Three friends have teamed up to start Winston-Salem’s latest craft brewery.
Steinhaugen Brewery sold its first keg Aug. 31. The brewery operates a three-barrel brewing system at 1017 Ivy Ave. near the intersection with North Liberty Street, but does not have a tasting room.
In just a couple of months, kegs of Steinhaugen have made their way into several Winston-Salem bars, including Juggheads Growlers and Pints, The Beer Growler and Vin205.
Steinhaugen is owned by John Olson, a physicist and research associate at Wake Forest University School of Medicine: Anh Nghiem, who owns a plumbing company; and Zhenlin Zheng, a physician and researcher in plastic surgery at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
The three met years ago when they all worked at the medical center and became friends, eventually sharing a love of homebrewed beer.
The name Steinhaugen, which means “stone heap” in Norwegian, comes from the name of a former tree farm in Wisconsin owned by Olson’s grandparents.
“We all brew together, but we’re kind of John’s understudies — we’re following his recipes,” Nghiem said.
Olson got into homebrewing about 10 years ago because a lot of his friends were doing it.
“We’d go to lunch and that’s all they would talk about. Then my dad got me a homebrewing kit (in 2010). I made this Scottish ale and it was pretty good. After that, I started brewing every weekend.”
Steinhaugen is making some of the most unusual beers in Winston-Salem, in large part due to his interest in beers with low IBUs, or International Bitterness Units.
The industry standard IBU scale measures the amount of hops in beer. The popular IPA style is a prime example of a hoppy beer with a high IBU rating, often about 70 IBUs. In contrast, an American lager or Scottish typically is pretty low in IBUs, typically in the 10 to 20 range. Low IBUs also are associated with malty beers. Note that the IBU level and actual perceived bitterness are separate issues and don’t always go hand in hand.
Olson said that though the big, bold flavors of IPAs and similar hoppy styles are very popular today, he thinks there is an untapped market in people who want less bitter flavor profiles. “There are a lot of beers you can make that don’t have bitterness, and some people are unaware that it’s possible.”
In addition to having low IBUs, Steinhaugen’s beers tend to be quite smooth to the palate.
Here’s a sampling of beers they have made so far:
- Sweet Potato Ale, 6.5% ABV. This is a blonde ale with the addition of sweet potatoes: 150 pounds of them from Winston-Salem’s Sungold Farm in a 100-gallon batch. Its cloudy appearance is a result of trying to keep as much of the sweet potatoes’ nutrients in the beer. The resulting beer is very smooth, with an almost cidery tang.
- Tart Persimmon, 6.5% ABV. Like the sweet-potato ale, this has a blonde-ale base. About 50 pounds of local persimmons went into the mix. This beer has zero IBUs — or no hops flavor or bitterness. It is tart but not sour.
- Ginger Jalapeno, 6.6% ABV. Clear in color, this is not a beer in the usual sense. It contains no barley. Instead it’s made with local fresh ginger, lemon juice, jalapeno, yeast and turbinado sugar. This is quite spicy and very dry. It may be too dry for most American palates to enjoy it alone. Olson mentioned it as a potential mixer for such cocktails as Moscow mules. He said that Vin205 was using it in mimosas, mixed with sparkling wine.
- Porter, 5% ABV. Olson said he calls this a “three-quarters porter” because it is lighter than most porters. It has just 11 IBUs and thus very little bitterness but it still has the chocolate and coffee characteristics of dark roasted malts.
Nghiem said that Steinhaugen is committed to using local ingredients. “We want to be as local as possible — in sourcing ingredients, and in distribution.”
And if that means remaining small, they’re OK with that. “We have other jobs, so we just have to make enough to pay the bills and keep doing what we enjoy doing,” Nghiem said. “If we’re not having fun doing this, then we don’t need to do it.”