Here at Aleheads we love big beers, new takes on classic styles, and bold brewing philosophies that favor innovation over convention.  Our guest tonight is Jason Lavery; his brewery in Erie, PA was built around those same ideals. If you live outside of western Pennsylvania, chances are that you haven’t had a chance to try Lavery’s beers yet- but looking at the exciting brews coming out of this young ale factory, that is bound to change. Rejecting the notion that every brewery needs to trot out the same cookie-cutter styles to be financially viable, Lavery brews the kind of beers Aleheads like to drink; from his flagship Imperial Red Ale to his insanely strong and uber-hopped Imperial French summer seasonal, this is a brewery that we’ll be watching closely. Jason was nice enough to sit down with us for almost an hour, giving us the lowdown on starting a brewery built around your own vision, how he creates his distinctive beers, and much more. So sidle up, order a pint, and meet Jason Lavery of Lavery Brewing Company.

On Links to History

“A lot of our beers are historical, just not historical styles. Most of the beers start as a foggy concept of some historical notion I have… the Imperial French Ale, I wanted to make a beer on Napoleon… our house saison yeast is a French Saison yeast. It was initially going to be a French porter, but we decided to make it light colored and made it really, really, really strong.”

On Ever-Evolving Recipes

“We’re the kind of brewers who are constantly tweaking recipes, even beers we brew day in and day out. Our Imperial Red Ale, we’re always changing that. We’re brewing it again on Sunday and we say what if we drop some Crystal 40 in, bump up this Crystal? Nothing is sacred.”

On What Happens When You Can’t Get the Hops you Built Your Flagship Beer Around

“It’s a really sad story. The Imperial Red Ale was originally all Amarillo. From the hops in the kettle to the dry hops, but our hop contractor told us that since we’re so small, we won’t be getting any more Amarillo until 2013. The beer on the shelves now is totally different than what Imperial Red was a year ago. We talked about scrapping the whole beer until we could get Amarillo but decided that’s against who we are. If we can’t roll with the punches, we shouldn’t have gotten into this business in the first place. So we’ve been doing a blend of Centennial, Cascade, and Nugget. We tried Centennial, Cascade and Citra. We’ve tried Warrior, Northern Brewer… that Amarillo just has a distinct juicy, grapefruity, wonderful flavor and we can’t seem to pull that same thing out of other hops- not sure if we will. We’re playing around with new hops like Galaxy out of New Zealand, and we also have some El Dorado samples on the way, so we’ll see if we can find something that works even better than Amarillo.”

On Brewing Dry Beers

“That is our thing. I’m not a fan of really sweet beers. I read your thing about Lagunitas and they mash they’re beers really hot to give a general sweet overtone and we mash ours really dry; we mash at 149 degrees which is at the lower end of the scale, to bring out that dry finish. I can’t drink too much beer if it’s too malty or sweet. My palate gets fatigued… I’ve always made dry beers and if you have a brewery, you might as well make beers that you want to drink.”

On Choosing a Beer Lineup For Your New Brewery

“I think the world where a brewery starts out with just a blonde ale, a brown ale, a stout, I think those days are long gone. Those styles have been done, and done so well by other breweries, why would you decide to take on Sierra Nevada Pale Ale? Stake your own claim to fame and have fun doing it. For me personally, that’s not the kind of beers I ever homebrewed and not the kind of beers I’m ever interested in brewing commercially. My homebrew days were filled with Saisons, British Old Ales, Bitters, crazy Belgian Tripels, stuff like that. Only three people own the company so there is no one telling us what we have to brew. It’s up to us… we don’t have a goal of being eccentric, it just happened organically. I brag all the time our flagship is a 8.5% ABV red ale that’s hopped like a Double IPA… it’s one of the hoppier beers in Erie.”

On Links to Homebrewing Roots

“We consider ourselves homebrewers at heart still… we release reuseable 1 Liter swing top bottles twice a year- in July with the Imperial French Ale, and our Christmas beer as well.”

On Their Imperial French-Style Ale

“I wanted to brew a beer honoring Napoleon, casting him as a villain. Our French Saison yeast had been the yeast we had used for most of our Belgians and Saisons. When I started building it, I knew I wanted it to be strong, Imperial, fit for an Emperor! It’s mostly pale malt, about 70%. About 10% cane sugar to boost alcohol and drop the body to make it dry. It has a little honey malt and a little rye (which we like to add to lots of things). We really like Rye grain- the spiciness, the bread crust I look for. That’s why we use all pale malt and no 2-row, to give it that toasty, biscuity, bread crust aroma. We hopped it with the 4 C’s: Cascade, Centennial, Columbus and Chinook, an equal blend of all- we targeted 76 IBU’s, and added a bitter addition at 60 minutes, huge additions and 10 and 0 minutes. An enormous dry hop, and then our Liopard French Saison yeast, which is a blend of French Saison yeast, 2 White Labs Belgian Trappist yeasts, and then bottled in those big bottles. We bottle condition our beers so we try to keep the medium-to-high carbonation.”

On Pumpkin Ales

“The pallets are being shipped out this week… the people in Erie are mad that Pittsburgh is getting Sting Jack first! It was just a scheduling necessity. You should be getting it there next week. We waxed the top of the bottles and we’re having a hell of a time getting the orange color right. last year I had no issues and this years it’s turing a crazy pink color. We’ve been working on it all week and I’ve got a crockpot full of wax going right now with empty cans full of wax laying all around. The first batches going out are going to have pink wax on them…

Last year pumpkins were ready at the end of August so we got a late lead on Pumpkin ale, but it was brewed with all locally grown pumpkins. We cut up a bunch, baked them and froze them, so this years batches will be partially locally produced… our spice blend is cinnamon, ginger, clove and all-spice.”

On Contests

“We’re gonna do our first ever contest online. Of all the 100 cases of our Stingy Jack Pumpkin Ale that we brewed, we labeled one bottle with a gold cap. They’re waxed over, if they turn the gold cap into us they get a dinner and a special brew day with us… I probably shouldn’t have said what color it was… shit!”

On Yeast

“We started with a White Labs Bedford strain that I used in homebrewing. One of the things I loved about homebrewing was culturing up yeast, growing my own strains, then I got into blends… we eventually got rid of that because I couldn’t top crop it the same way so we started a house blend that is also constantly changing. The latest is an American, Australian, and British blend. That’s the only thing we really consider a secret- although if someone came to the brewery and asked, I’d probably tell them. I don’t put the specifics on the website though.”

On Props to Peeps

“My favorite east coast brewery would be tied between Southern Tier and Ommegang… I like East End, Erie, Full Pint, name ‘em, I like them. Sean from Full Pint was at our brewery recently and they’re making some great beers… the TriPA is great.”

On Plans to Start Barrel-Aging Beers

“We have a big basement underneath us… we’ve talked to our landlord and he is already on the idea. We have a nice freight elevator we can bring barrels down.”

On Bold Statements

“We’re the first [commercial] sour brewer in Western PA.”

On Exciting New Beers

“I’m working on a beer right now called Brettanomyces Black. I like the idea of remixes. It’s almost the same grain bill as the Belfast Black, without the smoked malt. It has the same Munich, chocolate, and pale malt. Same hops. But instead of being fermented with our house American/ English yeast strain, it’ll be fermented with a Belgian strain, with two Brettanomyces strain right from the get-go. Claussenii and bruxellensis. That’d be all primary fermentation…The stronger bacteria or fungus wins.”

On Critters

“We’re very religious scrubbers and use the proper concentrations of all of our fancy chemicals… we still get into our tanks and clean them by hand with scrub pads. As far as using bugs in the stainless, we’re gonna do that… we don’t worry [the bugs] can smell fear.”

On the Tasting Room

“We’re gonna promote our tasting room heavily, we’re going to do a whole array of brewers brunches, bands playing, growler hours, barbecue outside and baking fresh bread, an open house party. We’re not giving away beer per se but there will be some samples around.”

Thanks again to Jason for taking the time to talk about his beers; if you’re in Pennsylvania and get the chance, pick up some of Lavery Brewing’s innovative ales. You’ll be glad you did.

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  1. Great interview, and thanks to Jason. We need to have some more of these posts. I like the format of offering both the audio and typing out all his quotes, very well done there.

    Perhaps a bit more volume next time?

  2. Jason was on a phone rather than Skype, so the audio suffers a little, I tried to amplify his voice as much as possible without causing other issues; but dammit Jim I’m a doctor, not a sound engineer.

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