I’ve been getting a lot of questions about some recent beers to come out of the pilot system, particularly “The Pumpkin Pilot” and “I want you in the morning”. Most of those questions revolve around the use of specialty ingredients, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about my process when going beyond malt, hops, water and yeast in a beer.
First and foremost, using specialty ingredients is trial and error. A lot of the specialties I’ve released at altitude are the most recent manifestations of brewing experiments I’ve been doing out of my home brewery over the past 7 years or so. That’s not to say I won’t ever try something for the first time ever on our pilot system – after all, that’s kind of what it’s for – but most of these concepts are ones I’ve been tweaking for quite some time.
Coffee is a great example of a specialty ingredient that requires a lot of thought before using in a beer. For example, what kind of roast is best? When is it best to add the coffee (in the boil kettle? Primary fermentation? Secondary fermentation? At packaging?) In what form should the coffee be added (Whole bean? Cold brewed? Coffee grinds?) And how much is appropriate?
I don’t think there are many – if any – hard and fast rules when it comes to brewing. If there’s one thing the current explosion of craft brewing has taught me, it’s that there is an inconceivable amount of processes/techniques/approaches that result in outstanding finished products. So, to say, “if you want to make a coffee beer, you should do it this way…” is an absurd statement. There’s no question that I have a good amount of principles/approaches that I keep consistent when I brew, but that’s certainly not to say that my approaches are “the right way” or “only way”.
For me, the most useful way of thinking about any beer I make – particularly one involving a specialty ingredient – is to work backward. I imagine – as specifically as possible – exactly what I want the beer to look, smell, and taste like and start plotting a course of action from there. I love balance in beer, but that becomes tricky in the context of specialty ingredients. To me, if you’re going to list a specialty ingredient in a beer, you should be able to taste it – you shouldn’t have to go looking for it. This type of thinking is exemplified in “I want you in the morning”. The most significant specialty flavor I wanted in there was coffee; anyone who has tried this beer can attest to the fact that the coffee is very much up front. But it’s also balanced. The coffee – at least in my opinion – does not overwhelm, but is well supported by the rest of the ingredients in this beer.
1) Fresh Prince of Altitude (Belgian abbey ale)
2) Chai-a Ganesha (chai beer)
3) My Second Rodeo (3.2% session ale)
4) Cerveza De Los Muertos (porter with roasted chili peppers)