Jake Miller, one of the founders of the forthcoming Heirloom Rustic Ales brewery, has a pedigree that should pique beer geek interest: He brewed at Tulsa, Oklahoma’s American Solera (we’ve really enjoyed those beers) and was then head brewer at Oregon’s Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery.
But he’s not the only team member with experience brewing mixed-fermentation and barrel-aged beers; one of the other co-founders, Zach French, is an accomplished homebrewer and consultant focused on sour beer fermentations. (“That dude was blending beer before people knew beer was blended,” says Miller.) Melissa French, who designed the Heirloom taproom, led the brewery licensing process and coordinated with contractors, rounds out the trio of founders.
So yes, the team’s stacked in the wild, barrel-aged and blended beer department. But that’s not the entirety of what Heirloom Rustic Ales will brew.
“We’re going to hit everything. Right now, literally we have in a notebook our 12 opening beers with another 20 right behind it. Their focus will definitely be saisons and lagers but then after that there are a whole lot of interests. We’ll have a large mixed-fermentation area with three open-top wine tanks for saisons and closed tanks for lagers and straightforward pale ales,” Miller says.
The open-top wine tanks were a recent purchase; Miller was inspired by the use of these vessels at Tarpon Springs, Florida’s St. Somewhere Brewery, where he’s worked for the past few months under the guidance of Bob Sylvester. Sylvester has brewed wild- and open-fermented Belgian farmhouse-style beers for more than a decade, and Miller calls him “probably the biggest influence on how I brew beer.”
“When’s the last time you had an American saison that tasted European at all? These [St. Somewhere saisons], I’d put them in front of people and they’d swear it’s [Brasserie au Baron] Cuvée de Jonquilles. I don’t know of a single saison that has this kind of power behind it anywhere,” he says. “It made me talk to Zach and Melissa [French] about changing our tank order because I had never open-fermented. I’ve done spontaneous fermentation, before but I’d never used wine tanks with floating lids. When the yeast is not fermenting under pressure, it changes its ester profile. I was won over big time.”
Miller is eager to brew a lager-heavy lineup in addition to the saisons.
“For me personally, it seems like just making solid drinkable beers is kind of a thing that’s really escaped the industry. You look around at all the ‘major players,’ if you will, and a lot of it is super-low pH with 500 pounds of fruit, aged for 14 years in 30-year-old Italian foeders. And then if you’re not doing that, you’re probably aging 15 adjuncts in a stout in bourbon barrels,” Miller says. “That stuff is totally fine. Obviously most of my experience comes from breweries doing that, but living in Oregon was a huge change of pace. Heater Allen was my local and pFriem was around. I found I hadn’t had a ‘cool dude beer’ in a long time because I was just drinking things that felt good and that I wanted to drink. All I was sharing with people was lagers.”
Miller says visitors will likely find three saisons (including open-fermented and dry-hopped versions) and three lagers on draft at any given time in the taproom, rounded out by six more beers of varying styles. One area Miller is interested in exploring is a category of low-ABV, flavor-heavy beers that, Miller admits, he hasn’t found a stylistic name for yet.
“I did this beer a while ago that was 30 percent spelt and low in alcohol, but it also gets coffee, vanilla, whatever you want to put on it. Last time I did it, I called it a spelt ale,” he says. “If you ever want a beer with residual sugars, it’s usually going to be 9-12% ABV. Sometimes I want some of that profile but don’t want to get blasted. I would like to be a hub for starting these delicate versions of that.”
Drinkers will be able to get their hands on Heirloom beers when the taproom opens in Tulsa’s Kendall Whittier neighborhood in September, if all goes according to plan. Heirloom beers will mostly be sold out of the brewery space on draft, in prepackaged crowlers and in bottles, with perhaps a small amount flowing into local distribution.
“This is a huge risk, I guess, to go into a market and be pretty committed to having a high percentage of lagers produced. But it’s also one of those things that, why start a brewery if you’re not going to be brewing things that you think are cool?” Miller says. “Hopefully people get it.”