If you’re familiar with the study of film, you have probably heard of auteur theory. Basically, this theory states that the director of a film, through their use of such means as lighting, cinematography, editing, and direction, is and should be considered the true ‘author’ of the film. This would override other people such as the screenwriter or the producers, and make the end product the sole vision of the director.
There are some examples of this in brewing as well. Sometimes, one gets lucky and comes across a place that is unconcerned with current trends and popular styles, brewing almost exclusively for their own tastes and sensibilities.
So is the case with BrewPOP, a brewpub and winery located in Auburndale, Florida. A trip to BrewPOP should be considered a trip into the sole world of one Jerry Souders.
And it is a wonderful world to be in.
Auburndale is an interesting place to be. Situated in Polk County, It’s maybe 10 minutes east of Lakeland, and a little bit closer to Tampa than it is to Orlando. With a few very notable exceptions, Polk isn’t exactly known for craft beer. This is macro country, something Jerry readily admits was a slight issue in his early days.
And yes, there were people that would walk out because they didn’t have the mass marketed bruised they were used to, one person saying the only good beer was a particular mass-market beer and it is only good if it is served in a bottle. Slowly but surely the residents of Auburndale came around to seeing all the wonderful things that Jerry has been doing.
The BrewPop location is definitely unassuming. It’s in a small strip mall in front of a Walmart, smack dab in the middle between a GameStop and a Subway. Once you go past the door with the impressive and amusing list of guidelines for a visit, there’s almost a Willy Wonka-esque quality to the facility that unfolds before you.
Inside those doors you run smack-dab into a red wood fire pizza oven. In fact it was the person manning the oven who first greeted me as he was putting another one of their pies in to be baked. There is a lot of room inside, definitely plenty for a busy Saturday night.
Raised up about three or four feet, in the center, is the main bar with about 45 of Jerry’s taps. Not all of these taps are beer, and we will get to that later. Along the south wall are two alcoves. The alcove closest to the front windows is the home of Jerry’s brewing system, with several fermenters and a few boil stations as well. Behind that, separated by a legally mandated wall, is his Winery. Yes, he makes wine as well, and always manages to have a few varietals available for people that aren’t necessarily interested in beer.
I was there on a quiet weekday afternoon, a leisurely poker game playing in the back, and a small crowd coming in and out. I took a seat at the bar to meet with Jerry and go through what ended up being a very engaging 3-hour trip through everything that he does.
One of the many things that make BrewPop unique, and something that I have never seen before in any brewery, is his brewing style. Born out of interest in not wanting to throw away what could be perfectly good mash, Jerry developed what happened to be a several hundred year old technique known as Parti Gyle. He’s proud enough of it to where you will actually see the motto espousing this brewing style on the back of employee shirts. Parti Gyle uses several runnings of water through the same mash to produce different batches of similar, if not completely exact, beers.
Jerry described it a little like brewing coffee. When you brew, the first cup is strong. If you want to brew a second cup, but you don’t have any more grounds and you decide to run the water through the grounds that are already there, you get a lot of the flavors, but it’s a little bit weaker. If you do it a third time, then it’s a little bit weaker still, but you still have some of those flavors.
This, in essence, is Parti Gyle. Using the same mash, but running the water through it successive times in order to get three batches of beer of varying intensity and flavor. This is pretty tricky, and took Jerry some trial and error to get those extra runnings through picking up the flavors from the malt without grabbing any off flavors on the way that would skunk the batch.
The thing to keep in mind is that Parti Gyle does not mean that he has three different varieties of the same beer on tap. Each variety is treated differently and, especially with the third running, used as a base of sorts to do different things with. Jerry describes it as a ‘feel,’ it’s not as simple as running water through a mash. It takes time and expertise to get a good product.
For example, the first beer is his award-winning Big Effort (Blonde Ale, 10.5% ABV), a beer that boiled for 4 hours and liberally hopped with Citra, Mosaic, and Amarillo. Basically, the beer was made to see exactly how big, in Jerry’s words, “how big can you get a blonde before she turns into a brunette.” It’s a phenomenal beer, big and candy-like with great citrus flavor.
That was the first running through the malt. The second running was Peel’n Oranges (Blonde Ale, 9% ABV). This time, Jerry added locally sourced honey and orange peers, in addition to Citra and Mosaic hops. It’s a little lighter, but doesn’t feel watered down. If you had introduced the beer to someone without any explanation, all they would taste is a great blonde honey ale.
The third running from this batch was Pool Side at the Sanitarium (Gruit, 5.6% ABV), for which Jerry went in a completely different direction. With this beer, named for a proposed turn-of-the-century all inclusive resort that had been planned in the county, Jerry turned the blonde ale into a gruit. This rather rare style forgoes hops in exchange of herbs to flavor the beer.
Jerry used green tea, ginseng, lemon peel, dandelion root, and Florida wildflower honey, and the earthy aromas and flavors are really good. It doesn’t feel watered down, but it is noticeably lighter than the other two beers. On its own, it’s just a bright, bubbly beer with incredible aromas.
That’s the most amazing thing about the beers; if you hadn’t been told, you wouldn’t know. Everything is kept its own distinct beer and each can stand very well on its own.
I’m going to pause for a bit and mention the food here, since the food really is that good. I did not try the baked chicken wings, although I heard that they were excellent. I am a big fan of pizza though, and so I definitely had to get one topped with chicken, Italian sausage, pancetta, homemade marinara, swiss, and provolone cheeses, with the amusing name of My Chicken Beat Up My Pig.
The pizzas, especially the dough and sauce, were specifically crafted to compliment the beer, not the other way around. Jerry is very adamant that the beer comes first, and none of the other offerings should be interfering with that.
For that reason, the pizza does not include such ingredients as garlic or butter. The reasoning is that some ingredients, such as those two, tend to be bully ingredients that overpower everything else. If you eat pizza then drink the beer, your beer tends to taste like oils or butter or garlic. There is so much else on the pizza, and it’s all so amazingly good, you will not miss what’s not there.
Stay tuned for Part 2, coming next week.
Drink Florida Craft,