06 Dec Harry Stuff Brewing: Wild Beers, Oeneobeers, Lagers, and South American Food on an Indiana Farm
You could call them the Indiana brewery with the funny name, but it would be more accurate to call them the hidden gem of Indiana brewing. Harry Stuff Brewing in Wawaka opened in May of this year, and has earned a stellar reputation (3.99 as a brewery on Untappd) in the six months they have been pouring beer.
But six months is a pittance compared to the time they took putting the beers together for Indiana. One of their opening day beers was a blend of two American Wild ales aged six months in Italian wine puncheons, and then re-fermented on raspberries. It was called Santa Diabla, and it has been followed by several clean beers, a good number of wilds as well, and a solera wild.
The owners and brewers for Harry Stuff are Ehren Stuff and his father Edward. They have a 10 barrel brewhouse that would be the envy of many a new brewery, with six 10 barrel brites, a total of four fermenters (10 and 20 bbl) and eight 500 L Italian oak puncheons (think of foeders laying on their side).
Ehren is a soft spoken fellow, but one with a lot of depth. He quotes Nietzche in naming and describing one beer, and explains why red paint was cheap in another. I’ve had more than one very good conversation with him at the bar that has turned off in unexpected directions. Ehren’s wife, Luisa, is from Colombia, so they speak a lot of Spanish at home, but I don’t think their cats Luna and Louie mind. Luna is originally from Colombia so this her native tongue and Louie was a rescue on death’s door when Ehren and Luisa took him in, so I think he’s happy with any language.
Luisa is the chef for Harry Stuff; the hidden gem inside a hidden gem. She cooks traditional Colombian food and some hybrid dishes, including corn based empanadas that’ll make you forget your name. The combination of Colombian food and American wild beers on a family farm close to Amish country in Indiana is one that I’m sure no one else can match – and a business plan you probably wouldn’t approach a bank with – but it works so well.
The brewery came about after Ehren and Edward had been homebrewing for 5-6 years and joking about opening a place, as almost all homebrewers do. But after Ehren took a class at UNC-Boon and Edward studied at Colorado Boy Brewing, the joking turned serious. Of course, they wouldn’t open just any brewery, but one that reflected their likes and passions, including the farm life and classic beers.
I could tell you about their philosophy of making beer, but it’s better to hear it from Ehren himself. He said, “Our beers revolve around exploring the collision of agriculture and nature. We cannot say what or how beer should be, we can only constantly experiment. And for our brewery, that experimentation begins with yeast and all the other microorganisms that join in on the party. We feed yeast and other microorganisms with various agricultural products or even products that nature provides. That is the where the brewer comes into play, what will they feed the yeast with and how will they feed the yeast – some good old fashioned science is unleashed.“
Ehren added, “The brewer doesn’t have to remain constrained to academia, the brewer can compose chaos and become an artist, decide to age the beer a few more months based upon their senses, perhaps adding fruit, herbs, maybe coffee, or they decide to experiment with new hops. To us, brewing is part science, part art, and a total homage to nature, and that’s what we want out beers to tell our visitors.”
Even though Harry Stuff has been around just half a year, Ehren and Edward are ready to unleash two new programs for us – a traditional, long-term lagering series of beers, and a series of oenobeers. What are oenobeers? You’ll have to wait, because I want to talk about the lagers first – I’m developing quite a respect for lagers made with a large investment of time.
Ehren said that with some many European breweries copying what is going on in America, he was inspired to go back in time and bring some classic lagers to Indiana. Traditional malts and hops in the wort and slow fermentation at low temperatures to keep ester formation low are the first steps in this process, but the real time commitment comes in the lagering. Ehren’s cold room is a constant 34 ˚F, so the lagers sit in their six serving tanks for months on end, becoming crisp, clean and brilliantly clear.
The first beer of the series, a 100% German ingredient sourced pilsner has been in tanks for months now. It’s ready for public viewing and will be on tap in the first couple of weeks in December. The second beer of the series is a schwarzbier, a black lager that was brewed with the yeast taken off the pilsner. It should be ready to come sometime after the first of the year. It will surprise you with just how light and crisp it is despite it’s midnight black color.
Ehren and Edward are now getting ready to ferment the third beer of the lager series, and this one sounds amazing. It’s going to be a dopplebock lagered for more than a few months, and then transferred to the wine puncheons and aged for months more to pick up some of the vanillins and oak from the wood. Pair these lagers with the new dishes just put on by Luisa, including Jalapeno popper empanandas, butternut squash and pumpkin soups, and a new Argentinian stew of beef, whole corn, squash, peaches, spices and some barrel aged raspberry beer. That sounds to me like a great afternoon of drinking and eating during a cold Indiana winter.
Now for the oenobeers. Ehren calls them wine-inspired mixed fermentation beers, and this is more descriptive, but basically, an oenobeer (pronounced N-O-beer) is one in which a good portion of the fermentable sugar comes from grapes, up to 49%. Ehren and Ed took a trip up to Michigan this fall and came back with 400 lb.s of Dechaunac red wine grapes and 400 lb.s of Seyval Blanc white wine grapes. They built a de-stemmer from scrap lumber and ran the grapes through it, making sure to keep a good amount of must (stem, seeds, and skins) in the product. The grapes definitely add some tannins and body, along with their distinctive flavors, but Ehren will keep things in check so that, “the final products will be complex, layered beers in which no one component dominates.”
The base beer for these oeno/mixed fermentation wonders was a mixed fermentation blonde ale aged for at least a year in Italian white wine puncheons and then blended in different ways are kept separate and re-fermented with different combinations of the grapes. Both of the grape beers have been re-fermenting and aging for a good long time and will be canned with natural carbonation only. Ehren is hard pressed for a style to label these beers, they are saison-like, tart, but not really sour, use many bugs, but aren’t spontaneous, and have farmhouse characteristic. Since they were re-fermented with grape sugars they are oenobeers (sometimes called Italian grape ales), but they are really much more than just grape ales. I call them highly anticipated.
Name another family farm in Indiana where you can pick up a bunch of these traditional and innovative lagers as well as the puncheon aged oenobeers along with amazing South American food. You can’t, it’s a unique product available only at Harry Stuff starting soon. The taproom is a relaxing place with eight taps and cans to go, a view of the woods where they will be putting in trails soon, and a large lawn for music and games when the weather gets better.
And how did they come to be called Harry Stuff? Harry was Ehren’s great grandfather and lived on a farm just down the road from the brewery. They really only considered two names – Stuff Brewing, and Harry Stuff Brewing, and everyone is sure the one they chose gets more conversations started. The location on a farm in Wawaka means that we need to do a little more work to find them, but it reminds us of their dedication to linking Indiana agriculture, nature, and beer – and it’s well worth the trip.