For most people, ordering beer from a bar is as simple as looking at the chalkboard and picking something that sounds interesting. The same usually goes for whomever orders the beers for that establishment: check out a distributor's price sheet and see what's available.
Lauren Bowen, the craft beer manager for Tap 42 (and part of the New Times 2013 Tastemakers series) had the rare opportunity to join with seven other industry professionals from around the country to head out to California and bang heads together to come up with a unique beer that they could all bring back to their establishments.
"It was a three day 'beer camp'," Lauren says of the experience. "Right from the start, when we all got together for dinner at their brewpub, which has phenomenal food, the eight of us talked for probably at least an hour and half on what sort of beer we wanted to put together. Of course, since everyone knew their beer, we didn't get anywhere!"
By the second day, things started to get going.
"We were advised not to make it a 'kitchen sink' beer, which apparently has happened in the past... and they don't turn out well. During the whole process, no one was rude, but we were all very opinionated about what we wanted to see done. We finally got down to hammering out the beer in a step by step way."
"We picked a Belgian yeast from the massive sheet of yeasts that they have available... we then got to the hop sheet, and it really showed who knew their hops vs. those who didn't -- the sheet just had names and how many tons Sierra Nevada had on hand. If you didn't know the flavors of certain hops, then it was hard to participate. We picked out El Dorado, Mandarina, and something called 'experimental hop #366'."
"The final product is going to be a Belgian red IPA, dry hopped with the experimental hop #366 and peppercorns."
So what can we expect from this beer? [Beer nerd alert!] The Belgian IPA category is relatively new, having been inspired by the bitter sensations of the American IPAs of North America. They are hoppy pale colored ales with various malts, but are generally finished with Belgian yeast strains and have a pronounced dry edge to them. A red IPA finished off with Belgian yeast and an extensive dry hopping of the intriguingly named 'experimental hop #366'? Sounds like it could work.
Experimental hop #366, or HBC 366 as it is known in the brewing industry, having yet to pick up steam and a name (once that happens, we get the names like Citra or Nelson Sauvin), is a relatively moderate-to-high alpha acid hop varietal, clocking in at 11.5% to 13.5%. The sensory analysis of this plant shows that is has peaks of citrus and tropical fruit, along with pine, and is considered to have "zero negative attributes". It is a descendant of the Warrior hop, used extensively in Dogfish Head's IPA.
Brooklyn Brewery has used this hop variety for their summer experimental Scorcher #366, and gives an in-depth back story to this plant.
Jason Perrault of Perrault Farms crossed the Warrior variety with a "wild" hop back in 2001. Jason says: "The brilliant coloration of the leaves combined with a nice growth habit and exceptionally formed cones with abundant lupulin (the repository of all those aromatic oils), resulted in a strikingly beautiful plant."
Working with the legendary hop breeder Gene Probasco, Jason took cuttings and started growing dozens of plants with fellow grower John I. Haas. Tom Nielsen, hop guru with our friends at Sierra Nevada Brewing, helped them figure out that this new hop was indeed delicious in beer. By 2009, the Smith family of B.T. Loftus Ranches were growing some too, and today "HBC 366" occupies about 1.2 acres of land in the Yakima Valley of Washington.
"This is the best thing I've ever done," Lauren said, as we peruse the folders of images from the trip. "Especially going into the hop room, where there's just ton's of hops in bins in this giant room. It's this amazingly sweet and dank smell."
The team was also part of the actual brewing process as well. They didn't just act as recipe builders.
"I got to dump in some of the hop additions," she said. "Everyone got to be an integral part of the brewing process."
Sometime in spring, this beer, currently unnamed as it has to go through the usual Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau labeling process, will be sent out to each of the collaborator's accounts. It's to be two kegs worth, or about 31 gallons, as it's only brewed on Sierra Nevada's pilot brew system.
"When it's released, I'm hoping to share the whole experience with the people that work here [at Tap 42], and to get them excited about the whole brewing process. Of course, we'll also have to have a big event for it."
Tap 42 isn't the only Florida based beer center to collaborate with Sierra Nevada this year. Cigar City Brewing out of Tampa will also be putting a collaboration beer into the Beer Camp Across America 12-pack which features brews from 11 American craft breweries, including Russian River, Three Floyds, and Victory Brewing.
Regular folks can participate in a similar program to Lauren's experience from Sierra Nevada held every year through the Beer Camp program. Through a rigorous video application process (it must be, right?), 30 lucky people get to experience Sierra Nevada like no one else. Though this years deadline is past, the camp is held in December, maybe it's time to get thinking for next year? It's a craft beer lover's dream.
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