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Bog Iron Bucket Fire Club…

We’re excited to announced the formation and launching of the Bog Iron… Bucket Fire Club! As a lot of folks know, we launched our own mobile phone app a couple of months ago and the creation of Bucket Fire Club is possible due to the “check in” feature on the app. The more you check-in from the tap room, the more you can earn free schwag and, ultimately, admittance into this very exclusive club.

We see this as a way to say, “thank you” to the large number of regulars we have, that, frankly, are likely going to be in the tap room anyway, so why not earn free stuff and get early access to bottle releases, event tickets, etc?

Some folks might be asking, “Bucket Fire? I don’t get it.” We’ll respectfully ask that folks who DO know the story, keep it among our inner circle and for folks who don’t know what it means… well… the more of a regular you are, the better the chances that you’ll hear the story at some point, and… isn’t that kind of the whole point of being a regular?

Check out the feature on the app for the various levels and start earning free stuff!

Cheers!

The Future of Growlers at Bog Iron Brewing

As most of you are aware there has been a lot of buzz around growlers in Massachusetts after the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission’s (ABCC) advisory regarding breweries ability to fill growlers that are entirely blank (you can read the ABCC’s advisory here). Following that announcement, we posted our thoughts and policies on Facebook, Twitter, and our blog (you can read our blog post on the topic here, if you’re interested). A number of people wrote to us, posted, and Tweeted their opinions on growlers and our policy. We weighed the feedback we received, our own opinions on growlers, and, most importantly, what’s best for the beer. After careful thought and consideration we’ve decided to eliminate growlers altogether around the early fall timeframe. Instead we will be packaging more of our beers in 16oz bottles and selling those out of the taproom.

This is something we’ve been mulling over for a long time and the time seems right to make the leap. From a brewery and consumer point of view, there are a number of issues with growlers:

  • Filling growlers exposes the beer to the air and oxygen is, probably, the biggest enemy to beer freshness (and there tends to be a fair amount of oxygen in the air). While we do flush the growlers with CO2 prior to filling them it is nearly impossible to get all of the air out of the growler and when beer contacts air it immediately begins to oxidize and develop stale flavors. When we bottle our beers our bottling line removes all of the air from the bottle, purges the bottle with CO2, fills it with beer, and then caps it direct from our unitank fermenters. The first time the beer touches the air is when it is opened by the consumer and that means fresher beer.
  • Growlers aren’t air tight, which means that carbonation bleeds off leaving the beer flat and that… well… that just sucks. Sure, there are instances when weeks old growlers are popped open and they are perfectly carbonated, but that isn’t the norm. We see pictures posted on social media of people showing off their glass Bog Iron beer and the beer is flat and lifeless. Not a great customer experience.
  • Bottles keep much longer than growlers. While we still recommend that you drink most of our beers fresh, especially the IPAs, you can keep bottles for a longer period of time without the degradation that you would experience with growler-filled beer. And once you open a growler you have to finish it.
  • There is nothing to remember. How many times have you gotten to the brewery only to remember that you forgot your growlers at home and had to either buy new ones or go home to retrieve them? That’s not a problem with bottles… drink the beer, recycle the bottle, and stop in to buy more. If you already have a collection of growlers and don’t want any more, bottles are a great alternative to that as well.
  • Once a growler is open you have to consume the whole thing. Sure, you can reseal it and go back to it the next day, but by then it is flat, stale, and not great. When you open a growler you really have to be in a place and have the time to drink a liter of beer. 16oz bottles are a pint and who doesn’t have time for a pint?
  • While a lot of our customers have expressed their love for growlers, the bottles are slightly cheaper per ounce, so that means you can buy more beer… and who doesn’t love more beer?

The last paragraph notwithstanding, there are some positives about growlers (we’re not entirely down on them). Growlers are a great packaging option for new and upcoming breweries. Just about every brewery in the state has served their beer in growlers at some point. They make it possible for people to take beer home in a package that is cheap and convenient. We’ll always have a special place in our heart for the growlers, but I think it’s time for us to move on. They’ve been a loyal packaging option for a long time and they’ve served us well, but the beer and the customers deserve something better.

“Wait”, you say, “I have all these growlers that I’ve purchased over the past 4 years. What am I supposed to do with those?” We’re planning a buy back of your used growlers to recycle them. The buy back will be phased in over time and we’ll be announcing the plans on Facebook, Twitter, and in our taproom, so watch for that.

Single Barrel Sours and the Summer Sessions Series

We have a couple of projects that we wanted to let folks know where coming down the pike…

The first is our Single Barrel Sour project. We have bottled, corked, and caged two of our “lambics” (we can’t technically call them lambics since they were not brewed in Belgium… just like you can’t call Champagne “Champagne” unless it was made in Champagne France). Both have been aging in Chardonnay barrels with one being approximately 3.5 years old at this point and the other being a little over 2 years old.

We have a few vintages of this beer and our intention was to produce a beer that was as consistent as possible by blending various barrels to get to an end goal of one beer. After a long blending session (I know… tough work… we really “suffered”), we quickly realized that the barrels were wiser than we were and did their own thing at their own pace. Ultimately, we had two fairly different beers that, we thought, were outstanding without any blending at all. At that point, we decided to skip the blending and release them, as they stood, as “Single Barrel Sours”. Each bottling was done from only one 59 gallon oak barrel so these will obviously be fairly limited releases.

These beers are resting comfortably and bottle conditioning in our “sour room” and are expected to be available mid to late summer. We’ll certainly keep folks posted.

The second project we are pretty excited to mention is being referred to as our “Summer Sessions” beers. Two blog posts ago, we talked about our water and the changes we’ve recently made to it. These changes are going to now allow us to focus dramatically more on the fine-tuning and subtleties of our beers.

I don’t know if it is smart or bad form to mention another brewery (I think it’s fine)…. but one of the aspects of Shaun Hill’s (Hill Farmstead) beers that we have a huge amount of respect for is the degree with which he/they are able to brew beautiful subtle flavors into their beers. Even the large, high-ABV, gnarly barrel-aged beers have beautiful hints of various flavors throughout them.

Our beers tend to be a little high in alcohol, which is actually NOT intentional, and also a bit on the aggressive side when it comes to flavor profiles. We think this new series of session beers, inspired by beers like Shaun’s (and others) and our ability to fine-tune our own water, will be a nice addition to our pouring list.

The first one, additionally inspired by Belgian table beers, will be a 4.0% ale fermented with a lighter Belgian yeast along with grain and hop bills of our own creation. We’ll be playing around with various yeasts, grains, and hops to hopefully produce some session beers for the summer folks will enjoy.

The first of this series will likely hit the tap room in about two weeks so keep an eye out.

Cheers!

Our Reaction to the Growler Advisory and Our Growler Policy…

A recent advisory from the Massachusetts Alcohol Beverages Control Commission on growlers has made a lot of news in our community and we wanted to let our customers know what our policy has been, will be going forward, and why we’ve chosen it.

A few months ago, we got into a friendly Twitter debate (it CAN actually happen apparently!) with a few consumers around the state law that required breweries to only fill growlers from their own brewery. From a consumer’s perspective, the law is intuitively silly. It has been seen as an unnecessary expense and an inconvenience as serious craft beer fans tend to amass some hefty collections of glass growlers that they may or may not ever refill.

Please know that we are sincere when we say that we understand the consumer issues 100%. The point we have tried to make recently is that, while the consumer issues are very real, there are other perspectives to the situation that are just as legitimate and while the law may be silly on the surface, it has actually served some valuable purposes for breweries. Without going into a very long dissertation, the biggest benefit to us (we don’t want to speak for other breweries) is that the law has historically protected branding.

We have heard, “branding shouldn’t matter and let the beer speak for itself”. We’re not trying to further the debate, but we feel strongly that branding is absolutely critical in our industry. For anyone who doesn’t believe this, we would challenge them to simply do a series of true blind taste tests across a number of beer styles. If branding doesn’t matter, then the “best” beers of that tasting should come out exactly in order of “ratings” or “popularity”. We’ll bet you $1 they don’t. Branding has a massive impact on individual breweries and is a massive driver in our industry.

Our brand is one of the most valuable assets we have (or any brewery has) and we will protect it to the greatest extent possible.

As we said above, we understand the consumer side completely and sympathize. In order to try to meet, not in the middle, but as close to the consumer side as we could, we implemented our “Growler Exchange Program”. When a customer brings in a true growler (you can’t come in with an empty plastic gallon milk container… don’t laugh… you would be shocked what people do)… if we are presented with a real growler that isn’t one of ours… we will exchange it for one of ours for $1.

That’s been our policy and will be our policy going forward.

Any beer leaving our taproom or brewery will be in our glassware. If you would like to refill a growler that is not ours, we will exchange it for one of ours for $1.

Below are comments we have heard and want to address:

1. “You just want to make more money!”: Our growlers, including shipping, cost us approximately $3 each. We charge $4 for a new growler when getting filled for the first time. If there is a perception that we’re making any actual money “off of growlers”, I can assure you that is not the case. In theory, we could lower our growler price to $0 but then we would have to increase our prices on refills. That dings our regular customers to the benefit of someone who may come in randomly once. Lastly, by exchanging growlers this way, we’re actually losing $2 on every growler we exchange. That said, we would rather lose that money on every new growler than lose control of our brand.

2. “I won’t visit a brewery if I have to get another growler.”: This is one of the main reasons we implemented the exchange program. It’s a shame to lose customers, and it’s a bigger shame for customers to not experience new breweries over something like a growler. By exchanging growlers, we hope we are eliminating the “growing collection of growlers” issue and our hope has been that $1 is not seen as unreasonable. We’ve tried to address customer concerns the best we could and if someone can’t appreciate our concerns enough to see $1 as reasonable… and apologies as this is honestly not meant to be confrontational… but… that’s probably not a customer we want anyway.

Our exchange program seems to have been working out really well over the last few months. That said, we don’t claim to have the perfect solution to the problem and if someone has questions, comments, other ideas, we would love to hear from you.

It is important to understand that while the ABCC’s advisory loosens some of the restrictions on growler filling, it is still illegal in Massachusetts for a brewery to fill a growler branded with another brewery’s logo. Meaning that you still can’t bring a growler from another brewery to us and get it filled.

Lastly… quickly… and then we’ll shut up… Please know that growlers are a rapidly shrinking part of our business, so this topic does not have a huge impact on us. That said, growlers are often the sole packaging option for many start-up and small breweries. Small breweries rarely have the space or capital to implement extremely expensive packaging lines and so growlers are the only way they can go. It’s a shame, and we believe it hurts the overall industry, when folks shun growlers to the extent that we’ve seen in social media. While we appreciate it may cost a couple dollars for a growler, that small expense helps our industry, and someone else’s favorite brewery, grow and say what you want about a glass bottle that’s been getting some bad press… but… without it… our industry wouldn’t been nearly as diverse or have grown as it has over the last few years.

Cheers!

Thank you and Water…

That’s a weird title, I know… but most of our names are weird, so….

It’s been way too long since our last blog post. It’s something we promise to be better at from now on. That said, we currently have a great reason to do one… so here goes…

We are blessed to have a ton of regulars we now call friends and many of those friends, as you would expect, live in pretty close proximity to the brewery. Since they live close, they can attest to the fact that our great little town’s water supply is, to put it politely, a challenge. Norton water is actually fantastic except for ONE issue. Our iron/manganese levels are off the charts (as is the case with many communities in this part of the state). Iron and Manganese are NOT among the minerals you want for brewing.

Ever since starting the brewery, we have aggressively filtered our water and got those levels down to a much more manageable level. Even with all of the various filtering efforts we went through, it was never possible to get our water 100% dead on perfect and as consistent as we wanted so we continued to try different filtration methods regularly.

Even with us struggling to get our water 100% perfect, we’ve been very proud of our beers. We’ve been able to build a strong reputation and early this year earned an invitation to put our beers on the shelves of the various Craft Beer Cellars around the state. We were elated given the respect we have for that business, its owners, and its reputation. We brewed and bottled one of our standards (Jump Back). We then made one of the dumbest moves we’ve made since opening the brewery. We didn’t taste the beer. That’s “quality control 101” and something we are constantly doing on every beer. We were so excited about the opportunity that we lost our minds, didn’t try it, bottled it, and ran it up to Craft Beer Cellar as fast as we could.

Absolute disaster struck.

The beer was undrinkable. We got a call, thankfully, from the folks at CBC telling us there was a problem and we immediately pulled every bottle from the chain. We were absolutely devastated and, somewhat more urgent, stumped as to what could have possibly gone wrong. Among the three of us, we have been brewing for over 55 years and this was a horrible off-flavor that none of us had encountered or could figure out as to what had caused it.

After losing that batch of beer (and another one), we looked at absolutely everything that touches our beer. Long story slightly shorter, it turns out the town had a contamination scare in one of its wells and as a result, treated the well with massive amounts of chlorine. The amounts were large enough that it overwhelmed our filtration system, and ruined the beer. That was the final straw.

As soon as that problem hit, we began talking to a number of water treatment companies about our options and, as many of our regulars have been hearing about, we have made a very significant investment in a pretty hard-core treatment and filtration system that WILL , without a doubt, eliminate any issues going forward…. COMPLETELY.

After installation of the new system, we’ve sent multiple samples off to different laboratories for analysis and we’re psyched that Iron, Manganese, and Chlorine came back “undetectable” in all reports. We’ve now been brewing with our perfect water for about a month and our first beers are now rolling out of the fermenters. We’ve been cautiously optimistic about the results but… now that we are trying the beers… to say we’re excited is a gross understatement.

We wanted to get a long blog post out to people for two reasons. The first is that we wanted to simply give folks an update that we’re really excited about. All of the beers that have come out of the fermenter so far (Jump Back, Kiss M’self, Burly Blonde, and Stung) are all much cleaner, sharper, and we think… will turn a few heads. The second reason is a sincere thank you. I know it is cliché for businesses to thank their customers but that doesn’t mean it’s not sincere. Our folks are amazing supportive and, stating the obvious… we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for our customers.

We’re looking at this “new water” situation as a very real “fresh new start” for us and we feel like we’re going to be serving those supporters even better from now on!

Thank you so much.
Frank, Brian, & Matt.

PS. Sign up for the Zero!!

Five Bloggers Walk into a Bar…

By: Steph Ferrari at Bog Iron Brewing

If you know us here at Bog Iron Brewing, you know we appreciate good food. That’s why we reached out to Dan Whalen, author of The Food in My Beard, to introduce him to our beers. We had an instant connection with Dan. On December 3rd, he came into the brewery with four other fantastic people/bloggers and we had ourselves a day.

First and foremost, if you haven’t tried Dan’s recipes yet, we suggest you get on that. His creative twists on comfort food are dazzling. One of our founders Matt tried one of Dan’s mac-n-cheese recipes and it’s now becoming a regular in the Menard household.

We also had the pleasure of sharing the day with Matthew Simko, men’s style expert, blogger and host, his partner Dave Sawyer who was #1 at telling jokes (aside from Brian obviously), Georgina Castellucci, author of A Noted Life and founder of Boston Content Strategy, and Dan’s sister Joanna.

We started the day with a tour of the brewery. Two of our founders, Brian and Matt, led the tour and brought the group down memory lane. We started in the room where it all began and moved on to the larger brewing room where we now do most of our work.

After the tour, we enjoyed some light snacks and…. you guessed it…a lot of beer. The beers were very popular, and we’re pretty sure we tried ALL of them. The Devil’s Footprint was especially an instant hit with the group. And at the end of the day, we decided to pull some beer straight out of the rum and bourbon barrels because we all really needed that after several hours of drinking.

We don’t remember much, naturally. But here are our top five favorite things we do remember from our Bog Iron blogger beer bonanza (say that five times fast). We loved….

  1. When Brian served bowls of THE best chicken wings you’ve ever had. (Even the food experts agreed.)
  2. When we tried two different barrel aged beers separately and then blended them together. This was a great way to show how brewers and cooks work in similar ways.
  3. How one of our regulars took it upon himself to go home, get his bottle of Viskey Sour he had been saving, and bring it back so the group could sample it. That’s true generosity right there.
  4. When Georgina said “Why are you FRANKING him?!” (Inside joke…but necessary).
  5. How the taproom was covered corner to corner in Christmas lights and that there were two dogs at the bar…adding to the true feeling of community that was impossible to miss. Our new friends fit right in.

And now a BIG thank you to our staff for dealing with our thousands of requests for more sample glasses and more and more beer! And another BIG thank you to Dan, Georgina, Matt, Dave, and Joanna for making the trip to Norton to party with us. Come back soon!

 

Got Growlers?

We’ll take them!

Hi All,

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Thanks to a very constructive conversation on Twitter, we recently began to appreciate a problem facing MA beer consumers. MA state law mandates that breweries only fill their own growlers. For this reason, folks are collecting huge piles of growlers that can only be used at one particular brewery. Up until that back-and-forth with customers, we didn’t realize the extent of the problem.

This law helps small breweries like ours maintain control over our brand. Please understand that it has absolutely nothing to do with “trying to make money off of growlers”. Bog Iron Brewing makes almost nothing on the bottle. The overwhelming reason we support this law is to protect our ability to manage our own brand and reputation through the use of our own packaging.

If customers don’t want to keep spending a material amount of money on growlers that are just going to be added to a growing pile…and we want to maintain control of our brand and packaging…how do we fix this problem? We don’t know if we have the perfect solution but we have an idea we would like to test for two weeks starting Saturday, November 5th.

From Saturday the 5th through Saturday the 19th, if you visit our brewery during usual tap room hours, with a growler that the law prohibits us from filling, we’ll recycle that growler and replace it with one of ours for only $1- the usual price is $4. The way we look at it, we would rather lose a couple dollars on the actual growler bottles than lose control of our own brand.

We’ll see how it goes for the two-week pilot and decide whether or not this is something we will carry on. See you at the tap room!

Cheers!
Brian, Frank & Matt

Bog Iron Brewing

A Look Back at 2015…

As 2016 opens up we can’t help but take a look back at the year that was. While we accomplished a lot in 2015, we have even bigger plans for the coming year.

First and foremost we increased our footprint in the building we occupy. While we are still a small brewery we’ve grown significantly over the past few years now have a significant portion of the building, which has enabled us to do a lot more and expand some existing and add new ones.

By far, the biggest enhancement is the installation of our new custom built 15BBL 3-vessel brewhouse. This system will allow us to produce 5-times the amount of beer per batch that we currently do and, as we add fermentation capacity, it will allow us to produce many times the amount of beer per year than we currently can. This means that we’ll likely see increased taproom hours, distribution, and general availability of our beer.

We also added a bottling capability to our repertoire. While we are far from packaging large quantities of our beer in bottles or cans, we do now have the capacity to package our beer in a variety of bottle formats and we have plans for that capability.

Our barrel aging program was expanded significantly this year. In addition to the traditional lambic-style beer aging in chardonnay barrels and the Flanders red-style beer aging in Madeira barrels we added a pale braggot aged in Mezcal barrels and a light ale aging in chardonnay barrels on white grape must. While some of these beers won’t see the light of day for a number of years, the fruits of our barrel program were realized this year in the form of Devil’s Footprint, the Mezcal barrel aged braggot. We packaged Devil’s Footprint in 16oz bottles, which makes it our first barrel aged beer and released it for sale in our taproom.

in 2016….

A lot of you have been asking for a format other than growlers for our beer for awhile now and we’ve been listening and working toward that end. 2016 might see some different packaging options for some of our beers. We’re working toward offering a limited supply of some of our more popular beers in 16oz bottles. We’ll stop short of giving a time frame for that, but we are trying to make our beer more available and in various packaging formats to satisfy demand.

We also have plans to further expanding our barrel program. Stepping away from the standard bourbon barrel aged stuff, we’ve been working with Madeira, chardonnay, and Mezcal barrels, as mention previously. Expanding on that, we just brewed a big Baltic porter and stuffed it in Cabernet Sauvignon wine barrels to finish fermenting and age a bit. We’re also considering doing a beer aged in Sauternes barrels, and, potentially more Devil’s Footprint (Mezcal barrels are notoriously difficult to source reliably).

2016 promises to be fun filled with a number of exciting things going on throughout the year. Stay tuned…

Devil’s Footprint

Well, the time has finally arrived. After months of dealing with a seemingly never ending stream of roadblocks and red tape, we are finally able to release our Mezcal barrel aged braggot that we’re calling Devil’s Footprint!

For the uninitiated, a braggot is a hybrid of beer and mead. Our version started as a light ale to which we added a large addition of honey. The resulting braggot clocks in at 10.5% ABV and is very pale in color and was aged for several months in Mexican Mezcal barrels, giving it a complex yet very distinct tequila-like flavor with a hint of smokiness and wood. After conditioning, the beer packaged in 16oz capped bottles and will be available for retail sale in our taproom starting today (Wed. 12/16/2015). A very limited amount of Devil’s Footprint was produced and we expect it to sell very swiftly… and once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Devil’s Footprint is very lightly carbonated and should be served chilled, but not ice cold.

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Where to Start…

Yeah, we are really horrible at keeping the blog up to date and we sincerely apologize for that.

So what’s been going on at the Bog lately? Well to be honest, lots of stuff! Most importantly our new 15 BBL brewhouse is finally installed! The only thing we are waiting on is getting the gas company to swap the gas meters around. Once that’s done, we can fire that baby up and get to brewing batches over 5 times the size we brew now. It’s starting to look like a “real” brewery back there.
Bog Iron 15 BBL Brewhouse

Along with a new 15 BBL Mash Tun and Brew Kettle and 30 BBL Hot Liquor Tank, we picked up 2 15 BBL Fermenters. Unlike the brewhouse, which was 3 months late and (unbeknownst to us,) coming directly from China rather than Connecticut (as we were led to believe.) The fermenters came out of Oregon and were delivered in under two weeks. The fermenters will be fitted with carbonation stones, so we’ll use them as unitanks. So, the beer will ferment in the tanks. We’ll drop the temperature on them, remove the yeast and carbonate the beer directly in the fermenter. This way we won’t need separate Brite Tanks.

But with only two big fermenters, we’ll be brewing on both the 3 BBL system and the 15 BBL system for the foreseeable future. After we write the final checks on the new brewhouse build out, we’ll see if there’s any money left for additional fermenters. If so, awesome! But we’ll likely need 6 or 8 big fermenters to be able to stop brewing on the 3 BBL system. As we save up profits, we’ll keep buying fermenters until we reach our goal of 10 or 12 big fermenters.

On a different subject, we took delivery of a small semi-automated bottling line. The first order of business for that is to bottle our Devil’s Footprint, a Mezcal Barrel Aged Braggot. This is going into 16 oz bottles, which should be available for sale out of the taproom and selected local liquor stores. The addition of the bottling line will allow us the flexibility of bottling batches, when we think it’s appropriate.