Nine years since we opened our doors back in 2011.
It’s at once both easy to believe and impossible to believe. From our humble beginnings in that one, 1,500 square-foot unit to the 52,000 square feet we occupy now, in four buildings in Cape May and Egg Harbor Township, it sure has been one helluva ride.
And that ride definitely deserves a beer.
So, we’ve brewed up the latest in our Anniversary Ale line: number 9, a 9.0% ABV double IPA crafted at nine pounds-per-barrel with an overabundance of wheat and an obscene amount of hops, Anniversary Ale 9 is juicy, tropical, and saturated with hops
Cheers to nine years!
Innovation Director Brian Hink can’t believe it’s been nine years, either. It’s his eighth year here, and it’s been a blur: from cranking out a couple of beers on a glorified homebrew system to becoming the largest brewery in New Jersey.
“It feels like I've been here my entire life but it also feels like I’ve only been here a year at most,” he says. “It's remarkable how far we've come in the past two or three years, and even more ridiculous how far we've come in the time I've been here. It’s really remarkable to look back and see how much we've accomplished and how far we've come.”
So, it’s time to celebrate with a beer! Our Anniversary Ale series is known for its hop-bombness, and number nine is no different.
“It's in the same vein as the past few Anniversary Ales,” Brian says. “It’s hazy, hoppy, juicy, a real pain in the ass for our cellarmen, who have to execute the excessively large dry hop. You know, the usual.”
Generally, dry hopping is exactly what it sounds like: you simply dump a bunch of hops into the fermenter. Normally, this is achieved through a port at the top of the fermenter, but, since our tanks are just about at ceiling height, that creates a problem: not only is it unsanitary, but it’s nearly impossible to get to the top ports of the tanks. So, we’ve always done closed-loop external hop additions, but, at the rate that we’ve been dry-hopping these Anniversary Ales, it’s definitely been a challenge for our team.
“Last year's dry-hopping was an absolute mess, and our cellarman were cursing me up a storm trying to get it dry-hopped,” Brian recalls. “We wound having to make a bunch of process changes on the fly to even get it done. After that mess, we decided we weren't going to do it again for this year.”
So, we brought in a new dry-hopping unit in the early winter. We ran a few trials on it, and, according to Brian, “the benefits have been amazing” by simplifying our method quite a bit.
“It’s also made for a much more consistent product with infinitely less waste and improved our beer's shelf-stability by not beating the beer up while dry-hopping with our old unit,” he says.
The unexpected benefit is that it’s immensely improved our beer’s quality from an early taste point.
“It has really softened the raw vegetal character we used to have in some of our beers and made the aromas pop a lot more than they used to,” Brian says. “Some beers saw more improvements than others: Cape May IPA and Always Ready specifically really benefited from the new dry-hopper, but across the board, it's made our hoppy beers more consistent and greatly improved our process flow.”
As we discussed a few weeks ago, oxygen and hops are like Batman and the Joker -- they’re simply never going to get along.
“The new dry-hopping unit helps cut down on our oxygen ingress,” says Lab Manager Lauren Appleman. “It’s much gentler on the beer in general, translating into a better hop experience for the customer.”
Brian says that without the new dry-hopper, we wouldn’t have even done this beer. At least, that’s what he says. We’re of the opinion that it would take a herd of rabid, wild wolves to keep Brian from doing an insanely dry-hopped double IPA, but, we’ll take him at his word.
“I’m not sure what we would've done instead,” he says. (A double dry-hopped double IPA, we snarkily reply.) “Luckily our new dry-hopper is a dream and we can just add hops all day long without a care in the world.”
“I’m sure the cellarmen were a bit more enthusiastic about the dry-hop load this year thanks to the new unit,” she says.
And Brian was definitely happy with the result.
“Our cellarmen didn't curse me out at all this year!” he says.
Caveat: while they were dry-hopping. Cleaning the tank after this hop bomb sat in it for a few weeks was a different story.
“And Matt and Lauren in the lab were cursing me as they had to pull their samples for QA/QC checks along the way,” he says.
Without the new unit, this beer simply wouldn’t have been the same. An Anniversary Ale from Cape May Brewing Company is all about the hops, and, if we can’t keep upping the dry-hopping poundage each year to match the anniversary year, who even are we?
In a few years, this is going to get really interesting. But, for now -- a least as long as our new dry-hopper can handle it -- we can keep on this increasingly untenable road.
So, Anniversary Ale 9 has a ton of hops. (Not literally. At least, not this year.) Cashmere, Comet, Amarillo, Hallertau Blanc -- it’s a Carmen Miranda-esque explosion of fruit aromas.
“Yes, this tastes exactly like her look,” Brian says. “It’s a total fruit bomb. Citrus from the Comet and Amarillo, candied orange, coconut, and melons from the Cashmere, with a nice orchard-like fruitiness thanks to the Hallertau Blanc.”
Lauren is pleased with this blend, as well.
“It’s definitely a different hop blend,” she says. “It leans heavily into the citrus side with the Amarillo, Comet, and Cashmere, but then you get some of the wine-like qualities from the Hallertau Blanc. Secondarily, you see some tropical notes. It definitely seems like a party going on with all of these hops.”
Like previous Anniversary Ales, the rest of the beer is designed to let the hops shine. We wanted to keep any malt character out of Anniversary Ale 9, and, since we’ve had a lot of flaked wheat around for Cape May White, it made sense to use it in this beer, as well.
“I've really liked what the flaked wheat has brought to Cape May White,” Brian says, “so I wanted to focus the entire grain pill on what wheat brings to the table. Despite being hopped at nine pounds-per-barrel, Anniversary Ale 9 does have a nice soft pillowy mouthfeel, thanks to the wheat, yeast, and salt additions.”
The remainder of the recipe is rounded out by our “powerhouse” London Ale III yeast.
“It’s an extremely versatile yeast, very complimentary to the hops, stays out of the way when needed but can really help where it's needed.”
The result is a celebratory feast of hops, blasting you in the face with a tidal wave of hoppy bliss. The combination of wheat and hops create a beer worthy of celebrating another trip around the sun: juicy, tropical, and saturated with hops.
Brian says he’ll be enjoying Anniversary Ale 9 quickly. We do a relatively small run of our Anniversary Ales, about half of what we do for our other 16-ounce, distributed releases, so it’s around only for a limited time.
“It won't be around for long,” he says. “But it is a celebration beer after all, and if you celebrate for too long you'll forget what you're celebrating. Or something like that.”
On the other hand, Lauren is certain that she’ll find some reason to celebrate.
“This beer is all about celebration,” she says, “so I think I'll be able to find a few occasions to have one or two of them.”
Anniversary Ale 9 releases on Monday, June 22nd, in the Beer Garden, the Brewtique, and throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Don’t miss it!