From dreaming up the beer, to the balancing of different ingredients, to the alchemy of mash-to-beer – the crafting of beer is without a doubt an art form. For Alan Atha, founder, brewer and co-owner of Baeltane Brewing in Novato, brewing beer is akin to writing a book – from character development to the name and tale.
It’s fitting that Baeltane describes their beers as “a tale in every glass.” The thoughtfulness and craft that goes into their beer yields flavors that evolve as the drinker makes their way through their glass. Beers like their Citroen Farmhouse Ale, Luminesce Tripel and their award-winning double IPA, The Frog That Ate the World, embody the precision and deliberateness that Atha injects into every beer he sets out to create.
“I come up with a recipe, and almost at the same time, I come up with a name,” said Atha, “and I hardly change the recipe. Out of all of them, the only one I changed the most was the Frog, only because I was spending a lot of time going through hop profiles – same hops – but just different ways of putting them together to make what I wanted. And once we got to that point I haven’t changed it.”
The Frog That Ate the World boasts a strong West Coast-style hoppiness with Columbus, Centennial, Nelson Sauvin and Citra hops, with a double dry-hopping of the Nelson and Citra. It’s balanced with an “easy malt profile” that lets, as Atha says, “the hops do the talking.” Unavailable until this point in growler fills, the Frog will soon be available to beer drinkers to take home in bottles.
The brewery plans to release bottle versions of the Frog, Luminesce and Citroen in the coming weeks. The first batches will be produced by Atha at the brewery. Sometime in January or February, the brewery will continue bottling via contract brewing with Fort Point Brewing‘s Presidio facility in San Francisco.
Crafting unique spins on classic styles
With up to a dozen beers available on tap at anytime in their Novato tap room, Baeltane offers a variety of Belgian- and French-influenced beers, such as the Citroen Farmhouse Ale, Corsair Dark Strong and West Coast-style Reconnaissance IPA.
“I consider ourselves as being neo-traditional,” said Atha. “We have a dark strong ale [Corsair] – kind of like a Trappist ale – and we’ve added that extra bit of ingredient, in that we use Canadian maple. It’s like eating a meal: a little bready, a little plum, sweet but not really, and not heavily malty.”
For as neo-traditional a road that Baeltane takes with their beers, the results stand in categories of their own. Their Citroen Farmhouse Ale takes Belgian characteristics, a saison nuance and some of the flavoring of a dry-hopped pale ale.
“We originally built it as an IPA. In fact, I wanted to make a Belgian IPA,” said Atha, “and I was trying all these different IPAs, and there wasn’t one I liked. The yeast was too much for the malt they were using. Except one – which was the Stone Cali-Belgique. So I said, I’m going to make a French IPA. 100% French malt, saison yeast and the Czech Saaz hops.”
“And then we did the West Coast appeal: we dosed it liberally with Saaz and Citra, and the Citra and the yeast marries so well.”
In finding the sweet spot of recipes and flavors, Atha is able to create beers that literally tell stories. He refers to brewing as his “painting palate,” by which, rather then throwing ingredients together, he is able to marry them.
His first Baeltane beer, the Luminesce Tripel, was a combination of the Westmalle Tripel yeast strain and 100 percent pilsner malt. As their website describes the beer, Luminesce is “an effervescent marriage of spicy, fruity and noble yeast characteristics.” It, too, will be bottled – along with The Frog and Citroen.
Barrel-aging, saisons and keeping the variety
As to what the future holds for Baeltane’s beers in-house, Atha prefers to keep a variety of beers in the pipeline for his customers, who have come to know Baeltane for their variety of Belgian, French and West Coast-style beers, as well as their unique blends of different styles.
Within this variety is a new saison the brewery just tapped, called Carousel — fruity, tart and quenching. Brewed with pilsner, rye and white wheat, along with what Altha calls Baeltane’s “signature French saison yeast,” the saison clocks in at a light 5.1 percent alcohol.
“I like the variety, I get kind of bored doing only three or four beers,” said Atha. “We have a clientele out here that we want them to hang out and taste different things and different offerings.”
With six Zinfandel barrels from Zichici Family Vineyards in tow, the brewery is aging their Black Spot Porter with blackberries, their Mon Coeur Chocolate Ale with cacao nibs in a Belgian Dubbel-style — one sitting with raspberries, the other with hazelnut — and their Tapestry Dubbel.
The brewery is also aging their Beleriand Barleywine in a 30-year-old French rum barrel which, along with the Zinfandel barrel-aged beers, Atha hopes to have available during the SF Beer Week in February. The Mon Coeur Chocolate Ale is planned to be available around the coming holidays.