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.

Recipe: Rauchbier

Is this the triumphant return of YBD? We shall see. One of our triumvirate has resumed – and re-suspended – his brewing activities with moves from Ann Arbor to Vail to New York. One has hardly slowed down his drinking or brewing the entire time he’s lived in Chicago – it’s the “blogging” part of our mission statement that has given him so much trouble. The final member – that would be me – inherited NAte’s brewing equipment, and just might be back in the game.

I will warn you straight off the top: this was my first time brewing in well over a year, and one of just a few times (the only one that comes to mind, but there may have been others) that I’ve brewed solo.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s just about guaranteed I messed many things up. On with the show.

Classic Rauchbier

6.5 gallon boil, 5.5 gallon batch

Grains
6 pounds smoked Briess malt
4 pounds American 2-row malt
2 pounds 80L crystal malt

Hops
1 oz. German Saphir (3.8% AA) – 65 mins.
1 oz. German Hersbrucker (3.1% AA) – 35 mins.

Yeast
White Labs WLP 820 Oktoberfest/Marzen yeast

I mashed for the first time in my newly-acquired 10-gal mash tun at 170º for just over an hour. I crushed the non-smoked grains in the store, but didn’t realize until I got home that the smoked malt was not ground. Fortunately, a hand-operated grain mill was among the hand-me-downs from Nate. Unfortunately, I think I didn’t crush the grains finely enough.

My expected OG was 1.055 – my observed value was 1.032. As you may note, that’s a huge difference. I’m hoping that maybe the hydrometer was improperly calibrated (it was the first time I’d used it, after all, and I sure as hell didn’t check).

We shall see upon my return from work if the magic of fermentation has begun.

Green Brewing

The University of Michigan’s “Out of the Blue” (perhaps best known for boring the daylights out of viewers hoping they’d see sports late at night on the Big Ten Network) recently tackled a topic near and dear to our hearts: beer.

Michigan Grad Student Jarett Diamond

Michigan Grad Student Jarett Diamond

The show produced an 8-minute feature about Michigan student Jarret Diamond, whose Masters thesis revolved around how to make the brewing process more environmentally-friendly. Though inspiration struck at Arbor Brewing, the project centered around Arbor’s sister brewery down the road in Ypsilanti, Corner Brewery. Diamond and his team first learned about the commercial brewing process, before figuring out how to improve it.

Other members of Diamond’s team focused on improving the sustainability and infrastructure of the brewery. If you’re interested in not only beer, but also the environment (as so many beer lovers are), check it out.

What Makes a Good Beer Bar?

We’ve discussed beer bar rankings in this space before. Of course, at the end of the day, these rankings are ultimately subjective. Some of the things I value in a beer bar are probably different than what someone else values. So, what do I value?

  1. Selection. For a beer bar, this always has been and always will be the #1 criterion. You can’t be a beer bar with only 15 choices. Good selection can manifest itself in different ways, as well (emphasis on local beers, emphasis on international beers, emphasis on a particular style, etc.). However, a wide variety is always important.
  2. Knowledgable Staff. This can be a semi-controversial topic. Some people simply don’t care if the staff knows anything, as long as they can get their beer. Some people want the bartender to know every last thing about every beer. I’m somewhere in the middle. As long as the person serving me knows the name and brewery for everything that’s available, I’m OK. Knowing the style for everything is good, but not crucial. It’s a bonus if they know the location of every brewery.
  3. Atmosphere. Again, there is a range of preferences here, but somewhere has to at least be inviting and “feel like a beer bar.” It can be a pub-type, it can feel like a brewery taproom (warehouse-style), but it has to have that intangible feeling of being just right.
  4. Events. It’s not necessary to have something every week, but it’s really cool when there are beer releases and brewery events held in a beer bar. It brings the beer community together, and makes for a very enjoyable time.
  5. Service. Yes, I’m separating the staff’s knowledge from their ability to efficiently serve. One of my favorite beer bars of them all (Ashley’s) is notorious for having terrible service, but the selection and knowledge make up for it.
  6. Clientele. This one is a little less crucial. Sure, it’s nice to have some other patrons to chat with, but if that’s not the case, so be it.

What am I missing? Surely these aren’t the most important factors to everyone out there, right?

New Holland at Ashleys

I rarely have reason to go out to the bar in Ann Arbor, but when I read that several New Holland beers were going to be featured at Ashley’s last night, I couldn’t help but check it out. There were about 10 beers on tap, ranging from the ordinary (Poet Stout, which you can pick up at pretty much any grocery store in the state) to the ordinary-but-on-Firkin (Dragon’s Milk), to those I’d never seen before (Charkoota Rye).

Night Tripper

New Holland Night Tripper

New Holland Night Tripper

Imperial Stout (10.8% ABV) Tastes really strong, there’s plenty of alcohol in the flavor. Really roasty with some chocolate notes. Pretty darn malty sweet (as imperial stouts, especially Russian Impoerial Stouts, often are). I would almost say it could have been fermented a little more to a lower final gravity to dry it out a bit, but it’s already bordering on liquorbeer, so upping the alcohol content is unnecessary.

 

Dragon’s Milk Firkin

New Holland Dragon's Milk (Firkin)

New Holland Dragon's Milk (Firkin)

As beers served on firkin always are, this was warm, and it was flat as well. After the Night Tripper, it almost tastes bland (though it’s one of my favorite beers usually). I think the Firkin really damps a bit of the aroma, partially because there’s less carbonation maybe. Hardly get anything on the nose, very light on the vanilla, a nice roasty smell. Tastes a little hot in the back of the mouth, and you definitely get the barrel-aged flavor. Not necessarily bad, but I’m used to (loving) the beer as normally served.

Envious

New Holland Envious

New Holland Envious

Not what I expected. Ingredients listed as pears and raspberries, I was expecting something relatively light in color or even a wheat, but it had a nice deep mahogany (my apartment smells of it) color. A little fruit on the nose – all pear. In the flavor, mostly pear, but I definitely see where the “slumber on oak” with raspberries comes in. Not as tart as the description led me to believe there would be. The tartness reminded me of the tang from our cherry belgian, which comes mostly on the swallow, not in the mouth.

 

El Mole Ocho

New Holland El Mole Ocho

New Holland El Mole Ocho

I’ve already had (and loved) this beer, so it was the only thing I had that wasn’t “special” in some way. On the nose, it has a nice malty character, almost no hops with a hint of spiciness. The flavor, however, is full of hot pepper flavor, but honestly more well-balanced with malt than I remember. It’s not blistering hot like our second pepper porter, but reminds you the heat is there, along with the pepper flavor. I really like this beer.

 

Charkoota Rye

New Holland Charkoota Rye

New Holland Charkoota Rye

This tastes a lot like El Mole Ocho with smoke serving as the “special flavor” instead of pepper (although they’re very different beers in reality). Aroma is a slightly malty but mostly smoky. Taste is super heavy on the smoke up front, but if you let it linger a bit, you get much more maltiness, for a nice balanced beer. A solid Kolsch with delicious smoky flavor. This was a lot like what I was hoping the BOB Brewery BBQ Beer would be at Winter Beer Festival.

 

Imperial Hatter

New Holland Imperial Hatter

New Holland Imperial Hatter

Classic imperial IPA (can an imperial IPA be “classic?”). Nothing really distinct from other beers in the genre. Decent nose/body balance, some graperuit citrus and a lot of bitterness in the flavor.

Overall

Of course, if I had read a little more carefully before heading out, I would have seen that many of the beers weren’t going to be tapped until later in the night, and I wouldn’t have shown up at quarter-to-6… since I closed the place down, that’s more than 8 hours in the bar. Oops. Good times were certainly had by all.

 

The Three Meads

3 Meads

Split into bottles and 2 buckets.

As I’ve been without a stove for a while—documented here—brew days have been few and far between (a phrase which here means “nonexistent”). However, late in the fall, we managed to get started on a mead, thanks to a friend whose father is a recreational beekeeper. After several transfers between carboys and buckets and buckets and carboys, today was bottling day.

However, we at YBD aren’t satisfied with just any old mead. Of the 5-gallon batch, I bottled about 3 gallons (carbonated with sugar tabs), then made a trip to The Produce Station to look for some adjuncts. After furiously texting Paul back-and-forth for proportions (technology!), I headed back home with two grapefruits and two kiwi.

Fruits for mead

Kiwi. Grapefruit. Mead.

I juiced half a grapefruit into a bowl, and scooped the pulp into my food processor. Then, I skinned both kiwi and chopped them up, putting the meat into the food processor as well. After giving it a few quick pulses to puree the whole thing, I put the pulp and juice into the microwave for 30 seconds to kill any bacteria. Finally, I dumped the whole thing into a bucket with half of the remaining mead (just over a gallon). Since I didn’t want to leave such a small batch, I added about a quart of distilled water to the whole she-bang.

With the remaining grapefruit, I followed a similar process: juicing and scooping the pulp. This fruit-and-a-half went into the other bucket, and again I topped it with a quart of distilled water. This left us with 3 gallons of plain mead, 1.25 gallons of grapefruit-kiwi mead, and 1.25 gallons of grapefruit mead.

Can’t wait to taste the plain mead in a couple weeks, and the fruit editions a few weeks after that.

What Killed Brew Masters?

Brew Masters on Discovery Channel

Brew Masters

“The Dogfish Show,” as most people I know called it, had a very brief run on The Discovery Channel, as the network chose not to renew the show after its first season. The conspiracy theorists are out in full force, with accusations that Big Beer (those are scare-tactic capital letters) killed the show. Of course, there have been retractions and/or clarifications of that accusation, and even some denials by Big Beer.

So what if they didn’t kill the show? Maybe it was canceled because, quite frankly, it wasn’t a very good show. And if I, as a beer lover (at least enough to write a blog about the stuff, right?) didn’t think the show was very good, what does the average American think about it? Perhaps advertisers simply pulled their ads because they weren’t reaching a wide audience.

Was the show unsalvageable? No. But if it’s going to develop into a worthwhile piece of television, it needs to take fewer than 6 episodes to “find itself.” I saved all the broadcast episodes on DVR, and in the name of clearing space, watched them one final time. That inspired this post, obviously, and also made me think about what could have made Brew Masters a much better show:

  • Everything felt like the “first episode.” A little exposition for new viewers is fine, but every episode felt like I was watching a pilot. That may be because the first two episodes seemingly aired out of order (“Punkin and Portamarillo” was certainly intended to be the pilot, but it aired after “Bitches Brew”), but the problem didn’t get much better as the first season went on. Breaking chronology throughout the season–we saw the treehouse in the first several episodes, then it suddenly arrives, brand-new, at the facility–only added to this effect.
  • Too much focus on artificially-created (or just uninteresting) drama. If a batch of beer has improperly fermented, that’s interesting, and is making the plot revolve around beer. If a machine breaks and drops a component into a mystery bottle, or (ugh) a factory worker spills glue, it is crap. YOU ARE NOT MAKING COMPELLING TV if you’re focusing on such facile and shallow storylines. You ordered the wrong bottles. Great. What in the world made you think I’d watch an hour of TV revolving around that plot point? That’s Factory Drama X, and takes the show away from beer – its raison d’etre.
  • Didn’t let Sam be Sam. A big part of the reason Dogfish Head is so well-known (aside from the beer, of course) is the cult of personality that Sam Calagione has. He’s a personable guy, and just watching him in, for example, Beer Wars, you wanted to befriend the guy. Let him show his personality in the show. Having him narrate was a gross miscalculation, because it took him from “guy the show is about” (good), to “guy who makes the show” (bad, removes his personality). Using testimonial-style narration with the employees – and even Sam – would have been a much better choice. On the same note, have one of his brewing experts – Brian and/or Floris, for example – talk about the science and process behind the beer, not Sam himself.
  • This one might directly contradict the previous point, but I don’t care, because it’s super-important: Don’t rap. The Pain Relievaz sequences were painfully awkward.
  • Personal drama is alright. However, it has to revolve around interesting points. “Sam is kinda neglecting his family on vacation” is not interesting. Sure, it warrants a mention, but not an entire sequence. Same with “OMG THE SCHEDULE IS SOOOOO CRUNCHED!!!” Mention it, and move on. You aren’t creating a true sense of urgency with that; if you couldn’t finish the beer within your timeline, you wouldn’t have an episode about it.
  • This problem would be solved be resolving some of the above, but… too many storylines at once. Jumping around with no cohesion to the episode was a consistent problem. Of course, if we don’t have OMG SPILLED TEH GLUEZ plots, this problem disappears.
  • Lastly (and this kind of ties these points together), the storylines need to be not only about the beer (see above), but also interesting. Sam’s trip to Peru to study Chicha was a very interesting story. His trip to Egypt was also alright. The inspirations for these beers should be 50% of the content of the show, not 5%.

At the beginning of each episode, Sam Calagione said, “Every great beer starts with a great idea.” That should be the purpose of the show – and at times it was.  Too frequently, however, it was about day-to-day drama that was unrelated or barely related to the beer. If I want to watch “American Workplace Reality Drama,” I can do that in a myriad of places. If I want to watch “well-made show about the production of craft beer,” well… that show hasn’t been done yet.

Yard’s Brewing, Philadelphia

Yard's Supports Our Founding Fathers

Yard's Supports Our Founding Fathers

On a recent trip to Philadelphia, I got the opportunity to visit Yard’s Brewing, one of the City of Brotherly Love’s most well-known breweries. If it weren’t just a block away from a very busy 8-lane surface street, I would have felt like it was in downtown Detroit: abandoned buildings, empty lots, BOOM CASINO, BOOM BREWERY. It felt like I never left home.

Walking into the building, it has a similar feel to many warehouse-turned-brewhouse establishments – though the tap room was in stages of being renovated. High ceilings, big windows into the brewhouse, and assorted varieties of seating in addition to a bar were all still present.

Bowling Alley Bar at Yard's

Bowling Alley Bar

As for the bar itself, it’s apparently crafted from wood that once comprised bowling alleys. Additionally, some of the benches were once church pews, and their billiards table is some form of antique. Unfortunately, the only part of the distinctive decor captured here for posterity is the bowling alley.

So, uh, I didn’t just walk into a brewery to note the decor, did I? Of course not. Onto the beers:

Yard's TapsRevolutionary Road (or something)

Yard's Taps

The taphouse had 8 beers on tap – though as you can see one of them was lacking a tapper (actually, the stout may have been poured from a beer engine elsewhere – I don’t remember). The beers were decently cheap, at about 4 bucks for a pint, but the flights were a ludicrous deal – 5 bucks for four 10-oz samples. That’s just a dollar for 8 ounces. Naturally, I got one of everything they had on tap:

Yard's Brewing: The Flights

The Flights

None (or at least very few) of these beers are available in Michigan, so it was a good experience in tasting. The IPA and Pale Ale were standard, with the former being a little light on the hops and malt for the style (though I don’t exactly drink beers right on the edge of the style most of the time).

I’d had the Brawler before, though I’m nearly certain that “pugilist” is not an actual beer style. It, like the pales, is a little light on the flavor. That’s not to say there was none, but as a hoppy brown ale, I expect a little bit more out of it. I thought the ESB was probably the best of the beers on the right-side tower. It’s not necessarily my favorite style, but Yard’s absolutely nailed the style. I couldn’t help but think how badly we missed on it when brewing our own ESB.

The left side had a Founding Fathers theme, and was called Ales of the Revolution. The Love Stout didn’t really belong with that group, but whateva, I mis-apply labels when I want. Said stout had nice chocolatey tones and a decent body, but was fairly standard. The other brews over there, however, where interesting.

Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce Ale (named after Benjamin Franklin’s Almanack of the same name) had a lovely spruce aroma and a flavor that jumped out right away. Unfortunately, once you got that flavor, there was nothing to back it up behind. The malt profile and/or bitterness just weren’t there to accompany the spruce.

General Washington’s Tavern Porter is based on a recipe that George Washington himself brewed! Of course, I’ve mentioned Washington’s brewing before, and might explore it in this space later in the future. The beer itself lacked a little OOMPH that I look for in a porter – either with an adjunct or a depth of flavor – but since they were going for authenticity to el Presidente’s brew, I can’t fault the folks at Yard’s.

Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale was a standard golden ale. Not really my cup of tea, so I don’t want to criticize it, but I wouldn’t order it again, most likely. Like Washington’s beer, it was based on a Jefferson recipe – though TJ’s wife took care of the brewing. Can’t fault the folks at Yard’s for striving toward authenticity.

In all, I enjoyed the Yard’s experience, and would certainly make a return trip next time I’m in Philadelphia. See, look how much I’m enjoying:

Tim enjoys Yard's Brewing in Philadelphia

Good Times