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8 weeks…

8 weeks from yesterday I will set down upon American soil for the duration of what will likely prove to be a difficult and painstaking experiment in passion and dream fulfillment... and I can't help but wonder why we hold onto some dreams and allow others to fade... how it is that some dreams manifest our entire being, become our identity, our ontology - simultaneously limiting and freeing us all at once.  What would this Danish experience have become without Hill Farmstead?  

I gave my resignation more than a week ago and am now undergoing the process of preparing Nørrebro for my departure.  This includes a great deal of hand bottling, writing/documentation of processes, and training/questioning of what is to follow.  The highlight for me will be tasting the North Bridge Extreme Extreme (not a typo) in three or four weeks.  

Just Eight Weeks...

I spent most of yesterday in some sort of wilderness/deer garden/park 30+ minutes or so outside of the city. A picnic and a nap in the sun atop a hill beneath a grove of beautiful beech trees.  I felt at peace, once again.  Home amidst nature.  As if all of the chaos within me is unleashed within the city - psychological clutter and stress within the pavement  and unfamiliar faces of this unique culture... I feel more alone in the city, surrounded by a million strangers, than I do in the woods.  It will be beneficial to return to my own sanctuary.  A walk in the woods and chirping birds, a sunset over Barr Hill, and hay fields in August are meditative bliss...

I have also booked the tickets for Peter Sonne (my former assistant brewer and now the owner of Halsnæs Bryghus) and Kristoffer Wolff (brewer at Herslev Bryghus) to come to Boston/Vermont for 10 days during the time of the Backwoods Brewdown.  They actually arrive in the US two days before I do.  Alex will pick me up at the airport on Sunday night, and hopefully we'll meet Peter and Kristoffer that evening (in Burlington?) or the next day.  I'll be surrounded by a half dozen friends for an entire week, 200 friends by the following weekend... and then emptiness. And the weight and responsibility of preparing my brewery.  As all things contain their opposite, I can't deny that my fear/anxiety currently outweighs my excitement.

The fermenters have arrived and have been unloaded.  I've signed on to attend the Kennett Square Beer Festival in Pennsylvania on October 10th - I'll bring along some one offs - like a 2 year old Flemish Red, Fresh/Wet Hopped IPA, Smoked Sour Wheat beer (loosely based on a Lichtenhainer - a suggestion by Loren (aka Venom)) - 50% home smoked malt, fermented with Brettanomyces and conditioned with Lacto).  And a saison, of course... 

On another note, today Kasper and my new inter/assistant Simon and I hand bottled 1300 bottles of the Niepoort (Port) Barrel SEVEN Russian Imperial Stout.  All bottle conditioned in 375ml champagne Grand Cru bottles (think Russian River and Lost Abbey).  Tomorrow we'll be bottling the Bordeaux Barrel SEVEN, Wednesday we'll brew the North Bridge (NEX) and Thursday/Friday we'll brew a double batch of Skargaards Porter.  Busy week, indeed! But it feels great to take these beers out of their temporary home and commence their entry to the marketplace so that other folks can appreciate consuming them as much as I've enjoyed producing them... and... waiting... for... them...  Next week we'll try and bottle the Oud Bruin (Funky Viking) and also blend the Saison Vermont with more of the 2 year old Drie Fonteinen and bottle it off... Busy weeks ahead! And I'm glad that I'm not doing it all alone.  Hopefully some of these bottles will find their way to VT for the Brewdown...


And so it goes…

And so it is.  This life is such that fleeting moments are oft overlooked. Unaware as we are, that distractions become the essence of living and, when we are not distracted, boredom settles into our bones... at a young age, I had established a vision of "what it is to be thirty."  As such, this imaginary dreadful vision proceeded as thus... that some mature level of cohesion and self-affirmed career obligations might be realized and achieved - with or without the hands of matrimony and child.  Closer to death. Accomplished. Aged. Removed from youthful tendencies... enlightened, even? The end of the 20s -  a decade of living that inevitably is defined, for me, by travel, adventure, honesty, love.  The pursuit of Hill Farmstead. Brewing. Airplanes. Painting houses. Dylan. Europe. Tom Robbins. An enthusiastic departure into a world of all things 'fine' and 'beyond' (beer, food, thought). Localization. Vermont. Obsession. Damon. Family. And a tendency to drown in the undercurrent of romance until finally I resurface for breath and life once again... only to be pulled down under.  

The 20s were perfect. And, at four days into 30, I am convinced that the 30s will be even better...

And, let me just state that I can't stop listening to Bon Iver... and I'm blown away, captured, can't put it down... Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts...

My fermenters are on the road from Seattle to Vermont - solenoids and temperature control panels included. 

My brother is remodeling our house and the former garage.  Funds from investors should be deposited in the coming month.  Wastewater permit will be in the mail within the next week.  Environmental permit not far behind.  The state of VT is going to allow me to have a small retail space at my brewery location - which will make the release of barrel aged and experimental bottlings much more enjoyable.

And, I may have even found a full time brewing gig to carry me away for several months while preparing and launching the farmstead.  An auspicious turn of events (for me, at least) has led to a change of plans for a new brewpub startup 'somewhere' in New England - and, accordingly, if all falls into place, shall allow me an opportunity for promised creative freedom and barrel aging... and an opportunity to be instrumental in the launching of a potentially premiere establishment.  More to come... 

Meanwhile, here in Bryghuset, coming up: the bottles have arrived for the barrel aged beer series and I will begin bottling these beers soon. Right after I call Peter Zien and ask him for advice on how to bottle condition my Imperial Stout.  The end of June should see the release of these beers - Funky Viking (sour brown), Saison Vermont/Lambic Blend, Port Seven, Bordeaux Seven, and three different versions of Little Korkney Barleywine - Cognac, Bourbon, and Port.  Several brews ahead of me, as well, throughout the summer.  Another batch of Hill Pale Ale, Skargaards Porter, and Brown Ale will allow me to prop the yeast necessary for brewing a small and very fresh batch of North Bridge Extreme, Triple Knot (bigger version of Double Knot - the collaboration with Nøgne Ø - only to be aged in Cognac and Port), another batch of Seven (to leave with Kasper and the gang here...) - potentially in a Bourbon edition, and a strong Sølbær (Black Currant) sour beer aged in Cabernet barrels.  I'll also be returning to Svaneke Bryghus, in Bornholm, sometime before August to brew a beer with my very good friend Jan Paul.  Perhaps one more brew with Jacob at Amager - a weekend trip to Cologne/Bonn - a weekend road trip to Belgium with some friends - and one more collaborative beer at Nørrebro and then... going away party on August 2nd at a secret location. Whirlwind. =) 


Vermont, Boston, and Copenhagen

Having just returned from the United States for a brief 10 day sojourn, I must admit that I am amazed by the transition that beer culture is undergoing.  My local bar, Parker Pie (yes, local, as in a 10 minute drive on pavement TO and a 20 minute drive on dirt FROM), might now possibly be the best watering hole in VT (based upon selection and pricing). The stores are beginning to carry a staggering selection of 22oz and 750ml bottles at affordable prices... all within the stream of my few months abroad.  BeerAdvocate shelf tags at Stowe Liquor store? Stone IRS on draft at several locations. Nice. Good work.  Then there was Boston...

Dieu Du Ciel's Aphrodisiaque and Saint Lamvinus on draft at Daniel Lanigan's "The Other Side." Pliny the Elder and Ithaca Brute on draft at Deep Ellum.  Witnessing the new beers from Dann Paquette (Pretty Things) selling at a staggering pace while I was visiting Julio's Liquors.  The time is right, I reckon... The time is right... I hope that Vermont will someday see such novelty in draft selection.  Better yet, I hope that Vermont will be responsible for creating such novel products...

The Craft Brewer's Conference was a social event, indeed.  Conference? Maybe. Social hour(s), moreso.  The highlights for me were the evenings spent at Deep Ellum with Anders, Greg Koch's keynote speech, and the barrel aging seminar with Tomme Arthur (even though Bourbon barrel aging is not my intended direction or foremost desire...).  Miraculously, I found my bed (a couch), most evenings, no later than 11:30pm and rose in the morning before 8am. Responsible in 29th year? Almost.  My greatest sense of satisfaction seemed to come from morning or early afternoon conversations with fellow brewers that were, seemingly, still intoxicated and beginning their hangover. Oh, Boston, I remember that feeling from too many BeerAdvocate festivals...

Most notably, while back in Vermont I spent nearly all of my time doing something brewery related (surprised?).  Darren and I hung some insulation and, by the end of the weekend, my entire family was participating in the activity... So, with funds committed by investors (all friends) and the still steady momentum of tomorrow... We continue to move toward opening day.  Indeed, I think we will finally open the 3 Liter bottle of 2003 Double Bastard at the Brewdown.  Who's coming?


things falling into place: Barrels, Brewdown, and Brewery

Yet another much overdue post.  Things are falling into place for Hill Farmstead Brewery - after many years of visualization and concerted effort, it appears that momentum and rhythm are finally leading toward an epoch.  Whether or not this new era will see brewing activity at 403 Hill Road, is yet to be determined.  However, gauging by the last three weeks, I think it is fair to assume that I am moving forward... toward... something.

I have purchased six 7 barrels fermenters which should arrive in Vermont sometime within the next few weeks.  Thankfully, my father and brother will be there to receive them.  I am still searching for a 7 barrel kettle and burner - but, again, I am sure that things will continue to fall into place (can you sense the optimism?).  Here is a picture of one of the new fermenters:

Fortunately, I am also blessed with wonderful and ambitious friends.  Due to their ambition and generosity, there is also a 10 barrel Mash Tun, formerly belonging to my very good friend John Kimmich and his Alchemist brewpub, resting in my garage back home.  10 barrel mash tun, seven barrel kettle,... Nice.  Reminds me of Tom Baker and Heavyweight Brewing Company - Tom used to have a 15 barrel mash tun for a 7 barrel kettle. Certainly a great many options here.  Mike went into the Alchemist on a weekend morning and did the dirty deed of removal. Pretty awesome - that's Mike with the sunglasses and water hose:

I am still working on raising the remaining the capital (any takers?) and the business plan is polished, initial brewing and release line-up planned, and the financial projections actually show that I could earn a living!   Imagine...

In more news, I am continuing to place more beer into oak at Nørrebro.  Current oak aging includes Imperial Skargaards Porter in Cabernet barrels, Triple de Lente in Sauterne, CCC in Pinot and Merlot, Saison in Pinot, Oud Bruin, and SEVEN in Port and Bordeaux.  Within the next few weeks several more beers will be added to the mix. 

More pictures of the barrel aging room will be posted soon.  Some of these beers - especially the blended Saison/Drie Fonteinen beer, will debut at the Copenhagen beer festival next month.  I'm still trying to source 375ml champagne bottles for the bottling of the SEVEN and Oud Bruin.  

In other news - I will soon begin mailing out invitations to this year's Backwoods Brewdown. If you don't know what this is, or haven't heard about it, then perhaps you should come out and join us this year...the picture that opens this entry is a fantastic photo taken by Alex at last year's event.  

Lastly, for now, I'm going home next week and will be in Boston the following week for the Craft Brewer's Conference. My first Craft Brewer's Conference and I'm anticipating spending some evenings with my friends at the Publick House as well as attending a few great seminars and making more contacts with fellow brewers and industry suppliers.  Also, equally exciting, I'm going to be a judge at next year's GABF.  With my 30th birthday just six weeks away... things seems to be moving in the right direction.  


Onward into Spring…and Vermont?

Just returned from a 3 day adventure to Belgium with Peter and my new Alaskan brewer friend, Ben Millstein from Kodiak Island Brewing Company  (he and I brewed a 27 Plato Braggot together a few days ago...).  Look up Kodiak Island on a map and imagine what this guy must have to go through to produce beer... Managed to meet up with Urbain Coutteau at 't Brugs Beertje, sample some great lambics, and had an opportunity to taste and choose between barrels at Drie Fonteinen (hauled back a few kegs of 2 year old lambic that I will use for blending and serving later on. Possibly even a Backwoods Brewdown surprise...?)  Here is part of what I brought back with me:

In the fermenters right now, we have some particularly wonderful upcoming beers.  Two different versions of a Belgian Trippel (one brewed with Orval yeast, a la La Rulles, the other brewed with Rochefort yeast and Honey) - the La Rulles inspired Trippel is destined for Tokay barrels and a marriage with Brettanomyces.  We also, as I mentioned before, just brewed a 27 Plato Braggot - 200kg of Maris Otter/200kg of Orange Blossom Honey (Orval yeast and to be finished with Champagne yeast).  The intention is to barrel age a fraction of this collaboration as well.  Yesterday I brewed my Brettanomyces Saison - not that any of the followers of this blog will remember (nor have they ever attended...?) Belgium Comes to Cooperstown but this last batch of Saison is loosely based on my Substance D (from The Shed) as well as the Saison that I brought to BCTC in 2007.  And so forth... it is all too likely that I will blend a fraction of this Saison (aptly titled Saison Vermont, I think) with 3-8% of the 2 year old Drie Fonteinen that I just carried back with me over the weekend (think of the Saison from Yvan at De La Senne - which I tried at Poechenellekelder on Friday evening) and have it available at the pub and the Copenhagen Beer Festival in May...  also very likely that I will debut the Oud Bruin and the Barrel Aged versions of the SEVEN at the same festival and the pub (on the same weekend).

What else? Well, perhaps eve more importantly than all of this rambling, is the fact that I have finally come to terms with a feeling that I had upon returning to Copenhagen from Vermont at the end of December.  The feeling of which I refer is best expressed as a notion that "this is what it feels like before the storm..." or "this is what it feels like when you make the wrong decision to return to a location." I somehow knew that I would not be able to make the move back homeward to the country, to the bucolic woodland and serenity of lonely Northern Vermont and Greensboro until I had tired of population density - had my fill of asphalt, cars, foreign language, consumerism, absence of trees, the subtle tones of alienation, and the constant cough/congestion/and 'sickness' that has become so very characteristic of my stay here (indeed, the very opposite of my life in Vermont where health is normative).  

What does this all mean?  Well - I guess it means that, yet again, I am sincerely considering *the* departure. A real going away party. Listening and honoring those misanthropic tendencies within me that are discouraged here... and... working for myself.  Returning to the life of impoverished artist. Struggling cynic.  And, I dearly hope, the rebuilding of a once abundant farmstead alongside the motivation and vision of my brother.  Anyone have a 7 barrel direct fired kettle that they would be willing to part with?  Foolishly, I am ignoring the wisdom of my good friend John Kimmich (The Alchemist) and postponing any thought on opening a brewpub. Instead, I will launch head first into a barely profitable, ridiculously consuming life as a single employee owner/brewer/distributor.  Why not? 

Thus, onward with permitting and the remnants of work that needs to be completed. I'll be living off of pasta and 50 bottles of Drie Fonteinen (what is that? 2 a week?) for the next four months.  Feel free to send contributions in the form of solid foods, beer/libation, or surplus brewing equipment.  No licorice, please. 

OH! And I almost forgot - Tomme Arthur will be joining me here at Nørrebro for a guest brew the first week of March.  Not quite sure yet what we'll be brewing... but I'm pretty sure that it won't be too bad.  Only trouble with all of these barrel aged beers is that if I leave, I won't get to taste them... and... who is going to look after them?


SEVEN Russian Imperial Stout Release

On Thursday, January 8, at Nørrebro we'll be releasing an early tasting (3 months) of the Russian Imperial Stout project.  Just a few days before I departed for a two week holiday in Vermont, Murphy, Mikkel, Jens Ungstrup, and myself sat down for beers at Ølbaren and, unintentionally, began brainstorming names.  Eventually I threw out the name "Seven Sins" and Jens countered with simplicity: Seven.  The name stuck. For obvious reasons - seven brewers, seven recipes... and all seven of these project participants are expected to attend on Thursday.  This current release is of the stainless steel version (my personal favorite). The picture shown here is me topping off the Bordeaux barrel. The oak aged version(s) will either be blended or released individually - hand bottled, bottle conditioned, with some limited draft (most likely at the debut at the brewpub).

In other news, the 2008 brewing of the Stevns CCC (originally a guest brew with Will Meyers of Cambridge Brewing Company, modeled after his Cerise Cassee) was nearly successful... A five hour sparge and less than expected yield and gravity. My first 48 hour sour mash.  It will be introduced to Pinot Noir and Merlot barrels in the next two weeks - where it will be blended, in each barrel, with the 2007 version and introduced, again, to Lactic bacteria and several strains of Brettanomyces.  


November – I’m late.

Our uninterrupted spinning around the celestial star has led us to the inevitable onset of November... well, it's almost December now but I've been meaning to attend to an update since November 2nd. One hour less of Daylight and I am now returning home from work amidst the cool wet wind and darkness of a Danish winter. The arrival of this eleventh month also ushers forth two unmistakable symbols of cultural triumph and/or decadence:
1. Election Day in the US – Obama wins and brings an intimation of hope to a certain segment of the global population.
2. Julebryg (Christmas Beers) in Denmark
3. The return of Murphy to Italy (and soon, another week, back to Denmark)
And, perhaps equally unforgettable, my first Thanksgiving not spent at home in Vermont with family and friends.
I’ll spare you three lone feed subscribers the emotional ramble about Thanksgiving, or the departure of my only fellow American Brewer friend (but it's ok, I saw him last night, and he's moving back in a week...), or of how much I despise spiced Christmas Ales…

Since last entry, I have released several new beers at Nørrebro Bryghus. Our Smashing Pumpkin Tripel, 8.4% abv and gently spiced with Allspice, is now being poured at the pub. I’m really glad that I went with my gut instinct on this and added just 30 grams of spice opposed to the 120 grams suggested by Will! Whew… this should be gone by the middle of this week.

Also pouring is a new batch of Golden Spike IPA (Ander’s name choice, not mine). I declare this as the best batch yet of the mighty Spike – 85 ibus, 5.7% abv, and wonderfully drinkable. I have also just brewed a new batch of American Pale Ale with Warrior, Chinook, Simcoe, and Cascade hops – this should replace the IPA in about two weeks. 6.4 % abv and 50 Ibus.

Still aging in a barrel with three strains of Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus is a Belgian Brune… which reminds me to inform everyone (yes, ALL of YOU few!) that I have secured a location for a new barrel aging operation just across the driveway from the Bryghus. According to my measurements, it should be able to hold approximately 25 x 250 L Wine/Spirit barrels. Oh sweet heavens… still attempting to source a relatively large number of inexpensive spent wine barrels. The sooner I retrieve, the sooner I begin the project. Also, having just brewed a Belgian Dubbel (with Raisins and Figs!), wouldn’t it be wonderful to have 250L aging away in a French Wine Barrel with some Lactobacillus? These barrel aged gems will be the source of much creative effort and experimentation for me - as will they also be released to the public in small quantities, bottle conditioned, and hand labeled. Some limited edition draft, as well, and one can also predict that there will be some blending of multiple barrels...


The guest brewer day with members of the Russian Imperial Stout Project was, not surprisingly, enjoyable and inspiring. Despite two stuck mashes and 3-4 hour run-offs, we managed to hit our target gravity. After the brewday, all of us brewers and special guests sampled great versions of the Imperial Stout style – Dark Lord, Speedway, as well as an early bottling of the Amager MurpHill Bourbon Barrel Imperial Rye Porter. Lovely.

After a lovely fermentation, from 28.7 Plato to 8 Plato in just 4 days, the beer has rested for four weeks and has now spent one week in its Port and Bordeaux homes. The consensus, between Murphy, myself, and several other tasters, is that the stainless version has a certain ‘edge’ to it that is more 'characteristic' of the style than the early oaked counterparts (think Yeti vs. Oaked Yeti). Thus, this beer may forego its prolonged stay in the barrels and be packaged sooner than I had imagined. Possibly even be able to serve one 30L as a “sneak preview” on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. More to come… Does anyone have a 10 or 15L keg they would be willing to loan for a week or two?

More to come soon. I promise.

Smashing Pumpkins…

Pumpkin Ale. The utterance of these three syllables is banned in most circles of beerdom. Or provokes puzzled, bewildered looks among Danes. The expression is prone to responses of moaning rejection – like suggestions of doing homework, taking out the garbage, or, worse, running for the sake of ‘exercise.’ The cause of this aversion…(which is how I feel about licorice!) this seemingly involuntary reaction and triggering of one’s gag reflex? Allspice. Nutmeg. Cinnamon. In Heavy Handed and non-rational quantities. Not so distantly removed from thoughts resembling ‘Christmas in a bottle.’ One must wonder how many brewers drink their own spiced ales? Admittedly, I am not a fan of this style – thus, when confronted with the challenge of creating a pumpkin beer for the birthday of a beer enthusiast (the first commercial pumpkin beer ever produced on Danish soil, I believe), I immediately contacted the one person that I know loves pumpkin season: Will Meyers. I think Will must brew 25 or so batches of The Great Pumpkin at Cambridge Brewing Company each Autumn. He probably even begins dreading the following year’s ‘Pumpkin Season’ before the current one has begun. “Do you have any advice for me on brewing a Pumpkin beer?” Will’s customary sense of humor could produce only one response: “Don’t.” Eventually, I was able to procure a few suggestions that would help me in my endeavor. My goal: A complex Belgian style pumpkin ale with little to no spicing.

Peter (Sonne), Rune (Restaurant Manager), and I spent 5 hours skinning, quartering, seeding, and julienning 70 or so kilograms of sugar pumpkins. The strategy would be to create a separate “pumpkin mash” and then add the pumpkins and the water into the lauter tun before sparging. Knowing the brewhouse all too well at this point, I was concerned with a stuck run-off and a 12 hour brewday. So, in order to ward off any evil spirits (the brewery surely seems haunted from time to time), Rune had carved a pumpkin and, on brewday, before setting foot on the platform, I lit the jack o’lantern and propositioned it to adorn the brewhouse for the duration of the brewday...

Well, the pumpkin spirit either sojourned with all of the existing tricksters, leading them astray for the day, or ravaged them into noncompliance with its haunting glow! We added 50kgs of julienned pumpkins (with a gravity reading of 5 Plato – that’s just 50 grams of sugar per liter of solution - hardly worth all of the work!) to the lauter/mash and began running off into the kettle.

Magically! It was one of the best run-offs I’ve had at Nørrebro Bryghus. A fair dosage of brown sugar. 12 IBUS of Northern Brewer. And 30 grams of Allspice. 19.4 Plato. Now, my 8.5% Pumpkin Ale is finishing up fermentation and awaiting my next dilemma: whether or not to add more spices?

This beer should go on draft during the week leading up to Halloween. It would also be perfect to place 250L into one of my barrels along with some Brettanomyces - but, I’m short on barrels. Next year, if all goes well, I’ll be brewing this with my own farm raised sugar pumpkins and some homemade maple syrup (wonder who will help me chop up all o’ those pumpkins?) And some of it will go into a barrel. I promise. Pumpkin in a barrel. Sounds wonderful. Or strange.