Sugar Creek Brewing Co. takes its beer to the max

Though they just opened Sugar Creek Brewing Co. last year, Todd Franklin and Joe Vogelbacher have homebrewed together for the last decade. When they weren’t brewing, the two were working nights as nuclear engineers at Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va.

And though they have brewed a variety of styles over the years, one in particular holds a special place in their hearts. Dubbed “Nuclear Kraken,” the beer is a massive, 20 percent ABV beer that the two brewed when Vogelbacher found out his wife was pregnant with his first child.

“We originally brewed it to celebrate a new addition to the family,” said Vogelbacher. “So as soon as you find out your wife’s pregnant you brew the beer, and then nine months later when the baby comes you have something to celebrate with. It’s kind of like a cigar.”

Vogelbacher and Franklin, along with co-owner Eric Flanigan, had reason enough to brew the beer again – the brewery, which opened last October in Charlotte’s lower South End, is their baby. They brewed the beer on their pilot system, but had to dial it back a bit since North Carolina’s ABV cap is 15 percent.

The beer is a departure from the Belgian styles Sugar Creek Brewing normally brews. To reach 15 percent, Vogelbacher and Franklin took fresh wort – the sugary liquid left after the grains are steeped in hot water – and added it back into the beer every eight hours for 14 days to prolong the fermentation and ensure the yeast had plenty of sugar for its climb to 15 percent.

As for the yeast itself, they used three varieties: a Belgian yeast to start, followed by an American ale yeast to dry it out, and then finally a proprietary, high-gravity yeast that brings it to its final gravity. The beer was then aged in small oak barrels that once held sorghum whiskey from Tennessee.

The brewery dubbed the 15 percent version “Sugar Creek XV,” a nod to the highly sought after Westvleteren 12, brewed by monks at the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus in Vleteren, Belgium.

Because they brewed only a barrel’s worth (and it is a 15 percent beer, after all), Sugar Creek served the beer in 4- and 6-ounce pours when they tapped a keg of it this past Monday. The beer was rich and sweet, with the luscious body and notes of caramel, figs and raisins you might expect from an English barleywine. The oak barrels lent the beer a hint of cinnamon and vanilla, and provided an assertive but pleasing warmth on the finish.

That single keg kicked quickly; however, the brewery has a few more it may bring out later this year. Until then, keep your eyes out for Sugar Creek’s Bière de Garde, which will be released in cork-and-caged 750 ml bottles in the next week or two. Historically, the style was brewed by French farmers in the winter and spring to last through the summer. Though the brewery’s Saison is a farmhouse style as well, expect the Bière de Garde to be darker and maltier than that one.

The brewery also plans to package its Pale Ale and Witbier in six-packs in late July. These will be available in local beer stores as well as Harris Teeter locations.

Sugar Creek Brewing Company is at 215 Southside Drive. 704-521-3333; www.sugarcreekbrewing.com.

Sip of the week

Jalapeño Pale Ale, Birdsong Brewing Co.

Around $9.99 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans

Charlotte’s Birdsong Brewing has been busy lately. It opened a new brewery and taproom in April, and in May released cans of its Jalapeño Pale Ale. Every week, the crew hand cuts and de-seeds 60 pounds of peppers to brew the beer, which has the green brightness of a fresh jalapeño without the heat. It is one of the city’s most unique beers, and the perfect accompaniment to Mexican food.