August 31

where beer meets sake. interview with patrick rue (the bruery) sam calgione (dogfish head).

Sake has largely been the purview of the wine industry here in the states. Possibly this is due to the fact that it has an alcohol level that was closer to wine when it was starting to become a popular import in the early 80’s. However with the explosion of Craft Beer in the U.S. in the last 30 years, similar alcohol levels and complexity are now commonplace in the beer industry. Sake has yet to have its day in the hands of the Craft Beer movement but that time is coming. Craft brewers and beer geeks are accustomed to grain-based fermentation, unusual processes and artisanal production which makes it a better scene for Sake’s continued success in the U.S. Some Beer/Sake hybrid experiments have been done, including one right here in Boston; however when I heard that The Bruery and Dogfish Head were doing a Japanese inspired beer brewed with unique ingredients and fermented with Sake yeast, I knew that they had to be this blog’s first interview.

Sam Calgione and Patrick Rue (owner/brewers of Dogfish Head and The Bruery respectively) are brewers known for using amazing, if unexpected, ingredients in their beers and always pushing the boundaries of what beer can bring to your palate. If you are unfamiliar with their beers then go and pick some up, they are both distributed in Massachusetts – or check out their backgrounds on the web: Dogfish Head / The Bruery

I posed 5 questions to the collaborative brewers about brewing with Sake yeast and the challenges they faced making such a unique brew. The resulting as-of-yet unnamed beer is a unique blend of chili peppers, sesame seeds, nori and kumquats and fermented with a Sake yeast (#9). A portion of the proceeds from the beer will be donated to Japan Disaster Relief, so pick up a bottle when you find one.

BOS – Collaborative beers are prevalent these days, what specifically made you want to brew with each other, and have it benefit Japan disaster relief?

Patrick Rue – “I’ve been wanting to brew with Sam since I started homebrewing, and everyone at The Bruery is a huge fan of Dogfish Head, so we were very excited when Sam agreed to collaborate with us.  Dogfish Head has had a huge influence for me and has paved the road for experimental beers.  I don’t think we could have had the degree of experimentation that we do and see success so quickly without Dogfish first crossing that line.  Also, I’ve been lucky to get to know Sam over the past few years and he’s a genuinely nice guy, lots of fun to have a few beers with!  Many of the ideas behind the beer came from Japanese cuisine, and the disaster happened right around when we were shooting around ideas for the beer.  We felt it would be appropriate to have a charitable aspect to this beer to help the people who contributed to the flavor and the ideas behind of the beer.”

Sam Calgione – “I’ve really enjoyed watching Patrick and his peeps build a small innovative brewery with a national following – I love the chances they take and that they follow their won creative muse and not stylistic guidelines – like brothers from another mother.”

BOS –  What flavor impact were you hoping to achieve by using Sake yeast instead of beer yeast?

Patrick Rue –  “We were hoping the sake yeast would impart some unique esters yet in a subtle way.  Strawberry is one of the common ester descriptions from sake yeast, which sounds delicious in a beer.  I believe we used Wyeast 4134 (Sake #9 strain).”

Sam Calgione – “We use a sake yeast in our Chatuea Jiahu and we love the fruity esters it contributes and that it ferments out well giving great dry/complexity.”

BOS –  Were there any challenges to using Sake yeast instead of beer yeast? – Fermentation time, temperature, ABV% etc.

Patrick Rue –  “The sake yeast was very challenging for our brewers to work with.  Initially there was a very long lag time until fermentation started, and when it took off it certainly had a schedule of its own.  It also did not attenuate to the degree we were aiming for, so our house yeast was added towards the end of fermentation to dry out the beer.  Total tank time was around 50 days, which is double our average.  Fermentation temp was around 65 degrees, ABV is around 7.5%.”

BOS –  Many small brewers reject the use of adjuncts (non-traditional beer ingredients); however, this collaboration used rice. What do you think can be done to encourage craft brewers to embrace rice and other adjuncts?

Patrick Rue – “I’d like to see craft brewers embrace any ingredients that can contribute a unique flavor to beer.  I think by making great beers that use adjuncts and putting that ingredient on a pedestal encourages other brewers to view them in a different light.  I certainly understand why some craft brewers reject adjuncts because they are so heavily relied upon for mass produced, crappy beer.  However, we’re putting ourselves at a disadvantage, creatively speaking, if we don’t allow those ingredients to be part of our toolboxes as well.”

Sam Calgione –  “Brewers are lucky in that we have the entire universe of culinary ingredients at our fingertips – the reinheitsgebot is nothing more than a relatively modern form of art sensorship – we’ve made it our mission to focus on this approach since the day we opened in 1995 – and breweries like Dogfish Head and the Bruery are not a lone in coloring outside the lines of traditional style – there are so many kinds of rice that can contribute so many different things to a beer – not just fermentable sugars – for instance we have used flaked maze in our Indian Brown Ale since 1996 and we love the way it works with the hops and dark roasty grains in that beer.”

BOS –  As brewers who both currently use Asian ingredients in beers, if you could use anything else from Japan to make beer, what would it be?

Patrick Rue –  “I’d love to make a beer with yuzu, but it’s a tough ingredient to source a large quantity of and it is incredibly expensive.  I’d enjoy using lychee as well.”

Sam Calgione –  “Yuzu for me too – in fact Patrick and I considered that for this beer – so many brews so little time!!!”   😉

**Update – there is now a label for this beer that has been approved!!**