Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Going Big on my 50th Birthday With Kevin Buckley’s Imperi-Ale 5.0

Whether surfing, snowboarding, mountain biking or drinking IPAs, there’s a fine line between “going big” and taking yourself out.

More’s not always better. Sure, it’s quite a thrill to land that gnarly jump or ride that killer wave, but there’s a point where raising the bar will eventually kill you. Sort of like with imperial IPAs – a bigger IBU doesn't usually translate as a better tasting beer.

With that challenge in mind, I asked my friend Kevin Buckley to work outside his comfort zone and brew a specialty “big beer” for my 50th birthday. Kevin doesn’t normally toil away making gigantic “hop bombs,” but he generously agreed to give it a go.

The marching orders: use all Oregon grown hops supplied by Indie Hops; use about 5 pounds per barrel (to match my 50th), and unleash it on the night of my roast, cold (two months hence). The name: Imperi-Ale 5.0.

Kevin brewed with our Nuggets (13.9% AA, high essential oils), Centennial (11.5% AA, also high in essential oils), and Cascades (8.5% AA) per the following schedule:

First Wort-Nugget 2#
60 min-Centennial 2#
60 min-Nugget 3#
15 min-Centennial 2#
15 min-Nugget 2#
Whirlpool- Centennial 1#
Whirlpool-Cascade 2#
Primary ferm-Cascade 5#
Dry Hop-Cascade 15#
Dry Hop-Centennial 6#
Dry Hop-Nugget 4#

Dry hopping with Nugget? We admired the pluck, but were a bit concerned. Although it’s not uncommon to dry hop with super alphas that also have high essential oil (e.g., Columbus, Magnum, Summit, Simoce), most of said oil consists of myrcene and we were worried about off flavors (cat piss, grassy or machine –yuck!). How would all those essential oils, mainly myrcene in the Centennials and Nuggets, react with the alcohol, Co2, yeast, sugars, and oxygen?

Surprise Surprise! The result was a highly drinkable, well-balanced, pleasantly fruity beer without the sharp bitterness you might expect from a hop-forward ale clocking in at 98 IBU. The 8.7% ABV proved dangerously unnoticeable, as my fired up and emboldened friends lapped it up and proceeded to pound me unmercifully. Hey, like I told my roasters: A true friend will stab you in the front! (quoting Oscar Wilde). It went quickly.

A few of the comments on the Imperi-Ale 5.0 from the not exactly naïve quaffers in the room: a mildly sweet front end with a touch of melon flavor… A clean transition to a gentle bitterness… Moves towards a citrus/spicy note nurtured by a warming bready-toasty character of malt…. Finishes with a crisp melon punch and caramel sweetness, capped by a touch of lingering bitterness…

As Kevin modestly explained: “This brew, while loaded with hops, was designed to be big yet enjoyable for all levels of drinkers. For the extreme hop heads, there are moments when the hop bitterness shines through. For those partial to red/English pales, there’s plenty of body and malt complexity.”

Thanks Kevin. You went Big and we enjoyed the ride. And thanks for experimenting with our Nuggets for dry hopping. It’s a credit to your brewing talents that you were able to land this hugely hopped beer with grace and style (in stark contrast to Mr. Solberg, who after a few hours of steady infusion fell like a Mighty Doug Fir).

Imperi-Ale 5.0 was launched last week and Kevin’s customers are loving it. There’s still a few kegs left, but you should probably beat a hasty path down to Backstreet Brewery in Vista if you want to taste this break out, all Oregon grown hops beer. Hey, to those of you who might’ve stereotyped IH as an aroma only outfit, we can go big with the alpha, too!

Roger Worthington

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Variety, Uniqueness, Consistency

Craft beer thrives in a culture of diversity and adventure. In our own little town of Portland, Oregon, as soon as we reached thirty-some breweries and mumblings of “over saturated” picked up, a dozen more breweries opened up much to the enduring gratitude of happy customers. The growing variety of beers, pubs and breweries is attracting more and more thirsty people everyday.

Perhaps more than any other arrow in the quiver of ingredients, hops cast a spell on brewers and imbibers of American craft beer, tickling the potential for variety and individualism. Their symphony of oils reaches each of us with a unique tone, the crescendo leading some to ecstasy and others to seek refuge. We continue to be amazed at how wildly different educated palates can interpret the same hop.

Last summer a focus group panel was held that illustrates these varied perceptions toward hops. A group of accomplished craft brewers from Oregon tasted a series of single-hopped beers, not knowing what the hop was in the various samples. Descriptors they used to describe the prevailing hop character, and the number of panelists who used that descriptor, are below:

Clearly, one brewer’s nectar can be another’s poison! [One guy’s fruity apple can be another’s cat pee?]

As we’ve striven to learn from brewers how they’d like to see the hop world evolve, this theme of variety, creativity and uniqueness stands out.

Our resident brewer and Brewery Ambassador Matt Sage has recently travelled the craft brewery scenes in Washington State, Oregon, Southern California and Colorado, seeking insights into what brewers are looking for in hops. His findings are as varied as his travels! Click here for a taste of Matt’s curious adventures in the world of hop flavor.

Alongside variety and uniqueness, brewers also care about consistency. After all, when we find something we really like, we want it to be consistent. What can Indie Hops do to help the hop world evolve in a way that craft brewers would like to see? Well...might as well start with variety, uniqueness and consistency!

Click here for a review of a few of the breeding projects underway at Oregon State University that we are spearheading in our quest to probe the mysteries and amplify the wonders of the noble flower.


Good Times at Karl Strauss’ 22nd Anniversary Party

San Diego. Let’s deal with it: most of us are afraid of stouts. Not because of the taste – in fact, we recoil from the darkish, kawfeeish hell’s brew in spite of the taste. Once we get past the word’s connotation – stout, burly, thick, fire hydrant-ish – and actually taste it, all doubts tends to disappear. Like going into a scary neighborhood and coming out with a new best friend.

I admit to such a bias. Never a fan of the stouts. But then I took the leap (I was pushed) and – Eureka! – I found it. I may have graduated, but not my Darling Wife. She’s cold on kawfee. And she of course assumed dark malted beer tasted like espresso. And then there’s that whole weight thing: drink this and your buttons will pop and your bra will snap.

So it was with great pleasure – like perhaps watching a problem child graduate with honors – that I watched my bethrothed belly up to the Stout line more times than I could count. Thank you Karl Strauss: you’ve shown another lost soul The Light and The Way. And still that girlish figure!

A big shout out to my friends Chris Cramer, Matt Rattner and Paul Segura down at Karl Strauss. We were fortunate to get through the velvet rope for a sampling of KS’ latest barrel aged stouts. Paul is truly breaking out with exciting new recipes that dazzle and delight. We sipped the bourbon barrel blended and unblended vanilla imperial stout and found ourselves inside our favorite confectionaire in Bruges, aglow in the creamy warmth of chocolate, raisins, vanilla and – yes! yes! – coffee.

Turns out the DW can enjoy coffee as long as it’s buttressed with vanilla beans, malt, hops and bourbon barrel aged!

As the band played and strangers became friends and the delicious hors dourves slowly disappeared, it occurred to us that we were having a peak moment inside what amounted to an unheated industrial warehouse. The only pretense of glamour was a red carpet, which was more parody that fashion. The stark surroundings drove home the cliché that great friends, food, beer and music make a great party, not a fancy ballroom or chic nightclub.

And yet… there is talk of remodeling the Karl Strauss brewery, building out a tasting room, adding a patio, and making the brewery a destination spot. As much fun as we had in the unvarnished brewhouse, just imagine the joy of tasting KS’s finest with old and new friends around a fire pit after a walk on the beach or exhilarating bike ride. The brewery is located smack dab on one of the most popular bike routes in San Diego.

I see potential.