Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Weekend Brews - Week 52 - An Uncommon Celebration

It's the official one year anniversary of the Weekend Brews Report!

This week I wanted to do something special and give a little taste of what I plan on offering on this blog in 2009. One of my goals is to meet the brewers around the world making the wonderful craft beer we love, and share their stories with you here. I'll still be reviewing beers and posting news items and whatnot, but I think it's about time everyone gets to know the brewers we support and put a story behind the beverage.

So, tonight I'd like to offer you my short interview with Alec Stefansky of the Uncommon Brewers microbrewery in Santa Cruz County. The brewery is very new and at the moment, they have two beers on the market, the Golden State Ale and their Siamese Twin Ale, the latter of which I'll review after the interview.

The Uncommon Brewers use Belgian brewing techniques and some truly unique organic ingredients. I think you'll find yourself falling in love with the flavor if you give their brews a try.

Alright folks, time to crack open a cold one, and read below!

So, Alec what exactly is an "uncommon brewer," and what's the background behind you and your brewing partners?

I certainly fall into the category of an uncommon brewer. My educational background is in politics. I was in an International Policy Master's program down at the Monterrey Institute back when I decided to make the move into brewing. It seemed like a better career choice at the time.

Reed, my Assistant Brewer, hails a little closer to a brewing education, with a degree in organic chemistry. We plan to put his training to work in the coming year.

You've got two beers on the market right now, the Siamese Twin Ale and the Golden State Ale, and you're starting to get some buzz in California and the west coast. What are your plans for the future as far as distribution, new beers, brew pub, etc. go?

I have another beer, a Baltic Porter that's brewed with Star Anise and Black Licorice, hitting the market in another week or two. There's a still-unnamed Red Ale brewed with Maple sugar and wild mushrooms in the works, and a half-dozen other recipes fighting for their place in line behind it.

I should be adding a major retail chain in the coming month, making it a lot easier to find cans of the Siamese Twin Ale. A deal is in the works to have smaller runs of can labels printed, allowing us to bring more of our beers to the retail market. I should know more about that in a month or so.

We plan on continuing to self-distribute our products within the Bay Area region. I'm adding two sales reps in the coming weeks, so existing accounts will be seeing better service, and local bars and restaurants can expect to be hearing more from us as well.

There is a brew pub concept, but it's a few years out from being realized. I do have an excellent chef already lined up to handle the kitchen, and a restaurant manager available, but my focus has to first be on getting the beer right.

One of the things that caught my attention when I first heard about your beer was that you are packaging in 16 oz. cans. Awesome. What made you decide to go with cans vs. bottles, and why 16 oz. instead of 12?

If a culture of returning bottles to the brewery existed in this country, as it does in other beer-drinking countries, I would have gone with bottles in a heartbeat. Unfortunately everything we produce here gets melted down in recycling. The energy cost to recycle a can is vastly lower than what's needed for a bottle.

We went with cans for many other reasons, too. Cans are a light and oxygen-proof package, with better product stability. They're also more efficient to ship, and less likely to break. Have you picked up a case of 16 oz. bottles recently? They weigh a ton. I'm in the business of selling beer, not glass. Pound for pound cans deliver more beer to my customers.

The 16 oz sizing came about because we knew that we couldn't compete as an Organic craft product in a six-pack price point. The four-packs give us a different place on the store shelf.

We're also using KeyKegs for many of the same reasons. They're a recyclable keg, one-way.

Uncommon Brewers is their launching customer in the U.S., and I wouldn't expect us to be their last. They're currently expanding like mad in Europe.

I'm sure it took awhile to finally decide on the two beers you were going to package and bring to market as your first offerings. I'm guessing there were quite a few test batches and other ideas before you made a final decision. What were some of the craziest beers you tried to brew before settling on the Siamese Twin and Golden State Ales?

I'm not sure if the early beers were more crazy, or just bad. We actually began by working without hops at all. Then we started using hops again, and making drinkable beer. Well that's not quite true. I have a wonderful gruit recipe, entirely unmarketable, but really tasty in its own way. The strangest experimental batches involved wild medicinal herbs, yarrow, milk thistle, and the like.

I noticed your slogan is "uncommon beer for uncommon people." I have to admit, that sounds a bit like the Dogfish Head slogan, "off-centered ales for off-centered people." Do you guys have plans to be the west coast version of Dogfish Head and take on Sam Calagione and company in producing the most adventurous beers out there?

The funny thing is that I'd never even heard of Sam's amazing beers when I came up with our slogan. Living here on the West Coast, and as a relative hermit while working on our recipes, I first came across Dogfish Head a year or so after coining our motto. It followed naturally from the brewery's name. I don't know that we'll ever be competition for Dogfish Head. We'd be happy enough to be ranked as a co-conspirator.

As I'm sure you've heard, SF Beer Week is coming up in February. Do you guys have any plans to participate, or come up and drink with us in the Bay Area?

We will be participating in SF Beer Week. Thanks for reminding me that I need to post our event. I'll be hosting a dinner at the Red Lounge in Santa Cruz. It's going to be a 5+ course dinner with beer pairings, prepared by Todd Williamson of Nepenthe in Big Sur.

Are you planning on being at any events in the near future you can tell us about, so my avid readers can meet the brewers and sample your wares?

There aren't any special events planned, but your readers are welcome to contact us for a visit if they're in our area. We do open the brewery to visits by appointment.

Finally, where can people get your beer?

The best place to check for availability is our website. I'm working on expanding our distribution outside of the Santa Cruz area. There should be a large spike upwards in the next two months.

Thanks Alec!

As promised, here's my review of the Uncommon Brewers tasty Siamese Twin Ale.

First off, it comes in a 16 ounce can. How cool is that? There's always something special about drinking a great beer from a can.

The Siamese Twin Ale is brewed with organic ingredients featuring Kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and coriander. The brewers recommend enjoying this beer with a hot and spicy curry. Now that sounds like a great idea!

Nice and cold from the fridge, the beer is ready to be poured and enjoyed ...

The beer is a beautiful orange/amber color and crowned with a fizzy head that simmers down, but leaves a little bit of foam lying on top. Aromas of coriander, lemongrass and a touch of brown sugar come forward to the nose. This "Belgian-style Double" is full-bodied and filled with flavors of sweet malt, a sample of citrus and the taste of a breakfast sweet roll. Mmmmmm.

It's an incredibly smooth beer, but you do get the warm tingle from the alcohol right at the end. Very nice. I'm looking forward to trying the Golden State Ale next, as well as the Baltic Porter Alec mentioned.

Right now they have limited distribution, but check the Uncommon Brewers website to find out where you can get yours. Keep an eye out for these guys, they should be making their way to your neighborhood soon.


Overall Score for the Uncommon Brewers Siamese Twin Ale: 4.25 out 5.0

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