Jul 20, 2018

Don't Know Chit's
November, 2000

By Bobby Bush

Marketers are strange people; dreaming and scheming, intent on finding the slogan or theme thatíll make Ďem millions overnight. What were they thinking, the owners of RiverRock Brewery that is, when they closed their downtown Little Rock, Arkansas brewpub for a facelift and re-theming? After a three month hiatus, the joint re-opened in April 2000. Same manager- Carl Sandberg. Same brewer- Omar Castrellon. Unusual theme, courtesy of two new owners who specialize in, uh, marketing. New paint job. New Name- Chitís.

A new merchandise area greets arriving patrons. Hot sauces, salsas and a line of shirts emblazoned with colorful, cartoon-like and unique, though hardly original, slogans: Chit Happens, Up Chit Creek, Cool Chit, Tommy Donít Know Chit, I Fish Like Chit, Crok of Chit, you get the picture. Iím not sure if Little Rock, home of our beloved, morally upstanding Prez, is ready for all this chit (sorry), but itís piled pretty high.

Luckily, these marketing geniuses left Omarís territory unscathed. Other than blocking the view into the brewery through behind-the-bar picture windows, the brewhouse is safe. As are Omarís great brews, which are graciously chit-free in content.

With the brewer himself assisting this tasting session, we started out on the light side of a Test Pilot tray, as usual. Chitís Lager, a seasonal selection, has a base of pilsen malt, as do most of Omarís beers. Caramel malt resulted in a pleasant suggestive sweetness, though three additions of Saaz hops and six weeks conditioning made this brew pretty darn close to Pilsner in style. White River Wheat, Chitís only unfiltered beer, was introduced by a sweet frontal attack quickly trailed by the distinctive clove, banana tartness prevalent in German weiss beers. A perfect session beer, Red, Lite & Brewed was a mild, golden pale ale. Chitís Amber Ale, more copper in hue, was light and flavorful, carefully balanced just over the sweet side. Crystal hops gave Presidentís Pale a moderately bitter profile within its medium mouthfeel. Walking the line between sweet UK and bitter US Brown Ale styles, Sugar Loaf Brown, named for a nearby mountain, was radiant copper and entirely enjoyable. The last of the on-tap beers, excepting a Root Beer, State House Stout worked malt complexity. Chocolate, black patent, aromatic malts and flaked oatmeal were rounded out, at the end of the boil, with four gallons of honey, boosting not only alcohol, close to 7% abv, but also creating a swirling flavor profile accented by a swiftly sweet finish.

Omar is one of those creative brewers whoís never content with consistency or status quo. Using only the equipment, ingredients and personal experience available to him, pushing the envelope just comes naturally to Panama-born Castrellon. From the fermenter, he provided a sample of his fully-fermented but not-yet-filtered Oktoberfest. Bright amber, it was a supple, medium-bodied German lager, just like it should be. But then, with a smile on his face, he watched my lips caress a glass of another fermenter beer. Another Stout, he claimed, but with a difference I did not detect until told. Nothing unusual with the malt bill, which was similar to that of previously-tasted State House Stout, with the addition of Munich. Perle and Wilamette hops, okay. Rice flakes instead of oatmeal, a little different. The stout was fermented with lager yeast, rather than an ale strain. The result was a slightly lighter-bodied stout, definitely smoother from six weekís conditioning.

But now his smile grew bigger. A glass of India Pale Ale, deep gold and full of Cascade hops flavor and bitterness was fetched from the brewhouse. Other than the distinctive taste of the hops, I had no clue on this one either. Another lager, Omar reveal. An IPL, instead of IPA, I proffered. Yes, but this one was brewed nearly one year ago, in November Ď99, just a month before RiverRock closed for remodeling. In some small semblance of desperation to have this beer survive the transition, but also eager to see the results, Omar threw slow-fermenting lager yeast into one of his last RiverRock brews, which also became one of his first Chitís beers. This fruity-bodied, hoppy, deep gold beer was a keeper.

Unlike most every other brewer, Omar was not a homebrewer prior to taking up the craft as his career. An job opportunity gone awry left him stranded in North Carolina. Answering a help-wanted advertisement, he started as an assistant brewer at Old Heidelberg (now Tobacco Roadhouse) in Durham. His job trail made stops at Loggerhead in Greensboro, Greenshields Brewing in Raleigh, Barrettís Brewpub in Tuscaloosa, AL and American Craft Brewers in Torrance, CA. And the rest, as they say, is history. No chit!

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush


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