Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Brews Brothers: Necessity mothers invention for regional brewery

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Dan Weirbach’s Weyerbacher Brewery in Easton, Pa., started out in 1995, primarily brewing English-style beers. Now the small brewery is making impressive big, bold brews of various styles.

Weyerbacher created the nation’s first Belgian Abbey-style Quadruple (11.8 percent ABV, alcohol by volume) as well as the first Imperial Pumpkin Ale (8 percent). Another innovation was its 10th anniversary beer Decadence (13 percent), which used the botanical Gentian, the prime ingredient in Angostura Bitters as a bittering agent instead of hops.

Each year, Weyerbacher regularly brews about 20 beer styles, a huge number for such a small brewery. Among them are Blithering Idiot Barleywine (11.1 percent ABV), Merry Monks Tripel (9.3 percent), Old Heathen Imperial Stout (8 percent) and the unusual Raspberry Imperial Stout (8 percent). Weirbach says the Weyerbacher’s experimental spirit is ‘‘what drives us as brewers.” It arose out of necessity to help the brewery survive during the industry shakeout of the late 1990s.

The unexpected success of Raspberry Imperial Stout in 1997, and Blithering Idiot shortly afterwards, launched the brewery toward bolder beers.

‘‘We were brewing unusual beers just for us and the tiny audience that liked them,” Weirbach says, but word quickly spread.

In 2004, wooden Bourbon barrels added another dimension to the heartier Weyerbacher brews, with the name of each Bourbon-based beer developing from its base brew. Merry Monks ages into Prophecy, Blithering Idiot becomes Insanity, Old Heathen matures into Heresy, and Quad soon will season into Blasphemy.

Each year, Weyerbacher plans to add three or four new beers. In 2007, these will be a saison, a tart raspberry beer using Belgian Brettanomyoces yeast on a foundation of their raspberry imperial stout, a 12th anniversary beer of undecided style and Blasphemy.

Merry Monks has a floral and fruity, primarily pear, aroma with a hint of yeast. The subdued sweet front continues in the middle, joined by a restrained malt with a minimal alcohol presence. Light pear emerges in the finish and grows in the aftertaste, together with a burst of alcohol, before they jointly fade. Merry monks is medium bodied with a very smooth mouthfeel. We rated it 8 and 8.5 on a scale of 1 to 10.

Blithering Idiot, a very drinkable, hefty barleywine, has a preponderance of alcohol in the nose with dashes of sweet malt and berries. The pleasant sweet front quickly moves into a robust, deep malt middle. Berries, raisins and a warming alcohol enter in the finish and continue in the aftertaste where the alcohol explodes as the continuing malt provides balance. Ratings: 8.5⁄8

Old Heathen teases the nose with roast, chocolate, and a hint of bitterness. This smooth, medium-bodied brew begins with a tempered sweet front that changes into a medium dry roast middle. The dry roast continues in the finish where a touch of chocolate enters. In the complex aftertaste, the chocolate grows to moderate, the roast fades and there is a gratifying tinge of wine with some warming alcohol presence. Ratings: 8⁄9

Intricately blended, the moderately bodied Heresy is Old Heathen aged in Bourbon barrels. It has an aroma of medium vanilla from the oak casks, slight bourbon, and wisps of roast and cocoa. The muted sweet front moves into a middle of moderate vanilla and roasted malt, with the vanilla increasing a bit in the finish where it is joined by a touch of well-integrated alcohol. Cocoa adds to these in the lingering aftertaste. Ratings: 9⁄9.5