Friday, March 23, 2012

Grand opening preview: Great Storm Brewing

Posted By on Fri, Mar 23, 2012 at 12:36 PM

We first told you here last October about the impending opening of Great Storm Brewing, and told you here about the Saturday, March 24 grand opening celebration.

But if you're just tuning in, I can now offer you a sneak peek of the whole operation, as owners Lynn and Jeff Jacobs were kind enough to host me for a private sampling last night, during their soft-opening phase. (Disclosure: Lynn formerly contributed some freelance writing to the Indy.)

Click on this photo to see a brief slideshow of the beers, brewery and the Jacobses.

The coolest damn beer sampler paddle Ive yet to see.

You, too, can go check out Great Storm tonight if you want an early look, but be warned that you'll only have access to five of the eight beers I'm about to mention. That will change on Saturday.

Before I get into some of my tasting notes and overall impression of the beers, I'll say that the couple did a great job with their renovation and brewery installation, creating a very cool atmosphere for their tasting room, where blue Christmas lights installed in the bar counter give off a glow that turns otherwise mute grey walls into a soft lavender color.

Corrugated metal wall panels lend a not-uncommon (to breweries) industrial feel to match the fermenting tanks and brew equipment, housed in open view behind a waist-high chain-link fence. And high-top tables sport comfortable black bar stools, with a leather couch set up near a board games shelf to create a little coffee-shop-like cozy corner.

Now, a little more about Jeff, the brewer, and his system and styles.

He operates a one-barrel system, meaning small batches of around 31 gallons. He can turn around a beer on CO2 in about two to three weeks, and a beer on nitrogen in about five weeks. So if he gets slammed with business, it's possible that there could be a lag in turning around some of the beers (since he still has a full-time day job), but he's stocked up for his grand opening.

Jeff has been a homebrewer for six years, and signed the lease on this space last August. It's taken him since then to overhaul it. He plans to keep eight beers on tap at any given time, with about five flagship beers that should always be around, and rotating seasonals.

I asked him if he has any certain signature to his brewing style, and he referred me back to the tagline on his website: "a marriage of the traditional and the rebellious," where he feels experimental brewing meets drinkability.

He says he doesn't want to bore his drinkers, but also doesn't want to lose them with something too far out, so he tries to put subtle spins on his classic brews, something "a little off."

For instance later in spring, he plans to do a fairly traditional blond, but spice it with a little citrus from lemons, limes and oranges. Summer will likely bring a unique spruce beer.

Great Storm pays homage to its name with lightning storm colors throughout, cool custom tap handles and a tempestuous brewing spirit.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Great Storm pays homage to its name with lightning storm colors throughout, cool custom tap handles and a touch of tempestuousness in its spirit.

On to the beers: I'll start with my favorite, the Shine On Belgian Golden Strong Ale. It all starts with the nose here, as you can detect the faint vanilla notes that come from its brief aging on American oak. It's one of the biggest beers in house at 9.7 percent ABV, slightly sweet in that yeasty Belgian way (to me), and in no way sour (as I've found some strong ales to be).

Jeff's Seven Wolves IPA is also a winner for me, at 8.1 percent ABV on CO2 and 8.8 percent ABV on nitro. The bouquet is much more lively in the CO2 version, but a gorgeous velvety texture characterizes the nitro version, which is just a touch less bitter on the palate, too. Jeff calls this an American-style IPA, made with seven hop varieties and dry-hopped (meaning hops are added to the fermenter after fermentation to increase the hop aroma without increasing the IBUs, or bitterness).

Great Storm's Lilliput Pale Ale and Lightning Wit were perfectly pleasant for each's respective style. If you like Blue Moon, the Wit's for you, with classic orange and coriander inputs to achieve the Belgian style; Jeff adds his twist by aging it on lemon zest, though a lemon squeezed into the glass when served adds the most punch.

The Pale Ale is a small beer, a lower-alcohol brew (5.2 percent ABV in this case, making it pretty sessionable) made from the second running of Great Storm's winter barley wine. This one is also "heavily hopped with three different citrus varieties," which I found lends a skunky nose to it. I don't mean that as an insult — some IPAs smell like marijuana to me, and a few have even hit the ammonia notes of cat pee on the nose, yet have still been plenty drinkable.

Dark, bitter and hangover. Three words that probably do a number on your subconscious, though two of them certainly arent a bad thing in beer.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Dark, bitter and hangover. Three words that probably do a number on your subconscious, though two of them are just fine characteristics in beer.

Next up, the Brass Ale Honey Amber is essentially a braggot, which you may recall me describing back in February when I tasted Phantom Canyon's Jebus Braggot.

We're talking about a blend of beer and honey, making it mead-like, but not technically a mead because that requires a whole other type of brewing license. Whereas Phantom used more than 300 pounds of honey (in a much larger batch, obviously) to yield a much more honey-rich beer, Jeff says he used only a small amount of local honey from Schmidt Apiaries.

The menu describes the Brass Ale as a copper-colored English ale, slightly bitter with fruit flavors. I didn't quite pick up on the fruit at that point (my palate could have been blown after the IPAs), but the honey was obvious, and I felt it had more of a Scotch Ale nose to it, which I guess isn't too far a cry from some English ales.

Lastly, we have the dark beers: a Rum Raisin Stout and Black Bear Zwartbier.

The Zwartbier is another Belgian-style brew with a lengthy history, and here it is all roasty, toasty nuttiness. My sampling companion, prolific local Urbanspoon contributor Professional Eater Mike, said it reminded him of the bottom of a burnt pizza.

Again, that sounds worse than the beer tastes. He was mostly commenting on that extreme roasted quality, which makes one think of fire and smoke. Outside of the toastiness, it's actually not too heavy of a beer, and enjoyable.

The Rum Raisin Stout also sees nitro instead of CO2, for a lovely creaminess beyond the inherent sweetness from the sugary, shriveled grapes. I admit that were I tasted blind, I would not have picked out raisin in particular for the source of the sugar, as it is a well-balanced beer, with no sore-thumb elements.

Jeff adds the unique ingredient of oats, along with brown sugar, and a note on the menu says it contains lactose as well. It's a surprisingly smooth brew at 9.7 percent ABV again, and I'm sure it'll become a brewery favorite for its novelty and sweet flavor.

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