Brew Lab Birthday

by Marty Nopper, Tastemaker in Residence

Who celebrated a birthday recently? This guy…most people stop counting after they reach middle age, but I look at it like this: I’m still breathing. And if I’m breathin’, I’m drinkin’. You know what Ben Franklin said about imbibing, right? “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” So, how could I not take this opportunity to appreciate Ben’s wisdom and God’s love?

Jetting over the Midwest recently, I was a little sad to be working this hard on my birthday. I had a quickly planned trip to Overland Park, Kansas, to meet with a client and discuss a business opportunity and it was going to interfere with my 55th year of birth. Or would it? You get the idea. All work and no play...Meeting several colleagues at the airport, I tossed a proposal to get to the hotel as soon as legally possible in our rented SUV (although we debated if this was really an SUV-it was an Infinity QX30), ditch the bags, and get something to ‘eat’, Seeing that this was just an overnight trip (another reason I felt justified in the choice of ‘food’), we had to drink, uh, eat fast. Scanning the short list of ‘eateries’ on my favorite app, Yelp, my friends indicated that they would like to try the local barley and we opted for Brew Lab, a microbrewery, Tap Room, and Kitchen offering a really unique experience. Local craft hounds can opt for brewing and bottling their own sud sodas, taking monthly classes in the fine art of making this laughing water or simply buying the ingredients to brew their own concoctions at home. Sidebar: did I mention it was located at 7925 Marty Street? Funnnny.

Anyway, after surveying the cocktail menu, I draw the conclusion that this place has flavors for all. Whoever heard of Gruit Ale? Spring Root is a gruit ale brewed with a very herbal combination of yarrow, mugwort, and chamomile instead of hops as used in ancient brewing techniques. Hmmm. Thought Gruit was the funny little stick guy on Guardians of the Galaxy?!? No worries-moving on. I spy Stouts, Tripels, Witbier, Helles Bock, Sours and some Ales: from farmhouse, Common and India Pale to Mild English and Amber Red. Ahhhhh, now were getting somewhere but where do I start? Do I step out of my cold coffee comfort zone and experience the joy of the Jesus juice the Lab has to offer? Do I dare comprehend the nuances of the neck oil or take a gander at the glass sandwiches? I know, enough with the synonyms (or is it an idiom?), El Marteen! The waiter, who has spent all of 20 minutes in the brewery on his first day, comes over and we ask questions but don’t get a lot of answers. He is way out of his element but does his best Sam Adams interpretation. In retrospect, asking someone how a brew tastes are like asking someone about their feelings on a mint 1968 GTO. You’ll get a, ‘it’s pretty good’ but I’m not sure that’s an uneducated guess or just a general answer. Besides, my taste buds are geared towards a certain, well-oiled chemical reaction and I’m feeling a little scientific about now. 

Enough talk-bring me the #9 Transmutation Golden Summer Milk Stout! Yes, Golden Summer Milk Stout. Impossible, essey! Stouts are dark, mind numbing and definitely not summery. You pulling my bung? Sidebar II: According to John Urlaub at, bung is “the wooden stopper in old-style Hoff-Stevens kegs. It needs to be removed (“de-bunged”) with a bung hammer and then replaced (“bunging the keg”) when cleaning and filling the kegs”. Pours being less than this guy normally demands (13 and 14 ounces here), this particular aiming fluid is not what I expected for several reasons. Although many amateurs believe that stouts are extremely heavy due to the dark coloration, most stouts are relatively lighter than perceived. This daddy’s milk packs a low 5.5% ABV and a typically reduced 32 IBU’s so I was impressed that it fit into those parameters. What shocked me was the golden coloration, atypical of this model of mud. Still not sure when they serve the milk, it was silky smooth and by far the best brau of the day! Sidebar III- do you know why they call it a Milk Stout? Is it good with Oreos? Not sure (bet it is, tho)…if I warm it up and drink it before bed, will it put me to sleep (my guess is absolutely)? I do know that according to Wikipedia, "Milk stout (also called sweet stout or cream stout) is a stout containing lactose, a sugar derived from milk. Because lactose is unfermentable by beer yeast, it adds sweetness, body, and calories to the finished beer. Milk stout was claimed to be nutritious (see, honey, I told you this was healthy!), and was given to nursing mothers, along with other stouts, such as Guinness. The classic surviving example of milk stout is Mackeson's, for which the original brewers claimed that "each pint contains the energizing carbohydrates of 10 ounces of pure dairy milk". In the period just after the Second World War when rationing was in place, the British government required brewers to remove the word "milk" from labels and adverts, and any imagery associated with milk."

Knowing that we didn’t have a lot of time to play and tomorrow would make me a year older, I decided to try them all. Sort of. A specialty here is the beer flights. Everyone does something different, so I figured what the heck. Having to reread the current menu (it changes weekly depending on what’s cooking), I selected some malts I was unfamiliar with. “Here we go again”, I’m sure my wife would probably be thinking at this point. After some carbonated contemplation, I selected 6 4-ounce pours to complete my journey. Kentucky Catalyst was first. This Kentucky Common Brown Ale is named for a brew once popular around the Lexington, KY., area and concocted of rye malt and corn, 2 staple ingredients of the locale. Checking in at 5% ABV and an almost non-existent 19 IBUs, this easy drinking liquid was good and tasted like a Flat Tire and a Bud combined. Light but with some maltiness reminiscent of every Brown Ale I have ever quaffed. It’s worth a go. The second leg of my trip was the Enigma Machine ESB. At this point, you may be asking how it got this name. Like most of these offerings, there is a story. Sidebar IV: using my co-author Wiki, I read that "The Enigma machines were a series of electro-mechanical rotor cipher machines developed and used in the early- to mid-20th century to protect commercial, diplomatic and military communication. Enigma was invented by the German engineer Arthur Scherbius at the end of World War I. Early models were used commercially from the early 1920s and adopted by military and government services of several countries, most notably Nazi Germany before and during World War II. Several different Enigma models were produced, but the German military models, having a plugboard, were the most complex. Japanese and Italian models were also in use".  Like Fat Bastard, it's time to decipher whether this beer will end up in my belly in larger quantities. This Extra Special Strong Bitter is miss appropriately named as it is no stronger than your average Budweiser (4.7%) and a very mild 32 IBU's.  Relying on old-school British grains (English hops and British crystal malt), this enjoyable bitter batter is also not as bitter as the name may imply and packs a hint of spice. Drink up, kitten…Tearing through this flight like it would put out the fire at the lower end of my Eustachian tube, I made short work of the last 4 as well. Offaly Clever Dry Stout was my next malted mouthwash. Sporting a mild 5% ABV and an average 40 IBU, this serving had what I can only describe as acidic or hot. Maybe spicy is a better description but not as much in the way that you may be thinking. Not my favorite of the group but still in line if I had to drink it instead of castor oil. Yum.

Ahhhh. Numero Quattro. Combining a traditional Oatmeal Stout with some distinctively seductive flavors from South of the Border, Tinta Davilla Mexican Stout was, by far, my favorite de la dia.  Sporting an ABV just shy of 7%, this brain hammer provided the construction I was hoping for and encompassed constant hits of chocolate and cinnamon. According to the menu, I'm supposed to get notes of vanilla, but it's gone before my now slightly damaged cerebellum can detect any. Now more than halfway home, I am intrigued by my next selection. Ragged Brew, in Brew Labs own words, is "Brewed in honor of some of our favorite musicians. It is a dark English mild designed to be drinkable throughout the latest of all-night jam sessions. Heritage English barley paired with the finest specialty malts our colonial cousins have to offer, topped off with traditional hops. Dark and rich, but not terribly filling or overbearing, Ragged Brew is a beer that can go all night". True dat. Only 3.9% and a 16 IBU, this creamy cold one was, as mentioned previously, deceptively light and would fall in line closer to Guinness than most malts I've imbibed. Could pop a few of these tops if I was ever in a jam session. Sadly, we've reached the last Goblet of the Gods. Humulus Stratus, a cloudy New England-style IPA, is a potent potable that you will have to crush if you enjoy more tropical notes. This NEIPA is brewed with a trifecta of fruit selective hops, including Citra, mosaic and Columbus, and a hefty helping of flaked Rye. It's almost 7% so be careful! This was the last one on my pop palette and would surpass the Mexican bandit as my top choice if it wasn't so mainstream. Definitely a front runner so I need to decide which one will be my dessert (I told you I was 'eating').

‘ID gusta salir con la dama joven robusto, Tinta‘, I tell the tender (in Espanol, of course). !Muy Bueno!

So, would I go back, you ask? It's definitely 'back to the Lab again, yo' for this guy. With a variety of flavors, it allows everyone in your party to try different flavors and experiment with unusual tastes. Become your own code breaker and see how you might be able to find the hidden messages each barley broth has to offer. It doesn’t even have to be your birthday. But it does provide you with an excuse!

Think I passed this course.  I got the Cliffs notes still if anyone is thinking about dropping by. Drink responsibly!