I’m just back from visiting The Brew Stooges in Huntsville, where I think Mobilians may have been issued a challenge. The Stooges are three really nice guys, it wasn’t an in-your-face challenge – in fact, my “women’s intuition” may be working overtime – but I got the subtle impression they thought Mobilians weren’t up for running as many craft breweries as Huntsville (nine, currently) because we don’t have enough engineers. It’s an interesting theory and I, for one, enjoy a challenge – but like I said, they may not have meant it that way.
The Brew Stooges, whose real names are Jeff Peck, Chris Bramon and Tracy Mullins, are funny, smart and outstanding brewers. Two are NASA engineers and one is a plumber (yep, one guy with marketable skills) who’ve kept their day jobs while brewing nights and weekends, hoping an IPA can surpass an IRA as a retirement plan.
They’ve been selling their hope to the public since May 2013.
Peck and Bramon, the NASA dudes, feel strongly that their engineering backgrounds give them – and many other Huntsville brewers – a leg up in the brewing game. “Engineers tend to gravitate toward craft beer,” they say, because they groove on experimentation, variables and solving puzzles. There’s an “uncontrollable” factor – yeast – in brewing, and they’re attempting to control it, which purportedly makes brewing irresistible to engineers. Mullins, the plumber, perhaps more sensibly says, “I just like beer.”
Although they haven’t been brewing long as Stooges, Bramon had been making Dizzy Dame – a raspberry-infused blond ale with “tons of honey” – for 16 years as a home brewer, while Peck and Mullins had been into home brewing for a handful of years themselves. (Anyone who wants to do the math regarding the legality of those pre-Stooge endeavors should keep the results to themselves.)
Bramon assures me Dizzy Dame isn’t sweet – having a subtle fruit flavor you smell more than taste and a very dry finish despite the honey. He almost runs out of superlatives to describe Dizzy Dame – he loves making fruit-laced beers and has plans for more (clearly in violation of Man Law – “no fruit in beer” – so long as we’re racking up legal infractions). His next goal is a German-style “sour beer,” starting with a rye beer base put through an eight-month secondary fermentation and then given a cherry or possibly “intense grape” background. Sour beer is the latest trendy phenomenon and I’m not personally onboard this bandwagon (tending to agree with Jeff’s assessment that the way to make sour beer is to “start with a good beer and screw it up”) but if they can land a man on the moon …
My favorite Brew Stooge effort was their “experimental IPA” – not yet released or named – intended to balance the Stooges’ portfolio. Peck says 95 percent of The Brew Stooges’ beers have strong malt profiles, which is a walk on the wild side for most craft brewers. I loved the IPA primarily because it had a strong malt component balancing its four hop strains but, as is usual with engineers, Peck and Bramon weren’t satisfied and were still tweaking to highlight the hops (Bramon being the resident hop head). I begged them to leave it alone, but they’re determined to tweak. (Based on my personal experience with engineers, it’s a wonder they ever decide anything is “finished.”)
Peck says his favorite beers are porters and “it’s worked out well, given what everybody else is doing” i.e., churning out ultra-hoppy craft beers. His preference probably accounts for there being four porters on The Brew Stooges’ current menu (Knucklehead, Vanilla Knucklehead, Espresso Knucklehead and Chocolate Knucklehead), along with their “defiantly malt forward” Double Wrong Rye ale and their Numbskull Stout made with dark malts imparting chocolate, coffee, caramel and molasses flavors. Proving the Stooges aren’t actual knuckleheads, demand for Vanilla Knucklehead has been so strong – including among Mobilians – they’re going to start year-round brewing of this former seasonal.
Mullins’ travels in Europe made him a fan of wheat beers, like Witless Wheat, the Stooges’ summer seasonal made in the Hefeweizen style with imported hops and honey-roast malt. (Honey-roast malt is delicious, by the way, if you ever get a chance to crunch some before it’s brewed. You could pour milk over it and serve it as granola.) Witless Wheat offers green-banana flavors around the edges of your tongue, plus a taste of fresh honey and a bit of spice that’s more complex than most wheats I’ve tried.
Do the Stooges’ beers pair well with food? Bramon and Peck both say yes, but for very different reasons. Bramon “has a food in mind for every beer” he makes. Peck believes you “make the best beer possible and you will find a food to go with it.” He mentioned a local restaurant crafting ice cream with Knucklehead Porter, which makes me want to run to the store for ice and salt.
For now, The Brew Stooges’ beers are sold only in Alabama and only on draft. You can find them at the Loda Bier Garten, Buck’s Pizza Downtown, the Hungry Owl and several Mellow Mushroom venues, but they tend to sell out quick. The Stooges brew in two 500-gallon tanks with a 30-barrel per month output, currently, and struggle to meet demand – although they hope to double production without adding new tanks (“We’re a microbrewery,” emphasizes Peck).
Their Huntsville tap room has 10 beers on draft and is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 5-8 p.m. unless the guys take pity and open just for you (like they did for me, earning eternal gratitude).
The Brew Stooges love Mobile, by the way, after visiting to promote their wares. Chris met tons of “cool people who like to drink and talk about beer.” He sees “a match made in heaven” between the Stooges and Mobile, so I may have imagined that whole engineering-challenge thing. But it’s still an interesting theory.