Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ska Brewing's year in review

Ska Brewing Co. looks back at its 2011 with this release:

Ska Brewing has had an incredible year, full of important milestones and proud accomplishments — at least according to notes taken by the brewery’s management team throughout the year. “I’m glad we wrote this stuff down. It all seems so hazy now,” admitted Ska President and co-founder Dave Thibodeau. “I know we grew, but without our notes I’d be looking to beer bloggers to find out how much and when.”

For example, one treasure trove of documentation — titled “press releases” — indicated that at the beginning of 2011 Ska Brewing was named Durango’s Business of the Year by the Durango Chamber of Commerce. That means for the past year Ska has been Defending Business of the Year. The title is notoriously impossible to defend, but Ska can claim many other highlights in 2011.

By the end of 2011, Ska had produced 21,257 barrels (bbls) of beer. (A U.S. bbl is 31 gallons.) According to notes found on a recently unearthed thumb drive, Ska announced near the end of 2010 that the company had reached regional craft brewer status, (as defined by the Brewer’s Association), by producing more than 15,000 bbls of beer. Math experts say these numbers show an increase of 28 percent over the previous year, or approximately 28 percent more than the S&P 500 stock index returned in 2011.

“Growth in production has allowed us to meet demand in our markets,” says Ska co-founder Bill Graham. “That’s a fancy way of saying we’ve been keeping people around the country supplied with fresh beer — and they’ve been buying it up pretty fast.”

According to pictures discovered on Ska’s Facebook page, last spring saw the addition of four new 240-bbl tanks, including three fermenters and one brite tank. This expansion increased Ska’s brewing capacity by 70 percent, and opened the door for the increase in production.

The milestones haven’t all been operational, either. Last spring Ska ventured into filmmaking when it produced Brew Minions—a video parody of the Discovery Channel series Brew Masters—with appearances by Ska’s co-founders and employees, and by Dogfish Head Brewing Founder and Brew Masters star Sam Calagione. The not-so-short film poked fun at the Dogfish Head-focused television series, while silently acknowledging that every brewery wishes it had its own TV show.

Thibodeau says the film was a success, even though it didn’t fit any traditional mold: “It ended up being over 20 minutes, which was about three times as long as we planned. But people watched it anyway, and they loved it. It’s had 13,000 online views so far.”

Other Ska Brewing milestones in 2011:

• Ska cans Mexican Logger for the first time, releasing the seasonal lager in all of its markets.
• Ska celebrates American Craft Beer Week with the release of Big Shikes Orange Blossom Imperial Pilsner, a beer collaboratively brewed with Westword beer blogger and homebrewer Jonathan Shikes. (In 2010 Ska initiated the first beer blogger brewing collaboration when it invited two local beer bloggers to brew on its pilot system and write about the experience.)
• Seth Townsend’s Organic Dubbel wins Ska’s GABF Homebrew Competition and goes on to be entered in the GABF Pro-Am. The beer is also released by the brewery as Sethvleteren 8, no. 19 in Ska’s Local Series.
• Ska again participates in the Tour of BoulDurango it helped found, sending four riders to join four other breweries on a 470-mile tour of Colorado’s biggest passes and best brewpubs to raise money for local charities.
• Ska loses the L.A. International Beer Competition, but wins many others, including:
• Steel Toe Stout: Gold Medal, Great American Beer Festival
• Modus Hoperandi IPA: Silver Medals—Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival and Australian International Beer Awards; Bronze Medal—AmeriCan Festival; Winner, Best Canned IPA— Poll
• Pinstripe Red Ale: Gold Medal—North American Beer Awards; Bronze Medal—Colo. State Fair Nat’l Commercial Microbrew Comp.
• Ska Special ESB: Bronze Medal—Australian International Beer Awards; Silver Medal—Colo. State Fair National Commercial Microbrew Comp., Silver Medal—AmeriCan Festival
• Buster Nut Brown Ale: Silver Medal—Denver International Beer Fest
• True Blonde Ale: Silver Medal—Colo. State Fair National Commercial Microbrew Comp.
• True Blonde Dubbel: Bronze Medal—Colo. State Fair National Commercial Microbrew Comp.
• Mexican Logger: Winner, Most Sessionable Craft Can— Poll
• Euphoria Pale Ale: Voted Durango’s Best Local Beer by Buzztown

• Ska celebrates its 16th Anniversary with a blowout party featuring The Toasters from New York City along with two other bands, more than 20 guest breweries and over 1,000 people in attendance
Ska attracts 11,150+ Facebook followers, 5,800+ Twitter followers, and one creepy stalker.

“13- or 14,000:1 is a pretty good fan to stalker ratio,” said Thibodeau. “But with all the new breweries starting up, we’re hoping that person will find another ‘favorite’ and lose interest in us."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Homebrewing update

The 19th Hole Red Ale I brewed with a friend was a modest success. We used the Brewer's Best red ale kit, and followed the directions closely since it was the first time homebrewing for both of us.

It ended up with a nice flavor. If I were designing the recipe from scratch, I might like a little more robustness. But it turned out as a nice session ale, so I can't complain. I would have liked a little more carbonation as well. We used the priming sugar included in the Brewer's Best kit. It lent some carbonation, but not as much as you would expect in a typical commercial beer.

As first attempts go, we were pretty satisfied with the result. The 5-gallon batch yielded 48 12-ounce bottles. The Brewer's Best kits are more or less idiot-proof.

Next, we're going to try our hand at brewing a stout using Charlie Papazian's recipe for Cushlomachree Stout from his Joy of Homebrewing book.

We're also planning to add a pound of flaked oatmeal for a little more body and creaminess. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Firkin Friday @ Steamworks tomorrow!

Steamworks continues their "First Friday Firkin" tomorrow by tapping a Belgian Framboise style ale at 5pm. I plan on dropping by around 5:30 for a taste and perhaps a pint or two of their other offerings (I think the barleywine may still be available). And if you haven't in a wile, be sure to check out their newly redesigned website!

Below is the official word:

First 2012 Firkin Friday at Steamworks Brewing Co. on Jan. 6
A Belgian Framboise style ale is planned for the January firkin
DURANGO, Colo. – The monthly Firkin Fridays continues at Steamworks Brewing Co. on Friday, Jan. 6, 2012, as the Steam Team introduces a Belgian Framboise style ale. The firkin will be tapped at 3 p.m.
“A traditional Framboise or Frambozenbier is a spontaneously fermented raspberry Lambic ale specific to the region near Brussels,” said Ken Martin, Steamworks head brewer. “Our rendition can’t be quite like that because the authentic version involves open air, wild fermentation. The Lambic can trace its roots back more than 400 years. They say to drink a Lambic style beer is to take a trip back through time.
Instead of brewing a Lambic, Steamworks’ Framboise Firkin will use a rich Belgian style brown ale as the base, re-fermented and naturally carbonated, or conditioned, in  its cask with raspberries. The yeast transforms the sugar into alcohol within the cask, and carbonation results from the trapped carbon dioxide occurring as a byproduct.
“The Belgian Framboise firkin promises to be a balance of rich chocolate and fruit, cut with tartness. Think chocolate raspberry truffles,” explained brewer Spencer Roper. “The beer will have roughly a 7.5 percent ABV, so it should be a nice warm up for these cold winter nights.”
A firkin is an old English unit of volume, typically a wooden cask equal to approximately one-quarter of a regular barrel, or nine gallons. Unlike most draft beers, firkin beer is served at about 55 degrees - cool but not cold, and is unpasteurized, unfiltered. Because it contains no preservatives, a firkin beer is designed to be consumed after tapping.
Steamworks initiated its Firkin Fridays to introduce additional and unusual specialty craft beers to its regular offerings.
The award-winning Steamworks Brewing Co., open 11 a.m. to closing seven days a week, is located at 801 E. Second. Ave., Durango (970.259.9200). For further information, visit