The art of brewing the tastiest beers has always deferred to the use of Water, Malt, Hops and Yeast. When one picks up the home brewing bible created by Charlie Papazian, The Complete Joy of Home Brewing, you learn quickly that if you’re a novice, you might want to start with malt extract.
So when it comes to brewing legit, professional recipes, extracts and concentrates have rarely been part of the conversation – extract was a dirty word. That’s starting to change.
From smaller craft brewers who don’t have the brewhouse space for whole fruit in their fermenters to larger brewers who’re thinking outside of the box, the artful flavoring of craft beers is the newest trend and it’s already seeing great success. Here are a few brewers that are finding success with creative new methods.
Alaskan Brewing – Heritage Coffee Brown Ale
With the shelves awash with Pumpkin beers this fall, Alaskan Brewing opted to nix making a pumpkin beer this season, instead opting for a brown ale with a big dose of cold brewed Brazilian coffee roasted by locals Heritage Coffee Roasting, adding it in various stages of the brewing process. They also roasted some of their malts, along with the coffee beans, in Heritage’s roaster – the original roaster from Starbucks.
“We were looking to brew a coffee beer that wasn’t overly-dominated by dark malts,” said Alaskan Brewer Tyler Lindquist. “That’s why we went with a Brown Ale for this beer. The subtleness of the Brown Ale then allowed us to accentuate the richness of a great coffee, instead of the bitter acrid flavor that sometimes comes through in coffee beers.”
That subtle flavor allowed for a radical technique that required close collaboration between the brewers at Alaskan and the roasters at Heritage. In all, the added coffee amounts to a 1/3 cup of coffee per 12 oz. of beer. But adding cold brew coffee to beer is just the beginning…
Great Notion Brewing – Various Offerings
Since February, when they opened up their tiny 7 barrel brew house in NE Portland, Great Notion is constantly making small batch brews, occasionally utilizing extracts to maximize the space they have and the flavors they can create. With little fermenter and bright tank space on site, they’ve gotten creative in maximizing secondary fermentation. Their Double Stack for instance, features coffee from locally roasted beans and dehydrated Vermont maple syrup.
Their tart Blueberry Muffin is made with their Zest Berliner Weisse base, real blueberry muffins and locally sourced blueberries, which are freeze-dried, then “re-dehydrated before going through a distillation process, resulting in an all-natural concentrated blueberry flavor,” says co-founder James Dugan. “We use a similar process to make Key Lime Pie and No Seeds, our watermelon Berliner Weisse.”
They also brew a number of IPAs lately termed as New England-style (Juice Box DIPA and Juice Jr IPA, among others) that maximize the hop oils by utilizing oats and not filtering out the hazy remnants, a process popularized by The Alchemist’s Heady Topper and followed to great effect by Trillium and Tree House. These hazy Pales, IPAs and Double IPAs are the new hotness and don’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.
To take the extract concept even further, Thorn Street Brewing of San Diego collaborated with Jetty Extracts who makes a variety of cannabis extract products. They’ve created a Session IPA, clocking in at 4.2%, called OG HighPA that sports a juicy, “sticky” flavor. While there’s no THC present, it does have a hefty dose of terpenes, the compound that gives hops and marijuana their unique flavor – they’re both of the flowering plant family Cannabaceae.
“We love experimenting with new flavors and aromas and being on the cutting edge of craft beer. Beer is all about how it tastes, though, and the flavors from the extract really blend well with the hops.” Brew Master and Co-Owner, Eric O’Connor, said. “It’s a subtle flavor and the smell is unmistakable without being overpowering.”
It’s brewed with Mosaic, Citra and Columbus hops, providing pine and grapefruit notes that are intermingled with the dank scent of weed – but not too overpowering, of course. And it’s already been embraced by the public… in June it was selling out within hours of being tapped, though you might still be able to find it at their brewery location or throughout San Diego as they’ve since spread distribution.
In the end, it seems pretty clear that adventurous brewers and drinkers alike are more interested in pushing the boundaries of flavor than holding on to some antiquated oath of brewing purity. With the continued growth of craft beer, it’s the unique and groundbreaking offerings that will stand out from the crowd and it’s just what the country’s discerning palates are demanding.