Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Thermo Refur

Before the New Year we warned you about a beer release party held at the High Noon Saloon by Furthermore Beer. Chris Staples described it thusly: "A freaky Aran Madden creation involving bretanamyces, organic red beets, black pepper and some black malt for a high-alcohol, used band-aid sort of vibe."

On Monday, we talked about the effect of temperature on the aroma and flavor, the experience, of a beer. We've talked in the past about glassware. In this beer, Aran Madden's Thermo Refur, we see the perfect reason why we, consumers, need to demand proper serving temperatures and proper glassware.

Some background on this beer. Aran Madden himself admitted, the most improvisational beer he's ever made. It is made with organic beets. A lot of you may be thinking "EW! Grody to the max", and we'll get to the flavor in a minute; but the basic procedure for using them was for Aran and Chris to sit around one day, peeling a bunch of organic red beets. These beets were then run through a food processor to rather fine pulp to keep it from clogging up the fermenters at Sand Creek. This pulp was then added to the secondary fermentation. Like the Knot Stock, this beer is also made with cracked pepper. It has some black malt. It has brettanomyces, a squirrelly, bizarre yeast that makes beer funky and somewhat sour.

We were served a pint glass from a chilled tap line at the High Noon Saloon at promptly 10:30pm. It looked black. Of course, in the dim lighting of a bar, anything remotely dark looks black. Shortly before I ordered, Aran had suggested that we find a light source to look at the thing, so we bid him adieu to go find a source of light and taste this thing. Held under the light hanging over the pool table, it was a murky purplish, garnet, crimson, blood-like color. There was virtually no aroma, save a faint earthy muskiness. It tasted thick and bitter. It tasted like a hop bitterness. And that was it. There was a faint earthiness to it. A fellow-reviewer thought she detected some medicine or stale prunes. The mouthfeel was definitely full. In fact, it had the consistency of blood. It was definitely dry and the taste, mercifully slackened.

We were left not really sure what to do with this cold, mostly full, pint glass of a beer that could, charitably, be called "interesting." We were standing there debating whether it would be rude to just leave it on the pool table and back away from it when Mr. Staples came by.

Damn! Trapped!

We chatted with him a bit about the beer, mostly about how it was made and the marketing plans for it, and tried to avoid looking him squarely in the eye lest we betray what we were planning on writing.

But, a funny thing happened while we were talking. The warmth from our hands warmed the beer up a bit. Some of the hop and roasted malt aroma started peeking out. The musty sourness of the brett started receding a bit. But the flavors changed completely. Gone was the harsh bitterness. Now we were greeted with a big malt complexity that was "rooted" (HAHAHA!) by the sweetness of the beet. It wasn't a harsh beet flavor; the roastiness of the malts and the sourness of the brett kept it interesting. The finish was crisp and peppery, complimenting the dark flavors very well. I thought it tasted almost like a muted version of Stone's Double Bastard. It arrived at almost at the same place, in an entirely different manner. Indeed, one might be attempted to compare it more to a peppery red wine. Furthermore Wine? Ha!

This beer is going to be available in VERY limited quantities. I've been told that about 10 cases are headed for Milwaukee, while Madison will get about 50 cases. It will be sold as a single 12 oz bottle. They wanted to do 22oz, but they aren't set up to bottle in that size. The rest of what they brewed will go to select restaurant accounts, although I forgot to ask where (maybe someone who knows wants to let people know where they can get this?).

But, some serious education needs to accompany this beer or you, retailers, will have some very disappointed customers on your hands. To start, please do not put this beer in your refrigerators - both retailers and consumers. You are far better drinking it at room temperature than refrigerator temps. If you have a cellar, put it there to keep it chilled. If you must put it in the refrigerator, let it sit on the counter for at least 15 minutes before you open it. Second, you will do yourselves and your customers a disservice to serve this beer in a pint glass. Let its colors shine in a red wine glass. Trust me, you can reasonably split a 12 oz bottle between 2 people; it was 8.5% ABV before the beets were added, so it's probably closer to 9% ABV. For restaurants, six ounces is about a normal wine-glass pour.

The moral of the story here is that this beer completely changed from what it was a refrigerator temps (38 degrees) to warmer temps (closer to 55 degrees).


  1. Agreed! I had the same reaction to the pint straight out of the tap on Saturday night. Then it sat on our table for a while and, sip by sip, it blossomed into something special. That said, the 9% ABV did nothing for my head the next morning...

  2. Jeff - Could you post some follow up on when and where we might expect to see bottles available in Madison and/or what restaurants plan to serve it? Thanks!

  3. Had the Refur at High Noon on Saturday, worked on it for an hour hoping to make it long enough to hear the Buffalo Killers, but didn't make it or finish my glass. The thickness was surprising, but the finish was nice (burps, not so nice). It was hard to sort everything out on my tastebuds, so I won't try, but a smaller serving would be enough for most drinkers.

    Sidenote, I had Furthermore's Makeweight on tap at Monroe St. Bistro on Monday. I got a lot of the same tastes in my first few sips, hops/yeast perhaps similar.

    ps. Brettanomyces is a yeast, not a bacteria.

  4. Will do. Hopefully one of the Furthermore guys will address it in the comments (presuming they aren't mad at me for calling their beer "medicinal" "stale prunes" ;). But, if I get any information, I'll definitely pass it on.

  5. Thanks for the feedback, all! This has been a really fun beer to conceive, test, produce, try to describe and drink. Definitely not for everyone, even at room temperature.

    A few notes from our end:

    Yeah, Steve - I agree about the presence of some "Makeweighty" qualities. The yeasts are quite different (two bret strains, a German wheat strain and an American Ale workhorse in the Thermo vs. the dominant Flanders strain in the Makeweight,) as are the hops (stock bittering hops and Cascade for dry hop in Thermo vs. Kent Golding & Fuggle for the kettle and Mt. Hood for the dry in Makeweight). That said, they do seem to have a similar impact. Aran can correct me if I'm mistaken. Sometimes he corrects me even if I'm not... ;)

    Jeff saw me while I was enjoying my first "legit" Thermo Refur. I had already had three other beers and was drinking my TR out of plastic (they were out of glass, even for me -HA! I suppose that's a good thing...) and it was at 35 degrees. Oh, and a band was playing so loud that I could only feign conversation. So when Jeff asked me what I thought. I moved my head in a large, noncommittal circle because I JUST DIDN"T KNOW. We discussed the temperature issue, and what was funny to me was that with two of four test batches, I had a hard time as the beer warmed up - precisely because I could taste everything! Having had an opportunity to review the final full-scale production product with less competition for my attention, and while I think Thermo Refur is kind of magical and certainly fun, I agree that no human needs 16 oz of this beer at one time and that a room temp snifter or wine glass is appropriate.

    50 cases will be released to select Madison retail accounts in February. Frank Beer distributes FmB, but Cork & Bottle, Star, Steve's MP & University, Barriques Fitchburg, Whole Foods, Jenifer Street Market and Riley's are the likely locations. 5 cases will stay in Spring Green, and 7 will go to MKE (my guess is Whole Foods, Otto's on Oakland, Discount Liquors and Three Cellars.) Bottles are loose-packed in cs-24 to promote selling as singles. You won't have to buy six to try one.

    As for kegs, there are 8 50L kegs and a handful of 1/6 bbls allocated to Madison. Given the nature of this product, I would guess that the only places you MIGHT find it are Brasserie V, The Malt House, Dexter's, Monroe St. Bistro, Barriques, Magnus and as a one-off, The Old Fashioned. But by all means, correct me if I'm wrong or have omitted a likely location. In MKE, try Comet on Farwell and Sugar Maple in Bayview. Kegged product is just now being released to Madison and will be released to MKE in February (corresponding with our appearance at "Beer School", hosted by Comet Cafe.

    In any case, thanks for indulging our experimental temperaments. I think the tagline for this series of beers will be "Just because you can doesn't mean you should." Either that or "Darkness isn't the opposite of light. It's the absence of light." But maybe that's already taken...

  6. Thanks, Chris! Looking forward to trying it.


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