The Legend Behind the Legendary Cask Fest Ale
March 26, 2013 - 1:33 PM- by Kendall Jones, Washington Beer Blog -
This is not merely a story about a beer and its impending release. This is not merely a story about another collaboration beer. It is both of those things, but it is also something different.
Herbert’s Legendary Cask Fest Ale honors the memory of Bert Grant, one of craft beer’s great pioneers. Brewed each year for the Washington Cask Beer Festival (coming up on March 30), Herbert’s is served exclusively at the festival and at a very limited number of other locations. The 2013 version of the beer will debut on Monday, March 25 at 7:00 p.m. at Seattle’s Latona Pub (blog sponsor).
Usually, the beer is simply a tribute. This year, it is a resurrection. Working with a few of his fellow brewers and a recently unearthed original recipe, Chad Roberts has recreated Grant’s Scottish Ale. To understand what that means, and appreciate the cool factor, you need to know the back-story.
The Ale Master
Grant’s Scottish Ale is the stuff of legend. Originally introduced in the early 1980s, it was one of the first craft beers of the modern era. Some people loved it passionately. Other hated it with equal fervor. It was bold, assertive, bitter, and a little bit odd. If you knew the man, you’d describe the beer as Bert Grant in a glass. It was a kilt-wearing, broadsword-wielding, son-of-a-bitch of a beer.
In 1982, Bert Grant opened a brewery and pub in Yakima. It was the first post-prohibition brewpub to open in America. Grant abandoned a career in “big beer” and moved west to live out his dream of making small-batch, handcrafted ales. In 1980, when he embarked on this adventure, there was no blueprint for what he wanted to do. There was no How To manual for opening a craft brewery (or a microbrewery, as we used to call them).
Bert spent most of his life working for breweries back east but decided to head west for this next phase of his life. He wanted to be close to the hop farms so he landed in Yakima, where the vast majority of the country’s hops are grown. The founding of Yakima Brewing and Malting Co. (Grant’s company) was a seminal moment in modern craft beer history.
Bert Grant died in 2001. His company outlived him for a few years, but now they are both gone.
Honoring the Man
Herbert’s Legendary Cask Fest Ale is a collaborative beer brewed once a year by participating members of the Washington Brewers Guild. Each year the project has a life of its own, with different brewers working collaboratively to devise a recipe and brew the beer. Typically, the beer has been something akin to an IPA. Bert Grant loved hops, so it always seemed fitting to memorialize him with a hoppy beer.
This year, the beer bearing his name will actually be a modern recreation of one of Bert Grant’s classics: Grant’s Scottish Ale.
“I approached Lisa Miyashita (event coordinator for the Washington Brewers Guild) at last year’s festival,” Chad Roberts told me. He is the head brewer at Snipes Mountain Brewing in Sunnyside, Wash. “Herbert's Legendary Cask Fest Ale had always been brewed on the west side of the mountains, a grave oversight in my opinion.”
“With the Guild’s approval, I started talking to other east side brewers, like Yakima Craft Brewing, Bale Breaker Brewing and Ice Harbor Brewing. I decided nothing would be more appropriate than to brew Grant's most famous (and divisive) brew: Grant’s Scottish Ale. Luckily, Ice Harbor had brewed a beer years ago called Uncle Herbert's. Russ Corey provided me the recipe for that beer, which had the pedigree of coming from Ben Grossman, who had brewed at Grant's back in the day.”
Indiana Chad and the Temple of Bert
The story doesn’t end there. Chad Roberts is something of an archeologist when it comes to beer.
“I've been digging around the Grant’s funerary plot forever,” Chad Roberts told me, referring to a whole host of archives. He enjoys uncommon, serendipitous access to some of those artifacts and relics.
Using Archives.org, he was able to uncover the now-retired Yakima Brewing and Malting Company website and gather some valuable information. On the site, Bert Grant noted the malts and hops used for each beer, as well as the BU (bitterness units), EBC (color), OG (original gravity) and FG (final gravity) of every beer. It was not a complete recipe but it was a great place to start, providing important clues to unraveling the mystery of Grant’s Scottish Ale.
This was not Chad’s first attempt at recreating an original Bert Grant recipe. “The first beer I brewed for Snipes Mountain Brewing was an attempt at reverse engineering Grant’s Deep Powder winter ale,” he says. “However, Chris and I perverted it by adding rosemary boughs to the mash, and brewing it with lager yeast at Steam Beer temperatures.”
Not too long after that first experiment, Chad rolled away the giant stone in front of the sacred vault.
“A friend said that since his uncle owned the old brewery building, we could raid the offices. We walked away with numerous sealed cases of The Ale Master , brand new tap handles, as well as a healthy box of papers and photos.”
Also amongst the treasures were Bert’s brewing books, as well as a good portion of his personal glassware collection, such as glasses from the 1983 Great American Beer Festival.
“I read through the Scottish Ale segment in The Ale Master, and discovered that Yakima Brewing and Malting Company had received their malt from Great Western Malting Company just like we do,” Chad said. “The recipe called for Pale Malt and Crystal 60, with Cascade hops.”
“The changes I made were to use all three of Great Western’s Pale malts in a blend, move some of the bittering hops to a 30-minute flavor addition, and then dry hop, as per Ben Grossman's suggestion. I also added some Dextrine malt because I was told Grant's beers often over attenuated, and as Yakima Craft Brewing uses in its 1982.”
Yakima Craft Brewing Company, by the way, still uses Bert Grant’s original brew kettle. 1982 is their tribute beer and is reminiscent of the beers that helped change the world.
Chad matched the recipe where he could, adapted the formula as he saw necessary, and only ran into one real roadblock. “We used our house yeast,” Chad says. “I have been unable to dig up Bert's unique house yeast anywhere.”
Dig up might be the right way to put it. I’d bet Bert took that yeast, along with his trusty broadsword, to the grave with him. Archeology is one thing. Grave robbing is another.