"Brewing and fermenting down-home great tastes

Home brewing and winemaking, and enjoying quality beverages of distinctive cultural heritage, are part of Indiana’s re-invigorated story, underscored during the recent visit of the lord mayor of Cologne, Indianapolis’ sister city, when he approvingly sampled our versions of Indiana Kolsch beer and Rhine wine. Evidence of Hoosiers trading up to cosmopolitan taste over insular bland is quantified in growing attendance at tastings and brew pubs and increased sales of distinctive domestic and foreign labels.

Follow NUVO’s wine and beer writers, Jill Ditmire and Rita Kohn, as they chronicle individuals carrying on family traditions or discovering the joys of real beer and wine. Just as each sip of or each experience in making a quality beverage reveals something new, so will these stories. They’re NUVO readers making news.

Not your grandmother’s wine

By Jill A. Ditmire

Martha Stewart feasted on its greens while in prison. My next-door neighbor Kelly used to hand pluck them from her yard. Bees love them. Lush lawn lovers hate them. Mahlon Butz drinks them. Well, sort of.

Dandelions. The butter yellow button-like flowers — or weeds, depending on your take — make a fine wine and the greens make a plucky salad. Dandelion root is also a traditional liver tonic. So I guess if you drank too much dandelion wine while eating dandelion greens you’d want to take a teaspoon or two of ground dandelion root in your water before you go to bed for the night.

“My grandmother made dandelion wine and my parents made it, too, in the basement. Everyone grew Concord so we always had wine for Thanksgiving and Christmas but it was homemade wine,” says the man who was underage when he first started tasting wine and now claims he is over-age when asked about selling the scrumptious fruit forward award-winning wines that he makes in his home.

“I like the heavy reds,” Butz chuckles.

“The fun part is blending. I have an artistic family and for me blending the different grapes is the creative part,” he says of the grapes he grows, prunes, sprays and harvests on his Tippecanoe County property, as well as the grapes he buys from the West Coast that get pressed in the basement cellar.

Butz’s Shiraz is dense and peppery and could go glass to glass with many of the bottles of the grape found on store shelves. But profit is not his passion. Smiling faces and empty glasses and dozens and dozens of awards from Non Commercial (the PC wine world lingo for “amateur”) is the point.

“Maybe if I was younger I’d do it professionally, “ says Butz with an easy laugh.

His 17-year-old grandson told him that he wants to learn the craft. So perhaps one man’s hobby becomes another man’s career. But don’t expect to see a bottle of dandelion wine with the BUTZ label on it.

“About 30 years ago my son wrote a letter to my mother asking for the recipe. It was hit or miss because it was hard to read but we gave it a try,” says Butz of his mother’s recipe. Two quarts of solid pack yellows, raisins, sugar and yeast.

They made it once. That was enough.

Home brewing: challenges and awards

By Rita Kohn

Ron Smith’s Castle Rock Irish Red Ale was distributed to select stores, pubs and restaurants throughout Indiana following its release at Kahn’s Fine Wines & Spirits on Jan. 30. Upland Brewing Company of Bloomington (www.uplandbeer.com) brewed and bottled Smith’s unique recipe after it won the 2005 Indiana Ultimate Beer Geek Challenge.

Conducted by World Class Beverages, the annual award also recognizes the contributions home brewers are making to the craft beer industry.

Smith has been home brewing for 15 years. His awards include Best of Show in the 1999 Indiana State Fair and a coveted gold medal in the 2000 National AHA (American Homebrewer’s Association) Competition, which includes entries from across North America. NUVO visited Smith at his home brewing operation, a sparkling clean set-up in his garage.

Smith: I have a 10-gallon, all-grain, tower system that is a permanent set-up in my garage. I have a dedicated drain and hot and cold water lines running to the brewery area. I serve all my beer on tap in small kegs. I use the same ingredients, processes, computer software, etcetera, the micros and brew pubs use. Most people are pretty amazed by all of this once they realize how professional it is, but I am only one of many that take brewing to this level these days.

The Ultimate Beer Geek Challenge is an incredible award for a home brewer to win. Having your brew bottled and distributed statewide is an experience I will long remember.

NUVO: What are the changes in home brewing since 1990, when you started?

Smith: More people are doing it; excellent ingredients, including pure liquid yeast strains, are readily available; the equipment has improved as well, with a more efficient and effective device for everything. Also, the general public is more educated on better beers, so the hobby is more accepted and people don’t fear what we make, like it is some sort of witch’s concoction. All of this [home brewing] has led to many brewers making truly excellent beers.

In addition to being more flavorful and complex, craft beer tends to be higher in alcohol than most domestic beer, so more mature beer drinkers have learned how to appreciate the “quality” rather than the quantity.

NUVO: What special quality does a touch of molasses bring to a brew?

Smith: Molasses adds a complexity and depth to the flavor. It adds a toffee and rich caramel-ly character to the malty sweet component of the beer.

The yeast strain is where a great deal of the flavor of a beer comes from. The yeast I used for the Brown [Wyeast 1028] finishes drier, and has a harder, more minerally profile. The yeast I used for the Red [Wyeast 1318] creates a softer, more balanced character and finishes a bit sweeter. Thus, using the same wort — wort is unfermented beer — but different yeasts, can create a very different beer.

The style guidelines for an English Brown Mild and an Irish Red are very similar. I probably never would have thought to put molasses in a Red, but I think my future Red recipes have changed. The moral to this story is never decide what your beer style is until you’ve finished it and tasted it.

NUVO: How do you typically brew?

Smith: I start with 10-gallon, all-grain batches that I split into two 5-gallon batches in order to experiment with different yeasts, dry hopping and other conditioning variables, while still remaining true to the requisites of the specific style.

NUVO: What learning process is underway for drinkers of craft beer?

Smith: The explosion of craft beers and breweries has settled down, so the successful micros and brew pubs are now less focused on survival and making a beer for the broader masses, and more focused on differentiation and making new and different beers.

To learn more about the Irish Red Ale style, check out http://www.bjcp.org/styles04/Category9.html#style9D.

Side by side

By Rita Kohn

Upland Brewing Company of Bloomington, Ind., altered its schedule to brew and bottle Ron Smith’s award-winning Castle Rock Irish Red Ale. NUVO spoke with brewer Caleb Staton, a Muncie native who started as a cellarman at Upland about two years ago following an internship at Berkley Trumer Brauerei. Staton is a graduate of Hanover College and University of California-Davis where he earned a master’s degree in brewing.

NUVO: What was fun for you while working with Ron Smith’s brew?

Staton: Ron’s Irish Red Ale has a characteristic that makes it stand out. My theory is that the molasses stabilizes the color and the head. He created a recipe that is easy to translate from 10 gallons to 1,000. The one challenge was the molasses. We had to find 30 jars of the same brand to keep it consistent. The groceries in Bloomington wanted to know what on earth we were doing. Well, I got back with the jars, opened one, turned it over. Whoa, nothing was flowing out. I started laughing. We had to figure out how to get molasses out of the jars pretty fast. The other challenge was getting the label OK’d. We referred to it as “Castle Rock’s sticky journey through the hallways of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Tax Bureau.” They had a hard time with molasses in an Irish Red. They insisted we specifically list molasses on the label.

NUVO: What would it take to make Ron’s beer a regular for Upland?

Staton: It would have to prove to be commercially viable. Then we would decide if it’s year-round or seasonal. People would have to ask for it. Upland tries to look for that “new thing.” Our market is for the mature beer drinker. There’s a lot of good beers out there. We invite people to start finding them.

A priceless balance

By Jill A. Ditmire

“I got fired five times,” laughs Mark Easley, current owner and winemaker of Easley Winery in downtown Indianapolis.

His father Jack Easley was the henchman who let his son go over and over and over and over and over … but Mark kept coming back. Even a history degree from Wabash College didn’t sway his desire to be in the vineyards and winery started by his parents over 30 years ago.

Jack and Joan Easley made wine at home for fun since both enjoyed successful careers, his in law, hers in market research. Add four kids and there wasn’t much time for a side business. Then in 1971 they found Cape Sandy along the Ohio River in Southern Indiana.

“They said it reminded them so much of Europe but it needed people. So they decided to plant grapes and make wine,” recalls the marketing mastermind of the business, Meredith Easley, Mark’s wife, whom he met during one of those “winery firings” as she was the beach manager at Eagle Creek Park and he was an out-of-work beach bum.

Jack and Joan found a warehouse on the corner of College and New York Street to make and sell the wine and the Easley Family Winery was off and running.

“They didn’t just plant a row or two, they planted acres,” Mark says. Acres of hybrids, crossbred grapes that were just gaining fame and good fortune thanks to Midwest soils and the guidance of Ohio State University wine professors. Easy growing grapes like foch, baco noir, cascade and seyval blanc became easy drinking wines and bustling sales as the family bottled that juice and then sold those and other grapes to up-and-coming Indiana wineries.

They also landed the contract to produce the sacramental wine for the Indianapolis Catholic Archdiocese.

“It’s a precise balance of sweetness and acidity and we have a lot of Catholic customers come to the winery and want to buy that wine. But Joan is adamant about not selling the wine to anyone but the diocese,” Meredith says.

Easley makes three varieties: a white, a red and a blush. “The red is most popular as it represents the Catholic interpretation of the blood of Christ. But during Lent we get more orders for white,” Meredith says.

Jack died in 1997 and the often-dismissed son became the keeper of the family business. Mark used his touch to make some badly needed improvements. Top-notch equipment and thorough wine keeping from grape to bottle plus customer first priority are daily endeavors for the 21st century Easley Winery. “Now it’s quality over quantity,” Mark says.

A statement that not only applies to the almost 30 wines produced but also to the Easley daughters. The next generation of Easleys may be more interested in Hello Kitty than Reggae Red now, but mom and dad hope daughters Madeline, 8, Mary Joan, 4 and Maggie, 2, will continue the business. “Madeline will be our saleswoman, especially when it comes to dealing with the distributors,” Meredith laughs. “Mary Joan can do the PR and Maggie is quiet and thinks, so she gets to be the winemaker.”

Easley’s three most popular bottles

Reggae Red: sassy sweet “get your groove on” red wine made from blend of concord and Fredonia. Chill and thrill!!

Barrel Select Red: just a smidgen softer than Oliver Winery Red. Both from same grape, Concord, but the Easley take is lighter bodied. Sweetness lingers less but still fabulous flavor.

Reggae Blush: This soft, pink, easy-to-drink wine boasts more fruit than sweet and gives you a balanced best of both. Catawba is the grape to thank for this creation that should make white zinfandel shy away as wine lovers partake of a wine that offers the same satisfying flavor but lighter, crisper finish.

Easley Winery

205 N. College Ave.



Expert taste

By Rita Kohn

NUVO asked Bob Mack of Indianapolis-based World Class Beverages to describe the basic styles of beers our readers might like to sample, and to list some of his favorite brews that are locally available.

Wheat ales

The four basic ingredients of beer are barley malt (germinated barley), hops, yeast and water. With wheat ales, some of the barley malt is replaced with wheat, usually about 50 percent depending on the desired final product. Today, the hefeweizen (or weisse) is the most popular and common of German wheat beers. Hefeweizens are pale colored ales and often taste of banana or clove. The banana, clove or other flavors are produced by esters, which are a by-product of the fermentation process. The word “weizen” simply means wheat, while “hefe” means yeast.

Examples available in the Indianapolis area include Indiana’s own Upland Valley Weizen.

Other examples include Ayinger Brau Weisse, Franziskaner Hefe Weiss, Flying Dog’s In Heat Wheat, Paulaner Hefeweizen and Pyramid Hefeweizen.

American wheat ales tend to be very crisp and clean, with a grainy, nutty and slightly sweet flavor. The bitter flavor of hops is typically very low in American wheat ales. Examples available in the Indianapolis area include Bell’s Oberon, Anchor Summer Beer, North Coast Blue Star Wheat and Three Floyds Gumballhead. Unibroue Don de Dieu is another great wheat beer, though it"


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