Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Kuhnhenn Brewing Company

The Kuhnhenn (pronounced like the last syllable of “raccoon” married to a female chicken) Brewing Company should be a familiar name to many. It’s a mainstay at the festivals, and well known for its flair, personality, and experimental beer. At the 13th Annual Summer Beer Fest in July, 2010, for example, they featured two men in spacesuits offering samples of a bourbon aged barleywine:

Additionally, Kuhnhenn is responsible for the heavyweight Solar Eclipse Imperial stout, an 18% abv beer:

Eric and his brother Bret’s story is quite original: they started in the same location they’re in now as a hardware store. Given their passion for home brewing and the fact that a good portion of their profits were coming from selling homebrew equipment, they decided to convert from a hardware store to a microbrewery. Now they’re successful enough that they’ve purchased the extra room available from the auto shop next door to expand their capacity.

Their brewing facility in Warren, MI, wasn’t short on flair, either: an airy, wide open environment dominated by an enormous, four corner bar in the center and thick wooden high top tables all around. In one corner sat much of the brewing equipment, and in another, the entrance to their cooling facility. We were fortunate enough to actually meet Eric Kuhnhenn, one of the owners of the establishment, who was gracious enough to give us a tour of the beer making portion of the place. He showed us his whole operation, from the escalator type machine they used to get the grain outside to the mash tun inside to the chillers where his lagers were fermenting.

Eric Kuhnhenn

I can’t judge the place based on their food, because the selection was limited to snack items. However, their beer did not disappoint. We shared several different Kuhnhenn selections, and a few really stood out:

Imperial Crème Brulèe Stout: I had to mention this. The Imperial version of Kuhnhenn’s extremely popular java ale is competitive with the best stouts in the state. The use of crème brule coffee at the end of the brewing gives this beer a lot more depth than one would expect; the nose has all the dry, roasted character I anticipate from a coffee beer, but a delicate, vanilla sweetness lurks therein. I wish the alcohol content (8.1%) was lower, but not because the beer suffered from a strong alcohol taste. To the contrary, the alcohol smoothed the effects of dry roast and sweet vanilla, making this beer all too easy to drink.

Heather Ale: Kuhnhenn retains their reputation for “out of the ordinary” beers with this delicately balanced “ale.” This beer replaces traditional hops with heather tips, which gave this Scottish ale a completely different aroma. Instead of bitter, citrus, or floral notes associated with hops, the heather adds a much more earthy and perfume laden character to this traditional gruit. It’s a sweeter beer; I don’t think the heather is as effective as hops for muting the malt flavors (although I could be wrong, the malt used was intended to yield a sweeter beer). The finish was somehow both light and earthy, almost like tea. I haven’t had a lot of experience with gruit and other “ancient” style beers, but this one was certainly worth trying.

Alsace Saison: We are both huge fans of farmhouse style beers, and Kuhnhenn again does not disappoint. The Alsace Saison (which gets its name from the French produced Alsace hops used in brewing) delivers a smell like a barn filled with fresh hay. The nose was dusty yet bright, letting just a hint of tartness focus the flavors of straw and fruit. This competes with the best farmhouse ales I’ve had from the country, including the venerable Jolly Pumpkin offerings.

Loonie Kuhnie, Alsace Saison, White Devil, Heather Ale, and the Creme Brulee Stout

Kuhnhenn Brewing offers an original and inviting solace on the east side of the state. Eric and Bret’s “evolved hardware store” offers enormous windows encouraging sunlight to alight on every table, the easygoing and welcoming staff doing their best to make you feel like family, and a stable of beer ranging from well crafted mainstays to intriguing new ideas. This brewery should be on everyone’s beer tour list.

Bourbon Barrel 4th Dementia -- amazing!

For many more photos from our trip to Kuhnhenn, please visit our Facebook page.


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