Southampton, NY and Denver, CO
- To say that all of those in attendance at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) were there to please their palettes with the finest beer in the world would be erroneous. Many, in a space with more than 3,000 brews from close to 500 brewers, toured the premises simply to suck down whatever they could get their hands on and get their fill, one ounce at a time.
But for those who appreciate greatness in hops, there was the Southampton Publick House
, showing off its own wide variety of concoctions including its Cuvee des Fleurs, Trappist India Pale Ale and others. However, in a room - a vast, vast, vast room at the Colorado Convention Center - full of sampling stations and full-bellied customers, no German-style sour ale titillated the taste buds more than the locals' Berliner Weisse. The GABF committee awarded the Publick House with a gold medal in the category, a major coup considering the delicate formula used to create the delicious sour brew.
Assistant Evan Addario has played an integral role in the brewing process since coming on board more than two years ago.
"I've been doing it for 20 years, and in spite of that long time, it still is a thrill to get a medal at the Great American Beer Festival," said brewmaster Phil Markowski
, who was at the helm when the Southampton Publick House
won gold in the same category in 2002. "Every year it gets bigger, and to get any medal at all is great. To get gold is the best feeling."
The Southampton Publick House has struck gold before and medaled in most years that it's enrolled at the GABF, but it came up empty in 2008. That made the celebration in 2009 all the more festive, particularly because the Berliner Weisse takes six or more months to brew. By contrast, ales come together in the neighborhood of two and a half; lagers are brewed in about six.
"We like to make unique styles, and to be given a gold medal, it showcases our ability to make very esoteric styles and nail them and be rewarded," said assistant brewer and head of sales Spencer Niebuhr
The Berliner Weisse is made from regular ale yeast; that yeast settles over the course of a month to six weeks. At that point lactobacillus, a bacteria in the same family of that that is used to make yogurt, is introduced to convert sugars to lactic acid and lead to a sour brew that is light in body and color as well as alcoholic content - 3 to 3.5 percent versus 4.5 to 5.5 percent for the average beer. Its most obvious characteristic is its tart finish. Markowski tinkers with the taste throughout the process, calling the formula "temperamental." The end result, in the words
of Niebuhr, is "magic."
The dream team of brewers consists of Markowski, Niebuhr and assistant Evan Addario
. Markowski came to Southampton in 1996 from the New England Brewing Company in Norwalk, CT, where he'd developed his craft for seven years. On Markowski's watch, the Southampton Publick House has won 26 GABF medals, including six golds, and was named the top brewpub in the country by Beer Advocate
Long Island held its own at the GABF: the Southampton Publick House and Blue Point Brewing Co. were the only two Long Island-based breweries to be represented at the GABF (Blue Point's Rastafa Rye took silver in the rye category). Six breweries in New York State were rewarded for their efforts, but only two earned gold - the other being the Captain Lawrence Brewing Company
in Pleasantville. The festival was up 16 percent on brew entries - or an additional 450 from the 2008 gathering. A record 49,000 beer enthusiasts flooded the convention center for three days. When he first attended in 1992, Markowski said it was one-tenth that size.
Note, though, that the Berliner Weisse is not for everyone or for every occasion - even Markowski admits he'll drink it only now and again, usually on a warm day before dinner. "It has its time and place," he said.
Want a taste of the award winner? Like the brewers have been - the brewing began in February and it hasn't been bottled yet - beer enthusiasts must be patient. The pub will sell it eventually, including at the annual release party in either late January or early February, at which the highly regarded Russian Imperial Stout, a 10.2 percent alcohol-by-volume percentage, and Trappist IPA will be sold as well.
Markowski and his team of brewers had to wait more than six months for the Berliner Weisse to come to life.