A Casual Tour of Weyerbacher Brewing Co. w/ Brewmaster Chris Wilson

Photo album from the tour and tasting

Being that this was my second visit to Weyerbacher Brewing Co. (Easton, PA) brewmaster Chris Wilson and I decided to walk around the brewery in a more casual and relaxed manner. In fact the tour and tasting of beers formed a pattern in which we went back and forth three times, tasting a beer or two then walking around the brewery a bit more.   During the tour Chris and I discussed the following topics. The new expansion space, expanded number of barrels tucked away in different areas of the brewery, previous carbonation issues with Riserva (Weyerbacher’s limited release raspberry wild ale), the batch of Merry Monks (tripel) being brewed that day, the new branding (label art etc.), and Weyerbacher’s year old 750ml bottling line. (See the above video to hear Chris’s remarks on these topics).

During this visit I tried four Weyerbacher beers, three of which I hadn’t tried before. The following are my tasting notes of the four beers.

Seventeen (Saison / Farmhouse Ale 10.5% ABV): Since I hadn’t tried a Weyerbacher anniversary beer since the release of their 15th anniversary smoked imperial stout I decided to start with Chris’s take on an amped up Saison. It poured a shade of straw that was close to being straight out yellow and was topped with a small tight white head which stuck around and left some lacing on my tulip glass. Brewed with pink peppercorns, orange zest, lemon zest, and grapefruit zest. I hoped to pick up a balance of citrusy and spice notes in the beer’s aroma and taste. Though I should note that pink peppercorns differ from other peppercorns in that they’re closer to a berry and often do not contribute as much spiciness. To me the variety citrus fruit peals shined most in Seventeen’s flavor profile and aroma and were enhanced by its medium to full body and smooth carbonation. In the finish I did pick up hints of clove and pepper spiciness and a bit of bubblegum, both of which are common in Saisons. I should point out that while discussing this and other beers with Chris, he made a good point which was that although his beers have been categorized into specific beers styles; they diverge from the norm of those styles and become his unique craft brewed creations. So while I wouldn’t reach for this beer when in the mood for a Saison, I would drink it when in the mood for a “big” Belgian beer Rating: 8/10

Double Simcoe, unfiltered (750 ml bottle, American Double / Imperial IPA, 9% ABV): Out of the four beers I tried during my visit this is one I had tried beforehand. Once Chris took the bottle out of tasting room fridge and told my brother and I that it was bottled two weeks prior I knew I was in for a treat. After he poured each of a few ounces to start with I took a couple of minutes to get my first impressions of this unfiltered double IPA before filming my interview of Chris. Color wise it poured burnished gold to copper; and partly due its bottle conditioned had a 1.5 to 2 finger off white head that left some nice lacing on my glass. As was expected once we added the yeast, the beer took on a reddish color and was close to being opaque. Next, I took a few deep whiffs and was drawn in big notes of mango, juicy grapefruit, tropical fruits, and a touch of the dank quality that Simcoe hops are known for. Compared to the filtered version of this beer, I was surprised to only pick up a hint of resinous bitterness on the nose. In the taste my palate was met with a touch of dank simcoe (just enough as I expected it to be a noticeable flavor) upfront. It was followed by a big sweet / juicy hop character that brought forth notes of mango, sweet pink grapefruit, and slightly tart tropical fruits. Yet another surprising characteristic of this beer was that I expected their would be some distinguishable caramel malt sweetness in the taste. Instead, the caramel malts served as a support for the consistent bursts of hop juiciness. In the finish the juicy hop flavors lingered and were joined by a nice smooth bitter quality and a touch of the ABV. Lastly, if you’ve tried the filtered version of this beer and enjoyed it, I would definitely be on the look for a fresh 750ml bottle of the unfiltered version of  Double Simcoe ASAP to taste just how well Chris and his team have been able to harness the great flavors of the Simcoe hop variety. Rating: 9/10

Sour Black (~5% ABV, American Wild Ale): To celebrate my brother’s birthday Chris opened a bottle of this limited release Black Ale aged in wine barrels.  Specifically, “the same used Pinot Noir barrels which produced Rapture. Brettanomyces lambicus was added to the barrels adding a nice acidity.” True to its style it was opaque black in color and had a nice one and a half finger off white head. Known for their funky and tart aromas, I usually use the aroma of wild ales as an indicator for how funky, sour, and or tart the beer will taste. Sour Black’s aroma was definitely funky and tart, but moderately so, which indicated to me that this beer will age well and its Brettanomyces character will intensify over time. It was the in the taste that this beer’s complexity blossomed. While on the palate the funkiness and tartness weren’t as prominent; notes of black currant, dark fruits, dark malts, and toffee blended with them quite nicely. At ~5% ABV Sour Black’s mouthfeel was on the lighter end of medium bodied with a style appropriate amount of carbonation and was therefore quite drinkable. If you can get your hands on this beer I would try to get two bottles, one to drink now and one to age. Rating: 8.5/10

Sixteen (Braggot, 10.5%): As a final beer of the day Chris pulled out a bottle of Weyerbacher’s 16th anniversary beer, a 2011 GABF gold medal winner. Described as “a dark braggot made with 1,440 pounds of honey per 40BBL batch or over 18.5 oz. per gallon.” Its malt bill included “Caramel, crystal, munich and chocolate malts”. After splitting the bottling amongst the three of us. I first admired its dark red to brown color an 1 finger off white head. Being that this bottle was a year old I was curious to dig in and find out how much of the beer’s age I could detect. In both the aroma and taste I picked on some oxidation that is common in many aged dark ales. However, it did not deter me from enjoying the other flavors present in this beer, which included a good amount of honey sweetness, toffee, caramel, and some dark fruits. It was the dark fruit character that made me think that a Belgian yeast was used to ferment this beer, but when I mentioned that the fruit flavors reminded of a quadrupel Chris informed me that an American Ale yeast was used. Having not had a Braggot before, this experience definitely got me curious to try more of this uncommonly seen beer style. Though, if you do have a bottle of this beer in your cellar I think one year of age is where I’d personally stop aging it in order to fully appreciate its complexity. Rating: 8/10 

Coming up next: An interview of Weyerbacher’s brewmaster Chris Wilson.

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About The Brewed Palate - Barry

NJ (formerly NYC) based home brewer and craft beer enthusiast sharing his brewing and imbibing adventures on thebrewedpalate.com. "Spreading the messages of craft beer one palate at a time."
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