A Visit With Perennial Artisan Ales

Perennial has been making some of the most controlled and clean artisan beers since opening in 2011. Their focus lies in ales that use specific, fresh added ingredients to bring a different dimension to the beers.

When people think of breweries they expect large warehouses full of equipment. That can’t be any further from the truth, especially in Perennial’s case. They are still considered a microbrewery and they have almost as much space in their taproom as they do in their brew house. Their current space is half occupied by barrels, half by fermentation tanks, and half by ingredients, kegs and a small cooler. Yes, you read that correctly. It does add up to one, somehow. Space is of the essence in this facility so much so that the fermentation vessels had to be custom made just to fit. The result of this small space and brewing system? Great control and focus on a well made product.

Owner and Brewmaster, Phil Wymore, is a craft beer chemist and tinkerer when it comes to brewing his beer. Aside from growing custom yeast strands, Phil is always looking for cool ingredients to add to his recipes. The Black Walnut Dunkel and Abraxus Imperial Stout are shining examples of the ingredient-laden brews that he looks to make. The 17 Mint Chocolate Stout is one of their latest releases that has a very balanced flavor profile that is big on cocoa, complimented by mint, but doesn’t drink like an Ande’s mint candy.

When it comes to hardware, Phil has a way of making equipment work and conform to the way he wants. Perennial’s brewing system is a mere 8.5 barrels and is a Frankenstein of a machine. “Half the stuff on this thing doesn’t even work,” states Phil while pointing at an entanglement of several pipes and valves. “If someone else tried to use it, there’s a good chance that they wouldn’t know how.”

That brew system is the workhorse of the operation and is worked double time for both Perennial’s beer and the in-house experiment run by Head Brewer, Cory King, known as Side Project.

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It’s not every day that you get to see two great brands under one roof. Having both operating in the same space gives way to more creativity and ideas. King’s experimentation and barrel aged beers that might not be in line with Perennial’s path can still be flushed out and explored. At the same time, techniques and barrel aging experience can be honed and that knowledge can be applied to future Perennial beers. It’s all beneficial to the larger goal, to brew really damn good beer.

The fermentation tanks and barrels actually sit lower than the brew house and are technically below ground level. This helps a great deal with temperature fluctuation, especially in the summer months. Controlled fermentation is key in general, but even more so when you are making brews with a variety of adjuncts. This really helps hone in the different flavors in the beer and helps make a very clean beer. It’s no surprise that this is where Phil put a lot of his attention when putting down plans for the brewery. “Obviously you are always trying to be cost conscious, which is why there are several things we put off on upgrading or changing completely. When it comes to the tanks, there was no skimping on those.”

As what seems to be normal, and always seen as a good thing, Perennial is working on expanding. More tanks and even a couple of foudres (large wooden fermenting vessels) are going to be making their way into the brewery starting this week. A wall will come down and more storage and cooler space will be opened up in another part of the building.

While talking yeast strains, an impromptu company meeting happened mid discussion when Cory entered the room with a question about a couple of recently used barrels. “This is pretty much how Perennial and Side Project meetings work,” said Phil with a laugh. This type of relationship works really well and you can get a good sense of how much creativity can come out of their process of working together and bouncing ideas off one another.

Having reached the end of the tour, Phil had to tend to his schedule and depart but invited us to sit down for one last brew with Cory. La Boheme is one of Perennial’s wild ales aged in wine barrels with Michigan cherries. Crisp, clean, tart and fruity, this beer is fantastic and a great way to finish off the visit.

Posted on April 2, 2014 .