LPBC 2011-12-03 Hoppin’ from Stouts to Scotch

This is an episode of the Living Proof Brew Cast.

We were joined by Chip Burkhead from The Scotchcast. We took him out when he was in town a while ago to one of our favorite taphouses, Franklins. During that trip, Chip promised to send us another Cleveland beer, from Hoppin’ Frog. We were happy he made good on this offer and hopped on mic to share it with us. The beer he shared with us was B.O.R.I.S. The Crusher.

I asked Chip for his thoughts on where the flavors of beer and single malt overlap. He hasn’t had any beers that posses the same coffee or chocolatey notes from the stout we were drinking. I pressed the question knowing that of the three hosts of The Scotchcast, Chip tends to favor the smokier, peatier malts. As a point of comparison, I mentioned the Bunnahabhain that Michael Ireland, also of The Scotchcast, recommended to me when I first met him.

Chip surprised us yet at the same time didn’t by revealing that he actually didn’t like Scotch the first time he tried it. He explained that this had more to do with the low quality Glenfiddich to which he was first introduced. Once he acquired some more experience in tasting, the Fiddich flavor became a shorthand for a distinct but disliked note that he and his friends have found in other malts. Thankfully for our edification via his cast, a hand imported Irish drew Chip back into enjoying whiskeys, including the better Scottish single malts he now very much enjoys.

I took advantage of having such an experienced connoisseur on to ask about a malt I picked up the last time I was in Europe at the duty free. As it happens, Chip said I was incredibly lucky to find the Longmorn 16 and that I should make it last as it is as hard to come by as it is excellent. I promised to try to hang onto some of this malt until we next see Chip in person to share a bit in appreciation for his cast.

John asked Chip if his understanding of the history of Scotch matched what John has read. Chip related that those monks with the funky stills that John mentioned originally came from Ireland. Otherwise, he thought the description of malted barley bittered with heather was probably accurate. He added that the drying of the barley was the way the characteristic smokey and peaty notes enter Scotch as peat was such an abundant fuel.

Unsurprisingly, Chip favors light in terms of malt but otherwise hugely hopped beers. Actually, he enjoys an impressive variety of beers, including naturally enough the Scotch and Scottish ales. Another local favorite is Arbor Brewing Company. Sadly the last time some fresh beer from them was available to him, Chip was tasting Scotch.

I made an argument that there is no reason we cannot enjoy both beer and Scotch. I relied on John and Chip to help me remember that folk wisdom about the wisest order to consume the two. Of course, John and I have had some beers, bourbon barrel stouts, that combine a lot of the best of both beer and spirits.

We touched base on how the beer was opening up. John observed that there didn’t seem to be much of a hop note to it. I wondered if it was hiding behind the strong roasty notes in the beer. It is also possible that the hop was Willamette th

Chooch interrupted to tell us all how to toast in Costa Rica.

We talked for a bit about Chip’s experiences home brewing. His co-hosts used to brew with him, with another friend, Chris. One of the home brews they made took a prize at the state fair. We were absolutely fascinated with the idea of a rye beer with caraway seed. The inspiration was a dark rye bread. The result was unusual both for the caraway as well as for the dark, rich color and the light tasting grain bill. Chip seemed to remember including some oats for mouth feel though he wasn’t sure. As you’d imagine, they actually found the beer tasted very much like a large, liquid rye bread, so much so that Chip found it paired well with cheese and sausage.

The emphasis on the malt character in this beer reminded me of a recent episode of Basic Brewing Radio. They described the reasons you might brew a beer without sparging. Mashing at a fuller volume without rinsing the grains, especially for lighter beers, apparently can improve and deepen the grain flavors. Chip said he’d try to find the recipe so John and I could attempt a no sparge version. Doing so will require we go all grain but as we’ve been discussing, we are already pretty close.

Chip definitely shares our love of the history and archeology of beer. He mentioned Brewmasters, a show we love as well. His historical interests are quite broad, like ours, encompassing beer and spirits. He even used to make meads, like I did. I complimented him and his colleagues for the history they pull into their cast, the historical notes on the various distillers responsible for the malts they taste and describe. As it turns out, this was a very intentional element of the cast. Chip explained some of the challenges they’ve run into in doing the research into this history for the show. To be fair, the whole cast is very well thought out, providing the single malt enthusiast with a very complete impression of the Scotches they try in each episode.

John was curious about the business side of the distillers, informed no doubt by his reading and our recent viewing of “Prohibition” by Ken Burns. Chip talked about some of the recent developments in the processes, especially experimentation with wood management for the effect that has on the finished product. He mentioned Bruichladdich and Jim McEwan the master distiller there as being particularly innovative. John and I enjoyed the Bruichladdich organic earlier this year. His description of McEwan’s efforts reminded me of the distilling that Rogue is doing experimentally. There also are quite a few regulations and restrictions that lead to challenges and even what can be called Scotch. He mentioned Compass Box in particular having to struggle with to continue to label some of its expression as Scotch.

I was curious how the tasting of Independents fit into this aspect of Scotch. Chip happily expanded on what the Independent bottlers are doing, how they are effectively remixing existing malts. Chip was recently able to compare a Duncan Taylor bottling of a Macallan with an expression straight from the distiller.

We turned to the regional breweries, brew pubs and tap houses Chip would recommend to a visitor. He started with Great Lakes which we’ve tasted on the show before including the Commodore Perry, their Belgian wit, and if you can find it their Christmas Ale. Hoppin’ Frog is of course a brewery worth trying, notably the very beer we tasted is award-winning and their Christmas ale is great. There is even a barrel aged version of the Christmas ale. Thirsty Dog is one we’ve tried that Chip agreed is worth seeking out. As for brewpubs, Chip likes Fat Head’s which has a location near him and one out near Pittsburg though the beer for both is brewed in Cleveland. He mentioned the Rocky River Brewing Company which is nearby too. The brewpub I enjoyed in Columbus, Ohio is Barley’s.

We closed by discussing the contents of a Maryland, DC and Virginia care package we’ll have to assemble and send Chip’s way. I found some more of The Fear some of which I’ll set aside for Chip. Chip promised to send us more beer if he finds other brews of interest that are distinctive to Cleveland and Akron, especially other brews from Hoppin’ Frog. Chip mentioned that Thomas Vincent has strongly endorsed Hoppin’ Frog, emphasizing it is worth trying anything they make.

You can grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.

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