Welcome to Behind the Beer, a series in which we present the stories behind Long Island’s best beers, as told by the brewers who make them.
The series starts with Barrage Brewing Company’s Yada Yada Yada, a brown ale inspired by Seinfeld made with Snickers bars. Originally planned as a one-off release, it has become the East Farmingdale-based brewery’s most popular beer since its debut in 2014, even leading Steve Pominski, Barrage’s brewmaster and owner, to create two more offerings, also brown ales, incorporating foods featured in episodes of the consecrated sitcom: The Restivus (chocolate babka) and Hootchie Mama (Bosco Chocolate Syrup).
Steve Pominski (owner and brewmaster of Barrage Brewing Company): Yada Yada Yada wasn’t supposed to be our most popular beer. A brown ale made with Snickers bars? No way I would have ever guessed that. When you think of a brewery’s most requested beer or even its flagship, you picture something light in color and body, with a nice balance of malt and hops, accessible across the board. But a dark beer with flavors of chocolate, caramel and peanuts? It still amazes me. But that’s one of the many things I love about the craft-beer industry: You just never know what can happen.
The idea for Yada came last year. We were starting to plan our very first beer dinner for that May at a great restaurant called Morrison’s. One of the owners, Shelby [Poole], is really big on tying fun themes to her events, so she suggested we add one as another way of unifying the five courses, each of which would be served with one of our beers. My son Adam came up with the idea of having a Seinfeld-themed dinner, and since we’re both big fans of the show, as is Shelby, it was a perfect fit. Actually, funny story: at the dinner we also held a Seinfeld trivia contest and Adam and I won. I guess that officially made Barrage qualified to brew something like Yada. Speaking of …
About a month before the dinner, I thought it’d be fun to make a limited beer to pair with one of the courses. It was only going to be a one-off, something cool, definitely Seinfeld-y. I started thinking about memorable items from the show that could translate well if transformed into a beer. Junior Mints and chocolate babka popped into my head, but Snickers hit me the hardest! While its name is inspired by a different, though equally iconic episode, the inspiration to use Snickers is from a great episode called “The Pledge Drive” where George learns a new way to eat the candy bar and tries to pass it off as a new trend. In a way I felt it tied perfectly with the ethos of craft beer being different from what’s offered in the mainstream, so that decided it. We were going to brew a Snickers-infused beer.
Being friends with the Long Island Beer & Malt Enthusiasts homebrewing club, I’ve had the pleasure of trying a lot of weird and wacky recipes over the years. And some of them have included candy bars. While I’ve used adjuncts like raisins and cherries in recipes before, and with good results, I’ve never brewed with candy. I remember being so stressed while developing the recipe because processed chocolate contains emulsifiers that could flatten a beer and give a really slick taste to it. You don’t want that. So I tried to figure out the best way to add them, finally deciding to dry hop the beer with Snickers. Dry hopping is a common process of letting hops sit in the fermenting beer to up the hop aroma and flavor. We’ve since created a name for our unique method of dry hopping: Snickering.
The base of Yada is a brown ale, which I feel is a great vessel to hold Snickers and transport its flavors. With a stout or porter, you run the risk of the beer being too thick, roasty or bitter, any of which would interfere with the candy’s profile. But American brown ales are just right: malty with no bitterness, not too heavy.
Once everyone had Yada for the first time at the dinner, they went absolutely nuts. I knew it was a good beer when I initially tasted it. It was essentially a liquid Snickers bar: the chocolate, caramel and peanuts meld into one with a slight sweetness and a medium body. But at that point I still really wasn’t thinking of brewing it again, mainly because it was a beer for that moment in time. Plus I used about six pounds of the fun size bars for the one batch! Yet people kept calling and asking for it after the dinner. I knew I had to make it again.
Since that point, almost a year later, it’s remained our most requested beer. We always have two fermenters full of Yada ready to be poured in the tasting room, which means we’re even brewing it through the summer. People are asking for this dark beer while they’re wearing shorts and sweating! Speaking of sweating, right now we mash the candy bars by hand before adding them to the one-barrel fermenter. But once we upgrade to our new five-barrel brewhouse next year, we’ll start procuring 50-pound, pre-ground boxes through a local ice cream distributor.
I should tell you that right after the first dinner, Shelby approached me with the idea of doing a second Seinfeld dinner. That’s going to be December 8. She also requested I do a second Seinfeld beer, which led to us combining two more episodes and designing a chocolate babka-infused brew called The Restivus that I’ll make next week. We’ll use the same brown ale base as Yada, again to transport the unique characteristics. But this beer will have flavors of a chocolate babka: chocolate, cinnamon, bread and fudge, with a nice sweetness to it. I’ve been buying different babkas lately to try as many as I can. I’m already nervous about adding them to the fermenter; not only may the babka fall apart but also it contains wild yeast. We’re just going to roll with the punches and embrace it, though, like with Yada.
Our forte has always been darker beers, from Tribal Cow, a toasted coconut caramel milk stout, to a salted caramel fudge porter coming out soon. So maybe it makes sense that we can pull off Yada. Who knew a large part of my brewing life would be spent finding ways to procure large batches of Snickers bars, with my wife and son texting me anytime they see them on sale? I’m really glad people enjoy drinking it.