Local chaga mushroom and brewing companies produce new chaga-infused beer
TUPPER LAKE — Two well-known local manufacturing companies — Birch Boys Chaga and Raquette River Brewing — are teaming up to produce a first here in Tupper Lake — a chaga-infused beer.
Birch Boys founder Garrett Kopp said the idea started brewing four years ago, in conversations he had with Raquette River Brewing co-founders Mark Jessie and Joe Hockey. It sat for a while, and a few months ago they decided to crack it back open.
“We’re the epitome of hometown businesses,” Kopp said.
He started Birch Boys out of his house in 2015, temporarily dropping out of Clarkson University to pursue his entrepreneurial dream. Jessie and Hockey founded Raquette River Brewing in 2014, turning their home brewing hobby into a flourishing beer business.
Kopp said Raquette River Brewing is a bigger company and he’s hoping this collaboration will get his name out to people who might not already know it.
“Chugga Chugga Chaga,” a honey brown ale, is now on tap and for sale in cans only at the brewery. The can it comes in shows Underwood Bridge, a former train crossing which can be seen from the shore of Raquette Pond.
Science and art
As Kopp helped brew the first batch of the new brew on Aug. 3, he had a lot of questions for brewers Kevin Connell and Josh Weise. He wanted to know all about how beer is made.
Fortunately, Connell and Weise are incredibly knowledgeable about the beer-making process. Unfortunately, they know so much about the science behind beer that most of it goes over the average person’s head. Jessie said he sent the two of them to college to learn brewing from the professionals.
Kopp said there’s similarities between beer brewing and making chaga tinctures, but he still doesn’t really know how the process works.
“It’s sort of an art form,” Jessie said.
It was easy to develop the recipe, Kopp said. The three of them just stood in the brewery and talked it out right there.
“I think there is an element, understanding our product, that allowed us to do that,” Kopp said.
It was an experiment, he said. With their expertise, they estimated how much of each ingredient to use.
Kopp doesn’t drink a lot of beer himself.
“Birch Boys isn’t really an authoritative voice on beer,” Kopp said.
On Aug. 3 they mixed sweet malts, grain, hops and honey in a giant vat.
Later, they added 7 pounds of chaga, dangling a giant conk of the bright-orange fungi in the brew in a basket held by heavy chains, like steeping a big tea bag.
The concoction brewed for 5 hours and sat for a week-and-a-half.
The beer was ready for drinking on Thursday, and both Jessie and Kopp were satisfied with the result of their experiment.
“I think it’s delicious,” Jessie said. “It’s got so much flavor.”
He described its taste as “rich and earthy.” It’s a dark beer, he said, but it’s not heavy. Despite it’s dense look, it is light and drinkable, he said. Chaga makes liquids dark without adding a strong flavor.
Jessie said he’s had a good response from customers so far, but this past weekend’s crowd brought the beer’s true test.
Brown ales aren’t the most popular, Jessie said, but he hopes people will try it out because it’s a new, creative flavor.
He couldn’t pick up on the chaga taste, but Kopp can.
Chaga does not have a strong flavor. It is subtle and sweet.
Kopp said he recognized the mild chaga taste coming through.
After tasting the final product on Thursday, Kopp said the flavor was “between a light, smooth beer and a stout. … Not bitter and very drinkable.”
This first run produced 310 gallons of beer.
Kopp hopes it becomes part of the brewery’s permanent selection.
“We let the people decide if we’re going to brew it again,” Jessie said.
Kopp said he can’t sell the drink in the Birch Boys, since it does not have a liquor license.
Both Kopp and Jessie said they had record sales last summer and are on track to do that again this summer, despite, or because of, the pandemic.
Kopp said he’s had lots of traffic in the store and online, and his sales tripled last year. Demand for chaga has been high, as it is commonly used by people looking to boost their immune systems.
Jessie said he’s now looking for feedback on “Chugga Chugga Chaga” at the brewery.