On Thursday, August 22, 2013, our QCA beer community got to taste some brews by Rich Nunez at Against the Grain Brewery and Alehouse’s 13-month anniversary celebration. Served that evening were the “Plain Jane”, a “smash ale”, and the “Dark Forrest”, a robust stout. Afterwards I visited him for a follow-up interview so I could ask about the brews, the new system, and what is to come from Against the Grain in the future.
These were not the first beers he has brewed and served on-site; the first two – a Wit and a Peppercorn Ale – were brewed on a small 10 gallon system. Plain Jane and Dark Forrest were the test batches in the new system that will be producing all other brews moving forward. There is some funky math involved in the world of brewing: every 1-barrel of beer produced is actually two full-sized kegs, known as ½ barrels. Each ½ barrel contains 15.5 gallons. Nunez will be brewing on a 2-barrel system, that can produce up to four ½-barrel kegs at a time.
There’s a lot of science and chemistry involved as well, many things being predictable, many not. For whatever reason, Nunez got 3 kegs of each of his two batches out of the new brew house. 2 of the 3 Plain Jane kegs were served as is; the third was infused with Thai Basil. All three of the stout kegs were served without any additional touches.
The Plain Jane is known as a “smash ale” because it consists of a Single Malt And Single Hop. Nunez informed me that when brewing on a new system a light ale is the best way to find out about how it works, that it is clean and if there are any flaws in the brew. The lightest ale is the best way to detect any problems at other breweries as well, there are no big flavors covering up anything a discerning pallet can detect.
The crowd at the party that evening loved the beer, even though Nunez said that while brewing it, he didn’t know if it was going to ever be served. There was no way to predict what would come out at the end of the trial run of his system. It was a light, straw yellow beverage, sitting at 4.2% ABV. It had a clean aroma and taste, with a bit of flavor from the New Zealand Motueka hops, an enjoyable, sessionable beer.
The Dark Forrest was also well received. The etymology of the name is based on the ingredients of the brew. Nunez used three kinds of barley, no malt, (dark) and two kinds of hops to bring about a roasty flavor, solid mouth-feel with a piney (forrest) hop balance. In the days now of stouts being imperial, bourbon-barrel aged, or dessert-centric, it was nice to have a flavorful, robust stout without anything wacky about it. The brew speaking for the brew itself.
This opened up a discussion regarding American brew culture, the history of beer, and what it truly means to go Against the Grain. As a brewer, Nunez has a vast amount of knowledge in that brain of his and he’s tasted many things from around the world. As a business owner, he can identify the trends in the industry. Americans have grown to expect big, extreme beers. Being the biggest, the best, and the most independent is embedded into our own country’s values so why would it not be present in our beer culture as well?
There is, however, a downside to this. Traditional styles of beer, how they are brewed, and what they are supposed to taste like is always changing. As we cannot forget the rest of the worlds’ influence on America’s history, we must pay tribute to the worlds’ brewers and their styles of centuries past. Nunez pointed out traditional IPA’s as a perfect example; what did the first IPA taste like in comparison to what they taste like now? The melt-your-face hop craze has become too much of a trend, it is now a grain Nunez and his spot are going against.
A self-described “traditionalist”, looking to “create beer that’s well-balanced and flavorful”, will not produce beers predictable beers if you expect them to be American. I do believe they will impress you, though, if you expect them to be worldly. Nunez soon hopes to have one of his beers on tap regularly, depending upon how the next couple of batches of beer go. And no, he does not know yet what they will be.
I asked if he one day hoped to have all the taps pouring his brews and he said no.
“Alehouse is in our name”. It is the guest drafts of other breweries that has bought and paid for the brew system, which is a fortunate place for them to be in. Nunez gave thanks and praise to all the loyal customers that come in with a desire to try new craft beers served by a knowledgeable and welcoming staff.
“This is where we feel we can separate ourselves. We have a wide selection but educating customers on what we sell is part of it too.”
I couldn’t agree more. Education is such an important part of the world of craft beer, not only with identification of true styles and the history of beer, but also its influence on the future of true craft brewing. I am thankful to have Rich Nunez and the staff at Against the Grain Brewery and Alehouse providing us a little local gem where we can all delight in the discussions and tastes of brews old and new.