10 Nov Burn ‘Em Brewing’s Fourteen Buck Chuck Is Cash Money
I don’t spend a lot of time and copy space talking about single beers. I am more interested in the people side of craft beer. This is a community-centered industry and the relationships between craft beer makers, craft beer servers, and craft beer drinkers are what I find most interesting. Of course, I don’t drink wine or spirits, so the beer must have something to do with it.
Walter also loves craft beer; for her the people she meets are most important, but she dissects her beers perhaps a bit more than I do. For instance, she can tell if a Huell Melon hop has even been waved over a beer she’s drinking – and she won’t be pleased. It never fails to astound me as to what her palate can pick up. She’s a hophead while I’m a malt monster, so it is a bit of a departure for me that I’m going to gush over a pale ale. Nevertheless, here’s a hop forward beer that both she and I can get behind.
Burn ‘Em Brewing in Michigan City, IN is a brewery that has built a loyal following over the past three and a half years. They have produced over 250 distinctly different craft beers in that time and have been self-distributing across the state for the past couple of years. They have been successful from the very beginning, doubling their business from their first year to their second.
Co-owners Steve Murray, Rob Austin, Zack Blackwood, Howard Weisjahn, Danny Moser, and Matt Zakrzewski take care of most of the day-to-day operations, and have been creative in their work. Burn ‘Em’s beers have included some made with smoked pork chops or creamed corn (a flagship beer at that). The artwork they have chosen is different as well, bright and a bit irreverent (product of artist Max Clarke) – it’s one of the reasons that some compared them to 3F in their early days.
But the beer I want to talk about is called Fourteen Buck Chuck. Bursting with citrus and orange flavors from the Citra hops (this is a single hops pale), many people expect it to fit into the NE IPA sub-style upon reading the description. However, this is a clean beer, pretty dang clean and with quite a hop brightness. Rob told me that he added a bit of acidulated hop to lower the wort pH just a hair, he feels this helps the hops to pop. There is also a bit of honey malt for a bigger, sweeter malt backbone.
Fourteen Buck Chuck uses the same grain base as No Bucks Given, a beer developed around the same time as 14BC. However, where No Bucks is dry hopped with Simcoe and Mosaic, 14BC is a Citra hop solo. In addition, No Bucks uses a yeast strain that produces fewer esters, so 14BC turns out fruitier for a couple of reasons.
The idea for 14BC is just a bit of a mystery. Rob told me that he had asked the employees for ideas for a unique beer for an upcoming event (he thought it might have been their anniversary). One beer tender suggested an all Citra pale ale – Rob hadn’t made one yet and loves them, so it was a good fit for the occasion. From the first taste Rob knew they had a winner, and the drinking public has agreed since 14BC’s introduction in November of 2016. Only three Burn ‘Em beers with a significant numbers of ratings rank higher than 14BC on Untappd.
A couple of tweaks in the recipe over the first two or three batches, and it came to the point that when this beer came on in the taproom, it would last only a day or two at the most. Rob said that everyone at Burn ‘Em had high hopes for how the beer would be well accepted, but it became popular even faster than they had hoped for.
Rob said, “We always brew different beers to keep the variety ever-changing, but when you have a hit like 14BC you have to keep brewing it. We chose to ramp production up immediately.” Everyone at Burn ‘Em agreed almost a year ago that canning 14BC would be a great idea, but the serious talk started about May or June of 2017.
When a beer goes in cans or bottles and out to a wider audience, many things have to be reviewed. The recipe has to be such that it will hold up over time (like a hop forward beer that loses its hops within a couple of months). There is also the issue of the name, a title used in the taproom might not be appropriate or possible for wider distribution; many beers change names when they go into wider distribution. For 14BC, the name stayed as originally written, although I couldn’t get Rob to divulge where it came from. He said that the story will probably come out in the future, but not right now.
There is also the issue of the label art for bottles or cans. Fourteen Buck Chuck was released in shrink sleeved cans via Mossberg & Co. from South Bend and Michigan/Indiana Mobile Canning. The label art is once again the product of the imaginative mind of Max Clarke, an artist and musician lately of Chicago and now living in New York City. His band, The Cut Worms, played at the opening of the Burn ‘Em taproom in 2015. For better or worse, the artwork for a can or bottle is very important in marketing a beer. There are just so many choices on the beer store shelves. This is where having Max in their corner really makes a difference for Burn ‘Em.
Max has shaped the brand of Burn ‘Em says Rob. “We basically give Max an idea, tell him what is in the beer etc, and let his mind go for a run. He gets back to us with a sketch, and if we like it we give him the go ahead. Even living in NYC, Max completes the work for Burn ‘Em, digitizes it, and sends it off to the printer. Rob acknowledges that it is an ideal situation. As with all his labels, the feedback was all positive when Burn ‘Em teased the can label art for 14BC on social media. The cans do stand out; you have to go in for a closer look.
With popularity of the beer and the cans, one might ask if 14BC sister beers or merchandise might be on the way. Rob said that they don’t have any immediate plans, they’re busy trying to get more 14BC made, canned, and out to the public. I asked if a 28BC imperial version might be on the way, but he countered that a session version might make more sense with the move toward session beers right now.
The name wouldn’t be Seven Buck Chuck since he already brewed that with Idaho 7 hops, but a bigger version (~10% ABV) called Bucked Up Chuck is already in recipe form. He might get to that eventually. As far as merchandise, none is in the works; however, a T-shirt would be great, and he said that he would like to make one eventually. In any case, the beer is the focus for Rob. He said, “The label and hook are obviously great, but inside that can the beer is better and that’s the most important thing.”
Look for 14BC to be back in the taproom in Michigan City on November 14th, and more cans to be distributed around the state (mostly the north) shortly thereafter. I’m a draft craft guy, but this is one I might seek out specifically in cans.