Friday, October 21, 2016

All The Buzz About Ancient Fire Mead & Cider

Behind the scenes activity for Ancient Fire has been brisk recently. There are a few different activities in flight including, business planning, the search for a location, a marketing ramp up and of course lots of pilot batch work.

Our business planning efforts have been the biggest focus, and the exercise of putting together a rational plan has already paid off, even if the plan isn't yet complete. It is amazing how much you learn about what you are trying to do when you sit down to document the process. ;)

We haven't found a location yet, but the hunt is on. In Londonderry and Derry New Hampshire where we live there is a vibrant community of craft beverage producers, and ideally we would like to be sited right in with them. We have looked at potential locations in both Derry and Manchester, with more to investigate this week and next. Once we secure a location we can take a big step in filing our paperwork with the TTB.

Marketing to build brand awareness will be a persistent activity. Our new logo (at the top) is being circulated and the feedback has been both interesting and useful. There may be some enhancements coming, but for now we are going with it because we believe it is largely there. I think one of the biggest things to keep in mind is that it is your brand, that the best brands use the imagery that works for them, and they always assume up front that engaging people to tell the story so that the brand resonates, and better over time, is how you build a successful brand around your graphics. We will be starting to work on a web site, but for now updates and engagement are available at the Ancient Fire Mead & Cider Facebook page. Give us a Like to keep up to date on our journey!

( Release night for 'Fear of a Black Braggot' at Lithermans Limited )

Marketing ourselves before we open is challenging since we can't make product to share and sell. A few weeks back we partnered with Lithermans Limited Brewery in Concord, NH to make a braggot, a style of mead/beer hybrid, and released it from their tasting room. We based the braggot on the Lithermans Tangled up in Bruges, a saison, to which we added wildflower honey, blackberries and black pepper. We named it "Fear of a Black Braggot", and it had plenty of flav and game. On release night Margot and I spent time in the tasting room talking to patrons about beer, mead and our plans for Ancient Fire. It was fun and so worthwhile to help people get to know who we are, as well as build excitement for our launch in 2017. And the feedback on the braggot was exceptional!

( Prepping some ingredients for 'Pumpkin Spice Girls' )

Pilot batch and recipe development work is definitely a big focus for me right now. While I've got dozens of recipes from 10+ years of mead and cider-making kicking around, I am shifting around the style and presentation of some of them to go commercial so I need to make a lot of batches to work out some details before I need to do it at scale. We bought two used 7 barrel fermenters last week, so at least I know how big my next leap is going to be. ;) We will be working in 10-15 gallon formats starting next month when we get a sizable amount of cider from a local farm.

Our session meads, the term session for mead meaning 5-8% ABV, have been received very well and ongoing recipe development is slowly honing in on a lineup that will be worthy of a launch. I am also pursuing ideas for hoppy and sour offerings for this product line. We are hoping to sell lots of flights and growlers of these meads in a rotating lineup to be keeping people coming back to the tasting room, which we will be calling the "Meading Room".

On the dessert mead side we have been experiment with all sorts of flavors including revisiting work with chili peppers that has been a consistent favorite. Maple syrup, vanilla, coffee and chocolate are all getting a workout these days. Fruit meads made earlier this year are tasting very well, and should be fun to get feedback on. A new project I did on a dare is a pumpkin spice mead named "Pumpkin Spice Girls". It is coming along nicely and having tried some pumpkin infused ciders recently I can definitely see why if it is done right squash flavored beverages are quite enjoyable. Gotta use real pumpkin though.

All of the pilot work is leading to a round of tastings with family, friends, brew club and co-workers to solicit feedback. This feedback will be useful to help us further profile people's tastes, but also gauge what products might experience less friction to sell and the value people attach to the products and their quality.

So that's the current buzz (bee jokes, yes!) about Ancient Fire.



Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Dinner On The Side Of A Mountain - #TasteCamp

Dinner on the side of a mountain in Fayston, Vermont 
was the scene for the final night of TasteCamp in June 2016.

What is TasteCamp?

The concept for TasteCamp, created in 2009 by Lenn Thompson, executive editor of the New York Cork Report, is a simple one: getting enthusiastic journalists and bloggers together in a region that is new to them, to taste as much of the region’s offerings as possible and speak to as many winemakers, cider makers, brewers, distillers and other producers as possible over the course of a weekend.

Most emerging regions in the world would love to get their products in front of new audiences, but it can be a challenge. With TasteCamp, the new audience comes to them.

This is not a junket — attendees pay their own travel expenses, including their hotel rooms and meals. Through generous sponsors, some meals may be discounted.

The 2016 location for TasteCamp was Vermont, including stops in Bethel, South Royalton, Waterbury, Shelburne, New Haven, and Fayston.

Vermont and I have a long history (35+ years of trips) and the bounty of its food and drink is well known to me. Having said that I would be remiss to not make the point up front that after spending a couple days in Vermont in early June for TasteCamp, I came home having learned and discovered plenty. It was well organized and extremely educational.

Over the course of two days I had the pleasure to enjoy wines, ciders, beers, meads and spirits crafted by a number of different producers, with all of it paired with or nearby to local foods also carefully prepared by passionate artisans.

In a follow-up post I will run down my beverage highlights, and for the balance of this post I will share some pictures of sights along the trip, the good times associated with them, as well as something more about that awesome side-of-the-mountain setting for the Saturday night dinner.

Sing it loud brother! Todd Trzaskos got us kicked off at La garigista

La Crescent vines at La garigista and Marquette at Shelburne Vineyards.

Winery dogs. Not a violent movie. ;) La Garagista and Fable Farm.

Wines, ciders and beers, oh my! (Stowe Cider in the center)

A motley group of beverage explorers! La garagista vineyard. 

The producer markets were fabulous. Whetstone Ciderworks shared this beautiful display.

Lots of interaction with producers. 

Shelburne Vineyards
Eden Ciders & Windfall Orchards (Saturday producer market)

Agriculture everywhere. Just like home!

BBQ dinner at The Prohibition Pig. Cheeses, bread, olives, pulled pork and potato salad. 

Wise words, and portents of things to come the next day. ;)

This is the view from the edge of one of the fields at Ploughgate Creamery. Magnificent!

Setting up for the BYO dinner. No explanation needed. The cooler on the trip out was 
unkind to cheap the Ancient Fire labels, but they were consumed nonetheless. 

The location for the dinner on the final night was excellent, but so was the food, which over the weekend was prepared by Fresh Tracks Farm, Cabot, Vermont Smoke & Cure, Thistle Hill Farm Cheese, Prohibition Pig, Costello's Market, Ploughgate Creamery, Jasper Hill Farm, Fat Toad Caramels, The Mad Taco Company and The Hen of the Wood. The company was also unmatched and the socialization generated many laughs and smiles. Everyone in the group has their unique take on the food and beverage world, and getting the chance to interact with everyone I did was both enjoyable and inspiring. 

Telling the Ancient Fire story, including where I am going next is always a pleasure, and I am always grateful for the kind feedback I get. I look forward to sharing more of that story soon.

I'd like to share special thanks to Lenn Thompson, Todd Trzaskos, Remy Charest, all the producers, and everyone else who helped put on this event. I really enjoyed it, and I look forward to a few new stops on my upcoming trips to the state. Much love Vermont!



Monday, April 18, 2016

News of Ancient Fire

Honey bees around the mash tun on a recent brewday. Very Ancient Fire!

For my some of my long time blog readers the name Ancient Fire is known as my "brand" of homemade fermentations. Using that name I've written lots of blog posts and traveled myriad roads learning about food, beverage and culture. Along the way I've always met a lot of great people, many I still know, and some I hope to reconnect with real soon. Good times!

Ancient Fire (story about the name) is stronger today than ever before, but just not nearly as public. 

That's going to change.

Not long before I stopped my blog writing (in 2013) I reflected on the goals I had for myself early on.
I had been searching for the thing that made sense for me. Luckily, I had found it. Sensory training and competition judging. After a couple years of volunteering at local competitions I decided to really dig in and make something of that instead of writing. That was a solid choice. 

WineMaker Magazine Competition, 2016

In the time away I've gotten BJCP Certified as both a Beer and Mead judge. I've logged many hours of competition judging, judge coordination, judge training, individual and panel sensory training, hosting workshops, attending faults training sessions, reading (lots!) and many, many, many hours fermenting beers, meads, wines and ciders from a ridiculous list of ingredients that hasn't stopped growing steadily since 2005! 

I continue to make a lot of different beverages, as well as participate in industry-wide activities promoting beverage production by both amateurs/enthusiasts and professionals. I judge in a lot of competitions, and I am learning, developing my palate; and getting better at it every time I get the chance. It is amazingly rewarding as a brewer and judge to help others get recognized for the great stuff they make, as well as help them learn to judge to grow the community supporting the local homebrew scene. 

I've also won a few awards for my creations going back over a decade now. I recently won medals numbered #98 and #99, both for Cysers (apple mead). I won the first at a brew club internal competition for a Mesquite Cyser. The most recent was a Second Place for a Buckwheat Cyser at the International Mazer Cup, the most difficult mead-only competition in the world. I still compete here and there, but I tend to not judge in competitions in which I enter anymore. I stress out too much. 

One other recognition from a couple years back is that I have always been more comfortable "doing" in settings of my own choosing, so the events I've decided to get involved in did, and continue to give me the paths and connections I want to follow and make good from. That's just how I am. I channel my time into activities selected in that comfort zone, and really, through them I better understand the "localness"of different endeavors we might choose to take on. The real lesson is that most of what we find great, be it in wine, food or anything else is all about the relationships of the people who do it. I feel that in search of greatness we have to find people and places that resonate with us to help create passion. The company I keep is definitely not settled based on all the crazy ideas I've been kicking around, and that really will be a big part of the next adventure. 

Let's get to business. Here is what I expect I'll be sharing here:
  • Educational development for process and sensory training
  • Hosted training events
  • Helping new producers and products get launched 
  • Collaborations with commercial producers
  • Trip reports
  • Presentations and resources
  • Personal training goals and milestones
  • "How To" content and discussions (active in FB groups for this)
  • Production plans and updates (as our own shop takes shape, more later)

Yes, you did just read that I firmly said I am going to open some type of beverage business. There isn't more to say now, but I will when there is. There is plenty to do. You won't miss me talking about. ;)

I'm signing off as I always did,