Hop in the Dark, the Challenge
Some beers are simply brewed and bottled. Others take a different route, a route that beings almost two years ago, in a land far, far away...
In October of 2008, Deschutes Brewery introduced the first version of it's Hop in the Dark, a Cascadian Dark Ale. Though it wasn't know by that moniker quite yet, this first generation IPA brewed with dark malts was a hit with the masses and brewer Larry Sidor decided that Deschutes should start on the journey of finding the perfect recipe for this style of beer. While the first iteration was good, he thought it could be something great. Little did he know that the beer would go through 22 revisions before ending up in a bottle almost two years later.
Experiments with dark malts included: black malt, dark rye malt, asidulated malt, dark malt syrup, chocolate malt, chocolate wheat malt, and caramel malts.
The overall plan was simple: create a few versions, test them in the Bend and Portland pubs, find the winning recipe, and bottle. The reality, however, was that the style had a mind of it's own. "Hop bitterness and dark malts do not want to play together well," explained Larry during Deschutes Brewery's first webinar for the press. This difficulty forced the brewery to play with a wide variety of ingredients to find the perfect match. Experiments with dark malts included: black malt, dark rye malt, asidulated malt, dark malt syrup, chocolate malt, chocolate wheat malt, and caramel malts. Pairing these malts with hops was no easy task and included trials with around 15 different hop varieties. Some noted failed experiments included trying hops with a pine characteristic like Chinook. Noble hops (Hallertau, Tettnanger, Spalt, and Saaz), which are low in bitterness and high in aroma did not work either. Other recipes included hop additions with: Topaz, Brewers Gold, Centennial, Sterling, Tettnanger, Northern Brewer, Saaz, Willamette, Chinook, Citra, Millennium, and Hercules. It's easy to see how this recipe went through 22 trials. According to Larry Sidor, the early recipes came out too astringent from the dark malt or too bitter from the hops, all across a very thin middle beer body. Due to the complexity of getting this balance correct, a few batches were dumped.
The key to success for this beer was cold steeping the dark grains. This technique is employed in Schwarzbier recipes, a style that uses dark grains to color a pilsner. Many dark grains get their color from being heavily roasted, to the point of burning the outside. Adding these grains during a high temperature mash extracts much of that roasty and burnt flavor into the wort. This is great for some beer styles like stouts with small hop footprints, but for a Cascadian Dark Ale, this can destroy the beer. By steeping the darker grains at 55° F before the boil, the result takes on much of the color, but little of the flavor.
For Hop in the Dark, black barley, chocolate wheat, and caramel malt were all cold steeped before the boil and then the liquid was added during the traditional pale malt mash. Flaked oats were also added to the grain bill to fill out the middle body of the beer. For hops, it turned out that citrus-style hops like Cascade, Nugget, Citra, and Amarillo married well with darker malts. Once the final recipe was realized, the beer was brewed on the the fully-automated Huppmann, 7 vessel brewing system at Deschutes Brewery's man facility. Well, with one exception: this time the process was not automated. Larry Sidor notes that the Hop in the Dark process was so unique, that it was 100% manual operation with three brewers where a traditional process would be fully automated and manned by a single brewer.
Hop in the Dark is part of the Bond Street Series, beers that began at the Bend Pub. The line of beers that now represents some of their hoppier creations like Hop Trip and Hop Henge actually started out with beers like Broken Top Bock, 18th Anniversary Pilsner, 19th Anniversary Golden Ale, and 20th Anniversary Wit. As with the Jubel Ale, this series' beer labels are created by local Oregon artists. Adam Haynes designed the labels for Hop Trip and Hop Henge and Casey Burns is responsible for the artwork on Hop in the Dark.
Hop in the Dark is available now in 22oz bottles, but it's a seasonal, so it won't be around forever!
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