As you may surmise, we’ve got quite a few homebrewers working at CMBC -- and not only in production. We’ve got both avid and beginner homebrewers in nearly every department, from the Tasting Room to Events.
That’s why, every so often, we like to have friendly, little homebrew competitions. Some of the entrants are in it to win it, and some are really just looking for feedback on their brew. Regardless of who wins and who doesn’t, these homebrew competitions are simply one more way for us to come together as a company to do something positive for our fellow employees.
“I really love the homebrew competitions,” says Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm, “mostly because it's been a great way to get people in the company involved in designing the beers. It's not only the Brewers who get into this industry because they're passionate about beer, everyone from the accountants to the drivers to the beertenders are all here for a common goal: bring people awesome beer.”
In the most recent homebrewing competition, the entrants were tasked with using one of Cape May’s popular summer drinks, the Orange Crush, as a starting point. It presented a challenge that had numerous solutions: Should the orange flavor come from hops or from orange juice or from actual oranges? If they decide to use oranges, should they be fermented as well, or should they be added post-fermentation?
Ultimately, Head Brewer Brian Hink’s recipe came out on top.
This was a bit of a departure from how he usually designs beers -- we rarely give him assignments. He usually has free reign over what to design.
“This beer was a lot of fun to design,” Brian said. “I knew it was cocktail inspired, so it needed to be lighter on the palate and refreshing, without being too long and heavy on the finish.”
To make things even more complicated, he’d never even had an Orange Crush. Luckily, he’d had many screwdrivers in his younger years, so he was able to lean on them for inspiration. Either way, Brian tends to design beers that he wants to drink -- and since this was a homebrew competition, he knew that he’d have to finish his batch on his own.
“I love hops and really just can't get enough New England IPAs in my life,” he tells us, “so I started there and worked backward. A great NEIPA looks pretty much like OJ to begin with, and with the right hops combination you're going to get a ton of OJ, pineapple, passionfruit, guava, mango, and other fruit flavors and aromas, so starting there was a no-brainer.”
However, NEIPAs tend to be big beers -- full-flavored with a more rounded mouthfeel. With the amount of orange juice concentrate he was planning to use, it would have been so ridiculously thick -- kind of the exact opposite of a light, refreshing cocktail like the Orange Crush.
“There's this newer style of IPAs out there called Brut IPAs,” Brian explains, “originating out in San Fran over the past year, where they add an enzyme to the beer that turns all of the longer chain sugars into simple sugars that the yeast has no trouble consuming, making the beer completely dry.”
Brut IPAs are traditionally bone dry -- “like, drier than dry,” Brian says -- we use an enzyme called amyloglucosidase to break down complex, unfermentable sugars into smaller, bite-sized snacks that the yeast can metabolize. Reminiscent of champagne, many brewers will use champagne yeast to capitalize on that perception, or, failing that, will use a neutral yeast to accentuate the hops.
But Brian took a different route, keeping his eye on the prize, so to speak. The prize, in this case, winning the homebrew competition by brewing something as close to an Orange Crush as possible.
“This beer wasn't brewed with champagne yeast, and definitely wasn't brewed with a neutral yeast,” he tells us. “I love the fruitiness of London Ale III, I think it pairs perfectly with new school hops, so I opted for that incredibly nontraditional Brut IPA yeast.”
While you can probably expect a more traditional Brut IPA from CMBC at some point, this is not that day.
“I wanted some more flavor to help play up the orange-y fruitiness of the drink,” he says, “so I think of this a ‘New England Brut IPA’, which is a bastardized style on a newer style in direct response to a different newish style that bastardized the original style.”
Then, since the idea was to mimic a cocktail, Brian wanted to bring a bit of that vodka heat into the equation, so we went a little warmer on the temperature control to get a little more heat out of the yeast.
“There is definitely a hint of an alcohol burn there,” he says.
While a traditional Brut IPA exists to support the hops, in Crushin’ It, Brian wanted to use the hops to bring out the orange flavor.
“I think Citra, Mosaic, and Azacca are all awesome hops in their own regard,” he says, “and they all play very nicely together. Citra and Mosaic make up White Caps’ hop bill, and Citra and Azacca make up the majority of Follow the Gull's hop load. Those are my two favorite beers we do, so it was pretty easy to focus on them.”
We added 35 gallons of orange juice concentrate to the Brite tank after the beer had been crashed and fermentation was complete.
“But, due to the hops, even before the juice was added, it had an intense, tropical/citrusy orange thing going on that was really enticing, and once we juiced it Crushin' It really hit its groove,” Brian says.
As you might imagine from a beer that we all voted upon, everyone around the brewery is pretty excited to see this one come out. Brian’s homebrew was a clear winner -- there were a few that were at the top of the list, but Brian’s was certainly the most loved.
Jimmy’s loving this beer, as well. He voted for it during the double-blind competition, and he’s enjoyed watching it come to fruition.
“I really dig this beer,” he says. “It's really big on the orange, obviously, but there's still a great hop profile there as well. And, since brewing is a science, Brian did some really interesting things to really help it taste like an Orange Crush, like modifying the temperature control to bring out the heat. I love that about this beer.”
Our Laboratory Manager Lauren Appleman is in the unique position of testing all of our brews at various stages in their development.
“I'm actually a bit surprised at how this beer turned out because this is the first time we have used an amylase enzyme at this scale to help with the attenuation,” she says, referring to the amyloglucosidase we used to assist in fermentation. “When trying the base beer, I wasn't sure how it would turn out, but that OJ addition gave it what it was missing.”
She’s certain that Crushin’ It is going to be “a hit.”
“For me, I've never had an Orange Crush (I know, I know shame on me),” she says, “so I think I would liken it more to a mimosa. But it has a nice orange flavor up front with that dry finish -- exactly what I would want if I was having a beer with breakfast or brunch.”
Jimmy thinks that Crushin’ It is the perfect beer to end the summer.
“The best way to end summer is with a bang,” he says, “and this beer certainly delivers on that; it's like Crushin’ It has all the anticipation of great things like Memorial Day, the fireworks and explosions of The Fourth, and the celebration of Labor Day all rolled up into one!”
A limited number of cans for Crushin’ It were released on Thursday, but it’s still on tap in the Tasting Room and goes out for distribution in September. Be sure to check it out!