Thursday, October 06, 2016

How Rockhound Brewing's smoked hop pale ale and the Super Bowl in the year 2000 connect in my cranium.

The last time we visited Madison was 2014, and since then, several new breweries have started operations. One of them is Rockhound Brewing, located on Park Street, just a ten-minute walk from our Airbnb. It's sleek and modern, housed in the ground floor of a newer mixed-use building. Rockhound was rocking on Thursday night.

Prior to departure, I'd seen a reference on Facebook about a new smoked beer release at Rockhound called Campfire Stories, and resolved to try it. For once, I made no effort to research the beer any further; just order it, and drink.

At first, I found the results a bit odd. Not bad, just uncommon -- hops in the background and smoky nose, but something vaguely phenolic in the background flavor. At this point intrigued, I asked the bartender. She explained that Campfire Stories was a Pale Ale, with the hops smoked rather than the malt.

Only then did it hit me.

On January 30, 2000, a date verifiable only because it was Super Bowl Sunday (the Rams over the Titans), the late Matt Gould and Kevin Richards came to my garage to homebrew an idea we'd long discussed: Smoked Hop Pale Ale.

Unusually, this was my idea. One night at the bar, I drank a Schlenkerla Rauchbier, then without rinsing the glass (how often did THAT happen?) poured BBC American Pale Ale into it. I was drinking a hoppy ale and smelling smoke, hence the "eureka!" moment, comparable to the old commercials in which peanut butter accidentally met chocolate to form the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.

Consequently, Matt bought whole leaf hops, and Kevin joined him in smoking them over wood that wasn't beech, though the exact type escapes my memory. Hickory? Mesquite?

My then-wife was a homebrewer, so we had most of the equipment already assembled, which actually may have belonged to the FOSSILS homebrewing club. Don't ask for details. It was 16 years ago, and these days, it's a challenge remembering what I had for lunch yesterday.

Still, I know we brewed, and I know we drank lots and lots of "guest" beers while ducking in and out of the garage to watch the game, which came down to the final play. At some point a few weeks later, we tried the beer. It was rough around the edges, though better than I expected, and it had this slightly phenolic flavor ...

By the following year, Cumberland Brews was going full-tilt, and Matt was the brewer there. He brewed the second batch of smoked hop ale at Cumberland as a seasonal specialty, and if memory serves, repeated it in 2002. By 2003, NABC's starter brewing system was on-line, and at some point Michael Borchers created our house version, called ConeSmoker, but with a twist. Smoked malt was used, as smoking the hops seemed too variable.  

That's a chunk of Kentuckiana beer history to emanate from a single pint of Campfire Stories at Rockhound in Madison, and that's what I like about the wider world of beer.

Free and unfettered association.


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