Brew Biz: Werts and All

Written by Ken Carman for Professor Good Ales

Hoppin Frog
1680 E Waterloo Rd, Akron, OH 44306
(330) 352-4578

  Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay, Clarksville Carboys and Music City Homebrewers, who has been interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast for over 15 years.

The Topic: Time to Hop Over to the Frog!

 Millie and I were headed south from her vacation at our place in Beaver River, NY, and after my 3 months hermitage there. I go there once my northern tour is over. After visiting my tour bus in northeast Ohio we were driving through Akron, Ohio; home to one of my fav breweries: Hoppin Frog. I suggested we stop by and check out the Frog. Oh, I’d been there many times before: stopping by to buy bottles for my Beaver River Beer Tasting every year. But I’d never had time to check out what, to me, was the “new” Tasting Room.
 Before the Tasting Room quaffers stopped by a quick paced brewery and bought a bottle from employees who were also busy brewing, bottling and trying to avoid being tickled to death by the giant golem named Gus the Gross who lives in the cellar. I kid about the golem, of course. But stop by shopping couldn’t have been the best of on site brewery marketing methods. So Fred Karm created the Tasting Room.
 I met Fred Karm: owner, creator, beer guru and head brew wonk at Hoppin, back when he was the brewmaster at the Thirsty Dog brewpub chain: now just a brewery. I had just interviewed another Ohio brewing legend: Tim Rastetter, a few years before, if I remember the timeline right, who had recently left as the brewer at the now long since deceased BrewWorks in Covington, KY. At the time he was brewing at Liberty, near Akron. Now he’s the head brewer at, well, Thirsty. The first Tim interview generated the column “What Kills a Brewpub?” Years latter I did another story on Tim and asked him where Fred had gone. (“As I sang, “Where Has the Fred Gone, long time missing…”) That’s how, a few years ago, I ended up writing a column on Fred Karm.
  There have been very few breweries I can say this about: I have never, ever, had a bad, or even mediocre, beer brewed at Hoppin Frog. One version of their barleywine was “not to my taste,” but as a beer judge I understand that’s beside the point and his sweet Naked Evil is mah-vel-ous.
hfrog To the right, and slightly below: the Tasting Room. Shall we enter?
 As Fred and I settled in for a long conversation regarding homebrew competitions, braggots (kind of my specialty), brewing and beer in general, Millie and I sampled many of their brews. We even bought a bottle of his Fresh Raw Frog. I told Fred: “impressive!” Usually I find the grassy-ness of raw hops can ruin a brew. It’s a delicate balance issue and some brewers seem to think more is better: period, and don’t offer enough behind that raw hop character to back them up. That’s when “grassy” heads into “chewing the cud,” or cow mouth territory. Yack.
 Re: “Chewing the cud.” Didn’t Dogfish have a beer like that once?
 Anywhosie… Raw Frog is malt luxury in a glass: the firmest of foundations supporting substantial fresh hop character.

 We also tried their Smashin Berry and Double Pumpkin. All superb.
250px-Goodyear_Airdock_exterior  Hoppin Frog may not be that easy to find, especially if you’re an out of towner. Akron, like most cities, has an inner loop: only it’s shaped more like a square. Hoppin is just a little east of the southeast corner of the square on route 224. Look for a big, ugly, airplane hanger on the north side of the road. Actually, according to Wiki, it’s the airdock for the Goodyear blimp. (HEY! It’s tire city.) Hoppin Frog will be on the south side, almost opposite the big hanger: now an even bigger part of a small business park.
 When I first visited the Frog and interviewed Fred one room was a filled with a bottling line and a small fridge, and the second room I saw was filled to the brim with pro-brew equipment. They had maybe half of the western side of the two buildings in a business park. Now they take up HF western side of the same park and a good portion of the eastern part of the complex.
 Before we left, during the long discussion with Fred, I asked if he had ever thought he’d be this successful. In typical Fred fashion he smiled his sly, semi wicked smile, and said, “No, I thought I’d be struggling more.” I also told him something that sounds like an insult at first, but from from someone who is usually annoyed by anal folks it’s a very big compliment: “I think your just anal enough to make damn sure you get what you want, make sure your brews are just right, but not so ‘anal’ that your staff isn’t having fun or putting love into their craft.”
 Maybe that was the great beer speaking? But I meant it. And this is how Fred rolls: he took the compliment and ran with it by adding in commentary about how well the tasting room is going. “It’s a work in process. We had folks with ideas that didn’t work, so we’ve made a lot of tasting_roomchanges and did what we had to do to get it right.”
 To us it sure seemed “right.” We think the frogs agree. See them lining up to serve thirsty craft beer lovers?
 We stayed too long, mostly because we were on the road back to Nashville after sleeping in our vehicles at the Thruway rest area the previous night. But it was well worth the visit, and recommend it to anyone in Akron, visiting Akron, or just passing through. And I would also recommend driving to Akron just to visit Hoppin.
 Yes: I have yet to have a bad, or even mediocre’, Frog. Not every one suits my palate, but if they did they’d be brewing just for me.
 A homebrewer, beer judge and craft beer lover can dream, can’t he?


  Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing and commenting 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.” “Wert(s)” is one way “wort” was spelled many, many years ago. That’s true. The author theorizes it may have first been used by the very short owner of The Barney Rubble Brewery and his brewer/wife: Betty. Yes, and that was a “joke.”
©Copyright 2014
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
All Rights Reserved

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