Perrin Brewing Company has been under the West Michigan craft beer microscope since Oskar Blues Brewery acquired them in early 2015. Perrin then raised eyebrows with their playful, controlled disruption instigated by their literal No Rules bottle release. Most recently, Oskar Blues made headlines by purchasing Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, Florida, earlier this year. The second acquisition in their “against the grain” expansion strategy could’ve easily created a potentially awkward extended family.
However, rather than step-brothers fighting for top bunk, both breweries are already playing nice with each other. Cigar City, please meet Perrin.
As soon as Cigar City’s acquisition was public, Keith Klopcic, President of Perrin, reached out to Cigar City to pitch the idea that the breweries should collaborate.
I sat down with John Stewart, Director of Brewing Operations at Perrin, alongside his guest, Wayne Wambles, Head Brewer at Cigar City, to talk about their collaboration—White Noise, an imperial white IPA.
MittenBrew: How did the conversation start between both breweries?
Wayne Wambles: I remember the first email from Keith, trying to gauge my interest. He gave me his number, so I called him while I was driving back home either from a trip back to where I’m from in southeast Alabama or after another beer event in Florida, and we talked for a while. I told him, “Yeah, this’ll be great.” Then, Keith put John and me in touch with each other right after.
John Stewart: As soon as we knew that the partnership with Oskar Blues was locked in, we were super eager to get Wayne out here. It was definitely pre-Craft Brewers Conference — late March, early April. [Aside to Wayne, chuckling] I think I shot you just a few emails out of excitement at the very beginning to see what we could do to help make the collaboration happen.
John, since this is the first time Perrin and Cigar City have worked together, what was it like opening your doors to a guest? And, Wayne, what was it like for you to brew on their system?
WW: For me, it’s really common. I know for a fact that I probably work on other people’s systems more than on our own. I do a lot of collaborations annually — I’m at home with it, and actually really enjoy it. I enjoy being able to look at different systems to see how they work, getting to walk away with new insight on technology, processes. I don’t mind walking into someone else’s house [Aside to John, laughing like new best friends] — as long as they don’t mind me being here.
JS: That’s the cool part. I’ve gotten to learn from Wayne, too — particularly with the formation of the recipe. The whole process is just very fresh, and a fun change of pace. And, with us partnering together, after I get to show Wayne our brewery, I get to take him around to have some beers and show off Beer City.
Let’s talk about the recipe. How’d you settle on an imperial White IPA, and how’d you each contribute to its ingredients?
JW: When we first started tossing ideas back-and-forth, it was clear that [Wayne is] usually asked to collaborate on a certain few styles, and we just wanted to not do that — and do something a little bit different.
WW: At first, we were considering doing a sour, but ended up changing our minds. I think your guys were talking, and thought it would be a good idea to do a white IPA. Since I’ve never done one before, I thought it would be a great idea — at least for the experience alone. We also wanted to put a unique spin on it as well.
How do you expect the Belgian yeast to play into it?
JS: Hopefully, with the spices and hops, it’s going to be all layered together nicely. Part of the creative process was using some of the spices that are a little different from a Wit or whiter beer — thinking about how the yeast, the spices, the hops will all layer together for a complex sensory combination.
What variety of hops are you using?
WW: In order to discuss the hops, I also want to discuss the spice because in the way we’re laying it all out we want to create layers between both. As John was saying, the nontraditional aspect of it is the fact that you don’t find juniper in a Belgian White. So, there’s juniper in there. Maybe you might find lemon peel and lemongrass, but I think that’s probably not as common. Traditionally, you’re going to see corriander and orange peel in those beers, but we’re playing to the hops.
One of the hops is Denali, a Hopsteiner hop. It has some mango elements, some tropical fruit elements. We’re also using a hop called Lemondrop, which comes across like Lemon Drops candy, literally. It’s super clean, super bright.
Then, Chinook ties the juniper berry to the beer because it has those piney notes.
So, then, with the lemon peel we’re using and the lemongrass, which both work well with the Denali, and, of course, the Lemondrop hops — we’re just trying to create complex layers. So, as you’re drinking it, you just get layers and layers and layers throughout every sip you take.
Wayne, did you bring any of the ingredients up with you from Florida?
WW: No… We did originally discuss a hop variety at first, but John had everything in house we needed.
I’ve got to ask about the beer’s name…
JS: Wayne told me he likes sleeping with a white noise machine.
Just as John says this, I stop hearing the noticeable shutter clicks from Steph Harding, MittenBrew owner, and photographer for this interview. Laughing, she chimes in over my shoulder, “Oh, seriously?! That’s too funny — I do, too!” Then Wayne proceeds to show her the app on his phone he uses to help soothe him to sleep. His favorite is Tropical Storm. Steph has Ocean Waves on hers.
What’s your day been like so far, and how do you think you’ll wrap up?
JS: We came in at 6:00 a.m. to get the brew going. We’ll probably be done around 5 or so. Last night, we were able to sneak out and have a couple beers around town, so I think the game plan tonight is to do more of the same in GR.
WW: I actually wouldn’t mind seeing The American Horse [at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park].
Is this the first time you guys have met?
JS: We’ve been in the same room before, but yeah, this is the first time we’ve really gotten to know each other.
Has it been like Step Brothers [the movie]? Are you getting along? Is there room for activities in the brewery?
JS: For me, after having some beers and talking to Wayne — there are a lot of key brewing principles we click on — quality and consistency. When you have other guys in the industry who are like that… You know, after the first couple of beers you’re like, “Is this guy cool?” Yeah, it’s been awesome.
WW: There’s a lot of common ground, definitely.
You’re aiming for a July release for White Noise, with Perrin Pub and limited local distribution. Will any variation of it find its way down to Florida?
JS: Oh, yeah. Well… for Wayne to drink. [Laughing]
How much are you producing?
JS: For this brew, we’re doing a 150-barrel batch.
Can we expect a follow-up collaboration where John visits you in Florida?
JS: Yeah, hopefully during a cold month here. [Laughing]
After the formal interview wrapped, I asked both guys how much of this collaboration had to do with Oskar Blues acquiring both breweries. They both had creative freedom in the process, were not under any pressure to collaborate, and used their recent familial relationship to create a positive, independent dialogue between Perrin and Cigar City. They’ve used this opportunity to understand each other’s philosophies and stance on issues that now apply to both of them — all three when you include Oskar Blues. What it came down to was one brewery simply asking another if they wanted to make a beer together — the way it should be.
Photography: Steph Harding