It's a semi-true story; Believe it or not. I made up a few things and there's some I forgot. But, the life and the telling are both real to me and they all run together and turn out to be a semi-true story.
Autumn's Early Arrival Blonde Ale
In the Summer of 2014, Scott and Amy were expecting their first child. It was known that this child would be a girl and that her name would be Autumn. What wasn't known was that she would arrive three weeks early, on July 6th, rather than on her due date of July 28th.
Being the first child of the Johnsons, Autumn changed the lives of Scott and Amy forever. Amy, having been pregnant for some time, was prepared for some of this change, while Scott was still in denial that his life was going to change at all. As such, in the late hours of July 5th, 2014, his two worlds collided when actual reality met expected reality. This collision, while not a bad thing, certainly had a stressful component. In order to blow off some steam, Amy suggested that he brew beer, a thing he had been practicing for some time before that.
Scott decided to try a recipe he had been thinking about but had never before attempted: a summer ale called "Autumn's Summer Ale," in a nod to his new daughter. Careful readers will realize that by the time this brew was scheduled (sometime around July 12th), summer was already more than half over. (Well, more than half over in Minnesota. Perhaps the rest of the world has longer summers). This was even before fermentation had started. By the time the beer was actually ready to be tried, it was late August, and the "Summer ale" Scott brewed wasn't going to last through to the following summer.
Scott looked into the recipe and decided that it could also work as a Blonde Ale, and, as he and Amy tried the new recipe, were astonished when they poured the beer into their glasses and saw that it had a gradient of colors, almost resembling a harvest moon during twilight. Scott made a comment that "well, it looks like Autumn is early this year". Suddenly realizing the double meaning of this phrase, the name stuck and has been used ever since.
Beer is divided into two categories: Lagers and Ales. Contrary to popular belief, it really has nothing to do with what color the beer is. Rather, it is a question of at what temperature the yeast ferments, and whether it's a top- or bottom-fermenting yeast strain. Ales ferment at a slightly warmer temperature and are a top-fermenting yeast, whereas Lagers ferment at a much cooler temperature and ferment in the bottom of the fermentation vessel.
Lagers are a tough type of beer to brew. The yeast strains involved tend to be very finicky about temperature variations (even of one or two degrees) and the grains used tend to require more time during the boiling process. However, in the United States, people tend to be most familiar with lagers, especially Pilsners, since they are easy to drink and are often one of the types of beer that are mass-market produced most often.
Technically, the style of beer most commonly referred to as a “Pilsner” is called a Czech Premium Pale Lager. It’s more commonly known as a Pilsner, after the town of Plzeň in the Czech Republic. This is where Pilsner Urquell, the world’s first Pale Lager was produced.
When Scott first set out to brew what would later become Bier, the style category was technically called Bohemian Pilsener. As such, the beer was first called “Blonde Bohemian”. After saying this name a few times, though, it became quite clear that the name wasn’t very good - it didn’t roll off the tongue very well, and wasn’t very descriptive.
Paul decided that, in the short term, we would simply call the iteration “beer”. He said, "that way, when someone came into the brewery asking for 'a beer', we would be able to serve them this ale and have it likely close to what they wanted, even if their original intent was to throw us for a loop".
Over time, Scott decided to change the spelling of this beer to “Bier”, which means “a movable frame on which a coffin or a corpse is placed before burial or cremation or on which it is carried to the grave”. The double meaning behind this is that this beer is so good, it will eventually bury all of our competitors.
It is said that the job of an engineer is not to add things, but to take as much as possible away while maintaining the same level of functionality.
The first beer Scott ever brewed was part of a homebrewing kit given to him by his aunt Jackie. The name of the beer was "Scot's Brown Ale", so chosen because of the similarity between the name of the brewer and the name of the ale. Unlike most first homebrew attempts, this beer turned out drinkable, but Scott (the human, not the beer) decided he could make it better. Through various iterations of both extract and all-grain brew sessions, Scott became an expert in the special field of Brown Ales.
One fall, Scott decided he wanted to experiment with a nuttier quality in the beer. The thought occurred to him, "What better way to make a beer nutty than to add nuts?" He decided to harvest fresh walnuts from his backyard, where he has several Black Walnut trees growing, and add them to the brew during secondary fermentation. Unfortunately, this beer ended up being undrinkable, due to the effects of the oil from the nuts being in the beer for such a long period of time. While that iteration didn't turn out, the recipe was saved.
A year or so later, when Paul started brewing along with Scott (again, the person, not the beer), the recipe was revisited. Being fall, Scott decided to try again for a full-bodied winter warmer with walnuts. This time, he decided to harvest the walnuts earlier, cure them during the month of November, and brew in December, adding the nuts during the boil instead of during fermentation, which would hopefully allow for the flavor of the walnuts, but not the oily residue that came from them soaking in the beer for long periods of time. When Scott and Paul went to harvest the walnuts, however, squirrels had eaten every single walnut from the trees in Scott's yard. The expression "those damned squirrels" was uttered more than once.
Since the beer was already planned, and the grain already purchased, Paul and Scott decided to go ahead and brew anyway. The result was an excellent variant of the ever-popular brown ale category. Pleased with their success, the ale was renamed from "Scott's Brown Ale" (this time the beer, not the brewer) to "Damned Squirrel" to give credit to their assistant engineers that aided them in removing an unnecessary ingredient.
When Amy first was introduced to the craft beer scene, she enjoyed a sip or two of beer but preferred a different kind of drink - white wine. Years later, when the idea came together to create a brewery, Amy wanted to create a beer recipe that was hers. She asked Scott what most brewers started out brewing, and his response was that, while he didn't really know, he suspected it was something difficult like an Imperial Stout, or something really bitter like an IPA. He himself had started with a brown ale recipe.
At that time, Amy wasn't a big fan of dark beers like Imperial Stouts or Brown Ales. Scott suggested they try a commercial beer he liked called "Anchor Steam", which he had been drinking lately, since he had been taking trips to San Francisco. Amy liked it and asked what type of beer this was. Scott responded that this beer was called a "California Common". Amy wasn't enthused with the category name and so decided to come up with a more descriptive name of this particular ale.
After looking at the color, she came up with the name "Copperton", so given because of the coppery color of the ale. Scott and Amy designed a recipe together and brewed it for a small gathering they were having in a few weeks. The beer was a big hit with the friends they had over, and they decided to make it more regularly.
Unfortunately, every iteration of Copperton after the first one had issues, the most noticeable of which was a clove-like aftertaste which Scott was extra sensitive to. Even after acquiring pro brewing equipment, Scott, Amy, and Paul couldn't seem to get the beer back to its original quality. As such, the beer was essentially shelved after the fourth or fifth iteration.
In June of 2020, Paul, Amy, and Scott decided to try again with a slightly augmented recipe. Most notably, a little more hops were added during the boil, and a professional chiller was used to get the beer down to a lower temperature prior to primary fermentation. The fermentation temperature was strictly controlled and never allowed to get too high. Because of the changes to the recipe, and because they felt that "Copperton" was too blasé of a name, they chose a name that gave a nod back to the original inspiration of the recipe: a steam-powered ship called an Ironclad.
This iteration turned out to have the same quality as the original version of the beer. Moreover, it didn't have too high of an alcohol content, so that individuals could drink a few in a single sitting without becoming too intoxicated. This property of a particular beer - that the alcohol content isn't too high as to intoxicate the drinker too quickly - gives the beer the moniker "session", indicating that a beer drinker can drink several of them in a single "session" without becoming too intoxicated. We didn't have a session beer, so this ended up being a great addition to our selections.
Having been resurrected from the proverbial trash bin, this recipe is now one of our core staples. If you're a fan of ambers, or you're just looking at getting in to beer drinking, Ironclad might be a great place to start.
Kung Fu Kicker
When Paul and Scott first started brewing together, Paul made it a goal to create the stoutest of stouts. He wanted a high-gravity, dark ale that would knock someone on their butt - almost literally - and name it “Kung Fu Kicker”, in honor of both of our backgrounds in Kung Fu (aside: Amy thought this was a stupid idea until she tried the fully-aged version of Kung Fu Kicker).
When Scott and Paul first created the recipe for Kung Fu Kicker, it wasn’t as strong as was desired. In fact, it was just over 9% ABV. While the recipe had some of the characteristics that they wanted, Paul felt it simply wasn’t strong enough to be “the” Kung Fu Kicker. This first iteration became what is known today as “Dobroy Nochi”, our award-winning Imperial Stout.
After going back to the drawing board, Scott and Paul developed a variant of the recipe that utilized significantly more grain. More importantly, though, was that there was a lengthy boil-down process prior to the boil that took the better part of the brew day. The end result required that a special hydrometer (a tool for measuring the sugar content of a liquid), since the gravity of the wort (unfermented beer) was so high.
After several rounds of fermentation, and more than a year in secondary fermentation, the ale was packaged into three separate wooden barrels: one with nothing added, one with coffee added, and one with vanilla beans added to it. Each of these wooden barrels was then allowed to age for another year. Every few months, Scott, Amy, Paul, and a few special selected guests were allowed to try small amounts of this fine ale. At the very beginning (prior to significant aging), the vanilla variant was the most popular by far. After over a year in the barrels, though, the standard variant (without any additives) was the most popular.
Now, this beer can be sampled once per year. A special brew day is performed once every year, where we make a batch of this very special ale and package it in barrels for aging. You have the option to purchase either 750ml bottles of the aged beer, or, if you want to age it yourself, we sell the same style of 1L barrels in which we originally aged the beer. Be sure to put your order in as soon as we announce the next round, though - this beer tends to sell extremely fast and is incredibly rare.
A common tradition in the Spring for Scott, Paul, and Amy, is to attend the NCHC (previously the WCHA) hockey tournaments. Often, this takes place during the week of St. Patrick's Day.
Spectating hockey, especially for an entire day, requires a decent supply of beer (you can quote us on that one). For some strange reason, though, everyone seems to want to put green dye into their beers during the St. Patrick's Day holiday. Scott's solution to this problem was to create a beer specifically designed for the holiday - an Irish beer, and instead of making it artificially green, he decided to make it naturally red.
Believe it or not, getting the color just right in an Irish red ale is not as easy as it sounds. Through several iterations, this ale has been tweaked and refined. While Scott and Paul still aren't quite sold on the color - the ale isn't quite red enough - the taste is excellent, and so they decided to stop tweaking. In any case, you can enjoy this while watching the University of North Dakota win their next hockey NCAA title at Loons Landing - we promise to keep the game on for you.
Smoking on 36th Street
In 2011, Paul was in St. Croix on one of his many adventures in piloting. On the island, there were very few places to hang out that weren’t extremely shady. Paul chose to avoid these “non-shady” places and instead found himself in a back tavern somewhere in the middle of Kingshill.
Being an island in the Caribbean, St. Croix isn’t known for its large selections of ale. Much of what was available at this particular tavern was light lagers. Paul thus decided to make loud allegations regarding the quality of this establishment, bemoaning the lack of darker beers. Hearing his commentary, a man in the corner of this tavern (think shady, pirate-looking dude, except in a neon tracksuit) commented that “ya want a good porter, ya gotta go to 36th Street”). The man then inhaled from his cigarillo and promptly disappeared into the haze of smoke in the tavern.
Fast-forward ten years and Scott and Paul are creating a porter using Cherrywood-Smoked Malt. Paul relates this story to Scott, who promptly tells him he was likely in the midst of a contact high as a result of being in the shady underbelly of a Caribbean island. Nonetheless, there is a noir quality to the story, and Scott probes Paul further. “Did he mean 36th street in New York? Minneapolis? Where was he talking about?” Paul shrugs and says that was the last time he saw the guy and takes another sip of his beer.
While they haven’t yet found the “36th Street” the smoking man was talking about, from the swirling smoke wisps left from this story originated the name of this fine porter. Perhaps the man was a traveler from the future, planting the seed of the future dominating porter of the world within the brain of young Paul.