Last Friday, April 7th, I stopped in to Kuhnhenn, during a short jaunt to Michigan (and I mean really short. I got in to Detroit at 7:00 on Friday evening and departed for Boston at 8:30 the next morning. Just goes to show where my priorities are….). I arrived on the scene at about 10 o’clock to find the parking lot completely full. We nearly had to double-park someone just to find a place to leave the car. This was the first time in my three years of visiting Kuhnhenn that I have found the parking lot full (not counting special release parties). As we walked toward the entrance, the smell of rich caramel and toffee permeated the air. Were they actually brewing at 10 o’clock on Friday night?!? Walking in, my question was soon answered. They had just finished the boil for A few schillings too many (which has quite a lengthy boil time) and I reminisced on previous batches of this decadent treat while scooping up bits of caramelized wort that had boiled over and were now stuck to the exterior of the brew kettle. After reflecting briefly on the potential for the commercial manufacture of caramelized wort for use as (the most delicious) desert topping, I asked Eric (Kuhnhenn) what else was in progress and on the horizon. Due up soon was his Czech Pilsener, their elusive, Bohemian-style pils that I will have now missed by less than a month, for about the third time. Damn! ”What else?!” I eagerly prompted him. The answer was astounding. Eric, who brewed Nine, a dark, abbey dubbel style beer that was unfiltered and bottle conditioned had just put the finishing touches on a syrah-mourvedre wine (Kuhnhenn is also a winery). The wine will be aged in new American oak and guess who will takes its place in the barrel after the wine comes out? Yep, the second batch of Nine. So I’m here for less than a half hour and already my head is filled with tales of Bohemian pilseners, a rich, decadent wee heavy and a bottle conditioned, syrah-mourvedre oak-aged abbey dubbel. And I haven’t even talked to Bret yet. . . .
Running in to Bret, we walk in to the keg room and he shows me a new hop hybrid they’ve just received. Of course, the name now escapes me (it’s difficult for a non-hophead to keep all of the silly American hop hybrid names straight), but the AA read 18.8%!!! Yikes. Anyways, that one has gone in to a double IPA with a forthcoming draught release. While looking around the keg room, I noted a good number of Raspberry Eisbock kegs (half barrels!) and asked to what end those would be used. Bret told me that some of them are to be saved for special release parties at Kuhnhenn, a few to age, and the majority are to be taken to festivals. Speaking of festivals, Kuhnhenn will be at Mondial de la biere in June, World Beer Expo (I think that’s the name) in North Carolina, late in the summer and, of course, Michigan Summer Brewers Guild and Great Taste of the Midwest. With no time to waste, I’m quickly invited to partake of some Extraneous ale, so let’s move the party over to the warm back-room, where the barrel-aging beers are stored
Bret seems very excited about this mysterious “Extraneous Ale” which I am told is in fact a lager, fermented at warm temperatures. The product of a 23-hour boil!!! The approximate 30 gallons of this dark, rich, Double Scotch ale-meets-uber-doppelbock are resting, for six months, in a bourbon barrel. You can look at my review of this thick, rich, toffee and plum laden beauty to get the gory details, but suffice to say, it probably won’t last long when it is released on draught in late June. Sitting beside this monster (which Bret estimated could be no less than 17% abv, and possibly more), were three equal delights. One bourbon barrel of their Big N Bold Barleywine (which makes Bourbon Barrel Barleywine, a beer that not a few credible sources have well enjoyed!), one barrel of American Imperial Stout and one barrel of Fourth Dementia. I could hardly believe it! It’s about time we see how Fourth Dementia handles a barrel. All of the beers will spend a various amount of time, ranging from six months to a year in the barrel, before being released. The beers will be draught-only, but I forgot to ask if any will make it out to festivals. I think it’s better to keep it a surprise anyways, so make sure you get to the above-mentioned festivals!
Walking back from the warm storage room, I see a wall of bottles, dizzyingly arrayed with all shapes and sizes (and styles) of fermented beverages. Picking through, I find a bottle of traditional Celtic-style mead. We proceed to open a bottle and are amazed at the balance and restraint shown in the spicing (whole vanilla bean and cinnamon). The Guinness yeast worked wonders on this one and the attenuation left you with a drinkable, but still satisfying mead. We also were sent home (later) with a chocolate braggot, a vanilla metheglin, a late-harvest vial pyment, and a cherry melomel, not to mention a bottle of Kuhnhenn’s original Braggot from 2003. The bottles are vintage dated and corked and are well worth the price (ranging from $10-$30). At this point, I haven’t even been in the bar area to sit down and talk with my friends, so I grab a glass of winter wonder lager (on the house!) which, to my delight, has far more hop apparency than remembered. It is 100% Crystal hopped). Trying to relate the stories to my friends, we are soon delivered two glasses of the soon-to-be released “Trippelbock”. Oh no, the infamous “trippelbock” moniker. I tease them about calling something a trippelbock and Bret claims to be at a loss for what else to call this extra-double bock, weighing in at around 12-14% abv, if I remember correctly. I suggest “A few bocks too many”, but no one finds it to be as clever as I..….This trippelbock, for lack of a better term, is the product of Kuhnhenn and Dragonmead and though it has a name, I’ve of course forgotten that too. It was, however, surprisingly similar to Livery’s Wheat Trippelbock, though minus the wheat, which made for a stronger build up of Munich malt breadiness and sourness and a bit more aggressive a texture.
The night begins to wind down, Eric says goodbye and Bret comes to our table to chat. We open a bottle of the 2003 braggot while speaking of the biggest news of the night. Kuhnhenn has bought a house that borders their parking lot. They will effectively increase their parking spaces, by acquiring the lot this house is on, and the house itself will be home to Kuhnhenn’s homebrew store. With the space freed up from all of the homebrewing equipment, the wall that divides the current bar and homebrew store will be knocked down, in places, to provide a much larger bar area, and better sectioning-off for live music events. There will be a foundation put in under the old homebrew section, which will now house the brewhouse, further freeing up the space that is now taken up by fermentors and kettles in the main bar room. I don’t know if they have determined how much capacity will increase by (if at all), as I did not ask, but this should certainly be able to increase demand. As well, they are toying with the idea of serving hard liquor (distilled on premise) at the bar.
So in the aftermath of the successful Raspberry Eisbock, the brewers have been anything but idle. In fact, another batch of raspberry eisbock weighs heavily on Bret’s mind. It could happen any time now, and probably will sooner than later. Having been wonderfully accommodated and thoroughly impressed, as always, I leave a happy beer drinker. What strikes me most about these two brothers is their determination not to rest on their laurels. Improvement continues in every subsequent batch of a beer, and new ideas are put to fruition weekly. I think if there is one trait that the best brewers in the world possess, it’s innovation, and the desire to always make your next beer even better than the last. Cheers!