Earlier this week, we brought you the good news that some DC area breweries had medaled at the Great American Beer Festival last week. One of these was Ocelot Brewing, which won bronze with their "Powers of Observation," a Baltic-style Porter. I had a chance to chat via email with Ocelot's owner and founder, Adrien Widman, about the win. What follows below is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation. Congratulations to Adrien and the entire Ocelot team!
DCBeer: Of all the styles that one might expect Ocelot to win a GABF medal for, Baltic Porter is not one of them. Last year, you guys won for a Kellerbier, which is also a departure from the focus on West Coast IPAs. Being honest, are you guys a bit
Adrien Widman: Excellent question and one that I got a lot last year when our unfiltered Pilsner won in the Kellerbier category. The model at Ocelot has always been from its inception a model that evolves with our tastes. Basically a model that has no model if you will. We have been identified with the “West Coast Style IPA” since the beginning, and much of that has to do with the fact that, at first, that's what we did a lot of. Our IPAs have actually evolved over the last 2.5 years into something different altogether. I don’t think I would actually classify them into any particular IPA style. They are a byproduct of what we want to drink. Most of the IPAs coming out now are extremely low in IBU (according to the calculator at least) and much softer on the palate, but I guess it's hard to break that initial perception. To answer the question though, we were not sure it would win with so many outstanding Baltic Porters out there but not surprised because we actually brewed that batch a long long time ago and saved it for the competition because we were very proud of it.
How many different beers did Ocelot enter into this year's competition, and which ones were they?
Ocelot entered four beers this year. Sunnyside Dweller (Kellerbier/zwicklebier), Powers of Observation (Baltic Porter), Country Roads (Classic Saison), and a VERY limited version of our Wee Heavy, Gravity Always Wins (Wood-aged Strong Beer). You might notice we did not enter an IPA. The shipping requirements for GABF(with the exception of fresh hop) mean at its freshest an IPA would be at least 6-7 weeks old when judged and are, in my opinion, far too detrimental to IPAs. We decided to send beer that we loved and knew could hold up to the timelines.
Baltic Porter is a bit of an oddball beer because it is lager-fermented. What aspects of the Baltic Porter does Ocelot appreciate the most, and what were you trying to emphasize with this entry? Did you use an actual lager yeast strain, and if so, which one?
It is indeed an oddball style and one that I blame Jason Oliver [of Devils Backbone] for getting me hooked on. “Danzig” from Devils Backbone is definitely one of the inspirations for us having a go at this style, and the name “Powers of Observation” is not only a song lyric (as all of our beers are) but a nod to the inspiration. The cleanliness of the Wisenschaftliche Station #308 lager yeast and lack of any roasted barley in our beer make it very smooth, and at 9% ABV, it was a joy to drink.
Has Ocelot seen any effect result from its first, and now second, GABF win? Does it matter more to a smaller brewery such as Ocelot?
I’ll be honest, I have no idea. We also have a pretty odd marketing strategy, and by odd, I mean none. So maybe thats my fault. :-)
Which GABF winner do you like better, Sunnyside Dweller or Powers of Observation?
Oh man! You really want to make me choose? I am honestly proud of both of them but there is no denying that Sunnyside Dweller is our favorite, which is why we brew it so much. The staff get upset when it's not around.
Has Ocelot ever considered participating in the Pro-Am competition? If so, how would you go about finding a home brewer with whom to collaborate?
Here at the brewery we host the 50 West Homebrew Club every month and once a year do a competition with them. The winner brews with us on our system. Last year we actually had two winners, Peter Lex and Adam Mouw. We did a maple stout with Pete and are set to brew a dry-hopped Saison with Adam very soon. I guess what I’m trying to say is, we have a way to find a great home brewer :-) The thought of entering in the Pro-Am never crossed my mind, but that might be fun to do as well.
Anything new coming up from Ocelot that you'd like to let DCBeer readers know about?
As mentioned earlier, Ocelot is constantly evolving and we are working on some very exciting stuff for next year. Our wild barrels are coming along nicely, and we hope to add some equipment to produce more mixed fermentation beers next year. After two and a half years, we have now brewed over 100 unique IPAs. Next year you will most likely see the return of our favorites a bit more frequently which may or may not require pallets of aluminum to be delivered to the brewery ;-)
On December 9th we will be releasing the 2nd batch of “Hope” IPA. This all-Galaxy-hopped beer will be brewed in collaboration with The Veil and Bluejacket, and 100% of the proceeds are going to benefit The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. This release is a lot of fun with some very special guest appearances here at the brewery, and I’m honored to be able to give back to such a wonderful and selfless organization that employed me for almost seven years. The beer will be available at the breweries involved as well as some limited accounts in DC and Virginia that are gracious enough to participate.
Thanks to Adrien for his time, and be sure to keep your eyes peeled for Hope IPA and all of Ocelot's beers.