Some Firkin Fun on the Job

Twin Lakes Brewery and Out & About staff members compete in The Firkin Face-Off for Wilmington Beer Week

As this month’s Winter Brews cover clearly illustrates, Rob Pfeiffer is a man who loves his job.

Those who know the head brewer at Greenville’s Twin Lakes Brewery can attest that Pfeiffer emanates a joyful energy.

It’s exactly this type of enthusiasm along with his natural approachability that encouraged the Out & About staff to contact Pfeiffer to discuss an idea that had been long fermenting in the O&A offices: to brew a collaboration beer with Twin Lakes beer and then write about it.

Why not? Two staff members—creative director Matthew Loeb and graphic designer Tyler Mitchell—have several years of experience with home-brewing. And just about everyone in the office is a big fan of drinking the stuff.

Why not get together with Pfeiffer and the folks at Twin Lakes and simply make a beer?
Turns out it wasn’t so simple. The idea of brewing from scratch was scratched. But the end result of the staff members’ Twin Lakes experience last month was perhaps just as interesting and fun.

They agreed to designate two two-person teams who would compete in the “Firkin Face-Off” to determine which team could create the best beer. Each team would pour a currently-brewing Twin Lakes beer into a firkin and try to build upon or alter its flavor by adding additional ingredients, then seal up the firkin and let time, yeast, and the sugars do their work.

For those readers who aren’t familiar with a firkin, it’s a stainless steel cask that can hold about 11 gallons of beer, and it’s often used by brewers to cask-condition beer, a process that allows for additional fermentation. As with the two teams’ challenge, brewers often add other ingredients—such as herbs, spices, or fruits—to create a tasty variation of their beer.

During Wilmington Beer Week, O&A readers will get a chance to sample the results of the two teams’ efforts and decide which staff members are best suited for possibly moonlighting at a brewery near you. Will it be the team of Loeb and Marie Graham (director of digital media), who have put their creative stamp on the Twin Lakes’ Tweeds Tavern Stout? Or will Mitchell and Jim Miller (director of publications), score the win with their revision of Twin Lakes’ Jubilicious Winter Seasonal?

The staff members who participated in the experiment sat down with Pfeiffer again to discuss the process and answer some questions. Below is a behind-the-scenes look at how the Out & About Firkin Face-Off came to be, what readers can expect from these beers, and just how much jive talk the two teams can put in print.

Tyler Mitchell fills the firkin while Jim Miller and Rob Pfeiffer offer semi-helpful advice. (Photo by Joe del Tufo)

Tyler Mitchell fills the firkin while Jim Miller and Rob Pfeiffer offer semi-helpful advice.

O&A: Rob, as a professional brewer, what were your thoughts about assisting the two Out & About teams in a process that could possibly ruin your hard work?

Pfeiffer: You know, there are several great things about being a brewer. Sure, it’s great to make beer, but more importantly, it allows us to participate in the community. For centuries, beer has had a history of bringing communities together. It’s the same principle here with the Firkin Face-Off. It’s great being with friends, fostering creativity, and, of course, drinking some beer. And, may I add, I have only once been involved with a firkin experiment gone wrong. So I have high hopes with this.

O&A: How did this crazy experiment come together the way it did?

Graham: We’ve talked about partnering with Twin Lakes on an Out & About collaboration beer for years now. With Wilmington Beer Week on the horizon, we thought that this would be perfect timing to do something. But there just wasn’t enough time to brew a beer from start to finish. So Rob suggested that we create an O&A firkin instead, using an existing Twin Lakes brew. We liked that idea, but I thought it might be more fun if we turned the concept into a competition.

Miller: When Marie came up with that idea, it took the whole concept to another level. You could feel the energy in the room go up a notch. Nothing like a little competition to get the motors running.

Graham: Jim and Tyler were psyched about using the Jubilicious, and Matt and I both wanted to work with the stout. So we divided into teams, all four knowing that Matt and I were going to win regardless of what we added to the kegs. Because our ideas are better.

O&A: So then you’re confident your team will win?

Loeb: I have one thing to say about Tyler and Jim’s holiday ale concoction: Baaaaah humbug!

Miller: Time will tell…

Mitchell: I believe since we have a more popular beer style and delicious ingredients on our side, we will ultimately be victorious. Plus I heard Marie and Matt used some sort of dark sludge? Ewww…

O&A: Dark sludge?

Loeb: The truth is, everyone who tried it beforehand agreed our “sludge” was powerful, but also complex and enjoyable.

Graham: Let me explain. The “sludge” was actually a combination of Blanton’s Bourbon, organic baker’s cocoa, vanilla extract, roasted orange peels, and Pike Creek Espresso. One of the twists we added to the competition was that one of the ingredients had to be local. The Pike Creek Espresso was ours.

Miller: And our local ingredient was honey. A lot of people don’t know that in addition to being a fine brewer, Rob is also a beekeeper. So we asked him if we could use some of his locally derived honey. That’s one more reason he really wants us to win.

O&A: Speaking of winning, what was the reasoning behind the ingredients you chose?
Mitchell: With the experience I had with home brewing, and with choosing the Jubilicious Ale, I knew we wanted to use ingredients that would give it even more of a holiday taste. We picked figs and honey to hopefully give a sweet component to the beer that would remind drinkers of the upcoming holiday season. We also chose to dry hop the beer with Cascade and Centennial hops to give a little bit of citrus and piney aromas, to round out the flavors.

Loeb: Mo [Marie] and I are biiiig stout fans, so naturally we embraced this batch. We did a few taste tests prior and decided on a handful of ingredients we knew we enjoyed in other stouts from other breweries. We didn’t want to abandon the base batch, but we didn’t want to play it too safe either.

O&A: Sounds like everyone feels good about their choices.

Mitchell: I don’t think we can go wrong with this combination of ingredients. Can’t wait to taste it!

Loeb: Total. Stout. Domination. Is. Coming.

Pfeiffer: I think both teams have made some interesting choices in terms of ingredients. I’m really looking forward to trying both beers.

O&A: And have the teams come up with names for their concoctions?

Miller: We decided on “Figalicious Jubilicious.”

Graham: And we’re calling ours “Sabotage Stout.”

Want to help pick the winner? The Out & About Firkin Face-Off will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 5, from 6p.m. to 8p.m. at Cromwell’s Tavern in Greenville as part of Wilmington Beer Week. For more information and a full listing of other events going on that night and throughout the week, visit WilmingtonBeerWeek.com.

O&A

So, what do you think? Please comment below.