What in the haze are you doing?

What in the haze are you doing?

Let's start this off with a fact. I love Lager and I love IPA.  Sometimes I like a hoppy lager like The One They Call Zoe that we make at Hops & Grain Brewing.  But most often I prefer my lager in the form or River Beer or Coors Banquet.  

But this post is not about lager.  I'll be drinking a lager whilst I type this but my focus today is on hops and a continual quest to figure out better, more exciting ways to make hoppy beer.  Unless you've been living under a rock you've no doubt heard about the latest craze to sweep the hoppy beer universe in the form of haze.  I'll be focusing on that here today.

When I opened Hops & Grain Brewing back in 2011 we made two year round beers, a pale ale and an altbier.  I was reading through some old recipes the other day and was reminded of the early hop varieties that we used in our pale ale and other experimental hoppy beers.  It was, to say the least, entertaining.   To think that my hoppy beer recipes back in 2010 and 2011 centered around Columbus and Summit hops is as nostalgic to me as thinking back, nay longing, for the day that I didn't have a cell phone and instead performed all incoming and outgoing telephone communications via a rotary dial telephone.  

Disclaimer; I'm only 36 years old but during the early 2000's in college I found the rotary dial phone at a Goodwill and knew that I had to have it.  I also boycotted the whole cell phone "thing" until about 2007 and to this day I wish I would have held out longer.  

Anyway, I remember back in early 2012 at the Craft Brewers Conference in San Diego walking the floor of the expo hall and discovered a beer that Odell Brewing had made with a new hop variety called HBC 369, now known as Mosaic.  I was blown away by the beer and the hop character that came from these new hops.  It was like nothing I had experienced before in a hoppy beer.  There were distinct notes of tropical fruits like pineapple and mango but what was most prominent to me were aromas and flavors of blueberries.  

When I returned to the brewery I emailed Hopunion to inquire about the availability of this hop.  Luckily for us we were very small at the time and weren't looking for very much and they had a small amount available.  This was back in the day when we thought a dry-hopping rate of 1 lb/bbl was something monumental.  We planned to brew a couple 3 bbl batches on our pilot system so an 11 lb box was plenty.   The hops arrived at the brewery and we set out on an journey that continues to this day as we try and figure out ways to get bigger and more unique flavor into our hoppy beers.  And with this new hop as our tour guide we dove in head first and haven't looked back.

Those early trials are ultimately what led to the development of one our most successful beers, A Pale Mosaic.  Through researching the Mosaic hop to try and better understand its lineage as well as the oil makeup I discovered the this new hop was the daughter of Simcoe and a Nugget derived male. At this point in our exploration I had also come to be really close with the team at Pinthouse Pizza, specifically Joe Mohrfeld who is their head of brewing operations.  Back then we spent many hours talking about hops and just brewing in general.  And still to this day I view him as one of the most innovative and intelligent brewers that I know.  We also still talk about hops and brewing quite frequently and I leave those meetings both inspired and committed to learning and innovating.  

We put together a really cool event as part of a series at the time called Bats & Beers.  These events involved the bat cruise boat that docks on Lady Bird Lake in Austin and regularly takes folks out to see the famous Congress Ave bats as they emerge from under the bridge around sunset.  The Beers part of Bats & Beers is, you guessed it, pairing beer with the bat/sunset experience.  Hops & Grain Brewing and Pinthouse Pizza partnered up for one of these events and Joe and I decided to commit our collaborative efforts to showcasing this family of hops; Mosaic, Simcoe and Nugget.  We took a single base beer and prior to dry-hopping we filled 3 casks, each holding one of these hops.  We then dry-hopped the remaining portion with all 3 of them and offered the four beers to attendees of the event.  It was rad.  Still to this day, the dry-hopping for our A Pale Mosaic focuses on those 3 varieties.

Around that same time I was also introduced to this beer called Heady Topper.  Everyone was talking about it as if it was some elusive creature that was near impossible to get your hands on, especially in TX.  Hell, at the time it was almost more elusive than Pliny the Elder.  A good friend of mine was going on a trip to Vermont so he made the trek to the brewery and was able to score a few cans.  He brought them back and we promptly cracked a few open.  And it was awesome.  Really bright flavors and aromas and all around just a solid beer.   Having spent some time living in Boulder in the early 2,000's I had been exposed to some really great hop forward beers made by the likes of Mountain Sun Brewery, Avery Brewing and Odell Brewing.  The biggest difference to me in flavor between those that I had tried before and this one from the Alchemist, was a more restrained bitterness and a brighter tropical note.  It was also horrendous to look at in a glass due to the asteroid like particles that were floating around in the beer.

We had been receiving some complaints at the time from some of our accounts that our hoppy beers were hazy and thus something must be wrong with them.  We tried to explain that we didn't filter any of our beer and wanted to get the freshest hop character into the glass so there would be some natural haze persisting in the beers.  We had a full analytical lab at the brewery and knew that we weren't sending yeast bombs into the market and tried to convince them it was ok.  Looking back on it I laugh at how now, 4 years later, we're deliberating trying to induce a permanent haze in our beer.  Hell, customers are even asking for it.  In this pursuit, we've chosen the path of employing new procedures with dry-hopping, grain bill development, mineral salt additions as well as a few other techniques to create a softness in our hoppy beers.  We prefer this softness because it not only makes the beers very approachable but it also brings out hop character that we haven't been able to achieve in the past.

And sometimes it's fun to throw conventional wisdom out the window.

A few techniques that I'm most excited about have involved changing up when we dry-hop our beers and employing some procedures post dry-hopping to ensure that we're getting maxim extraction from these hops.  We've also been experimenting with different yeast strains and fermenting them at wildly high temperatures to coax them into producing fruity esters that work well in concert with specific hop varieties.  

For instance, we've been experimenting with dry-hopping some of our IPA's about 24 hours into fermentation at temperatures well in excess of 70 degrees F.  With these beers we'll generally dry-hop after about 20% attenuation and then let fermentation continue to terminal gravity.  Once the beers pass VDK testing we then dry-hop them again and sometimes twice more.  One of our newer beers called Pellets & Powder IPA involves a dry-hopping blend of the newish Cryo hop products from YCH Hops as well as traditional T90 pellets.  With early batches of this beer we would let the tank ferment to terminal gravity.  Once it passed VDK testing we would drop the tank to a temperature that would both encourage yeast flocculation for harvesting and stay warm enough to enable us to dry-hop without losing extraction efficiency.  We'd let the tank sit at that temperature for a few days and once the yeast was dropped from the tank we would then commence with two rounds of dry-hopping, first with the Cryo product and then again with T90 pellets.  And I think the beer turned out fantastic.  With the most recent batch we brewed we employed our newer technique.  The first dry-hopping was during during the height of fermentation and the second dry-hopping was done after terminal gravity.  And the result is mind blowing!  Many of the same aromas and flavors are still present, albeit much more amplified, but I also noticed an additional depth of flavor and aroma that wasn't there with the previous batches.  It is also noticeably softer, much more bright and the layers of citrus are hard to put into words.  Needless to say I'm stoked to get this batch carbonated and on tap!

Another area we've been experimenting with is using lactose sugar in some of our IPA's. The idea with this is to take another approach to creating a velvety softness and broader depth of character.  And the first two results turned out super cool.  We brewed a single 15 bbl batch of beer and at knock out we split the batch into 2 fermenters.  Both beers had very low kettle hop additions with most of them happening in the whirlpool and they were fermented with the same yeast strain and pitch amount.  Where they differed was during dry-hopping.  One of the batches was dry-hopped at the tail end of fermentation without dropping the tank temperature down at all.  In the other batch I added apricot and peach puree towards the end of fermentation and then after 24 hours I dry-hopped the tank.  Son of a Poor Haze Farmer IPA is the name of the former and Bales of Haze IPA is the latter.  Both are currently available in the Hops & Grain Brewing tasting room to drink on-site or fill crowler or growler to take home. 

As far as what we're planning to experiment with next, I leave that to a future post.  Bottom line, we're having a hell of a time exploring and experimenting with the way that we make hoppy beer.

Come by the tap room sometime and give them a try!


Heady, Hazy observations

Heady, Hazy observations

A Long Time Coming

A Long Time Coming