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speciation artisan ales

Imagine life’s first strands, the RNA in volcanic pools wriggling like an eel in attempt to express itself. As it reacts to cyanide and sugar, nucleotides are formed—RNA’s baby food. From these humble beginnings we have a miracle that science is still trying to understand. Information unfurls, cells are born. Earth settles. Not too hot, not too cold, the stage is set for life to really go bananas. Multi-celled organisms split and explode in unnamed oceans. Fish grow legs and walk on land. Things are changing. Flash-forward a few billion years and we have humans drinking beer in cities. They share the planet with termites, giraffes, and more. After all this time, life has done a lot of differentiating.

When drinking Speciation Artisan Ales I end up thinking about these large spans of time, certainly in regards to the patience required for the beers to mature, but more so in how the flavors feel so outside of time, prehistoric, like those first eukaryotes struggling and succeeding to become life. How when you have a sip time narrows, the palate a petri dish for yeast to slow dance on. They say there’s beer to drink about and beer to think about. These beers demand attention. “That’s the goal with the beers that we make,” owner Mitch Ermatinger said. “They’re not meant to be shotgunned, we want you to sit and enjoy.”

speciation artisan ales

Mitch Ermatinger

While rewarding in their complexity, brewing with the wild yeast can feel like leading blind sheep to the pasture. “We try to guide the beer in the direction we want it to go through, but we leave a lot of fermentation up to nature,” Ermatinger said. “Here’s some food, munch on it and make something magical.” There does seem to be something mysterious at play beneath the cage and cork. How did he learn to coax magic out of microbes?

By now, many are familiar with the Speciation origin story. As a brewer at Colorado’s Former Future, Ermatinger helped spearhead Black Project, a spontaneous fermentation side project so popular it eclipsed its forebearer and became the main gig. In spite of acclaim and a handful of medals won at GABF, Mitch always had the dream of someday opening his own place. There would need to be a homecoming. That came in 2015 when he and Whitney Ermatinger, his co-owner and wife, returned to West Michigan with experience and a business plan. His reputation snowballed as he helped Harmony Brewing Company launch their sour program and distributed personal test batches to community bottle shares. “I was hoping that the quality of the beer would show that we were worth their time and money, and that we were serious about making world class beer,” Ermatinger said. Call it guerilla marketing-lite.

All the hard work culminated on January 14, 2017 when Speciation released its inaugural beer Genetic Drift, a funky Saison with wild yeast harvested from a crab apple flower found on family property in Holland, MI. Traces of this original culture are sprinkled throughout much of Speciation’s lineup, cultivating a unique identity to the brand. If not the sexiest beer in the Speciation portfolio, Genetic Drift at least serves as a powerful mission statement. As Charles Darwin put it, “Species undergo modification, and existing forms of life descended by true generation from preexisting forms.” Meaning? As the culture evolves over time, it’s important to respect its ancestry. It’s pretty romantic. The dust off a petal helped launch a brewery.

Now, just shy of two years later, Speciation has grown into a different sort of beast. Previously opening the garage only once a month for bottle releases, they’ve finally unveiled regular hours to the public: Thursday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Fans have been chomping at the bit. It’s been a long time coming, unfortunately marred by unanticipated frustrations. “My biggest regret is not finding a landlord who was on board with what we’re doing, even basic things like opening a tasting room,” Ermatinger said. “It’s caused a lot of stress dealing with someone who impedes our vision for the company.” Thankfully, after plenty hard fought battles, the team has assembled a space that fits the beer they make.

speciation artisan ales

Mitch & Whitney Ermatinger

Hidden in a warehouse on the outskirts of Comstock Park, the building looks more like a place you’d get a root canal than a Berliner Weisse, but once inside the facade seems like an intentional fakeout. The air is thick with a dungeon musk. Low light and picnic tables accentuate the farmhouse cozy. There’s this pervading feeling that you’ve stepped into another era—Jurassic chic. Looking around though, the obvious set piece is the number of barrels stacked high against the walls. It’s a confident decoration choice, confessional in a way: here you are surrounded by what you’ll eventually drink. Spotting a Gray Skies Distillery logo on a barrel teases possibilities; what kind of collaborative experiment could be aging in there?

From snagging Gray Skies barrels to joint recipes with HOMES, Speciation’s collaborative spirit has proven a testament to their success from day one. “We can all make beer better,” Ermatinger said. “Every time we collab with another brewery we learn something about their process, and it goes the other way around too.”

Their relationship with City Built Brewing Company reflects that symbiosis. Brewing roughly ninety percent of Speciation’s wort, City Built provides them the liquid foundation for yeast to create alcohol. They do make a buck as the host brewery, but more importantly, it conveys a mutual respect. Ed Collazzo, City Built’s co-founder, clued me in to a dynamic shift in their partnership. “Beyond our friendship, he needs a brewery because he doesn’t have one. For our new sour program, we’ll need a space to avoid getting bugs in our brewhouse.” City Built has been kicking out awesome kettle sours for a while, but the decision to up the ante with wild fermentation could have to do with friendly competition. “We’re encouraged to do better because he’s in town. There’s a lot of thought behind his plan, both in quality and how he’s changing the sour game in Michigan.” It’ll be a bit before we taste the fruition of this endeavor, but we can sense the Speciation influence in City Built’s November can release, #happyfriendsgiving, a Cranberry Berliner Weisse with lactose.

Another key to the success of the tasting room will be Quinn Vollink, Speciation’s taproom manager. A long time face at The Sovengard, his relationship with the Ermatingers and passion for sour beer landed him a full-time spot handling day-to-day operations. “The big thing for me is educating the public on our process and getting people excited about what we do,” Vollink said. “I’m a Zingerman’s alumni and I put big pride in making sure everyone leaves happier than when they first arrived.” Knowledgeable and friendly, whether you want to talk to him about yeast strains or the Talking Heads, you’ll want a spot at the rail to get to know Quinn.

speciation artisan alesMitch clearly appreciates the help too, “For two years I was working 80-100 hours a week and I was burning out. Then we had a kid. When we had Quincy it made me realize I needed to delegate or I would die. Despite this being so much fun I don’t want to work my life away.” This trust to relinquish control is necessary in both fatherhood and beer. Volatile and fickle, I imagine brewing a sour isn’t altogether different from raising a toddler. “I can’t control all the microbes, there’s too many variables. But I also don’t want control, I want the beer to go in different ways, come together and make something unique.” Spoken like a true dad.

With a little extra time on his hands, Ermatinger has started plotting a next move. “We applied for our winery license, so soon enough we’ll be making wild fermented wine and cider too,” he said. “They’re a funky wine. Similar to lambic.” Essentially wine that’s alive, natural wine is a middle finger to the bore and snobbery put on by sommeliers. “Because we’re not selling to wine people we’re going to be doing things that are unorthodox like a tequila barrel-aged white wine.” Maybe on paper that sounds like dorm room hooch, but the staff promises they would never release a product they wouldn’t drink. Regarding quality control, “Our beers take time, the production staff is constantly tasting them, making sure to see how they taste and if they’re ready or not,” Volink said. “We use the highest quality ingredients and we have fun getting them. I like that we don’t take shortcuts.”

Speciation also takes a page from the wine world when it comes to terroir—how climate, soil, and aspect affect taste. I like to think about it abstractly, like how it feels returning to a family cabin; how bombarded by stimulus both sensory and spectral, the environmental factors congeal into something, well, home. “The whole point of our beer is to make it taste like the place that you’re in. We’re proud to be part of the Michigan beer scene,” Ermatinger said. With a fully-fledged tasting room and a vision for the future, expect Speciation to only get better with time.

 

 

speciation ales

Comstock Park, Mich–Speciation Artisan Ales, a 100% wild and sour beer producer, will be releasing their first beer to the public on January 14, 2017.

Speciation is a production brewery, selling unique small-batch beers directly to customers once per month. Tickets for bottles can be purchased through Eventbrite between noon on January 7 through 6pm January 12, or until bottles are sold out.

The first beer will be an American farmhouse ale, Genetic Drift. Genetic Drift is a multi-grain Saison crafted with Pilsner malt, Vienna malt, wheat, rye, & oats. Fermented with 2 strains of Brettanomyces, one strain of Saison yeast, house wild yeast harvested from Holland, MI off of a crab apple flower, as well as other wild yeasts and bacteria from the environment. Lightly dry hopped with Mosaic & Saaz. Genetic Drift batch 1 tastes of ripe mango, pineapple, hay, pepper, orange, and sourdough, with moderate acidity and a surprising amount of brett funk! Limit of 6 bottles per person.

Bottles can be picked up at the brewery on January 14.

harmony brewers

The fourth and final beer in Harmony Brewing Company’s popular wood aged sour beer program will be released on Wednesday November 2nd.  The “Old Spot” sour black saison will be sold in wax dipped, serialized 750 ml bottles.  

“Old Spot” is a rich black saison ale that was aged in a blend of mead and bourbon barrels.   Each barrel was inoculated with our proprietary blend of wild souring agents.  Over the course of the summer, a wide range of flavors developed.  The blending of the barrels created a deeply complex beer with notes of vanilla bean, spiced rum, roasted malts, and tootsie pops.  

harmony brewersThe bottle release will happen as part of Harmony’s inaugural beer geek-out event, “The Peculiar Pint.”  The Peculiar Pint will take place on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays of the month from 7-10pm, and will be a gathering place for people who aren’t ashamed to go full on beer nerd. Hosted by Ben Isbell, Harmony’s head brewer, each event will provide a strange brew as a central focal point.  On November 2nd, the focus will be on “Old Spot” and the sour barrel brewing process.  Guests will have a chance to taste the individual flavors of the different sour barrels that made up “Old Spot” alongside the blended final product.  Brewers will be on hand to give in depth technical information about the burgeoning craft of sour beer creation.

These bottles of “Old Spot” are extremely limited! The first three beers in this series sold out in bottles within 24 hours.

 

 

brewery ferment

Breweries come in all shapes and sizes—some experiment with unconventional ingredients while others focus on specific styles, some only distribute and some intentionally do not distribute. Brewery Ferment in Traverse City recently celebrated its fourth anniversary, and has found a way to stay small and creative amongst growing competition.

brewery ferment

Dustin and Kirsten Jones, a unique sibling team, opened Brewery Ferment with a creative and experimental vision. Upon moving back from Chicago, Dustin decided to turn his homebrewing into a small, creative neighborhood brewery. Since opening, their plan and vision has evolved as their business has grown.

“There wasn’t much when we started,” said Dustin. “We never expected to be one of a dozen in such a concentrated area. Now, it’s more than just those from the neighborhood coming in.”

Around the time Brewery Ferment opened, a number of other breweries opened in Traverse City. This led to increased competition, causing Ferment to adapt while also staying true to its individuality and creative flair.

“We are still a boutique brewery. Now, it’s about the education process and experimental beers,” said Kirsten.

True to the boutique style, the taproom is small and eclectic. Hop flowers can be found in the windows, on hand-crafted pillows, and on the tables. The tap handles are made from driftwood, and the atmosphere is very casual, maintaining a neighborhood feel. Kirsten has also designed a number of merchandise items for sale in the taproom, including hop jewelry, sweatshirts, and dresses. Even the snacks are unique—pickled eggs are made in house and come in three different varieties.

brewery ferment

Kirsten and Dustin Jones

Likewise, in their four years, Brewery Ferment has gained a reputation for its unique approach with sour beers. Dustin often draws inspiration from the farmer’s market, searching for items that will bring new flavors and aromas to a brew. Rhubarb, tomatoes, mushrooms, and unique peppers have all found their way into their beers.

And now, Ferment has started bottling select brews in small batches.

“Beer is about having an experience. With bottling, I want to present it in the best possible condition. Bottling creates a different beer,” said Dustin.

The bottles are sealed with wax and a Michigan stamp and are currently available at the taproom. In fact, if you use the bottle on-site, you will save 10% and the bottle can be reused. There are also plans for distribution and monthly special bottle releases.

brewery ferment

harmony brewing

The third beer in Harmony Brewing Company’s new WOOD AGED WILD BEER series will be released on SATURDAY OCTOBER 1ST at 11:00am at both Harmony Locations!

“Tamworth” is sour golden ale aged in mead barrels.  Designed to be the sourest beer in our series of 4, this shiny gold colored beer is a thing of beauty.  The intense sour flavor is well balanced with hints of honey, pear, and stone fruit making it an extremely pleasant beer to quaff.  Far from a pucker bomb, the sour harmonizes with the complex body and aroma to create a refreshing and easy drinking beer.  With an ABV of 8.1 percent the Tamworth can be enjoyed right away, or it will continue to develop with age in a beer cellar.

To create Tamworth, our golden ale was first fermented in steel with a saison yeast.  Next, it was placed into 6 different mead barrels and aged for 6 months.  Each barrel was inoculated with a proprietary blend of souring agents, and allowed to develop its own unique flavor.  The barrels were then blended, bottled, wax dipped and serialized.

These bottles are extremely limited! The first two beers in this series sold out in bottles within 1 day.

Harmony Brewing Company will be releasing the second beer in our series of WOOD AGED WILD/SOUR BEERS in bottles and on draft at both Harmony locations on Saturday, August 13 at 11am.  The “Red Wattle” Flanders style red released last month sold out in bottles in LESS THAN AN HOUR!  

“Babirusa” is a wood aged farmhouse ale dry hopped with Hersbrucker and Citra Hops.  Beer nerds like to decipher what style category a beer should be judged against- the official category for the Babirusa is SUPER SAISON!  Saison means “season” in French, and the beer was traditionally brewed by farmers in the cooler months of the year for the purpose of quenching their thirst in the heat of their summer labors. The saison style (also referred to as “farmhouse ale”) can vary widely, but is always an exceedingly refreshing beverage.  Eventually, three classifications developed based on the ABV of the beer- table (3.5-5%) standard (5-7%) and SUPER (7.0-9.5%).

Harmony Hall

Super indeed!  The Babirusa weighs in at 9% ABV.  It pours a hazy straw yellow, with lively carbonation.  The aroma is INTENSELY fruity with the yeasty esters, hint of brett, and dry hop working together to create a vivid peach, ripe mango, and apricot bouquet.  The body is light, crisp, and exceptionally dry.  The Babirusa was aged in 6 different neutral wooden barrels.  Each barrel developed a completely unique aroma and flavor profile due to the proprietary blend of yeasts and bacteria in each barrel.  The blending of these barrels creates a remarkably complex and dangerously quaffable beer.

The release of the Babirusa wood aged, dry hopped farmhouse ale will be EXTREMELY LIMITED! Less than 150 bottles will be hand-filled, labeled, wax-dipped and serialized for sale.  The Babirusa will be on tap at both Harmony locations while it lasts.

New releases will happen monthly.  Next month we will release the “Tamworth” sour golden ale, and in October we will release the “Old Spot” dark farmhouse ale.

Harmony Hall

BONUS!!!  The first customers in the door at either location to purchase a bottle of the Babirusa will receive 2 free tickets to the HOPSTOCK FESTIVAL!  Hopstock is the first beer festival put together by the Beer City Brewers Guild, and it will feature beer, cider, wine and liquor all made right here in BEER CITY USA!

Harmony Brewing Company will be releasing their very first WOOD AGED SOUR BEER in bottles and on draft at both Harmony locations on Thursday, July 7th at 11am.

“Red Wattle” Flanders style red ale is the first in a series of 4 wood aged sour beers that Harmony will be releasing this summer.

harmony brewing

A rare style in the United States, Flanders Red ale has been nicknamed the “Burgundy of Belgium.” Its deep red color, rich tannins, and complex aroma and flavor lead some to consider it more wine-like than any other beer style. The surprising complexity is achieved through a process of blending barrel aged ales. Harmony’s Red Wattle was aged in multiple types of oak barrels, each of which was separately inoculated with a proprietary blend of souring agents. Next, brewers sat back and let nature take its course allowing each individual barrel to develop its own completely distinct and surprising flavor- ranging from puckeringly sour and fruity, to mushroomy and earthy. When the time was right, the brewers chose which barrels to blend together to create the perfect flavor profile for this truly exceptional beer.

Red Wattle pours a deep maroon red, with lively carbonation and light white head. The aroma is of petrichor, tart fruit, and black cherries. The flavor is tartly sour, but well-rounded with notes of vanilla, dark fruit, and oak. It finishes dry, with a clean oaky tannin.

This first release of Harmony Wood Aged Sour Beers will be EXTREMELY LIMITED. Less than 100 bottles will be labeled, wax dipped, and serialized for sale. The Red Wattle will be available on tap at both locations, while it lasts. New releases will happen monthly: The “Babirusa” Dry hopped farmhouse ale, the “Tamworth” sour golden ale, and the “Old Spot” dark farmhouse ale will be released respectively.

brewery vivant

Plein de Vie, when literally translated, means “full of life.” There couldn’t be a more appropriate name to describe this new wood & wild fermentation series of beer from Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids.

MittenBrew had the opportunity to chat with Kate Avery, Abbess of Beer, Brian Kuszynski, Master of Wood, and Jason Spaulding, President and Co-Owner at Brewery Vivant, about this much anticipated series release.

brewery vivant

“We’ve always offered something a little different to the Grand Rapids drinking audience. It’s been a road of education and talking, about flavors and different styles of beer. With Plein de Vie, wood aging and intentionally souring of these beers, it all comes back to that education experience for the consumer,” Avery shares as she shows off the three initial brews in their bottle release.

Indeed, Brewery Vivant is known for doing things a little differently—offering Belgian and French style old-world libation, and allowing their Brewers the opportunity to experiment and create complex, nuanced one-offs that eventually sparked the annual Wood Aged Beer Fest. With a recent expansion, more time and dedicated space to the souring process, they are able to take it to the next level—bottling and offering these taproom favorites on a larger scale and to a wider audience.

If you are familiar with Brewery Vivant, you’ll know that bottling their beer is also something new to their repertoire, but with good reason.

“Cans aren’t meant for letting a beer develop in the package,” Spaulding notes, “These beers especially can be more lively, and bottles simply offer the ability to hold more pressure.”

These are meant to be enjoyed when you are ready to enjoy them. Big, full bodied, unfiltered beers retain their characteristics better in a bottle instead of thin aluminum. Practically speaking, introducing live beer on their main canning line is a no-no. You don’t want to risk introducing wild yeast strains which could affect the taste of their staples. Beyond that, bottling is another way to differentiate this unique series of beer from Vivant mainstays.

Unique also is the packaging. Highly detailed, crisp clean lines with variants in color that reflect the beer each vessel holds. Each label also explains just how each beer was aged and soured. Tap handles in the pub for this series are old barrel staves, wood burned with Vivant’s iconic rooster. Just another way to distinguish Plein de Vie, no matter how you are drinking it.

On Sunday, June 5 at Noon, you will be able to try these three initial offerings:

Angelina – The mother of all Vivant’s sours, if you will, is finally offered in bottles—much to the delight of long time Brewery Vivant fans. The very first sour beer made at the pub, a barrel named Angelina produced something tasty, magical, and sparked the direction of Vivant’s future sour offerings. Inoculating other barrels from this mother to keep the culture going, this pleasant, wood-barrel aged sour retains its majesty for (hopefully) years to come.

Harvest Breed – A brand new brew, this stainless steel brettanomyces wild sour ale offers a big sour punch on the noise, with the bretta coming through as the beer warms to room temperature. Almost citrusy, this sour offers a bergamot, earl gray tea flavor with a hint of lemon pith or orange rind.

Habanango – Many of you may remember this from a previous Wood Aged Beer Fest, but don’t expect the exact same brew. Feeder fermented and barrel-aged, this sour is blended with habanero peppers and mango to give a little heat with the sweet. Strongly mango on the nose, the peppery sweet heat of the habanero creeps up on you, making you want to take that next sip.

With safety and containment always a top priority, we end our tour, complete with booties on our feet, in what’s known as “the Funk Room,” where all the wood aging and wild fermented magic happens. Brian Kuszynski meets us there to share the story of how Plein de Vie came to be.

Carving out this separate space allows the Brewers to finally produce these sours and wild ales without risk of cross contamination, and at a volume that allows for bottling. Thank goodness.

Brian takes us around the crowded Funk Room, lovingly tweaking small things here and there, continuing to work while talking with us as we bask in the woody glory of all things wild.

brewery vivant

A comment remembered from a gentlemen at a previous Wood Aged Beer Fest, asking where he could find this in his home state, put the bug in Brian’s mind to produce these sours at a larger scale.

“Obviously we are passionate about beer, and we’ve always loved wild and sour ales. We’ve had opportunities to make them and packaged them here and there, but always on a really small scale. This gives us the ability to make a larger quantity, get it out there and let the public try it, age it, cellar it. They can share it with their friends, introduce them to something new. Here and out-of-of state, even. We hope to be able to produce beers in this brand at the rate of 2-4 a year. But, of course,the beer tells us when it’s ready.”

 

Photography: Steph Harding

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