Chris Farley – Founder of Northern Brewer –  writes about brewing ingredients, developing new products, homebrew techniques, and more.

Farley’s Feature – This is Not Your Father’s AB InBev!

This is Not Your Father’s AB InBev

I first got into homebrewing in the early 1990s after I spent a year studying in Scotland. While I was there, I traveled the continent and tried a huge variety of beers. Coming from the United States, I found European beer totally mind-blowing. I discovered malty 90 Shilling Ale in Scotland, well-balanced bitters in London, refined and wine-like Trappist ales in Brussels, bready and clovey Hefeweizens in Germany, and hoppy and robust golden pilsners in Prague. It opened up a whole new world: I had no idea there was so much diversity of flavors and experiences out there to explore.

In 1993, I found myself back in the States. Apart from a handful of visionary brewing pioneers, the United States was largely a beer desert. It was in that environment that I started a small homebrewing shop that I named Northern Brewer.

Northern Brewer’s mission was to educate our customers about the amazing diversity of international beer styles and to help people brew those beers on a hobbyist-scale. It was quite a challenge to convince somebody to brew a lambic, a stout or an IPA when 99% of the beer being sold was an American lager made with corn or rice.

But an amazing thing has happened over the past 20-odd years. Everything has changed.

Today, whether you are in New York or Memphis, you can’t go into a restaurant without finding a variety of delicious, interesting, and often locally-produced beers on the beer list. Everybody, everywhere is demanding better beer. It is clear to me that homebrewers drove this change, transforming the United States into the most exciting and dynamic beer scene on the planet. And who are the proprietors of the thousands of new local breweries? Homebrewers like you and me.

So when I sat down recently and thought about our 20-year old mission — particularly the part about educating people about beer — I began to look around the office for a spot to hang the “Mission Accomplished” banner. And then the phone rang. On the other end AB InBev, the world’s largest brewer and parent of Anheuser-Busch. As you might imagine, I was more than a little skeptical that we would have anything at all to talk about.

What I soon realized is that this is not your father’s AB InBev! It turns out that the world’s largest brewer has also seen the light — which is something that was unfathomable even 10 years ago.

Our relationship with AB InBev is already paying dividends. We’ve joined the brewers at Goose Island to make an authentic homebrewed version of their wonderful Milk Porter. This is just the first in what will become a regular series of partnerships with brewers across the country. If there are particular beers, styles or breweries you’d like us to work with, send us an email or give us a call. We want to hear from you!

We’ve also been working with the AB InBev team to source ingredients that have never before been available to North American brewers. Southern Star — a unique, pleasant hop variety bred and grown in South Africa will be available later this month. You won’t find this hop available anywhere but Northern Brewer! We are also on a mission to bring European craft recipes to American shores through an exciting new program this year, and this is just the beginning.

AB InBev understands that today’s beer drinkers are looking for creative, flavorful beers that are produced by local breweries, often in settings like neighborhood tap rooms and brew pubs. And they are transforming their company to deliver that experience.

Over the past five or six years, AB InBev has assembled a truly remarkable portfolio of craft beer brands. While many craft beer fans were justifiably concerned that the world’s largest producer of “macro beer” would destroy these beloved breweries, they have in fact been allowed to operate independently and far exceed their dreams for reaching new levels of innovation with their styles and serving more beer lovers. When we agreed to join AB InBev, we did it so that we could continue our mission with a partner that shares our values about what beer can be. We want to enable tomorrow’s brewers to unleash their creativity, and continue to drive the brewing culture — not only in the United States, but throughout the world.

For our customers, of course we need to continue to earn your trust every day, just as we have since I started this business 23 years ago. Northern Brewer is still dedicated to helping you unleash your creativity and passion for great beer. We know the freshest and most exciting beer you will have this year is probably one that you made yourself. Knowing we will be moving forward in our mission with the proud backing and full support of our partners at AB InBev fills me with tremendous optimism for the future ahead.

Skol!

Farley’s Feature – Brewing an Exciting Future

Brewing an Exciting Future

Friends – I started this business 23 years ago this month because of my passion for quality beer and the joy of brewing from my own home. We have seen tremendous growth in homebrewing in that time. Our community continues to expand as does the diversity of quality ingredients and equipment available.

Northern’s family is much bigger today than it was in 1993, but I’m proud to say that we have never lost our identity. Our employees and managers come to work every day with a commitment to be the best in the industry, period. Someday we want homebrewing to be as common a household craft in America as cooking or gardening. But we all know that we won’t get there through complacency.

Many of you have seen the news that we’ve closed a deal to be acquired by ZX Ventures, the global Disruptive Growth Unit of Anheuser-Busch InBev.

I’ll admit, we didn’t share this with you the way we should and for that, I apologize. I think this is a really important moment in our company’s history and an important moment in our shared passion for brewing great beer. Let me tell you what that means.

First, nothing will fundamentally change as the result of this deal. Our entire leadership team will remain intact and our company will continue to be independent. Our staff of dedicated employees will continue to serve our customers and help our industry innovate. Our culture will remain as it is today: vibrant, energetic, fair and dedicated to our mission and to you.

Second, this partnership with ZX Ventures is about growing our company and providing our customers with unparalleled opportunities. This deal will make us stronger and able to pursue our passion with even greater focus, better tools and ingredients.

We are convinced that this partnership will be good for us and great for you. We share the same mission with ZX, to provide “consumers with exceptional beer experiences, anytime, anywhere.” That is, after all, why we’re all here.

This is a really exciting opportunity that doesn’t come around that often. We’re proud of this deal and are excited to begin working with the team from ZX. We’re confident that in time, you will realize just how much we’re going to gain from this partnership and how everyone – you, our company and our community – will be better off because of it.

You have made our community thrive and made our business what it is today. Here’s to more than twenty years of brewing great beer together. Cheers to you and to the future.

Farley-Feature-Signature

Farley’s Feature – All Grain Myths

Farley’s Feature – All Grain Myths


Rather than using malt extract, you can make beer exactly the way breweries do. Start with crushed grain, add some hot water, and make your own sweet wort – all by harnessing the power of science. Some of us rush headlong into it, others meticulously research before jumping in. Nevertheless, I thought it would be fun to share with you, faithful readers, some of the myths about All-Grain brewing.

MYTH #1: ALL-GRAIN BREWING IS HARD

Anything is hard if you don’t know what you’re doing! Thankfully, there are more resources available to help you make the leap than ever before including homebrewing forums (like The Northern Brewer Homebrewing Forum) and videos. Seeing the process, particularly in a video, makes the process really easy to understand.

MYTH #2: ALL-GRAIN BREWING IS EXPENSIVE

Well, it’s true you will need to add some key elements to your brewery. A large kettle ($100-$300), a wort chiller ($60), and a mashing system ($249). But once you’ve built out your brewery, each batch of beer costs less.

MYTH #3: ALL-GRAIN BREWING TAKES A LONG TIME

While it is true that All-Grain brew days are longer from start to finish (you’re looking at 4-6 hours instead of 2), the dirty little secret is that most of that time is spent sitting around and waiting. While your beer is mashing (60-90 minutes), you can be doing chores, running errands, watching football, reading Dostoevsky… whatever!

MYTH #4: ALL-GRAIN BREWING IS SEXY

Okay, this one is true.

MYTH #5: ALL-GRAIN BREWING MAKES BETTER BEER

Not always. If you’ve judged homebrewing contests, you may have had that not-uncommon experience where the best beer in the flight is an extract beer. What All-Grain does give you is a lot more control over the process, and the precise mix of grain that goes into making your wort. Plus there are certain techniques (decoction mashing, first wort hopping, mash hopping) that can only be done with All-Grain.


Farley’s Feature – Innovation

Innovation

Prior to the current craft beer explosion, innovation was anathema to fans of great beer. Innovation meant Miller Clear Beer and Bud Dry (why ask why?). Real beer was not innovative, it was traditional. Pilsner Urquell was a good beer partly because it was brewed in open-topped, wax-lined oak fermentation tanks, exactly the way they did it back in the 1800s. Caledonian 80/- was a great Scottish Ale because it was boiled in traditional copper kettles. Good beer was good beer because the brewers of these beers suffered and toiled to make them, as was the tradition!

Now fast forward to the present day. The American beer scene, with its homebrew roots, is the most exciting, vibrant craft beer scene in the world. And there’s nothing traditional about it. American brewers are constantly innovating — both in terms of ingredients (Grapefruit Sculpin, anyone?), and in terms of process and equipment. Thankfully, innovation is cool!

Here at Northern Brewer, we’ve made a deliberate decision to be more than just a homebrewing supplier. We employ a dedicated team of brewers who do nothing but brew beer and help us deliver new and exciting brewing innovations. We are investing in new technologies and ideas to make hobby brewing easier and more reliable. To name a few:

  • Fast Pitch
  • The Center Of Gravity
  • Unbreakable False Bottoms
  • Big Mouth Bubblers — NOW SIPHONLESS!

As you flip through the pages of this latest catalog or browse our website, we’re sure that you’ll notice the many new products introduced lately. You’ll want to check back often to see what’s new. Because as we are so fond of saying here at Northern Brewer, we won’t rest until you brew your best!

Chris Farley - Founder of Northern Brewer



Farley’s Feature – Malt!

Craft and Specialty Malt

As homebrewers, most of us have a deep understanding of the level of skill and care that goes into making a well-crafted beer. But not everyone realizes that this attention to detail and love of craft extends to the so called “raw materials” that are used to produce beer. And ultimately, no ingredient is more painstakingly crafted than the malt that we use to make our beer.

As with beer, where you have macro-beer, you also have mega-malt. This malt is grown in vast fields, harvested and shipped hundreds of miles to gigantic industrial facilities by railcar. At the malthouse, it is steeped in water, sprouted, and kilned, then analyzed and blended (where the poor quality stuff is diluted into the better quality stuff). This malt is used, not just by macro-brewers, but by the food and pharmaceutical industry.

But there is also craft malt, which represents a tiny fraction of the malt produced in the world. It is produced in a handful of much smaller malt houses, run by family-owned businesses with names like Briess, Rahr and Weyermann. They often produce dozens of different, specialty products, and they carefully cater to the needs of craft brewers and distillers. The process is more hands-on, more laborious and more exacting.

I recently had the privilege to visit one of these craft malt companies, Weyermann Malting Company. Sabine Weyermann is now in a 4th generation owner of the plant, which is set in the picturesque Bavarian city of Bamburg. The Weyermann family has over 100 years of experience making brewer’s malt.

Farleys Feature Weyermann Malt Factory

As I expected, they control every aspect of the malting process, from providing the right seeds to the farmers (so they know they are getting right varieity of barley in return), to gently turning the malt as it sprouts, to keeping their drum roasters spotless, to carefully controlling the shipping conditions when they ship malt overseas. Their attention to detail at every step of the process results in a perfectly consistent product, which they achieve without the luxury of blending.

Weyermann actually operates a very special facility in the Czech Republic where their famous floor malted Bohemian Pilsner malt is made. Floor malting is an amazing, extremely laborious process. It is essentially the same way malt was made 100 years ago, where the germinating malt is turned by hand. By people with rakes. There is simply no way to replicate this process with large scale automation, and the resulting product speaks for itself.

If you really care about the craft of brewing, whether you brew for fun or for your profession, you owe it to yourself to brew with craft malt!



Farley’s Feature – Hops!

Hops!

For about fifty years following the end of the second world war, Americans were terrified of hops. Our national beer was a light lager that had almost no perceptible hops in it.

This never made sense to me. Americans always do things bigger and bolder than the rest of the world. Why were we so timid about our beer? Recently, however, American craft brewers and home brewers have fallen in love with hops, and the USA now produces the world’s hoppiest beers!

It has been really interesting to watch this trend intensify while running a homebrew shop. The hop varieties that homebrewers are demanding this year end up getting featured in next year’s trendy West Coast IPA. We are always on the lookout for new and exciting hops.

Each year, Northern Brewer purchases more hop varieties than any brewery in the world. We carefully source, select and package 60-70 different hop varieties each year. Each hop has its own unique character. They can smell like grass, pine cones, or grapefruit. Some are light and refined, while others are bold and intense. I have personally come to have a deep, olfactory communion with all of the major hop varieties in the world, because I have personally packaged so many packets of hops for my customers. It has been an amazing form of aromatherapy, and it’s my favorite part of my job.

But it’s not enough just to smell the hop in its raw form. Hops change so much depending on how they are used. Even though I’ve been a homebrewer for 20 years, I am still learning about new ways to use hops: early additions, late additions, continuous additions, first wort hopping, mash hopping, hop backing, randallizing, wet hopping, dry hopping… each technique brings out different aspects of a hop.

On top of that, hop breeders are constantly experimenting and introducing new breeds of hops. Every year there are more and more experimental varieties. Many are grown in such limited quantities that the only way to play with them is to do it on a homebrew scale.

So let’s rejoice in hops! Cheers!