Spontaneous Combustion: The Invention Thereof

Tim and I invented spontaneous combustion.

It actually sounds cooler than it is. Really, we were just bored. History was boring. Extremely boring. Who knew? Not these two time-traveling mavericks. Why do you think Paul quit teaching it? You have to be a god-damned illusionist to try and get kids to pay attention to all the boring shit. Yeah, we know, Cromwell, Hammurabi, Tesla, blah blah blah. 332, 1280, 1668, 1776. Yes, there were some interesting people and times in our world history, but they’re only a minuscule part of the vast void of history.

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Stay Thirsty

To take an oath is a serious thing. Taking a solemn oath is the most seriousest of serious. So serious, it makes you invent new words.

When we hit year one, we decided to inaugurate our own holiday of sorts: Oath Day. Only this holiday doesn’t mean you have to shoot the shit with your sister’s new ego-maniac boy toy in your parents’ backyard, or pretend to be ecstatic when you open up a pair of lacy underpants from Grams. Hell, you don’t even have to exchange gifts. This holiday is about drinking beer with friends and strangers in our brewery, sharing stories, maybe playing some dodgeball or hopping on a mechanical bull. It’s a celebration of all things Oath. And that includes all of you SOBs.

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The Yeast Brink

Our taproom bartenders tell us that you guys make the funniest faces when you see us in the brewery wrestling with a yeast brink—or “funny-shaped keg,” as we hear you like to call it. Here’s the breakdown on all things funny-shaped keg.

The most microbiologically sensitive part of the brewing process is between the heat exchanger, where we cool the boiled wort, and the completion of primary fermentation. Wort in the kettle is hot enough to prevent microorganisms from establishing residence, but once it’s cooled it’s basically bacteria and fungus heaven—lots of sugar, full of nutrients, and moderate in temperature. The way it’s supposed to go is we pitch a carefully selected and cared-for yeast strain into the wort, which ferments wort into beer. When fermentation is complete, the depleted reserves of sugar, low pH, and alcohol content mitigate the chance and severity of infection. Knockout—pumping the wort from the kettle through the heat exchanger to the fermenter—is, therefore, a critical quality checkpoint to make sure that the yeast strain we select takes hold and prevent foreign organisms from doing the same. Any process equipment that touches cooled wort has to be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized, so when preparing to harvest yeast, we start by soaking all our yeast brink parts in caustic, rinsing them, and finally soaking them in a no-rinse sanitizing solution.

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King Of The Hill, Top Of The Heap

Despite having flown a million times before (I’m exaggerating a bit), I still get quite nervous and my life tends to flash before my eyes during that initial take off. Sure, I had a Budweiser on the plane, but that simply wasn’t good enough.

I had really needed approximately twenty Budweisers, a Xanax, and a hand to hold… and I wasn’t about to hold John Barley’s hand. Even the thought of it makes me shudder. Luckily the flight was pretty short otherwise I might have been forced to give in. But, I finally did arrive in New York super enthused and sweaty-palmed.

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Having a native or friendly resident to hook up with is always a good idea to get the lowdown on sweet spots that reside off the grid.

This was my first time in New York and John and I had a lot of ground to cover in just a few days. We had a couple meetings, and we were ready to do some serious “market research” (aka drink and see some old friends). Plus, I insisted that we see everything–the Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, and Times Square simply had to happen. By the end of the trip I would come to the realization that hanging with my boss doesn’t suck nearly as bad as I thought it would and that quality over quantity is sometimes bullshit–one should always hit up as many spots as possible to truly capture the vibe of a place. Local hangs, dive bars, tourist traps, hit ‘em all up. One drink per spot is a good rule to follow otherwise you’ll turn into that obnoxious, puking foreigner that everyone stays far away from. John and I crashed into about ten to fifteen spots a day, but we kept food in our bellies, walked almost everywhere, and have beer-industry tolerance. Proceed with caution, SOBs.

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Airplane peanuts and Red Bull were simply not going to be enough to fuel our first evening, so we headed to Fette Sau. Only a few blocks away away from our Airbnb, this spot is simply a must for anyone visiting Brooklyn and a natural beginning to our trip. A slightly metal-inspired fix of smoked meats and all things craft. Like Green Street Smoked Meats in Chicago, one of my favorite spots, you get in line to order your food, hit up the bar, and then seat yourself at a picnic table. When I travel I aim to soak in a space and figure out what is different about it. This is an awesomely simple space, relatively small with all the right touches like knives as tap handles and a digital fireplace. Being about sixty degrees, something Chicago hadn’t yet seen at the time, we sat outside under the glow of the pink neon sign and gorged on brisket, pulled pork, and pickles, all the while drinking beer out of mason jars. This was a strong start and easily positioned itself as one of my favorite spots. I’m drooling right now just reminiscing. Go there.

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A balance between having an agenda and allowing for exploration is important. For this night we had one and The Music Hall of Williamsburg was next up for a Cherub show. It’s a mid-sized club that was filled with good-looking, independent-thinking, creative types of all ages. We met up with some of John’s old friends (yeah, I know – hard to believe he hasn’t burned EVERY bridge) and consumed a good amount of Brooklyn Brewery brews in preparation for our trip there the following day. Damn good stuff. Being a frequent visitor, John didn’t much care but I was happy to receive numerous helpful tips from John’s New Yorker friends such as: not waste a day riding a boat out to see the Statue of Liberty, simply see it from a distance and move on, and tips on what should not be missed. Having a native or friendly resident to hook up with is always a good idea to get the lowdown on sweet spots that reside off the grid. Do your research or reach out to people, I’m pretty sure this is why Twitter exists.

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Throughout the Cherub show we boogied, and whiskey made a couple of appearances in shot form. I saw lots of strangers’ tongues, too. PDA seems to be big in Brooklyn. And frequent. I was okay with it though; nothing was going to bring me down unless I witnessed the murder of a kitten or equivalent. People in general just seemed super chill. It wasn’t like Chicago where I’m used to a lot of shoving and sweaty people standing too close for comfort whenever I attend a show of that scale. It had balance.

We had received a tip that Questlove was djing that night at the famed Brooklyn Bowl. Yeah… Questlove, as in The Roots and The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, so we made a beeline for this bowling alley/music hall hybrid. There were easily a thousand people there, yet it wasn’t stuffy or overwhelming. The beer list was killer, very easy to overindulge. Half of the people were dancing… and it wasn’t like the, “I’m dancing so look at me and my sexy booty and be turned on and buy me drinks,” kind of dancing, it was like everyone was dancing for themselves and having the time of their life. Killer vibe. Word on the street is there might be a version of this place opening up in Chicago’s West Loop sometime soon. My fingers are crossed. Yours should be too.

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One major thing that I learned from the trip, that I guess I kind of already knew deep down, is that Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver is a total badass. I wrote on these pages about my experience reading The Oxford Companion To Beer–Garrett is the author of that beer bible. He also wrote The Brewmaster’s Table, another masterpiece and the only text to consult if you want to learn about beer and food. We met up with him on Friday. He oozed all things beer and he’s so goddamn worldly. I felt smarter and more cultured just being around the guy. His passion for the craft is contagious and inspiring, and the various Ghost bottles he cracked open for us were heavenly. I already liked Brooklyn Brewery’s offerings quite a bit before visiting the facility, but I left completely in love with their mission and approach to beer. It was encouraging to see a brewery that serves as such a leader in the beer community completely live up to and exceed their reputation. These guys are fucking legit.

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Oh, and I’ve got to mention Shadow, the feline that roams around Brooklyn Brewery. I’m a sucker for cats. If it wasn’t for my boyfriend, I would totally have a dozen of ‘em. Anyway, Shadow got me thinking about a Solemn Oath pet/mascot. I’m thinking pot belly pig (Ed. Note from John: Hell no). We’re all about breaking boundaries, so a brewery pig would be well-suited for us SOBs. Plus, he could nibble on the spent grain. If you think you have a better idea, tweet us. Don’t forget to include pictures of that pygmy goat or whatever. It’ll make John happy, perk him right up.

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At some point we made the trek over to a small art gallery to see an art exhibit we were super hyped up about and meet up with James, owner of Bronx Alehouse and an old friend of Joe and John’s. We had carefully checked the website to ensure the “special lady” would still be “doing her thing,” but those fuckers had made it “by appointment only” and failed to mention that detail online. It was absolutely soul-crushing. We had been wiggling our fingers weeks in advance. This is what we missed. Dammit.

We’re all about breaking boundaries, so a brewery pig would be well-suited for us SOBs.

A meetup with Michael McAvena of Virtue Cider and pizza ended up filling our animatronic lady void. Roberta’s Pizza to be exact. I fell in love with the place right when we walked in and laid eyes on the merch. A tee with a crude zombie holding a slice of ‘za on it? Killer. The back bar area is basically a ginormous tent with lights strung about, blankets hanging on some of the tent walls, and a couple picnic tables. It was so hippy-dippy/grunge/tacky that it was hip/artsy/wonderful. Simple is better. I like places that don’t try too hard. The pizza was so fresh and so clean, clean.

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Our last day we managed to see pretty much everything you would see if your Aunt Sue and Uncle Buck took you to New York in your middle school years. I got to cross the Brooklyn Bridge, stroll through Central Park, and take in the lights at Times Square while eating a Walgreens-purchased ham-wrapped cheese stick. I left the city knowing damn well that I would be back soon. I also left with the knowledge of how to hold chopsticks properly, which I had never been able to master previously (Ed. Note from John: She still doesn’t quite get it).

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So take this from my experience: act like a local and you shall be treated like one, and thus get the full-fledged, honest experience in your chosen city. Brace yourself, and dive in headfirst. Move quickly. Take everything in that’s available to you, in the greatest variety possible, even if that means calling it quits too soon on any one scene. And remember: there’s no award for being the most well-rested when you get home.

From time to time the people of Solemn Oath Brewery take the time to chronicle their travels and experiences to share here with you. How can we make ourselves better if we never experience anything new?

Jourdon Gullett

Before Solemn Oath began, I sought to build a company where individuals could be unleashed in a creative atmosphere with a united goal. The work of our artist, Jourdon Gullett, is an excellent example of how this looks when it goes really, really well.

The person we sought for our brewery art was one who would understand our goals and make Solemn Oath Brewery a part of their home. Joe and I had an affinity for raw illustration and tattoo-inspired work and those dimensions defined the space we wanted Solemn Oath’s art to inhabit. Our world collided with Jourdon’s through a mutual friend, and he has since filled it with all things dark, dangerous, and unfathomable. 

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SAVEUR Best Wine or Beer Blog Finalist

Your mother was wrong. The use of profanity, even in print, is not always inelegant. Nor apparently does it disqualify you from incredible and humbling honors. Last week SAVEUR Magazine announced Solemn Oath’s SOB Stories as a 2014 Best Food Blog finalist. Unbelievable.

We’re one of six finalists in the best wine and beer category, each of which have incredible sites. While we hope it is us, please take the time to vote for your favorite. Voting closes April 9 and we’d love to have your support. And dammit share with your friends.

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Café Incognito

Sometimes an idea sounds so good that you just have to look past its gratuitous extravagance, technical obstacles, logistical complexities, and uncertain outcomes and just fucking do it.

So it went when I started talking to Jay Cunningham at Intelligentsia. Jay is a fifteen-year coffee pro who loves beer but thinks putting the two together has not generally been a very inspired process and that the results are not generally all that good. The tilt of coffee beer is unfortunately towards that generic burnt-caramel roast character that flows by the thousands of gallons from donut shop Bunns every morning, everywhere. It smells like what people think of as coffee, but to someone like Jay who’s been around the world buying beans and selling the end product, that’s what stale coffee smells like.

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A Conversation with Wes Phillips of Windy City

There is a lot more to the success of a brewery than just making beer. When a beer is ready to leave our four walls, we rely on on a number of people from areas including operations, sales, marketing, beer buyers, bartenders, wait staff, and consumers.

We create strategies for new and old products and communicate with our sales team. We devise a plan and get after it, knowing that we’ll need to constantly adjust to ensure that the beer that reaches you is of the highest quality and as fresh as possible. It takes an army to do this. And in Chicago, Wes Phillips devises the plan for infiltration.

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Mmm Mmm Dangerous

Let’s be real, safety isn’t the sexiest part of the beer world. There’s no Festival of Safely Brewed Beers or World Safety Cup awards ceremony, and for good reason. Yet safety is the single most important effort made in breweries every day, so here’s a little window into that seldom-seen world.

Read the beer news and you’ll notice some patterns. There’s a microbrewery doubling capacity. Here’s a nano releasing bottles. Every regional brewery is opening up an East Coast shop. With all this expansion, there are more people than ever working in the industry who don’t have experience in manufacturing plants. With all those green employees, there’s a heightened danger of someone getting hurt.

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