Those who know me know I love beer. That should be no surprise to those who don’t know me. After all I am a brewer! Those who really know me know I make beer that I like. I’m not overly concerned whether or not people will like the beer I make…after all…I like it, but occasionally I decide to make a beer where I think to myself “I’m not sure this going to sell very well, but I like it so…”
The first beer like that was Max Abbey Belgian-style Dubble. Now by todays beer drinking standards that beer doesn’t seem so unusual, but in 1998 the beer palate of Atlanta was shall we say, less advanced. I made it because I love the style. I figured it’d be around for a while and that was OK with me. I was so wrong. Everyone loved it. Including the late great Michael Jackson (no not the King of Pop- the much more interesting Beer Hunter) with whom it was a great honor for me to sit and drink beer with and an even greater honor for him to complement my beer. The Abbey sold out in less than three weeks.
In 2007 came the Great Hop Crisis. My favorite ingredient in the course of a week went from being plentiful to more than scarce. Multiple events took place to cause it- poor harvests in the Pacific Northwest coupled by a fire at one of the biggest growers just after harvest, downy mildew in Europe and a sudden free trade agreement with China. Now you may not know it, but there’s a LOT of people in China. Guess what they like to drink a LOT of? Yup, beer. This all scared the Big Boys (those who will not be named) and with a suspicious fore-knowledge of the coming shortage, they grabbed up everything they could. Very few Craft Brewers contracted for hops up till that point and this left us very unhoppy. Prices on what you could find went from an average $3-5/lb to $30-35/lb. Still we muddled through a difficult end of 2007 and most of 2008 hoping beyond hope that next year’s crop would be plentiful. We got lucky, because the 2008 harvest was a good one. When the “good” hops finally came in late 2008, my first reaction was to hoard them and use them sparingly, but damn it, I’m a hop head! I threw caution to the wind and decided I’d make a beer so hoppy that only me and a few of my hop head friends would want to drink it. I’d make an IPA with an absurd amount of finishing hops. I’m talking pounds (note the plural) per barrel. I’d dry hop it not once but twice. Ha, Ha, it’ll be MINE, ALL MINE! No one in Atlanta was going to want to drink this West Coast Hop Bomb…boy was I wrong again. Hopsplosion!!! IPA almost instantly became our biggest selling beer. I’d truly created a monster. There was no turning back.
A couple of years ago I became interested in the Berliner Weisse style. I’ll admit until a few years ago I wasn’t the biggest fan of sour beers. They interested me, but the risk of cross contaminating my non-sour beers with the dreaded Lactobacillus that creates the tartness kept me from even considering it. Then I heard a lecture at the Craft Brewers Conference given by Burghard Meyer, one of the last brewers in Berlin to actually make the sour Weisse. He implored American Craft brewers to save the style. It was dying in Germany. He knew we couldn’t pass up the challenge and he had a secret technique he’d been developing. One that would allow us to create these wonderful sour flavors with a much reduced risk of cross contamination. I wasn’t the only brewer to walk out of that seminar with the wheels in my brain turning. A couple of months later my good buddy’s Glenn Golden from Jailhouse brewing and Chris Collier, former brewer at Natahalia Brewing and home brewer extraordinaire and I got together and decided we’d give this style a shot. We crafted Partners In Crime down at Jailhouse not sure if anyone in Georgia was ready for what can best be described as German lemonade. It was a huge hit! The keg only batch sold to retailers in a day! A year later I decided I’d make my spin on Berliner Weisse here at Max and created Air Lift Berliner Weisse. This time I was sure it’d sell, but my partners…not so much. Again, big hit!
I suppose the biggest surprise hit was Hopless Dancer Gruit. Gruit is an ancient style that dates back before the use of hops. Again, Chris Collier lent a hand with his expertise. He and his wife Tina have been making Gruits for years. We used Mugwort, Chamomile, Lavender, Yarrow, Grains of Paradise and Sweet Gale to bitter and finish the Gruit. Thinking that this would probably be a hard sell, we decided to make a very small amount and hand bottle it, selling it only in house. Now, being that this was without a doubt the most esoteric beer I’d ever made and that we were selling it in one liter bottles I figured the 14 odd cases we had would be around for a while. I never seem to be right about that…it all sold in less than two weeks. People loved it.
With these lessons learned (somewhat) I’m not afraid at all to tell you that I’m about to brew my next version of Berliner Weisse. This version will be called Georgia Air Lift. The plan is to add peaches and wildflower honey to the souring wort then age the fermented beer on French oak soaked in chardonnay. Yeah those of you who know me just dropped to the floor clutching your chest or are getting ready to test me for alien DNA…no I’m NOT making a fruit beer… Well I sorta am. Just wait for it…you’ll see, but then again, probably no one will like it and I’ll have to drink it all myself…oh well.