16 Mile brews some history, and Zack King fires up the stills
I never know where to put sad news in an article. In the beginning, so I can later try to elevate the mood with my sparkling commentary? Or at the end, where I leave the reader feeling down? Well, some things deserve the first paragraph, and the recent passing of Juan Moreno, the smiling proprietor of J&J Bagels in Georgetown, is one of those things. Juan was the subject of one of my very first columns for the Cape Gazette, and we remained friends since then. He finally lost his battle with cancer, and those of us who appreciated his under-the-radar culinary skills will certainly miss one of the friendliest guys to ever grace the restaurant business.
It only seems right that I stay in Georgetown out of respect for my friend, so in an attempt to raise our spirits a bit, I will write about … beer. (I can hear Juan laughing at that one.) In particular, the Battle of Waterloo brew, the first of 16 Mile’s Heraldry Series of one-off, draft-only batches. The idea for this adventure sprung from co-owner and certified beer geek Brett McCrea’s training in England, and marketing guru Claus Hagelman’s former position with an importer of English beers.
The idea was pretty straight ahead. The guys at 16 Mile would select famous moments in English history, and then find a way to memorialize them through the brewing process. To that end, they teamed up with Copper Dragon, one of the fastest-growing regional breweries in Yorkshire, England.
When I arrived at 16 Mile early in the morning (to accommodate the time difference between S. Bedford Street and Great Britain), the process had already begun. Hagelman and McCrea were toting a laptop around the brewery to give the beer guys in England a Skype-eye view of the steaming stainless kettles. They, of course, returned the favor (these portable viewings can induce vertigo if you’re not sitting down).
English history and beer were combined by milling English Golden Ale barley into malt to represent Wellington and the British Army. Hot water was added in a process called sparging, and the resulting reactions eventually create the wort. That liquid is transferred to a heated kettle, and, at 16 Mile, the spent grain (mash) is fed to lucky pigs at a farm just down the road.
North German hops is added to the steaming brew as a nod to the Prussian army that arrived just in time to change the tide, and after the mixture is cooled, Belgian Golden Ale yeast is added to commemorate the action of the battle at Waterloo, Belgium. The whole process smells deeply grainy and yeasty, but one of the best sniffs of the day was strips of toasted French oak soaked in Napoleon brandy. The chunks of wood and the darkly sweet liquor were tossed into the aging tanks to, according to Hagelman, “…show the burnout Napoleon experienced after being fermented by the golden victory of Wellington’s forces.” (He’s got a way with words!) At the time of this writing, the final product is still aging. I will of course be forced to drink some. See what I endure for my Cape Gazette readers?
Another recipient of 16 Mile’s nutrient-rich wort is Zack King, the proprietor of Old Bay Steak & Seafood, soon to become Delaware Distilling Company. He’s anxious to see what happens when he adds yeast to the grainy liquid and then ferments, distills and filters it. Zack will experiment with the resulting potion, adding various botanicals to see what sort of moonshine, vodka, gin, rum or whiskey will develop. Delaware Distilling Company will offer a full line of liquors made right there in Midway. Yesterday I tasted his orange/cucumber gin. Wow.
As distilling becomes more user-friendly, brewpubs and restaurants like Delaware Distilling Company are getting into the act. Commemorative brews from 16 Mile, and King’s bubbling copper stills represent yet another step in bringing a greater selection of pleasingly potent potables to Delaware.