Night Owls visiting Akademia Brewing Company recently probably noticed a new collaboration beer on the menu.
Bold-Faced Rye roggenbier won the 2017 Athens Homebrew Classic, and as part of the prize package, its brewers got to make and sell it at the brewpub. In a fortuitous occurrence, Bold-Faced Rye will be the first beer to enter market from upcoming Athens brewery Athentic Brewing Company.
“It was really exciting how Southern Brewing Company gave us an opportunity, before we were able to open up our own facility, to come in and get a little bit of production brewing experience under our belt,” said Morgan Wireman, Akademia co-founder and head brewer. “The original plan wasn’t originally to provide that for Athentic — it was supposed to be the competition winner of the Homebrew Classic — but it turned out to be a lucky turn of events that they just happen to end up winning and are now opening a brewery.”
Paul Skinner and Mark Johnson, co-founders of Athentic, were surprised that Bold-Faced Rye took home the top prize.
“It was a complex brewing process because we were doing some decoction brewing, which means we were pulling off some of the wort from the mash and further boiling it and condensing it down and caramelizing those sugars, then adding them back into the mash tun and pushing them through,” Skinner said. “Once you go past that 20 percent threshold with rye beer it’s a booger because [rye] doesn’t have a husk. So it kind of turns into gelatinous material. It’s a little hard to get through — it can stick your sparge in your mash tun. Even when we brewed with Morgan here, I think we four or five times had to stop and unplug the mash.”
Bold-Faced Rye also uses a versatile yeast that has a lot to do with the end result of the beer’s flavor. If it’s brewed cooler, as Athentic did, the notes have more clove; warmer, it has more of a bubblegum sweetness, Skinner said.
“Rye has sort of a characteristic [spiciness] to it. It’s like, kind of a pumpernickel bread,” Skinner said. “I get a little residual sweetness on the front end and then a dry finish. I think for people who just want to try something totally different to their palate, they would be interested in this.”
Wireman and Aaron Martin, Akademia’s beer consumption coordinator, enjoyed working with Athentic, and have high hopes for Bold-Faced Rye.
“I’m really excited to see them doing a style that so far has been underserved,” Martin said. “We’ve had rye beers in Athens, obviously with Creature and Terrapin both famous examples, but the actual roggenbier is something that I haven’t seen coming out of Athens ever before. It was cool to help them out with a style that should be something new for most people in town.”
Skinner started brewing in 2011 as part of a church group. As group members moved on to other hobbies, brewing stuck with him and got Johnson addicted. The two knew each other from their day jobs working at Boehringer Ingelheim.
They attended the first Athens Homebrew Classic event in 2015, and during the next two years entered both the Beer Judge Certification Program and five-gallon competitions.
“To win best in show our competition has a couple of rounds. The first round, the beer is going to be facing off against a flight of similar style beers,” said David Ducrest, organizer for the Athens Homebrew Classic. “Judges will sample beers, award points and typically the ones ranked the highest will be considered in a little mini-count. Those might be re-sampled and awarded first, second, third in that category.”
First-place beers then face off against each other.
“It becomes a bit of a debate between the different, really skilled judges about, is that stout a better stout than that English bitter is an English bitter,” Ducrest said.
Homebrewing meant that Skinner and Johnson also had a lot of beer laying around for their friends to enjoy, so they began hosting tasting events as the Kudzu Brewing Company.
“Eventually it became a very strong passion for us, enough that we were very interested to start a business and could envision ourselves doing something in the craft beer industry,” he said.
As business plans became more serious, they realized that another brewery already had Kudzu copyrighted.
“We quickly went back to the drawing board and started brainstorming a ton of new names,” Skinner said. “We created our own word, essentially, by combining ‘authentic’ and ‘Athens’ and it fit the way we brewed.”
Basic brewing done well
Johnson said Athentic’s recipe’s aren’t trying to out-hop or out-bitter anyone, and it’s a goal of theirs to create beers that are unique enough to win competitions, but still be accessible to the average craft beer drinker.
“A lot of our beers are meant to be more on the side of easy-drinking,” Skinner said. “We’ve gone all over the spectrum, but it’s coming back to good ingredients, fresh ingredients. Trying different things and experimenting, and finding that tradeoff that is crafty and different, but also just a very drinkable beer.”
Next up for Athentic is opening the brewery itself. The expected debut date will be sometime this fall, and the anticipated location will be in downtown Athens. Skinner said Athentic will be more along the lines of a brewery than an Akademia-style brewpub.
He’s most excited to release Sister Goldenhair, a refreshing, hoppy pale ale, and his sour, fruity golsch. Johnson already has a following for Flower Power Blonde — the secret floral ingredient he wouldn’t reveal! — and his amber.
When it comes to opening a brewery, timing is the biggest hurdle, the two said.
“Everything takes longer than you think it’s going to take,” Johnson said. “That’s the biggest lesson. You think it’s going to take a week and it’s going to be at least three.”
Johnson and Skinner credit Brian Roth and Mark Mooney at Southern Brewing Company, Morgan Wireman at Akademia and the owners of Grumpy Old Men Brewing in Blue Ridge, Georgia, as their biggest role models in the business.
“Everywhere we go and we talk to brewers, whether it’s brewpubs or breweries, they’re all willing to share information,” Johnson said. “[Grumpy Old Men], those guys really I think were two that I look to because they’re older than we are and they decided to do this as a second act, and they made it happen.”
That’s a big goal for Athentic.
“We’re mid-50s, and this made us just a little bit different,” Skinner said. “We just want to represent that all groups and all ages and all backgrounds can get into this business and have a good time.”