Beer Trip: Short’s Brewing Company

Though it hasn’t made as many appearances on these pages as I would expect, it’s fair to say that all three contributors to  this site are big fans of Short’s Brewing. Their beers can be hit-or-miss, sure, but the main thing is this: they’re trying crazy shit. We’re big fans of experimentation in brewing, and there aren’t many widely-distributed breweries that are willing to do things like make a bloody mary-themed beer, complete with salty flavor, etc.

So, I’ve said all this to preface an admission: despite our love for Short’s, and numerous experiences drinking their products, none of us has ever made the trip to Northern Michigan to experience Short’s in the flesh.

Until now.

Thanks to a wedding in Traverse City, I found myself in the wild North of Michigan, and – as the plus-one of a member of the bridal party – an entire day with nothing to do. It is common sense what Short’s is, but I continued to journey on.

Location

I knew Bellaire was in the middle of nowhere, but man, Bellaire is in the middle of nowhere. From Traverse City, there are primary routes to take: along the Grand Traverse Bay, or around the other side of Torch and Elk Lakes to the East.

Short's Brewing Company factory

Short’s production facility. “Glory” is a term used loosely in this instance. Sweet rearview, bro.

Since the Short’s production facility is actually in Elk Rapids, about 30 miles from Bellaire, I took the Western route on the way up, and swung by the factory to experience its glory. It was not thrilling, and certainly not while I was just swinging by as I hustled to make it to the brewpub itself.

Elk Rapids is no metropolis itself, but is actually in a pretty cool location, on the channel between Elk Lake and the Grand Traverse Bay. As I said, I didn’t head into the town itself too much.

As for the brewpub itself, I’ve already mentioned that it’s… remote… and that’s the case. The town of Bellaire consisted entirely of a couple blocks, and the brewery is on the Western edge of that town.

Setting and Atmosphere

Bellaire is a quintessential resort town (but with no real reason to visit, other than the variety of lakes a short distance away, I guess), and Short’s is one of the few things that seems like it would bring people into the town. From the outside, it’s an unassuming building as part of a city block.

Short's Brewing Company Brewpub

The calm before the storm.

Stepping inside, however, thinks go from up North casual to that bustling feeling we’ve all come to know and love in brewpubs. All orders are taken at the counter – be they for food or beer – but wait staff actually brings the product to you once you grab a table flag and find a seat in one of two rooms.

The bar room is the one you enter walking into the storefront, but near the back of the space, there is a short set of stairs down into a larger (or at least more spacious) room. In that room, there is a nice stage for live music, and a number of hightop tables along the walls, and standard low-top tables with seating along the middle.

I would have love to have the opportunity to see some live music there, and if it wasn’t so remote, I would make a trip just to see that (and to get some more interesting beers – more about that in a moment). As it stands, it’s likely something that won’t happen without a special set of circumstances.

The Beer

So, I mention that there weren’t many great beers – or at least not exciting ones – on my trip to Short’s. That is in direct contradiction with my opening paragraphs, no?

Well, my speculation (the place was busy enough that I didn’t want to hassle any waitstaff about it) is that, thanks to the Michigan Brewer’s Guild summer festival in just a couple weeks, they’re holding off on presenting many creative offerings in the brewpub until after that event.

Short's Brewing Company beers

Flight paddle.

Regardless, I wasn’t going to drive that far North without trying a few brews – albeit a couple I’d had before – so I picked up a flight. The image at right shows (from near to far): 2009 Golden Rule, Alter Spalter, Autumn Ale, Spruce Pils, and The Magician.

The Spruce Pils tastes downright earthy, green, planty… it has the same flavor of the smell of a certain substance. I’ve had it before, this came as no surprise.

The beer that did surprise me – and again, it’s one I’d had before – was The Magician. It’s a nice brown ale, with plenty of toffee and caramel tastes in the malt experience. It’s lightly hopped – though the Short’s menu mentioned that makes it ideal for newcomers to beer (with the implication that it’s not good for anyone else), about which I couldn’t roll my eyes hard enough.

The other three beers were mostly non-notable. They were good, solid beers, as is expected. Any other week(s) of the year, however, I wouldn’t have even bothered ordering them, instead opting for one of the more creative offerings you’d typically see on draft.

Summary

Short’s is known as a good brewery, and making the trip didn’t do anything to dissuade me from thinking that. It’s in the middle of nowhere, both an annoyance and part of what makes it so special. It’s worth making the journey only if you’re headed in that direction anyway, but on a standard week with a more creative beer list – and the chance to see a bit of live music 0 it can make for an excellent experience.

Going Wild

I’ve mentioned a lot of times that one of my favorite things about brewing is trying to new things and trying to create something I haven’t tasted before. One of our first beers was a Peanut Butter Porter. One of our favorite beers that we made was our Chili Pepper Porter.There’s something exciting about doing something you’ve done before to make something you’ve never tasted before.

Jordan and I brewed another batch of our Rye Saison a few weeks ago. As we were brewing, we threw out a few different ideas. We thought about doing jalapeños, black peppercorns, sage and few a others. Eventually we landed on funky-ing up our beer with some Brettanomyces.

Brettanomyces

Brettanomyces Cells

Brett is in the same family as almost all brewing yeasts, but it attacks sugar in a somewhat different way. We used Wyeast 3711 (French Saison) in primary. This yeast eats most of the simple sugars and outputs most of the booze. The first batch this was all we used. We pitched the Brett in secondary, after the Saison yeast did most of its work. During this phase, this yeast attacks the more complicated sugars in the wort and produces slightly more booze but also acetic acid and esters that give it that barnyard or horse blanket smell.

There are a few different varieties to choose from, but we ended up choosing Wyeast 5526 (Brettanomyces Lambicus™) . The description from Wyeast is:

This is a wild yeast strain isolated from Belgian lambic beers. It produces a pie cherry-like flavor and sourness along with distinct “Brett” character.

I’m thinking the tartness and fruitiness will work well with the yeasty, dry flavors of the Saison. We won’t know what the end result will be for a few months, but I’m already excited.

We have half of the Saison in secondary without any doctoring. We might even be able to mix at the end. There’s a decent chance that this won’t work out, but it’s almost always worth the risk for the chance of creating something new.

 

Review: Clown Shoes Hoppy Feet

I remember when I first heard of Black IPAs. There were posts trying to figure out what to call this new style. Is it a Black IPA? A Robust Porter? Cascadian Dark Ale? The industry seems to have settled on Black IPA, and they’ve started becoming fairly commonplace.

I remember the first BIPA I tried. I was at my go to bar, with my go to server (who has since changed jobs) looking down the draft list. I asked him if there was anything exciting, and he just nodded and started pouring me Stone Sublimely Self Righteous Ale. I’m not sure if that was the first major BIPA, but I know it certainly was a lot of people’s first BIPA. There are moments quaffing beer that are special, when you try something that you haven’t tasted before. That was one of those moments.

I continued to keep a look out for BIPAs and picked them up at bottle shops or ordered them at the bar when I found them. But after a while, more and more started showing up. Some of them still blow me away, but the hit rate seems to have gone down, and I tend to look for other styles.

Fred Armisen from Portlandia

BIPAS ARE OVER!

This is where I push up my hipster glasses and tell you how much better it was before Black IPAs were mainstream. I do worry that I’m becoming a beer snob who will turn up his nose at a perfectly good pint. Well, I decided to give it another go, and picked up a bomber of Clown Shoes Hoppy Feet Black IPA. The brewer describes it:

Hoppy Feet has been lovingly crafted by combining Premium malt with lots of Amarillo and Columbus Hops.  Grapefruit and Pine are balanced on the nose and on the palate by a nutty, dark chocolate, roasted backbone.

This has been knocking around in my “cellar1” for a while. I generally try to drink hoppy beers fresh. I think you get more of what the brewer is trying to produce that way. This may not be a completely fair shake, so I might try it from a tap if I see it around to compare.

Tasting Notes

Clown Shoes Hoppy Feet

Clown Shoes Hoppy Feet Black IPA

Appearance: The beer pours a very, dark copper, with very little translucence. Holding up it the light, you get some flashes of ruby. There was a one finger, creamy head that receded quickly down to about half a finger and remained there.

Aroma: The aroma is a mix of a spicy hops with a strong caramel note from the malt base. The nose is incredibly well balanced.

Taste: Unfortunately, the taste isn’t as well balanced as the nose. The first flavor is a muted malt taste, that is immediately followed by an intense bitterness that mixes with alcohol heat and some acridity from the dark malts. The after taste is a lingering, coating bitterness that stays on my tongue.

Mouthfeel: The beer is very smooth with a slightly heavy body for an IPA. There’s a bit of carbonation from the bomber, but nothing too effervescent.

Overall: Maybe I’ve just been in a BIPA overload, but this beer doesn’t really do much for me. The bitterness overpowers the malt flavors that I want, yet manages to accentuate the acridity that I would want to hide. Also, while I enjoy hoppy beers, I don’t care for the lingering and sometimes muddy bitterness in a lot of IPAs. The best hop bombs, Firestone Walker Double Jack and Bell’s Hopslam (short list, and strictly my opinion), have a great hop nose with a deceptively strong malt backbone to stand up to the hops. The bitterness also is cleaner, with more flavor, be it citrus, spice, earthiness, grassiness, rather than just unplaceable bitterness.

  1. My “cellar” is a couple of cupboards above my microwave.

Recipe: Rye Saison

The first time I made this recipe was last summer during our, uh, unplanned hiatus. It was getting to be warm out, and we wanted a good summer beer after making some heavier fare. We were tossing around different styles, and eventually settled on a Saison.

A  classic Saison is very simple: pils malt, sugar, light hops, and the yeast. The most important ingredient by far is the yeast. We used Wyeast 3711, and I would recommend holding off on brewing this until you can get your hands on that yeast. It is a workhorse that has great attenuation and provides great flavor when fermented in the mid 70s. Some people may balk at using sugar instead of all malt in a beer, but this is the method used by Trappist and other abbey brewers in Belgium to get beers with higher alcohol but still a light, “digestible” body.

When we brewed it last year, it was the first time we had a chance to use our wort chiller. I don’t want to sound like I’m exaggerating, but the combination of doing a full all-grain, full boil and crash cooling it made this the best to style beer I’ve ever made. It ended up with just a little cloudiness from the yeast, light, crisp with great yeast aromas and tastes.

Mash

  • 8.68lbs Belgian Pils
  • 3.12lbs Rye Malt

We did a single step mash at about 155º F for 60 minutes with about 1.25qt of water for every pound of grain. We fly sparged to get up 6.25 gallons for the boil.

Boil

  • 2oz Styrian Goldings (5.4% AA) at 60 minutes
  • 1lb dark candi sugar1 at 15 minutes

Fermentation

  • Wyeast 3711 French Saison Yeast
  • 3 weeks in primary in a basement during the summer, so around 72-75 F
  • 5 weeks in secondary at the same rough temp
  • 2 weeks of bottle conditioning

Notes

  1. The first time we used the standard dark rock sugar that you find at most homebrew shops. I’ve read that this is basically only used in the US by homebrewers. For the second iteration we’re using this 90L candi syrup which more approximates what’s used in Europe.

Review: Alba Scots Pine Ale

Williams Brothers make some interesting beers. I’ve written about their elderberry beer earlier, and I haven’t quite had the cajones to give their seaweed beer Kelpie a go.

Pine needles actually have a long history in brewing. In colonial American, many homebrewers would just use pine needles or spruce tips as a bittering agent since they were plentiful and much easier to cultivate initially than hops.

Alba Scots Pine Ale

Alba Scots Pine Ale – 7.5% ABV

Appearance: The beer poured a dark, coppery amber with a finger or two of creamy head that has dissipated quickly. There are some bubbles floating up from the bottom.

Aroma: The beer smells very sweet with a hint of the pine. There’s some floral notes in there too, but I’m not sure where they’re from.

Taste: Very sweet. Fruit, molasses and brown sugar come to the front. Not much bitterness at all. I’m searching for that resinous, piney flavor, but it’s just not there. The taste is almost all malts and yeast.

Mouthfeel: The carbonation could actually be a bit higher. The beer is a bit cloying as it is. The extra bubbles could help brighten it up a little. Overall, it’s a bit heavy and sweet.

Overall: I was honestly hoping for more aromatics from the pine. If it wasn’t on the bottle, I honestly never would have guessed that there was any pine in this beer.