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Friday, August 26, 2011

The Making of a Mighty Mite

This is a guest post from Oakshire brewer Matt Van Wyk, who graciously agreed to tell the story behind Lil Smokey, his contribution to the Mighty Mites fest. Although I like to think you can tell a brewer's personality by his beers, this post gives you an even better sense of Matt's. If you've found a little insouciance in his beer, now you can see why. Thanks, Matt, for taking the time--

A few months ago, Jeff asked me if I could design a beer for his upcoming session ale fest, Mighty Mite. Of course, I am always honored when people think enough of the beers we make to personally request it. Last winter, on a visit to Eugene with Beeronomics' Patrick Emerson, Jeff got a chance to sample Well-Mannered Gnome, our small beer made from the second runnings of Very Ill Tempered Gnome; I know that Jeff is not one to chase down the latest Quadruple IPA just to be the first to experience it and share it with the world. So I shouldn't have been surprised that they were such a big fan of this little 3% hoppy mild ale. But what I didn't know is that I would be asked to make a beer for one of the events at the first ever Portland Beer Week.

So, I began the arduous task of writing a recipe. But first, the style. It often goes like this: Drink, think. drink, think. Don't you get your best thinking done when you are drinking? Luckily, I get to call that R&D. I figured I would just make a pale ale type beer. Something I knew people would like, even if the alcohol was lower than normal. I started scratching out a recipe. Malt? Easy. Hop?. Don't forget balance. Not to much, not to little. It's pretty difficult to make an exceptional sub 4% abv beer. Usually, there is a lack of body and mouthfeel to help with balance. Flaws could stick out more. Good thing we don't make flaws! You know, maybe I should consult my malt inventory. I don't need much for this beer. And if there is any partial bags that need to be used up, perhaps I can incorporate that? Once I started looking in the malt room I had a change of directions. 5 lbs. of cherrywood smoked malt in that bag, 13 lbs. of smoked malt in that bag. Hey! a full 55 lbs. of unopened smoked malt. Maybe. There's some chocolate malt, some caramel malts. Smoked Porter! Petite smoked porter that is! I decided I'd make a dark beer in the hottest of Oregon months. Perfect.

On brew day, as I was milling the malt, I started tasting the specialty malt. This is something I always do when I am using new or unusual ingredients. I knew the cherrywood smoked malt was old, but only had 5 lbs. Use it up, it smells nice. The other opened bag had less smokey aroma, and sadly, the unopened bag had the least amount of smoke impact. Hmmm... is there enough to call it a smoked porter? I raced to our secondary storage area to see if we had any more smoked malt in house. Nope, I came up empty. Well, I just hoped the lighter body, alcohol, and roast flavors would let the smoke shine through. Brew away, nervously.

At Oakshire, beers like this are part of our single batch series. We make them for draft only and in small (22-24 kegs) batches. Often these beers are never seen again. We have made nearly 30 unique beers in this program so far this year. When then come out, we make unique tap handle stickers (Bryan Taylor of Treeman Design) for each of the single batch beers. I had decided on Lil' Smokey as the name of this beer so had Bryan, our graphics designer, start on the sticker, all the while hoping it was actually smokey. The beer finished fermenting at 3.2%. Hmmm... I'm not sure if this will do it. Of course, I am a huge fan of rauch beers. My threshold might be a little higher than others. Let's get some other feedback. I took an uncarbonated sample to the sales team and to my team of brewers. Is it smokey, I asked? Enough to keep the name? The consensus was that it was mildly smokey, balanced with the rest of the elements. The vote was to keep the name and the already designed logo. (As a side note, round one on the graphic was a factory with smoke, and as I thought that was a little more NW Indiana feeling rather than NW United States, we changed to a campfire).

The result of all this will be served Saturday in Portland at the first Mighty Mite fest. It is a lighter bodied porter of 3.2% with hints of chocolate, roast, and a faint smokey aroma and flavor. It is super easy drinking, even in the 90 degree weather we have been experiencing. So much so that the beer is totally sold out in both Eugene and Portland warehouses, so check with your favorite publican to see if they snatched a keg. If not, what better reason to get over the the festival and try a little sample of this little guy. Cheers!
~Matt Van Wyk


  1. He must've watered it down. I'm sure of it. I let it slip when I was last at Oakshire that I was rocking 3.4% with my bitter and he foiled my cunning plan at global ABV domination.

  2. Awesome post, Jeff and Matt. It's always really neat to get the story about how a beer comes together from the brewer's perspective. I unfortunately wasn't able to make it to Mighty Mites, but I will definitely make an effort to find this beer before it's gone.