It’s about craft, not competition. That’s the refrain coming from the new wave of craft breweries across the country and it’s repeated when Tin Whiskers discusses their Brew Off series, in which Tin Whiskers and another local brewery will go head to head for the night, brewing unique one-time beers with a list of the same chosen ingredients. Voters decide a winner.
For Brew Off, Tin Whiskers first posts a Facebook announcement to gather suggested ingredients. Then they take a fan vote where the top three finalists are to be used in two different beers to be taste-tested at a local bar. In two rounds thus far, they’ve pitted against Urban Growler (making beers with mango, ginger, and coconut) and LynLake (using tamarind, lemongrass, and caramel), and on Feb. 17 they will take the tourney to Grumpy’s Roseville as Tin Whiskers and Fair State premiere new beers made using cherry, sumac, and rosemary.
Brew Off will take place late each season, this one in late winter, with others planned for late spring, late summer, and late winter. With fan voting, there’s an element of impractical—the first round had numerous meat suggestions that were disqualified by the breweries (e.g. bacon beer), but it’s mostly been an experience in experimentation that is shared between brewer and consumer. It’s an opportunity for the brewers to be creative and to break down a wall between product and audience. “There are some people trying to play stump the band a little,” says Jason Lardy, Marketing Director at Tin Whiskers. “But people are genuinely interested in the flavor profiles.”
Brew Off has been a work in progress. After the first event, they adjusted for the LynLake round, moving to blind tastings that present each customer with a modest pour of each beer in a flight presentation. “The first time it was more of a popularity contest,” Lardy reflects. “The second time around it was more about the quality of the product.” In the end, though, it’s about having a good time with something unique, sharing an experience as much as a novel beer. There is no prize, except enjoying an extremely limited beer with those who made it.
In Round 2, Tin Whiskers ran out of their tamarind-lemongrass-caramel beer before the night was over while LynLake, who lack a pilot system for small batches (and thus brewed a larger quantity), carried their version briefly at their taproom afterward, so those who want to try these unique creations are encouraged to arrive early to get a guaranteed taste.
There was a line last time at Republic-Uptown, (since closed) notes Chelsea Fey, Marketing Manager, and it’s a matter of balancing Brew Off between a bar that has ample seating and one that knows also beer. They’ve mixed up locations thus far, trying to reach new audiences with each stop and both Tin Whiskers and Fair State are excited to see how their latest experiment goes over in Roseville.
Now in Round 3, Brew Off is not meant to be a testing ground for new beers, but an experience. “The flavors are pretty unique and don’t have that broad appeal you expect in an everyday product,” Lardy says of brewing with such additives. Instead, he notes, “It gives us a chance to play with ingredients that we might not have otherwise.” The Brew Off beers will be poured at Grumpy’s—maybe in the respective taprooms after—but will then disappear. That’s not to say they’ll be forgotten, by the curious aficionados who attend, taste, and vote, or by the breweries either. The experience, after all, grows the brewers’ knowledge base and, Lardy admits, some of them are likely to return as ingredients in other rare infusions or cask beers to come.
Tin Whiskers Brew Off
Date: February 17th, 2016
Place: Grumpy's Roseville
Ingredients: Cherry, Sumac, Rosemary