A guest blog post by Bill Fishburn. You can follow Bill on Twitter @rwfishbu1.
This month, I visited Dick’s Brewing Company to get samples of their Mountain Amber Ale. Head Brewer Dave Pendleton was gracious enough to provide me with an email interview, and he gave me his perspective on this very smooth version of the amber style.
Dick’s Brewing Company is located in Centralia, WA, dangerously close to where I live in rural Thurston County. After several years of homebrewing, Dick took his hobby to the professional level, and started the permitting process in 1992. The brewery grew out of Dick’s Northwest Sausage & Deli, just up the road. For several years, the brewery was located behind the deli, but it moved to a much larger, nearby facility in 2008. As Dick was growing his brewery operations, he grew his brewery offerings. With a capacity over 3000 bbls annually, and over 20 styles now offered, they are sure to have a beer for every palate.
It was an unfortunate day for the Washington Brewing community and for the craftbeer community, at large, when Dick passed away in October 2009. Fortunately for all of us, he was already bringing up brewer Dave Pendleton, who he hired in 2007. He promoted Dave to Head Brewer in 2008, and Dave’s been making great beers at the brewery ever since.
With Dave, Dick kept the brewery’s roots in homebrewing. Dave owns the local homebrew supply store, Rocky Top Homebrew, in Olympia. Although day-to-day operations are run by his dad and sister, you can still sometimes catch Dave there on a Saturday, helping with recipes, giving tips, and selling homebrew ingredients and supplies. His support of the homebrewing community reaches beyond the shop, but we’ll save that for another day.
The Brewer: Dave Pendleton
Q: What first got you interested in brewing beer?
I first became interested in brewing when my dad received a homebrew kit for Christmas. I was 16 at the time and remember thinking “no way you can make beer at home”. I was hooked from the first batch we brewed together.
Q: What is your favorite brewing memory?
I would have to say that being trained on the brew house by Dick Young is the best memory I have of brewing. He just kind of threw me into the mix and said, “Sink or swim.” He was always very helpful and always willing to teach and help troubleshoot in the brewery.
Q: What is your favorite style to brew and why? To drink?
If I had to pick one style to brew I would have to go with Imperial Stout. There is just something about all of that dark malt; when you mash in, the aromas are just over the top. When it comes to drinking, I would usually go with an IPA… can’t get enough of the hop.
Q: What is the single-most important variable to you in your brewery/process?
I would say the most important variable in the brewery/process would be in the fermentation. Pitch rates, viability, vitality all play a very important role in producing a consistent product.
Q: Do you have any tips (process, OG, FG, special ingredients) for homebrewers wanting to clone Mountain Ale?
A few tips I would give about cloning our amber would be to mash in a bit high on the temp, around 155F. Put in a hefty amount of munich malt (around 20%) and get your hands on a good English ale yeast strain. I could tell you more, but…. well, you know.
Q: What was the brewery’s vision for Mountain Ale when you began developing the recipe?
Dick Young described the Mountain Ale as a happy mistake. The story as he told it involved some mix up on a grain bill when brewing a different style, but instead of dumping it, he finished the batch, and to his surprise it wasn’t half bad. I am still unsure if he was just pulling my leg, but it still makes for a good story.
Q: Is there anything you’d like to change about Mountain Amber, or has the original vision been achieved?
Our Mountain Ale is one of my favorite styles that we brew. It has a very malty but smooth flavor and just enough hops to balance the sweetness of the malt. So I guess I would have to say I wouldn’t change it at all.
Q: Brewer question of the month: What did you find to be the biggest challenge transitioning from homebrewing to professional brewer?
I think the toughest transition from homebrewing to professional brewing would have to have been cleaning and sanitation. As a homebrewer it was always pretty easy to grab a 5 gallon carboy, give it a good scrub, and then hit it with some sanitizer. But when dealing with a 60 bbl fermenter, 40 ft of hose, and a pump, I was a bit intimidated.
Q: Where can readers find your beers in WA, OR, ID?
When searching for our beer in the NW we hope you can find it almost anywhere. Most grocery chains carry our beer, along with bars and taverns and a lot of bottle shops and convenience stores. It is always the biggest challenge as a brewery to get as much shelf space as you can. If you happen to be somewhere that doesn’t sell our beer, just ask, because I am sure we have a distributor that would be happy to get you the customer, our beer.
The Style: American Amber
WARNING! WARNING! WARNING! The next couple paragraphs are watered down beergeekspeak. If that’s not your thing, head down to where I describe this beer.
Aroma: American Ambers have a low to moderate hop aroma, and while a citrusy hop character is common, it is not required. Its moderately low to moderately high maltiness balances and sometimes masks the hop presentation. They usually offer a moderate caramel character and esters (e.g., fruitiness) can be moderate to none.
Appearance: Ambers are amber (duh!) to coppery brown in color. They pour with a moderately large, off-white head that retains well. They are usually quite clear, but may show haziness if dry-hopped.
Flavor: Ambers typically have moderate to high hop flavor that are often citrusy. With strong to moderate malt flavors, the usually show a malty sweetness followed by a moderate caramel flavor. Hop bitterness and malt sweetness are usually balanced, while fruity esters can be moderate to none. The caramel and hop flavors can linger into the finish.
Mouthfeel: This style is medium to medium-full body with moderate to high carbonation. Overall smooth finish without astringency. Stronger versions may have an alcoholic warmth.
Overall: The American Amber style is like an American Pale with more body, more caramel richness, and a balance more towards malt than hops.
Let’s see how Dick’s Mountain Amber Ale stacks up…
The Beer: Dick’s Mountain Amber Ale
Aroma: This beer presented with a very “malt-forward” aroma backed by a light note of fresh oranges. The citrusy bouquet gave way to a rich caramel scent and a mild spiciness that reminded me of my aunt’s pumpkin pie. As the beer warmed, the malt aromas became pleasantly bready.
Appearance: As a beer judge, I learned various descriptors for clarity. Clarity is one of several characteristics that stood out for me with Dick’s Mountain Amber. It was brilliantly clear and seemed to almost sparkle in the glass. It poured with a thick, off-white, “spritzy” head that persisted very well, resolving to a ring of laciness as I continued to drink. It was a very orange-y amber, tending to the upper end of the color scale for the style.
Flavor: The first flavor I noticed was a definite citrus. Completely in line with the aroma, it came through to me like a freshly peeled orange. This was followed by some rich carmel tones, in turn followed by malty, bready flavors. The low bitterness presented in the middle of the swallow, lingering with the caramel throughout the finish. One single word came to mind when I first tasted this beer: Delicate. The hops and malt came through as very delicately balanced-surprisingly so for a beer Dick called a mistake.
Mouthfeel: I said there were several characteristics that stood out for me with this ale. Mouthfeel was another one. In addition to its balance, this beer was exceedingly smooth. That “spritzy” carbonation I described in the appearance came through as a very light tickle on my tongue, and it contributed to the smooth sensation. It was a definitely medium body and provided a very slight warming sensation.
Overall: This was an extremely well-balanced beer offering a full range of sensory gratification: From the effervescent clarity and the citrus, caramel, and bready flavors, to the silky, smooth mouthfeel, it was the best beer I had this week (and that’s saying something, know what I mean?). Whether you’re a homebrewer looking for a model amber ale, or you’re a casual beer drinker just enjoying well-crafted brews, this beer is sure to please. The only place I could find this particular style was at the brewery’s on-site taproom, and let me tell you, it would be well worth your time to go straight to the source to pick up a six-pack… But I’d really recommend a case because of how fast it will likely disappear.