Starfire Schwarzbier Collab w/Heretic Brewing

One of the coolest things about our industry is the level of camaraderie between different breweries and their brewers. We really enjoy talking and hanging out with each other and exchanging information. When we were in the planning stages of opening up Joyride, many different breweries were very open with their information in order to help us out. To this day, most brewers willfully give up just about any detail about a beer that I’m curious about. Hopefully, everyone will say the same about me! People who aren’t in our industry are sometimes surprised about this open exchange of information between supposed competitors. And perhaps that’s the reason for the disconnect, is that we don’t really consider each other competitors in the traditional sense. Beer has been controlled more or less by “The Big 3” since the 1970’s, and they did a marvelous job of convincing the general public that beer should be as light and flavorless as possible while producing products that have little distinction between them, other than the advertising message. It wasn’t until 1978 when President Jimmy Carter, in one of his last acts in office, legalized homebrewing. This is pointed at by some as the official start of the craft beer movement. Suddenly, you were no longer bound to watered down examples of German Pilsner and could brew anything you wanted. The possibilities were endless. Homebrewers and craft brewers needed to exchange information back then in order to improve their creations. Even though “The Big 3” produce beers that lack in the flavor department, the brewers who work for them are some of the best in the entire world. They make a beer that has no room for error and it tastes the exact same every time, no matter where you are in the world. That’s consistency. In order for the new craft brewers to be respected in the marketplace, they needed to learn a few tricks and keep improving their processes, equipment, recipes, etc. These new brewers didn’t view each other as competition. I mean, “The Big 3” still had 99.9999% of the domestic market, so the other little guys weren’t their target.

Fast forward to 2015 and American craft breweries now control 12% of the US market. In a world where overall beer production is down, craft beer is carrying the industry, growth-wise. However, if you think about it, almost 9 in every 10 beers sold in this country is not a craft beer. That’s a lot better than 99 in 100, but there is still plenty of room to grow. Craft brewers realize this, and many of them feel how I feel, that a rising tide lifts all boats. If someone comes to our brewery for their first experience in craft beer and they have a terrific experience, they are more likely to visit more breweries and contribute to their bottom line. We hope the same is true for first timers at other breweries, and that they’ll eventually come to Joyride. However, if someone has a bad first experience here, they are likely to not try any new craft beers for some time. I feel it’s our duty to the other breweries in our industry (with a special shout out to the other members of The Colorado Brewer’s Guild) to try to provide as positive of an experience as possible. Maybe that’s not the definition in the traditional sense, but I think that’s a form of collaboration right there.

Speaking of the Colorado Brewer’s Guild (coloradobeer.org), they are the creators of Collab Fest (collaborationfest.com). The rules were pretty simple, each member of the Guild would have the opportunity to do two collaborations, one with a brewery in state, and one with a brewery out of state. We didn’t get our ducks in order in time to participate last year, so it was really important to me for us to participate this year, as our Guild does a lot of great things for us on our behalf. The first step was the find a dance partner.

When I started getting serious about homebrewing, I was working a job where I was on the road a lot. I was listening to a few podcasts and was curious if there were any beer specific podcasts. I searched the web and discovered “The Jamil Show” on The Brewing Network (thebrewingnetwork.com). Each episode was about an hour long, and the hosts, Jamil Zainasheff and Jon Plise, would cover one of the BJCP styles. They’d talk about what the style should taste, look and smell like, give some commercial examples, and at the end of the show, Jamil would share one of his award winning recipes for that style. It was exactly what I was looking for! Jamil went on to partner with John Palmer (author of How to Brew) to write Brewing Classic Styles. The combination of “The Jamil Show” and Brewing Classic Styles was a major factor in my initial brewing education, and I soon became addicted to The Brewing Network. Jamil and Palmer soon started a new podcast called “Brew Strong” which dealt with more of the scientific and technical side of brewing. I would listen to episodes of “Brew Strong” in the car before a homebrew session and employ the techniques I had just learned. I saw a rapid rise in the quality of my homebrew and it was around this time that I started taking the idea of opening a brewery seriously. Calling Jamil and the rest of The Brewing Network crew some of my brewing heroes would be an understatement.

Jamil eventually decided to turn pro himself, and started Heretic Brewing Company in Fairfield, CA (hereticbrewing.com). When it came to deciding which out of state brewery to collab with, the first email I sent was to Jamil. Fully expecting him to tell me he appreciated the offer but was too busy, he did just that…except he offered to send out his head brewer, Chris Kennedy. I was flattered that he would take my invitation seriously enough to send someone in his stead and accepted.

I started emailing with Chris about possibilities and we eventually settled on brewing a hoppy Schwarzbier. German for “black beer”, Schwarzbier is a personal favorite of mine but a beer I think is a little misunderstood by the general public.  According to a November, 2002 article in Brew Your Own magazine, “schwarzbier is the oldest European beer style for which we have hard, scientific brewing evidence.” (link to article: http://byo.com/hops/item/1351-schwarzbier-style-profile) Schwarzbier is similar to a Dunkel, but is much darker. Despite the black, almost opaque color, it shouldn’t be overly roasty, like a stout. I compare Schwarzbier to Black IPA in a sense, where if you tasted it blind, you wouldn’t immediately say it was a dark beer. To me, the easiest way to describe a Schwarzbier to someone unfamiliar with the style would be to call it a “black Pilsner.” Traditionally, Schwarzbier shouldn’t have a big hop presence, and should be relatively balanced, but that’s not how Heretic and us roll.

The recipe took inspiration from one of Jamil’s recipes in Brewing Classic Styles. We used German Pilsner, Munich and Carafa 3 for the grist (we almost always use Weyermann for anything German, including our Kölsch), using about 50% more Munich than Jamil’s recipe called for. For hops, we deviated from the recipe further. Hallertau went in the first wort, Herkules was added for bittering, a big dose was added with 10 min left in the boil and an even bigger dose was added in the whirlpool. The 10 min and whirlpool additions account for 84.6% of the hops we added to this recipe, and even though these late hop additions are far from traditional in this style, I have been very pleased with the result. We fermented with a classic German lager strain which is known for leaving behind a very clean fermentation character. After the beer reached it’s terminal gravity, we allowed it to lager for about 5.5 weeks. The final stats for this beer are 5.6% ABV, 40 IBU and 31 SRM.

Here's Chris from Heretic mashing out. See, he did help!

Here’s Chris from Heretic mashing out. See, he did help!

Chris with Jake and myself after a successful brew day.

Chris with Jake and myself after a successful brew day.

On first sip, I get a light cocoa note, but it isn’t big coffee and roast like a stout. Rounding out the malt profile is some tasty breadiness, reminiscent of some a sliced wheat bread’s crust. As the beer warms, the cocoa fades a bit and a small dark caramel character comes out. The bitterness is more assertive than other commercial examples I’ve had. BJCP guidelines have the limit at 30 IBU, and ours is about 40, so that makes sense. Since we added so many hops late in the boil or in the whirlpool, the floral and herbal tones from the Hallertau come out beautifully. It finishes clean and mostly dry with a medium body.

After we brewed this beer, my wife and I invited Chris and his wife up to the mountains and spent the weekend in Keystone snowboarding. The name “Starfire” actually comes from one of the black diamond runs on Keystone’s North Peak. I thought a black diamond run would work well with a black beer, and everyone knows my affinity of alliteration. Also, since this was a collab beer, I thought it was fitting to name it after another thing we did together.

I think it’s somewhat ironic that I learned a lot about brewing “classic styles” by listening to and reading Jamil’s work, but then when it came time to brew a beer together, we brewed something a little on the non-traditional side. But the end result is superb. This may have been brewed specifically for Collab Fest, but we made enough for you as well. Come grab a chair and Hop On!

The sign for our booth at Collab Fest.

The sign for our booth at Collab Fest.

~Dave