Highland Tap and Burger caters to a lot of different neighborhood groups, but owner Katie O'Shea has made a point of frequently hosting a large group of women in her restaurant who have one thing in common: a love for beer. At those gatherings of the Craft Ladies' Beer Club, the women have the chance to pick the brains of brewers while they drink, honing tips for homebrewing and gaining more knowledge about what they're sipping. And when they got to grill brewers from Oskar Blues this past August, they wound up with more than a beer lesson: An idea for a collaborative project was born.
"We were down at the Highland Tap back in August," Oskar Blues head brewer Dave Chichura explains, recounting a stop that included Dale Katechis himself, as well as six or seven additional members of the brewing team. "There were sixty women. Dale said, 'Hey, I'm impressed by the turnout. I'd like to offer up the opportunity to get together with Dave and brew something.'"
So the women and the brewers started putting together plans for a project. And a few weeks ago, Chichura met with a smaller bunch to figure out what that project might be. "Katie and eight or ten of the Crafty Ladies were there," he remembers. "I went down to talk about what they were interested in doing. I was just there to listen to what they had to say and steer around anything that might not be reasonable."
Which meant he wanted to be certain the ambition level was appropriate, since the group was only going to have one shot at brewing. After some discussion, the women eventually settled on a stout infused with chai tea spices, a festive beer at a low ABV that would be fitting for the holidays: the FemALE Inspired Stout.
Chichura went off to create the recipe, and this past Tuesday, he brought the ladies up to work on their beer. "The RV went down and picked up about fifteen of them," he says. The women were treated to a tour and a history of Oskar Blues, and then everyone lent a hand in the brewing process, mixing the mash and adding the hops while Chichura fielded questions.
"We spent the whole day with them," says O'Shea. "We added all the malts, watched them go through the kettles, and they showed us how to calculate the amount of hops to add. For the homebrewers in the group, it was really cool to see it done on this level. A lot of the girls would love to be in the beer industry or are already. It was really, really fun."
"I was a little nervous about it," admits the brewer. "I don't often have an audience of people. It was like being on a cooking show. I kept thinking, 'God, I hope I don't screw up.'" He didn't screw up, though, and so far, it appears that the beer has hit the mark. After spending two weeks in the tank, Chichura will bring samples down to Highland Tap, where the women will be able to play with the spices, which will be added via a tea infusion.
"All we put in the boil is cardamom in the last five minutes," he explains. "A lot of the spices aren't the best thing to put in on the hot side. It's better to make a tea and add it to the beer because it gives you better control. It's easy to overspice a beer."
He's also anticipating creating some one-off firkins with the eight barrel run, changing the spice level or adding dry hops. In the meantime, he's sending the Crafty Ladies daily updates, including videos of the process.
When it's ready, Highland Tap will get most of the beer, though Chichura says the Oskar Blues restaurant will also keep a little. O'Shea plans to throw an informal tapping party at Highland Tap on December 8 to celebrate the first keg.
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