A Derailed Tale of Two Cities

Beer Wars

Paul Whyte

Usually things in the Northland brewery community are rather friendly. It’s not uncommon for brewers from competing breweries to be openly welcomed into another brewery to observe or even work a little on a particular batch. Recently, there seems to have been a hang up with the usually easy going competition between breweries.

In the late 90s Rick Sauer opened up a brewery and pizza shop in Superior called Twin Ports Brewery. One of their go to beers for many years has been the Derailed Ale. In 2006, Steve Knauss, bought the business, and according to Knauss, he also bought the rights to the recipes for the beer as well as the foundation of the food. Since the place was commonly referred to as the “TPB,” the employees at the time pushed for the acronym to stay the same.  The establishment was renamed the Thirsty Pagan Brewery.

Over the years, the Thirsty Pagan went from being a brew pub with loud music  at night to a generally family friendly pizza restaurant that just happens to also serve carefully crafted ales. Sales and staff have increased exponentially making TPB one of the most popular establishments outside of perhaps the Anchor in downtown Superior.

Sauer stayed on as brewmaster after the sale of his business and was fired a couple of years later by Knauss. Another brewmaster, Nate McAlpine succeeded Sauer, and was also fired. It’s possible that McAlpine tweaked a few recipes during his time as the head brewer at Thirsty Pagan but no one seems to know for certain. We could not reach him for comment on our deadline. Both went on to eventually work for Carmody Irish Pub at their micro-brewery on Superior Street in downtown Duluth. McAlpine moved on,  while Sauer is still working at Carmody.

On Monday, November 9,  I discovered that Carmody was doing a run of Derailed Ale.  I, of course, had to try it.  I realized that one of my favorite locally brewed beers has evolved over time. So what’s the difference? I’ve seen the quality of beer at the TPB vary widely over the last decade, but in recent years, it’s been rare to taste a sub-par batch. In earlier years, beers would often run out and customers would be disappointed with a limited selection. After brewmaster Allyson Rolph joined TPB, those problems faded. The Derailed Ale that Carmody serves is somewhat similar to TPB’s, but there are a few differences. The Carmody version is more cloudy and is more plain than the clear and crisp hop flavors of the Derailed at TPB. Derailed is an American Pale Ale brewed with Glacier, Colombus and Cascade hops. It’s along the lines of a Summit EPA, but a little less hoppy. with hints of a few other flavors as well. Is the Carmody version good? Well, yes, it’s a solid beer, at least if you don’t compare it to TPB’s version.  The Thirsty Pagan version is just a cleaner and smoother ale.  Try both and decide for yourself.

 Knauss is unhappy that Carmody has introduced a version of Derailed Ale; which he believes is derived from a recipe included in his purchase of Twin Ports Brewing from Sauer. “We represent a high quality beer that is unmatched by a lot of people. It’s nonsensical, they’re being irresponsible, and that’s too bad.”  Knauss is also concerned that people might try the Carmody version and associate it with Thirsty Pagan.

TPB brewmaster Allyson Rolph explained why she thought the Carmody version is different. She attempted to explain in layman’s terms concerning why the Carmody Derailed might be more cloudy than TPB’s: “cloudiness could be caused by yeast left in suspension, protein brought over to the boil process, lack of being able to cold crash the product. A chill haze is when you have proteins that have stuff in suspension. If you clear a beer at a certain temperature, that’s when the beer will be the clearest.”

We decided to talk with Eddie Gleeson, one of the owners of Carmody, about their decision to introduce a competing Derailed.  Gleeson was initially happy to share his point of view, and showed us a document on his phone, which, according to him, was signed by Knauss and notarized. At a quick glance, the document appeared to state that the rights to Derailed was specifically “non-exclusive.”   Gleeson said he would send The Reader an image of the document, but then changed his mind.  Gleeson then asked if The Reader could hold the story for a week, stating that he wanted “to have other media brought in to cover the story.”  Gleeson then declined to be recorded for statements on the record, or to provide any further documentation.

As the interview ended,  Gleeson’s partner, Rick Boo, complained that we’d get the story wrong.  That seems a little hypocritical  considering that we were there to get their side of the story; and Gleeson was stonewalling The Reader simply to give other media a chance to cover the situation more favorably.

If Gleeson’s document is in fact legitimate, then Carmody would have the legal right to brew their own version of Derailed. If Knauss’ statement is correct, then they definitely cannot do that. Stay tuned for Beer Wars: The Sequel.

Credits