One of the fun things about production planning at a small brewery with no set flagship beers or distribution influenced production volumes is that we have a ton of flexibility in what we can do. Sometimes we brew a beer with a very specific end game in mind (e.g., let’s make a batch of Russian Imperial Stout to age in these Bourbon barrels) and other times we’re creating more versatile beers (e.g., a tart Belgian Golden Ale) that will later provide an interesting medium to display whatever local fruit becomes available for us when the beer is ready to be blended.
In the case of Hop Farm and Gin Hop Farm, we set out to brew a pretty specific beer, but then ended up calling an audible halfway through and splitting the batch to create the two different beers we’re releasing this month (at our party and via web presale). As a brewery focused on Belgian styles and barrel aging, it isn’t really in our plan to make a bunch of hop-forward beers, but when we got a line on some soon-to-be-emptied gin barrels from Ransom Spirits, we knew that we should come up with a very specific plan to accentuate their unique flavors.
Thinking about the character of the gin, we hoped to create a beer that would play well with the botanicals left behind in the barrel – citrus and juniper – and immediately thought of hops as the ideal medium to do that. Pacifica hops, known for their orange marmalade citrus and piney character seemed an ideal fit for us so we set out to brew a medium bitterness IPA (short for India Pharmhouse Ale, obviously) centered around those hop flavors and timed for the arrival of our gin barrels.
Well… we got the beer in our fermentor and were really feeling good about how it was tasting and how the Pacifica hops were going to meld with the gin botanicals when Ransom called with some good news and some bad news. The good news: our gin barrels were set to be emptied the coming Wednesday and could be picked up the same day (in many cases lag between emptying and pickup dries out the barrels and results in a loss of flavor)! And the bad news: there were less gin barrels than originally thought and our anticipated 6 barrels was actually going to be 2…
I think one of the biggest takeaways we’ve learned so far from running a small business is that it’s a constant exercise in problem solving; no matter how well we think we’ve planned things, nothing ever works out as anticipated. However, that forced creativity ends up often being a blessing in disguise because it results in some really cool solutions that never would’ve been considered if things just followed the plan.
So anyway… back to our story - we now have a full fermentor all ready to go into gin barrels and it turns out we’ve only got 2 barrels of gin barrel space available. So what to do with the rest?? Put it into wine barrels and add Brettanomyces, of course! In addition to the funky aromas people typically associate with Brett, we love the tropical fruit and citrus notes Brett creates and thought it would be a really nice complement to our base beer. As a final step, and because we believe that Brett beers get better with age, we dry-hopped with CTZ, Pacifica, Sorachi Ace, and Amarillo hops to keep those aromas going strong for a bit longer, even with some additional aging in the bottle. (We did not dry hop Gin Hop Farm because we did not want to bury the gin botanicals.)
We at Alesong love a good gin-barrel-aged IPA and that was our original intention, but without our little barrel hiccup, we would’ve totally overlooked how much we also love barrel-aged Brett IPAs. What was an unfortunate miscommunication with a barrel supplier ended up creating another beer that we’re equally stoked on! And the act of splitting one batch of beer into two different kinds of barrels really allows us to showcase how much impact everything we do after primary fermentation has on the beer.
After all was said and done, we ended up with Gin Hop Farm, the original vision – a dry and crisp, hop-forward ale with big citrus notes and a wonderful nose of juniper and grapefruit zest, best consumed now – and Hop Farm, which will continue to evolve in the cellar with the help of our friend Brett. I highly recommend tasting the two side by side and seeing for yourself the differences. And if you like Brett beers – it’s also definitely worth putting a few bottles of Hop Farm away in a cool dark place to try later this year or next as it continues to evolve in the bottle.