In their spacious wood-accented taproom, brewers Kurt Borchardt and Colin Quinn are talking chores. Vats to be cleared, lines to be run. In the meantime, Borchardt has lined up six tiny pint glasses branded with a pair of ‘hipster’ glasses and a beard of hops for a tasting. As he scrawls anagrams onto the finished bar top with a fluorescent whiteboard pen, he explains the name game to their brewery creations. Most all of the beers are named by their customers, there’s a Belgian tripel called Trappist of the Track and a peachy, dry hopped IPA called the Impeachment.
“It’s only got that name because it’s got peach in it,” Quinn laughs, shaking his head. “It’s got nothing to do with politics, we’re not trying to stir the pot.”
From the light Session Pale Ale (“or Spa,” Borchardt says. “We’re cheeky, you know, because we’re a spa city?) to the BB–or Ball buster–Brown Ale (“It was the first beer that we ever made and we got our balls busted every step of the way–equipment problems, running the system–it didn’t impact the quality of the beer but boy, it made for a really long brew day.”) Artisanal Brew Works has an array of flavors for every palate.
“We’re Belgian based but we know that IPAs are popular,” Borchardt explains. “But we also make some lower alcohol beers just so you have an alternative.”
He and Quinn are brewers on nights and weekends but spend their nine-to-five hours in the classrooms of Saratoga High School. They both have experience with home-brewing and only recently thought of going commercial.
“Both of us love beer and we have been making beer for many many years. Really it’s a question of sharing your passion with more people,” Quinn says.
Artisanal Brew Works opened July 19 in Saratoga Springs–very close to the opening of their neighbor Upstate Distilling. The ten barrel brewery and the distillery next door share a building and a boiler, along with curious customers in search of spirits and brews.
For a fairly new taproom and brewery, the location is stylish and meticulously decorated, which Borchardt blames on his and Quinn’s obsessive attention to detail. Everything in the taproom has been created by the co-owners, down to the logo-branded tables and expansive U-shaped bar. Even the beer taps match, as quirky wooden handles with beer names scrawled in the same highlighter marker Borchardt used to mark his samplers.
The look and feel of the space, he explains, remain the main focus for the business owners aside from the quality of their beer.
I drive some people crazy because I think, ‘what’s the most important thing when a customer comes up? How do they think? How do you want them to feel?’ There might be stuff downstairs that could be better but it’s one of those things where if it’s not impacting the quality,” he shrugs, “then let’s just focus on making quality beer.”
The magic of the Artisanal taste starts on a petri dish.
Borchardt first discovered his love for the Belgian Trappist style of beer with his first sip of Westvleteren. The monastery has been brewing since the 17th century and is renowned for the taste and rarity of their beer. After finding another bottle, Borchardt captured the yeast from the bottom and began to experiment.
“I liked it but it had to age for a while to get out some of the ‘twang’ so I plated it out and noticed that there was different strains of yeast on there, just by looking at the phenotypes, at what they look like.” Borchardt made a large batch of his home-brew and split in two. In separate fermentors, each batch was treated with a different strain of yeast. With that, the dark Belgian style Artisanal brew Whole Lotta Trouble was born and the brewers have drawn from the strain ever since.
In his small lab, Borchardt leans over a clean bench, a covered workspace with filtered air that keeps the yeast safe from outside contaminants. Here a portion of his cryogenically frozen Westvleteren yeast will be laid out on a petri dish. It will be incubated and put back under the clean bench.
“I’ll get it into a small vile of liquid wort, like a mini beer and put it into this gizmo,” Borchardt explains, pointing at a shaker table across the room, “which controls the temperature and controls the shaking to keep it oxygenated which makes the yeast grow really fast and really healthy. Every day or two, you step up the volume by about a vector of ten.” What will be born in a 10 mL vial will grow in the lab until it gets to 2,000 mL, the most that can be grown in the Erlenmeyer flask. It will be transferred to the brewery level at 5,000 mL. “It will go to about five gallons and then we have a yeast propagation tank which is basically a mini-fermentor and that’ll get us to 25 gallons, a big enough volume to pitch into our brew.”
From there, the yeast will create some of Artisanal Brew’s most beloved flavors. “What really impressed me was the range of Belgian beer style that I can do,” Borchardt says. The dark and toasty Whole Lotta Trouble is made from the same strain as the fruity Belgian Tripel and the malty, refreshing new–still unnamed–Belgian red ale. “It’s just amazing to me that those are the same yeasts. They have totally different flavor profile.”
It’s the strain that sets Artisanal Brew Works apart from the ever-growing craft brew economy and it has been perfected thanks to the attention to detail paid by Borchardt and Quinn that from the petri dish to the 20-keg batch enjoyed in the taproom. With various flavors at play, you’ll most likely find your next favorite brew tucked away in that quiet road in Saratoga Springs.
Photos by Katie Cusack