It started over a beer. To be more exact, it started over many beers. My wife and I were at a post Christmas dinner party. Over the previous two hours we had made our way through appetizers, a delicious main course and several rounds of great beer. At this point we brought out our contribution to the meal, some of our favorite German gingerbread or lebkuchen.
One of the distinctive features of the large round cookies is that each is backed with a white edible paper like substance which keeps it from sticking to the cookie beneath it. As I passed some to one of the other guests she took one look at it and exclaimed, “What are you trying to do, slip me a communion wafer along with my cookie? What is this, gingerbread Jesus?”
As the laughter rang out around the table we looked at each other and in unison shouted, “That would be a great name for a beer!” Under most circumstances the joke would have ended there. But it just so happened that I was laughing with Erin Wallace, who along with her husband Scott, owns and runs a brewpub, Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery.
Over the next few months the idea came up in conversation a couple of times but it wasn’t until August that we actually felt the pressure of time to make the beer happen if it was going to be ready in time for Christmas. Finally, after weeks of conversations the fateful day finally came.
Just after 8 am I blearily made my way to Barren Hill. Although I was running on four hours sleep my excitement for the chance to work with pro brewers kept me wide awake.
Head brewer Scott Morrison had worked out the final plan. The base beer was going to be a Belgian dubbel with fresh ginger and small amounts of cinnamon and nutmeg added to help evoke the flavors of the cookie that first inspired it. To provide sugars and to enhance flavor and color we used molasses. He also planned to add a little twist by adding some wild yeast. This would give a little twang and keep it from becoming too sweet and cloying.
As the morning wore on I asked lots of questions. Scott and his assistants Andrew and Rick were extremely patient. I helped where I could but I soon realized the best way I could help was to stay more or less out of the way as they worked their magic. I was amazed at the number of times they took PH and gravity readings. And although I know from homebrewing that when it comes to beer cleanliness is indeed next to godliness, watching the cleaning take place on such a large scale was a powerful reminder of just how much grunt work actually goes into the craft.
By the time we were ready to transfer out of the kettle the beer had taken on a gorgeous color and according to the guys, was very promising. Hopefully I’ll be able to check on the progress first hand soon and let you know how it’s doing.
A big thank you to Erin, Scott, Andrew and Rick to this amazing gift which all started over beer and laughter.
Stayed tuned and hopefully I be able to join you in hoisting a glass at Barren Hill in December.