On the evening of Wednesday, August 18th, I was invited to attend the inaugural Lakeshore Beverage Beer Club, featuring 3 Sheeps Brewing with a focus on “The Truth About Dark Beer.” The event was held in the beautifully architected offices of the distribution company’s Chicago location; upon entering the space, guests were greeted by wooden beams above, beautiful sparkling tile floors below, and candied bacon in a 3 Sheeps pint glass that had been homemade for the occasion by Brewmaster Grant Pauly himself. Drool!
Head Brewmaster and 3 Sheeps Founder, Grant Pauly was on hand to describe a special selection of his delicious portfolio – beers brewed with black wheat malt. The brewery sources this proprietary ingredient in small batches from Briess Malt House near their Sheboygan, WI brewery location, which is about 2.5 hours’ drive from the city of Chicago.
So what exactly is black wheat, and why is it unique? Most beers are made using barley that has been malted, or partially germinated and then kilned, or cooked in a malt house. Barley is heated to varying levels for different lengths of time, with the goal of obtaining a specific level of darkness or coloring in the grain’s husk. These malted grains, depending on their degree of kilning will impart different flavors and colors to the resulting beer, once brewed. This is a very simplified explanation of a complex process that I am personally learning more and more about each time I read about it.
But back to black wheat. Black wheat is an oxymoronic ingredient that produces a very interesting beverage. When used in brewing, wheat can impart a cloudy haze and fluffy head in appearance, and a round and creamy, delicately sweet flavor that gives an inkling of bread. Blackened wheat does the same, but makes the beer dark in appearance and adds flavors of chocolate, cocoa and coffee. The Briess Black Wheat used in these beers is also unhusked, making the resulting flavors even more velvety.
So what’s the truth about dark beer? A black-colored beer is often assumed to be filling and thick, but Pauly’s executions remain soft and fluffy while simultaneously imparting a deep, dark appearance. Dark beer is not always heavy–dark can be light.
Brewmaster Pauly walked us through a tasting of three 3 Sheeps beers that use black wheat:
Baaad Boy (5.5% ABV)
This 55% black wheat ale appeared an inky color, with a fluffy head. Hints of caramel, coffee, and dark chocolate filled this incredibly smooth, round and roasty ale, with a delicate finish of sweet vanilla.
Hello My Name is Joe (8% ABV)
Using Baaad Boy as a base, Pauly added twenty pounds of local Sheboygan roaster Collectivo Coffee’s Sumatra blend, created especially for 3 Sheeps. This beer tasted like a chocolate coffee with hints of vanilla, raisins, plums, bourbon, spicy cinnamon and brown sugar. It was amazingly chewy and roasty, but drank dry and light. It was easily my favorite of the night.
Paid Time Off (10% ABV)
An imperial black wheat beer, this deep, dark beer smelled of spiced brown bread with hints of oak. Flavors of toasted coconut, cocoa nibs, walnut, hazelnut, chocolate, cinnamon, and even licorice greeted my taste buds. This complex beer, despite it’s boozey character, drank surprisingly light and fluffy.
Before studying brewing at Chicago’s Siebel Institute, Brewmaster Pauly worked for his father’s concrete pouring company. He’d been a home brewer and devoted consumer of craft beer for many years before he saw a t-shirt that inspired him to finally follow his dreams of becoming a pro brewer. On the t-shirt was pictured a gnome standing at a fork in the road. The left fork was labeled “Fame, Fortune, Money” and the other path was labeled “Really Cool Waterslides.” Pauly obviously chose the path on the right, and he’s got a beer to prove it–you can purchase a six-pack of 3 Sheeps Really Cool Waterslides IPA year round, winner of the 2013 Great International Beer Festival’s Gold Medal in the IPA category.
Many thanks to 3 Sheeps and to Lakeshore Beverage for hosting such a fun and inspiring event. Cheers!