Monday, February 27, 2012

Element Brewing

I must apologize to Ben Anhalt of Element Brewing Company in Millers Falls, Mass. After I visited Valley Malt in Hadley (for the article published here) back in December, I rolled north to visit Element, on an invite Ben put out when he saw me post on Facebook, looking for contacts at Valley Malt (and a tip of the hat to Will Meyers at Cambridge Brewing for that contact!). I had some time to kill before doing an event at Craft Beer Cellars in support of the Kickstarter for American Beer Blogger (where I got to hang out with Chris Lohring (and drink Notch) and Nate Heck (and drink Harpoon Spruce)...and, of course, Suzanne and Kate and the crew at CBC), so I stopped in.

Millers Falls is a little town tucked into the hills of western Mass, right by Millers River, which joins the Connecticut River on the north edge of the village. Element is in the heart of town, in the old Post Office. Millers Falls doesn't have a post office anymore; when the paper mill and tool foundry closed, the USPS consolidated post offices, and Millers Falls lost theirs. On the other hand, they gained a brewery. Element opened two years ago (they celebrated their anniversary just a few days before I visited), and they brewed 350 bbls. last year. Every beer is at least 9 days in primary, and two to three weeks aging, and they bottle-condition.

Not much, right? Well, they have a plan. They sell most of their beer -- about 75% -- in bottles, and as Ben explained it, "We wanted to make good beer. I worked in 6-pack breweries, and I didn't want to compete with Sam Adams. We wanted a different market. I'd rather compete with a $10 bottle of wine. Look, when you take some beer along to a party, do you want to be the guy who brought another sixpack -- the guy they thanked and immediately forgot -- or do you want to be the hero who brought the big bottle with the cool paper wrapper?" Element's 22 oz. bottles are wrapped in a printed paper twist, and it does look pretty cool. (I'd show you, but only one of my pictures is worth a damn...and it's not worth a damn. Sorry.)

I tasted the ESO, made with an heirloom malt from England, and aged on oak to help bring out and accentuate the flavor of the malt (it worked, this was a very interesting beer as it developed on the tongue, malt depth with vanilla richness). Then it was Red Giant, an imperial amber with all English hops ("But not those cheesy Fuggles," Ben said) that was like Arrogant Bastard with Brit hops, if you can imagine that. Dark Element was another style-blender, a schwarzbier, made with British malt and American hops, and just under 9% (though it drank much lighter than that). Ben slipped me some of their winter seasonal, Winterion, an overproof Belgian while with chocolate, a "biere blanche au chocolat," he called it, and there's a ton of chocolate in there: cocoa in the boil, cacao nibs in the fermenter (along with coriander...). We wound up with Double Red Giant, which had a huge dried cherry character -- no fruit, says Ben -- that came from the malts and yeast. Very tasty, impressive beer.

The real reason I wanted to visit was that Element uses wheat malt from Valley Malt and Four Star Farms (in Northfield) to make their Vernal dunkel wheat wine. “The wheat was grown at Four Star Farms; we also used Snowshoe Farm maple syrup, from Worthington," said Ben. "It works out for us, and it works out for Four Star; they sell to Valley at a better price, and don’t have to sell it off for feed. We only made one batch –  it sold out in five days.” Really sold out: none to sample. Too bad, I love a good wheat wine.

Anyway...Glad I stopped in, and I do apologize for not getting this up sooner. Thanks, Ben!

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