Beer: Open Road Brewery: Mother Road Brewing Co. Style: English Summer Ale ABV: 5.8 percent
Critiquing a beer's appearance, aroma and flavor can tell you much about that particular brew, but little else. No, to truly know a beer, one must travel to the place it was brewed, see the people who made it and learn their stories. How convenient, then, that I was recently invited -- along with several other Valley beer aficionados -- to travel up to Flagstaff on a balmy 85-degree afternoon and tour Mother Road Brewing Co. This job does have its perks.
While poking my head around the brewery, I learned some things about Mother Road you won't find on a beer label. Here, 12 little-known facts about one of Arizona's own.
Mother Road was a long time coming. Founders Michael and Alissa Marquess conceived the idea of opening a brewery way back in 2004, at a time when Mike was languishing in the cubicle-based existence of his corporate job. They worked toward their beer-y goal for years, finally opening Mother Road in November 2011.
The brewery's located inside an old laundromat. The Milum Building -- which now houses Mother Road, Pizzicletta (a pizza place) and Flagstaff Bicycle Revolution -- was originally a commercial laundry built in the 1920s by the Milum family. They operated the business until the late 1990s.
The brewmaster has a cool name and an even cooler job title. Urs Riner, a graduate of Northern Arizona University and the UC Davis brewing program, is Mother Road's head brewer and part owner. His official title: Yeast Whisperer.
Riner uses Munich malt in every beer he makes. He likes the biscuity flavor Munich contributes. If the brewery had a flavor calling-card, this would be it.
A new pilot system will allow the brewers -- and staff -- to get way more creative. See it up in the top middle? Pilot systems are smaller set-ups brewers use to test out wacky ideas or produce small batches of beer that would be too expensive or time-consuming to complete on a larger system. Mother Road's pilot will be online later this month.
The next special release is going to be really tasty. Housed in a back storage area at Mother Road are several oaken barrels that were once filled with Heaven Hill bourbon. These casks been used to ferment three special brews so far: Wooden Spoke 1, a sour English-style ale called extra special bitter; Wooden Spoke 2, which takes Mother Road's Second Anniversary Ale, a Belgian golden strong, and ferments it with Brettanomyces for three months; and Wooden Spoke 3, a bourbon-aged version of Lost Highway Imperial Black IPA. The fourth in this series will tweak Gold Road, a Kolsch, by fermenting it with sour yeast strains and aging it in barrels with pureed pears. If the tiny pour I received is any indication, it will be delightful.
Their fermentation tanks are named after old car companies Hudson. Auburn. Dymaxion. If you ever rode in one of these cars, you are old.
The photo on the coaster is not as old as you think. Those old-timey-looking folk are actually current Mother Road employees.
The Mother Road logo was designed by Randy Mosher Mosher is a beer celebrity who authored the craft beer primer Tasting Beer. He's also designed a few of the brewery's beer labels.
Except for this one. Open Road, Mother Road's new summer seasonal, features a label drawn by Mary Henningsen, a Flagstaff artist who, not coincidentally, was the first to be featured in the brewery's taproom.
Open Road was brewed with some interesting ingredients. Pink and Szechuan peppercorns, to be exact. Brewed as an English summer ale -- a style very similar to American blonde ale -- the beer is pale gold with a soft haze. Just a whisper of foam is created at the pour; it fizzles away after a minute or so. It smells like the starchy side of a summer barbecue -- biscuits and corn kernels. A swirl gives off floral English hop character and tangy peppercorn aromas. The flavor is fairly light, with soft earthy hops up front followed swiftly by snappy, cracker-like maltiness. A dash of corn blinks at the finish while a peppery bite lingers on the sides of the tongue. The adjuncts were added with perhaps too delicate a touch for me, but Riner says the subtlety is by design. "In my opinion, a beer should always be a beer first," he says. "Whatever's in there -- fruit, whiskey -- it should still be a beer first."
Open Road is available now. Go get some.
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