An air portends fragmentation of silence under the shadows a light threatens meekly the dark everlasting. The story of Orpheus in the Underworld.
Air is a song. The [song] is sung to Hades in an attempt to get his dead wife back. That attempt was a threat to the whole life/death balance in the world. It threatened (portends). The light is Orpheus of the living, threatening the balance, a meek threat because he never had a chance against the dark everlasting. A mimicry of volition. These five beers are about Orpheus thinking he has a chance of saving Eurydice from the underworld and break the balance of life and death. Before leaving Hades, Orpheus lost his faith that his wife was behind him. Because he turned his head to see her, Orpheus lost her. Perhaps he never had a chance. All you get is all you get.
That earlier phrase is written all over the wall at the brewery this past weekend. Honestly, we thought it was more mythology that brewery founder Jason Pellett loves so much. With a name like Orpheus Brewing, it’s pretty obvious.
In this case, it’s more than ancient mythology. It’s a crazy range of different styles for the brewery’s 5th anniversary.
Most breweries have a special bottle for an anniversary. Just one bottle has never really been Pellett’s style. “I know I wanted some special beers, and I figure it out as I go,” Jason, says.
Lambic brewing methods are his favorite to work with, along with anything utilizing fresh fruit. Earlier this year, the “Stouts All the Way Down” series debuted, Orpheus’ deep dive into imperial stouts. The brewery is no stranger to brewing boozy stouts (like The Ferryman and 12th Labor), but this series is a new avenue of experimentation. It started with an adjunct-free, barrel aged imperial stout- an almost ancient notion in craft brewing, and has progressed since then. As you will soon see, it’s gotten weird.
Pellett, who has a masters in orchestral trumpet performance, describes this anniversary list a bit like Gustav Mahler describes his symphonies. “The whole world is in here,” he says. “I’m trying to tell a story with these releases. I like to play with big themes, hoping the beers are a jumping off point for conversation. The names, the artwork, how it all ties together – instead of it being just a liquid. Just a commodity.”
A year ago, he and I sat here drinking the eight monster sour and wild bottles he decided to release on his 4th anniversary. It wasn’t the soberest of afternoons, progressing from beer to classical music theory. This afternoon is proving to be no different.
As with any brewery, it’s been a year of change for Pellett and Orpheus. Transmigration of Souls, the first beer brewed here has gone from 10% to 8% alcohol by volume. Choosers of the Slain, a pilsner, is phasing out a sour -Over and Over. Serpent Bite is toast, making way for ‘All You Get’ a new sour inspired by the above story of Orpheus. Pellett says the brewery is constantly broadening their horizon. They are harnessing what is in their barrels more intentionally. “We were very focused for a while on just a handful of beers, and now we are more open. I never thought there would be pilsner here a few years ago, but now it feels natural. It fits in between the wild ale and stouts we are drinking,” Jason adds. “People know who we are now, and we can expand the brewing vision without losing ourselves,” he adds.
After 5 where does Orpheus go? “I have no idea what year 6 will be. This is a transformative time in beer. Who knows until we get there.”
That being said, as Jason and I slip away from what little sobriety we ever have, below is the list of anniversary liquids with a few drunken notes.
- Under the Shadows 6.8% – Wild Ale aged 3 years in wine barrels, refilled on top of plums from Atalanta Reserva. Refermented with blueberries.
- Fragmentation of Science 5.9% – Methode Traditionnelle (Lambic process) wild ale it’s Oblacinska (Serbian) cherries for a traditional Kriek flavor. Barrels that are less acidic that show more of the Esther and hop character. The brewery produces about 60 brewers barrels of lambic. About 30 bbl get released a year, in wild ale projects, which is going on 4 years. Jason dotes on this one.
- A Light Threatens Meekly 13.8% – Staff blending contest lead to this. Barleywine, Adambier, and stock all aged in barrels. Inspired by the blending sessions of Firestone Walker for their anniversary releases. The final blend is about half Barleywine, 3 Adambier barrels in Jack Rye, Heaven Hill and Woodford Double Oaked. All in all – it’s big. Milk chocolate, fig, leather, dried fruit and caramel, and boozy vanilla.
- An Air Portends 13.1% – Imperial stout in bourbon, with macadamia nuts and vanilla beans. The beer had been aging on vanilla beans, and brewery transferred to the tank with roasted nuts. Boozy, nutty, slightly sweet. The 13% hidden well.
- The Dark Everlasting. 13.6% – Imperial stout aged 14-39 months in bourbon barrels, with vanilla beans & slow roasted coconut, held at 135 degrees for 5 weeks. Inspired by black garlic. The coconut caramelizes, starts tasting a bit like flan. The trick was finding peak aroma throughout the process. It’s coconut, but aromatically very different.
- Stouts All the Way Down Vol 11 12.4% – Strawberry hits the nose. Fermented in barrels with cocoa nibs and vanilla beans. The vanilla bean budget at the brewery is quite large. The strawberry leads this beer, which carries over to chocolaty, vanilla hinted finish. Why strawberries? Orpheus found great strawberries.
- Stouts All The Way Down Vol 8. 13.2% ABV – Mexican-inspired stout, with ghost peppers, cacao nibs, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. The heat builds into a hot stout with chocolate and hints of spices. Don’t let the ghost scare you. This is a perfect amount of heat.
- This Again– part of the ongoing Over & Over series. Sour ale with pineapple, guava, and vanilla.
- Mimicry of Volition – “Just an IPA” but it’s Jason’s favorite. Old school style but still hazy. Columbus, Mosaic. Needed an IPA once in a while. Something that’s not transmigration (now at 8%)
For those keeping count, that’s 5 bottle releases this weekend, plus 4 more stout bottles and three cans. Plus some ridiculous creations involving Butterfingers that tops out at 14% that the production team was struggling to filter hours before the party. Candy bars? This is craft beer lately. Get used to it.
After a few boozy afternoons of sitting across the table from Jason, a word comes to mind. Maturity. Let me explain.
The brewery, inspired by Greek hero, poet, musician, and prophet, Orpheus. It conjured up thoughts of sitting in a chair by a fire with many leather bound books while someone played a grand piano in the corner. The vision of Orpheus Brewing is a beautiful one. The highly intellectual inspiration for brewery didn’t have beers that matched the maturity of the overall approach. Time and trial brought those two in sync as if all the pieces of the orchestral are finally mastering the overture.
Orpheus Brewing is no one and done haze lineup. Orpheus is a performance. Sit back and enjoy.