Last month while hanging out at the Beer Summit / Sam Adams Octoberfest at the Castle, guest blogger Mike Micalone and I ran into Helder Pimentel and Maggie Foley of Backlash Beer Co. We had met the previous week at the MA Brewers Fest, and recognized each other.
The four of us ended up chatting about beer (who would have predicted that!?) and wound up hanging out for most of the night. I mentioned to Helder that I had just posted Part I of Meet the Brewer: Dave Lagueux, and asked if he would be interested in being the second brewer to be interviewed, and he happily agreed.
Here's what we had to discuss...
Brew England: Some people probably already know this, but Backlash's beer is contract brewed at Paper City Brewing Company in Holyoke, MA. What made you decide to contract brew versus opening your own brewery? Do you have future plans for opening your own facility?
Helder Pimentel: Choosing to go contract was mostly a function of how little start up capital we had. We felt like we had a really good concept for the beers we wanted to brew and the brand in general, but gathering the necessary funding to open a brewery seemed like it would take too long. So instead we reached out to Paper City and have had great success with them thus far.
In terms of opening our own facility, it's definitely a really romantic idea for us. I feel like every homebrewer wants their own brewery some day. Realistically though, it just seems like a longer term goal. We want to stay focused on making the best beer possible and getting out to meet as many people as we can. It's what we do best!
BE: Unlike some other brewing companies who have the local brewery brew, package, and ship their beer, you actual go to Paper City to brew the beer yourself. Does Paper City give you cart blanche as far as using their facility? Do they only give you a certain barrel size for each of your batches, or can you tell them how much you'd like to brew? Do they help you scale up your recipe to yield a certain quantity?
HP: While we do show up for each brewing session and we hand label/dip/stamp each of our bottles- we do have a distributor (Burke distribution). We have a great working relationship with Paper City where I bring in my recipe that I've developed on our pilot system and the head brewer (Jay Hebert) at Paper City gives me some pointers for scaling up the recipe on his particular system- because all systems have their own intricacies and ultimately, he's been brewing on that system for 20 years.
Helder applying labels to bottles of Groundswell at Paper City Brewery
BE: How did you come up with the name Backlash Beer? Your logo is pretty distinct, and rough around the edges...how was that created as well?
HP: People often ask what we're "Backlash'ing" against. The Backlash to us really represents the craft beer movement and an effort to take back beer from what it has become in the past few decades. We want to help energize the craft beer movement by recruiting new people to it. Our logo pretty much embodies the aggressive approach we're taking in fighting back against the big, old beer establishment.
BE: Groundswell was your inaugural beer, and it seemed to be met with much anticipation. When you decided to launch your beer, what made you decide to go with a Belgian style beer?
HP: We initially planned on launching a little bit later than we did (September versus July). Being that we were going to launch in the summer we wanted something that was refreshing and approachable on a hot day. Also, we wanted a style that we both loved drinking. I first developed Groundswell some time ago at home and felt that it was really appropriate as a launch beer because it's a brew that seasoned craft beer drinkers seem to respect and enjoy, while at the same time appealing to folks who have just entered the craft beer realm or are curious about craft beer.
BE: How many barrels of Groundswell were produced?
HP: Groundswell was produced in a really small quantity. In terms of brewery barrels (BBLs), it was only 20 barrels in size. When you take into account how much was bottled into bombers, we only had 32 kegs left to sell.
BE: I know there were a few Boston area beer stores that carried Groundswell...how fast did it sell and are there any bottles left? Do you plan on brewing this beer again in the near future? Any plans for it being your flagship beer, or is it too early to tell?
HP: Groundswell flew- The bottles literally sold out of the distributor in 4 days. We initially hadn't planned on brewing it again for some time, but our customers have been quite adamant in us making it again. We're leaning towards Groundswell being our year round beer.
BE: The MA Brewfest was the first beer festival for Backlash Beer. Can you tell me about the experience - did you receive a lot of feedback at the event? Was there a lot of Tweets and Facebook Messages afterwards? Did you see a spike in sales after (not sure if you have that information)? Also, do you have any confirmed beer events coming up?
HP: Wow- the MA Brewer's fest was insane. We have worked/poured for other companies at beer events but doing our own was really special. And the reception was just wicked. Our line got to be pretty long, which is a good and bad thing. We only brought one keg so it seemed like a lot of people were coming to our table first, which is flattering to say the least.
We promoted the event mostly through Twitter and Facebook, so we did see a lot of feedback on there. It's hard to tell if we had a spike in sales, but we definitely saw a spike in Facebook 'likes' and Twitter followers. We do actually have a confirmed event coming up. We're doing the beer summit in November at the Castle. We'll be pouring Convergence, our next beer (Saison).
BE: According to your website Backlasbeer.com, "Declaration" is your next beer to be launched. Can you give the readers some insight as to what they can expect from this beer, and do you have a release date yet for it? Are you planning on brewing the same number of barrels you did of Groundswell?
HP: Declaration was supposed to be our second beer, but sourcing hops for it at this point in the year is nearly impossible. For that reason, we decided to launch Convergence (our Super Saison) in the meantime. We're hoping that by waiting one brew, we'll have a new season of hops to choose from, and be able to brew the recipe the way we intended it rather than try to work with what hops are available.
BE: The hops were held up for Declaration? Does that mean they weren't enough produced to meet the demand for the hop varieties? Out of curiosity, what hops go into Declaration?
HP: The hop varieties that we had designed Declaration around are always in high demand and because they're proprietary strains, the supply is often limited. Also, being that we're at the tale end of the 2010 season, many varieties are sold out- so that doesn't help. A few of the varieties we have ear marked are Simcoe and Amarillo.
BE: So with Declaration on hold for now, can you tell me more about your Super Saison "Convergence"? What makes it so special?
HP: Convergence is brewed with a shit load of rye to add some spicy character to it aside from what the yeast itself contributes. It's different from a typical Saison in that it has a good amount of Belgian fruit esters to compliment the spiciness- it's almost a hybrid style. We call it a "Super Saison" because typically Saisons are lower in ABV and Convergence clocks in at 7.5%
BE: With the success you saw selling out of Groundswell so quickly, are you brewing the same amount of barrels of Convergence?
HP: No, we're brewing twice as much of Convergence and putting more of it into bottles this time. A lot of people who found out about Groundswell a little later never really got a chance to try it- so we want to avoid that this time around.
BE: With the rapid sales of Groundswell, have accounts already made requests for the next batch from Backlash Beer?
HP: Yes almost immediately after selling out Groundswell a bunch of accounts started to ask about what was next. It seems as though Convergence will be met with much anticipation!
BE: Do you have an official release date for Convergence? According to your Facebook page, it hasn't been released, so can you give Brew England the scoop??
HP: The beer is making it's way to our distributor's warehouse today actually. Once it's in inventory and orders come in, I would expect it to be on shelves a few days later. I'm thinking early next week.
BE: Besides the aforementioned brews, do you have any idea what other types of beers you're likely to produce over the next year or so?
HP: We definitely want to do Declaration as soon as we can source the hops. We have our chocolate espresso stout (Stealth) slated for the winter as well. Somewhere in there we'll make one of our brews year round. I'm always tinkering with recipes/ideas so a new brew could pop up at a moment's notice- but that is as far as we've planned out for now.
We again want to thank Helder for taking the time to submit to a barrage of questions! If you haven't started following them on Twitter, or become a fan of them on Facebook, definitely do so to keep up to date on new releases and future projects!