What is Fred Brick?
This spring I was approached by the crew from Atlanta’s own Red Brick brewery about doing a collaboration beer. I am Fred, Taco Mac’s Beverage Director, which means that I am the “beer guy” for a group of 25 restaurants that take great pride in offering a great selection of beer. Naturally I jumped at the chance to have a little bit of say in a brand new beer made right here in Atlanta.
So I sat down with Red Brick brew master Dave McClure over a few pints to discuss this project. We quickly came to a unanimous agreement on some of the positive and negative aspects of the current climate in the beer world. We decided that we would use this beer as not only an example of the partnership between our two companies, but also as a way to make a statement about some issues that we felt needed addressing. What can I say? We take beer seriously.
What’s Going On?
Did we come up with a new style hybrid? Or a mash-up of previously unheard of flavor combinations? No. Did we unearth some antiquated recipe from Babylonian texts recently found in an archaeological dig? No. How about a 13% alcohol Belgian something-or-other? No. Did we push the absolute boundaries of bitterness using some experimental new hop strain that can double as nail polish remover? No. We made a very drinkable beer with a full, balanced flavor and reasonable alcohol content. Why? Because bigger is not always better, and more of everything isn’t always a good thing.
Somewhere along the line a movement towards “extreme beer” took off like a wildfire. I jumped on board like the rest of the beer crazies out there. But after a while, I began to tire of constantly being hit over the head with more this, more that, more EVERYTHING. What happened to enjoying well-made beers with character? When did brewing become a competition to see who could overdo every aspect of a beer’s recipe? And are there true appreciation of these beers, or just shock value and an element of accomplishment by having drunk one? I can make food so spicy, for example, that few people could even eat it. But is it any good? A chef can make a dish hot, but still have a balance of flavor that makes it good and hot. So my question is this: Are people losing the ability to appreciate well-made beers because their interpretation of what “well-made” or “good” is constantly changing?
Let’s take something like a Steam Beer, for example. During the Gold Rush, Steam Beer producers were up and down the west coast. Lager beers were very popular back east, so the new west coast brewers used the lager yeasts fashionable at the time. But without massive icehouses to ferment at lager temperatures, they used the warmer and more available temperatures more suited for ale brewing. The resulting beer had a bit of a fruity taste from the higher fermentation temperatures, as well as a good dose of those famous west coast hops. The kegs also had a lively carbonation level, so when they got tapped, the hissing sound reminded people of steam being released. And like that, a style was born.
One thing about Steam Beer is that it was prolific, yet quite varied. Each brewery would have had its own version of Steam. And it is certain that darker and lighter versions existed, different hop rates and varieties were used, etc. The same way that Pale Ale is quite varied these days, Steam was back then. In fact, until recently, Steam was the only indigenous American beer style. All other beers were American versions of European styles brought over by immigrants. As the Gold Rush ended and America became increasingly industrialized, the small producers of true Steam beer began to die out one by one. Only San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Co. remained, and it too was on the verge of extinction in the late 60’s when it was bought and slowly revitalized. Now when people think of Steam beer they think of a brand, not of a style.
As people moved away from flavorful beer in 20th century America, the entire concept of beer with character nearly died. People’s ideas about what was “good” or “well made” were being skewed by advertisers into thinking that lighter was better. Three large breweries dominated the brewing scene in America and “light” beer became what to this day is considered “beer” to the majority of Americans. Is the same thing happening in the craft beer segment now? Are people being driven into thinking that beer has to be overwhelming to be “good”? So when Dave and I sat down to decide on what style to make, Steam beer seemed like a great choice. In order to look into the future, it always helps to take a look back.
In addition to the style being a little unique and historic, we also liked the “single hop” concept. Although it is getting some attention again now, making beers with only one type of hop is also a very old practice. When people traveled everywhere by horse, they used the things that were grown and produced locally. English brewers did not have a lot of access to Czech hops, for example. Our Steam Beer uses an older American hop called Liberty for all of its flavor and aroma. There is also the addition of 50 lbs. of Georgia-grown oats to make this Steam beer as distinct from any other one ever made, just like those brewed up and down California during the Gold Rush would have all been distinct from each other.
Some co-workers and I went to Red Brick on Friday, August 13th for “brew day”. Please make no mistake: All of the technical work was done by Dave and his crew of professionals. The Taco Mac people just hung around and helped out here and there, mostly trying to stay out of the way. I do not take credit for anything more than drinking beer with Dave one evening and coming up with the concept. So if you like the beer, thank Red Brick. The name was, well, something that just fell into place.
I hope that you enjoy Fred Brick. Our little project is a 5.2% Steam Beer (aka “California Common Beer”) that will be available throughout Taco Mac land while supplies last. If you are interested in seeing a slide show of the brewing day, go to www.fredsbeerpage.blogspot.com. There are a few slide shows on the right side of my blog. It should be the most recent one. If you are interested in touring Red Brick, they are located at 2323 Defoor Hills Rd., Atlanta, GA 30318. Tours are Wednesday, Thursday & Friday from 5-8 pm and Saturday from 2-5 pm. You can check them out at www.redbrickbrewing.com as well. Cheers.
This “Fred Brick” collaboration is now tapping at Taco Mac restaurants all around Atlanta. It’s a new passport credit for those of you in the club – and is also big mug friendly…