Fer­mentery Form

Good beer is worth the wait. For Fer­mentery & Blen­dery Form, it took more than a decade to open their doors, and some of the beer they have ag­ing now might not be ready for an­other ten years. This Philadel­phia blender shows us all why it’s okay to slow do

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Contents - By John Holl

MUCH LIKE THE BEERS they make, the plan that even­tu­ally turned into Philadel­phia’s Fer­mentery & Blen­dery Form (Form) took time. If you talk to some home­brew­ers who get bit­ten hard by the bug and de­cide to hang their own shin­gle, some will talk in terms of weeks or months, with the long­est stretches com­ing from writ­ing a busi­ness plan and then wait­ing for the equip­ment to ar­rive. Talk with Ethan Tripp, one of Form’s co­founders, and he talks in terms of years, and they didn’t even have to wait for a brew­house to be in­stalled be­cause the blen­dery doesn’t have its own.

Tripp got his start like so many oth­ers be­fore him. Work­ing in an of­fice, he ca­su­ally men­tioned to a co­worker his in­ter­est in home­brew­ing and was gifted a

copy of Char­lie Pa­pazian’s The Joy of Home­brew­ing in re­turn. As he em­barked on a home­brew­ing jour­ney with friends, they found them­selves mir­ror­ing their own beer ex­pe­ri­ences. “Pa­pazian is a ro­man­tic and con­vinc­ing guy,” Tripp

craft—al­most says. “He por­trayed this per­spec­tive of hav­ing this

ap­peal­ing—and home in the old home­steading way that was as a dab­bler and multi-hobby per­son, I thought this sounded cool.”

That was a decade ago, and with friends Matt Stone and Scott Hatch, who are part of Form now, Tripp em­barked on home­brew­ing.

Tripp says that none of them had spent much time drink­ing BMC (Bud, Miller, and Coors) but had

“At some point, we hit an acid wall, es­pe­cially when there was a glut of that every­where, and it be­came less en­joy­able to drink. I used to get ex­cited by any­thing sour, but I had so many ter­ri­ble, rip­ping sour beers that I just couldn’t en­joy it any­more. And that’s when we started to think about what we were mak­ing and what we were at­tracted to and re­al­ized it was a softer lam­bic, a more rounded mixed fer­men­ta­tion, and we started to get our­selves un­der con­trol.”

fo­cused on lo­cal op­tions such as Yards Brew­ing Com­pany’s Philadel­phia Pale Ale or Yuengling. That led them to the famed Monk’s Café, a stal­wart Philadel­phia bar known for its in­ter­na­tional beer se­lec­tion—es­pe­cially rare, re­spected, and stan­dard bot­tles from Bel­gium. It’s here that they were in­tro­duced to beers from Can­til­lon and Ro­den­bach.

“And we were hit with the re­al­iza­tion that there was more to beer than the re­gional as­pect we had been in­tro­duced to and that pushed us to where we are to­day.” So rather than make pale ales or stouts or recipes that usu­ally come out of home­brewer’s kit, they set out to make spon­ta­neous beers. Tripp im­mersed him­self in the his­tory of these beers, the re­gions, the brew­ers, and the meth­ods. He learned how to keep mul­ti­ple cul­tures at home and started a small bar­rel pro­gram that turned into a larger bar­rel pro­gram.

“The only way to do this kind of beer and to give it the jus­tice it de­serves is to get oak in­volved,” he says. “I had some at my house, and we had some at Matt’s par­ent’s house, in­clud­ing one sin­gle-bar­rel sol­era that ran for like five or six years.”

With gal­lons of wild, dry-hopped ales, they even­tu­ally needed to make room for new batches, so af­ter hand bot­tling, they dis­trib­uted to a small group of friends. Re­ac­tions were pos­i­tive, and soon enough they started see­ing check-ins for their home­brew on Un­tappd.

Still, there wasn’t a firm plan to open pro­fes­sion­ally. But as Tripp and crew looked around them, they re­al­ized that maybe things had got­ten away from them.

“More and more Amer­i­can brew­eries were re­leas­ing spon­ta­neous ales. Some were good; some were not so good. In those cases, it was like the idea of wild yeast was the cure-all for ev­ery­thing, and there was sour for the sake of sour. At some point, we hit an acid wall, es­pe­cially when there was a glut of that every­where, and it be­came less en­joy­able to drink. I used to get ex­cited by any­thing sour, but I had so many ter­ri­ble, rip­ping sour beers that I just couldn’t en­joy it any­more. And that’s when we started to think about what we were mak­ing and what we were at­tracted to and re­al­ized it was a softer lam­bic, a more rounded mixed fer­men­ta­tion, and we started to get our­selves un­der con­trol.”

They did this by start­ing a 3-ves­sel sol­era sys­tem (in the sol­era method, a por­tion of aged beer is drawn out of a bar­rel—or series of bar­rels—con­tain­ing a sour cul­ture, while fresh beer is added). Three 60-gal­lon oak bar­rels with a yearly brew­ing and blend­ing ses­sion that was fo­cused on tra­di­tion and prop­erly ag­ing hops and ap­proxa

imat­ing the amount that the no­to­ri­ously pri­vate Bel­gian brew­ers were us­ing (hint: it’s a lot higher than peo­ple think) led them to mak­ing true-to-form lam­bic-style beers. The bot­tles that went out to the friends and fans soon got a big­ger cult fol­low­ing, and the cho­rus of folks urg­ing them to open sud­denly sounded like a good idea. Plus, as Tripp points out, there was a need for the kind of beers they were mak­ing, es­pe­cially in their home re­gion around Philadel­phia.

They found ware­house space, and Tripp re­called lis­ten­ing to a pod­cast with Troy Casey (Casey Brew­ing & Blend­ing, Glen­nwood Springs, Colorado) who the­o­rized that a blender could save a lot of money by sim­ply con­tract­ing out wort and not wor­ry­ing about buy­ing a brew­house. This ap­pealed to the Form team who could be freed up to fo­cus on blend­ing, ag­ing, and mar­ket­ing. So, they worked out a deal with lo­cal Saint Ben­jamin Brew­ing Com­pany to make wort for their project.

“We can do this with our own money, try it out, and if it fails, it’s not the end of the world,” Tripp says. “I don’t owe money to com­pa­nies and peo­ple all over the place that I’ll have to strug­gle to pay back over time.”

Fer­mentery Form opened in 2017, and based on its re­cep­tion both re­gion­ally and around the coun­try, you can ex­pect it to be around for a long time.

Since they’ve opened, Form has pro­duced a dizzy­ing ar­ray of beers. Some are more rare than oth­ers, but one that stands out is the sim­ple, 3.5 per­cent ABV ta­ble beer, Form to Ta­ble. It’s no­ble hops–for­ward with a cit­rus tart­ness and a dry, herbal fin­ish. There are oth­ers that are aged with fruits or that pay ho­mage to styles such as tripels. Tripp wants to make sure there is va­ri­ety for cus­tomers to taste and not just the aged rare of­fer­ings.

“I want to put more young beer on tap for peo­ple to taste be­cause [young beers] can grab your imag­i­na­tion. Then over time, you can taste how the beer evolves and gets more com­plex.”

Form is work­ing to­ward a day when they can have one- to three-year blends avail­able, push­ing them into the ter­ri­tory where they can pro­duce true-to-style gueuze.

They think of the process much like mak­ing sherry: As new beer comes in and new bar­rels are filled, the older ones get moved down the line and over time, an end­less ar­ray of blends is pos­si­ble. Through­out it all, Tripp says, they want to honor tra­di­tion while keep­ing rooted in the in­spi­ra­tion that started them off on this jour­ney to be­gin with.

“We want to be cre­ative but de­lib­er­ate,” he says. “It’s not magic, but it can feel like that some­times.”

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Pre­vi­ous Page » The process is much like mak­ing sherry. As a new beer comes in and bar­rels are filled the older ones get moved down the line. Above » Fer­mentery Form has brought their vi­sion for spon­ta­neous beers to Philadel­phia and the bot­tles are quickly find­ing their way into the world.

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