'Hop heads, malt minions and gravity heads' all have something to look forward to from Ale Asylum.
Ale Asylum is shaking things up in a big way for 2015. Over the next year, the Madison brewery plans to revamp its production schedule with a new series of beers, introduce cans for some its most popular labels and launch a major summer release party. "We've been so focused on keeping up with demand; we decided [it was time] to flex our creativity and have some fun," says co-owner Otto Dilba.
Expanding its seasonal suite of releases is a big part of that creative expression. "In the first five months of the year we will have five new bottled beers coming out," says Dilba. Ale Aslyum will introduce a new beer each month, following a rotation in which a hop-oriented brew is succeeded by a malt-focused beer, then a Belgian-style, at which point the cycle starts again. Dilba describes this schedule as being for "hop heads, malt minions and gravity heads."
Starting out with the hop fanatics, Ale Asylum will offer three new IPAs. The first is Velveteen Habit, a 7.5% ABV brew made with a blend of Cascade and Citra hops that's expected to be released later in January. The second is High Coup and should be out in April, while the third will be called Subcultcha and is set for in October.
The latter two beers are in the recipe-development stage, in which several Ale Asylum brewers conduct trial homebrew batches to explore some of new American hop varieties. Those experimental brews will provide a sense of the various hops' capacities for aroma, flavor and bitterness, Dilba explains. Ale Asylum brewmaster Dean Coffey adds that this allows each beer to inform how the next will be made. That means High Coup will build on the lessons learned from Velveteen Habit, and its final formulation won’t be set for several weeks. A focus on Subcultcha will ensue, and it’ll still be a few months before Coffey and his team will decide on the hops that go into it.
As for malt-focused new brews, the first in the Ale Asylum lineup will be HuMMMane, an India brown ale that is also expected to be released by the end of January. This beer is a collaborative project with WMMM 105.5 FM to raise awareness for Badger Honor Flight. The brewery is hosting a ticketed party on Jan. 28; a public release follows on Jan. 29 at the High Noon Saloon.
Malt minions can also look forward to May, when the brewery bottles Pantheon, an imperial brown ale that was first introduced in the taproom last year.
Meanwhile, for fans of Dean Coffey's bigger, higher-gravity, Belgian-style beers, the dubbel-like Diablo Belga (formerly known in the taproom as simply "Diablo") will be bottled for the first time in March.
Ale Asylum's plans for summer focus on convenience and accessibility. Seeking to build upon its recent growth, the brewery is getting on board with one of the biggest business developments in craft beer right now by starting canning. Several of its most popular beers will be released in cans by April, including Hopalicious (pale ale), Bedlam! (Belgian IPA), Demento (session pale ale) and Unshadowed (hefeweizen).
"There is a significant population of beer drinkers that we aren't able to reach with bottles -- when you're on the beach, when you're hiking, on the golf course and boating," says Dilba, "It's high time we got there."
The new canning equipment started arriving a few weeks ago and is expected to be operational by mid-March. This packaging line will turn out about 150 cans each minute, compared to the 270 bottles per minute that the brewery currently produces. The beers will be offered in 12-packs of 12-ounce cans in a carton. Dilba estimates that canning could increase the brewery's overall production by 10% in 2015.
The biggest single splash Ale Asylum is hoping to make in 2015, though, is with a very limited special release it has in the works. For well over a year, Coffey has been hinting at brewing a Russian imperial stout. Last August, he put his first batch into fermenters, where it's been tank-aging ever since.
Coffey intends to release two versions of his Russian imperial stout, in 22-ounce bottles. One is called Impending Descent, which is a traditional take on the style made with British yeast. The other is Impending Dissent and is made with Belgian yeast. (No barrel-aging plans are in the works for these brews.)
Both beers will be released on Saturday, June 20, at a special party Ale Asylum has initially billed as Ferment Dissent. Because the beer is so limited, it will only be sold via advance tickets that allow purchasers to buy it in sets. Coffey says he's hoping to produce 1,500 sets of the bombers. This release party will feature not only both Russian imperial stouts, but also about a dozen other well-aged Ale Asylum beers. Visitors to its taproom on Mondays in January have been finding a sampling of these special brews in what's become known around the brewery as "Maturation Mondays."
Ale Asylum is hoping that Ferment Dissent will become an annual addition to the Madison craft beer calendar akin to Darkness Day for Surly Brewing in Minneapolis or Dark Lord Day for Three Floyds Brewing in Chicago's Indiana suburbs.
"We really want to devote ourselves to having some fun this year," says Dilba.