Projects and Hops, lots of Hops
My early days in the beer industry, specifically at Hops & Grain, revolved around trying to figure out how to brew consistent beer. I don't necessarily mean hitting exact gravities or flavor profiles, I'm just talking about hitting the entire process consistently. Consistent brew day length, knock out volumes, mash efficiency and fermentation time and health. It's something that all of us as brewers face when opening a brewery and/or working with new equipment.
For me that's the fun part of my job, figuring things out. It takes a few times for any respectable brewer to meet their own expectations. We exist in a world of ideas that we are fortunate enough to be able to realize into liquid form. And it's consumed, for the most part, pretty quickly and then we get to do it all over again. It's quite a concept, an artist that creates for consumption. I believe some the best art in the world is art that is consumable. Whether a painting that consumes your thoughts or a 12 oz can of beer that you consume with friends. With beer we are all basically following the same process, creating wort, providing it an environment to ferment in, monitoring the progress and then when the time is right, packaging it off for others to enjoy. The details in this process though, that's what makes each of us brewers different.
In the current world of craft beer there are breweries opening left and right. It's an exciting time to be in the industry, no doubt about that. What I've observed is that there appear to be two different types of brewery startups. Those that are looking to replicate what someone has already done and those that are eager to find their own beer personality. Some of us open with clear plans for what our portfolio of beer will consist of and others open with a clear vision of their place in the community. And others email every brewery that they can find and ask the owners "what would you do differently if you had it all to do over again". In my world, those emails go directly to the trash.
It took us a good 2 years at Hops & Grain to even begin figuring out how best to monitor and utilize our resources to make consistently high quality and exciting products. And we are still learning how to build on that base. It's constantly evolving at the east end of 6th street and I think the core of that evolution is the fact that we know what we don't know. And we don't know a lot. And that's exciting to me. Boredom can be achieved by believing that you've figured it out. Excitement comes from the unknown, the unheard of, the untested. That's the fun shit.
Those that know me will know that I'm a huge fan of hop forward beers. We brew quite a few of them and this simple fact may be the reason why we are not now, and may never be, an award winning brewery. We dry hop lagers, porters and everything in between. And most of the time, that doesn't really align with the style guidelines of the BJCP. The awards that we seek are the feedback that we receive from our customers and fans. Over the years we've adjusted many things in regards to our usage of hops. We've changed quantities that we add on the hot side and we've changed quantities that we add on the cold side. We've changed timing, we've changed process and we've changed varieties. And we've learned from all of it.
Some of the newest projects that we've been working on have been the result of some new equipment and new hop products. About a month ago we installed a centrifuge or separator, depending on who you talk to. This elaborate device using centrifugation to separate solids from liquid and the end result is a beer with better clarity, shelf stability and overall integrity. Different from a filter, a centrifuge does not pass beer through a media to separate the solids but rather "spins" the solids out. We use the centrifuge for every beer that we currently produce. Up until the release of our newest beer, 78702, we've never filtered anything in the brewery. My limited experience with filtration taught me that it stripped out hop flavor and aroma, basically the end result of all of our internal efforts and research was reduced in the interest of clarity. So we just chose not to filter and instead employed time and pressure to help clarify our beers before packaging. But, time takes, well, time and we continually ran into the issue of needing more tank space while we would watch the hop intensity of our dry-hopped beers diminish over the course of time that it took to reach a clarity appropriate for packaging. Well, our fancy centrifuge has fixed that problem for us. The other nice piece about the centrifuge is that we are now able to send quite a bit more volume from each fermenter through to the packaging tank, yielding more beer, which is always a good thing.
We also recently received two small 7 bbl fermenters. Our current brewhouse length is 15 bbl and these fermenters will allow us to employ multiple trials, analyzing different hop varieties and different yeast strains, all utilizing the same base beer and fermentation. This process will enable us to remove a few variables and gain a better understanding of the impact of each of the hop varieties used as well as the quantity and timing of their use. Fun stuff indeed. We should have our first experiments yielding from these tanks in early October and look forward to continued experimentation. Each of these beers will be served in our tasting room and you can bet your ass we'll be asking you for feedback. So come prepared to drink and talk. I know, tough ask.
On the raw material side, we've recently been testing out a new hop product called Lupulin powder. The easiest way to describe this would be to compare it to the "good stuff" left over in a bag of trail mix. You know, all that salt and flavor, super intense. While this is a somewhat crude analogy, as the actual process for extracting this Lupulin powder is pretty complex, hopefully this will at least give you an idea of what the stuff looks like. It's like hop hash, shake or keef. Whatever the cool kids are calling it these days.
We've trailed the powder twice now, once after centrifugation and once before. Our first trial was pretty interesting and pretty intense. We took a finished batch of our Pale Mosaic and diverted 3 bbl into a secondary tank post centrifuge. From there, we added lupulin powder, both Simcoe and Citra, directly to the tank and hooked up a pump loop to recirculate the tank to achieve a good mixture. After 3 days we crashed and dropped the tank and then moved forward with carbonation. The result was chewy, gritty and very oily. While it was not my favorite beer we've ever released I will say that the aroma and flavor potential seemed huge and we received some pretty solid feedback in our tasting room. The second experiment with Lupulin powder was with our Greenhouse IPA. For our 50th batch of this beer we decided to employ multiple rounds of dry-hopping and utilize powder in the second dry hop. We blended in 4 different hop varieties as well as Simcoe powder. This time the beer was dry-hopped for 3 days, hops were dumped form the tank and then we blended hop pellets and powder on the second dry-hopping, rested an additional 3 days and then crashed and dumped the tank. After a few days of settling we then passed the beer through the centrifuge and onward to packaging.
So far, my opinion of the two trials is that the powder does an excellent job when blended with pellets. The centrifuge is also a pretty pivotal component to separating the powder and I found the Greenhouse IPA to be much less vegetal and much more oily, which was, to me, highly preferable. These beers are both currently pouring in our tasting room for those that would like to check them out. The first experiment is called So Pitted IPA and the second experiment is Greenhouse IPA Batch #50.
Check em out and let us know what you think. And don't worry, plenty more experiments are coming.