Their flavors may be offbeat, but Santa Cruz brewery still puts craft first
Every craft brewer has a hot new IPA or pale ale, but how many of them have a bacon brown ale? Just one: Santa Cruz’s Uncommon Brewers, which first went into production in August of 2007, and has created unusual flavors like Golden State of the Oak, which is aged in Chardonnay barrels, or the Siamese Twin Ale, which is brewed with lemongrass, kaffir limes and coriander. The company packages beer in cans, one of the first craft brewers on the West Coast to do so. We spoke with founder and head brewer Alex Stefansky about new flavors, cans, and bacon-flavored beer.
How did you get into making offbeat beers?
ALEX STEFANSKY: I was trying to go back to the origins, where beer came from—some of those original, pre-industrial flavors. That’s where we started. What we’re doing now is I’m looking for where we can bring culinary flavors and use those to enhance what is naturally present in the style of the beer. Our Baltic porter is one of the last pre-industrial styles. It was made at lower temperature. Part of that process produces these licorice flavors. So we played around with making the licorice part of the Baltic porter. So there’s this whole shredded licorice root in the beer. You have something very stringent and rich and dark burnt flavor, along with the intensely sweet licorice flavor. The two hit in the middle and cancel out. You end up with this very smooth, chocolatey, roasty porter. It’s absolutely delicious.
Does your bacon brown ale taste like bacon?
It’s subtle, because we’re not using liquid smoke to add flavor to it. We do a bacon cure on a whole pork leg in one 30-barrel batch. It’s salted and cured and smoked. Essentially what I’m doing with it is I’m making a stock. We’re extracting some of those proteins and getting those fats out. You get these savory flavors. It’ll never taste like you’re chewing on a hunk of bacon. The goal is subtlety. We’re making beers with flavor. We’re not making flavored beer.
The three main enemies of beer are heat, light and oxidation. And a bottle doesn’t truly protect against two of those. A can is a perfect mechanical shield. There’s a stigma with cans, because for a long time the only beers you could get in cans were pretty low quality, primarily Coors and Budweiser. Things have really changed in the last eight years. There’s wonderful beers coming out in cans.
What new flavors do you have coming out?
There’s a Pilsner that has ginger and wasabi root. It’s grassy, a little bit spicy, but at its core it’s a refreshing Pilsner. We have a collaboration with High Water Brewing that is coming soon called Flamenco Roja. It’s a Flanders red that’s brewed with pomegranate juice, aged on raspberries. It’s got a little nice tartness to it. It’s very dry and crisp.
UNCOMMON MAN Alex Stefansky says a subtle approach ensures his Uncommon Brewers creates beer flavors, not flavored beer.