Heavy Seas Brewmaster Christopher Leonard (left) and brewer… (Handout )
The robust flavor of Heavy Seas Beer's Plank III -- the Belgian-style Trippel recently named "Best of Show: Best Overall Maryland Beer" by the Brewers Association of Maryland at the Comptroller's Cup competition -- comes from a pimento tree.
“It’s the wood that they use in Jamaica to smoke or cook jerk chicken or jerk goat,” said brewmaster Christopher Leonard on Wednesday. “Nobody has made beer with this wood before, as far as we know.”
It was a risk of Heavy Seas to use the foreign wood in its beer-aging process, but on Saturday at the Maryland Brewers’ Harvest event in Fells Point, it paid off. Out of 192 entries from 23 state breweries, Plank III was named the top Maryland beer of the year.
The winner was decided by more than 40 judges, according to JT Smith, executive director of the Brewers Association of Maryland. The Beer Judge Certification Program certified the event. Reckless Ascension IPA from Columbia’s Push American Brewing Company came in second, while Heavy Seas’ Gold finished third.
Plank III is part of a beer series that began four years ago, Leonard said.
“The idea was instead of putting beers in [wood] barrels, let’s put planks of wood into the tank,” he said. The Heavy Seas production team was interested in how "fresh wood" -- untreated wood that had not been used in other alcoholic production like bourbon making -- would affect the flavor of beer.
After Heavy Seas founder Hugh Sisson suggested using the particular Jamaican wood, Leonard began experimenting. He settled on a Belgian-style Trippel because he had plenty of experience brewing it, and the white pepper and clove spices from the yeast gave it bold flavor. The goal, Leonard said, was to provide a fully satisfying experience in a small amount of beer.
“It’s not a beer to go to the beach with,” Leonard said of Plank III, which is 8.5 percent alcohol by volume. “It’s a fantastic beer to have with food – spicy food and funky cheeses. … It’s more of an experience than it is for drinking.”
Adding the pimento, also known as allspice, wood was tricky, he said. Early on, Leonard used similar quantities of wood that had been used to make the other two Plank beers, and the results were “extremely potent” and “somewhat overpowering.”
“It made the beer almost undrinkable,” he said.
Leonard only needed 15 percent of the total wood he initially expected to use, and while the other two Plank beers aged for six weeks, Plank III needed only 14 days. “Just enough to get a hint and a whisper” of the allspice flavor, he said.
While Leonard and Heavy Seas appreciate the recognition from the Comptroller’s Cup, the brewmaster also downplayed the win a bit, saying luck and subjectivity play factors in judging. (“We take it with a grain of a salt,” Leonard said.) He was most happy about the reaction Plank III was receiving from first-time tasters at the event.
“The results, I think, help introduce people to the beer, and that’s what we’re really excited about,” he said. “Folks were coming up to the booth, asking, ‘What is this beer?’”
Bars serving Plank III include Rowhouse Grille (on cask during Baltimore Beer Week - Oct. 10-19) in South Baltimore, Liam Flynn's Ale House in Station North and Max's Taphouse in Fells Point. For those looking to take some home, Bo Brooks' Lighthouse Liquors and Loading Dock Liquors, both in Canton, have it for sale.
Still, Heavy Seas winning first and third place overall this year are signs the Baltimore brewery is succeeding from a taste standpoint.
“For my team, it’s a great sense of accomplishment that we’re doing things right,” Leonard said.
Here are the full results from this year’s Comptroller’s Cup:
Best of Show - Best Overall Maryland Beer
Gold: Heavy Seas Beer, Plank III
Silver: Push American Brewing Co, Reckless Ascension IPA
Bronze: Heavy Seas Beer, Gold
Honorable Mention: Flying Dog Brewery, Gonzo Imperial Porter
Category - Gold/Blonde Ale
Gold: Heavy Seas Beer, Gold
Silver: Pub Dog Brewing Co., Blond Dog
Bronze: Brewer's Alley Restaurant and Brewery, Kolsch-Style Beer
Category - Gold Lager
Gold: Heavy Seas Beer, Small Craft Warning
Silver: Ruddy Duck Brewery, Helles
Bronze: Barley and Hops, Highway to Helles Maibock
Honorable Mention: Gordon Biersch - Rockville, Czech Pilsner
Category - Belgian Ale
Gold: Heavy Seas Beer, Plank III
Silver: Heavy Seas Beer, Holy Sheet
Bronze: Union Craft Brewing Co., Royal Farmhouse IPA
Honorable Mention: Milkhouse, Dollyhyde Farmhouse
Category - Porter/Brown Ale
Gold: Brewer's Alley Restuarant and Brewery, 1812 Double Brown Ale
Silver: Barley and Hops, Stonewall Stogies
Bronze: Oliver Brewing Co., Dark Horse
Category - Stout