This summer, we went shopping with a brewmaster to see how the experience differs from how an average beer consumer shops.
It was fun, interesting and informative – so we did it again.
This time, the brewmaster was Bret Kollman Baker, chief of brewing operations at Urban Artifact. The Northside brewery has made a name for itself in the local craft beer scene with its wild culture, utilizing locally caught yeast and bacteria to brew funky and flavorful beer.
Kollman Baker, who has been purchasing beer to cellar for the past eight years, has a vast and varied collection. When he peruses the shelves of local bottle shops, the first thing he checks out is the local craft beer section.
“We’re getting ready for the next big thing, which is packaging,” he said. “I like to see what’s new locally, especially at the Party Source, because they get all the specialty stuff, like Quaff Bros.”
The artwork on cans and bottles should be easily identifiable, he said -- at the very least by brand.
“That’s really good,” he said, picking up a six-pack of MadTree’s Blood Orange PsycHOPathy. “Look at Rhinegeist -- they’re the prototype for consistent marketing. From 10 or 20 feet away, I want to be able to recognize the beer, or at least tell what brewery it is, not just see a blob. Cincinnati in general is good at that.
“From there, I look for trends – are there more sours popping up?” he added.
The wild beers Kollman Baker and his team produce lean toward the sour side of the spectrum, so it’s a style that is near and dear to his heart. He acknowledged that while sour styles have gained popularity in recent years, there are still those who won’t give them a fair shake, especially if they haven’t tried them or have tried only one.
“A sour is a flavor, and to write off a whole style over one bad beer is bananas,” he said.
However, the selection of sour beers at the Party Source suggests that his opinion of sour styles is catching on.
“Every time I come here, the sour section keeps getting bigger,” he said.
He said he also looks to see how a beer is soured. (“Is it a quick sour or a more traditional sour?” Kollman Baker asked, checking individual bottles.) His brewing methods rely on fermentation for souring, a more traditional method that takes longer to produce beer but results in a more balanced and less harsh sour.
“I like to look at price point,” he said. “A lot of goses are ridiculous. It’s neat to see what people can get away with charging. It’s beer – it’s supposed to be a drink for the masses.“
While browsing, Kollman Baker also pointed out beer label instructions giving recommended storing temperatures and conditions.
“I cellar a lot of beer, although since starting the brewery more is coming out than going in,” he said. “I started doing it in college, with Scotty (Hunter, chief of strategic development at Urban Artifact). We started cellaring Bigfoot (Sierra Nevada’s barleywine), then it became wherever I went just loading up on stuff and sticking it away for a rainy day.”
Near the end of the shopping trip, he picked up a bottle of Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA and smiled as he held up the brew, a much sought after biannual release with a high ABV.
“Ever since they passed the law lifting beer restrictions in Ohio, I’ve been craving this beer,” he said.
While some people like trying new beers and weird flavors, Kollman Baker said that unless those beers come from a brewery he respects and trusts, he shies away from them.
“There are so many good options these days, why waste your money?” he asked.