Jul. 13—In this episode of the UnCapped podcast, host Chris Sands heads to Monument City Brewing Co. in Baltimore to talk with cofounder Ken Praay and director of brewing operations Dave Thompson about the details of their new table beer series called Cute Little Saison and their biergarten in Upperco. Here is an edited excerpt of their talk.
UnCapped: It's been a very long time since we talked on the record. We have a lot to catch up on because so much has happened. Let's start with what's on the table in front of us, because that is the newest, most exciting thing. Then we can talk about the farm and all the other things that have taken place in the blur that has been the past three or so years.
Ken Praay: That's right. We'll talk slowly. I'll talk a little bit about our new summer series, and then I'll hand it over to Dave, who has created these beautiful beers.
Every year, we try to do something a little different. For us, as a primarily production brewery that distributes, there are some limitations, but for six or seven months, Dave and I had been kicking around the idea of a table beer series. We wanted to make it something that was a little more attractive than a traditional table beer. We decided to come up with a four-part series. Three are fruited, and one is dry-hopped.
We were sitting around trying to figure out what the name would be, which is always a process. Some of us are maybe not as creative as others. Our names are a bit challenging. Someone said, "They're just cute little beers."
Dave Thompson: I think we were trying to explain what a table beer is, saying, "All the countries in Europe have their own version of a table beer ... it's like a cute little saison." And it stuck. So that's the name of our series, Cute Little Saison.
Praay: For the first two, we have a blackberry version, then what we're drinking here is the raspberry version, 3 1/2% [ABV], so really easy drinking, just delicious, refreshing beers. Two more are coming in July: a fruit punch and a mosaic dry-hop.
UnCapped: What I like about this one is if you like raspberry, you'll really like it, but it's also subtle enough that if you didn't like raspberry, you could still enjoy this beer.
Praay: I think that's a good way of describing it. When Dave and I sit down and chat about beers, generally any time we add fruit to something, the fruit kind of supports the beer.
Thompson: It's not the lead role.
Praay: Yeah, it's not the lead role of the beer itself or the experience, but it obviously gives it this beautiful color and this nice acidity and sweetness. It turns out, you still get that Belgian table beer experience along with some fruit.
UnCapped: And for a ridiculously low ABV, it does not have a thin mouth feel. How was that accomplished?
Thompson: There's a good amount of wheat in here, so that helps give it some body.
UnCapped: Thinking back to the low-ABV craze of a decade or so ago, no matter what breweries tried, it was still an underwhelming beer, but this doesn't present that way at all. Are you going to make it a year-round offering?
Praay: As of now, it's going to be a summertime offering.
UnCapped: Is the plan to rotate and introduce different fruits?
Praay: We'll see how these four go and then experiment with some other stuff after that. There might be some winter versions ... not fruit-focused but something spicy and nice.
UnCapped: That would be cool ... during the Thanksgiving/Christmas season, doing a winter warmer.
Praay: I don't want to say people are overloaded with flavor, because they definitely enjoy that, but people are looking, especially in the warmer months, for something clean and refreshing. In our taproom, Pilsner and our Belgian-style white marble tend to be the top sellers. If we have a handful of IPAs and a handful of lagers, the lagers generally are pushing more out of our taproom.
UnCapped: Do you see that same thing in distribution, too, or is it the inverse?
Praay: IPAs are always king in market. West Coast or clear IPAs are definitely in demand as well. Lager beers are increasing year over year, but IPAs are just so far ahead.
UnCapped: That sentiment has been echoed a lot over the past year. Clear beer has been making a comeback, lagers are way more popular than they've ever been, West Coast IPAs are making a strong comeback after they'd kind of gone away almost completely for five or so years.
Praay: That challenges us as breweries, like, how do we make a West Coast IPA that's a little more approachable than 15 years ago?
UnCapped: I miss the ones that ripped the enamel off your teeth.
Praay: We just had a series this year called Sound Board. Dave created this really beautiful West Coast-style IPA, a clear IPA — really approachable, still a lot of hop flavor and aroma, but not wrecking your palate.
UnCapped: I miss those though, where it feels like taking a scraper to your tastebuds.
Praay: I remember when you would always look for the highest IBU.
UnCapped: Yeah — 100%, I was that person, going into the beer store, like: whatever the highest IBU IPA you have.
Thompson: I think breweries are always going to push the limit on some things. You see a lot of beers in this category that have as much fruit as you can put in there. We tend to do things a little differently. We're a little bit more reserved on stuff. Maybe 15 years, we would've been making the 100 IBU IPAs.