Monday, August 27, 2012

Susquehanna Brewing knocks me out

Susquehanna Brewing is open and running, has been for a few months, and I always like to give a brewery a few months before trying the beer...but this was getting ridiculous: two good friends were on the brewing side -- Jaime Jurado and Guy Hagner -- and I hadn't made the time to get up the road two hours to see this operation? That I knew was amazing? Seriously, the technical side of it is off the hook...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

We went on vacation in the Poconos in late July, just about a month ago, and I contacted Jaime and Guy to see if there was any place I could try their beers as we were on our way up, then stop by the brewery or a distributor and pick up a sixtel for the cabin. Jaime graciously invited me to come tour the brewery, and said he'd get me some beer. So my mother and I went up that Saturday afternoon, and Guy gave us a tour.

Wow. First eye-opener was the mill, where the barley husks are largely separated from the grist before wetting in the mash tun, what Jaime called endosperm mashing integration. The husk is sent to a 'husk case' above the lauter tun, and dropped in "only immediately prior to...being required for its important role in refining mash." Jaime said SBC is the 7th brewery in the world to do this (they also do it at Trumer in Berkeley, which Jaime oversaw in his role with Gambrinus).

The 50 bbl. BrauKon brewhouse includes a dedicated decoction kettle (used to make the Goldencold). But the big deal is that the main brew kettle uses...well, as Guy said, you've seen a calandria, right? And the external calandria, like Victory has? This is something different. "This" is the PDX system, which circulates the wort outside of the kettle and injects live, high-pressure food-grade steam into the flow. It actually goes supersonic, which is a key part of the whole thing: the turbulence created by that gets the heat into the wort in an amazingly efficient way. The PDX saves a ton of energy (along with the cool, super-efficient smart boiler Jaime spec'd for the brewery (the same kind Flying Fish has in their new brewery, BTW, and don't you ever believe that Casey Hughes isn't a very bright boy)), and, well, it sounds really cool, too; "Like a jet plane taking off," Guy described it. Susquehanna was the first brewery in the world to have it designed into a new brewhouse from day one (Shepherd Neame in the UK were the pioneers on retrofitting it; SABMiller's using one in their big brewhouse in South Africa, Radeburger has one, and Miller is also testing one on their pilot brewery.

Truth is, Jaime put an incredible amount of energy and material-saving tweaks and equipment into this brewery. He told me that he realized that he wouldn't get too many more chances to completely design a brewery with this kind of freedom in his career, so he wanted to make this one right...and the energy savings and carbon footprint were very important to him. That's why the brewery has the short bottles, not longnecks, for instance: they weigh 1.4 oz. less, and have a 20% smaller carbon footprint. The labels are 30% recycled paper (post-consumer), will soon be 50%, and that should increase every year.

It's not all about energy, though. Guy showed us an incredibly complex Moravek BC-30 Carbonator, the thing that puts the CO2 into the beer as it's packaged, and it measures the temperature and gravity of the beer to precisely match the pressure to the job to have it consistent...but I loved what Jaime said about why he got it: "I selected the BC-30 carbonator/nitrogenator because it produces beer with superior bubbles...strange but true." Extremism in the defense of superior beer is no vice, Jaime. He also put in a massive hopjack (BrauKon's second), it looks like something from the powerplant of a nuclear sub.

Okay, so all that...how was the beer? Pretty frickin' awesome. The walkaround bottles of Goldencold that Guy gave us for the tour (yes, my mother, too, and she asked for another!) reminded me of something Travels with Barley author Ken Wells said: “One thing you can say about lagers: the good ones don't make you work very hard to like them." This was one of the best American-brewed hellesbiers I've had, which is amazing considering how new the brewery is...and not amazing, considering how much experience Jaime and Guy have between them. Yes, Guy, because Jaime gives Guy full credit for formulation on this one.
That's Guy Hagner, meself, and Jaime Jurado.
The sample of 6th Generation Stock Ale we got? Not so good, flat, a bit harsh...but that got better. After some more chatting, Guy told me to pull my car (heavy-laden with vacation crap) into the loading bay, and put three cases of Goldencold and a low-fill sixtel of Stock into it. Yeep. "You get samples, right? These are samples!" I'll be honest, I was looking at that sixtel of Stock and thinking...I'd just as soon have more lager and skip the Stock, but, okay, I'll smile. So we thanked him, and drove off to the north.

Once we got to the cabin, I stocked the fridge with a case of lager, and iced down the keg of Stock Ale...and tapped it. Much better. (Jaime told me later that the keg in the brewery was tapped for at least 3 weeks...I suspect a new regimen of beer care has since been instituted.) The stock was sweet, bitter, floral and citrusy, and had a wonderfully fresh/bready character to it. We did serious damage to it and finished it off Thursday night.

So about two weeks later, Jaime emailed me: they're having their first beer dinner at Lucky's Sportshouse...in Wilkes-Barre...would we like to come? Well, it is almost 2 hours' drive, but Cathy's been wanting to meet Jaime for years, and wanted to see Guy again, so yeah, we went. It wasn't just Susquehanna's first beer dinner, it was Lucky's, too. I wasn't optimistic.


Boy, was I wrong. Lucky's is definitely a sports bar, lots of screens and a high ceiling and open floor plan, but the food was quite a notch above sports bar: all prepared on-site, freshly-made food. But again, I'm ahead of myself: we got glasses of the new SBC Oktoberfest. Very nice, dry malt character (not the caramel sweetness you get in too many American fests), and quite enjoyable indeed. Clearly these guys know their way around a lager.

They know how to have some fun, too. That extremely red beer you see here is a blend of Ofest and Goldencold, dosed with coffee, peaches, raspberries, and orange oil. It was dry, fruity -- the orange oil really made the other fruit aromas burst out of the glass -- with notes of coffee and dry cocoa. Very nice, and startlingly red.

So, about the food. The plate you see above was the main course: two "honking big pieces of meat" (as Uncle Jack always describes the main courses of the dinners at Monk's Cafe) in the form of perfectly done pork schnitzel, with broccolini and a bed of mild sauerkraut (and a dressing of deliciously caramelized onions). The pork was done through, juicy, with a crisp, thin coating that wasn't oily/gross...very nice, especially given the number of plates -- about 50 -- that they were serving. (Two of those 50 were Chip The Beer Guy and his girl (fiance!) Diane, who Cathy also got to meet; good times as always, Chip!) That was actually one of the things we noted, and Chip said it first: the food all came out on time, simultaneously, and it was all hot and ready to go. Nice coordination for their first beer dinner!

We'd started with passed pieces: battered cod bites, some green bean tempura-kind of thing (that was real good!), coconut shrimp, and...I can't remember the fourth thing. I DO remember the breads that came afterwards, because we all devoured them, great fresh-baked stuff, and Cathy took some home. We got a beer cheese soup next, and it had little bits of ham in it, nicely done, and not too gruel-like; I hate that.

Last was the bananas foster you see above: great whipped cream with that, too. The whole dinner was excellent, easily the best food I've ever had at a sports bar. I'm hoping that Susquehanna comes to Philly soon (I know Memphis Taproom got some samples), because we're just about out of Goldencold...

1 comment:

sam k said...

Can't wait to get some Susquehanna lagers here in Dead Centre, PA. I know that a lot of folks are skeptical and would rather have yet another IPA, but a good craft lager house is overdue, in my opinion, and I'm looking forward to having some SBC beers. Cheers to the Maier family for going the distance on this project!

Also had my first Old forge Endless Summer cans today and was not disappointed.