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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.

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

Brewery Vivant will launch three varieties of wood and wild-fermented beers to kick off their Plein de Vie (“full of life”) series on June 5 at the Brewery. The series includes wood barrel aged beers, wooden foeder (“food-er”) aged beers, and stainless wild fermented beers. Plein de Vie will be available on draft and in 500ml glass bottles, and will be distributed throughout the brewery’s footprint of Michigan and Chicagoland.

brewery vivant

Plein de Vie – Belgian Tradition & BV Tradition

Wood aging beers has long been a traditional brewing technique in Belgium. Belgian brewers are known for embracing not only local ingredients but also the local micro-flora when brewing. Brewery Vivant is rooted in this Belgian tradition. The Grand Rapids brewery has been known for its small batch wood-aging program since its founding in 2010. The first sour beer to come alive at the Pub was from a barrel named Angelina. It paved the way for more and deeper experimentation culminating in the brewery’s first-ever Wood-Aged Beer Festival, which took place on its small patio and touted eight different wood-aged beers. This year’s WABF (Sept 17, 2016) will boast some 20 varieties.

Keep it Separated

Housed in a former funeral chapel dating back to the 1900s Brewery Vivant’s vaulted wooden barrel ceiling has always given the brewing team cause for concern as wild yeast lives all around us and wooden beams are difficult to deep clean. “We carved out a portion of our brewery, a physically separated space, to devote to wild yeast strains and souring bugs.” Says Brian Kuszynski, the brewer that heads up the affectionately termed ‘Funk Room’. “We’re pumped to finally be able to produce these types of beers at a volume that we can share them with people outside our walls.” Kuszynski says the June 5 launch will consist of three brands with the intent to distribute 2-4 per year as the beer “tells us when it’s ready.”

Why Glass Bottles?

Known for its 16-ounce pint cans, Brewery Vivant will package Plein de Vie beers in a 500ml glass bottle. Bottles were chosen because of the wild yeast strains and potential for flavors to develop. While the beer is released ready to drink immediately, the glass is rated to hold the beer for extended periods of time. “Aluminum cans are really meant as a delivery vessel, not a storing vessel.” Says owner & president Jason Spaulding. “Plein de Vie literally translates to ‘full of life’ and a glass bottle should hold the integrity of the beer’s life. These beers can be cellared and will continue to develop and change over time.”

Be abrewery vivant Part of the Start

To launch the series, three beers will be released from the pub and then into distribution on draft and in bottles. Pub opens at Noon on Sunday June 5.

  • Habanango: a foeder fermented and barrel-aged blended sour ale with habanero peppers & mango

  • Harvest Breed: a stainless brettanomyces wild sour ale

  • Angelina: a wood barrel-aged sour

“When we first started, we named our barrels in the hurricane naming convention: Angelina, Bertha, Constance, etc.” Says Spaulding. “Angelina was our first barrel. It produced a distinct and pleasant sour character that we’ve since inoculated into other wooden barrels. That first batch developed a cult-like following and so far, the barrel keeps producing. It’s become our ‘house sour’.”

 

 

Brewery Vivant will launch three varieties of wood and wild-fermented beers to kick off their Plein de Vie (“full of life”) series on June 5 at the Brewery. The series includes wood barrel aged beers, wooden foeder (“food-er”) aged beers, and stainless wild fermented beers. Plein de Vie will be available on draft and in 500ml glass bottles, and will be distributed throughout the brewery’s footprint of Michigan and Chicagoland.

brewery vivant

Plein de Vie – Belgian Tradition & BV Tradition

Wood aging beers has long been a traditional brewing technique in Belgium. Belgian brewers are known for embracing not only local ingredients but also the local micro-flora when brewing. Brewery Vivant is rooted in this Belgian tradition. The Grand Rapids brewery has been known for its small batch wood-aging program since its founding in 2010. The first sour beer to come alive at the Pub was from a barrel named Angelina. It paved the way for more and deeper experimentation culminating in the brewery’s first-ever Wood-Aged Beer Festival, which took place on its small patio and touted eight different wood-aged beers. This year’s WABF (Sept 17, 2016) will boast some 20 varieties.

Keep it Separated

Housed in a former funeral chapel dating back to the 1900s Brewery Vivant’s vaulted wooden barrel ceiling has always given the brewing team cause for concern as wild yeast lives all around us and wooden beams are difficult to deep clean. “We carved out a portion of our brewery, a physically separated space, to devote to wild yeast strains and souring bugs.” Says Brian Kuszynski, the brewer that heads up the affectionately termed ‘Funk Room’. “We’re pumped to finally be able to produce these types of beers at a volume that we can share them with people outside our walls.” Kuszynski says the June 5 launch will consist of three brands with the intent to distribute 2-4 per year as the beer “tells us when it’s ready.”

Why Glass Bottles?

Known for its 16-ounce pint cans, Brewery Vivant will package Plein de Vie beers in a 500ml glass bottle. Bottles were chosen because of the wild yeast strains and potential for flavors to develop. While the beer is released ready to drink immediately, the glass is rated to hold the beer for extended periods of time. “Aluminum cans are really meant as a delivery vessel, not a storing vessel.” Says owner & president Jason Spaulding. “Plein de Vie literally translates to ‘full of life’ and a glass bottle should hold the integrity of the beer’s life. These beers can be cellared and will continue to develop and change over time.”

Be abrewery vivant Part of the Start

To launch the series, three beers will be released from the pub and then into distribution on draft and in bottles. Pub opens at Noon on Sunday June 5.

  • Habanango: a foeder fermented and barrel-aged blended sour ale with habanero peppers & mango

  • Harvest Breed: a stainless brettanomyces wild sour ale

  • Angelina: a wood barrel-aged sour

“When we first started, we named our barrels in the hurricane naming convention: Angelina, Bertha, Constance, etc.” Says Spaulding. “Angelina was our first barrel. It produced a distinct and pleasant sour character that we’ve since inoculated into other wooden barrels. That first batch developed a cult-like following and so far, the barrel keeps producing. It’s become our ‘house sour’.”