Making Some Hop Chowdah with Oskar Blues

We interrupt our posts about the goodies I found while cleaning out my iPhone for an important post about… a special beer we helped make at Oskar Blues!  Grab your nearest beverage of choice and settle in for the back story behind this beer that comes out on Thursday (October 8th)!

Earlier this summer, my husband and I attended a fundraising concert for Oskar Blues’ charitable foundation called CAN’d AID.  A silent auction was held that night that included the chance to spend a day making beer with the head brewer at Oskar Blues’ brewery in Lyons, CO.  I’d never bid in a silent auction before, but I knew it was something my husband would love to do and the money would go to an awesome cause.  Fortunately, the bids were reasonable, so I went for it to surprise him!  By the end of the night, I won the auction!!

About a month later, we finally got away from our “day jobs” and spent a day making beer.  While we were making arrangements, Juice – the brew master – asked about my husband’s beer preferences.  I told him he drinks a ton of different styles of beer, but his go-to is IPA’s… and the hoppier the better!  He’s not one that’s scared away by a big beer in terms of hops or strength either.  Juice immediately said that’s something we could work with, and I sensed over the email that his mind was already racing with possibilities of what we could make.

When we arrived at the brew house in Lyons, Juice outlined his idea for the beer – using hops throughout the entire brewing process and making a big, bold, high alcohol bad ass of an IPA.  That certainly sounded like a good plan to us!  He had a plethora (one of my favorite words in the English language, by the way) of hops to choose from, so we could shoot to balance the bitterness from some varieties with the citrus and floral tones of others to make something that’s really balanced, drinkable, and simply smacks you in the face with hops (in a good way!).  He also mentioned that we’d have to name the beer, so to start thinking about it as we worked through the day.  It’s always good to have something for the bored monkey in our minds to chew on in the background as we focus on the important matters at hand – making beer!

First up – creating the mash.  Having only homebrew experience ourselves, it was so much fun to play with the big boy toys like the pumps and hoses and the massive amounts of ingredients that go into a 20-barrel batch.  (At home, we brew a whopping 2 cases at a time.)  We got to see the pumps and hoses get to work right away sucking up the grains, mixing them with some water, and plopping this oatmeal-like mix into the mash tun.  As the 400 lbs. of malt slowly worked its way into the tun, we got to work on the 1st hops addition.

Getting the hops meant a trip to the walk-in refrigerator.  This walk-in is a beer lover’s behind-the-scenes playground with all kinds of ingredients, brews aging in barrels, and an array of little special trial batches of beers for tasting.  Once we regained focus, we emerged from the walk-in with a big bunch of Galena hops.  Our job was to take the massive brick pouch of dried hops, break up the clumps, and start releasing all of their hoppy oil goodness by rubbing the leaves and cones between our hands before tossing them into the mash tun.  Hops in their natural state don’t weigh too much, so by the time we put in I-can’t-remember-how-many-pounds of the hops, things were smelling pretty good (even though it looked like a big bowl of leafy, steel-cut oatmeal)!

Once all of the grains and hops were in the mash tun, it was time to just stir and cook the mix – possibly one of the easier parts of the brewing process, especially when you have a pro there to monitor temperature and do the big thinking work.  The mash cooked for about an hour, so that gave us plenty of time to ask more questions, see some cool behind the scenes stuff at the brewery, sample some fresh beers straight out of the tanks, and attempt to stay out of Juice’s way as he kept things running smoothly and – perhaps more importantly – do a bunch of beer math to make sure we were making something drinkable.

Next up was transferring the wort over to the brew kettle.  Our timid little beer was about to grow-up big time, but it already smelled really good.

During the boil, I lost track of how many different hop varieties were used and all of the differently timed additions.  (This is why Juice gets paid the big bucks – he was writing everything down!)  Going on memory alone, there were at least 3 different hop additions that included some from Australia.  We even added a touch of some new hop extract that’s just straight-up, intensely bitter hop goodness to top things off!  With everything we added, Juice calculated that the finished beer may have an IBU as high as 153!  (For reference for the beer geeks out there, Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA is 90 IBU’s.)

Hopping the Brew
Hopping the Brew
In between all of the hop additions, we were pressed into clean-up duty.  After all, somebody’s gotta clean out the 400+ pounds of wet grain and hops from the mash tun so it’s ready to go for the next beer.  On this day, those grunts were us.  Compared to our “day jobs”, this was still fun.

Two things to note here:

  1. Everything we scooped out of the tun was heading to a local farm to feed animals.  (Yay recycling!)
  2. We were closely “supervised” by Juice and Tim in the background as we scooped out the spent grains.

I think it was during this rather mindless chore that we came up with and settled on the name for our beer – Hop Chowdah.  Just looking at the mash as we transferred the wort over to the brew kettle, it all just looked like a semi-creamy soup.  Add to that the fact that Juice is originally from Maine and wearing his Red Sox hat, “chowder” came to mind – to which we all immediately dropped the ‘r’ to make it Boston-sounding (even though Juice doesn’t have that accent).  We tested the name on a few folks as they popped by the brew house and they liked it too.  So, Hop Chowdah was born!

As the boil was finishing up, we all grabbed a bite to eat and wrapped up our day.  “All” that was left to do for the day was pitching the yeast and getting the brew over to the fermentation tanks so those lovely little yeasties could do their thing over the next few weeks while we (tried to) wait patiently.  Regardless of the results, we had a blast the entire day – totally worth it for the experience.  The cherry on top is that the money we contributed via the auction went to a really good cause, t’boot!

So that brings us back to today… Almost 6 weeks have gone by since we brewed the beer, and now it’s almost time to unleash our hop beast on the world!  Juice told us it came out great.  (I believe his description of the final product was something along the lines of a big, strong, bad ass beer.)

On Thursday, October 8th at 4pm the first keg will be tapped at Oskar Blues’ Tasty Weasel taproom in Longmont, CO and we’ll see for ourselves how it turned out.  Until then, we’ll sit tight, feeling like little kids waiting for Christmas morning to arrive!  (In some ways it is exactly that, just an “adult beer geek” Christmas kind of morning.)

So, stay tuned to see if we met our goal of making a hoppy beast of a beer!!


PS – I’ve gotta say – yet again – a big thank you to Juice for having us over to brew together for the day… especially since he was totally cool with my taking pictures along the way!!

Update:  Looks like we’ve finally settled on spelling chowder as “Chowdah”.  This post is now lined up with that. 


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