Blue Point Brewing Co.’s (Sour) Cherry Imperial Stout

February 5, 2013

It’s been some time since we’ve talked about the actual beer-making process. I recently came across a neat little brewery tidbit that reminded me exactly how complex our favorite beverage is to produce. That, in turn, helps me realize even further what I already know and that is Blue Point Brewing Company makes some excellent beer. What follows sheds some light as to why.

When owners Mark Burford and Peter Cotter first began to piece together their dream of operating their own – and Long Island, New York’s first – micro brewery, money quickly became an issue. The bad luck that had visited itself upon many other breweries at that time was turned to the two friends’ good fortune. They were able to procure the essential – and usually expensive – equipment for quarters on the dollar through foreclosure auctions.

While scouring a defunct brewery, they happened across a direct fire brick brew kettle that they knew they had to have. Now, here’s where we get into specialized equipment having an impact in the brewing process. For review, we need to go to the first brewing stage.

Cereal grain – barley – is milled and added to a tank called a mash tun where it’s mixed with hot water. This begins starch development which means sugar. Those sugars are what the yeast is going to eat to make alcohol and carbon dioxide. Before that can happen, the wort gets transferred to the brew kettle. The hot water from the mash tun is now full of flavor, starch and enzymes that is filtered over to the brew kettle where the first round of hops are added.

In the case of Blue Point’s restored kettle, the direct fire and brick housing impart an additional toasty edge to their products during the boil. To further improve efficiency, they retro-fitted it with a custom-designed heat exchanger that recovers millions of otherwise-wasted BTUs and condenses the steam back into hot water to be used in the next brewing cycle. From there, it’s fermentation, filtering and packaging.

One of their seasonal items I’m digging right now, despite the lack of true winter weather lately, is their Sour Cherry Stout. The name only refers to the tart, fresh cherries added to the beer during fermentation. Not sour whatsoever, this Russian Imperial Stout is so dark brown that it’s almost black. A milk-chocolate head fluffs up tall and recedes to a nice thin cap that stays for the duration. It’s deeply scented with toast, coffee, vanilla, cocoa and a touch of maraschino. Flavors are rich and rewarding; creamy dark chocolate, roasted grain and candied cherry with a smooth texture.

Is an artist or craftsman only as good as his tools? In this case, I find them elevating each other.