyrant to share it with. We also chatted about their upcoming 5 year anniversary beer: a Belgian barrel aged Barleywine; 11.5%.

(Hm, methinks I have at least one beer to buy for Big Bob’s 10% and Over Barleywine Bash when I see you next, Fred. Save a bottle, if you can?)

“When I visited Belgium I grew to love their barrel aged beers and wanted to bring that vanilla-wood sense back here. I also took pictures of spider webs and gnats in their breweries. They keep them that way because they consider all that adds to the flavor. I’ve got regulators who come in here who would go nuts if they saw anything like that.”

While writing this I noticed Hoppin has a fresh hop beer, so I stopped and got one of those too the next day for the Hop Tyrant and my wife, Millie, to share with me. Fred told me it wasn’t all fresh “raw” hops because he wasn’t fond of too much fresh hop taste. He felt it would be better as mix of fresh and other hops. Perhaps I’ll do a beer profile on it for PGA?

I asked him how he felt about the direction craft beer is going, he said, “I couldn’t be happier. It’s going our way.”

Fred told me that he believed homebrewers have a chance to do things most pro brewers don’t: be experimental. And he thinks we should take advantage of that and be experimental. Very experimental. He also proudly pointed to the fact that if homebrewers bought Hoppin Frog beers they could easily peel off the labels, use the 22oz. bottles to brew in, and still have a label to put up to remember yet another great Hoppin Frog beer.

He was busy, and I really had to go, so we said our goodbyes and I went out into the cool March Akron air, dreaming of my next hop back to Hoppin Frog.

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Brewer Profile is a column by Ken Carman honoring those who brew beer and their craft. Brewers featured may be homebrewers or professional brewers.
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