On Sunday I had the good fortune to meet Paul Arney, former brewer for Deschutes Brewery who is now heading up his own brewing project, The Ale Apothecary, to find out more about his brewing endeavor and receive a test batch bottle of his beer, Sahalie. You may remember that I first blogged about this way back in May; the gist (at least initially) was this:
My plan is to utilize a very small home-built brewery to develop a beer that has existed in my mind only. Develop a process that produces the desired flavor profile, and then, build a brewery around the process. This brewery will combine age-old techniques alongside modern ones, and we will not be brewing to satisfy bulk consumption.
Since I first blogged about Sahalie and The Ale Apothecary, Arney’s original ideas and vision have evolved a bit; the core is the same, but you can (and should) read his thoughts and progress over on his site.
First, the salient points: he has all the equipment and ingredients ready to go, and, pending final permits and legal approval, expects that the brewery will be officially ready and brewing within two to three weeks (though concedes that it could also be as long as a month and a half). All of the equipment is currently stored in a neighbor’s garage; when I visited, he was texturing the walls of his garage-cum-brewery with a waterproof concrete sealant and things were really close to finished.
And it truly is a “garage brewery” in the sense that the garage itself is being converted to the entirety of the commercial brewing space: brewing, fermenting, barrel-aging, storage, and bottling will all be handled there; there will be a small lab space for analyzing the beer as well. The entirety of the brewery will occupy just over 500 square feet—I wonder, does this qualify as one of the smallest commercial breweries around?
About the beer: The first thing that struck me is that the beer will be entirely fermented in wood: primary fermentation, secondary, conditioning, barrel-aging. While true these days that barrel- and wood-aged beer are now a relatively common practice with many breweries, I don’t know how many are conducting their primary fermentation in wood—no commercial breweries that I know of are doing this (if you know of any, please leave a note in the comments).
Arney’s vision/inspiration for Sahalie (which was originally going to be the main/only beer brewed, though the decision was made to brew other beers as well) is, interestingly enough, champagne. Now, I don’t want to overstate this, or get it wrong—I’m not saying that Sahalie is intended to be a champagne clone, for instance—but Arney is looking to champagne in terms of similar profiles in character, the flavor and sensory experience, levels of acidity, aging and how it evolves and changes over time, particularly in regards to the méthode champenoise practice of aging on yeast lees and how that will affect the beer.
The Ale Apothecary, while being a commercial brewery, is not a production brewery—nor is it a “destination” brewery: there will be no tasting room, and no outlet for the general public to simply come visit. Indeed, visiting the brewery will likely be by appointment only, and Arney is eschewing other traditional brewery practices and distribution and instead is looking towards a more exclusive, limited-release model for distributing his beer. In this regard there is similarities with how small wineries operate; the intent (hope?) is that the beer will be sold by the case and rather than being an everyday drinking beer be more of a “special occasion” drink—bottles to save and open at holidays, say, or other special times.
(Of course, nothing is preventing anyone from buying and enjoying the beer for everyday consumption, either!)
In fact, much of this philosophy underscores for me that The Ale Apothecary is something rather new in American brewing—or perhaps not “new” so much as “re-emerging”—what I’m thinking of as the “artisanal brewery.” All of the above points that Arney is doing exemplifies this idea and rather than see a focus on brewing consistent, “production beers” (that is, a core lineup of brews subject to strict quality control to limit variances in consistency, intended for building a consumer base), instead that focus will be on small batch “living” beers wherein variance is accepted (and even encouraged) and no two batches of beer will be exactly the same.
The only other brewer off the top of my head that I think fits this “artisanal brewery” category is Lodgsdon Farmhouse Ales in Hood River (from which I recently had a bottle of their Seizoen and have thoughts about). It is definitely a concept worth exploring in greater detail.
(This is of course my interpretation based on what we talked about, and what I’m understanding of the direction Arney is going with his brewery. I hope I’m doing the concept justice!)
In my head I’m envisioning all of this as being very similar to the small artisan brewers of Belgium and France and indeed the beer Sahalie shares a number of characteristics with beers from such sources—wild yeasts and bacteria, unpasteurized bottle-conditioning, extended periods of again and (possibly) blending, to be released only when the beer is “ready.” (Would this be an accurate image? Perhaps not, but it is an appealing one.)
Overall, exciting things afoot with The Ale Apothecary. Arney’s enthusiasm is infectious and there seem to be a lot of ideas and possibilities percolating around his concept. As I mentioned, he was kind enough to give me a test batch bottle of Sahalie to try, and I currently have that in my fridge awaiting consumption; I probably won’t write much about it here, since it is a test bottle, but I may share some thoughts.
In the meantime, keep watching this space for news about the brewery’s opening in the next month or so.