I hope you all know that Victory Brewing has picked up the license to brew Perkuno's Hammer, the Baltic porter I had a hand in instigating and naming at Heavyweight Brewing. Heavyweight closed last year, of course, and I was a bit bereft: no more Hammer. Luckily, some other people felt the same way, and yesterday was Hammerfall at Victory.
We were standing in the control room at Victory. It was stiflingly hot, the AC was out, and we were all waiting for the moment when this first Victory brewing of the Hammer would start. Ron Barchet (Victory brewmaster): "Tom, do you want to push the button?" Tom Baker (Heavyweight owner/brewer/everything): "Me? Push the button?" Brian Hollinger (Victory brewing engineer): "That's the one there." Dave Sippel (Victory ass't brewer): "I already pushed it." Me: "Oh. What time is it?" Brian: "It's 1:00." Me (looking at a clock that says 1:03): "Cool, 1:00, right on time." (Silence for about a minute; people sweat) Me again: "Um...exactly what is going on now that we've pushed the button?"
Turns out it was milling that had started up, so we trooped down to Victory's marvelous wetmill. Ron explained how wonderful it was: the malt is wetted very carefully so that the husk gets wet and soft, but not the kernel. This way, when the malt hits the rollers -- which are set quite tightly -- the kernel cracks as always, but the husk is not broken up, like it is in a dry mill. This makes for a better filter bed, and less tannins from the husk (because of less surface area).
Ron believes that there are only three wetmills in use at micros in the U.S.: Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, and Victory (and Deschutes, too: see comments below). It's wicked expensive, and expensive to maintain as well, and because there are so few of them, if it breaks down, a tech has to come from Germany. It's broken down once so far, which put a crimp in brewing. How long were they down? "A week," Ron admits. "But the benefits are worth it."
Why is it that Victory is in company with two much larger craft brewers? "Because it's important," Ron said. "The stability and flavor improvement you can get from the wetmill are very important in the kind of beer we make." Why don't other brewers invest the quarter million dollars in a wetmill if it's so important? "Because here the owner is the brewmaster," said Ron. "The benefits in shelf-life and flavor are clear." Clear, but not something you can easily measure and put a price on? "Right," said Ron, and grinned. "But here the accountant is the brewer, too."
Ron had pulled me a glass of Sapphire Bock, an interesting beer. A friend of his from brewing school works at a German brewery near the hops regions of Bavaria, near the Austrian border. The Bavarian hops growers came to him and said, look, we know the American craft brewers are using a lot of hops (damn betcha!). How can we get them interested in buying some of our very fine hops? Make a hoppy beer with them, and serve it at the Craft Brewers Conference, he says. Oh, wonderful, you must make us a hoppy beer with this new Saphir hop! He convinces them that it would make more sense for an American brewer to do it, and he knows just the guy.
So Victory makes a hoppy bock to his specs, and as Ron said, "It was interesting making it to his recipe. It's not what I would have done, but it's a perfectly good way of doing it." This was his opportunity to point out -- absolutely correctly -- that Victory had gotten big enough that people have started to complain that they don't do anything really interesting any more. "That's ridiculous," he said, "getting big has let us do even more interesting stuff, like this! Look out at the bar, we've got over 15 beers on right now." Victory's single-hop pils series has been nothing short of brilliant, but of course, they get no credit for it from the bulk of the geekerie because 1)they're lagers; and 2)they're under 7%. Sigh.
The grist is welling up from the bottom of the mash tun. It's thick, it's cakey, it's got beans in it (over 100 lbs. of black-eyed peas; the Roman beans were crazy expensive, over a dollar a pound), it's...getting really high. "I've never seen it that high," says Brian. "Get that!" Tom shouts gleefully, "The Hammer's too big for Victory's mashtun!" They split the mash into another vessel (mash cooker?), and kept going.
The aiming point for the Original Gravity of the wort was 20.5P, a big boy that should ferment out right around 8%, maybe a bit higher. Hopping is early additions of Tettnang and Hallertauer; as Ron says, they've got contracts that make it economically reasonable to use these deliciously aromatic hops for bittering hops.
My greatest Hammer Moment was sitting at the bar at dba in Manhattan, about three months after the Hammer came out in 12 oz. bottles, and hearing the bartender telling another customer about "this beer we had in last week, it was the best f---ing beer, it was big and black and fantastic, had some weird name, something hammer, like the God's Hammer, or something, and it rocked!" And I realized..."Are you talking about Perkuno's Hammer?" "Yeah, dude, that's it! That beer's f---ing awesome!" A moment I cherish.
Tom offered his best Hammer Moment. The first run of the Hammer was in individually numbered 750 ml bottles, with a label that was pretty faint to begin with, and rapidly faded to next to nothing in a cooler. And George Gray, the owner of Andy's Corner Bar, the legendary beer bar in Bogota, NJ, calls him to ask him what the hell this great beer is. "What's the name?" Tom asks. And George says he doesn't know, it's just a white label with a line and 320 written on it in Sharpie ink. Yup, that's the Hammer.
Ron's best Hammer Moment was when he decided Victory should keep it alive. "My first thought when I heard Heavyweight was closing was how that was too bad for Tom. But my second thought was 'Where am I going to find more Hammer?!' And that's when I thought we should figure out a way to do it." Now that's a great Hammer Moment.
I had to leave; had to get home and get back to work. But the Hammer was on its way. Victory's brewed two 50 bbl. batches yesterday; as Tom said, he only brewed 150 bbls. of Hammer in the whole first year of production. It's coming out in 750s and draft. But it may not be called "Perkuno's Hammer." There may be legal action from other interested parties. Ron: "We may not call it Perkuno's Hammer, but we're making it."
We suggested a few other names: Perkuno's Bummer, Perkuno's Hemmorhoid, Perkuno's Mallet. It was obviously a slow day for imagination. I still like one of my original suggestions: Black Blizzard. Whatever name it comes out under, we'll know, and we'll let everyone know: Perkuno's Hammer strikes again!