Wednesday, August 15, 2012

John J. Hall and Team Launch the Latest Goose Island Fulton & Woods Innovation Beer

This past Monday marked the launch of the 4th beer in Goose Island’s Fulton & Wood Series , Gran Gås (pronounced gu-az), which is Swedish for “Spruce Goose”. The launch party was held at the Swedish American Museum in historic Andersonville, the perfect location to introduce this Scandinavian inspired beer, brewed with lingonberries and spruce tips.

The team behind Gran Gås was Senior Brewer John J. Hall and Brewer Zach Greenwood. We had the opportunity to sit down with John J. and Zach to get a behind the scenes look into the making of Gran Gås.

H2TA: John J., for those who may not know you personally, tell us about your background. How long have you been brewing with Goose Island?

John J: I’ve been brewing with Goose Island just shy of 15 years. I started off as a Cellarman, moved up to a Shift Brewer in the first year, spent 4 years on second shift and then moved up to Lead Brewer, Head Brewer and then Senior Brewer.

H2TA: You’ve developed numerous best-selling Goose Island recipes such as 312 Urban Wheat Ale, Mild Winter Ale and the Harvest Ale, all very drinkable beers. How much do you keep in mind what consumers want in terms of a flavor profile? Or are you taking the opportunity to influence with your own tastes?

John J: The concept of 312 was Greg Hall’s idea. He said, “I want an unfiltered beer, with citrus notes”. Beyond that, honestly when I’m trying to design a beer I think of a flavor I want to achieve, that I want to drink and hope that everyone else is on board. I don’t try to make beer for “the people”, I try to make a beer that I want to drink and hope they all agree with me.

H2TA: Tonight we’re celebrating the launch of the 4th beer in the Fulton & Wood Series - Gran Gås (aka Spruce Goose). What a great name, by the way. Can you tell us what inspired this recipe?

John J: We started this whole program of Fulton & Wood Series innovation beers pairing up brewers who hadn’t worked together before. So in my case it was myself, a senior brewer and a new brewer, Ross Allen. One thing he had in mind that we both agreed on was taking our Belgian yeast (Golden Ale) and adding cranberries to it. I had just come back from a trip to Ireland. My wife Margie and I were having breakfast in Dublin and the side of her plate was garnished with lingonberries (a small berry from Scandinavia). I had never seen them before. I don’t eat berries but tried one and thought it tasted like a tart cranberry. So when Ross mentioned cranberries I thought that lingonberries could be a little more unique and obscure. Ross was rehired back by his old company and Zach and Gordon were added to the program. We now had a Belgian beer with lingonberries and started thinking about what else says “Scandinavian” and came up with spruce tips rather than hops, for aroma. That’s how it started.

H2TA: What is involved in brewing with lingonberries and spruce tips? And where does one source such unique ingredients?

Zach: We did benchtop fermentations, so we had Gordon make a few variations with different additions of spruce to smell, taste and determine the quantity we liked to scale up from. With the lingonberries we did something similar using Green Line base beer. We mixed in some berries until we achieved the ruby color and flavor we were looking for. The spruce tips were put in mesh bags and added to the whirlpool for 30 minutes. After fermentation the beer was racked over 700 lbs of berries which we puréed ourselves and then aged for 3-5 days.

John J: Once I had the idea to use spruce tips, the question was where to get them. I was hoping to find them locally grown and harvested from a Christmas tree farm. I searched around and found a few places that were interested in the idea, but the one last question I asked was, “Do you use chemical treatment on your trees?”, which they did. I found a company in Colorado, Spruce on Tap, a husband and wife team. They were picking them for local homebrewers and small brewpubs in small 2-3 oz packages. I called asking for 80 lbs, which then turned into 220 lbs. Randy Stowes and his wife went out and picked them over the course of 2-3 weeks, in between all of the forest fires in Colorado, and were able to find enough for us. They hand-picked, collected, vacuum-sealed, put on ice and shipped to us directly and we were brewing with spruce tips the next day.

I had never brewed with lingonberries or spruce tips before and had no idea how to use them. Having Zach and Gordon with lab backgrounds was phenomenal. When we first started brewing the trial batch, a new lab person, Dennis McCarthy chose to figure out on his own the bittering value the spruce would add and he achieved it. We got within .04 of our target. It’s innovative folks in the brewery all around that make this happen.

Gran Gås would not be possible without the hard work of Zach, Gordon and Allen Ross. This was a collaborative beer that we all did together. I added a few ingredients but I could not have done it without the lab helping me figure out how to make this beer. It’s a great tool that Goose Island has.

H2TA: Is Gran Gås going to be available to the public anytime soon?

John J: We’re releasing these like all of the other Fulton & Wood Series. There are about 30 or so really good craft beer bars in the Chicagoland area. Within two weeks you’ll see Gran Gås at select bars, on draft only, until it’s gone. It will probably last 90 days or so in the marketplace.

H2TA: The whole Fulton & Wood Series of craft beer is an amazing concept. Every creation seems to be getting a little more complex. In your opinion is it complexity, or just an exciting mix of fresh ingredients that draws so much interest?

John J: I think it’s a bit of both. The next beer on the line is “Casimir”. The brewers are using Polish hops, which we’ve never had in the brewery before, and caraway seeds. What’s really critical is Goose Island’s open-mindedness to whatever our ideas are. They’re not going to knock us down for being too weird or expensive if we think it’s a good idea. They’re behind us and will spend the money to make it happen. Fulton & Wood is about Goose Island’s commitment to expanding the boundaries.

H2TA: How much does the limited draft release aspect of the series add to your creativity versus a beer that has to be bottled and distributed?

John J: It expands creativity because we can turn around a new beer, a new idea relatively quickly and we only have to do it once, which means the next beer has to be on line right behind it. There’s a set timeline. We’re going to keep putting these fresh beers out as fast as possible.

H2TA: It seems many breweries just order their ingredients from their distributors. Do you feel that you’re inspiring a lot of these new breweries in terms of using fresher ingredients in the brewing process?

John J: I’d say yes. Even before this idea, Goose Island has been barrel aging different beers for years, buying fresh fruit from Michigan’s farms and local farmer’s markets. If we need to do something more extensive like lingonberries we’ll go further abroad. One of our brewers had an idea to brew with mission figs (Fulton & Wood Black Mission) so we found mission figs in California and made it happen. We are open to anything – Goose Island is great for that.

H2TA: Speaking of other great breweries John J., we understand that you’ve recently accepted the position of Head Brewer with 5 Rabbit Brewery, congratulations! Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ll be doing there and what the future of 5 Rabbit looks like from the Head Brewer’s perspective?

John J: Well, hopefully very similar to what I’m doing here at Goose Island – but expanded. I have a role at Goose Island that is very broad but I am primarily responsible for raw materials and production of the hot side of brewing. At 5 Rabbit I will be in charge of that plus the cellar, the aging, and packaging, so it’s an even broader role. I’ll also get to work with Randy Mosher who has written some phenomenal books on brewing, which is a great experience for me. This was a great opportunity when it came up, so even though I love Goose Island I just couldn’t pass it up.

Tack (“Thank You”, in Swedish), John J and Zach!

If you’re thirsty for more Spruce Goose, check out the team’s Youtube video!

(photos courtesy of Goose Island Brewing)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Tripel Flop: The story of a Belgian Tripel Ale

No, sadly this is not an attempt to re-live my figure skating days. It is the story of my first all grain homebrew batch - a Belgian Triple Ale that was indeed a flop.

After attending a seminar by Brooklyn Brew Shop at Brewcamp on transitioning to all grain I purchased my 1 gallon kit and was ready to start experimenting. My trip to Belgium had left me desperately wanting to brew my own batch of Belgian style ale so I started with Brooklyn Brew Shop's "Well-Made Tripel" recipe. It called for Belgian Pilsner malt, Caramel 10 malt, East Kent Golding and Saaz hops, Belgian Candi Sugar and Wyeast Belgian Abbey 1218 yeast. The process itself was easier than I expected though efficiency wise I spent the same amount of time as I would brewing a 5 gallon and only yielded 1 gallon. The instructions called for 15 days in the fermenter (no secondary) followed by bottle conditioning with honey or maple syrup. About 3 days after bottling I came home to a frightening mess - exploded bottles, glass shards everywhere and a foul, sticky floor (yes, yes empathetic groans, thanks). Being the first time I've experienced this it was pretty upsetting. I took the few remaining bottles and refrigerated to see if I could calm the carbonation and potentially save. It ended up being a lost cause. I tasted it after a few weeks and the beer had an awful funk/rot taste.

Although I appreciate the concept of 1 gallon recipes for the sake of transition without the additional equipment cost as well as the opportunity to experiment with perhaps some funkier ingredients - I found their technique to be a bit flawed.

- Too time consuming for a 1 gallon yield
- Although the cookbook was "user friendly" the directions were not specific enough in terms of times, temperatures, no mention of target OG/SG readings which is crucial in producing a successful batch
- I've found bottle conditioning with honey/maple syrup to be problematic - higher fermentables than table/priming sugar especially with high gravity beer causes exploding bottles
- I have a hard time accepting a primary only fermentation. For the sake of clarity I appreciate the opportunity to be able to filter and test levels along the way.

On a positive note the packaging concept I had for this batch was definitely one of my favorites (second to Not Your Honey). Since it was a small batch I decided to hand cut WMT (Well-Made Tripel, oh the irony) letters from 8 unique European inspired plaid and damask patterned papers, layered with craft papers mimicking the depths of rich patterns and textures I came across in the pubs and restaurants of Brussels.

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Brewing Gluten Free: Naked Pale Ale

Over two million people in the US suffer from Celiac disease - an intolerance to gluten, a protein found in most grains such as wheat, barley, rye. Unfortunately those are the base ingredients in pretty much every beer recipe. I am not gluten-free, but with an alarming amount of beer loving friends being diagnosed in the last few years I became increasingly curious to understand what, if any alternatives were available in the market.

Much to my dismay the few commercial gluten-free craft beers in the market that I was able to get my hands on had an awful sour flavor, giving the "beverage" a very chemical, non-beer-like taste. The common ingredient - sorghum syrup. Sorghum is a species of grass in which the seeds can be cultivated into a high protein grain, commonly used as a primary source of nourishment in countries such as Africa, Asia and Mexico.
Companies such as Briess manufacture sorghum extracts used as the key protein ingredient in almost all of the gluten-free beer recipes I could find online.

I was on a mission to find a way to make a gluten-free beer that tastes... well, like beer! The solution would be using non-gluten based grains like rice, corn and fermentable sugars found in either fruit or root vegetables. I ended up with a Pale Ale recipe that had Basmati rice, quinoa, carrots and two kinds of hops. With minimal expection but heart for the exercise of experimentation I dove in. Still new to the all grain process, it was rather time consuming for a small batch but a very unique experience in comparison to my other homebrew batches. The boil smelled mild and less sweet and the color of the wort was exceptionally light and cloudy - though what one would expect from boiled rice water. It stayed in the fermentor for two weeks, followed by a month of bottle conditioning.

The end result was quite pleasing to the palette. Again, extremely light and cloudy in appearance (similar to grapefruit juice) but very clean and crisp in flavor. The feedback I received was that the Cascade hops provided really nice grapefruit and citrus notes, but perhaps the Columbus hops were too bitter and a different combination would be less overpowering. All in all - a successful attempt and fantastic learning experience. I would definitely re-brew in the future as not only a tasty gluten-free option for my friends, but a crisp summer Pale Ale that anyone would enjoy!

Label design:

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