TOO CLEVER HANS

Clever Hans hanging around at the brewery on a lovely Tuesday afternoon.

Clever Hans hanging around at the brewery on a lovely Tuesday afternoon.

It’s nearing the end of May.  

A small part of my soul was saddened after writing that sentence.  MAY JUST GOT HERE! We even made a beer for the month of May!

And that’s what I wanted to talk about.  Clever Hans.

If you couldn’t tell, Dan named this beer.

I thought it was ridiculous and nonsensical but was too busy at the time to raise a strong objection, so I settled for what it was.  

Despite its esoteric name, Clever Hans is a delicious spring beer, and there’s even something interesting about the name.  

After publishing the menus, I decided to google “Clever Hans” to determine whether Dan was inspired by something the Interwebs could explain.  Turns out that it could. The internet never fails.

Clever Hans was the name of a horse that lived in Germany about 100 years ago.  Hans was coined “clever” because he could do simple arithmetic. Not enough to hold down a minimum wage job, but way more than a regular horse.    

Except, this is completely ridiculous - horses are obviously not intelligent enough to reason through even the most basic concepts of math.  How was this a thing?

The entire Clever Hans/intelligent animals concept was somewhat of a controversy at the time, and a commission was appointed to figure out what the deal was with this horse.  You read that right, a bunch of scientists were charged with debunking an alleged genius-horse mystery.

I can’t help but put myself in the scientists’ shoes in this little ordeal.  It’s a good thing I wasn’t on this commission because I would have just been continually stating the obvious - “Guys, this is a f*&king horse...let’s stop wasting our time!” and the team would have missed out on the discovery of a kind-of-interesting phenomena.

The scientists discovered that Hans was reading subtle and unconscious cues from his owner as he was tapping out the right answer with his hoof.  There was quite a bit of experimentation before this was definitively proved, but they did it and it’s now called the Clever Hans Effect. Hans was giving the answer that the questioner wanted to hear, and the fact that a horse can do that is pretty cool.  Humans tend to do this as well.

Like those scientists studying Hans, sometimes we have to put an inordinate amount of effort into things that are seemingly simple and easy.  And I think that’s what is interesting about this little story. I hope Autumn Arch makes the beer brewing look easy, but behind the scenes (or actually during the week when no one’s there), we are putting in a massive amount of research, organization, hard-work, and good ol’fashion gritty determination to deliver good beer to the tasting room. Both the simple and complex beers demand it, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.  

It’s almost June, so naturally Clever Hans (our May beer) is almost gone.  


EVERY BEER HAS A STORY

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One of my favorite parts of brewing are the new beer releases.  I love experimenting with new styles and providing customers fresh and interesting new beers.  I also love naming the beers - check out 841 Brewing on UnTappd for a sample of our labeling endeavors.  Most of our beer names have a personal connection to the owners or to the brewery (ask us about Autoignition IPA sometime).  

But the downside of not being in the beer distribution game is that we don't get to send out amazing can labels into the world.  So in lieu of a label, we will strive to release our brands via social media; and for the really special beers, there may be some limited edition swag.  

Now let me introduce you to our newest beer, a Belgian Tripel, “Modern Day Monk”.  We brewed a similar tripel fairly early in our home brewing days, and I was so pleased with the result that I decided Autumn Arch needed an amazing Belgian Tripel in the line up.

In preparation for a home brew day, I would typically spend weeks researching and fine tuning a beer recipe before the brew day arrived, and the first Belgian Tripel we tackled was no different, except for one thing - the yeast.  

I intended to pick up the Trappist Ale yeast (WLP500), a solid go-to yeast strain for this style...however, as I was picking up my ingredients the night before the brew day, I discovered that the Trappist was out of stock!  Luckily, HDYB holds a variety of different strains, and my interest was piqued by a fresh package of the Bastogne yeast.

At this point, I should probably say that I am a sucker for marketing; I make a lot of beer purchases based on label designs and names, and this mindset applies to beer ingredients too.  Let’s be honest - the cover definitely does matter.

The Bastogne yeast just ‘sounded’ cool, and it happened to fit the style I was targeting.  I purchased the yeast and went on to brew an amazing golden and spicy tripel. The Modern Day Monk is based on our original recipe (we learned one or two things over the years since that brew and honed the recipe appropriately :)

I decided to name this beer the “Modern Day Monk”, inspired by the badass monk from the Canterbury Tales.  Chaucer describes the monk as rebellious, ignoring rules as needed, and basically living life as he damn well pleases.  As my brother and I were beginning the journey towards creating a brewery, I felt there were a few parallels to this mindset.  

For starters, Tripels were historically brewed by monks in Belgium , so that part of the name is self-explanatory.  

We planned this brewery to stand out from the usual trends in our area...one large open taproom, beer garden style table seating, full view of the brewing equipment, plenty of daylight and fresh air from the giant doors, a substantial sour beer program, owners without the ability to grow beards...the list goes on.  For our region, this type of brewery vibe is not very common...one could say we are ignoring the rules (especially the part about brewers having beards).

Launching a new venture is also taking a step towards owning our own future.  We are branching out from the comfort zone of working for large corporations; with the brewery, we fully own success and failure (and gladly so).  

With all of this in mind, the Canterbury Tales monk seemed like a perfect fit for the namesake of this beer...but considering we are living in the 21st century, he needed a modern twist.


10 THINGS TO DO IN DELAWARE (SPRING EDITION)

When I was a kid growing up in rural Kent county, there were occasionally times where I complained that there was nothing to do in Delaware.  I couldn’t wait to grow up and move to an exotic location like Perth, Australia where you can swim with sharks. I still may do that later in life, but it won’t be because I am bored living in this area.  

I came up with this list of 10 things to do in Delaware, and it took me less than 15 minutes.  I think this speaks more to my lack of creativity as a teenager than a spike in cool Delaware activities. Since I typically hang near home on the weekends, I limited the scope of this list to “Northern Delaware” and “spring time”. The beaches do not have a monopoly on amazing experiences, and I think you’ll agree with me on this.  And if you don’t, you are more than welcome to let me know how I’m wrong...over a beer at Autumn Arch of course.

Spring has the potential to be the best season in Delaware.  Low humidity, insane blooming, and the promise of warm breezes.  There are only two months left of the solar spring, so get busy!

  1. Castle Trail.  If you don’t know about this, stop reading immediately, grab your family (bikes optional but highly recommended) and head over to the C&D canal.  There is plenty of parking at a myriad of lots along the 12 mile path. You’ll be rewarded with up close views of massive container ships, birds, cool engineering structures, and even a couple restaurants.  Some of the spots are feel more remote than they actually are, which is hard to do in New Castle county, so enjoy it.

  2. Point to Point.  Classy horses, hats, and dresses.  Point to Point is a good opportunity to wear your best hat and picnic with your besties on a lovely spring day.  Tailgating is encouraged. So are bow ties. You need tickets ahead of time, so plan now!

  3. Picnic at Iron Hill Park.  This park is a hidden gem in Northern Delaware.  The county and Friends of Iron Hill Park have done a lot of work upgrading the park amenities over the past 10 years.  I had several birthday parties for my son there at the sweet playground. There is also a couple open fields where you can spread a blanket, eat some sandwiches, and enjoy the wonders of the forest.  Other park features include a world-class disc golf course, dog park, mountain biking and hiking trails, and the remnants of iron ore mining from colonial days. Amazingly, this is all less than half a mile off of I-95.  It’s also just down the street from Autumn Arch Beer Project.

  4. Grab a pizza at Wood Fired Pizza Shop in Newark.  This is undeniably the best pizza in the area. Their ingredients are sourced locally and organic when possible, and the menu has a nice creative twist on ordinary pizza (Fighting Blue Hen pizza all the way!). I usually eat a whole pie by myself.  My 11 year old son does the same. My advice is to ride your bike(s) on the Pomeroy Trial to Wood Fired Pizza.  If you do this, you have my permission to indulge in a second beer.

  5. See a play at the Chapel Street Theater in Newark.  This community theater is of uncanny quality.  And it’s small, so you’re guaranteed a great seat. Pippin is coming up in June! Combine this with dinner on Main Street and a beer afterwards and you’ve got yourself a damn fine date night.

  6. Somerset Farms Ice Cream stand.  This is off the main road, but worth the extra effort on a warm spring evening.  The mint chocolate chip is obviously the best flavor, but feel free to ignore my advice and get a different (but inferior) delicious flavor.

  7. Nemours Mansion.  See how the 1% of a hundred years ago lived.

  8. Morris Library at UD.  Save this for a rainy day.  I think the taxpayers of Delaware sometimes forget they own a huge f@%#ing library.  It’s the kind of place you can read a newspaper from 1923 (microfilm) while catching up on your latest informative magazine.  So brush up on your Dewey decimal system skills, and go hang out for a couple hours and read whatever piques your interest. I researched a lot of obscure Delaware and Maryland history last year in preparation for the brewery, and my biggest take-away was realizing how much knowledge is NOT online.  Morris Library has plenty of fiction as well (e.g. I read all the Sherlock Holmes stories while a student there). Trust me - just walk in and peruse at your leisure like you own the place (because you do).

  9. Catch a Blue Rocks game.  Tickets are modestly priced and so is the ball park food.  The quality of baseball is usually high, but there’s a good chance you’ll see a blooper or two.  Kid friendly and and the stadium has craft beer!

  10. Separation Day in Old New Castle.  About two weeks before the Continental Congress declared independence from Britain, Delaware decided to go it alone and give King George the middle finger and declare independence. This was before the advent of social media, so they did a terrible job of broadcasting the news. Luckily, over 200 years later, we have a festival dedicated to Delawarean boldness. Old New Castle is on full display June 7-8.  Parades, BBQ, craft beer, music, fireworks. I think it’s a superb way to slide into summer.

I hope you try one or two of these things in the coming months.  Most of the items are reasonably priced or free.  And I’ll have 10 more coming your way on the summer solstice!


SOMETHING INTERESTING

We thought a lot about the name of our brewery and went through a few names before finally settling on Autumn Arch Beer Project. We had simple criteria - needed to have an interesting personal connection, needed to reflect our love of details and deep knowledge, and had to be beautiful. #Easy

Except it wasn’t.

At some point in your life, someone has said to you “Tell me something interesting.” I say that often to my 11 year old son, partially for my own entertainment and partially because I am intrigued by what he finds interesting. But I often think about what actually makes something interesting. And I think what makes something interesting is the same for most people.

It’s detail and specificity communicated (somewhat) well.

So let me tell you something interesting about our brewery’s name.

In my late 20s, I was in need of a thrilling extracurricular activity. I wasn’t in the position to get a sports car or quit my job to roam the earth. But I knew some people who were into rock climbing, and I had even done some of this in my youth, so it wasn’t unfamiliar. I decided to pick it up again and subsequently dove in 100%. Ropes, harnesses, and carabiners were acquired in earnest, and I tackled indoor gym climbing during the week so I could crush real cliffs on the weekends. Epic trips were made to NY and WV, but the most fun was had at a relatively local Pennsylvania crag.

Autumn Arch is the name of a climbing spot in central Pennsylvania that my brother and I frequented. As I got into outdoor rock climbing, I would often ask Dann to come along. He spent a lot of his youth climbing boulders and was already really strong, so he made a good partner. Climbing seems like it’s a constant thrill ride, but let me disabuse you of that notion - a lot of climbing is preparing equipment, belaying, and setting anchors, something Alex Honnold doesn’t really do, and those things take time to do well.

So there’s a decent amount of hanging around, talking, and catching up - and that’s just as much part of the climbing experience as scaling the insanely steep cliffs. Climbing on Saturday mornings is how Dann and I bonded as adults. Autumn Arch is the connection to great beer because it was the prelude to us home brewing together.

When we got into brewing beer at home several years later, it didn’t take long for us to dive deep into the science of how raw materials and process impact flavors, color, aroma, and mouthfeel of the finished product. Because of this, our beer went from “okay” to “great” in just a couple years (and I won’t lie - there were several lousy batches of beer mixed in there). #learning

For example, take the standard IPA. We started out with a malty, amber colored IPA with relatively mild bitterness and it would have been described by the casual observer as “thin” or “meh”. By modifying the grain bill (eliminating stupid crystal malts, adding some pilsner and flaked oats), adjusting mash temperature down a few degrees (a few degrees makes a big difference), and being more selective with our hop additions, we arrived at a nicely hopped, bitter as hell, bone-dry, resinous IPA.

There was a lot of experimentation in between those two points. And that’s the essence of the “Beer Project”. Constant experimentation to achieve perfection.

And lastly, we like to think Autumn Arch Beer Project is a beautiful name. So that tied the knot for us. We were married to it and onward we march to brewing great beer in Delaware.

There it is. The good and interesting stuff is in the details.

A TRUE AMERICAN HOBBY

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Dann and I did a small tasting event at How Do You Brew in Newark last week, and to prepare, I dug into our cellar and pulled out a couple sour beers that we made back in 2017.  They were still in their carboys, yeast and all. I tasted two (of the 8) and picked the more interesting of the pair and kegged it a few days prior so that it was properly carbonated.  

As I was waiting for beer to transfer from carboy to keg (auto-siphon = slow), I was thinking back on all the brew days that went into making the beer we had in storage. There were a lot of great times hanging out in the garage, sharing epic beers, shooting the breeze with Dann, and keeping the dog away from the spent grain.  Brewing beer at home is quite an amazing little hobby. And it’s quite an American hobby too.

The founding fathers really wanted America to produce badass wines like France and Spain.  But this was not the fate of the New World. Jefferson and Washington both had grand plans for their vineyards, but this little guy continually thwarted all attempts at planting European grapes (and native American grapes make absolutely terrible wine).  Phylloxera nymphs basically feed on the roots of grape vines eventually killing it. So even though the mid-Atlantic climate is decent for growing grapes, it just wasn’t an option.

And I’d like to think this is how America got off to such a good start.  We were destined to be a beer producing country. And that’s about American as you can get.

Making wine is hard.  And it’s expensive. First you need a nice large plot of land that’s well drained, gets a lot of sunlight, and preferably has “loamy” soil.  Then you plant vines and tend to them for 3 years or so while they mature enough to produce grapes. While you are waiting, you purchase all your wine making tools and equipment - pickers, sorters, stainless vessels, barrels, etc.  #costly

Then you need to find a badass winemaker (which could be you if fortunate enough to have grown up on said wine estate and had years of free training in the art), and these folks are rare because of the above point of wine making being expensive.  It’s not something you get into easily like riding a bike or rooting for the Eagles, thus, there is a small pool of quality wine makers in the world (relative to say accountants or mechanics).  

And then your wine is subject to the variability of the raw materials - the grapes!  And there’s a lot of variability in grapes.  In fact, this variability is so high from field to field that wine producers have coined a fancy term for this - terrior (pronouced terr a wah….French of course) and made it a selling point!   Clever bastards!

And this is where a quality winemaker makes his or her bones - turning relatively poor grapes, with non-ideal terrior, into a decent wine is hard.  Deep knowledge and experience is required to do this consistently. And that’s all I can say about it because I don’t know how they do it (but if you’ve had a great dry wine made with grapes from DE or PA, I assure you that there was an amazing winemaker behind it).

Wine = hard. Man and Nature are working against you succeeding in this endeavor.

Enter beer making.  The largest raw material component, grain, is cheap, and relatively homogeneous (low variability) because it’s grown over massive areas of the US and Canada and sold in bulk.  And unlike grapes, grain can be stored for years. Hops are fairly easy to grow as well (I have eight hop vines thriving in my backyard...coming to an Autumn Arch beer in August!).

The stainless equipment is still pricey, but the overall cost to start producing beer on a large scale is a fraction of producing wine.  And it’s quite cheap to do at home, especially considering the high quality results an enthusiast novice brewer can achieve (I am not counting the time investment since its a hobby, and thus should not be monetized when trying to make a point about beer making).

We live in an egalitarian county, and I would hypothesize that beer is the egalitarian beverage.  So put down that wine glass, find a buddy to share the experience, pick up the supplies at your local homebrew shop, and create your own American beer!