Phil Markowski is the head brewer at the incredible South Hampton Publick House. I was lucky enough to talk to him by phone and email recently. I was even luckier to be able to try some SouthHampton Publick House brews that my wife Jen brought back from the Hamptons.
Phil has won more than his fair share of accolades. In his three-peat (two medals for three consecutive years) at the Real Ale Fest in Chicago in February 2003, he took home a Gold for his Southampton Imperial Baltic Porter and Silver for his Southampton Double White Ale.
Coming up at the Great American Beer Festival next month, Philís looking for a four-peat. From 2000 to 2002 heís collected awards for his Berliner Weisse, his Old Ale and his Double Ice Bock.
In May 2003, he was bestowed with the prestigious Association of Brewersí Russell Schehrer Award for Innovation.
<strong>Youíre passionate about beer and not just about brewing it. How far out of your way do you go for beer and whatís the furthest youíve gone for beer, and when did you first realize you were a beer geek?</strong>
I admit that Iím passionate about beer but Iíve yet to realize that Iím a bonafide beer geek. Perhaps Iím in denial. The furthest Iíve gone? Europe, I guess... numerous times, and Iíve done some trips that weíre mostly about beer. At the same time, Iíve driven right past breweries and not thought twice about it. When itís what you do all day, everyday, you sometimes need a break from it. But I admit it, Iíve got the best job in the world!
<strong>So youíre a beer geek -- admit it -- who goes a little too overboard to appreciate it all the time. Iím there with you. So tell me a little about your brewing experience and how you started at SouthHampton...
I started homebrewing in 1984 and turned professional in 1989 to help start the New England Brewing Company in Norwalk, Connecticut. I started with Southampton in 1996 (the year we opened) and Iím still there doing my thing.
<strong>Right. So today itís hard to get South Hampton brews if you arenít in New York. Is this going
to change anytime soon?</strong>
We are working on a plan to brew our Secret Ale (Dusseldorf-style Altbier) in 12oz. bottles and make those available for wider scale distribution. We are also planning to produce larger quantitites of our 750ml cork-finished specialty brews in the near future. We will still limit distribution to NY state and the next states we would distribute to would likely be New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts (in that order). This would be most likely to happen in the next 2-3 years. Beyond that, who knows, but we would like to remain regional, there are no plans to distribute nationally, it doesnít make any sense for us to do that at the moment.
<strong>Whatís the mystery behind the Belgian styles and why donít more people attempt them?</strong>
There is mystery behind Belgian ales for a number of reasons. I think primarily itís because most Belgian ales are so different from the beer most of us grew up on that theyíre not easily accepted for the mere fact that theyíre not what some people have in mind when they think beer.
Also, Belgian ales may not be readily available in some parts of the country so some craft brewers may not be as familiar with them. Another reason is that, at their most interesting, they represent freedom and individual expression in brewing. That is a personality trait that if it doesnít jibe with your personality then you may not like to brew (or drink) Belgian beers.
Still one more reason is that brewing Belgians well depends on your brewing education. Iím mostly self-taught so I havenít had someone elseís opinions and preferences drilled into me. Some people are very black-and-white and make good technicians. I think these personality types are very good with the science behind brewing, but they tend not to be very adventurous in what they brew... like German or German style brewers.
At the other extreme some people may be very loose and creative in their brewing (the Belgian way) but they may sometimes lack the scientific discipline (or knowledge) to consistently make good beer. I try to keep a little of both approaches in my brewing philosophy..
<strong>What do you look for in ingredients? Is there a malting or yeast lab you really like?
Are you a nut about freshness, organic labels, or ingredient packaging?
I look for the best flavor in ingredients, which usually means the freshest ingredients. I also try to use the most appropriate ingredients for a particular beer style (i.e. German malt & hops for German styles, etc.) but within limits. Iím not going to insist on using Moravian malt in a Czech pils, for example, if the stuff has been sitting in someoneís warehouse for a year. In that case, Iíll rely on my knowledge of malts and use something that will get the job done thatís more fresh and deliver better flavor.
As for yeast, I use both WYeast and White Labs -- both do a great job. I use many different yeast strains over the course of a year.
<strong>What SouthHampton beers do you think benefit most from aging and give us
your take on what you see happening to the beer.
Our Old Herb Barleywine is one example of a brew that I think is at itís best when about a year old. We brew it in December so if you have a bottle of the 2003, that means that it was brewed in December í02 and will be at itís best (in my opinion) in the Fall/Winter of 2003/2004.
Another example is our Saison, I think that gets better as it ages (up to a point) because it dries out a little with time in the bottle. I think this brew peaks at around 6-9 months after it was bottled. We bottled our 2003 Saison in mid-May, so it is drinking fine now, but I think it will be at itís best around November through March 2004.
The reasons for the improvement in the bottle are different according to the beer. In the case of our Barleywine, itís the effect of the hop character fading a bit with time and the brew developing a slight raisiny character from subtle oxidation over the course of a year or so. With the Saison, the yeast continues to work in the bottle and this contributes to add to the complexity of flavor over time. In my mind, the brew gets a bit drier and develops a slight tartness after about 6 months in the bottle.
<strong>One final question: Do you have any new beers slated for the coming months?
We will be releasing our Belgian Triple in September and shortly thereafter will be releasing the 2003 version of our Abbot 12. After that we will begin bottling our Biere de Garde (January), Old Ale (Jan.), Double White Ale (February) and possibly something called Ultra Secret Ale -- a strong version of our Secret Ale, our Dusseldorf-style Altbier that Iíve been wanting to brew for a while.
<strong>Great! Thanks for your time, Phil. Weíll be looking forward to your new brews. Best of luck!</strong>