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Wednesday, January 4th 2012

Very Uncommon Brews are Coming!
Q & A with Uncommon Brewers
Owner & Brewmaster Alec Stefansky

Uncommon Brewers is a relatively small, organic brewery located in the coastal California town of Santa Cruz. They began canning their Siamese Twin, a Belgian-style Dubbel, in 2008 and have since added two other year-round cans (Baltic Porter and Golden State Ale). The brewery has recently expanded their distribution, announced the upcoming canned release of their Bacon Brown Ale and has other things in store in 2012. 

This is a brewery that puts their own unique spin on brewing and we wanted to learn a little more about them and what was in store for the upcoming year. Never in our wildest can-loving dreams did we think we'd learn what we did from Uncommon Brewers' owner and brewmaster Alec Stefansky. 2012 will see the brewery release some VERY, VERY special, and certainly uncommon, beers in cans including the first ever canned bacon beer, the first ever canned non-alcoholic craft beer and the strongest beer ever to be canned! Cheers Alec! We CAN't wait!!!

(CC) Can you give us some of the background of Uncommon Brewers and the role you play?

(AS) I'm the founder and Brewmaster for Uncommon Brewers. I started work on the recipes while in grad school back in 2002. The craft brewing community seemed energetic and vibrant, a place where risks could be taken and innovation rewarded... not something that I was seeing in many other career options. After some early and largely unsuccessful experiments brewing without hops the decision was made to focus on making beer with spices. Production began late in 2007 and sales in June of 2008. I started work on an expansion to the brewery late in 2009 which has proceeded with fits, starts, setbacks, headaches, turmoil, and much gnashing of teeth. I'm hoping to complete that work in one form or another by late spring 2012.



(CC) Uncommon Brewers definitely does some unique things with their beers especially when it comes to spices. Your Siamese Twin is brewed with kaffir lime leaves, the Golden State is brewed with poppy seeds and the Baltic Porter is brewed with licorice and anise. What's your approach when it comes to adding spices?

(AS) Beer is a wonderful conduit for bringing flavor to the palate, far better than any other beverage. Brewers have access to the full profile ranging from sweet to savory, bitter, sour, salty, and tannic, and all of that range just from our malts and mash. Beer pairs with food because it is food.

My goal with our spicing is to enhance flavors already present in the beer, or to help find a new balance point within an existing style. This is how the Siamese Twin Ale became a bit of a crossed-border hybrid, with coriander bridging between the malty base of a Dubbel and the citrus bite of lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. It produces a dangerously smooth beer that's entirely unlike anything else.


(CC) What can you tell us about your Bacon Brown Ale? Will it be organic like the other canned offerings? 

(AS) In the newest addition to our line, the Bacon Brown Ale, I'm using toasted buckwheat and, yes, bacon-cured organic pork. It brings a hint of smoke to the nose and a nutty, savory finish to the beer. The bacon flavor is subtle, quite intentionally. I want the beer to be drinkable, not just a pork-fetish novelty. It'll never be like you're chewing on a piece of bacon. Instead the pork flavor comes on the finish, building as you get deeper into the glass.


(CC) When will cans of Bacon Brown Ale be hitting shelves?

(AS) I'm aiming for a late January release of the Bacon Brown cans, to coincide with a new label for the Siamese Twin. That timeline has to be pretty solid, since I'm down to my last two pallets of the original Twin cans.


(CC) What other cans are you releasing in 2012?

(AS) The entirely new beers are the aforementioned Bacon Brown Ale, a non-alcoholic Scottish-style Red called Scotty K NA, and a west coast strong ale aged on redwood tips (the closest that I can come to pinning it into a style) that'll be called American Special Bitter. Those first two will be in our standard 16oz cans; but since I don't want to be responsible for serving our customers a pint of 14.5% ABV American Special Bitter (ASB) that beer will hit the shelves in 8 oz stubby cans.


"The entirely new beers are the aforementioned Bacon Brown Ale, a non-alcoholic Scottish-style Red called Scotty K NA, and a west coast strong ale aged on redwood tips (the closest that I can come to pinning it into a style) that'll be called American Special Bitter. Those first two will be in our standard 16oz cans; but since I don't want to be responsible for serving our customers a pint of 14.5% ABV American Special Bitter (ASB) that beer will hit the shelves in 8 oz stubby cans."

Uncommon Brewers' American Special Bitter will be the STRONGEST craft beer ever canned and the FIRST craft beer packaged in an 8 oz. can

(CC) Were you aware that the American Special Bitter was going to be the strongest craft beer ever canned as well as the first craft beer ever put into an 8 oz. can? It sounds amazing - we've never heard of a beer aged on redwood!

(AS) The ASB is fun. It's hopped up like a double IPA and black as sin. The nose has intense hop aroma and prominent alcohol. The body runs complex caramel malt sweetness forward, then intense bittering before the redwood tannins come on to dry out the finish, leaving smoky roasted barley. It's a beer for brewers, all of the flavors that we enjoy running up at their limits. Not sure how the general marketplace will receive it, but I think that the stubby can is going to do good things for us. I'll be able to put a high gravity beer out on the market in a single-serving size and a reasonable price. I didn't realize that it'd be the strongest canned beer. That's interesting to learn. I don't have a solid release date for it yet, since the canning line will need to be retooled to handle the shorter stubbys.


Scotty K NA will be the first ever non-alcoholic craft beer to be canned

(CC) What made you decide to can a non-alcoholic beer? Another first in the craft beer industry as far we know.

(AS) Do you know of any decent tasting non-alcoholic beers? As far as I can tell we'll have the first, and it'll be craft-canned organic to boot. I'm really excited about this one. The test batches have made for wonderful working beers after pulling fermenter samples in the morning. It's not always easy to go back to coffee once you have beer on your palate at 7am, but a little too early to start in on something like the Twin. The Scotty K begins as a nice malty red ale, so there's still good body to it after the alcohol has been driven off. It's named in honor of one of my guys, who's been working in the brewery for four years, but hasn't had a drop of alcohol in more than twenty.



(CC) We've heard you've given the three cans you've already released a makeover. Why?

(AS) We have three changed labels coming out in the new year, an effort to bring consistency to the entire lineup, as well as to better emphasize the identity of the individual beers. The Siamese Twin Ale, Golden State Ale, and Baltic Porter are seeing a change to the logo and beer name layout, as well as a few minor text changes. The Twin is also getting new artwork to replace that damn cut lime which has made so many people say, "Oh, it looks like iced tea."

(CC) In which states can people find Uncommon Brewers cans?

(AS) Our distribution is expanding in the next year. As of January our cans will be available in Northern California, Oregon, Nevada, Illinois, Ohio, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington D.C. We're also reaching across borders to British Columbia, Denmark, and Japan. I'm hoping to get something going in southern California again soon, and possibly several other overseas markets as well.


(CC) What is something people might not know about Uncommon Brewers, but should?

(AS) We're always happy to answer questions about the beers or the brewery. Please let your readers know that they shouldn't hesitate to get in touch.



Posted by Russ