Brewer’s Per­spec­tive: Jack Hendler of Jack’s Abby

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Contents: Feb-mar 2019 -

The Mas­sachusetts brew­ery is no stranger to mak­ing lagers, and the co­founder talks about two beers the brew­ery makes with an em­pha­sis on the dark.

Be­fore he and his two brothers founded Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers in 2011, Jack Hendler spent a con­sid­er­able amount of time study­ing all as­pects of lager brew­ing. While the brew­ery might be best known and cel­e­brated for its Pil­sner and lager of­fer­ings, dur­ing a re­cent con­ver­sa­tion with Jamie Bogner for the Craft Beer and Brew­ing Mag­a­zine® pod­cast, you could hear the ex­cite­ment Hendler has for the darker side of the style, in­clud­ing sch­warz­bier and Baltic porter.

IT STARTED WITH A trip to Ger­many, and at the Hof­bräuhaus in Mu­nich, Jack Hendler had his first taste of an au­then­tic dunkel lager and was smit­ten.

“It’s one of those beer styles that I’ve al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated and look back at for in­spi­ra­tion. I think the style got lost in the shuf­fle of what peo­ple as­so­ciate with lagers,” he says.

The per­cep­tion has changed in the past 7 years since the brew­ery opened. In the be­gin­ning, beer tourists would come in, see that the brew­ery served only lagers, and want to turn right around be­cause they had an idea that they didn’t like lager over­all, when it was re­ally more that they didn’t care for the light mass-pro­duced land­scape that was long as­so­ci­ated with drink­ing in the United States.

“It was a lit­tle frus­trat­ing at times, but it was also a huge talk­ing point for us to be able to ex­plain the process,” he says. “And we’ve had a lot of fun with dark lagers since then.” One of the brew­ery’s best­known beers, Smoke & Dag­ger, a smoked

black lager, has been a part of the brew­ery’s lineup since al­most the be­gin­ning.

Smoked Black Lager

“Smoke & Dag­ger is not ex­actly tra­di­tional,” Hindler says. “It’s about 10 per­cent smoked malt, so it’s not overly smoky, but it’s a beer that has a re­ally nice bal­ance to it. If you think of it com­pared to a smoked porter, it has a lighter body to it mak­ing it eas­ier to drink but still has the nice smoky roasty fla­vors to it. It’s so pleas­ing.”

That’s one of the keys to the beer’s suc­cess. Of­ten smoked beers can have a bit of a rough edge, but with Smoke & Dag­ger, many of those at­tributes have been smoothed out.

“When you de­scribe beer, you talk about bal­ance, and usu­ally you just as­so­ciate hops and malt,” he says. “A lot of the beers that we brew, we’re not try­ing to bal­ance malt and hops; we’re try­ing to bal­ance two other char­ac­ter­is­tics, smok­i­ness with roasti­ness, and have them work in har­mony with each other. So, maybe you can smell the smoke, maybe you can’t. Find­ing the cor­rect per­cent­ages was a lit­tle tough in the be­gin­ning, but we feel much more com­fort­able to­day brew­ing that beer.”

Still, he says, there are dif­fer­ences that arise from batch to batch, de­pend­ing on the malt the brew­ery is able to source. “If we get a fresh batch of smoked malt into the brew­ery as op­posed to a batch that has been sit­ting in a ware­house for 3 months, it will change the bal­ance of the beer, and then some­times you’ll per­ceive it as way more smoky and other times, roastier.”

Through­out, Hindler wants to make sure the roast char­ac­ter—along with some other aes­thetic qual­i­ties—isn’t lost.

“If you put that beer un­der light, it will have a red­dish hue to it, whereas when we brew some of the stouts at Spring­dale (the com­pany’s other brew­ery) and you put a light to it, all you see is black. So find­ing that bal­ance where you find enough roast and cho­co­late and all those dark-malt char­ac­ters but also have enough light­ness where you’re not get­ting the as­trin­gency and the bit­ter­ness from the malts is the chal­lenge.”

To cut down on the as­trin­gency, the brew­ery of­ten uses de-husked malts, but Hendler says he’s par­tial to us­ing cho­co­late malts, ac­knowl­edg­ing that it’s not a tra­di­tional Ger­man malt but that the roast char­ac­ter it pro­vides, with­out be­ing overly harsh, is more pleas­ing than us­ing a lot of other roasted malts. For hops, it’s just enough to

keep the beer from be­ing sweet, but they don’t use any aroma hops in the recipe.

Baltic Porter

Jack’s Abby makes a Baltic porter called Fram­ing­ham­mer, which also comes in bar­rel-aged va­ri­eties, and then oth­ers with ad­junct treat­ments from cho­co­late to mole, cof­fee, and co­conut. When it comes to those in par­tic­u­lar, Hendler says the brew­ery wants to bal­ance the bour­bon notes along with the other fla­vors of the beer and the in­gre­di­ents.

“It’s a con­sis­tent base recipe across the board. We’re treat­ing it in the same way, ex­cept how we’re treat­ing it with the bar­rels it’s ag­ing in. We’re al­ways con­cerned with wood be­cause there are two things that re­ally dam­age clean beer: bugs and oxy­gen. So, we de­signed the beer to give it the best op­por­tu­nity to store well in those bar­rels.”

The beer is fairly dry. The brew­ery adds a fair amount of su­gar to help with that. That means there are fewer fer­menta­bles for mi­crobes; there’s also high bit­ter­ness (close to 50 IBUS), and that helps make sure the bugs stay in check in those bar­rels. It’s a high-plato beer, 23° by Hendler’s rec­ol­lec­tion. He es­ti­mates there’s 75 to 80 per­cent at­ten­u­a­tion when it goes into the bar­rel. The beer is lagered be­fore it goes into a bar­rel, he says, and usu­ally stays in there for about 3 months, de­pend­ing on the fla­vors added. And be­cause of con­tam­i­na­tion wor­ries, all of the woodaged beers that come out of the brew­ery are pas­teur­ized.

How­ever, the big­gest con­cern is ox­i­da­tion. With that in mind, the brew­ery works to make sure that the beer has enough time to pick up de­sired fla­vors with­out it turn­ing away from the orig­i­nal in­ten­tion.

“Most of the time, when we’re do­ing dark beers, we’re do­ing a blend of two to three roasted malts,” he says. “We do use our house lager yeast for the Baltic porter. It takes its time, but it’s fan­tas­tic. It does what we want it to do, even fer­ment­ing at 40°F (4°C). Our lager yeast here is pretty hardy.”

For their lagers, the brew­ery starts a new cul­ture of yeast ev­ery month.

“In our opin­ion, grow­ing it from a single cell is just too much time and ef­fort. We start with a lar­gish pitch, and then we’ll grow it up to a 240-bar­rel, so it can take 3 or 4 weeks un­til we’re ready to get that into a full batch here.”

The brew­ery wrapped up 2018 mak­ing about 50,000 bar­rels of beer, mostly all lager, prov­ing that di­ver­sity in a style will bring cus­tomers and new fans into the fold reg­u­larly. Hear more of the con­ver­sa­tion with Jack Hendler in episode 59 of the Craft Beer & Brew­ing Mag­a­zine® pod­cast (beerand­brew­ing.com/pod­casts).

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