Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Silver Moon’s Tyler West Shoots for the Moon: “I want More Oil Using Fewer Hops.”

BEND, OR. Tyler West is the son of a pipefitter who spent his youth in Boise, Idaho tearing apart and rebuilding engines. The self-described “gearhead” and master brewer at Silver Moon, in Bend, Oregon is an inveterate “tinkerer” who never met a mousetrap he didn’t want to make better.

The fit and trim 28 year old former home brewer brings this same can-do spirit to work with him every morning. “I like to question everything,” Tyler says with pride. “We may not have a big R & D budget, in fact we don’t have any R& D budget, but that doesn’t stop me from toying with new ways to make better beer using fewer ingredients.”

Fewer ingredients? Does this mean Tyler’s lofty brew muse in fact wears a green shade and hand cranks an adding machine, fastidiously trying to stretch every penny? Well, sort of. Tyler’s imagination is second to none – witness his award winning Snake Bite Porter and Hounds Tooth Amber – plus his rotating line-up of all star session and experimentals.

But, as owner Tyler Reichert will attest, brewer Tyler is a student of efficiency. That is, his up-tempo brewer’s brain is wired to figuring out ways to get the best of both worlds: more flavor, fewer hops, which equals higher margins. What small brewer, especially in this down economy, doesn’t think this way (Answer: the ones in bankruptcy!).

In the age of ever-expanding hop bombs, Tyler’s one of the few brewers not willing to take the bait. He’s dead set on finding ways to do more with less. For example, he’s helped design a hopback system that steeps the wort through a compressed bed of whole hops and recirculates the enriched wort back into the kettle for whirlpooling.

The idea of course is to maximize the extraction of oils. Why push the wort over and through a hop cone just once? Won’t that leave valuable aromatic oils untouched or underutilized? What caffeine junky among us after filling his espresso cup doesn’t spritz his coffee puck with one last burst to drain out the last drop of concentrated goodness?

Right now Silver Moon’s mix of hops is 90% whole cone, 10% pellets. They use the pellets for dry hopping but after examining our pellets, the wheels in Tyler’s head began to spin. The questions came fast and furious.

“What if instead of cones we packed a comparable amount of your pellets instead?,” he pondered excitedly. “What if we ran two batches, one using whole cones, the other using your pellets, and measured the total oil and individual oils before sending the wort to the fermenter? Which batch would have more oil? What if we figured out a way, for certain beer styles, to boil and steep hops so well that we didn’t need to dry hop at all?”

We’d like to check that out. Granted, we’re always glad to see crafties using more hops, but we’re no fans of waste or slavish devotion to pointless protocols. Silver Moon recently purchased a few boxes of Centennial and Cascades, so stay tuned on that interesting project.

Tyler’s creativity doesn’t stop where the stainless steel ends. He’s also thinking about ways to release more aromatic oils in the beer after fermentation, during dry hopping. Curiously, he’s been freezing his pellets the night before pouring them into his tanks (either 2 inch or 4 inch PRV). Freeze Dried Hopping? Hmmm. Tyler says this is a trick he learned from another brewer the goal of which is to foster both the dispersion of the hop particles and the oil extraction. Tyler’s theory, if I have it right, is that at 65-68 degrees F the myrcene in the pellets reacts with the CO2 in the beer to essentially unleash the magic.

Far be it for this non-brewer to cast doubts, but yet questions linger. The textbooks are fairly clear that heat accelerates the liberation of those citrusy oxidized myrcene gems like Citral, Nerol and Limonene, as well as those heavenly floral Linalool and Geraniol compounds. Heat, at the moment of truth, is a good thing, at least if you want those delightful myrcene metabolies. What if you don't? Perhaps the method to Tyler's madness is to avoid heat induced oxidation, in an attempt to pull the unoxodized bulwark oils like myrcene and farnesene through without any serious changes. Enough there to make my lunken head spin. I better ask around.

The focus on the temperature of hop storage is of course energy well spent. We know that the rate at which the alpha acids in certain varieties deteriorates is a function of the storage temperature, the passage of time and the quality of packaging (impermeable barrier, inert low-oxygen vaccum sealed environment).
In short, before brewing, cold is good, frozen is even gooder.

Keeping the hops frozen is a good idea for alpha and oil retention, but at least for oil extraction my intuition, such as it is, tells me that heating the hops up a bit would probably help release more than less oil. For example, I’d be keen to learn the extent to which instead of simply dropping the dry pellets into the tank converting the pellets to a room temperature slurry might enhance oil extraction.

Tyler summed it up best when he confided that like a lot of hard-working, time-pressed brewers he wants to be educated. “I’ve spent a lot of the last eight years trying to master fermentation and cleanliness issues, as well as build up my nose and palate. My plate’s been full. I’d like to learn more about how best to utilize oils,” said Tyler, who gave credit to Indie Hops for sponsoring oil extraction research at Oregon State.

That conversation segued into a more general discussion on the clash (perhaps) between creativity and consistency. “A lot of brewers talk about being driven by ‘consistency.’ There’s something to that – I love knowing that a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is going to consistently taste great no matter where I am. But for ‘consistency’ to be the mantra, the brewer has to assume he’s reached perfection -- and maybe he has for a special niche that a given beer fills. For me, though, I’m going to keep tinkering, keep working hard, and keep asking questions.”

Good luck with your IH pellet vs whole cone showdown. May the oiliest medium win!

Roger Worthington

1 comment:

  1. "I've amassed a small fortune with my law practice, but haven't produced a tangible product my whole life."

    I guess I'm wondering why any craft brewer would be intrested in this business model???