It's pretty simple," explained Crank Arm Brewery's 37-year-old assistant brewer, Adam Eckhardt. "We like to brew beer that people will like and that we like ourselves." He adjusted his Crank Arm baseball cap, stroked his beard and then continued. "Beers with a culinary twist but ones that have to be palatable."
I had nothing more to do than look right under my nose, where Eckhardt had provided me with a sample of Crank Arm's Holy Mole Smoked Porter. Smoky notes with a silky mouthfeel and chocolate-scone finish were followed by a subtle, spicy burn in the chest.
"That's the habaneros," said Eckhardt, smiling. It's a beer he is proud of: The peppers are grown in his own backyard, and the chocolate comes from the brewery's neighbors at Videri Chocolate Factory on West Davie Street in Raleigh.
"Fresh beer is key," he said. Growing up on a farm in upstate New York, he knows he way around a garden. "All peppers are not the same. A lot can affect the flavor of the pepper," he said. This means that other ingredients need to be tailored to the recipe, depending upon the heat the peppers can bring.
Nestled in Raleigh's downtown warehouse district, Crank Arm Brewery opened in July 2013. Its sister company, Crank Arm Rickshaw, beat them to the punch by three years. Eckhardt put it succinctly: "Rickshaw was easier to start."
Crank Arm Rickshaw provides tip-based transportation around the City of Oaks: historic tours, bar crawls and special events. The relationship between cycling and American craft beers goes back decades, with one historic mile marker being the fated trip Sierra Nevada's Ken Grossman took down the California coast in the late '70s, which sparked a love affair with the town of Chico. By 1980, his brewery was born. Germany's radler—a beer mixed with lemonade—literally means "cyclist" and dates back to the 1920s.
Eckhardt had a similar road trip when he drove to Wisconsin to pick up a rickshaw the business had bought. Wisconsin is home to New Glarus Brewing Co., whose award-winning beers never leave the state. Eckhardt realized that their itinerary would have them passing by the storied 3 Floyds Brewing Co. in Illinois, home to one of the most monstrous, and sought-after, beers: Dark Lord. It's a Russian Imperial Stout that commands its own day (Dark Lord Day) and—over the years—usually ends up on top of beer aficionados' bucket lists. So if you asked him if there is an unattainable beer he'd love to taste, his answer is, "Pretty much everything I ever wanted to try, I've tried..." He finished with a smile. "I've been really lucky."
"Cycling is a community," said Eckhardt. "Both cultures embrace that." He then added, "A post-bike beer is a great way to decompress and unwind."
With its iconic sprocket logo and a beer lineup with names like Unicycle Single Hop Ale (I sampled the Simcoe series); Pelaton Belgian IPA (citrusy with yeasty ester notes); and Derailleur barleywine (sweet malty backbone with toffee notes), it's clear Crank Arm love its bikes.
Eckhardt also loves how rewarding it is to see the entire process, from brewing the beer to cleaning the kegs to bartending. This beer drinker's education, from start to finish, allows him to instruct the public on the beers his company serves. He is also excited about the future. "We want to have a sour program. To ramp up some beers with brettanomyces," he said, before adding that Belgian sours are a favorite. "We loved to do some lagers," he paused, "but they are time consuming in the fermenters."
But what sounded most exciting was his talk of aging a barleywine in Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrels. Just don't ask him where he got his hands on the Pappy barrels, because he won't tell you.
This article appeared in print with the headline "A BEER DRINKER'S EDUCATION."