Arcadia Ales By: Sean Creevey
There is certain knowledge that can only come with experience, knowledge that can be taught and learned but simply understood more with time. Arcadia Ales is currently in their 16th year of production and throughout those years they have formulated a method that is unmatched in quality and creativity. Coming back to PA only a month ago after some revamping of the company, Arcadia Ales is going full-force, so expect to start seeing them everywhere and if you don’t, just ask, they deliver. Located in Battle Creek, Michigan, Arcadia Ales has been producing British-inspired American ales since 1996. What British-inspired means for Arcadia Ales is that they brew in a traditional style, true to the British ales of old; there will be no lagers coming out of this brewery. The yeast they use, the styles they brew, and their place in the brewing community of Michigan is reminiscent of the way it was started across the pond.
Community is also a large part of who they are, helping out the other local Michigan brewers and the larger community as well. They like to keep it friendly. If a neighboring brewery runs out of a certain malt, for example, then Arcadia is there to help them out. They don’t compete they collaborate, having multiple beer fests throughout the year for all the local breweries to promote their brews. As far as the larger community goes, Arcadia Ales throw fundraisers frequently to help the local zoo, marathons and various other community endeavors. So when you buy a case just remember that the money isn’t going right into someone’s pocket, but instead is helping a larger community.
Arcadia Ales has over 22 in their rotation, all very unique, all very delicious and all brewed with a special strain of yeast. To the beer geeks out there you may have heard of it and have some reservations about it, but fear not, Arcadia Ales has the venerable knowledge necessary to create memorable brews. Of course, the yeast that I am speaking of is Ringwood. It’s technically a mixture of a couple of different strains, blended at certain times during their aging. I won’t go into the details, but for those of you who don’t know about Ringwood, it’s a very unique type of yeast. It’s generally referred to with a love-it-or-leave-it dichotomy. However, you mustn’t let this scare you. Everyone has a different tongue; some like dark beers, some like light beers and some don’t like any beers (whoever they are).
Ringwood has its origins in Great Britain where its vigorous nature helped to produce the malty characteristics found in traditional British ales. What this means is that, like Belgium abbey yeasts, Ringwood will eat every possible fermentable sugar so you have to be careful when brewing with it, especially if you want to bottle condition a brew (exploding glass is bad). Also, Ringwood necessitates an open fermentation style of brewing, a style that is pretty rare these days. However, Arcadia Ales wants the full-fledged British authenticity, thus they brew all of their ales with open fermentation. I know, this may sound crazy to some of you home brewers, but rest assured there is a method in this madness. Imagine Ringwood as a living entity (because it is). It likes to get to know its surroundings, feel out the environment and adapt; it’s still not entirely understood but when the brewer is good Ringwood becomes a faithful companion. Ales are top-fermenting, as opposed to lagers which are bottom-fermenting. What this means for Arcadia Ales is that Ringwood acts as a natural barrier to the outside world, so you can relax about the contamination of the brew. When fermentation begins the yeast starts to form a protective layer on top of the fermentation tank. Essentially what happens is when the yeast start to multiply they form a 3-4 inch thick layer of yeast on top; the layer that is exposed to the air hardens and effectively creates a natural closed fermentation system. And just for the icing on the cake, there’s so much carbon dioxide coming off the tanks that anything living would have a pretty difficult time doing anything on top of the yeast.
But enough about the technicalities; let me introduce you to some of the brews. I’ll only be able to scratch the surface of the plethora of brews they make, but rest assured, their quality craftsmanship transcends their entire line.
To start us off is one of the most popular in Michigan. They didn’t mess around with any fancy names, and the artwork is straight to the point. Their India Pale Ale is simply called what it is, IPA. With generous amount of dry-hopped Columbus hops, this IPA is the prototypical IPA: piney, and citrusy with a solid malt foundation to keep the hops in check. There’ll be no puckering with this brew, but don’t worry: they have more hops if you want them. This IPA checks in at 5.9% ABV and 41 IBUs.
Another Michigan favorite and summer classic is the Whitsun ale. An unfiltered pale wheat ale brewed with orange peel, coriander and local Michigan honey to enhance the sweetness is just about the perfect thing on a hot summer day. What’s more is that it now comes in cans, making it more picnic-friendly. Now, before you go and jump on the anti-can bandwagon it should be known that can technology has come a long way from the metallic-flavored beer you might be imagining. At least as far as craft cans go, they’re lined inside, so the beer doesn’t actually touch any metal. They’re airtight and impervious to light (so no “skunky” beer), they chill quicker, they’re harder to break and they’re easier to stack in a cooler or fridge. At 6.2% ABV and 17 IBUs go grab a sixer of cans, a friend and watch the world turn for a while in the sun.
Outside of Michigan the crowd favorite is Hopmouth, a DIPA to remember. Coming it at 8.1% ABV and 76 IBUs this brew is incredibly well balanced. Arcadia imports high-quality Maris Otter malt, a two-row winter variety of barley that produces a flavor that obviously comes from a product grown for quality, not quantity. The malt works to balance the pine and citrus aroma and taste from the hops, which makes for a brew that goes down maybe a little too quickly; or you might turn into a hopmouth.
Arcadia Ales has a bit of everything. They have a rye ale, a scotch ale, a porter, pumpkin, chocolate stout, Irish red, and that’s not even including their vintage series. Like the great wine-producing coastal regions of the world, Arcadia Ales has a vintage series that pays tribute to the natural qualities and historic craftsmanship that goes into each product. These brews are all produced once a year and consequently they change a little every time. The series consists of Cereal Killer, a barleywine at 10% ABV and 60 IBUs; a self-titled Imperial Stout at 9.5%ABV and 82 IBUs; Big Dick’s Olde Ale, an English-style olde ale at 8.8% ABV and 51 IBUs; and last but not least the barrel aged Shipwreck Porter that’s aged in 10-year-old Kentucky bourbon oak barrels for 12 months in abandoned mines in Michigan, 12%ABV and 50 IBUs. All four of these brews are perfect for cellaring, if you have the patience, so drink one now and save one for later, you’ll be happy you did.