Brewmaster’s Corner: New Kids on the Block Collaborate

ColdFire Brewing and Alesong Brewing & Blending on brewday for KLCC Microbrew Fest beer. (photo by Matt Van Wyk)
ColdFire Brewing and Alesong Brewing & Blending on brewday for KLCC Microbrew Fest beer. (photo by Matt Van Wyk)

Greetings from the Southern Willamette Valley! It has been a little while since I have been able to make an appearance at Brewpublic as I was wrapped up transitioning from my position as brewmaster at Oakshire Brewing, to now setting out on my own little adventure with Alesong Brewing and Blending. Along with my partners, Brian and Doug Coombs, I’m building a small destination brewery in the outskirts of Eugene that will focus mainly on oak aged beers, both wild and non-wild. We hope to join the world class Willamette Valley wine producers and the tight craft brewing community, to provide a unique setting and even more unique and creative barrel aged beers. Since we get the dubious privilege of waiting in long governmental ‘lines’, I thought I’d take a moment and tell you a little about the first beer we were able to play with at the other new brewery in town, ColdFire Brewing.

Brewhouse at ColdFire Brewing (photo by Matt Van Wyk)
Brewhouse at ColdFire Brewing (photo by Matt Van Wyk)

Every year, for the last who knows how long, the community of brewers in Eugene have collaborated on a beer to be served at the annual KLCC Microbrew Fest each February. The fest, and coinciding record and CD sale, is a large fundraiser for the local NPR radio station. Throughout the years, as brewers grew in both size and number, the collaboration took on different forms. No longer do the participants all want to make the same recipe or even the same beer style. While that project is a fun exercise, having the same ‘single batch’ from each of the Ninkasis, Hop Valleys, and Oakshire’s provides way too much of the same beer in a small market, even if you expand sales to Portland or even into Washington. Therefore, in recent years, the brewers have done loose collaborations centered around brewing regions. Tours of the UK, England, and Belgium have comprised the collabos for the last few years. This year, with the number of breweries swelling to over 15, the group enlisted the local bottleshops in town to participate and came up with 10 beers from 10 collaborative teams who used one of 5 special ingredients (lemongrass, maple syrup, peppercorns, ginger, juniper) to create a beer of their choosing. Teams and ingredients were chosen at random so that there will be two teams (four total breweries or bottleshops) using each item.

Alesong Brewing and Blending, as of press time, is not a legally recognized brewery by the Tax and Trade Bureau. (although our application has been with them for about 85 days now. Tick-tock. Tick-tock). Therefore, we didn’t think we would be able to participate in the 2016 KLCC fest. However, as you might have guessed, the craft brewing brotherhood is strong. Our local brewing friends made sure we were able to get involved in the project and our name went in the hat. As luck would have it, we were selected to work with another new brewery, which at the time of the planning meetings weren’t legal to brew either.

The hops are ready for the KLCC Microbrew Fest beer at ColdFire Brewing with Alesong (photo by Matt Van Wyk)
The hops are ready for the KLCC Microbrew Fest beer at ColdFire Brewing with Alesong (photo by Matt Van Wyk)

ColdFire Brewing, our partners for this project have now just opened to great fanfare and are operating a modest, yet lively tasting room just on the NE edge of downtown near Skinner Butte Park. Although Brian, Doug and I had met the Hughes Brothers, Dan and Stephen, and had heard great things about their brewing talents via the local homebrew club, Cascade Brewers Society, there was certainly some understandable anxiety in making a beer that, for the first time, would have Alesong’s name attached. We knew that it was technically their beer, but c’mon, they hadn’t even taken their system for a ride yet. And you never get a second chance to make a first impression. But, in the name of community and brotherhood, we forged on. Luckily for us, Dan and Stephen, and head brewer Tyler, were the perfect team to pair with. They are bright, hard-nosed, eager, and darn good brewers. Stephen, a trained microbiologist, also has an affinity for wild beers, sour beers, Belgian beers and is not afraid of the big bad brett! Awesome! We were in luck. ColdFire brewing, we reckoned, was going to have no problem fitting into the community of brewers in the greater Eugene area.

So, we set off to plan a beer for the fest. Our assigned special ingredient was Lemongrass (thank goodness we didn’t get dinged with Juniper. Love Gin. We’re not making Gin.) A Saison- like farmhouse ale seemed to be the obvious choice not only with this ingredient, but with the future beers we are looking to make at Alesong. However, after a little discussion, we started to settle in on a kettle soured Berliner Weisse with Lemongrass and lime peel. We had toyed with the idea of a few more thai-inspired ingredients, but when it started to sound like Tom Kha Gai soup, we decided we were getting a little to adventurous. We were thrilled to play with the idea of a kettle soured beer as Brian and I had made some with the team at Oakshire and could bring some experience to the partnership. The best part was that the new brewery in town wasn’t afraid to color outside the lines. Hooray for microbiologists! The only thing more that we could have wished for is if we had time to age in oak, but alas, we’ll need to wait until next year’s fest. A kettle soured beer, though, is a great consolation prize.

Brewday at ColdFIre Brewing with the assistance of Alesong Brewing & Blending (photo by Matt Van Wyk)
Brewday at ColdFIre Brewing with the assistance of Alesong Brewing & Blending (photo by Matt Van Wyk)

Along came brewday and we gathered to construct the beer. Kettle souring is a multi-day affair just to get wort ready to ferment as you have to, as the name implies, create the lacto sourness in the kettle, which can take up to 48 hours. Then the wort is boiled, killing the lactobacillus bacteria, and keeping it away from the rest of your normally sanitary brewery. Unfortunately, we were planning this right as ColdFire was preparing for their grand opening. They only had a couple of beers in tank and were still learning their system. I’d be lying if I said there were no hiccups as we worked together with Dan and Stephen to iron out a few process, but none of the setbacks were serious and at the end of the day, both teams were able to learn a lot from each other, the real reason to do collaborations in the first place.

ColdFire Brewing Taps (photo by Matt Van Wyk)
ColdFire Brewing Taps (photo by Matt Van Wyk)

But how about the beer itself? Well, after loading up the end of boil with a few pounds of lemongrass and sitting on a bucket zesting several bags of limes, and squeezing said limes, we had created the first ColdFire/Alesong Brewing and Blending beer. And I’m happy to report that the beer is delicious. Light bodied, mildly tart, with a whiff of herbal lemongrass and a citrusy tang on the finish, this beer is going to win a lot of fans to this new brewery. The beer is not out yet, as they plan to debut it at the KLCC fest which takes place Feb 12th and 13th at the Lane County Fairgrounds. If you want to come down and do the Eugene Zwickelmania tour, it would be worth your while to swing into the Fest and try all 10 collaboration beers. It will give a good read on what’s going on in Eugene, and what’s yet to come. And speaking of what’s yet to come, I have to go meet with a contractor……

Cheers!

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