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Thursday, November 04, 2010

Five in One at Breakside Brewery

Given how easy it is to brew a batch of beer, I'm surprised more breweries don't attempt maneuvers like the one Breakside managed last night: five versions of a beer, each with one different ingredient. In this case, the beer was a smoked porter, and the five variations included, beyond plain: maple, chipotle, coffee, and honey.

Since they were one-shots no one will ever be able to taste again, I won't go into great depth on the review. What was fun and fascinating about the experiment is in seeing how a single ingredient can change so much. The basic recipe was a 6.2% porter, and I'm not sure how the smoked malt might have tasted--there was an inadvertent blending of a small amount of the chile and plain (I thought they had brought me the wrong beer). Triangulating from the five, I can say that it was a fairly robust porter, balanced between sweet and dry, and quite tasty.

But beyond that, each was quite a bit different from the other. Take the honey and maple examples. Here's what I would have assumed: the maple would contribute more obvious flavor, as the unfrementables contribute more than honey's, which mostly gets consumed by yeast. Yes and no. The honey, it turns out, actually contributed lots of sugar that wasn't fermentable--it was quite a bit sweeter than any of the others. The maple was a flavor component, and while it may have boosted alcohol, it wasn't by enough for my tongue to appreciate it. I talked to brewer Ben Edmunds, and he was surprised at how these two behaved when they were brewed, too; the maple was a slower, longer ferment than the quick-burning honey.

It's not totally surprising that Ben ran this experiment--he's sidelines as a beer educator (or is he an educator who brews on the side?). But I wish more breweries would do this. The value is in trying beers together with just a single variable's difference. In terms of appreciating and understanding beer, it can be revelatory. A few possibilities I'd love to see:
  • Beers made with different single hops. For example, a few pale ales brewed with Cascade, Amarillo, Citra, Goldings, and Saaz (or Sterling).
  • Beers made with different yeast strains.
  • Beers fermented in different environments--say different temperatures and in different vessels (at Upright, an open v closed fermentation, for example). This is a bit esoteric, but I'd be fascinated.
  • Beers made with strains of fresh and dried hops side-by-side.
In any case, kudos to Breakside for putting the effort into these five beers. They were a lot of fun.


  1. Block 15 has done this with their one hop wonders, and we're doing a series of best bitters down here for the next six months or so in which only the finishing hop changes. The side-by-side tasting is the hard part, and we won't be able to do that.

  2. I think the reason this isn't as common is most brewers would have to brew up a full batch, tough to commit 5BBL or more to experiments. And, if they wanted to serve them up side by side they would jam up all their fermenters. For Breakside this isn't a problem since they are doing 10 gallon batches or so.

  3. Oh, and Jeff, just drop by Upright, they have been doing their sixth barrel yeast series for some time, trying different yeast strains on their base beers.

  4. Ted, cool. I know Boundary Bay has had a years-long series of one-hop beers, too. But then you're forced to contend with memory, that fickle lady. That's why side-by-sides are so fun.


    It would be hard, and for many breweries untenable. But some breweries have seasonal excess capacity, others have test breweries. So I believe it's possible at some level. (Plus, this kind of thing seems like fun for customers, so it wouldn't be bad business, either).

  5. I tried a flight of three single hop beers at Appalachian Brewing Company in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It was so so great to try the different hops back to back. I'd love to see more breweries do things like this!

  6. Jeff, when I wrote up a side-by-side of the Terminal Gravity single-hop series, a commenter pointed out that my own local Lucky Lab has had a single-hop thing going for a long time, and Laurelwood has done single-hop reds. Then of course there's Mikkeller, but those bottles are spendy and sometimes sit on the shelf for a long time.

    Man, I've got to get to Breakside. That does sound like a cool experiment, and I really like Ben's approach to beer -- he thinks about it deeply, but doesn't let that get in the way of enjoying it.

    Oh yeah, the various Yeti barrel-aged bottlings are fun to try also (plain, espresso, chocolate).

  7. 10 Gallon Batches!!! That's Home brewing! Hell... This is a home brew Club project experiment! There's no mystery or effort here. Did this stuff with my home brew club in 1995! Brew 5 beers; All the same recipe; Tweak one last ingredient. Everybody gets together and shares their beer.... Didn't even charge each other for a pint! Wanna an honest pint? How about a free one!?

    If a group of drunk home brewers can all get together 15-20 years ago. Brew the same basic recipe. Then, drunk as skunks at the end of Beer Boil; Rummage through the house and find: Maple syrup, Honey, some cans of Chipotle and some pre-ground coffee. Proceed to go... Oops! Just dropped in some coffee at end of Kettle boil! Oops! Just dropped in Honey! Oops! There goes some Maple Syrup... This is not a major feat in brewing, trust me, but amazing how some people are so easily amused.

    If you people are really into "Single Tweaked" beers, start Home Brewing and join a club. Beers are great and ya don't have to worry about the cost of an honest pint. Share you beer with others and drink there's for free! ;-}

    Don't get me started on changing the HOPS in a beer and calling it magic! Oh! This is Hoppy with more herbs. Oh! This is hoppy with citrus. Oh! This is Hoppy with more grapefruit! Oh! This is like Pine Scented Car deodorizer! One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish! YOU people make it SO easy for these breweries to sell beer!

    The Doc needs to open a brewery! I can create two BASIC recipes (One Basic Amberish ale and one Darkish ale) and just keep tweaking the Hops, Yeast and maybe throw in little fruit or some molasses! I can here the 'Oos and ahs' now! Make tons of cash keeping people mundanely amused by ALL the different beers I make... with little to no creative skill at all!

    ...and for my next trick... I'll pull a coin from yer ear! Now, everybody clap wildly like your missed a well needed chromosome. :-)

  8. Dear Dr. Douche,
    Wow that is incredibly idiotic rant even for your high standards of douchebaggery.

    Let me get this straight, your saying that brewers should not experiment with beers because homebrewers do? Or that the beer is not valid or somehow worth less because its a small batch? What does that say about homebrewers then? Hilariously you also suggest that breweries should not sell the beer they produce...uh you do realize thats what a brewery is there to do right? There is this thing where in order to operate and make a living you produce a product and then the consumer buys it, its sort of how things work.

    I also like the part where you make random assumptions about the various spices and suggest they were added haphazardly and are crappy ingredients yet you know nothing about them or how they were used and if you did some research ben actually wrote up a whole paper on them and his approach to using them.

    My favorite part though is where Dr. Douche says:

    "YOU people make it SO easy for these breweries to sell beer! "

    Hahahaha! that is seriously hilarious. Yeah dr douche, it is beer of course not water. And why would we not want to support people making beer, I thought that was what we were all here for, well except for you of course. The only reason to not support it is making a crappy product and you obviously didnt try it and the resounding conclusion was that it was some pretty damn good beer.

    I cant wait to see what nonsense you try to rebut with that will inevitably be off of the subject and skirting around the issues with your rant I already pointed out.

  9. Did this stuff with my home brew club in 1995...This is not a major feat in brewing, trust me, but amazing how some people are so easily amused......and for my next trick... I'll pull a coin from yer ear! Now, everybody clap wildly like your missed a well needed chromosome. :-)

    Wow, what's eating that guy? Looks like like someone needs to relax and crack another righteous homebrew.

  10. To the "doctor"... not everyone is a homebrewer. I am. Other people who like to try different things might not be.

    Take a chill pill.

    Or... just fuck off.

    I mean, seriously... why take the fun out of something as noble as beer enjoyment.


  11. Dear Slamer-Rank Asskiss,

    (thought that might a little more original than a tired overused generational insult like Douche. Come on you can't come up with something better than that? I know there's a lack of imagination with certain age groups, but come on!)

    Knew I'd find someone a local melon head to play along... Some can't resist a bated trap. Thanks for playing along! :-)

    Lets' address your questions, one at a time.

    **Let me get this straight, your saying that brewers should not experiment with beers because home brewers do?

    No. I'm saying brewers can easily sell their experiments and Home brewers can share theirs for free. Not saying experimentation is bad on any level. You're reading that idea into it.

    *Or that the beer is not valid or somehow worth less because its a small batch?

    No. Small batches are great for experimentation and can turn out high quality beers. A 10 gallon batch is pretty much home brew size, so there's no line between a 10 gallon batch made at home or in a space you can CALL a brewery. The quality can be the same.

    Only thing not valid is having this discussion with someone who can't relate to a simple debate.

    *What does that say about home brewers then?

    It says home brewers could easily be producing the exact same quality and share with friends for nothing.

    *Hilariously you also suggest that breweries should not sell the beer they produce...uh you do realize that's what a brewery is there to do right?

    No. Breweries are created to make money and hopefully quality beer. The point is, as I stated, you can home brew this exact same experiment with friends and not have to pay for your friends beer. Why pay for something you can acquire through friends?

    Maybe I'm saying I don't want to pay for an experimental beer that I could get for free? Is one tweaked ingredient worth paying for the beer?

    *I also like the part where you make random assumptions about the various spices and suggest they were added haphazardly and are crappy ingredients yet you know nothing about them or how they were used and if you did some research ben actually wrote up a whole paper on them and his approach to using them.

    Yea.... I've written papers on special ingredients for beer too. Don't need to be rocket scientist to do research on different sugars and spices. Plenty of info out there, but if you're impressed... more power to ya!

    No assumptions here! I wouldn't assume (nor did I state) that anyone was using Mrs Butterworth or Costco Honey in their beer. I know I wouldn't use that crap, so I wouldn't assume a quality brewer would either. That would be like making Peanut Butter beer or something stupid like that. ;-} I might consider using a nut (oil factor aside) but I wouldn't be using Skippy.

    Are you saying a home brewer can't make a calculated decision on which ingredients to experiment with?

    "YOU people make it SO easy for these breweries to sell beer! "

    Yep. If you want to pay for a quality home brewed pint of beer, feel free. 8 of your paid pints would equal the price for me to brew the entire 10 gallon batch. You and I can get 3 home brewers together and produce similar beers.

    Trust me, I'm all about innovation in brewing. I just don't see paying for five beers that have been tweaked with one different ingredient. I find it funny and a waste of money.

    The joke and the laughs are on you, my friend. I've taken a simple stance on a debate. Shared Home brew for free vs. paying for the same thing. You bit at the bate.

    Just want to maintain my enemy status with the NEW SCHOOL. Wouldn't want my readers to think I'm a mindless follower of others opinions. ;-}

    I can wrap it up with one simple statement:

    Why buy the Milk when you can get the cow for free?

  12. Wow, Jeff... some people are using foul language on your web site.

  13. Dr. Douche,
    Then your essentially saying you should not buy beer since you can homebrew it. ok fair enough, I think your on your own on that one though.

  14. Slammer-Rank Asskiss. I like that.

  15. Boy, you take a day off to brew a nice porter on the last sunny day of the year, and what happens? Flame war! Well, nothing from me; I'm in too good a mood.

    Apropos of the actual post, I also remembered John Harris's multiple Lupulins--those are always big fun.

  16. Yea... we're having a little fun here, jeff. ;-}

  17. I was going to write that it would be fun to have a brewery brew a big batch of a beer and then spit it up and pitch a bunch of different yeasts to educate and amuse people about how much the yeast adds to the character of the beer.

    But then Doc Wort would probably call me names so I am going to keep that idea to myself.

  18. Patrick,

    I only call people names, who call me names first. ;-)

    A base beer with different yeasts would be kind of educational. Depends on the yeasts being used. For many yeast, the subtleties might be vague. Depends on the base beer and the yeast used.

    A Belgian yeasted Porter may have some Belgian character, but would not be Dubbel or the like.... and so on. It's a fun little experiment you do behind the counter.

    Its a fun experiment, but not sure you'd always feel you got your monies worth if ya tried 4-5 different yeasts with same recipe.

    As a brewer in a brewery, you can always pull off some finished wort. Put it into a 5 gallon+ fermenter and see what different yeasts will do with that wort. It's a great little experiment, that can be passed off to the brewery regulars and have them check out the difference and get some FREE feed back. Great Test Marketing! Of course, who wants to be charged to be a Guinea Pig. ;-}

    I mean, come on... The mark up on beer is enormous. Pennys on the pint.

    A person can home brew 5-6 gallons of beer for $30 bucks. Brewers get a much bigger discount.

    Taking overhead out of the equation for a minute. Lets look at the real cost of your Guinea Pig pint. Lets say $4 a pint. That's 48 pints in 6 gallons which equals $192 in sales. That's a 640% mark up for that Guinea Pig brew at Home Brew prices! That's .62 cents for an Honest 16 oz. pint! Wanna talk a 14 oz Cheater pint? .54 cents. Breweries get much steeper discounts so that cost per pint in much less.

    So.... there's the math. Do you want to pay $4 for .50 cent experiment beer?

    Maybe you do.... If so, Cheers my friend! I don't really have the that money to piss away. I would graciously except a pint or even a 6 oz sample of experiment beer for a free tasting and gladly give my opinion. Hell... A shrewd business man may even be able to find a Tax write off for experimental beer loss.

    Once again. I'm all for brewers experimenting, but don;t charge me for your experimentation process. Ever been involved in test market group? They PAY you to taste their experiments... and YES, they have them for beer too.

  19. Fine... go share your "easy to make" beer with your friends. If everyone homebrewed, that'd be awesome. Not everyone does. So... many of them go to pubs. And they don't want to drink the same old stuff.

    You're an idiot, "Dr." Wort. I'm glad the world is more complex than your silly, narrow view.


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  21. Wow, what a troll.

    No, I didn't read your math. I actually didn't read much of your post, as it clearly devolves quickly into some sort of anger that I don't know why you bother to spew. Wave all the red flags you want. Your comments are quite annoying and full of negative energy that I care not to really follow-up on.

    My point/opinion is this: I think it's great for micro/nano breweries to test out different ingredients that don't normal make it into tap handles across bars in this nation. I don't care about their economies of scale. Sometimes I'd rather plop down $5 than to spend the time and money making a 5-10 gallon batch myself.

    If you simply see it as test marketing, well, fine. I see it as an adventure in beer drinking for the masses. Why you think consumers should be getting paid to drink an experiment is beyond me. Also, why you seem to be so angry about things is humorous.

    Choose joy, man.

    Have a nice day!

  22. Doc, your schizophrenia cracks me up!

    If someone writes about beer prices, you slam them and say to just pay up and shut up. Now you say how stupid it is to pay so much when homebrewing is cheaper.

    When I wrote about comparing single-hop beers, you left a comment that was basically an attaboy: comparisons are good. When Jeff writes about it, you're all over him.

    Good times. Keep up the shrill cognitive dissonance.

  23. Bill,

    Thought you'd like the Price angle! I was channelling yur energy. Like to change up the Docs point of view to keep em all confused.

    Thrive on those who want to argue or get pissed at the Docs cantankerous drivel.

    In regard to the docs response to your blog vs. Beervana. I play to the audience. Your audience and Jeff's are different.

    Plus, I love to see if I can get the highly non confrontational Jeff rilled up. He knows I'm mostly full of shit, so he rarely argues the Docs point or lack of point.

    Party on, dude! Get my Lucky Lab blurb?

  24. As an economist all I have to say is if people are willing to pay $5 a pint to taste experimental beer, why is that a problem? The fact that they are means they are getting at least $5 of enjoyment from the activity, perhaps some of it is in the new information they glean and some just from pure enjoyment but why should we care?

    Brewery's that are willing to risk and run experiments like this should be celebrated, not derided.

  25. Jeff,
    I'm probably getting lost here at the end of the comments section, with all the excitement and all, but I wanted to suggest that this kind of thing happens at commercial breweries all the time, as part of the R&D process. it is just that the decision is typically made by the brewer before releasing the beer about which one is best.

    also, what is 'best' can also have different criteria. like for yeast, how does it perform in the cellar? flocculation, attenuation, longevity, and of course flavor profile among many other questions.

    We often trial different hops in our standard brews or quantites of spices, etc. What is unique here is that Ben is presenting the beers and letting the public decide for themselves. I would personally feel uncomfortable putting out a beer if I thought some other example worked better.

    I am sure Ben does a great job in his different endevores, but generally I have a knee jerk reaction to brewer-as-educator, if it means I am putting out something that isn't so good in order to proove some point. I feel more responsibility to my drinker then that. it's a pact of a commitment to quality, and, I think, shows some neccesary humility.