Starting this week, Lion’s Share IV will start roaring onto store shelves and into bars and restaurants across the state. I took a few moments to talk about this year’s anniversary release with Tim Deemer, LBC Lead Brewer and the owner of the most majestic, lion-like mane of hair in the company. We touch on keeping up with beer trends, the role of traditions in the brewing field, and what he was aiming to accomplish in brewing Lion’s Share IV, his… quad goals, if you will.
Explain to me what a Quadrupel is. I know there’s Belgian Trappists, Dubbels and Tripels, and that those don’t relate to each other necessarily. Like, a Dubbel isn’t twice a Belgian dark ale, a Tripel isn’t more than a Dubbel, it’s just the names attached to these specific styles. So, break it down for me, what’s a Quad?
Well, that’s still kind of an enigma, if you will, with brewers. As best as I can find, the term ‘Quad’ came from the Netherlands from my favorite beer to carry the label, in fact, La Trappe. That seems to be the first use of the name. There are a lot of people who argue back and forth about what makes a “Quad” as it’s not listed in any style guide. Previous to that, in all of my reading, they went by Belgian Dark Strong Ales, but there’s really no set guide line. Some went from 9, 10, maybe all the way up to 13% alcohol depending on the brewery, but they weren’t listing them as “Quads” until recent years. The first Quad I ever saw was La Trappe, and that was some 20-odd years ago.
So what’s the upshot to calling it a Quad, if there’s not a distinct style to follow? What, if anything, do you gain by putting that label on a beer and tying it to these established, historical beers?
When I first started brewing, as a homebrewer, it was very difficult to find any decent beer, let alone any big beers. As the years have gone on, in the mainstream market, bigger beers have been very popular. So, I think it is advantageous in today’s market, because people say “Oh, it’s a Quad, it’s gotta be bigger than that one, and bigger is obviously better!” That’s not necessarily my opinion, but that just seems to be what the trend is. Currently, if you look at the Beer Judge Certification Program guidelines, there’s no such thing as an imperial Pilsner. There’s no such thing, but there’s 8 or 10 of them on the shelf when you go to the store. They’re just styles that are being brewed, you know? I don’t know if they’ll ever put Quad in as it’s own style basis, due to the fact that it was first used by La Trappe. That’s their Belgian Dark Strong, but they just called it a ‘Quad.’ I don’t know if people will look at that and use it as a style.
Was that actually trademarked? I wonder if it’s like a ‘Band-Aid’ or an ‘Xerox’ situation, where the trademark’s been somewhat genericized over time.
It could be. I don’t believe Quadrupel is a Trappist term; you see that everywhere. You can’t use the Trappist label unless you’re one of the official Trappist monasteries, so anything else has to be an Abbey-style ale. We’re not La Trappe, I wasn’t wearing a monk’s robe when I made this, so it’s an Abbey-style Quadrupel.
That’s always struck me. I’m not criticizing when I say this, but… I find it very interesting that you could theoretically use the same ingredients, brew it in the same manner as a proper monastery, and it would not be an Abbey or Trappist brew.
It’s just like champagne. Champagne came from the Champagne region of France. It’s tradition, and if we don’t follow those traditions, they’ll die out. In wine, they get very serious about that, you have to call it a sparkling wine or a champagne-style wine if it’s not from the region. Even if it’s the same grapes, that just happen to be in California, there’s a name for that, and it’s not champagne. We do the same thing in beer, maybe not quite as rigorously, but sooner or later those traditions are going to collapse, and it will be a very sad day when they do.
I guess I can appreciate that, but again… maybe this is just the side of the business I’m in, but isn’t that just marketing? There’s a part of me that has to look at that and say that’s all just marketing, that’s fluff. It’s champagne, or a Trappist ale in all but name.
Well, it’s the job of you marketing folks to educate our customers about these sorts of distinctions. Traditions like that aren’t just marketing, I feel. They’re important to the product and to the history of the business. If we didn’t have them and didn’t respect them, then we’d all just boil down to used car salesmen.
Well, maybe. (laughs)
(laughs) “Yeah, this wasn’t very good when it came out originally, but I need you to buy it now.” That’s what a salesman does, right? Just calls his product whatever he needs to so he can get it sold? Those labels have a meaning, and they need to be respected.
I suppose so. Almost by that same token though, was there a ‘Quad style’ before La Trappe called it a Quad? Did they add marketing to something that already sort of existed?
You know, that’s what I’m having trouble finding. This is one of those styles that has sort of developed and come out, but nobody’s put a specific definition on it yet. You can find 30 of ‘em on the shelf if you go to the right store, but they’re all kind of different. It’s irritating almost. Now granted, I understand beer styles take years to develop, but it’s been years. My whole career there’s been this argument about what Quads are.
I’m fascinated by this idea about what truly makes a new style… how much of that comes down to the marketing and positioning. In the long view, you know, things branch off and maybe end, or sometimes get assimilated into other things.
In craft beer, I find our marketing is a lot more honest than damn near anywhere else. In our industry, it’s all about education. The more we educate our customers, the less of that other beer they’ll drink. We don’t need to cut corners; we don’t need to do anything like that. Our customers are interested in new things, they’re interested in learning. Otherwise, they’d have that same old beer in their hand.
I feel like there’s something weird and interesting and different out there for everybody. I mean, it’s how I got started. No bullshit, my brother put a glass of The Temptress in front of me and said “I know you don’t drink much, but try this.” One glass, and wouldn’t you know I love craft beer now.
And, you didn’t know that until he put it in your hand. When I started drinking, I drank whiskey. I hated beer. I thought it was garbage. It wasn’t until my first Guinness, when a friend’s brother went to the beer store and came back with this black beer in a glass, that I found out what real beer tastes like.
So, you mentioned La Trappe being your favorite Quad. What other brews influenced you when you were brewing Lion’s Share this year? What other Quads did you look to?
The Rochefort 10 was another I liked. Definitely Rochefort, but La Trappe’s been my favorite for years. I remember drinking La Trappe back at the Old Monk in the late 90’s. I’d get off work at Hoffbrau on Tuesday nights, go the four blocks down, and have a cheese plate and La Trappe for dinner. They had the best Belgian beer selection around, beers on tap you couldn’t get anywhere else. There wasn’t a Flying Saucer back then; they opened up the next year. There was The Ginger Man, but they were mostly German beers. There were a few craft beers around, but the scene wasn’t real big back then. You felt really lucky if you went to a place where you at least found Shiner. Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams, those big craft companies nowadays; those came later. La Trappe was always there.
What particular elements made a Quad worth brewing as our fourth anniversary beer?
Well, it’s a very big beer, but that’s common nowadays. It’s expensive to make, and that makes it a little more of a rarity because of all the ingredients in it. It takes extra care to add the candi sugar properly… there’s just a lot of special things we did for this beer. Plus we barrel aged it, which makes it even better.
Why barrel age a Quadrupel?
Well, you’re hoping to pick the right barrels for your beer. You don’t want to overpower it. At least in my opinion, the beer is your main stage and the barrel should be the backup singer. In the barrels we picked, the brandy has a very complementary flavor to our Quad. In a Quadrupel you’ve got your stone fruit flavors, and the candi notes, and you get a lot of that out of some brandies. We decided to give it a shot, and it came out pretty good. When we were trying to decide what barrels we wanted, we went through everything we could source. Everybody’s done a whiskey barrel this and a bourbon barrel that, us included, so this time we wanted to mix it up and find some complementary flavors. You don’t want to put something in that’s going to take away from the beer.
What does this year’s Lion’s Share say to you about where Lakewood has been; both in this year and in the past four?
Well, Lion’s Share has definitely always been a celebration of how long we’ve been around. We always want to do something special to commemorate. I mean, the real reason came up…
I mean, it’s our fourth year…
It’s our fourth year. It’s a big, strong beer for four strong years. The Lion’s Share III wasn’t a Tripel, but we already had one out with Saint Dymphna. Wim was already talking about it… “Well, I want to do a Quad for year four…” so a Quad it was! I’m just wondering how I’m going to make a Belgian Quince, because that’s five and there’s no such thing. (laughs) Our mash tun is running out of room, I can’t get it much bigger than this.
Can’t… or won’t, Tim? (laughs)
No, seriously. I don’t think we could have gotten another 50lbs in there and gotten any volume out.
Note to self… Belgian Quince. Now we’ve got something to aim for…
What would that be? Would it be a golden strong? Dubbels and Quadrupels are usually darks, and Tripels are usually lighter, so we go light, dark, light, dark, light? How’s that gonna work?
I assume at a certain point it just becomes pure alcohol, right?
Yeah, there you go. But no, seriously, I think it was a big, bold beer for four bold years. We didn’t really have a choice. If we’d had done a pilsner for our fourth anniversary my reputation would be in the toilet. (laughs)
Compared to the other Lion’s Share releases you’ve been a part of, and our profile as a whole, where does Lion’s Share IV stack up to you? Who is this beer for?
Well, I hope it’s for everybody! There are people who aren’t into big beers, and they’ll enjoy things like Till & Toil and Zomer Pils, but I hope everybody at least tries it. It’s just a big ol’ beer; 12.4% is a lot. I brewed it for our customers; I don’t have one specific person in mind. Do I brew beers I like to brew? Yes I do. Will I change the recipe if I find someone else will like something a little bit better? Yes I will. I don’t brew for me, everything I do as a professional brewer is for someone else. I brew for the general public. I’m not one of those people who is too proud to change direction. Do I have ideas I like to stick with? Yes. I try to be a scholar of beer history; that interests me- styles, and why things are the way they are. When I read stuff about brewing, it’s not about new processes; it’s about what they did back in the 1400’s. It’s all changed, and it’s always changing. But, I think one of the reasons I get asked to do beers is when it comes to beer styles, I tend to be more traditional. Whatever traditional is for a Quad.
History shows, if you look through how beer is developed, beer styles have come and gone over time. Places like Germany weren’t allowed to change, in Belgium things were. Beer styles have lived and died because of all sorts of things. Prohibition lost us a lot of beers. There are people alive now who’ve never tasted some of those beers, we just read about them in books. Some of them we don’t even have recipes for; we’ll never have any idea what they tasted like. It’s just a name lost to history. You’ll find just as history changes, people’s tastes change, and if you don’t keep up with it you’re gonna be one of those lost to history too. Like I said, there are imperial Pilsners on the shelf. Trends do become the new norm sometimes. I first tasted coffee beers in the early 90’s and I didn’t think they would last, but here we are.
I find it just super fascinating to look at the history of these things, the genealogy of beers if you will… how it’s evolved over time.
Well at one point in time, hops were illegal to put into beer. They wanted them to use gruit instead. There were people selling those herb mixes and the king was getting his cut of that, and these hops were coming from somewhere else. Lots of reasons like that. A lot of these rules came about because they wanted quality and consistency, and with the craft beer movement I don’t think that’s a necessarily problem. If your beer doesn’t taste very good, you don’t last very long. And, of course some of it was the crown getting money off this here and not getting money off of that there, you know…
It’s like when I talked IPAs with Shawn, those only came about because those beers had to make a months-long trip across an ocean. It’s fascinating to see the diverse forces that influence beer development, be it 17th century economic concerns, 20th century shipping limitations, or modern-day marketing decisions.
All beer styles developed out of economic pressures or regional limitations. The best pilsners come from Czechoslovakia because of the water. England has their English ales. They don’t do many pilsners there because the water’s too hard. Now, because of globalization, everybody’s doing a little bit of everything. Trends keep changing. Since 1994 I’ve seen lots of different changes. Really hoppy beers were 60 IBU. Then someone came out with an 80 IBU beer. Then new hops came out and it starts all over again. I see the changes, and I’m sure some of the traditions will stay around with some people and I’m sure some of the new trends will become traditions. But like I said, I brew for the public, and if the public likes our beer, we’re doing something good, right?
If that means doing something off-the-wall every once in a while, like brandy barrel-aging a Quad…
My thought is, if you’re going to do something tasty and off the wall, it had better be novel and you’d better do it well. I haven’t seen any brandy barrel Quads on the shelf, so I think we hit both with Lion’s Share.
You want to talk about tasty, Tim, just wait until they get to try your new imperial Pilsner!