October 27, 2016
A few short months ago, we here at Critz Farms decided to put beer in cans. With the beer hitting stride and new distribution channels opening up, it was the right move to make. But it also meant we had to move fast, tackling new labels (shout out to the extremely talented designer Kerry MacHugh), complex logistics, production schedules, and more. Not least, I knew from the start I wanted to put a special IPA out on the market: enter The Eleven, a brand new IPA.
I have brewed a lot of IPA in the eleven months of brewing here at Critz, along two tracks: first, the standard Critz Farms IPA, which has undergone minimal changes and has always been on tap. It is a solid, bitter but balanced, east coast-style IPA. Second, I have done a number of small batch, one-off IPAs, many of them single hop. These IPAs have tended to be more west coast in style: lighter in color, body, and malt flavor to really showcase hop flavor and aroma. The standard IPA has many fans, but these more west coast, hop-forward styles have really gotten the attention of tasting room guests.
So, for The Eleven, I set out to craft an IPA that took the best from each of these approaches: The Eleven features some crystal malt flavor and color, but retains a light body to showcase the flavors and aromas from extremely large late kettle and dry hop additions. The Eleven is an aggressive but balanced IPA with loads of late hops. It is a complex beer with rich hop flavors: I have tasted pine, citrus, and all sorts of fruit flavors from the can.
Armed with a concept, I set to work on The Eleven. The extremely short time from making the decision to putting beer in cans meant there was no time for test batches or trial runs – batch #1 had to hit prime time. So this has meant that my experimentation with The Eleven recipe has come in subsequent batches.
The first canning batch featured strong bitterness to balance plenty of malt flavor. Putting beer in a can, however, will soak up some of that hop goodness – so the second batch lightened the malt side of the equation quite a bit, while also featuring a less aggressive bitterness, to explore the idea that less is more: less of all that other stuff in beer, and you’ll find more hop flavor and aroma. You can find this batch on tap in our tasting room now. For the third batch, I finally got to do something of a pilot batch – I swung the pendulum back a bit in the other direction, with a little more aggressiveness all around.
Next up was the second canning batch: it features a different spin on the light malt body of batch #2, with the solid hop aggressiveness of batch #3 and even larger late hop additions. This batch is currently dry hopping while awaiting the cans, looking and tasting great (keep an eye out in early November!). And today as I type, I am brewing the fifth batch of The Eleven: this time, satisfied with where the malt flavor-hop bitterness balance resides, I am now slightly shifting the hop profile around, to get the flavor and aroma hops exactly where I want them.
Any recipe is a process, and you may find these slight differences evident in your pints of The Eleven. Certain fundamentals – such as mash conditions, water profile, yeast selection – have remained relatively constant. Overall, while I certainly taste differences batch to batch, they are all recognizable to me as slightly different shades of what The Eleven is becoming. This kind of batch-by-batch experimentation is one of my favorite aspects of small-scale brewing – as is, of course, tasting the results. And now that my mash is over, it’s time to get back to work crafting The Eleven. Cheers!