When the ground began to shake at Westover Market in Falls Church, about $500 worth of beer shimmied off the shelves and shattered on the floor, reports owner/manager Devin Hicks. About 20 bottles survived the fall. “We drank them during the hurricane,” says Hicks.
The tremors didn’t phase Maryland’s DuClaw Brewing Co., which operates pubs in Bel Air, Bowie, Hanover and BWI Airport. But hurricane Irene knocked the Bel Air location (which includes the company’s corporate offices) off the power grid for more than two days and delayed the release of DuClaw’s latest beer — H.E.R.O. ’10 — from Sept. 1 to Sept. 7.
“We like to have our releases at all stores at the same time,” said founder and president Dave Benfield, who says the power company originally told him that electricity might not be restored until Sept. 2.
H.E. R.O., a “chocolate peanut butter porter,” was formulated by amateur brewers Tony Huckstein and Doug DeLeo, who triumphed over 48 other entrants in a homebrew contest that DuClaw held last spring. The beer contains a peanut butter extract rather than actual Jif or Skippy, says Benfield, who describes the flavor as “creamy, chocolatey, velvety.”
He expected 22-ounce bottles to hit the market in Maryland, Washington and Northern Virginia about two weeks after the initial draft release. Benfield hoped to donate at least $20,000 from sales of the beer to Cool Kids Campaign, a Towson-based charity that provides educational and recreational opportunities for children suffering from cancer.
Loss of refrigeration can play with the brewing process. Benfield said that the power conked out at DuClaw’s brewery in Abingdon for a few hours, but all the beer there was past the primary fermentation stage when it’s most vulnerable to temperature spikes.
Jeff Hancock, DC Brau’s president and head brewer, recalled that he was fiddling with a balky heat exchanger when he felt the concrete shiver beneath his feet. DC Brau is near the CSX tracks, and Hancock’s first thought was that a train had derailed. Employees at a nearby post office, he later found out, feared that a boiler had blown up at the brewery.
Neither unsteady ground nor inclement weather prevented DC Brau from releasing its latest beer, El Hefe Speaks!, a German-style hefeweizen brewed in collaboration with former Old Dominion brewers Chris Frashier and John “Solly” Solomon, the pair who now operate Solly’s U Street Tavern .
But don’t complain about a piddling 5.8 earthquake to Mitch Steele. Steele, currently brewmaster for Stone Brewing Co. in Escondido, Calif., began his career with San Andreas Brewing Co., a now-defunct brewpub in Hollister, Calif., a city that dubs itself the “Earthquake Capital of the World.” A branch of the San Andreas Fault runs directly beneath the city. Steele was there for the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, which, he remembers, “shut down the whole downtown for a week.”
Earlier this year, Steele helped craft a limited-edition beer, Baird/Ishii/Stone Japanese Green Tea IPA, to raise funds for the Japanese Red Cross Society to aid victims of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan last March. Steele’s co-brewers included Toshi Ishii of Ishii Brewing Co. in Guam, who suggested the collaboration, and Bryan Baird of Baird Brewing Co. in Numazu, Japan. The tea (a much rarer ingredient in beer than coffee) was added to the brew right before packaging, says Steele, along with a final dry-hopping with Sorachi Ace hops, a strain bred in Japan and noted for its citrusy character.
“We were a little frightened,” admits Steele. “Tea can be very astringent. It was a big unknown for us.” But the earthy, orange-and-lemon flavors of the hops (a total of five varieties were used) mesh well with the herbal, slightly minty character of the tea.
“We wanted to make the alcohol 9 percent to match the magnitude of the earthquake,” says Steele, but the yeast had other ideas, and the beer clocked in at 9.2 percent by volume.
Stone Brewing so far has contributed $64,000 to the Japanese relief effort, according to the brewery’s public relations coordinator, Randy Clemens. Less than 3,000 cases of 12-ounce bottles were produced, and that batch was parceled among 21 states (including Washington and Virginia) in July. If you can locate a stray bottle, it’s definitely a keeper.