Leaving these beers to chance―to Mother Nature without any controls in place―has worked for the Belgians for centuries but time will tell if this experiment works in Maine. “We had some barrels that did not turn out well and got dumped. If you’re pushing the limits of beer production and trying new things, you’re gonna get bad beer otherwise you’re not being honest.” Then again, an early test batch of this experiment, Coolship Resurgam, just yielded a silver medal in the Lambic-style Sour Ale category.
Meanwhile, back at New Belgium, being a sensory specialist means the bulk of Salazar’s job entails running product panels including teaching sensory panels at the Siebel Institute. But at the end of a long day, she gets to hang out in the wood cellar nicknamed Cache la Foeder (recall the river’s name is Cache la Poudre; foeders are large barrels like the kind used at Rodenbach) for trysts with Felix. This doesn’t upset her husband Eric Salazar of New Belgium’s Eric’s Ale fame, creator of the sour peach beer that just won a silver medal at GABF, making the Salazars something of sour beer royalty. Felix is the name of the base used for all the sours.
Salazar ordered a massive amount of lychees and juiced them, which, she says, “turns into this crazy, coconutty, viscous, pearlescent matter… If I filter it, all the flavor and aroma leaves.” She also added 400 cinnamon sticks. “Eric was like, ‘Do you know what you’re doing?’ I had no clue.”
Those who have tried it insist otherwise. Nonetheless, it hasn’t advanced passed the Portfolio Council and come to term as a New Belgium Lips of Faith beer yet. Lips of Faith is a series of small-batch beers not intended for the huge sports bars Fat Tire and friends make it into, nor for the Explorer series of mid-grade adventurous beers such as Ranger for the intermediate level craft beer seeker. Indeed, Salazar proclaims of her Lips of Faith projects, “I want to make these for the beer geekiest people in the world.” And at this point in its infancy, fewer than nine barrels of Tart Lychee Test Batch #2 are in existence.
Accidents Happen, Thank God
Finally, sometimes a beer comes into this world unintentionally. Cheers to serendipity. Take the story of Deschutes’ Jubel 2000 for example. In late 1988, the year Gary Fish founded the brewery, he tapped the seasonal beer Jubelale. A few winters later, someone actually tried to make off with a full keg of it but discovered two things―beer is heavy and he was dumb. The would-be thief made it as far as just outside the door, where, during the freezing night, the winter warmer became half frozen by the time Fish noticed it in the morning. Employees tapped it out of curiosity and the de facto eisbier or ice beer was to their liking.
Because ice distilling is illegal in the United States, Paul Arney said they recreated the effect by adding more malts and calling the offspring Super Jubel. It is brewed annually at either the brewpub in Bend or the newer one in Portland. In 2000, Deschutes pulled off their first oaked beer experiment―Super Jubel in barrels―resulting in Jubel 2000 sold in bottles. The plan is to reproduce it every decade and the primary difference for Jubel 2010, said Arney, is that, “We’ve got more process controls now. When we go to create a recipe, our equipment is better. We can hit our targets. Jubel 2000 wasn’t as strong as we’d hoped and the oak flavor wasn’t what we do now. We’ve learned how to select and use oak barrels better now.”
In Petaluma, CA, Lagunitas Brown Shugga was also fashioned serendipitously. Back in 1996, the brewers replicated a homebrewer’s barleywine recipe for a beer that became Olde Gnarlywine, brewed with star thistle honey. The next year, when they planned on doing it again, Ron Lindenbusch (whose staff title is Head Beer Weasel) explained that, “the brew sheet didn’t say anything about honey. There’s no place on the sheet for that, only hops and malts.” They realized something was amiss when they measured the mash’s sugar and came up way short. Everyone was sent to every local store to buy as much brown sugar as possible. One-pound boxes and five-pound bags littered the floor after 200 pounds were added. “I hope nobody was baking cookies that day,” deadpanned Lindenbusch. Did they learn their lesson? No. To this day, they still don’t do test batches.
Lest you think happenstance plays no part in the mega brewers’ new creations, MillerCoors’ first collective effort isn’t future-forward but a retro, Pre-Prohibition style lager. Blue Moon creator Keith Villa, PhD in brewing, stumbled upon the original Coors brewing log over a decade ago and mostly admired its meticulousness and penmanship. When the basement at the factory in Golden, CO flooded in 2004, Villa not only salvaged the log, but replicated one of the recipes. Of course, he couldn’t clone it since the malts and hops used at the time are lost to history. Nonetheless, rare Noble hops―Hersbrucker and Strisslespalt―were used for an effect that is noticeably different than, say, Coors Light. The Pre-Pro has been available at the Coors compound for years where Peter Coors does, in fact, get final say on new products. Now, a year after medaling at GABF, the marketing department decided to leak the beer, dubbed Batch 19, into five test markets around the country only on draft. It’s produced on the same line as Coors Light, just ever so briefly. “It’s like letting a semi come down a real narrow street,” said Villa.
Whether or not Batch 19 is given wider distribution is not up to Villa and the production staff but folks like Sarah Ross, Director of Promotions. So far, she says, MillerCoors is pleased with the results. “We’re not ready to claim victory. We still have more learning.”
Ultimately, the larger the brewery, the deeper the paperwork when it comes to producing new beers. Mitch Steele compared his days at A-B to Stone saying, “The marketing department came up with what we’d brew and then we’d formulate it. I’d have to go through five levels of management. Here I have a lot more creative freedom and I’m having a lot more fun.”