Given that Boston Beer brews most of its beer at facilities elsewhere, what goes on at the Jamaica Plain site in Boston?
We have a couple production breweries [Cincinnati and Lehigh Valley, PA], but we still think that the Boston brewery is the most important brewery in our system. This is where we do all our innovation of new recipes, test out new ingredients, re-brew and recheck our existing ingredients and make sure all our recipes are still where we want them to be.
So this is headquarters for all brewing operations. What’s your role?
My official role is Boston brewing manager, so I run the brewery here. That includes duties like developing new recipes, like our Beer Lover’s Choice Program, which we do every summer. It’s a promotion to test two new recipes with our consumers. They vote throughout the summer and the winner goes in the line-up the following year.
We just received our samples.
Perfect. Both those recipes were developed here. We also do things like the LongShot [homebrew competition] Judging here. Once those winners are picked, we talk to the brewers of those beers: we get the recipes, figure out what they were trying to do, and we scale that beer up to our 10-barrel system, then up to Cincinnati size.
Then there’s the really fun stuff, the pie-in-the-sky stuff. We’ve heard of a new ingredient and we want to try it out, we’ve got an idea for a new beer and want to see if it works. We make Utopias here―a whole lot of everything, really.
Take me through the creation of a new project.
One new project―not really crazy, but different for us―is one of the beers you just received in the Beer Lover’s choice, the ale. (We don’t have a name for it, yet.) That’s our first foray into using American hops. I can’t tell you how many conversations there have been about how to use them. We’re using hops from three of the world’s major growing regions: German, English and American.
You’ve really never used American hops before?
Not in a production beer. We use Hallertau Mittelfruh, East Kent Golding noble hops and the old world English.
How did you go about balancing hop use?
I’m from the West Coast. I love American hops and I have my favorite varieties. We talked first about what we wanted this beer to be and how we wanted it to taste, then picked hops that would achieve that end. We wanted to get that American hop character, bright but not too dominant, and still in keeping with the Boston Beer brewing style: keep down some of the big piney, catty character that is so definitive of a lot of beers. To each their own―I like it―but it’s not the Sam Adams way. We were looking for varieties that brought more of the tropical, floral character without the resinous character.
Which ones did you end up using?
Ahtanum, a little Simcoe―a little Simcoe goes a long way. We’re still working on the bittering hop.
How big is your team in Boston?
There are four of us in the brewery every day. We have a well-staffed lab with three people. Then we have the traveling brewer team―Grant Wood, David Sypes, David Grinnell―that’s always involved with whatever goes on here in Boston.
They’re the ones who go between the Boston brewery and the production facilities?
Yes. The production breweries are staffed by very competent people who’ve been there a long time and know their breweries, but it’s our job to communicate what we’re trying to do here, especially in introducing new beers. So we send out kegs to the breweries, we visit, we sit around and taste together. We’ll say, here’s what worked in Boston, and here’s what might work best in your brewery. Then it’s brewed a couple of times until we arrive at the best way to brew that beer in that brewery.
What beers to you produce at the Boston site?
The only beer we produce here is Utopias. Between all of our research projects and development of new stuff, there’s not much time we can devote to production. Utopias is so time-demanding and people-demanding, it will always be made in very limited quantities. That fits this site very well.
I assume Triple Bock was made there?
Yes, and Millennium, as well. That program―those beers that will grow and evolve―those are made here.