By Contributing Columnist Donavan Hall
Butternuts Beer & Ales is a partnership between Chuck Williamson and Leo Bongiorno; both were involved with the (now closed) Long Island Brewing Company. In a converted dairy barn in Garratsville, New York they operate a brewery with the capacity for up to 8000 barrels a year production. (Though, no doubt they aren't producing that much yet.) They started shipping Porkslap, a Pale Ale, and Heinnieweisse, a Hefeweizen, in March 2006. These beers are distributed in New York and in parts of New Jersey. In the fall they expect to add an India Pale Ale and a Milk Stout to their line-up. (I can't wait to find out what those beers will be called.)
I asked Williamson about the decision to can Butternuts beer rather than to bottle it. "The first reason to put the beer in cans is that it's different," he said. "Also it's more shelf stable. You won't have any problems with the beer getting light struck. And, canning is environmentally friendly. Aluminum cans are ninety-seven percent recyclable." He said they wanted to market the beer to markets where bottled beer couldn't go like golf courses. "We want to brew an approachable beer for the common man," said Williamson. "That's why our beer is priced so reasonably."
Of course, canned beer historically has been viewed as a second-class product by the craft beer community, but that's all changing. A number of craft brewers are starting to can their products. 21st Amendment Restaurant and Brewery are canning some of their beer. The Brookston Beer Bulletin has an excellent article on canning beer. The New England Brewing Company is canning their beer as well. They have an Amber, a Lager, and an IPA -- all in cans.
Butternuts is using a five-head canning system from Cask Brewing Systems Inc. a Canadian company supplying "small scale brewers and packagers worldwide." Butternuts is the only brewer in New York using this type of canning system.
Chuck Williamson said, "We want to have a strong presence on Long Island and in the five burroughs. You should be seeing a lot of our beer in the future."
But what does the beer taste like?
Porkslap pours orange and crystal clear producing a frothy white head. There's a initial vegetal aroma when first popping the can, but that gives way quickly to a malty aroma livened with lemon spice. When you bite into the beer the first thing you will notice is the hop bitterness. The character of the bitterness is tea-like. I found this beer easy to drink and most thirst quenching. I would drink this straight on a hot day or pair it with spicy food, perhaps spicy pepperoni pizza or Mexican food. Williamson said this beer was not a typical Pale Ale. It's a new interpretation of a Pale Ale. The lemon-spice character is unique in my experience. Butternuts has certainly added something new to the Beer World with this creation.
Williamson described the Heinnieweisse as a traditional Hefeweizen. Prior to opening the can and decanting, give the can a good roll on the countertop to rouse the yeast. When you pour you'll want to see that nice wheat cloudiness. Immediately on opening you should note the estery aroma. This beer is a fine balance of banana and clove. It's a pale straw color. The taste is a combination of effervescence, sweetness, and tart with a peppery finish. Any one of those elements if dominant could throw the beer out of balance, but in the Heinnieweisse the combination is superb and fresh. Freshness is important. Hefeweizens are not beers that you should let hang around in your beer cellar.
Buy these as fresh as possible and drink them promptly. To my taste the Heinnieweisse stands up to any of the German Hefeweizens. There's no way that a beer imported from Germany can be as fresh as a beer you buy in your own state. For all you beer drinkers who think you don't like Hefeweizen, give Heinnieweisse a try, it might show you what this style was meant to be.