YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The brewers at Noble Creature Wild Ales & Lagers had a feeling they had made a special beer, and they were right.
The craft brewery on Rayen Avenue in Youngstown won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival in September for its Earth & Aether. The brew was in the Belgian-style Sour Ale category.
Noble Creature has won several statewide competitions, but this was its first national award.
The Great American Beer Festival takes place every year in Denver.
More than 50 entries were accepted in the category from brewers nationwide. Autumn Arch Beer Project of Newark, Del., finished first; Angel City Brewery of Los Angeles finished third. The competition took place Sept. 21-23.
Noble Creature has entered the Great American Beer Festival in the past, but it’s not something it does every year. The competition is fierce and the entry fee is high.
“Every now and then we like to test our mettle,” says Ira Gerhart, owner and chief brewer of Noble Creature. “Even if you don’t win, you get a lot of good feedback from the judges.”
Earth & Aether is “a pretty crazy beer that is based on a Belgian lambic,” Gerhart says. “We only brew it in the winter.”
The brew utilizes spontaneous fermentation, a process that harks back to the earliest days of brewing.
Gerhart used locally produced malt from Yerian Quality Malts of New Waterford and hops that were grown on Noble Creature’s orchard on Youngstown’s north side.
“We aged the hops – it’s a Belgian thing,” he explains. “Then we boiled it for three hours and put the wort [as the product is known at this stage] into an open vat and piped in outside air to cool it and inoculate it with the microbes that are in the air so that it spontaneously ferments.”
The beer submitted was actually a blend of three batches made over three consecutive years.
Beer lovers won’t be able to drink the winning beer at Noble Creature because it’s all gone.
However, Gerhart just finished a new batch that is also a blend and includes this year’s output. It will be available by the end of December, when Noble Creature celebrates its sixth anniversary.
Making a Belgian-style spontaneous ale is something Gerhart has always wanted to do. “But it’s a big risk,” he says, explaining that using microbes from “whatever is in the air” outside his brewery makes that aspect hard to control.
“It’s one of the last romantic aspects of brewing,” he says. “And it’s a blend of three different years. We approached it like a winemaker.”
Gerhart remembers the day when he decided which beer to enter in the festival. He and his staff were mulling their options, but it was the recommendation of Ryan Adams, a brewer at Noble Creature, that sealed it.
“Ryan said, ‘Enter this beer!’” Gerhart says. Months later, it paid off.
“We were hanging out in the kitchen when they announced the winners and Ryan said, ‘I told you so!’”
The Great American Beer Festival has 101 categories.
Ten other Ohio breweries won awards this year: Third Eye Brewing, Sharonville; Brink Brewing, Cincinnati; Hoppin’ Frog Brewing, Akron; MadTree Brewing, Cincinnati; Eudora Brewing, Dayton; Rhinegeist Innovation Brewery, Cincinnati; Fat Head’s Brewery, North Olmsted, and Middleburg Heights; The Brew Brothers at Scioto Downs Racino, Columbus; Seventh Son Brewing, Columbus; Narrow Path Brewing, Loveland.
There are more than 400 breweries in Ohio and nearly 10,000 nationwide.
Pictured at top: Ira Gerhart, right, shows off the medal Noble Creature won at the Great American Beer Festival. At left is Ryan Adams, a brewer at Noble Creature.