I will also take this moment to release the details for our potential future collaboration. We hammered out the details to make what will hopefully be a chocolate orange milk stout, a combination of inspiration from one of their past beers and my love of the candy chocolate oranges! We're test batches and plenty of time away before anything goes down, but the idea is there!
If you had to choose something to change about one of your past beers, what would it be?
Jamie: Amaretto Porter… the very first version, but even the one that we did release. I think it had too much amaretto. I wanted when somebody drank the beer, if they’d ever had marzipan candy, to think of that – just that nice, mellow, yet somewhat pungent almond flavor. That’s what I was really looking for, but at that time we really couldn’t figure out a way to do it as far as finding that almond flavor, so we ended up using some amaretto extract in there. That put it a little too over the top. It definitely goes with the concept that there are times when we brew stuff, we’re trying to shoot for that bullseye. We think that we can miss the target when we give somebody something to drink, even if they say hey, this is an excellent beer.
Robert C.: We also disagree amongst ourselves. I liked the Amaretto Porter just where it was. Sue wanted more, and Jamie wanted less. So we had to compromise, and we often hit that. A lot of the beers I actually end up tweaking when we’re kegging. I will taste it at that point and a lot of times I will add simple syrup if it needs a little more sweetness, I will boil some hops down and add a hop tea if it needs more bittering. Sometimes I will do last minute adjustments as we’re actually kegging the beer. Often times, like the Amaretto Porter, it’s a rock-paper-scissors thing and we all have different opinions. At that point we have to say well, you want more, you want less, I’m happy, so let’s compromise in the middle. That’s the nice part about being a democracy – we all have equal votes and we all can express our opinions. It’s not Robert’s show, it’s not Daffin’s show, it’s not Jamie’s show – it’s Golden Horn’s show.
Any other beers you felt like changing?
Robert C.: The one thing I felt like changing, I changed when I kegged. I have gotten the beers to the point where I have been happy to serve them. There have been beers, like the first time we attempted to do the Amaretto Porter, that we could have served, but it wasn’t up to our terms. Some people were greatly disappointed and upset because we said we were going to serve it and we didn’t serve it – and that’s a risk that we took. My opinion was that we’d rather say we’re going to serve a beer and then and the last minute say it’s not up to our standards and say we’re sorry, we’re not going to serve it – than go ahead and put it out there. We could have put it on tap that day and we could have sold all ten gallons without a problem. We sold twenty gallons of the other beer in like 2 or 3 hours. We could have sold it. We let some people taste it and some of them were okay with it, some people were like “huhhh?” and it was varied – people were all over the place, but none of us were happy with it. We had a couple of small, technical mistakes and we have definitely learned from that.
I’m sorry that we upset some people, and we apologize for it, but the flipside of that coin – the other approach to take – is to not announce what or when we put it on tap and things are just spontaneously there without any information about how it’s made or what’s in it and customers have to roll the dice to see if there’s a beer or not. That’s a system with no promises and just putting things out there. We’re okay with saying hey, we’re going to serve a beer, and if at the last minute we have to say nay, we have the integrity to just say no. Both side has risks – you’re going to make people unhappy with either one of those decisions, but you have to decide which side you want to go with. I’m a very direct person, so I’d rather just say hey, we’re going to try, and if it doesn’t happen, I apologize – but at least we tried. And we changed our whole brewing schedule around because of it. We had other beers lined up for the schedule but we did the Amaretto Porter for the next one. When we do releases, we try to have 2 beers that are very different. We ended up having to change the other beer around because it was going to be too similar in profile to the Amaretto Porter. We changed everything so we could deliver that beer in our next go around. Hopefully people appreciated that, or we at least hope they understand we had the integrity to say this beer is unservable. It was maybe an 85 or a 90, and we’re not looking for an 85 or a 90. We don’t want a B, we want something that we’re proud of. We want to hit the flavor profile that we want.
Jamie: Exactly. I’m less worried about upsetting people because we don’t serve something than upsetting people because we served something. I’m not afraid to not hit the mark, but at the same time, I’m not going to serve something that we feel is technically flawed, which then leads to a beer that is completely not what we intended.
What’s the hardest thing about brewing at Ferm?
Robert C.: Multiple. For one, we’re using a homebrew setup to make ten gallons. To fill our 27 gallon fermenter, we have to do two batches back to back on a ten gallon setup. If we had bigger equipment, that would be easier. We’re also brewing outside on a sidewalk… not my preferred location. That’s one of the reasons our setup has pumps and is all closed. When we’re actually brewing, we’re using the pumps and hoses to move liquids around so we don’t have to open pots and let sand and whatever else is in the atmosphere get into our beer, so it can be as clean as we can possibly make it. It would of course be much easier if we were enclosed in an area with a professional setup. Fermenting in a bar, where the temperature is hard to control. We can get it to 70, but we can’t get it colder because it’s a bar and they don’t want to freeze all of their customers. So, temperature control is almost non-existent. It stays 70, but that limits us on styles and yeasts that we can do. Size. We’re making rather small batches of beer, which has the translation that the beer kinda sells quickly and some people don’t get to try it. We’ve all had situations where we have family or friends come into town and we really want them to try this beer. They get here on Saturday and we released it on Wednesday, so it’s gone. It would be nice if we could do bigger batches.
However, what we’re doing is within Ferm’s model. They opened to be an art house with movies that happens to serve beers. Two of the owners are very big into the film festival in town and wine, so they kinda wanted to follow that. One of the other owners was really into beer, so they said hey, we’ll have artisanal wines, we’ll have really nice craft beer, we’ll have a movie theater, we’ll show specialty art films, and they opened Ferm as a test project to see how that would do and then follow with a two screen theater. In a bar situation like that, you can’t hear what’s going on in the movie. You can see it, but you can’t hear it. What they quickly realized is that people were coming there for the beer, wine, and mead – they weren’t coming for the movies. Back when they used to do the Sunday night movie thing, it was a major flop. I loved it because me and a couple guys would hang out and we had the bar to ourselves, but other people would say, dude, I’m not going to a bar at 8pm on a Sunday night to watch Wild Thing… we were like, cool, wowee! It was not for everybody. They were able to say hey, the bar is doing well, so they kinda ran with that aspect of it. I look at it the same way with us now. It’s a test pilot. We’re showing that we can brew beer that’s interesting, that sells, and that people will go to a release of it and buy it. Once we can show that, then hopefully we can look at some investors, or someone that has a bigger setup that wants a brewer, or something of that nature and take it to the next level. This is a stepping stone for us, and that’s how we’re looking at it. Hopefully one day we’ll be on a nice, bigger system, but for now, it is what it is.
Any plans for the future?
Robert C.: I would love to be brewing on a 7-barrel system in the next year or two. Of course that’s going to depend a lot on money and right now people are being hesitant to invest, and there’s not a lot of money from banks and other resources.
Jamie: Yeah, hopefully within the next five years it’ll be a brewpub or a gastropub. I mean, just to be able to pair food with beers and beers with food – just to do that is a way to go.
Robert C.: I actually cook a lot with beer, and since I’ve been brewing, I’ve actually made beers just to cook with them. I’ll make certain beers and wines that are really more for flavoring things or marinating something, and that’s a nice part about making your own. If you want to make five gallons of wine to marinate chicken… you can. But you may not want to drink peppered lemongrass wine. Other people might… but either way, it makes a great chicken marinade… but drinking, maybe not so good. I experiment with things of that nature. I have a recipe for beef stroganoff that I make, which I wall “beer stroganoff” and beer is pretty much all the liquid that’s in it, so there’s a lot of things you can do. I’ve taken IPAs and made chicken herb soups. The IPA bitterness blends really well with the fresh herbs. It’s fun to play with it.
If you end up growing, do you hope to distribute at all?
Robert C.: Well, like I said, I’d like to be on a 7-barrel system, and that would be enough that we would distribute in kegs. I’d like us to do kegs, growlers, and maybe a bottle release once or twice a year. Optimally, I’d like to do a seasonal release every three months – like a seasonal bottle release. Maybe do a saison in the summer, a brown in the winter, or a stout. Kinda following the classic pattern of seasonal beers, because to me, it’s all coming back down to local, seasonal ingredients, and I really like that aspect that I can highlight those, just like I did when I was a chef – now I’m just doing it in a different medium.
Where would you distribute to?
Robert C.: Just locally. It’d be nice to throw beers on at Proof, or Ray’s, etc. There are some bars in town that are interested in good beer and they serve good beer. If we have a smaller system like that, we can distribute out a couple sixth barrels or half barrels to some of these bars and they would go over well. I think it kinda fits the theme of all of this. I hope that when Proof gets up and running and distributing, I hope we can get some of that beer at Fermentation. These bars in town are all about good beer.
Have you thought of doing specially treated casks or anything like that to serve at Ferm?
Robert C.: Absolutely. Again, it’s a capacity problem right now. We have talked to the owners about doing casks and things like that nature. What I would actually really like to do is make 30 gallons of beer and doing the same beer four different ways. Having a plain old keg and taking the remaining beer and splitting it between three different casks with different treatments. So have the beer and in this one we add fruit, this one we add oak chips, and this one we add dry hops… something completely different and really try to showcase the same beer multiple different ways. I think that would be fun and experimental. We talked about it, it just hasn’t really seemed to happen yet, and it may not, probably because of the capacity issues. We’ve only got so much we can brew and ferment at one time and we can’t take both fermenters out of production for three or four weeks to do these casks.
If you could make love to one beer or one beer style, what would it be and why?
Jamie: Oh man, I would make love to a stout because it’s strong, black, and bitter.
Robert C.: Just like you like your women! I would do a rauchbier because it’s hot. I like the fire! Hot and steamy.
Robert D.: I got nothing!
Robert C.: He would do an IPA because it’s bitter! …but he would always drink an IPA anyway.
Jamie: Then again, just maybe perhaps I might like a little ménage-a-beer-trois, adding in a bock. Weltenbergur Kloster is probably one of my top five beers. If I could make a sex doll out of Weltenbergur Kloster, I think that would probably be the beer that I would use.
Robert C.: Of course if you wanted to be completely misogynist, you could say Bud Light because I want it cheap and then it goes away. One and done!
Robert D.: I just can’t draw the sex and beer parallel! I can’t!
Robert C.: Can I change my answer to eisbock because it’s thick and creamy?