January 26, 2006 Written by Oakes
Vancouver, CANADA -
Craftsman is one of those little local breweries that generally flies under the radar of beer lovers. It would have flown under my radar had it not been for Stephen Beaumont’s championing of their Triple White Sage.
The reason this happens – that really cool breweries go unnoticed – is often very simple. They are tiny, have little distribution, probably don’t bottle and almost never operate in a beer-savvy part of the country. This is why you’ve probably never heard of Craftsman. Here’s why you probably should know them.
Owner and head brewer Mark Jilg is a dedicated brewer and contrarian. He gave up a career in photographic image processing to start a brewery in 1996. Amazingly, two days after quitting his day job for good, he arrived at the brewery to find an eviction notice – the building was to be torn down. It took four months to get going again in a new location.
Jilg’s brewing philosophy is simple – do what other people aren’t doing. As an old-school homebrewer dating back to the days before big beers with big hops ruled the world, he believes in brewing balanced beers. As a homebrewer, he always preferred unusual ingredients and techniques, with a special focus on the aromatic aspect. The beers are designed with a mindset that they should go well with food as well.
The result is beers like Triple White Sage and Cabernale. The former is made with white sage picked from the San Gabriel Mountains that press up against the brewery’s home town of Pasadena. “In August, in the afternoon,” Jilg explains, “if you take a walk up there you are almost overwhelmed by the aroma of white sage.” He picks the sage and adds it to the beer at the end of the boil, which brings out the aromatic aspect of the herb.
Cabernale is another unusual experiment. Jilg begins with an amber ale that he ferments for a couple of days. At that point, he adds crushed whole cabernet grapes. Brews like this harken back to a time centuries ago when ales were flavoured with the fruits and herbs available to the brewers. In also represents a very forward-looking attitude by taking beer to unusual places it has not been to before.
Craftsman is planning an expansion, from a 7bbl brewhouse to a 17bbl one, and when this gets going they will also start bottling. Until then, seek them out next time you’re in the Los Angeles area, at noted beer bars like Father’s Office in Santa Monica or Lucky Baldwin’s in Pasadena.