Virginia Brewery Snapshot: Adroit Theory

Adroit Theory Brewing CompanyNo, their beer isn’t available to purchase, at least not yet.  But over the last few months, a few lucky folks have been receiving samples of beers from new nano brewery Adroit Theory (Loudon County, VA) as part of a “taste tester” program.  Very gratefully, I ended up on that list.  Anticipation had me checking my shipments for days with a Christmas morning, child like quickness.  I had heard the reviews, and of course, I couldn’t wait to taste the beer.  Interestingly enough then, when I received the box containing my sample of their “B/A/Y/S Ghost 002”, an Imperial Stout aged on chestnut staves with cherries added, it wasn’t the beer which captured my attention the most, at least right away – it was the packaging.

Adroit Theory Imperial Stout BAYS 002The entire contents of the box were wrapped in tissue paper; no, not the white, pick it up anywhere kind, but instead, custom printed with the death moth image the brewery uses often.  There’s an official introduction to the taste tester program, on custom letterhead of course, which is part explanation of the program and part request that should you like the beer, you’ll help spread the word about the brewery.  Even the packaging tape on the outside of the box was custom printed with the moth logo.  This was all before I got to the bottle label itself. A Rorschach ink blot image of the moth is in the dead center of the label, complete with smaller, ghost like images hidden within the larger.  The label is outlined with illustrations of small skulls, faintly drawn as if hidden by a damp evening fog.  For pure informational purposes, there are also serving temperature, food pairing, cheese pairing, and cigar pairing suggestions on one side of the label.  The bottle itself?  It’s roughly the same height as the typical bottle you might find in a six pack.  But unlike most its size, this bottle was corked, with a champagne bottle like wire cage around it.  Thank goodness the beer is absolutely delicious.  It has a lot to live up to.

But as you listen to Adroit Theory founder Mark Osborne, the extensive effort put forth on things such as label imagery and mottos such as the brewery’s often used “Consume Life/Drink Art” is hardly just a sign of carefully thought out branding.  Such things are a part of an underlying philosophy behind how each beer is created at the brewery, not with a style to be brewed, but with a focal point of sorts.  As Osborne puts it, “when we come up with a beer, we start with a concept; an inspiration piece. Not just, “hey, let’s make a stout or a pale ale or whatever”.  This concept unifies the whole process, from the style to be brewed all the way through to the artwork on the label.  Each beer the brewery produces is aimed to be a complete package of artistic expression.  Osborne continues, “as a buyer of craft beer, I was routinely disappointed with brewers who made really great beer, but did nothing to present their beer in a way that made me proud to drink it. The brewers who clearly took pride in both their product AND their labels seemed few and far between. I resolved to myself that when I opened, we would make the best beer we possibly could make, but to also make it look and feel as world class as possible.”

For the B/A/Y/S Imperial Stout, of which there are technically three versions, or what the brewery calls “Ghosts”, this concept was born out of music.  Lyrics from a Nine Inch Nails song would become the acronym for the beer’s name (“black as your soul”), as well as its inspiration.  First, its style chosen, that of an Imperial Stout, is one of the darkest around, not to mention one of the biggest in terms of flavor.  The brewery added hazelnuts, cherries, and then aged the beer on either chestnut staves or in either bourbon or rye whiskey barrels (in the three different versions) for added complexity.  The end result was a series of beers which, according to Osborne, was befitting of the concept which began with a lyric relative to each person’s interpretation – a mysteriously dark beer full of layers, which unraveled themselves as they were tasted, just as the inkblot image on the label does the more one looks at it.

Osborne’s desire to make beer that both looks and tastes world class began with far reaching experiences, as he developed an appreciation for cask ale and various European styles while studying abroad.  However, that desire would it would start to become more fully realized after returning stateside.  Although he continued to explore craft beer in general, a visit to Stoudt’s Brewing in Pennsylvania intensely focused his interest, where he met brewery owners Ed and Carol Stoudt.  According to Osborne, the two “lambasted me for not seeking out fresh, local beers. They sparked a fire my wife Nina and myself, and we set out to try and taste everything craft.”  Osborne and his wife began packing up their RV and visiting regional breweries up and down the east coast, tasting everything they could.  “I grew quite fond of IPA’s, DIPA’s, and Stouts. After that, I was totally hooked.”

BAYS 002This passion for well made craft beer eventually turned into a desire to begin his own brewery.  And if early results from Adroit’s “taste tester” program are any indication – comments on the brewery’s facebook page and twitter accounts have countless folks practically begging to be included – Osborne and his team are headed in the right direction.  However, Osborne seems quite content with taking things slowly, taking careful consideration for the brewery’s fan base and its reputation for well made beer. “I’ve been taking it one step at a time. I know other breweries jump right in and immediately need to scale up, but that seems like a lot of risk. I needed time to let our brand breathe and mature on its own – which it has!”  Only recently did Adroit acquire a 2300 square foot warehouse, for when the brewery does begin to grow.  But currently, the test batches are being crafted on a ½ barrel system.  This sort of mindful planning will also extend to distribution methods. While the team at Adroit Theory is working out details of some form of direct mail type membership club, even that is still a ways off in the distance.  “In the short run we have no interest in distributing outside of the brewery. We want to invest time and effort into our core group of fans, and in my opinion, the best way of doing that is face to face at the brewery. When you distribute, you only deal with the distributors, not the people drinking your beer. Until we have a big enough core of people into what we are doing, I don’t see the point.”

While Osborne’s Adroit Theory certainly doesn’t feel pressure to fit any particular mold in terms of growth, they also refuse to fit any conventional style guidelines with their beers, continuing to be driven only by their conceptual ideas and a healthy rebellious nature.  A hop bomb of an Imperial IPA, which originally spiraled outward from a line in a David Bowie song, has been produced, as well as a Pale Ale.  In the IPA, according to the brewery website, massive amounts of dry hopping with citrusy hops like Citra were followed by aging the beer on vodka soaked wood staves.  In the Pale Ale, both basil and wormwood were used.  As with many things Adroit Theory does, the beers refuse to conform to any typical expectations, for which Osborne and the Adroit Theory staff are gleefully unapologetic.  As Osborne puts it, “We make beer we like to drink, and that excites us artistically…I don’t care if it doesn’t conform to style guidelines. If you like the vibe of what we are doing, but you have some insight that would make our product better, than cool. We want to listen. But if you think our stout is “too hoppy” for the style or that a saison should “not be green” according to the style book, then don’t bother. Because we don’t care.”

Adroit Theory's BAYS 002 As I finally sat down to sample the stout, the added cherries and the subtle wood like flavors echoed his sentiment.  My glass in one hand, the bottle in the other, I looked beyond the first layer of the ink blot image on the label, still finding images I hadn’t noticed before.  As the beer warmed, some flavors faded a bit, while others began moving to the front.  Of course, it all tied together well, as the concept behind the beer was supposed accomplish.  With more complex beers, such as this one, it’s so very interesting to think back to the first sip and reflect on how it’s changed during the whole drinking experience.  It made me think of something else Osborne had mentioned, as he contemplated over the year during which Adroit Theory has been in existence.  “I’m real happy with how things have evolved, and what we’re doing. I’m sure a year from now I’ll look back again and see improvement, but for now, I’m happy with our output.”  As I slowly took my last sip of the stout, noticing how the cherries had come even more to the front, I couldn’t agree more.

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~ by thebeerroad on April 2, 2013.

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