Beer geeks not only love to drink beer, but also love to drink together and discuss the ingredients, aromas and flavors we are experiencing. Many of us are home brewers at different levels, so we understand the process, and we network with brewers and breweries — that’s what makes us geeks.
So, I was not surprised when Jim Moler (a very active member of Michiana Extract & Grain Association, MEGA, and friend of mine) contacted me to let me know that New Hampshire brewery White Birch Brewing was beginning distribution in Michigan.
How did he know this? Because he had been communicating with the founder/brewer of White Birch Brewing, Bill Herlicka. And in fact, he had already arranged to get some samples into our hands for a tasting. This is what beer geeks do.
Bill founded his brewery in Hooksett, N.H., making small batches. He began in 2009 brewing 15- to 20-gallon recipes, and has now moved to a seven barrel system, which brews approximately 225-gallon batches.
Henry A. Fox Sales has been around since the turn of the century, and in 1952 began distribution of only alcoholic beverages out of Grand Rapids, Mich. It’s a family owned and operated business, which now represents more than 150 suppliers of wine, beer and spirits.
Some of the beers and breweries Fox Sales distributes include: Cheyboygan Brewing, Chimay, Epic Brewing, Hideout Brewing Company, Knee Deep Brewing, Avery Brewing Company, Mikkeler, Samuel Smith Brewery, and Clown Shoes Beer.
It’s not a huge portfolio, but it is filled with quality — and now includes White Birch Brewing.
Steve Smith, craft beer specialist with Fox Sales, said, “My main goal at Fox is to bring in suppliers that I see as having a place in Michigan, high quality craft products that have a niche or fill a void.”
After tasting some of the beers from White Birch last week with a couple of other beer geeks, there is no question in my mind that Bill Herlicka and crew are brewing quality beer.
Steve continued, “Henry Fox is really proud to be supporting Bill and bringing his beers to the Michigan craft beer scene. We know his beers deserve a place on the shelves and tap lines in Michigan. They fit, not only because of the high quality and unique styles, but also due to the hand crafted nature that Bill brings to his company that Michigan beer drinkers appreciate.”
So far, six White Birch beers have landed for distribution. The following four beers in this first shipment are available in both 22-oz. bottles and on draft throughout the state of Michigan:
- Belgian Style Pale Ale (6.5 percent ABV),
- Hop Session Ale (5 percent ABV),
- Berliner Weisse (German Sour Wheat Ale, 5.5 percent ABV),
- Blueberry Berliner Weisse (5.5 percent ABV).
The Double IPA (9.2 percent ABV) is available year round, but for this first shipment, only 22-oz. bottles have arrived. It is likely with time that we will see more bottles and draft.
The 5th Anniversary Ale (Royal Belgian Style IPA, 11.2 percent ABV), however, is a one-time release of 2,000 bottles, bottled in November 2014. Once these bottles are gone, there will be no more.
Here are some of our tasting notes:
We started with Hop Session Ale which had a bottle date of December 2014. We didn’t get the big, fragrant blast of hops that you can sometimes get from an IPA, but even though it is brewed with West Coast hops, this is a session IPA. With the initial taste there was more of a malt forward flavor, with some fruity and bitter hops on the back end.
The Belgian Style Pale was our agreed-upon favorite of the evening. It has some fruit and funk in the aroma, which is characteristic of the style. The taste followed with some of the same fruit and funk, but moved from a slight sweetness to a bit of spice and earthiness.
The Berliner Weisse was a very nice representation of the style. This style is often referred to as “Champagne of the North,” Germany being north of France. A bit of tart funk and grape is in the aroma, with some of the same in the flavor. Good carbonation. The tartness in the flavor was just the right amount and had a dry finish, almost wine-like.
The Blueberry Berliner Weisse is the same beer as above, fermented with blueberry puree. We felt that it was not quite as dry and not quite as tart as the regular version. I personally would have liked just a bit more blueberry flavor, but overall, we really enjoyed all of these beers.
I often get asked what is my favorite beer, which is a very tough question to answer. It’s a question that I sort of hate to ask, but at the same time am very curious, so I asked Bill.
As with most of us, our moods shift — as do our favorite beers. This is his answer: “Every time I have a new favorite, I wind up “one upping” that beer and have a new favorite. As I learn more, do more and try more beer, I find my preferences shift over time. This year, my favorite beer so far has been an apple brandy barrel aged Tripel using barrels from a local New Hampshire distillery, and it was magic in a bottle.”
Bill’s brewing is a passion, and he loves balance and flavor. He opened his brewery with his wife, Ellen, to share his passion with the local community. As interest has grown for the brewery, Bill and Ellen have been able to grow their brewery and provide a positive impact to their community.
He is not interested in a beer that “delights for 2 ounces and then falls to a ‘one note’ for the rest of the 20 ounces.”
Instead, Bill told me, “I love a beer that opens up as you drink it. I love a beer that fits my mood. Whether that is lunch, with friends, watching football or just chilling at the end of the night. That’s what I brew. I’ve been fortunate that many have tried our beer and share in our vision. It’s been a privilege to do what I love and I hope Michigan’s drinkers will enjoy our beers too.”